A Valentine from the National Woman’s Party

February 12th, 2014 by Tegan Talbot

With Valentines Day upon us it seemed as though timing was in my favor. I was reading newspaper clippings from the National Woman’s Party collection when a specific article caught my eye. But first, I shall give you a small background into my research at the Maine Women Writers Collection. I am a history student at the University of Southern Maine, interning at the MWWC, and working towards creating an exhibit for the collection at the end of the semester. I expressed my interest in studying woman’s movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, having previously done research on the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. When Cathleen suggested that they had a collection on the National Woman’s Party, I jumped at the opportunity to learn about a different women’s movement.

The National Woman’s Party was first formed in 1916 to fight for women’s suffrage in all states of the U.S. The party gained much of their influence from Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The Nation Woman’s Party collection holds newspaper clippings, photographs, pamphlets, and reports of conferences and meetings held by the party. The “Susan B. Anthony Amendment” was the party’s main focus when they first formed. The Amendment would later become the 19th Amendment in 1920, when it was finally ratified and women gained the right to vote.

The clippings I came across in the collection, were Valentine’s Day poems and images. The National Woman’s Party used these poems and images in the hopes of persuading politicians and businessmen to support the women’s suffrage movement. The Image in the clipping is the valentine they sent to President Wilson to gain his support. The women are holding little hearts that say “votes.”

Clipping from a National Woman's Party scrapbook

These valentines are a very different way to look at the holiday most people associate with flowers, chocolate, and loved ones. The women of the 1916 National Woman’s Party were much more concerned with gaining their right to vote than who they would be spending their Valentine’s Day with. The clippings from the collection allow us to glimpse back at a world where women’s live were much different than ours today.

The Cobweb Club of Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat

October 27th, 2011 by Catherine Fisher

A couple of weeks ago, when the sun was still managing full swing by 6 instead of remaining tucked away for nearly another hour, I noticed in my back yard a large cobweb resplendent in early morning light. So magical was it in both its size and complexity that I tried to capture its brilliance with my phone. Although the image doesn’t do it justice, it’s a souvenir of a moment of awe at one spider’s glorious expression of ingenuity, artistry and survival.

Here at work a day or two later, I went into the Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat Collection for a researcher and noticed the folder containing The Annals of the Cobweb Club, a handwritten record of the meetings of a private women’s organization founded and led by Sweat in the early 1890s. I slipped the fragile journal from its envelope and began to leaf through the very detailed log, spying more than a few famous surnames and eye-catching keywords in my brief scan while hunched between the stacks.

I remembered that a few years ago Portland artist Alex Sax had created an installation piece entitled “The Cobweb Club,” inspired by this volume and exhibited first at the Portland Museum of Art and then in the smaller space of our library’s walk-in display case. Sax’s cast paper spiders and jaguars and other three-dimensional components of the installation created such a colorful, interiorizing tableau of the story of the group, and I knew I wanted to spend some time with this journal myself. She described the history of the group in her museum exhibit brochure:

So, with spiders and webs crossing my path now twice, I decided to take that more in-depth look at the annals to find out just who these women were and what went on at their weekly meetings of the mind. With the motto of  “The cobwebs of one generation make the cables of the next,” the serious nature of their collaboration was declared. The first pages of the log deliver the founding principles and mission, followed by the list of initial members:

“A preliminary meeting was held at Mrs. Sweat’s rooms at the Richmond on Saturday morning, January 11 (1890). The ladies present were Mrs. Hawley, Mrs. Hornsby, Mrs. Sweat, Miss Seward, Miss Horner, Miss Upton and Miss Bell.

The following constitution and by-laws were agreed upon:

1. The club shall be called The Cobweb Club.

2. The number of its members shall be limited to twelve.

3. Its meetings shall be held every Monday morning, at the residence of a member, at 11 o’clock.

4. Each member shall have the privilege of bringing one friend to any meeting, except business meetings.

5. The utmost freedom of discussion shall be permitted.

6. Each member is expected to furnish her contribution to the general entertainment—the subject and method of presentment to be of her own choice.

7. Conversation and discussion to be encouraged.

8. The details of the organization to be kept a profound secret from the public; and a pleasing air of mystery to be allowed to form a halo around the proceedings.

9. The officers of the club shall be a President and a Secretary – to be elected by the embers in council.

10. Vacancies in membership shall be filled by balloting for proposed candidates; one adverse vote being sufficient to exclude.

11. The duties of the President or First Eye to be chiefly esoteric – those of the Secretary or Second Eye to be chiefly exoteric.

12. The names of candidates for membership shall be proposed at one meeting and voted for at the next meeting.

List of Members:

Edith A. Hawley

Harriet B. Bancroft

Rebekah Black Hornsby

Aileen Adine Bell

Sara Carr Upton

Beatrice Hornor (returned to England)

Olive Reilly Seward

Margaret J. M. Sweat

Misina Blair Richey

Sophie Markoe Emmons

Phoebe A. Hearst

Susan H. P. Dyer

Mary Chandler Hale

Alice Worthington Winthrop

Edla Jean McPherson

As much as I was interested in getting to the intellectual papers that the women presented at these meetings (sin and remorse, suicide, George Eliot, chastity, the War of 1812, Browning and Tennyson, cremation, suffrage, personal identity…quite an array!) I was first curious about the weavers themselves who had come together to create such a circle.

A little Internet research revealed that they came from California, Washington, Maine, Connecticut, Kentucky, England, etc. In addition to being a mixture of authors (Sweat, a novelist and literary critic; Upton, the author of a book on mysticism; Emmons, a poet; Winthrop, author of a book on diet and convalescence,) as well feminists, suffragists, travelers and philanthropists, they were also mothers, daughters, sisters and wives of prominent people.

Phoebe Apperson Hearst was the mother of William Randolph Hearst and founder of what is now known as the Hearst Museum;

Aileen Adine Bell was sister to Alexander Graham Bell;

Rebekah Black Hornsby was the daughter of Judge Jeremiah S. Black, Attorney General and later Secretary of State in President Buchannan’s cabinet;

Edith Ann Hornor Hawley was the wife of Joseph Roswell Hawley, Civil War Union Brevet Major General, Connecticut Governor, US Congressman and US Senator;

Harriet B. Bancroft was an art collector and wife of John Chandler Bancroft, also known as Bancroft Davis, who served as Assistant Secretary of State, United States Minister to Germany and Judge of the U.S. Court of Claims;

Olive Risley Seward was the (controversially) adopted daughter of William Henry Seward, United States Secretary of State under Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. She was a travel writer and author of children’s stories in her later life;

Mary Chandler Hale was the daughter of Senator Zachariah Chandler (a leading force in the founding of the Republican Party in Michigan,) the widow of Republican Senator Eugene Hale of Maine, and the mother of Republican Senator Frederick Hale of Maine.

Finally, Minna Blair Richey was the daughter of Montgomery Blair who served as Dred Scott’s attorney in Dred Scott vs. Sanford, as well as US Postmaster General under Andrew Jackson.

These women and their guests (Susan B. Anthony among them) brought to their roundtable of  intellectual probings such a richness of opinion, experience and exposure, as well as connections to an outer world of powerful doers and achievers. How might have their connections informed their opinions or impacted their selection of topics to be discussed? Did the group perhaps function as a place for them to escape limitations experienced in that outer web? Could a map be made of their constellation of ever-widening interconnections, and what might such a schematic reveal of the ingenuity, artistry and survival woven into the web from so many angles, all to arrive at a central, convening circle? Lots of think about from social, political and geographic perspectives.

And if you were to create a map of the co-weavers in your own personal web of connections, who would they be and to what aspects of the world would they connect you? Who are the members of your own Cobweb Club?




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.