The History of Romance

February 10th, 2016

An estimated 145 million greeting cards will be bought for Valentine’s Day this year, according to the Greeting Card Association, and that’s not counting the boxed sets that children exchange at class parties. Valentine’s Day is the second most popular greeting card holiday of the year. Americans love to express their feelings by exchanging paper declarations of affection.

The giving and receiving of valentines or love tokens dates to medieval times, but the origins of the modern celebration lie in the eighteenth18th century with the rise of romantic marriage. During the 18th century, society encouraged young people to select their marriage partners based on their romantic attachments. This was a decided change from past practice when marriages had been arranged to cement relationships between families or clans and to consolidate fortunes. Brides’ and grooms’ feelings were not of paramount consideration. While love and respect might be a byproduct of marriage, young couples had not entered into marriage with that expectation. That changed in the eighteenth century.

You know what to expect from me, as you have seen my character of a good wife. Suppose I tell you now, what I, in my turn, expect, and how you may best please me and make me happy.—Thus then I begin—Let me ever have the sweet consiousness of knowing myself the best beloved of your heart—I do not always require a lover’s attention—that wou’d be impossible, but let it never appear by your conduct that I am indifferent to you. ~ (Margaret Davenport Coulter to John Coulter, May 10, 1795)

As expectations increased that marriage would be built on a foundation of love rather than mutual, economic interest, the way that partners were selected had to evolve. When parents stopped making the selection, prospective lovers needed to find one another and then determine the extent of mutual attraction. Courtship became a distinctive phase of partner selection, and familiar rituals evolved. Young women, perhaps more than young men, often enjoyed the process of courtship as it represented a time of freedom and choice. The selection of a husband was the most important decision a girl would make, but it was also the most autonomous. Courting empowered young women. They decided who to accept or reject, and some wielded their power ruthlessly.

You know I have never with all my faults betrayed one symptom of vanity, but now if you should discover a little spice of it can you Wonder—just at this moment are at my entire disposal two of the Very Smartest Beaux this country can boast of… . There is much speculation going on as to the preference I shall give & tho I do not intend to practice one Coquettish air … yet for my own amusement do I intend to leave these speculating geniuss to their own conjectures … till I have made up my mind. (Letter from Eliza Ambler to Mildred Smith, February 1785.)

Courtship requires that prospective lovers reveal their feelings and that they do so more creatively and sincerely than their competitors. Exchanging Valentines became a popular way to express those feelings. A popular eighteenth-century Valentine form was a homemade love-letter puzzle. The writer intricately folded the paper, writing a different sentiment in each section. As the beloved unfolded the Valentine, her lover’s feelings were revealed. Many were sentimentally preserved and reside in museum collections today.

 

Reproduction Love-Letter Valentine: National Women’s History Museum
Reproduction Love-Letter Valentine: National Women’s History Museum

 

 

Nineteenth Century Romance Evolves

Romance blossomed in nineteenth-century American culture. Both men and women were encouraged to express their most intimate thoughts in letters. High literacy rates and a reliable postal service facilitated romantic communication. Letter-writing culture flourished. Letter-writing manuals provided sample love letter language for those who were not naturally adept at self-expression. Or, lovers could quote their favorite poets, drawing from an abundance of romantic literature.

 

The Fashionable American Letter Writer or the Art of Polite Correspondence. Containing a Variety of Plain and Elegant Letters on Business, Love, Courtship, Marriage, Relationship, Friendship, &c. Published by Benjamin Olds, 1839

The Fashionable American Letter Writer or the Art of Polite Correspondence. Containing a Variety of Plain and Elegant Letters on Business, Love, Courtship, Marriage, Relationship, Friendship, &c. Published by Benjamin Olds, 1839

Elizabeth Barrett published the love poems she composed to her future husband Robert Browning, at his insistence, after overcoming her reluctance to share their intimate correspondence.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height. My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of everyday’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right; I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. ~ (“How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

More casual lovers, those of less intimate acquaintance, were able to purchase ready-made Valentines in the mid-nineteenth century. The first commercial Valentines sold in the United States were produced by Mount Holyoke graduate Esther Howland. Following her college graduation in 1847, Howland began to produce and sell fancy, paper Valentines. In 1850 she expanded her operation, hiring local women to craft elaborate creations with ribbon, glitter, and paper lace in an assembly line fashion. Howland ran her New England Valentine Company until 1881 when she sold it to the George C. Whitney Company, headed by one of her former employees. The New England Valentine Company had annual gross sales of $100,000 at the end, demonstrating that romance could turn a profit.

 

Post Card Valentine – 1907 Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Post Card Valentine – 1907 Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Securing a Mate

Throughout the nineteenth century, middle and upper class married women were idealized for their role as mothers and helpmates. Whereas earlier generations recognized women as making economic contributions to households and family businesses, nineteenth-century social conventions diminished their role. Instead, their part–often called the Cult of Domesticity–was to create a pleasant and restorative environment for their husbands while raising children to be contributing citizens. When households began to be constituted as a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife, the practical advantages of marriage, such as the wife’s ability to economically manage a household, were minimized. While romantic love flourished, there was an increasing idealization of women as mothers and wives.

Women’s eligibility for marriage became increasingly tied to their appearance and social ability, though wealth and familial connections remained important factors to prospective partners. Men took the lead in partner selection, choosing which women to pursue while women waited to be selected. There was an expectation that everyone would eventually marry, both men and women, but men were expected also to establish a career and a public persona. For women, becoming a wife and mother was an achievement to aspire to. Therefore, women were discouraged from participating in activities that might make them less suited to marriage, such as higher education. Society was furthermore suspicious of women who did not marry, often characterizing them as deviants or old maids, and limiting their options.

Modern Romance

While romance remains a prime consideration in partner selection for twenty-first century women, the interest in selecting a partner has waned. In 2006, the Pew Trust found that only 16% of uncoupled Americans were actively looking for a partner. And when they are searching for love, marriage is not necessarily the romantic goal. In 2012, 23% of American men and 17% of women–over age 25—had never married, doubling from 1890 when 11% of men and 8% of women had never married. While marriage rates are down, cohabitation for unmarried men and women has increased. About a quarter (24%) of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 lived with a partner in 2015. Social scientists have explored factors contributing to a decline in the marriage rate. They point to shifting public attitudes towards cohabitation, increasing acceptance of singledom, difficult economic times, and women’s increased economic independence. Romantic love in modern times has a different feel when women no longer see marriage as an end goal but rather a partnership between equals.

 

 

­Additional Readings

Coontz, Stephanie. 2006. Marriage, a history: from obedience to intimacy or how love conquered marriage. New York, NY [u.a.]: Penguin.

 

Elliott, Diana B., Kristy Krivickas, Matthew W. Brault, and Rose M. Kreider. “Historical Marriage Trends from 1890 – 2010: A Focus on Race Differences.” (n.d.): n. pag. May 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <https://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/marriage/data/acs/ElliottetalPAA2012presentation.pdf>.

Lystra, Karen. 1989. Searching the heart: women, men, and romantic love in nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.

 

Madden, Mary, and Lee Rainie. “Romance in America.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. Pew Research Center, 12 Feb. 2006. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2006/02/13/romance-in-america/>.

 

Saad, Lydia. “Fewer Young People Say I Do — to Any Relationship.” Gallup.com. Gallup, 8 June 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/183515/fewer-young-people-say-relationship.aspx>.

 

Wang, Wendy, and Kim Parker. “Record Share of Americans Have Never Married.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/09/24/record-share-of-americans-have-never-married/>.

 

 

 

National Women’s History Museum Launches New Exhibit On Women In Civil Rights Movement

February 8th, 2016

NATIONAL WOMEN’S HISTORY MUSEUM LAUNCHES NEW EXHIBIT ON WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

 

Washington, DC – As we celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the United States this month, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) announces a new exhibit for its online visitors. In partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, NWHM launches a specially curated digital exhibit that highlights the significant role and contributions of women in the Civil Rights Movement. The new exhibit, “Standing Up for Change: African American Women and the Civil Rights Movement” spotlights the rich and vibrant voice of black women leaders in the movement.

 

NWHM launched its newest exhibit on the Google Cultural Institute to highlight the role of women as the backbone to several successful campaigns and grassroots organizing during the 50s and 60s. The exhibit spotlights black women and their leadership in the efforts to dismantle Jim Crow laws and challenge injustice. In many cases, the women transitioned their work in post-Civil War reform movements, like the suffrage and abolition campaigns, to the Civil Rights Movement.

 

“We know that women’s role in American history is often omitted or largely ignored. This exhibit is a celebration and reminder of the essential role that women played in one of our country’s most successful reform movements,” said Museum CEO and President Joan B. Wages.

 

The National Women’s History Museum is committed to illuminating female role models, celebrated and unknown, to help overcome today’s pervasive gender gap and integrate women’s distinctive history into our daily culture. From Sojourner Truth’s efforts in the early 19th Century to the work of women like Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune and lesser known figures like Daisy Bates and Ruby Hurley, the Civil Rights Movement benefitted from the dedicated and thoughtful leadership of numerous women – although many did not hold positions in many of the dominant civil rights organizations of the time.

 

To view the exhibit, visit https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/civilrights/index.html.

 

 

 

 

 

About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at www.nwhm.org, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit NWHM.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

###

Media inquiries:

For press inquiries, please contact Melissa Williams, NWHM communications manager, mwilliams@nwhm.org or 703-416-1920.

 

Clara Barton, the Red Cross, and National Blood Donation Month

January 20th, 2016

January is National Blood Donation Month, which recognizes the lifesaving contributions of blood donors. Women have been of historic importance both as donors as well as donation center staff. But it was one woman, Clara Barton, whose vision of volunteerism during crisis and her founding of the American Red Cross paved the way for the truly amazing system of altruistic blood donation in the US.

Clara BartonClara Barton understood the importance of giving. Barton lived in Washington, DC at the start of the Civil War. When casualties from her Massachusetts home town were brought to local hospitals, she set out to help. She quickly realized that the profound shortage of medical supplies and assistance was leading to unnecessary death and suffering.

Barton established a network for collecting and distributing donated medical supplies. In 1862 she asked for and received permission to transport supplies directly to the front lines. Barton personally escorted wagon loads of supplies across the county, visiting all of the major battlefields in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. Her service continued after the war ended in 1865 when she accepted Congress’ request to locate thousands of missing soldiers and bring resolution to their families.

Barton Thinks Bigger

In 1869, Barton became inspired by the newly formed Red Cross in Europe and set out to create an American version. She wrote pamphlets, made speeches, and lobbied politicians to support her cause. Her efforts paid off when the American Association of the Red Cross was formed on May 21, 1881. Barton was elected the first president. Local chapters formed throughout the country to help people during times of crisis and natural disaster.

The US government turned to the Red Cross in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, to promote and coordinate blood donation efforts for the US military. While experimental blood transfusion had been practiced for decades, World War II precipitated rapid advancement in transfusion techniques and brought blood donation to national attention. The Red Cross program focused national attention on the importance of voluntary blood donation, establishing it as a patriotic duty. The program collected more than 13 million pints before the Red Cross ended the military blood program in 1945.

Donation Continues After the War

World War II demonstrated the lifesaving promise of blood transfusion, and, afterwards, blood banks were set up across the country. Today, Clara Barton’s Red Cross alone collects approximately 5.3 million units of blood, from roughly 3.1 million donors nationwide, and distributes over 7.7 million blood products for transfusion. This accounts for 40% of the nation’s blood supply.

Barton recognized the importance of giving help without personally knowing the people who would receive it. She encouraged people to respond to disaster with support. Altruistic blood donations, donations made without knowing the recipient or in expectation of payment, exemplify her commitment to extending generosity to those in need.

Want to learn more?

Additional Sources:

“World War II & the American Red Cross.” American Red Cross. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/WWII.

“About Us.” American Red Cross. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://www.redcrossblood.org/about-us.

 

Posted January 20, 2016

Research Assistant/Social Media Intern

January 10th, 2016

The National Women’s History Museum is seeking an intern to assist with a variety of tasks including but not limited to historic research, social media (image rights acquisition/fact checking/helping to organize the editorial calendar) and light administrative assistance.

Applicants should have excellent interpersonal, organizational, and writing skills as well as the ability to multitask. Experience with organization or corporate social media highly preferred. A stipend will be provided. Must be able to work at least 20 hours per week. The office, located in Alexandria, VA, is accessible via the Metro. Please submit your cover letter and resume to programdirector@nwhm.org or call 703-461-1920 for more information.

NWHM Finds Americans Have A Lot To Learn About Women’s History

December 28th, 2015

Majority of Americans admit they need help brushing up on their women’s history; notable men more recognizable over female counterparts.

 

December 28, 2015
Melissa Williams, 703-461-1920
mwilliams@nwhm.org

 

WASHINGTON, DC – A recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans reveal that the vast majority of us are more familiar with our nation’s heroes, than our heroines. Commissioned by the National Women’s History Museum, the survey results indicate that less than one in four Americans can name the accomplishments of Elizabeth Blackwell, Ida B. Wells or Sybil Ludington, whereas more than three quarters of respondents are familiar with the achievements of Neil Armstrong, Frederick Douglass and Paul Revere.

- The survey further revealed that more Americans feel more knowledgeable about sports and celebrity gossip than women’s history.
- Less than 1 percent of Americans know how many women currently serve in Congress or how many women are currently a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
- Only a third of millennials believe they are knowledgeable about women’s history, and just 10 percent of adults over age 55 feel the same way.

“Three-quarters of the people that the Museum surveyed feel that today’s museums are overlooking women’s contributions,” said Susan Whiting, Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Women’s History Museum and a longtime C-suite executive. “We know that there are many untold examples of women’s contribution to our American history, and the Museum will serve as a vital center to gather and illuminate those powerful stories. Time and again, research has proven that female role models – heroines – are powerful motivators in women’s personal and professional lives.”

Ms. Whiting’s lineage traces back to Susan B. Anthony, a cousin on her mother’s side, who was a national icon in the woman suffrage movement.

More than 80 percent of the people the Museum surveyed feel it is important to build a women’s history museum to communicate the breadth of women’s experiences and accomplishments. Once built, the Museum will be the first in the nation to show the full scope of the history of women, and will set the standard for how women’s contributions should occupy a prominent place in national discussions.

“I invite you to help the Museum at this critical point in their journey by simply emailing or writing your Member of Congress, and saying ‘I want a National Women’s History Museum,’” said Ms. Whiting. “Share the survey results with your Member of Congress and tell them that you want to see a National Women’s History Museum on or near the National Mall. You can do this through our website – www.americasheroines.org.”

Earlier this year, Congress appointed an 8-person Commission to study the potential cost, impact and location of the Museum. The Commission, the first of its kind to be privately funded, is seeking public input on a national women’s history museum and will release its findings to legislators in the next 12 months.

 

 

About the National Women’s History Museum
Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at www.nwhm.org, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit NWHM.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

About the Survey

The data points referenced above come from a study commissioned by the National Women’s History Museum, conducted by research firm Edelman Berland as an online survey of n=1,001 adults nationwide, ages 18+. Interviewing took place from August 5-10, 2015. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent.

 

###

WMH DC 2016

December 14th, 2015

WMH_evite DC 16

 

For more information, visit nwhm.org/womenmakinghistory

Nobel Prize Day on December 10 by Considering Women’s Roles in Peace

December 2nd, 2015

Throughout human history, women have rarely instigated conflicts, but rather they often been active in their resolution. Their status as women and the gender roles assigned by culture and society influence how women work towards peace and stability. In radically different areas and time periods, women have used similar methods to achieve peace.

The first American woman to be recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize was Jane Addams, founder of Hull-House and a leading peace activist during and after World War I. Addams was determined to rid the world of war. Starting in 1906 she lectured, wrote, and advocated for ideals of peace. In January, 1915, she accepted the chairmanship of the Women’s Peace Party, an American organization, and four months later the presidency of the International Congress of Women. Addams’ outspoken pacifism and refusal to endorse World War I or the U.S. entry into it, earned her public condemnation. The woman who had been celebrated for her social work legacy serving the poor in urban Chicago, would be publicly excoriated for her opposition to U.S. participation in armed conflict. Addams remained stalwart in the face of criticism and in 1931 she was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Committee’s citation stated:

From this social work, often carried on among people of different nationalities, it was for her only a natural step to the cause of peace. She has now been its faithful spokesman for nearly a quarter of a century. Little by little, through no attempt to draw attention by her work but simply through the patient self-sacrifice and quiet ardor which she devoted to it, she won an eminent place in the love and esteem of her people. She became the leading woman in the nation, one might almost say its leading citizen. Consequently, the fact that she took a stand for the ideal of peace was of special significance; since millions of men and women looked up to her, she could give a new strength to that ideal among the American people.

Jody Williams is the last American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Williams was honored in 1997 for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the Peace Prize with her that year. At that time, she became the 10th woman – and third American woman – in its almost 100-year history to receive the Prize. Since her protests of the Vietnam War, she has been a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights.

Like others who have seen the ravages of war, she is an outspoken peace activist who struggles to reclaim the real meaning of peace – a concept which goes far beyond the absence of armed conflict and is defined by human security, not national security. Williams believes that working for peace is not for the faint of heart. It requires dogged persistence and a commitment to sustainable peace, built on environmental justice and meeting the basic needs of the majority of people on our planet.

On March 19, 2015, Williams spoke on women in Peace and Conflict at the George Washington University as part of National Women’s History Museum’s forum series “Initiating Change/Adapting to Change.” She was joined by Dr. Wendy E. Chmielewski, the George R. Cooley Curator at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and the pre-eminent expert in 19th-century U.S. women’s peace movements.

 

Watch the program on YouTube during National Human Rights Month at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWbx1rN6-HI&list=PLXaqdQe8eghiwp22JBJVBlBSY1laK-5G4

 

 

Remembering Pearl Harbor Day – Honoring the Bravery of Army Nurse Annie G. Fox

December 1st, 2015

annie_foxDecember 7 is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, when Americans commemorate the 1941 attack that brought the United States into World War II. The Japanese attack shocked a nation that had heretofore resisted entering foreign wars by bringing the conflict to its shores. Dozens of stories of heroism emerged after the attacks, including that of the inspiring courage of First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox (Army Nurse Corps), who received a Bronze Star for her actions. The Bronze Star, when awarded for bravery, it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces and the ninth highest military award in the order of precedence.

Lt. Fox was the Station Hospital’s Head Nurse at Hickam Field. The 30-bed hospital opened in November 1941, with six nurses. Lt. Monica E. Conter described the unit as “the happiest group of nurses anywhere, [under] the grandest chief nurse [Fox] who enjoys everything as much as we do.” Fox had joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1918, at the end of the First World War. While no stranger to military service, the surprise attack landed her in combat for the first time. The 47-year-old quickly took control of the situation as bombs rained down on the base.

Firsthand accounts of the attack by hospital staff described a terrifying and chaotic situation. Enemy airplanes flying so close and low that the nurses could see the pilots talking to each other were followed by explosions and masses of black smoke after each dive. Casualties poured into the hospital within minutes of the first bombing run. Hospital staff leaped into action as the constant noise of aerial torpedoes, bombs, machine gunning, and the American anti-aircraft filled the air.

As the attack progressed, causalities multiplied while bombs fell around the hospital itself. One bomb left a 30-foot crater twenty feet from the hospital wing, and another fell across the street. The smoke and fumes were so severe that the hospital staff, fearing a gas attack, donned gas masks and helmets as they tended the wounded. The casualties suffered from serious shrapnel wounds particularly in the abdomen, chest, face, head, arms, and legs. The casualties were so numerous that nurses had time only to administer pain medication before triaging them on to Trippler hospital. The dead also passed through, their bodies a mangled mass of bone and bloody and charred tissue.

As Head Nurse, Lt. Fox rallied the nurses and organized the hospital’s response to the assault. The wives of officers and N.C.O.s reported to the hospital to help, and Lt. Fox organized the civilian volunteers to make hospital dressings by the hundreds and assist with patient care. Lt. Fox herself participated in surgery, administering anesthesia, during the heaviest part of the bombardment. Afterwards, she, with the other nurses, tended to the wounded.

On October 26, 1942, in recognition of her efforts, Fox became the first woman in American history to be awarded the Purple Heart medal. Her citation read in part:

“During the attack, Lieutenant Fox in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head nurse of the Station Hospital. . . . [She] worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency and her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.”

Four other Army nurses were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson, and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L. Swenson each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service”.

Though at the time the Purple Heart award was most commonly awarded to service members wounded by enemy forces, it was occasionally awarded for any “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” The Purple Heart Award criteria changed in 1942 to be limited to wounds received as a result of enemy action. On October 6, 1944, Lt. Fox was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in replacement for her Purple Heart, which was rescinded. The Report of Decorations Board cited the same acts of heroism as for the Purple Heart.

The Army Nurse Corps had fewer than 1,000 nurses on December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighty-two Army nurses were stationed in Hawaii serving at three Army medical facilities that infamous day. By the end of World War II, more than 59,000 American nurses had served in the Army Nurse Corps. Nurses worked closer to the front lines than in any prior conflict, providing invaluable service at great personal risk. Nurses received 1,619 medals, citations, and commendations during the war, including sixteen medals awarded posthumously to women who died as a result of enemy fire. Lt. Fox and her thousands of fellow nurses exemplified the courage and dedication of all who served.

Explore Women’s Stories During Native American Heritage Month

November 18th, 2015

6264064421_3570b656fc_oFrom the very beginning of their history, from before the arrival of European explorers to after the westward expansion of American settlers, women have played an important role in Native culture, helping to lead and cultivate their Tribe’s unique society and influencing the future of America as well. November is officially designated as National Native American Heritage Month.

Sacagawea, arguably the most famous Native woman, became a symbol of America itself. There may be more monuments dedicated to Sacagawea (also spelled Sakakawea and Sacajawea) than to any other American woman. History embraces the story of the teenager with the baby on her back who led men across a dangerous, unknown continent. Susan B. Anthony cited Sacajawea in 1905 as an example of why women should be allowed to vote. More recently, a golden dollar coin was issued in her honor in 2000.

Beyond Sacagawea, Native women have contributed to all aspects of American society. Warriors like One Who Walks With Stars and Minnie Hollow Wood – who both fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn – and leaders like Glory of the Morning, Chief of the Hocak Nation and Queen Anne, Chief of the Pamunkey Tribe, fought for the continued existence of their Tribes and their way of life. Artists and storytellers like basket weaver Carrie Bethel and potter Vera Chino shared the beauty of their people’s lives and stories. In addition, women like Fidelia Fielding, the last native speaker of the Mohegan-Pequot language, passed down their knowledge.

More recently, Native women have continued the in the roles of their foremothers while also branching out into new roles such as being advocates for Indian Country and working to promote their interest at the federal level.

Whether it was as leaders, warriors, teachers or artists, Native women have contributed to the world around them. Today, countless women carry on the traditions of their foremothers, working to honor and preserve their Native heritage and continuing to help shape America.

Thanksgiving Holiday – One Woman’s Crusade

November 18th, 2015

sarahjhaleAfter enjoying the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving, consider how it was the result of one woman’s determination to unify America around a shared heritage.

Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and the editor of a popular women’s magazine, Godey’s Ladies Book, was born on a New Hampshire farm in 1788. Her most lasting contribution to American culture was her tireless lobbying for a national day of thanks.  Hale published numerous editorials urging several American presidents to nationalize the celebration of Thanksgiving.  A New England resident, Hale had always celebrated Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving had been deeply entwined in the New England culture and tradition since the 17th century, and she thought it was important for everyone to celebrate it.  Hale’s persistence paid off when in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Hale was a homemaker who turned to writing to support herself and her five children after the death of her husband in 1822. Hale achieved modest success with her first novel called Northwood; A Tale of New England. Northwood lovingly described a traditional New England Thanksgiving feast that included everything from the table arrangements to details of the food. “The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odour of is savoury stuffing, and finely covered with the frost of the basting.” Following Northwood’s success, Hale was solicited to become the editor of a new magazine aimed at women.

In 1836, Louis Godey convinced Hale to become the editor of his magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book. Godey’s reached a wide audience and covered topics ranging from health, beauty, cooking, gardening, and architecture. Godey’s Lady’s Book was one of the most influential magazines of the 19th century. Hale used her position as editor-in-chief to campaign for the establishment of a national day of Thanksgiving.  She wrote editorials and articles about the holiday and she lobbied state and federal officials to designate an annual, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November, a measure which she believed would ease growing tensions between the North and South on the eve the Civil War. Her efforts paid off: by 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had established Thanksgiving celebrations. In 1871, she launched a further crusade to have the national Thanksgiving Day proclaimed not by the President but by an act of Congress. Decades after her death, Congress passed a bill establishing that Thanksgiving would occur annually on the fourth Thursday of November. And on November 26, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the bill into law.

Learn about the origin of the holiday and our Mother of Thanksgiving, Sarah Josepha Hale, who lobbied to make Thanksgiving a national holiday that we all enjoy.