Current Issue Article Abstracts
October 2020, Vol. 144, No. 3
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I often share the following anecdote when describing my feminist origin story. As a child fascinated by the 1988 presidential election, I determined that I wanted to be president when I grew up. When I shared this ambition with an adult friend of the family, however, his response was blunt: "Well, you can't be the president," he told me, "but you can be the first lady."
At the time, no evidence existed to disprove his assertion. Four years earlier, Geraldine Ferraro had become the first woman to appear on a major party's presidential ticket when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale selected her as his running mate. Sitting vice president George H. W. Bush appeared unsure of how to treat his opponent when the two appeared on the debate stage together in Philadelphia in October 1984. "Let me help you, Mrs. Ferraro," he offered at one point, assuming that he needed to educate her about foreign policy—and depriving the congresswoman of her proper honorific in the process. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket went on to lose a historically lopsided election the next month, and in the thirty years since, only three women have matched Ferraro's accomplishment.
Too Young, Too Strident, Too Radical, Too Dangerous: American Women Pursue Political Voice
Emma Jones Lapsansky, Marion W. Roydhouse
UNITED STATES, August of 2020: on the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, which removed legal restrictions from American women's right to vote, a woman is on a major-party ticket for an American presidential election.1 Much has changed in the near century-and-a-half since Victoria Claflin Woodhull, representing a tiny, marginal political party, made a bid for the presidency, and much has changed in the ways that historians have understood, analyzed, and narrated those changes. The essays gathered here reflect some of the dynamics associated with those changes, including how "politics" has come to connote not only formal political structures of party politics and government but also informal arenas of power and public influence.
Mary Penry and the Politics of Singleness
Scott Paul Gordon
The Welsh immigrant Mary Penry (1735–1804) described herself as a "Great Politician." Residing in the Moravian communities at Bethlehem and Lititz, she eagerly consumed and exchanged political news. The single sisters' house in which she lived was a religious, social, and economic unit in which women governed and sustained themselves. It offered Penry the rare opportunity in early America to remain single and, more generally, exposed a radical alternative to the marriages that seemed compulsory to most eighteenth-century women. Penry thought of the single sisters' house as a profound experiment in how to create and maintain an alternative family.
A pioneer in the women's rights movement, Angelina Grimke is also known for retreating into the home after marrying fellow abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, just as her career was at its high point. Before her marriage, such male abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison and H. C. Wright tried to shape Grimke's career, deliberately or unwittingly ignoring their own patriarchal tendencies toward her. Similarly, fellow abolitionists and historians alike have mourned Grimke's retreat to domestic life as a loss to the antislavery and women's rights movements. Despite outside pressure, Grimke made her own decisions and continued to con-tribute significantly to the antislavery cause on her own terms, even after she left the lecture circuit. By choosing her own path, Grimke made the ultimate argument for a woman's right to self-determination.
Nineteenth-century Black women's intellectual history has centered primarily on well- known women whose writing and community activism allow scholars to understand more about the lives and contributions of free Black women in the pre–Civil War period. Yet the discussion about such forerunning women as Maria W. Stewart, Jarena Lee, Sojourner Truth, Sarah Mapps Douglass, and others isolates them from the wider communities of African American women in which they existed. This study explores the intersections between elite and working-class Black women in antebellum Philadelphia. Viewed within the context of the poor and working-c lass demographics whose numbers superseded the Black well-t o-do, the efforts of African American women intellectuals and activists take on a more complex meaning. Primarily, the connection of Black socioeconomic class groups in the city offers a unique perspective on the conditions and ideas that informed the intellectual and activist traditions of Black women throughout the nineteenth century.
This essay reads Frances Watkins Harper's novel Sowing and Reaping, which pairs boycott with charity, as an artifact of women's empowerment, offering scholars a glimpse into the ways reformers effected women's suffrage through temperance reform. By marshalling the power of the purse through consumer activism, women fought both for better lives, free from the dangers they perceived in the liquor trade, and for the power of legal enfranchisement. Harper's novel calls women's place into question, arguing for women's right to interfere in political, social, and economic spaces in order to defend the stability of the national domestic space.
WHEN RESEARCHERS LOOK at Quaker family archives, they are often searching for abolitionist correspondence or the financial details of family life, not the emotional reflections of teenage girls. Yet, within the Lewis-Fussell Family Papers at the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College and the Sarah Wistar Rhoads Collection at Haverford College Special Collections, the diaries and letters of teenagers Sallie Wistar, Emma Jane Fussell, and Jane Gibbons Rhoads offer a window into how young Quaker women in the mid-nineteenth century located a sense of purpose and use in serving their community. Although these young Quaker girls were not involved in partisan or electoral politics, their desire to serve their communities meant they defined their self-worth in a nascently political way.
OBSERVERS OF PENNSYLVANIA'S POLITICAL scene might have noticed that in 2018, three socialist-affiliated women were elected to the state House of Representatives. What few observers likely know is that, eighty-eight years prior, an Indiana-born labor and socialist leader, Lilith Martin Wilson, became the first socialist woman, the fourteenth woman in general, and the first woman from Berks County elected to the general assembly. In 1930, the working people of Reading sent Wilson and Darlington Hoopes to Harrisburg, where they represented the energized and highly organized Reading socialist movement. Together, they pushed state politics to the left, even as their caucus constituted a miniscule legislative minority. Twice reelected, the pair left a mark on the state's politics few third-party politicians have achieved.