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Women In Nineteenth-Century America

As household production by women declined and the traditional economic role of women diminished, the “home” appeared as a topic to be discussed and an ideal to be lauded. Less a place of production than a spiritually sanctified retreat from the hurly-burly of economic life, the home was where women nurtured men and children into becoming morally elevated beings. It could be said that what we think of as the traditional “home” was actually an invention of nineteenth-century Americans.Continue Reading »

Women and Nineteenth-Century Reform

The work of Dorothea Dix to improve the treatment of persons with mental illness illustrates the gendered nature of nineteenth-century reform activity. Like many women of her generation, Dix began her career as a teacher, a profession that many women and men believed ideally suited to women as it both mirrored and prepared them for their roles within the home. Dix’ tireless activism within the Unitarian church and sense of moral religious duty was also common for women of her day. Eventually Dix felt that school teaching was insufficiently rewarding and in 1831 left the United States for a tour of England and Scotland. There, she became acquainted with a number of leading reformers who worked to improve the conditions for the poor and the mentally ill. On her return to the United States, Dix accepted a position to teach Sunday School to women prisoners at the East Cambridge jail. Thus, her life’s purpose grew out of a very common role for women at this time, that of educator and moral guide.Continue Reading »

Scott, Dred

On March 6, 1857, the United States Supreme Court finally ruled in Dred Scott v Sandford [Sanford was misspelled by a court clerk]. In a 7-2 decision written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the majority of justices said that Scott and all slaves and free blacks were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no standing in the courts. Shortly after the decision was handed down Mrs. Emerson freed Scott. The case itself led to the nullification of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, allowing the expansion of slavery into formerly free territories and the legal principle that African Americans, slave or free, were not citizens of the United States. The backlash to this decision strengthened the abolitionist movement and further divided the North and South, leading four years later to the U.S. Civil War. Continue Reading »

Lovejoy, Owen

Owen Lovejoy (January 6, 1811 – March 25, 1864) was an American lawyer, Congregational minister, abolitionist, and Republican congressman from Illinois. He was also a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. After his brother Elijah Lovejoy was murdered in November 1837 by pro-slavery forces, Owen became the leader of abolitionists in Illinois.Continue Reading »

Stewart, Maria Miller

Maria W. Stewart (1803-1880) was one of the first American women to leave copies of her speeches. The address below is her second public lecture. It was given on September 21, 1832 in Franklin Hall in Boston, the meeting site of the new England Anti-Slavery Society. Although as an abolitionist, she usually attacked slavery, in this address she condemns the attitude that denied black women education and prohibited their occupational advancement. In fact she argues that Northern African American women, in term of treatment, were only slightly better off than slaves.Continue Reading »

Truth, Sojourner

The turning point in Isabella’s life came on June 1, 1843, when at the age of 52 she adopted a new name, Sojourner Truth, and headed east for the purpose of “exhorting the people to embrace Jesus, and refrain from sin.” For several years, she preached at camp meetings and lived in a utopian community, the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, which devoted itself to transcending class, race, and gender distinctions.Continue Reading »

Underground Railroad, The (1820-1861)

The Underground Railroad worked as a series of networks. The journey north was an extremely long route and the Underground Railroad provided depots or safe houses along the way. Those that led the runaway slaves north did so in stages. No conductor knew the entire route; he or she was responsible for the short routes from station to station. Once the “cargo” reached another station, it would be passed on to the next conductor until the entire route was traversed. This limited knowledge protected both the fugitive slaves and the integrity of the routes which sometimes extended over 1,000 miles. Continue Reading »

Brown, William Wells

By 1843 Brown was lecturing regularly on his experiences in slavery for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. By that time he also became deeply committed to lecturing on behalf of women’s rights and temperance laws. It was this involvement as a prominent speaker that many historians and scholars suggest provided the trajectory for his later career as a writer.Continue Reading »

First Annual Report Of The Trustees Of (Mass.) State Lunatic Hospital: 1833

Other institutions, both in Europe and America, which have exhibited the most remarkable proportion of cures, have discriminated in their admissions, receiving the more hopeful cases only. The inmates at Worcester have been a more select class than were ever before assembled together; but unfortunately for success in regard to cures, it has been a selection of the most deplorable cases in the whole community. Of the one hundred and sixty-four individuals received, considerably more than one half came from jails, almshouses and houses of correction, and about one third of the whole number had suffered confinement for periods varying from ten to thirty-two years. Continue Reading »

A Chapter on Idiots (1854)

The wearing uncertainty of many years succeeds the infancy. The ignorant notions of idiocy that prevailed before we knew even the little that we yet know of the brain, prevent the parents recognizing the state of the case. The old legal accounts of idiocy, and the old suppositions of what it is, are very unlike what they see. The child ought not, according to legal definition, to know his own name, but he certainly does; for when his own plate or cup is declared to be ready, be rushes to it. He ought not to be able, by law, “to know letters;” yet he can read, and even write, perhaps, although nobody can tell how he learned, for he never seemed to attend when taught. It was just as if his fingers and tongue went of themselves, while his mind was in the moon. Again, the law declared any body an idiot “who could not count twenty pence;” whereas this boy seems, in some unaccountable way, to know more about sums (of money and of every thing else) than any body in the family. He does not want to learn figures, his arithmetic is strong without them, and always instantaneously ready…Continue Reading »

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