Women: Past, Present, Future

 

He never saw her / A hidden figure

though there she was / in plain sight

his property, to do his bidding /  a body, with a brain though

she smiled meekly, got his coffee before he asked / she could outthink him any day

he glared when she dared to speak or dream / she wanted to learn all she could

he told her to sit down and be quiet /  so she persisted

he put his hands up her skirt and laughed /  and she tried to resist

he beat her / she fought back when she could

he told her he was in charge / she tried to change the system

men were always at the top / she educated her daughters and her sons

the world depended on it /  they had to be bold for change

iwd2012

 

A cleave poem for International Women’s Day 2017. The theme for 2017 is “be bold for change.” A cleave poem is three poems in one–left side, right side, and the full lines.

Today’s Google Doodle was a slide show featuring women of diverse backgrounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering for Suffrage

Votes for Women buttons

Collection of pins, Library of Congress

As I walk to the polling place

I think of times not long gone by

Of those not welcomed in this space

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

A robin sings from a pine tree,

Above him blue is the summer sky

Cloudless space, bright tranquility

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Yet elsewhere votes do not get cast

Here flowers bloom, no one will die

To have this right, and hold it fast

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Bread and roses, not much to ask,

Yet, jail and death, and people cry

Freedom and rights, take up the task

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Standing on shoulders of giants,

I walk, I vote, I watch birds fly

Free and high, no fear of tyrants

Votes for women, I hear ghosts sigh

 

Votes for Women

Votes for Women, Washington, D.C. March, Library of Congress

 

For a brief time under New Jersey’s Constitution of 1776, anyone, male or female, black or white, could vote, as long as they could meet monetary or property requirements (this was standard for the time). This right was taken away in 1807. (You can read more here. )

The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited the denial of voting rights to citizen’s based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” thus giving formerly enslaved black men the right to vote.

On June 4, 1919, Congress passed the Nineteenth-Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.” The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Poll taxes and bogus literacy tests (and intimidation) were used to effectively disenfranchise many black voters in the south until the passage of additional laws, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. More recently, some states have passed voter ID laws, which often prevent citizens from voting.

Of course, in many places, men and women are still fighting for the right to vote, or the right to vote without fear of violence.

Here’s Judy Collins singing “Bread and Roses”  . The words originated in a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, “Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread by give us roses.” The women striking in the textile mill of Lawrence, MA, used the slogan, and it became popular again in the 1960s.

 

 

 

 

Looking Back at Looking Back

A few days ago while working on a new book, I needed some information on eighteenth-century men and women who left their spouses and turned to my first book Breaking the Bonds. It’s been quite a while since I’ve really read through it. It was a strange feeling to look back at prose I wrote over twenty years ago, but I was pleased to find I still thought it was good. Sigh of relief, right?

As I read about the unhappy lives of people who died long ago, I thought back about my own life.  I was reading history, but I was thinking about my own history—who I was, how I’ve changed, and how the process of research and writing has changed. Breaking the Bonds started as my doctoral dissertation, and because of that, it is the book I spent the most time researching and writing. I wrote each chapter multiple times and presented each one to professors, other grad students, and seminar groups. I presented versions of some chapters to various professional associations.

When I began the research for this book, few documents or collections were digitized. I didn’t do any of the research online or take notes on my computer. (I had one of the first Apple computer models then—a desk top, of course.) I went to archives with pencils (no pens allowed), index cards, and legal pads.

I was the first historian to really use and write about some of the documents and collections I unearthed during my research, although since that time, other, more celebrated, historians have gone on to discuss them. I was fortunate to be at the right place and the right time as archivists were processing some collections, and several graciously shared papers with me or allowed me to go through them before they were indexed. Those who have never visited archives might not realize how papers can become “buried” in stacks of other papers or within dusty volumes. Although I love the ease of finding and searching through online documents—without having to actually get dressed or worry about driving—there is something special about seeing and holding the actual letter someone in the past wrote to a friend, relative, or official. And something exhilarating about discovering a document that proves a point you want to make or leads you down a new path.

 I was a different person when I did the research for Breaking the Bonds. If I wrote the book now, it would be a different book. Not necessarily better or worse, but different.

Being a full-time graduate student is like nothing else. You are in an artificial world where your job is to read, write, and research, and then talk about it. All the time. Not joking. All the time.  It was a fun, exciting, and scary world to me. At the beginning of my grad school days, I was a twenty-something, but I was naïve and looked younger than I was. I always got carded if I went to a bar. Nearly every Friday night, my math teacher husband and I got together with other young married couples–who were not historians or grad students. We ate dollar hoagies (can you imagine?), or occasionally splurged on pizza or Chinese food. They would ask me what interesting stories I had come across in my research. I’d regale them with the pathos and sexual exploits of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Pennsylvanians, such as the woman who warmed one of her stockings and then dangled it in front of her lover before he could “get it up.” (Interested? It’s in the book!)

I was probably attempting to look professional.

I was probably attempting to look professional.

By the time I finished the dissertation, I had a baby daughter. Right before the book went to press, I gave birth to our second daughter (finishing the index just in time). Now both the babies are grown, and I’ve written and edited many books. I’m a different person. I’m probably still naïve, but I no longer get carded.

As I re-read Breaking the Bonds, I thought about how the world has changed since the eighteenth-century. And how I have changed since I wrote the book. At the same time, much in the world remains the same—people fall in love and lust, have children, enjoy eating and drinking with friends, gossip, and do cruel and horrible things to one another.

 Today I will reenact my grad school days. I told my husband that when I was in grad school I used to read a book in a day and write a review essay about it all the time. The book review I agreed to write for a major journal isn’t due until Wednesday. No problem. I guess I should get started though. Any second now. Wish me luck.

 Thanks for reading!

Merril