A few months ago, I sketched out this blog series, a new intellectual history of early American women. I was encouraged to see your reading list ideas (here and here) roll in. Over the summer, I canvassed bibliographies and archives, curating a portrait gallery of names, places, and ideas to fill many posts. I made a template, too: Supply a capsule biography; show how each woman fits into the “standard” American history survey class, or why she doesn’t; say where to find and assign her work. There’s one more (experimental!) piece to my series, A Woman’s Work, but you’ll have to keep reading for it. This is a public history project in progress, so please feel free to weigh in with ideas. We will swerve through history, ranging from the 1630s to the 1890s. Later on, I can organize subjects by theme, region, or era. The first few posts spotlight an understudied group: African-American women and the memoirs they made in order to narrate a way out of—or a way through—the “thousand natural shocks” of antebellum life and culture. Let’s begin early America in a new voice. Let’s listen to a free black woman who had little or no real social power until she made it for herself, and in three world markets. Meet Nancy Gardner Prince (1799-1859). Continue reading
Thanks to all of you for helping to build the first part of this intellectual history of early American women. In many ways, this work builds on conversations held at the 2011 USIH conference, and the comments that Ray Haberski kindly gathered and posted here. Now it’s time to crowdsource a bibliography for the second phase, which spans the Victorian period, from 1848 to 1891. For now, I define intellectual history as ideas in action. And so I’m interested in it all: manuscripts, monuments, myths, memorials, biographies, secondary sources, and public history sites that feature/analyze the intellectual and cultural contributions of early American women. Following up on L.D. Burnett’s sage notice of new media’s ability to broaden the realm of traditional academic scholarship, I’m seeking citations for related blogs/posts here, too, in order to form a sound bibliographical foundation. A short list appears below. Paging all historians, librarians, editors, archivists, journalists, and history fans: Please add suggestions in the comments. Continue reading
Embarking on a study of early American women’s intellectual history calls for a strong bibliographical base, and I’m using this post to learn your news and views of useful literature. Hopefully, we can refer to and build on Patrick S. O’Donnell’s excellent list of resources regarding “Women Intellectuals in the European Enlightenment,” published here. Since this nascent project has a public history feel—I’m interested in how women’s lives and intellectual contributions (ca. 1612-1891) are reflected in everything from standard scholarship to city statues and social crusades—I have listed select digital and archival resources for the first phase (1612-1848), below.
This is, of course, only a preliminary list. Paging all historians, librarians, editors, archivists, journalists, and history fans: Please add your recommendations in the comments.
Professor Helen Stuart Campbell could not vote, so she took America to task in print. Between 1881 and 1918, Campbell published books and articles describing women as “prisoners of poverty” and denouncing a widespread low-wage system that privileged men. In The Problem of the Poor (1882) and Women Wage Earners (1893), she upheld a common reform agenda of the day: higher wages, better working conditions, Christian lives. Women bore the brunt of the nineteenth century’s rapid industrial progress, as the professor argued in her novels and newspaper articles. It was past time for high society to recognize urban poverty, she wrote, and “bring order out of the chaos that threatens us.” Helen Campbell’s great plan of social improvement, inspired by her work in a New York City waterfront mission and as an early organizer of the National Household Economics Association, received mixed reviews. Occasionally, Campbell (1839-1918) offered her University of Wisconsin economics students a ray of hope, by writing and serializing Victorian parables where women workers—however briefly—shone. Continue reading
We never met, but we both spent a lot time, albeit in different eras and contexts, thinking about the same historical figures, reading the same dusty tomes, looking for the same forgotten papers and letters, and pondering the roots of liberal education and the humanities, both in higher education and beyond. Continue reading
[Note to readers: following up on a discussion at the USIH Facebook page, Patrick S. O’Donnell compiled the following bibliography to share with our readers here.]
Women as Intellectuals in the European Enlightenment:
A Select Bibliography of the Secondary Literature
by Patrick S. O’Donnell
Department of Philosophy
Santa Barbara City College (2015)
“Enlightenment” denotes here a time frame inclusive of what others, strictly speaking, would define as “pre-” and “post-Enlightenment” periods of European history. I hope the term “intellectual” is used in a sufficiently capacious sense. As with most of my bibliographies, this one is marked by two constraints: books, in English. And in this case, the language constraint rules out quite a number of important titles, especially (hence, not only) those in French. A further constraint is rather arbitrary: I wanted to keep the compilation to roughly one hundred titles. Continue reading
Karen L. Kilcup Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924 Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013, 504 pages.
Review by Nicolette Gable
The idea of a book on nineteenth century environmental writing conjures images of Walden Pond and white men of leisure rhapsodizing over sublime scenery. It is pleasantly surprising to read a book that subverts such expectations. In Fallen Forests Karen Kilcup takes on several large projects. First, she seeks to enlarge the scope of what we consider environmental writing and activism. Next, she attempts to shift the discussion of nineteenth century women’s writing from analysis of sentimentalism to the rhetorical use of emotional intelligence. Finally, she seeks to reclaim the discussion of women and nature from essentialism and idealism, by examining material conditions and directly confronting the limitations, contradictions, and failings of these women’s work.
Jill Lepore: The Secret History of Wonder Woman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 448 pages.
By Bryn Upton
The first female superhero arrived at the beginning of US involvement in World War II and stood astride the intersection of first wave feminism, Greek mythology, popular psychology, and kink. An Amazon who left paradise to save one man, Wonder Woman instead saved America from the bonds of patriarchy in a red bustier, blue shorts, a gold tiara, metal bracelets, and knee-high red boots. She had extraordinary powers, with telling limitations: her bracelets stopped bullets, her lasso forced people to tell the truth, but if a man bound her at her bracelets, she lost her powers. For more than seventy years she has captured imaginations—appearing in 4,756 comic book issues, an eponymous television show, and a slate of novels, animated cartoons, and video games—but what do we really know about Wonder Woman? In The Secret history of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore, Professor of American History at Harvard University, contends that we cannot understand Wonder Woman without understanding the man—and women—behind her. Lepore states that the key to Wonder Woman lies in understanding the unique set of feminist influences upon her creation. “Feminism made Wonder Woman,” she writes. “And then Wonder Woman remade feminism…”*
Lilian Calles Barger, Ph.D. (University of Texas at Dallas), is an independent scholar working in Taos, NM and serves on the book review committee of the Society. Her current research focuses on 19th and 20th century social, religious, and feminist thought. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.