Greetings At The Front

November 29th, 2010 by Gay Marks

Book inserts can often belie their innocent appearance. Take, for example, the following opening sentence on the back of a 1919 Christmas card note: “I suppose you are ‘off to The War’ in some capacity.” The card was sent to Theodore Eastman and found as an insert in the Maine Women Writers Collection book, The Smiling Hill-top by Julia Sloane, also the author of the card’s note. (Many of Ted Eastman’s books came to MWWC –inside this particular book is an additional letter from Ms. Sloane to Mr. Eastman pasted inside the book’s cover.)

In The Smiling Hill-top and Other California Sketches, Julia Sloane writes with great humor and color of her family’s adjustment to the new landscape of Southern California, having moved therefrom New England. However, her card’s opening line to Mr. Eastman tells of America’s involvement in the war in Europe at the time of the book’s publishing. Ms. Sloane also goes on to say in the note that she might “offer to be your [Eastman’s] ‘godmother’ if you are at the front.” What is jarring about these sentences is that they are in stark contrast to the sentiment of the holiday card—“Merrie Christmas.” War at Christmas time, at any time, is tragic.

Ted Eastman did live beyond WWI, and if, in fact, he did go to the “front,”  this card may have become his talisman and been saved as a reminder to Mr. Eastman of his good fortune to have survived a horrific war– or possibly the card was just saved as a token of the author’s friendship. What can be surmised, once this insert was uncovered, was the importance of the card to both the sender and the person who had to reconcile the personal message with the card’s holiday greeting.

Grateful for the Vibrance of Youth: Coastal Studies for Girls

November 24th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

Last Saturday, I was extremely grateful to have the privilege to work with a group of students from Coastal Studies for Girls in Freeport, Maine.  They came with their English teacher on a field trip, after having spent the semester studying nature writers, including Sarah Orne Jewett and Rachel Carson, whose work we have in the collection.  They came in, dropped their coats in my office, and moved into the reading room.  A group of them sat down on the long couch we have against one wall.  I told them that they were sitting on Sarah Orne Jewett’s couch, which thrilled them.  It made me smile, too.  Their enthusiasm and energy made coming into work on a Saturday completely worth it.

The group from Coastal Studies for Girls

They were kind enough to write about their experience in the collection:

I am the English Teacher at Coastal Studies For Girls, and recently took my class on a field trip to the Maine Women Writers Collection. After having read many Maine women writers during the semester, the students were thrilled to see the collection and dove into it with enthusiasm and questions. I had to drag them out of the rare books room, almost two hours later, when it was time to go. When the class returned from the field trip they wrote about their experience at the collection. The following passage is from one of my students.

~Leah Titcomb, English Faculty, Coastal Studies For Girls: A Science and Leadership School

This is probably the happiest sight of my professional career!

I stepped into the rich, old smell of books. In the small rare books room, there were several shelves lined with books, all by woman writers of Maine. I walked to the last row of books, and breathed deeply, running my fingers over each precious binding. The book I paused at was small and tan. Bhisma the Dancing Bear, was neatly typed in black letters on the spine. I carefully opened the rough cover, and sank down onto the floor, where the other girls had done the same. I lowered myself onto the pig-pile without taking my eyes off the print. There, I slipped into a trance of the story of the dancing bear.

-Charlotte

I hope that this will be an ongoing partnership.  As I told my colleagues earlier this week, I feel so strongly that the more we reach out to youth, the more we will find that they are engaged, excited, and far more thoughtful than we sometimes give them credit for.  These girls were pure joy to work with.  I wish them all well on their life journeys, whether in Los Angeles, New York, or Maine!

–Cathleen

From the Vote to the E.R.A.: Enfranchisement

November 22nd, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

"An Appeal to the Women Voters" is one leaflet from the National Woman Party collection at the MWWC.

During the period between the Seneca Falls Convention and the ratification of the 19th Amendment, many states enacted suffrage legislation that granted women the right to vote.  In the “Appeal to the Women Voters” at right, Alma Belmont of New York asked for the assistance of women who were living in states that where women were enfranchised.

She wrote, “I, as an unenfranchised woman, residing in the State of New York, where, under the law, women rank with minors, aliens, criminals and idiots, send this appeal to you, the women of the West, living in an enfranchised State and recognized in the community as voting citizens, possessing equal rights with the men of our country…

As from time immemorial women have stood together, shoulder to shoulder, for the betterment of civic conditions, for reforms that political corruption make necessary, for the preservation of human life, for high religious standards, the protection of the home, the uplift of humanity; so now we of the East are confident that justice-loving women of the West will co-operate in demanding of our Government the political enfranchisement of the women of the United States.  It is in the power of women to free women, the most exalted task the world has ever set; and the achievement will glorify forever the sisterhood of a new era which heralds the complete unity of the women of the future.”

Mrs. Belmont’s impassioned plea for women to work together for unity is a great example of the rhetorical strategies of suffragists.

This image of jailed suffragists is part of the National Woman Party collection at MWWC.

A key event in the push for women’s suffrage was the beginning of World War I.  Men were being shipped overseas to fight for democracy and freedom, while their wives were unable to cast a vote.

At this time, a group of women decided that it was time to start their own political war. The absence of American men highlighted the fact that women were essential to the nation and could accomplish much when they worked together. These persevering women marched and protested to call for women’s suffrage. They were arrested but continued to fight for equality.  In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was passed, finally enfranchising all women.

From the VOTE to the ERA, exhibit installment #2

November 18th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

Yesterday, after posting the first installment of our exhibit, I went home to hear the results of yesterday’s Senate vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated in a procedural motion.  I stood in my kitchen, dumbfounded, and listened to the discussion about the continued disparity in pay between men and women, despite the fact that many women are now the sole breadwinners for their families.  The defeat of this act is a blow to women’s equality because without the ability to challenge employers without fear of retaliation, women are still subject to discrimination in the workplace because of loopholes in the law.  In 2010, after the passage of the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act, women still make between 65 and 77 cents to every dollar that men make for the same work in the same position; the lower rates are for Latinas and African-American women.  If this is not an argument for the continued need for feminism, I don’t know what is.

Please share your comments with us.  Do you think we need feminism today?

Today’s installment of the exhibit highlights the work of suffrage organizers in the early to mid-1800s, up to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, where the first wave of feminism in the United States was born.

One of many books in our collection about women's activism.

Many women’s rights advocates came to see the need for women’s liberation through their involvement in the abolition movement.  After being denied full participation at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott returned to the United States with renewed vision to create a convention that would focus on the emancipation of women.

At the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, Stanton, Mott, and others convened and presented their Declaration of Sentiments.  This document took its language from the Declaration of Independence, and offered a platform for all women to lobby for equal rights, especially the right to vote.  The “first wave” of the feminist movement was born at Seneca Falls, and helped to create a cohesive message for activism, mobilizing women to protest inequalities in education, marriage, and political life.

Excerpt from "Women's Wrongs" by Gail Hamilton

“Is it then the act of casting a ballot which is to draw or drive woman out of her sphere, –this woman who in the centre of her sphere has already performed all the work preliminary to voting, whose opinions are matured, whose decisions are formed?  But on occasion of a concert, a lecture, even a political address, she already goes to the same place and sees very nearly the same men that she would on election-days.  At what moment then, at what point, does she take the final step that puts her beyond her sphere?”

from Woman’s Wrongs: a counter- irritant by Gail Hamilton (Boston, 1868)

Tomorrow, we will close out the week with a look at the movement’s focus from the Seneca Falls convention through the passage of the 19th amendment.  Check back next week for the conclusion of the exhibit, and if you are in Portland, please drop in to see the complete exhibit in the collection.

From the Vote to the E.R.A.: an exhibit by installment

November 17th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

This is the first installment of the online version of our new exhibit in the collection, “From the VOTE to the ERA: Women’s Activism in the 20th Century“.  Each post will feature a few images and a short interpretive text that introduces the historical context for women’s activism, as it evolved during the twentieth century.

We ask visitors to the exhibit to reflect upon the meaning of feminism in the 21st century, and encourage them to share their comments with us in the voting box (pictured above, atop the display case).  We would like to ask you, our readers, to reflect on these questions:

What defines the feminist movement today?  Does the movement speak to you/for you?  Do you think we need feminism now?  What agenda should feminists have for activism in this century?

We would love to hear what you think!

One of many buttons from the Nancy Dibner papers at the MWWC.

From the early years of the American republic, women have been speaking out for equal rights.  In her famous letter to her husband John, Abigail Adams asked that the Continental Congress “Remember the Ladies” as they were writing the Declaration of Independence.  The final wording of the Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.”

Women’s place in American society after the Declaration was certainly not one of equality, and as women began to see continuing evidence of political and societal inequities, they started to envision a world in which they would be treated as equals.

Photo of suffragists from the National Woman Party collection at the MWWC.

The collections included in this exhibit document women’s activism in the suffrage movement and during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s.  The Maine Women Writers Collection holds a small collection of papers from the Massachusetts branch of the National Woman Party; we also have the papers of writers and activists Anne Hazlewood-Brady, Ramona Sawyer Barth, and Nancy Cushman Dibner.  We pulled materials from each of these collections for this exhibit.

We will be posting a new piece of the exhibit daily for the next week.  Please check back tomorrow for more about the progression of the feminist movement leading up to women’s enfranchisement in 1920.