(Library of Congress)
In 1912, Life magazine published this anti-suffrage illustration by Laura E. Foster. A well-known artist and illustrator, Foster was born in 1871 in San Francisco, where she first began doing newspaper drawings. After the 1906 earthquake, she moved to New York City, where her career continued to grow and thrive, and where she married Donald Monroe, a stockbroker about eleven years her senior.
This drawing is a stark reminder that the suffrage movement was not a straightforward march toward progress. It had begun in the late 1840s, and in 1912, when Life published Foster’s illustration, it was on the cusp of an infusion of radicalism by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. This drawing attempted to convince women that love and marriage were incompatible with a career and “professional triumph.” The higher a woman climbed toward fame, the more riddled she would become with loneliness and anxiety. And suffrage was right near the top, contributing to those negative attributes.
Women’s suffrage was written into the Constitution with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, the same year Laura Foster died. Nearly one hundred years later, many women will still find the message of her illustration familiar.
Since March 1 rarely brings any indication that spring is on the way, the ultimate consolation prize is that it’s always the beginning of Women’s History Month.
I also think of it as What I Do For a Living Month. My academic career focused on women’s history as does my current writing career. Right now I’m four chapters into a book on Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
(Army Center of Military History)
Dr. Walker was a dress reformer (notice she’s wearing trousers), temperance advocate, abolitionist, suffragist, and pacifist. As such, she fits squarely within this year’s theme for Women’s History Month:
Mary Walker had a grand vision of a world in which everyone was equal. Throughout March, I’ll be posting compelling images that reflect the concerns of visionary American women like Mary Walker. Next up, a commentary on the suffrage struggle.
This may be the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a book. (And the whole “pre-order” thing still confuses me. If you put something in your cart, pay for it, and arrange for it to be shipped, haven’t you, in fact, ordered it?)
I wanted to make sure I was among the very first to get a copy of Pamela Toler’s latest:
The cover alone makes me want to read it. The image is stunning and the title is strong. This book is about women–not girls or wives or daughters. And the “Unexpected History” points out that women have been left out of so much history.
In about two weeks this will be added to my bookshelf. I hope you consider adding it to yours. You can find it on Amazon, Beacon Press, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.
Today launches the first in a series of occasional posts about something most writers of history are familiar with: falling down the research rabbit hole.
While I’ve gotten better at making sure it doesn’t become a bottomless pit, I always look forward to these jaunts that reveal something intriguing about my main subject. Today I’ve been working on a chapter of my book about Dr. Mary Walker, a 19th-century reformer and the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
One of the many people she interacted with was a Unitarian minister named Samuel J. May. An 1820 graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, May fully embraced the new Unitarian theology, which emphasized the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. He was committed to putting this ideology into action and actively participated in a variety of antebellum reforms, including temperance, education, labor, and abolition. In 1830, May met William Lloyd Garrison and went on to serve as a lecturer for the New England Anti-Slavery Society. May eventually accepted a position at the Unitarian Church of the Messiah in Syracuse, New York, about forty miles south of Mary Walker’s hometown of Oswego. There, May’s abolition work expanded to assisting the underground railroad.
The Reverend Samuel May began promoting women’s rights with his November 1845 sermon, The Rights and Condition of Women, which was subsequently printed and widely circulated. Beginning with quotes from Genesis (“In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him, male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam.”) and Galatians (“There is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”), he called for gender equality and women’s suffrage.
Exactly how and why Mary Walker and Samuel May knew each other will be explained in my book. And for those of you who think the surname May sounds familiar, the reforming reverend’s other claim to fame is that he was the uncle of Louisa May Alcott.
Happy 2019 everyone! I wish you all good things in the new year.
To finish up reviewing my 2018 year in reading, I turn to my favorite nonfiction books. Remember, these are books I read in 2018, though they may not have been published that year. Mostly absent from this list are the books I read for discussions on Nonfiction Fans on Facebook. (If you read a lot of narrative nonfiction, please join us over there. It’s a great group.) I have to learn to keep better track of those books.
Most of the nonfiction listed below is historical and most are written by women. Here they are, in the order in which I read them:
Gay writes beautifully about difficult topics.
A page-turning historical mystery.
A first-rate historical biography.
I hate cold weather but can’t get enough of stories about polar exploration. And in case you’ve missed Shapiro’s book, it’s now out in paperback.
A fascinating story, though I wish it had been more tightly edited.
The historical story of Barbara Follett was particularly interesting.
Reading this is the best way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women.
This is a beautiful book. Anyone who loves books and libraries will want to read it.
A highly readable account of the history of Jamestown.
Another fascinating book for book lovers, this one focuses on the history of paper.
Now, on to more books.