Women's Studies


“Humbugs and fol-de-rols!”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

This final release of plays from Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes a devastating assault on Abraham Lincoln, an all-female cast in a courtroom drama meant to ridicule women, and a “Negro sketch in two scenes.”


The Royal Ape. By William Russell Smith (1863)

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William Russell Smith was a U.S. congressman from Alabama who served from 1851 to 1857. He subsequently served as a member of the first and second Confederate Congresses. Smith was not the first, nor the last, to describe Lincoln as a simian. He wrote this “dramatic poem” after the Union’s defeat in the Battle of Manassas as the South preferred to call what the North called the First Battle of Bull Run. It is dated January 1, 1863, in anticipation of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Smith’s cast of characters—with the exception of two former slaves, two White House maids, and extras including officers, soldiers, citizens, and senators—are all prominent politicians and generals of the time. In following the action of the play, knowledge of the actual events of the time provides some perspective.

Act I, Scene I, occurs in the White House on the eve of the battle which Smith refers to as Manassas. We discover Mrs. Lincoln and her son Robert who would have been age 20. He has just returned from the House of Representatives and describes with gusto a physical fight that had broken out there.

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“Humbugs and fol-de-rols!”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

Rhyming Verse Reveal, Wielded Women, and a Fraught Freedom: Readex Report (March 2019)

In this issue: Ferreting out forgotten verses of a gifted female poet; using women’s reputations as weapons in Jacksonian Era politics; and Caribbean slaves take faltering steps toward freedom.


The Value of Digitized Newspaper Collections in Researching Neglected Women’s Writing: Two Newly Recovered Works by Ella Rhoads Higginson, First Poet Laureate of Washington State

Laura Laffrado, Professor of English, Western Washington University

RR March 2019 1.jpgIn recent years, my scholarly efforts have been devoted to the recovery of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862?-1940), the first prominent literary author from the U.S. Pacific Northwest and the first Poet Laureate of Washington State. Internationally celebrated for her writing, Higginson put the Pacific Northwest on the literary map. People across the nation and around the world were first introduced to the Pacific Northwest and the people who lived there when they read Higginson’s award-winning… > Full Story


The Role of Women in Early American Presidential Campaigns: Using Newspapers to Explore the Informal Politics of the Jacksonian Era

Rhyming Verse Reveal, Wielded Women, and a Fraught Freedom: Readex Report (March 2019)

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

51e3GlaHyjL__SX338_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe most recent release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes most of the short plays, or comediettas in one act, by the prolific Frances Aymar Mathews. This understudied author was born in New York City in the middle of the 19th-century. She began publishing in the 1880s. In addition to plays, her written output included feature articles, short stories and such novels as My Lady Peggy Goes to Town and Allee Same.

Eighteen of Mathews’ shorter plays are included in this release. When reading her works, Edith Wharton comes to mind. They were contemporaries, shared a Manhattan upbringing during the Gilded Age, and were sensitive to class distinctions and social niceties. It may be something of a stretch to compare Mathews to Jane Austen, but both women are close observers of the foibles of the prosperous and employ a satirical view of them. There is one more comparison to make, to wit, William Dean Howells. Again, this may be a stretch, but the famous Howells and the obscure Mathews wrote short plays which, as previously noted here, featured wealthy people with ample time to expand upon largely trivial events.

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

"Using the Weed" and Other 19th-Century Plays for ‘Female Characters Only’

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This month’s release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, adds several plays with all-female casts. Three such works are highlighted here.


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Written by George Melville Baker and first published in 1865, “Using the ‘Weed’” takes place in a small boarding school for young ladies. There are seven characters including Miss Betty Bookworm who is the principal of the school, her assistant Mrs. Starch, three young ladies, and the twin sister aunts of student Clarissa Harlowe Smithers.

Clarissa is a playful girl who takes pleasure in rattling her spinster guardians. To the distress of her classmates, she is dedicated to her sewing machine:

Mary. I declare, Clari, you will wear yourself out at the sewing machine.

Fanny. Your devoted attachment to that useful but tiresome instrument is really surprising.

Clarissa. Law, girls, I shall never tire of it. You know it is a novelty to me.

Fanny. Novelty! Why, I imagined there was not a family in the world without one.

Mary. Mother has had one ever since I can recollect.

Fanny. The idea that a young lady, with such a romantic name as Clarissa Harlowe Smithers, should become such a devoted slave to the needle and treadle is very surprising.

"Using the Weed" and Other 19th-Century Plays for ‘Female Characters Only’

Now available for trial! Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900

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The inaugural release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes plays that range over the most popular genres of its 80-year time span. There are comedies and melodramas, Revolutionary and Civil War dramas, plays with all-women and all-black casts, temperance plays, and plays for children for school and home entertainment, as well as many plays written by women. Here are some examples of the diversity of genres and titles now available:

Histories:

  • ‘Pocahontas. A Historical Drama, in Five Acts’ by Robert Dale Owen (1837)
  • ‘The Ku Klux Klan, or, The Carpet-Bagger in New Orleans’ by Elizabeth Avery Meriwether (1877)

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Tragedies:

  • ‘Mohammed, The Arabian Prophet. A Tragedy in Five Acts’ by George Henry Miles (1850)

Comedies:

Now available for trial! Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900

‘The Hard Pillow of the Dying Hero’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection

This month’s release of imprints from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes the personal account of a formidable nurse and her care of wounded and dying Union Army soldiers, an address to a reunion of Confederate veterans in 1895, and a first-person description of a southern woman’s travails in a Union prison in the post-war era.


In Hospital and Camp: A Woman’s Record of Thrilling Incidents among the Wounded in the Late War (1869)

By Sophronia E. Bucklin

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Sophronia Bucklin (1828-1902) was an unmarried seamstress born in 1828 and living in upstate New York when the war began. She was determined to serve, as her opening paragraph of this account makes clear.

When, in the complexity of national affairs, it became necessary for armed men to assemble in multitudes, to become exposed to the hardships and privations of camps and deadly peril of battle fields, there arose the same necessity for woman to lend her helping hand to bind up the wounds of the shattered soldier, and smooth the hard pillow of the dying hero.

She met her mission, and her tireless work did not go unnoticed although she may not be as well remembered as Dorothea Dix or Clara Barton. Someone using the initials S.L.C. has written an introduction to this imprint in which she cites Bucklin as the embodiment of countless women of courage and forbearance.

‘The Hard Pillow of the Dying Hero’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection

‘The Privileged Order’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The December release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes three items by women: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria V. Clayton and Sallie Holley. Each offers a different perspective on America’s peculiar institution.

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Address in Favor of Universal Suffrage for the Election of Delegates to the Constitutional Convention (1867)

By Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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‘The Privileged Order’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

"Equal power and privileges": Victoria Woodhull, First Woman Nominated for President of the United States

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In 2016 Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win a major political party’s nomination for U.S. president. While she campaigns this year to earn the votes of as many men and women as possible, the first woman to run for America’s highest office did so at a time when only men had the right to vote. Although Victoria Woodhull knew her 1872 bid for the U.S. presidency would be considered outlandish, she understood that a female bid for the presidency would be seriously considered in the future.

In the presidential election of 1872 Woodhull faced Republican Party nominee Ulysses S. Grant, Liberal Republican Party nominee Horace Greeley, and several others.  Coverage of the Woodhull campaign, as found in Early American Newspapers, gives a unique perspective of the public response to her audacious role in American politics.

Reporting reveals Woodhull to have been an electrifying public speaker who expressed her opinions, no matter what the response. The press seemed to have enjoyed making a spectacle of her public speeches and depicted them as well-attended, rowdy events:

"Equal power and privileges": Victoria Woodhull, First Woman Nominated for President of the United States

Just published—The Readex Report: February 2016

In this issue, Professor Joycelyn Moody challenges students in a Spring 2015 graduate seminar to collaboratively craft articles fueled by discoveries within Afro-Americana Imprints. Moody discusses the students’ work in the context of black/white relations post-Ferguson. The three student-written articles—also published here—focus on female interracial activism, the subtext of Christian abolitionist works, and the motives of 19th-century benefactors.


Unlearning from Uncle Tom's Cabin in Black Literary Studies After Ferguson: Perspectives from a Graduate Seminar Utilizing Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922 

By Joycelyn Moody, Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature, University of Texas at San Antonio

Just published—The Readex Report: February 2016

“This Great and Glorious Country”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

The January release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a philosophical exploration of death and future life, a moving slave narrative, and the autobiography of the U.S. Army’s first African American nurse. 


Death, Hades, and the Resurrection (1883) 

By Theophilus Gould Steward 

Educator, clergyman, and Buffalo Soldier, Theophilus Gould Steward was born to free African Americans in New Jersey in 1843. This work was published when Steward was 40, eight years before he joined the 25th U.S. Colored Infantry and two years after he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Wilberforce University.    

Steward begins Death, Hades, and the Resurrection by asking questions pondered since time immemorial: 

What is it to die? Do we live after death? Can anything be known of the experiences, and employments, of those beyond death? Is there any possible means of communication between the living and the dead? Is there any communication among the dead themselves? Are there any individual joys, or sorrows, among them? 

Steward turns to religion, specifically Christianity, to answer these seemingly scientific queries. He begins by acknowledging religion “has no self-evident axioms from which it may proceed, as science has; no list of experiments by which it can be tested beforehand; but claims Faith first, and investigation afterward.” But he then muddies that distinction: 

“This Great and Glorious Country”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

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