Women’s History Month tributes and mentions often gloss over the time period between the Seneca Falls gathering of 1848 and what we might be tempted to think was the resumption of the suffragist movement of the early 20th Century.
Of course individual women, often the same ones, are mentioned over and over every year. But what good is the month if we do use it to advance our understanding of the topic. So today the images I am sharing (embedded publications too) are from works available on the Internet Archive.
One of the glaringly obvious reason for the lack of coverage of women’s history from the middle 19th Century was the total disruption of American life during the Civil War and its aftermath.
A memoir, written by Olympia Brown, the first ordained woman minister (according to my sources) that details her life as it relates to those she met during her travels and attendance at equal rights gatherings of all types in the last half of the 19th Century. She was dedicated throughout most of her life to the improvement of the situation of “women and negroes.”
This work also documents, informally and conversationally, the rift that grew between those who addressed the plight of people of color, and those who addressed the status of women after the Civil War. There seem to be few accessible sources that mention the schism in times contemporary to when it developed.
It is interesting to note that nowhere in her book could I find mention of women of color. Unitarians were a rather white lot back them. Frederick Douglass seemed to to act as near sole representative of the black population.
The book is embedded below thanks to Archive.org.
I do recommend close perusal of the short work, less than 150 pages, for the realistic portrait it paints of at least one women’s take on gatherings and major players in the progressive world apart from the then liberal Republican Party.
In her memoir, Brown mentions her participation in the founding of the National Women’s Suffrage Association, which became the Women’s Party after Alice Paul’s return to the U.S. in 1912.
Women’s Councils and Congresses
If you are a history buff, or want to get a feel of what such gatherings were like, sift through the pages of the following publications from the 1880s and 1890s.
This report is from the meeting that took place 40 years after the Seneca Falls meeting.
Volume 1. above.
Volume 2. above.
The volume below gives a summary of the various processes behind the meetings of 1892 and 1898. The sheer number of women involved shows that the suffragists, in the English-speaking world, were no small group of women, but were far-ranging both geographically and socially.
The following publication is included though it was created by a distinctly different sort of women’s group. The Congress of Women was represented at the gatherings of the National Council of Women and invited attendees of the later to participate in the Congress.
The remarks of the speakers comprise most of the volume. The topics, papers, and opinions stretch over a vast range of views. Certainly a large number of speakers published in the work could not have been called feminists or suffragists. But it is for that very reason that this work that strays far from politics and scholarly analysis gives a view of what (white) women of means thought, and to what they dedicated themselves at the turn of the 19th Century to the 20th Century. Taken as a whole it is eye-opening.
Note: The Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. It has much more than proceedings and women’s 19th Century history.
If you search the Internet Archive, I would love to hear what treasures you found in it!