3:00 - 5:00 p.m., "Women's Voices in the Public Sphere" cosponsored with the National Women's History Museum. A discussion of two new books: Their Right to Speak: Women’s Activism in the Indian and Slave Debates by Alisse Portnoy, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature, University of Michigan, and Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy by Louise W. Knight. With commentators Nancy Isenberg, Mary Frances Barnard Co-Chair of 19th Century American History, University of Tulsa, and
Elizabeth Israels Perry, John Francis Bannon Professor of History, Saint Louis University
Women could neither vote nor hold office in the 1830s – but that did not prevent some of them from participating in political life. Alisse Portnoy has discovered 1,500 petitions sent to the U.S. Congress by women in the 1830s to protest the forced removal of Native Americans from southern states. It is the first known instance of women’s collective national political activism, and Portnoy juxtaposes it against the activism of women in the debates over the desirability of abolition and African colonization to suggest the way women carved out a public space for themselves and the strains that doing so entailed.
In spite of such activism, when Jane Addams was born in 1860, women were still relegated to the private sphere and their voices were muted. In Louise Knight’s words, Addams grew up and began her life of private social activism believing that “public policy battles and politics were for men only.” Her growing recognition that the success of private efforts to ameliorate the hard lives of the less privileged was inevitably related to decisions made in the political sphere helped turn her into the iconic figure known for her work at Hull House.
In examining some of the first efforts of American women to achieve a public voice, and the struggles of women like Addams to achieve recognition for their voices at the end of the twentieth century, these two volumes add substantially to our knowledge of the history of women in the United States.
Division of United States Studies
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20004-3027
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