Co-Sponsored by the Newberry Library and the University of Chicago
Saturday, May 8, 2004, from 11:00am to 3:00pm
Sex Radicals in Rural America: Print, Power, and Community, 1885-1900
Joanne Passet, Indiana University East
In the late-nineteenth century, the rural women and men who subscribed to the sex radical weekly Lucifer, the Light-Bearer shared a commitment to freedom of expression and an interest in the sexual emancipation of women. Using print as a medium through which they could assert a conscious identification of themselves as aligned with one another and separate from mainstream groups, Lucifer's geographically isolated and culturally alienated readers transformed that publication into a venue for debate and discussion. In this paper, which draws upon published letters and census records, I adopt a reader-centered approach to explore the diffusion and social reproduction of sex radical ideas in rural America. I examine the interpretative community that resulted from the commingling of Lucifer readers' published letters, arguing that this interaction played a critical role in shaping the individual and collective identity of rural sex radicals. Ultimately, the power gained through print helped rural Americans place their stamp on the sex radical movement even as they navigated late-nineteenth century social and economic change.
“What Farmers Read and Liked:” Reading in the Rural Midwest at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
John J. Fry, Trinity Christian College
This paper investigates the general reading habits of rural Midwesterners at the turn of the twentieth century. Midwestern farm families left evidence about their reading in letters, diaries, account books, and other sources. My research suggests that country people read an eclectic mix of local newspapers, farm newspapers, magazines, and books. They used reading to build and maintain their communities, to provide enjoyment for themselves and their families, and to gain useful information for their lives. It appears that rural Midwesterners read the same materials for the same reasons as their urban counterparts.
Print Culture Networks as “Literary” Communities:Women Readers and Writers in the Rural Midwest, 1900-1990
Christine Pawley, University of Iowa
Recovering rural inhabitants' reading experiences poses particular challenges, but uncovering women's social and informational networks can suggest useful sources of records and analytical frameworks. This paper draws on bookmobile records, diaries, published writings and oral memories to uncover the reading-and writing-of twentieth century Midwestern farmwomen. It considers how increased spatial and social mobility intertwined with women's uses of print in ways that affected their exercise of cultural agency. This paper also shows how women made use of available print opportunities locally and extended their reach to women in other places and other circumstances.
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