Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915


Introduction l True Womanhood l New Women l Growing Up Female l Political Women l Suffrage l Abolition l Women and War l Work Outside the Home l Cookery and Fancy-Work l Work Inside the Home l Mothering l Marriage l Marriage and Divorce l Regionalism l Travel l Bestsellers l Highlights l English 437: Students Research Rare Books


Political Women


In defiance of cultural prescriptions that would confine them to the domestic sphere, nineteenth-century women were involved in a wide range of political activities – including but not limited to their fight for the vote. Early feminists campaigned for property rights and marriage reform, for broader opportunities in education, and for fewer restrictions in dress. Even temperance was viewed as feminist cause, since alcohol disrupted so many marriages and families.

“Let them be sea-captains, if you will”

Margaret Fuller, 1810-1850.

Woman in the Nineteenth Century.woman in the nineteenth century
London: H.G. Clarke & Co., 1845.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.

Caroline Healey Dall, 1822-1912.

Margaret and her Friends, or Ten Conversations with Margaret Fuller upon the Mythology of the Greeks and its Expression in Art.
Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1895.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.

Before there was a woman’s movement in America, there was Margaret Fuller. A key figure in the Transcendentalist movement and editor of its journal, The Dial, Fuller was also a translator, a literary critic, a foreign correspondent for The New York Tribune, and a pioneering advocate of women’s rights. Her masterwork, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, from which the above quote is taken, calls for unrestricted opportunities in education and employment for women.
     Celebrated for her “magnetic” personality, Fuller led a series of “conversations” for women on subjects that varied from marriage to fine arts to Greek mythology. Dall was an avid participant in these sessions, and recalls Fuller’s mesmerizing effect with awe – and also some resentment.
     This is Margaret Fuller’s own copy of the first English edition of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, inscribed by her on the front flyleaf: “S. M. Fuller | sent her by Mr Delf, | bound for her use | by Mr McElrath, | N.Y. Jany 1846.”

Victoria C. Woodhull, 1838-1927.

Tried as By Fire: or, The True and The False, Socially.
New York: Woodhull & Claflin, 1874.
tried as by fire or the true and the false socially
In 1872 Virginia Claflin Woodhull became the first woman to run for President of the United States, with Frederick Douglass as her vice-presidential running mate. This lecture attacks contemporary marriage as “the most terrible curse from which humanity now suffers,” “a fraud on human happiness” that has outlived its day of usefulness.”



“For God and Home and Native Land”

Frances E. Willard, 1839-1898.

Woman and Temperance: or, The Work and Workers of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
woman and temperature or the work and workers of the woman's christian temperance unionfrances e willard
Willard and the WCTU were remarkably forward thinking in their analysis of alcoholism as a symptom of multiple and intersecting societal problems rather than an individual failing. Their campaign, consequently, took on a wide variety of reform causes, including poverty, public health, and international peace. At the center of their rhetoric stood the conviction that women’s leadership was required to correct the world’s wrongs.

Marietta Holley, 1836-1926.

Josiah Allen on the Woman Question.
New York, Chicago, Toronto, London and Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1914.
josiah allen on the woman question
Holley produced more than twenty-five works narrated from the perspective of Samantha Allen, including this defense of female suffrage. She was called “the female Mark Twain” – both for her use of dialect and countrified philosophy, and for the trenchant social critique her stories delivered. This copy bears a striking and hopeful gift inscription, also pictured here.



Womans Rights ‘1981,’” 1881.

Printed silk handkerchief, England.
Gift of Dr. Ann Kelly.

This printed handkerchief provides a satirical version of what might happen in 100 years if women receive equal social and political rights. The men pictured here are either idle from having been displaced in the workforce or are assuming traditional women’s roles such as childrearing and household work. Women have achieved positions of note in politics, science, the professions and trades. The satire here, of a world turned upside down, shows humorous caricatures directed at both genders, but seems especially biting when it looks at the effects of women’s ambition. As suffrage was a transatlantic movement, this handkerchief, along with the teacup and program in the next section, have also been included in the exhibition.

Needlework Picture, ca. 1901-1910.

Collection of McKissick Museum.
Although the U.S. Constitution did not grant female suffrage until 1920, American women were deeply engaged in national politics. This embroidered square honoring the memories of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley reflects women’s strong political consciousness in the early twentieth century.

Temperance Pin, ca. 1900-1935.

Collection of McKissick Museum, gift of Jane Przybysz.
temperance pin
The white bow, a symbol of purity, was the emblem of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Female crusaders established the WCTU in 1874 to campaign in favor of voting and legal rights for women and against alcohol consumption. With its motto of “Agitate-Educate-Legislate,” the WCTU led efforts to reform women and children’s welfare legislation.  

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1860-1935.

The Man-Made World: Or, Our Androcentric Culture.
New York: Charlton, 1911.
man-made world
Gilman explores the various aspects of life that a male-dominated and male- centered society has affected. She explains that society will improve if it is influenced by both males and females and structured to benefit all of humanity. In the Preface, Gilman advises any man whom she offends to “examine the many books that have been written about women”.

Label: Lindsey Hudepohl.



Next Page: Suffrage


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