Monday, December 30, 2013

Women's History Paper #1

Paper #1

Taylor Speer-Sims

Women's History
University of Nebraska - Kearney
November 3, 2013

           The first half of the class introduced many different books, authors, subjects, and time periods. There

were differences, but there were also similarities. Arguments by each author introduce ideas that were 

precise and obvious. There were assumptions and biases, which brought each book its’ own interpretation. 

Each work, however, was about women and her triumphs.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the very first in the series for the class, includes extracts from Martha Ballard’s diary. It was also a biography written by Ulrich; therefore the book was both a primary and a secondary source.  Ulrich gave her reader an idea about what daily life was like for a woman of local respect. Martha Ballard was a midwife, thus she had a higher position than most women in the area. Yet, she was still below male doctors, her husband, and even her son. As the men rested from their day, the woman still worked on into the evening, “a woman’s work [was] never done.” [1]
Ulrich also included an idea called the “social web.” This was important to the area where Ballard lived, but also to the book as a whole. It was a social “structure of relations in a community” that linked together like a spider web.[2] Martha Ballard met with everyone in town, if not for midwifery, then for medicinal support as a type of doctor, nurse, apothecary, or in death where she wraped bodies. The idea of the social web continued as others helped out Ballard in the community, and it continued on throughout time. This was really an anthropological idea.
The only obvious political scene within the text was the area where President Washington died. The town held parties and parades, but Ballard was too busy to attend any of these.[3] Could this have been a political statement that Ballard was not interested in politics at all? Was Ballard trying to prove her point that she was more busy than any man, or in fact any one in the town? More to the point, the idea that Ulrich included this almost in passing gave the reader the idea Ulrich was biased, that women did work more, and harder, than any of the men at that time.
There was not much more that Ulrich could have used within her text to improve her point. This book was very well written and included Ballard’ diary material as most points. Ulrich used opposing and congruent information from contemporary letters, estate manifests, petitions, etc. There were some secondary sources, but the book was based mainly on primary documents. Ulrich fully researched her subject before she came up with her argument, at least within this area of history.
Linda K. Kerber included many time periods in history, where Ulrich only had the one. Kerber began her book with the Daughters of Columbia and concluded with the New Republic. Yet, she still included information on the Victorian era, and even postmodern times.[4] Kerber’s main idea is that historiography should be explored and the book traced “the intellectual development” of Kerber through the essays included within.[5] Interpretation of history changes throughout time, including social studies and women’s studies. There are essays that compare women directly with their male counterparts, and then later she targets relational connections or discrepancies.
Because this book was on several essays, fluidity was somewhat choppy between lectures. Just as Ulrich, Kerber emphasized differences in women’s and men’s positions. Most of the sources Kerber used were professional discussions, lectures and/or papers She included quite a lot of historiography on each page within the footnotes. She obviously created a well-regarded set of essays.
The next week found that students read two different works, one from Gerda Lerner and another by Corrine Field. Field’s article was about defining age as sections in one’s life, as well as the different ages and points for white men, minority men and all women. Field pointed out that antebellum women’s argument was that women were always dependent on men, they were minors and that “ her sphere is circumscribed, not by her ability, but by her sex.” [6] Field included an anthropological view on aging. The obvious issue with this work compared with the others, was the limitation due to length. Kerber also had essays; she just had more of them.
Gerda Lerner’s book was a full biography just like Ulrich’s. However, The Grimke Sisters was not primarily diary based. Lerner had a bibliography of thirteen pages that was separated into sections within primary and secondary documents. Another difference was that Lerner wrote on two women, not just one. Lerner argued that the Grimke sisters came from a comfortable life to took up a cause greater than themselves, that of abolition. The “sisters from South Carolina had become the first female abolitionist agents in the United States.”[7]
These women were by far the most visual than any that the class studied. Other writers included these women within their texts, but Lerner does not point that out to her readers. Her words flowed from one chapter to another with the idea that the reader knew nothing about the pair. Lerner wrote subtly, yet clearly. This was done by mentioning how great these women were to their contemporary society such as how Sarah Grimke’ was the “first woman to write a coherent feminist argument,” yet they “lived their faith, with stubbornness, courage and dedication.”[8]
The Grimkes were probably the most important sisters in history, they were the first women speakers in the U.S. Angelina was the first woman to address a legislative body. Both women based their arguments on humanity and Christianity. Even with this recognition, Lerner pointed out that they were considered “masculine, old hens, and unable to attain husbands,” which was a main argument against women mentioned in almost all of the forthcoming books.[9]
The book on Sojourner Truth was about another great woman in the antebellum period. Nell Irvin Painter wrote a biography about one woman more similar to Lerner than to Ulrich’s. Where Ulrich based her book largely on a diary, Painter’s used many more secondary sources. Sojourner Truth “built networks of human contact… [that] sustained her materially and spiritually,” similar to Martha Ballard’s social web.[10]
A difference between Lerner and Painter was that Painter had no bibliography, using his notes to show information as well as sources. Painter wrote in the fashion of Lerner, so that the reader understood that woman were instrumental to history. Of course, Painter’s subject did not begin in a comfortable situation, but as a slave. Truth also based her arguments on humanity and Christianity. Painter told a story about a slave born and kept in the North, and who escaped to be one of the most respected black and/or woman abolitionists in Antebellum America.
Antebellum America had women participate in suffrage movements along with abolition. Jean H. Baker’s book Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists was not about sisters in the biological sense as Lerner’s was, although it does mention the Grimke sisters. Baker had chapters that focused on one person, or groups of women. Eeach section played a role in the next chapter, so the flow was easy. Just as Lerner wrote that women were masculine, Baker emphasized “women, in the conventional wisdom of the day, were considered asexual and passionless.”[11]
Baker shared the fact that women formed groups that battled for women’s suffrage, that women were individuals; they were like others, yet still different. Baker wrote about strong women, and about how those organizations ran mainly on volunteerism.[12] Painter’s and Lerner’s books coincide with Baker’s and the idea of lesbianism being written between the lines. Baker wrote many thought “the African race was entirely composed of males,” yet “women – black and white – were still invisible even to reformers and sympathizers,” just as Painter emphasized. [13] Lucy Stanton and Angelina Grimke found romance and married, and they both were the only females within their books. Baker argued that these women came together (and grew apart) to seek social change for America.
The second time where two sources were used within one week brought a paper by Carole Shammas. This paper’s thesis argued that the Married Women’s Property Acts were “in certain respects… analogous to the emancipation proclamations and related acts concerning enslaved persons.”[14] Even though this was a paper, the subject was nothing like that of the former one. Nor was it truly similar to the other books. This document did have a lot of information about property rights. However, it was not a legal document. The main fault of this paper was Shammas included only basic information on dower rights. She did not include all information. She wrote that a woman could not do with her dower property as she wished. (Women were able to rent out and improve these properties) While she cited many legal books for this statement, there was not one primary document. She did have primary documents throughout the piece. So, not including contradictory information showed her bias.
Margaret D. Jacobs, however, included many contradictory statements within her book. This was obviously a great book because it won the 2010 Bancroft Prize.[15] This was one of the longest, yet easiest to understand. The flow was almost continuous, yet the subheadings and chapters separated it each section for easy reading. Painter wrote about a minority, so too did Jacobs. Also just like Painter, Jacobs’ subjects had to contend with racism as well as sexism. The author had a section on terms and abbreviations, unlike the others. However, Cott had something similar in her book. Jacobs used many secondary sources, and her primary sources were mostly records and interviews.
Jacobs wrote that Native children were stolen away from their families and sent to a school where “if they [ran] away from their slavery there” they were hunted down like convicts.[16] Therefore, Lerner and Jacobs wrote on legalized bondage. Jacob’s title brought out what happened to Truth, as well as to her own subjects. Jacob’s book included all aspects of the problem and included opposing views. Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Baker’s book, was interested in parental rights just as many of the women in Jacobs’ book either claimed to be, or actually was.
Nancy F. Cott wrote in the introduction that her book was “about the time when the word feminism came into use in the Untied States, and the women who used it.”[17] Cott used a flow that was chronological and discussed feminist groups like that of Baker. However, Cott wrote that even though there were some organizations, many did not get together for one purpose. As Baker’s organizations were mostly volunteer based, Cott argued that post suffrage groups had mostly employees. Cott included that some people said women were not a sex, but human. Women thought that they were “morally and superior to men” as apposed to women in the other books who thought that that’s what they were fighting for.[18] Cott gave direct information on lesbianism and how women’s friendships became scrutinized. As the women in Jacob’s books began to feel free with their own sexuality, so too did women in Cott’s book. While women were still “masculine”, this was the book that introduced the idea that women were thought to be communist or socialist if they agreed with disarmament[19]
The last book of this module was another biography. Blanche Wiesen Cook’s work on Eleanor Roosevelt was also the longest book that the class read. Cook, like Painter, did not have a bibliography, but used notes at the end of the book. Like Kerber, Cook had quite a bit of historiography within her notes. Just as Ulrich’s and Painter’s subjects, ER used her connections within family and friends. However, only like Truth did ER use her influence for political purposes. Cook used a chronological flow that was easy and exciting to follow.
Just like Lerner and Ulrich, Cook chose to write on only one person. However only as Lerner, Cook’s subject was on a famous woman, a woman that became more historically visual. As the Grimke sisters were of middle class social status, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was from the upper-middle class, and Cook’s subject, but Eleanor Roosevelt, was from high-society. Just as Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Roosevelt changed herself into a woman of conviction, wisdom and courage. While Roosevelt appeared to have been the least interested in Christianity as an argument, she was very much interested in human rights.[20] Eleanor Roosevelt was certainly the most well known throughout time than any of the other subjects to more people in the world.
Cook argued that ER didn’t care about a person’s social status or income she cared about human beings. ER knew about changing needs of the planet long “before most of America’s leadership” did.[21] Roosevelt was another woman that suffered, yet used her experience to help others. Cook used large quotes within the text to not only emphasize her point, but to get the reader into the story, and to make it feel completely authentic.

 Photo Credit: :Women's Suffrage," 1820, University of Louisville: (accessed December 30, 2013) 


Baker, Jean H. Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol I, 1884-1933.  New York:  Penguin Books,

Field, Corinne T.  “Are Women… All Minors?: Woman’s Rights and the Politics of Aging in
the Antebellum United States”, Journal of Women’s History, Winter 2001, Vol 12, Issue 4. in Ebsco Host. (2013) (accessed November 3, 2013)

Jacobs, Margaret D.  White Mother to a Dark Race {Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and
the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940} Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

Kerber, Linda K. Toward an Intellectual History of Women, Essays by Linda K. Kerber.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Lerner, Gerda. The Grimke’ Sisters From South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and
Abolition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Shammas, Carole "Re-Assessing the Married Women's Property Acts," Journal of
Women's History 6:1. Spring 1994, in Ebsco Host. 2013 (accessed November 3, 2013)

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary,
1785 – 1812. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

[1] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785 – 1812. (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 210.

[2]Ibid, 75.

[3] Ibid, 32.

[4] Information from this chapter is being used by author for a full paper in another class entitled “Columbia Cried: The Poetic, Romantic, and Enchanted Rituals of Mourning for George Washington.”

[5] Linda K. Kerber, Toward an Intellectual History of Women, Essays by Linda K. Kerber. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), back cover.

[6] Corinne T. Field, “Are Women… All Minors?: Woman’s Rights and the Politics of Aging in the Antebellum United States”, Journal of Women’s History, Vol 12, Issue 4 (Winter 2001) in Ebsco Host. (2013) (accessed November 3, 2013)

[7] Gerda Lerner, The Grimke’ Sisters From South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 110.

[8] Ibid, Xviii; 274.

[9] New Hampshire Patriot, (August 15, 1837._ quoted in ibid.

[10] Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997), 113.

[11] Jean H. Baker, Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), 75.

[12] Ibid, 125, 156.

[14] Carole Shammas, "Re-Assessing the Married Women's Property Acts," Journal of Women's History 6:1 (Spring 1994), in Ebsco Host. (2013) (accessed November 3, 2013)

[15] Margaret D. Jacobs, White Mother to a Dark Race {Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940} (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), front cover.

[16] Ibid, 165.

[17] Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Feminism. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 3.

[18] Ibid, 17.

[19] Ibid, 257.

[20] Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol I, 1884-1933.  (New York:  Penguin Books, 1992), 3, 17.
[21] Ibid, 19.

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