Finding Feminism

It’s been a couple of gloomy days in Boston.  And although I do love the sun, it makes it a lot easier to focus on my research when I’m not wanting to spend every second of daylight outside!  I finished up at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University this morning and am sitting in Peet’s Coffee in Harvard Square trying to digest all that I found this week.

The Schlesinger Library has collections regarding the “history of women in America.”  It is on the campus of the Radcliffe Institute, which was originally the women’s college at Harvard before women were able to attend.  It was a really wonderful place to work, and I found so much fantastic material to help me not only with my summer project but hopefully future projects as well!

At the Schlesinger Library, I worked A LOT with microfilm, which was a completely new experience.  My Mom always talks about how great microfilm is and how she used it in school; I thought she was just being ridiculous and dating herself by talking it.  However, the saying that “mother knows best” held true with this experience as well: I love microfilm!

Anyway, I looked primarily at the papers of Matilda Joslyn Gage and Susan B. Anthony.  Both of these women were very active suffragists and did a lot of work at the Centennial Exhibition to give women a voice in American society.  I already knew that women played a very important role at the Exhibition, but I had primarily focused on the Women’s Centennial Executive Committee.  Gage and Anthony, however, were both executive board members of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and actually butted heads with the Women’s Centennial Committee.  Gage and Anthony wanted the NWSA to have its own space at the Exhibition, and the Women’s Centennial Committee denied their request.  However, they continued working and established centennial headquarters elsewhere in Philadelphia where they held receptions and passed out pamphlets and petitions.  Gage and Anthony also requested to talk at the 4th of July celebration at the Exhibition but were denied that request as well.  They gave their speech anyway.  When the Vice President was giving his address, Anthony and Gage marched up to the stage and presented him with the Women’s Declaration of Rights and proceeded to read it to the crowd.

With all of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism and what it means to me.  It’s a term that I’ve been scared of for a while.  To a lot of people I know, feminism has a bad connotation.  When I originally started this project and decided to look at women at the Exhibition, I remember telling my parents that I didn’t want to come off as a radical feminist simply because I’m not one; well, I’m not radical.  I’m a fairly traditional person with a lot of respect for traditional gender roles when they are carried out how God intended, but that’s a conversation for another time, and if you want to know more about my thoughts on that, you can contact me.

Feminism is the belief that women should have the same rights as men.  That is something I completely agree with.  As I research these women who were at the front of the Suffrage movement in the United States, my respect for them increases, as I become ever more thankful for the work they did to ensure equal rights to all women (and really all human beings as many of them were abolitionists and Native American activists as well).  I guess that makes me a feminist, but I think the majority of Americans can identify as feminists whether male or female. It isn’t something to be afraid of or hesitant about.  In fact, I think the world, or at least the U. S., would get along better if we could all accept this simple definition of feminism.

Obviously, I understand that it gets more complicated when you add in politics, but I don’t really like politics a whole bunch and think that most of the time they give people a reason to argue.  The most important thing to remember with all of this, in my opinion, is that God created us to love.  We are supposed to love God and love others, and it’s not loving to treat anyone as inferior because of their gender.  Yes, God created men and women for some different purposes but other purposes are the same across the board.

All of this to say that I’ve had a really fantastic week at the Schlesinger Library and look forward to digging into the lives of these women to recreate their experiences at the Exhibition in one of my podcasts!

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