My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

October 22, 2019: The 1850 Women’s Rights Convention: Sarah H. Earle


[On October 23-24, 1850, the first national Women’s Rights Convention was held in Worcester, MA; it followed the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention but was the first to bill itself as national, and it featured more than 900 attendees (triple the 1848 numbers). So for the convention’s anniversary, I’ll highlight and AmericanStudy a handful of representative such attendees!]
On the convention convener who extends the themes of yesterday’s post and adds other, vital contexts into the mix.
Day one of the 1850 convention was called to order by local reformer and activist Sarah Hussey Earle. Like convention president Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis, whose opening address directly followed Earle’s brief remarks, Earle had been an abolitionist activist for decades by the time of the 1850 convention. Born on Nantucket, Sarah moved to Worcester in 1821 at the age of 22, when she married John Milton Earle, longtime publisher and editor of the city’s Massachusetts Spy newspaper. Over the next three decades she would found the Worcester Ladies Anti-Slavery Sewing Circle and the Worcester City Anti-Slavery Society, coordinate a number of anti-slavery fairs in the city, and along with her husband help provide a home and family for two young African American women, Catherine and Cynthia Gardner. Earle not only reinforces the deep interconnections between the abolitionist and women’s rights movements about which I wrote in yesterday’s post, but makes clear that the choice of Worcester to host the first national Women’s Rights Convention was likewise entirely linked to the city’s prominent role in the fight against slavery.
Earle’s links to both Davis and the women’s rights movement extended well beyond the 1850 convention, to an aspect of Davis’s richly multi-layered life and activism that I wasn’t able to mention in yesterday’s post: her pioneering feminist magazine The Una. Founded by Davis in 1853 in her new hometown of Providence (she had married the Irish American entrepreneur and Rhode Island State Representative Thomas Davis in 1849), The Una was one of the first women’s rights journals in existence, and the first periodical in America to be owned, published, edited, and written entirely by women. Earle was one of its earliest supporters and financial backers, and would remain closely tied to the magazine through its crucial early years (in late 1855 Boston publisher S.C. Hewitt took over publication, and new associate editor Caroline Healey Dall shifted the magazine’s focus to more of a literary journal). As with abolitionism, Transcendentalism, and every other significant social and reform movement of the era, the women’s movement would depend on periodicals to advance its ideas and voices, and through The Una Earle lent her support to a vital first step in that process.
Another key side to Earle’s life and work in the years after the 1850 convention (up until her tragically early death in 1858) reflects the more local, Massachusetts-centered elements to the nascent women’s rights movement. Annual conventions continued to be held in the state, and Earle was elected president for the 1854 New England Women’s Rights Convention in Boston. But she also brought the fight for women’s rights directly to the Massachusetts State Legislature through her leadership in assembling and presenting a couple of petitions to that body: an 1851 petition in support of women’s suffrage; and an 1855 one advocating for removing the word “males” from the Massachusetts Constitution. These efforts, like Earle’s deep ties to Worcester, reflect not just the way in which the fight for women’s rights proceeded in individual communities and states, but also the vital role of such local and regional communities in advancing the voices and cause of reform. As much as the 1850 convention was indeed the first national such gathering, it nonetheless featured those more local elements as well, as exemplified by the inspiring activist who called the convention to order.
Next 1850 attendee tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Figures or histories from the women’s rights movement you’d highlight?

Monday, October 21, 2019

October 21, 2019: The 1850 Women’s Rights Convention: Paulina Kellogg Wright Davis


[On October 23-24, 1850, the first national Women’s Rights Convention was held in Worcester, MA; it followed the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention but was the first to bill itself as national, and it featured more than 900 attendees (triple the 1848 numbers). So for the convention’s anniversary, I’ll highlight and AmericanStudy a handful of representative such attendees!]
On the convention organizer and president who embodies the multi-layered nature of reform.
On October 23rd, 1850, the President-elect for the National Women’s Rights Convention, named in the convention transcript as Paulina W. Davis, rose to deliver the event’s opening Address. Davis, who would spend her influential life between upstate New York and Providence, Rhode Island, had helped choose Worcester as the convention site and organize the event, and so she knew the promotional materials well and felt free to dispense quickly with specifics about the convention’s program and work. Instead, she offered “some general reflections upon the attitude and relations of our movement to our times and circumstances, and upon the proper spirit and method of promoting it.” She did so in part by following up the 1848 convention and its “declaration of rights,” which she sought to complement with arguments for “the adjustment of [the] work to those conditions of the times which [the reformer] seeks to influence.” But this was not a retreat into practicality by any stretch: “the reformation which we purpose,” Davis argued, “in its utmost scope, is radical and universal.” The path would not be easy; as she concluded her remarks: “In principle these truths are not doubtful, and it is therefore not impossible to put them in practice, but they need great clearness in system and steadiness of direction to get them allowance and adoption in the actual life of the world.”
By 1850, Davis would have been well-versed in the necessary combination of ideals and practicality, principles and work, at the heart of any long-term, radical activist effort. She and her first husband, New York merchant Francis Wright, had been active in the abolitionist movement since the early 1830s: they resigned their church in opposition to its pro-slavery stance, served on the New York Anti-Slavery Society’s Executive Committee, and organized an anti-slavery convention in their home city of Utica in 1835 (which as that story details was met with a rioting white supremacist mob). Although Francis Wright died in 1845, Davis would continue those activist efforts throughout her life, and she thus illustrates (as do many of the other attendees at the 1850 convention, as some of my later posts in the week’s series will highlight) the deep interconnections between the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. I’ve written for my Saturday Evening Post Considering History column about the racial discrimination and segregation that was all too central to the women’s suffrage movement, but it’s worth being clear that other activists like Davis brought those causes together—and since she was a key member of Susan B. Anthony’s National Woman Suffrage Association, Davis brought that perspective to the national movement to be sure.
Another important aspect of Davis’s life and work, one situated between that abolitionist work and the 1850 convention, reflects just how broadly the tendrils of such activist efforts could extend. During her marriage to Wright, Davis began studying health and medicine, and after his death she dedicated herself to those studies, moving to New York City and giving a series of lectures to women on anatomy and physiology. She then embarked on a speaking tour, continuing to highlight those medical disciplines but also urging women to study medicine and become practicing doctors. In one of my earliest posts in this space, I highlighted the interesting literary and cultural phenomenon of “woman doctor” novels and characters from the early 1880s, an era when that professional opportunity and role was becoming prominent. But Davis’s efforts from forty years earlier highlight both the long development of that trend and, most importantly, the ways in which it was anything but coincidental or accidental—in which, instead, activist voices helped push such professional changes and reforms alongside social and cultural ones. One more reason to better remember the 1850 National Women’s Rights Convention’s organizer and president!
Next 1850 attendee tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Figures or histories from the women’s rights movement you’d highlight?

Monday, October 14, 2019

October 14-20, 2019: Present and Future Book Talks for We the People


This week I travel to Philadelphia to give a Distinguished Alumnus book talk at my PhD alma mater, the Temple University English Department. I’m in the midst of a busy Fall of book talks, with a few recently completed, many more in the next few weeks, and a few already on the schedule (available in full at that hyperlink) for the Spring semester as well. So I wanted to take advantage of this week’s travel to leave a post up for the week, both highlighting those talks (I’d love to see you at any of them!) and asking for nominations, suggestions, or connections for any other talks (and/or online spaces where I could share the book). Thanks in advance, and hope to see you down (and on) the road!
Next series starts Monday,
Ben
PS. You know what to do! Feel free to leave a comment here or to email me if you prefer!