Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Maria Miller Stewart

Maria Miller Stewart

Maria Miller Stewart was   born in 1803 Hartford Connecticut, to two African-born parents.      Orphaned at age 5 and raised by a clergyman’s family.  She had no formal education, other than the books in that clergyman’s library.  She married at 23 to James W. Stewart, a veteran of the war of 1912.  However, she was a widowed at 27 and was defrauded of her estate.  She took some abolitionist writings to William Lloyd Garrison, her close family friend, who published them in the “Liberator” in 1931. 

She then did an unprecedented and unforgivable deed.   She spoke publically in a public hall to men and women – the first native born American to do so.  She had been preceded by Frances Wright to do so in 1828, but Wright was a new arrival from Scotland.   Both women presented revolutionary ideas.

Stewart attacked the white Americans for not helping blacks.  White Americans were not interested in blacks who had given tears and blood in slavery to build the country.  The government would not recognize Haiti.   Some wanted to send all blacks to Africa.  She said they should build colleges for blacks.  Therefore freed blacks must   aspire and must set examples of purity, prudence, economy, raise money for schools, start stores and other business.

Critics were not kind.  She was too religious, some said.  She was definitely immodest, said others.   After 4 speeches she gave up, left Boston for New York.  Later she set up schools in New York and Baltimore.   After the Civil War she was hired as matron in Freedman’s Hospital.  As a widow of the War of 1812, she used $8 to reprint of Reminiscent, renewed her friendship with Garrison after 47 years.  She died at Freedman’s Hospital, aged 75.

After her came the wonderful speeches of the Grimke’s sisters, Anna Dickinson. Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton – many to audiences including men and women.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sarah Bagley: The First Labor Union Leader

Sarah Bagley: The First Labor Union Leader

The first labor leader was born in Meredith, New Hampshire.  She secured employment in the Hamilton Manufacturing Company, one of the cotton mills of Lowell, Massachusetts.  At first she seemed to enjoy her situation.  As late as December 1840, she described the “pleasures of Factory Life” for the “Lowell Offering”, the celebrated magazine written by the mill girls.  About that time she became increasingly critical of policies of the decreasing wages and deteriorating working conditions.  This included speedup of the machines.  The working conditions included a 13 hour working day and locked doors.   Agitation for a 10 hour work began.  The editor of the “Offering” felt it was unfitting to question the policies of the Christian gentlemen who owned the mills.  Sarah Bagley insisted the workers must organize and protest. 

In late 1844 the opportunity arose when the legislature appointed a committee to deal with the problem of working conditions.  This was the first governmental investigation in the country.  That December, Miss Bagley founded and became first president of the Lowell Female Labor Association.  First it grew to 2,000 signatures and called for a 10 hour working day.   Soon she left her job, whether under pressure   or not.  She became an organizer in mills in Manchester, Nashua and Dover, New Hampahire, and Massachusetts.  She was associated with some utopian philosophies of Fortier and George Ripley.

More information can be found in the book entitled, "We Were There: The Story of Working Women In America by Barbara Mayer Wertheimer.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women's Rights

“Revolutionary Heart” The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women’s Rights” by Diane Eickhoff,   268p.  2008  

Clarina Nichols was born on January 25, 1810,  and died on Jan. 11, 1885,  the unsung  women’s rights editor and leader who worked for more than 50 years on a variety of issues.

She worked on legislature to grant married women joint property rights and inheritance rights for widows.  She also was active in prohibition circles, health and exercise improvements, abolition of slavery, and suffrage.  In 1850 she attended the first 2-day National Women’s Rights Convention with Pauline Wright Davis, Lucretia Mott, Ernestine Rose, Antoinette Brown, Harriot Hunt, and Frederick Douglass. 

Horace Greeley asked Lydia Fowler and Clarina Nichols to speak for a bill in Wisconsin giving mothers control of children if fathers were drunkards.  They spoke to 30,000 people in 43 towns, and state law was passed.

By 1853 Nichols was a full time lecturer.  In 1854 she moved to Kansas with her family and eventually Kansas was a free state in 1857. Proslavery forces were eventually defeated.    However after a hard-fought campaign the right to vote was defeated in 1857.

There may be other women who need to be acknowledged for their roles in advancing women’s rights.  Please let me know about any women who may have done this so I can read and write about their accomplishments.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I

“The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I; Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire,” Susan Ronald, 2007, 471 p.  Harper Collins, Publishers.

         Queen Elizabeth (1533 - 1603) had many problems when she succeeded “Bloody Mary” as Queen of England, and the departure of Mary’s husband, Philip of Spain.  Many wanted her throne - Mary Queen of Scotland and Philip II of Spain, for two. Elizabeth’s advisors were exceptionally sage and loyal, chief among them were William Cecil, Lord Burghley.  Elizabeth was the first woman to rule England in her own right.

           The first overwhelming need was for security, and along with this need was money of which she had little.  She had promised Mary to pay her debts.    She was able to survive Catholic threats of the Papacy.  She also survived more than 20 assassination attempts.  Piracy was the answer.   Foreign ships were the targets as these gentlemen adventurers   made history with their three slices of loot.  It was 1/3 for the Queen, 1/3 for the people who put up the ships and l/3 for the adventurers. First, however, there was 10% off the top for customs officials.    Portuguese and Spanish were the main targets as the ships returned to European ports. Economic matters were solved, and the road to the empire had begun.  “Harvesting the sea” went on, especially profitable for England as the Spanish planned the ill-fated Armada to invade England.  I was particularly engrossed with the fleet destruction of the Spanish in 1587.  I was ignorant of this Spanish defeat and can only wonder at the Spanish for not learning from this prior defeat of the Armada.  Santa Cruz was to head the Armada.  Philip was ready to push forward and made, he thought, England with the Low Countries just another conquered country.   Drake had other ideas.

              With the Queen’s fleet added to his fleet of ships he left Plymouth in April 12, 1587 and he wreaked havoc a year before the Armada on the Spanish fleet in Cadiz.  Only 60 ships remained seaworthy for the invasion of England the next year; 24 ships were lost at a value of 6 million dollars.  The Queen was delighted. 

       Still the Armada, led now by Medina Sidonia, came on.  It must have been a sight – all the Spanish lined up to progress to the English Channel - 127 ships with 7,000 mariners and 15,000 soldiers to disembark to subdue the English.  They were to join 17,000 from the Isle of Wight.  But the ships were bottled up in the Channel.  They couldn’t   turn around.  Some of them escaped to go around England on the west side, around to Scotland and to England on the north side, around Ireland and south to Spain.  

          This history is quite exciting and should be widely read.  It continues with the New World colonies; mention is made of ill–fated Pocahontas.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"A New-England Tale; or, Sketches of New England Characters and Manners"

“A New-England Tale; or, Sketches of New England Character and Manners”
by Catharine Maria Sedgwick

     Published in 1822, it is the earliest known American novel to make a financial profit for the woman novelist.  The author enjoyed popularity here and in Europe.  The first printing sold out in less than 4 months, and the third printing was “exhausted” in another 2 months, in her brother’s admiring language. The brothers encouraged her writing and were very proud of her success. 

      Jane Elton, the young girl hero, becomes an orphan at 12 years old when her parents die in an accident and she is left to the mercy of three of the Calvinist sisters of her uncle.  They have ready-made excuses for having no time or money to be responsible for their niece.  One suggests she be put in the city’s listing of orphans for anyone who wants slave labor until she becomes 18.  Another is wrapped up in the plight of American Indians, and the third is involved with foreign missionary work.  Mrs. Wilson has two daughters about Jane’s age and is deemed the sister best to take responsibility for Jane.  Her own children have rebelled from her religious beliefs, but they also try to make life miserable for Jane when opportunity presents itself, as when the cousin steals money from his mother and Jane could be the guilty one.  Jane always tells the truth; she is innocent. 

     She is befriended by a Quaker schoolteacher, gets out of the Wilson house and becomes a teacher at the school.  She also becomes engaged to an up-and-coming, silver-tongued lawyer, who promises wealth and social standing.   His only mistake was to announce that as his wife, she would have absolutely no opinions not agreeing with his, and she must hate all Quakers and break off any friendships with them.

     Catharine Sedgwick, born in 1789, lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and some of the residents recognized characters in her books.  Still she did not replace any of those characters.  Her family was greatly admired and she was known for her devotion to siblings and the many nieces and nephews.  She was a Federalist, threw off Calvinist ideas, and became a Unitarian (with some of her brothers).  Far from being an early women’s rights advocate, she uses themes of abolition of slavery, religious freedom and need for prison reform as salient themes in her novels. After a long life she died in 1867, greatly be loved.

     Readers may wish to read more of the facts of her long life in “Daughters of the Puritans”, by Seth Beach, 1905, “Three Wise Virgins” by Gladys Brooks, 1957, “Notable  American Women,” 1974 Vol. III, pp.256-258.