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Article

Vickey Kalambakal

Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts, to an unusual family. Her father was a Quaker; at the religious meetings she attended as a child, women were allowed to speak and were on an equal footing with men. The family was prosperous, and her parents encouraged freethinking and activism in their children. Anthony became an abolitionist and participant in the Underground Railroad. She is best remembered as one of the leaders and organizers of the women's suffrage movement.

Anthony's family moved from Massachusetts to Rochester, New York, in 1845. Over the next few years, the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass also a resident of Rochester became a frequent visitor and speaker at Sunday meetings at the Anthony farm where abolition was discussed Like many reform minded people of the day Anthony also joined the local temperance society After being denied the chance to speak at ...

Article

Darlene Clark Hine

Anna Julia Cooper, in what is considered the first black feminist text, A Voice from the South (1892), declared, “As our Caucasian barristers are not to blame if they cannot quite put themselves in the dark man’s place, neither should the dark man be wholly expected fully and adequately to reproduce the exact Voice of the black Woman.” African American women have written autobiographies since the 1700s. Today, the many forms of autobiography—memoirs, essays, notes, diaries, advice, and self-help—constitute one of the most important genres in black writing.

Some of the most exciting and dynamic work written at the beginning of the twenty first century focused attention on the social history of black women These autobiographical writings both outside and within the academy occupied in a sense the frontier sites of public discourse concerning certain private life issues and social policies that were important to the reconstruction ...

Article

Caroline M. Fannin

Despite gender and race discrimination, and despite the small numbers of black women active in aviation, black women have contributed notably to the encouragement of black Americans’ participation in aviation and to the furtherance of aerospace research.

Article

Tiffany M. Gill

Black is beautiful This familiar cry of the Black Power movement was revolutionary in its celebration of the culture style politics and physical attributes of peoples of African descent Symbols of the black is beautiful aesthetic most notably the Afro not only conjured up ideas about black beauty but also highlighted its contentious relationship with black politics and identity This tension between beauty standards and black politics and identity however did not first emerge in the late twentieth century with the Afro or the Black Power movement In fact blacks particularly black women have been struggling to navigate the paradoxical political nature of black identity and beauty since their enslavement in the Americas Despite this strained relationship black women have actively sought to define beauty in their lives and in the process created and sustained one of the most resilient and successful black controlled enterprises in America the black beauty ...

Article

Darlene Clark Hine

organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born Mary Jane McLeod in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of the former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (later Barber‐Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at Dwight Moody's evangelical Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois. In 1898 she married Albertus Bethune. They both taught briefly at Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina. The marriage was not happy. They had one child and separated late in 1907. After teaching in a number of schools, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Training Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904 Twenty years later the school merged with a boys school the ...

Article

Elaine M. Smith

Long deemed the most influential black American woman, Bethune is, by scholarly consensus, one of the most important black Americans in history regardless of gender, alongside Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr. Unflinchingly, she championed the democratic values that define the nation. She took personally the well-being of the body politic, particularly in the crisis of two world wars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt viewed Bethune as a great patriot devoted to advancing all Americans. Bethune’s accomplishments were so impressive in relationship to resources, and her interest in people, regardless of nationality and locality, was so genuine, that any freedom-loving country could feel proud to claim her as its own.

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

elocutionist, educator, women's and civil rights leader, and writer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Arthur Brown, a riverboat steward and express agent, and Frances Jane Scroggins, an educated woman who served as an unofficial adviser to the students of Wilberforce University. Thomas Brown was born into slavery in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of a Scottish woman plantation owner and her black overseer. Brown purchased his freedom and that of his sister, brother, and father. By the time of the Civil War, he had amassed a sizable amount of real estate. Hallie's mother, Frances, was also born a slave, the child of her white owner. She was eventually freed by her white grandfather, a former officer in the American Revolution.

Both of Hallie's parents became active in the Underground Railroad. Around 1864 the Browns and their six children moved to Chatham Ontario where ...

Article

Sharla M. Fett

The history of African American women’s childbearing is one of cultural resilience and profound structural oppression. Far more than a mere biological event, childbirth has been an important social and religious experience in African American communities. At the same time, slavery, poverty, and discrimination have strongly shaped the social realities of childbearing for many black women. Despite important changes in birth practices over the last three centuries, the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth continue to be closely connected to the broader political and economic struggles of African American women.

From the many cultures of West and Central Africa captive women carried their understandings of birth into the slave societies of the New World Though widely varied African gender systems emphasized the importance of motherhood and fertility to women s social identity and family lineage Captivity by slave traders brought African social institutions of childbirth into a collision with slavery s ...

Article

Wilma King

A variable social construction, the concept of childhood barely existed in early America. In fact, this special period of growth and development experienced before accepting adult responsibilities was not an entrenched American institution until the twentieth century. The time at which this protected segment of the lifecycle ends is debatable. Some scholars and public officials have used twelve as the cutoff while others set it at age sixteen or eighteen. Still others claim childhood lasts until twenty-one years of age.

Age limits aside, other factors, including color, class, status, and the embracing shield of loved ones, are significant in determining if girls enjoy a protected period in their formative years. There are also concerns about their psychological well-being and freedom from emotional devastation, which may mature girls beyond their chronological years.

Article

Elizabeth Hadley Freydberg

Born in Atlanta, Texas Elizabeth Coleman was the twelfth of thirteen children Her mother Susan Coleman was African American Her father George Coleman was three quarters Choctaw Indian and one quarter African While Bessie was still a toddler the Coleman family moved to Waxahachie Texas an agricultural and trade center that produced cotton grain and cattle The town was about thirty miles south of Dallas and was recognized as the cotton capital of the West There the Coleman family made a living from picking cotton George Coleman built a three room house on a quarter acre of land but by the time Bessie was seven years old he had returned to Choctaw country in Oklahoma Susan Coleman continued to raise nine children alone as she also continued to harvest in the fields pick cotton and do domestic work to make ends meet When the children became old enough usually ...

Article

Charles Lemert

Anna Julia Cooper is best known for her book A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892), a classic in the tradition known today as the woman of color standpoint in social theory. No one before, except perhaps Sojourner Truth, had so clearly defined what Cooper called “the colored woman’s office” in the moral politics of late-nineteenth-century America.

Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Her white biological father, George Washington Haywood, was her mother’s owner. Of her biological father, Cooper once wrote: “I owe him not a sou and she [her mother] was always too shamefaced ever to mention him.” The child grew to carry herself with the mother’s sense of dignity and propriety.

Anna Julia s life began just before the outbreak of the American Civil War and ...

Article

Jane E. Dabel

From the period of slavery onward, African American women have labored outside of the home in many roles, and most prominently as domestic servants. Because employment has been the key to their survival, and though racism and sexism have limited their employment opportunities, black women have always attempted to make the best of their employment situation. Throughout their wage-earning experiences, black women have always sought to control and shape their lives as laborers.

Article

Leigh Fought

The enigmatic first wife of Frederick Douglass, Anna Murray Douglass, has been misunderstood and misrepresented by historians as well as by her husband's associates since he first rose to fame in 1842. Her early life, including her birth and parentage, remain sparsely documented. Most historians agree that she was the daughter of Bambarra and Mary Murray, emancipated slaves from Denton in Caroline County, Maryland. As a young adult she lived in Baltimore, Maryland, working as a housekeeper and laundress in white homes. Despite refusing to demonstrate reading or writing skills throughout her life, she clearly had some interest in self-improvement in her youth because she first met Frederick Douglass, then known as Frederick Bailey, through mutual friends at the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, an organization of free blacks who promoted literacy.

The two had met by the late summer of 1838 when Anna sold many of ...

Article

Juliet E. Walker

African American women have a long tradition of participation in business, including entrepreneurial activities. In colonial America, their initial economic activities, primarily gender-based household manufacturing, farming, trade, and marketing ventures, were derived from activities that had been important to women in precolonial Africa. By capitalizing on culturally familiar agriculture techniques, African women were able to enter the colonial American economy as truck farmers and market women. By the nineteenth century, food trading by African women was so substantial that, as one diarist noted in Louisiana, “The market places are filled with c…. They have control of the markets in New Orleans [and] bring their products to the market very neatly.”

Urban areas such as New Orleans offered the most opportunities for black women both enslaved and free to establish business ventures Throughout the period of slavery food marketing and preparation constituted the largest occupational category among black women in business ...

Article

Patricia Hunt-Hurst

Fashion has been a phenomenon of collective behavior since the fourteenth century Yet as an industry in the United States it did not exist until the beginning of the nineteenth century The early fashion industry in the United States was based on custom made clothing fitted to the individual Tailors produced custom made suits for men and women dressmakers also known as mantua makers specialized in women s dresses skirts and bodices The mass production of clothing did not begin until the mid nineteenth century with menswear At that time women s wear including such items as cloaks and mantles was still produced on a small scale As a result there was a need for skilled needlewomen to produce custom made clothing The fashion industry created significant opportunities for women in the needle trades as dressmakers seamstresses and tailors and later as designers models fashion writers and editors and factory ...

Article

V. P. Franklin

She was born to Benjamin Oliver Bird and Portia E. (Lovett) Bird in Princess Anne, Maryland, but was raised in Boston by her maternal aunt, Lucy Groves. There she attended public schools and was considered an outstanding student. Later in life Fauset maintained that her social and political conscience was shaped by her experiences as a child in Boston. She went on to Teachers College, Columbia University, where she earned a BS degree in 1931.

Upon graduation Crystal Bird worked as a social worker and administrator of Negro affairs for the Young Women’s Christian Association in New York City and Philadelphia. In 1931 she married the author and educator Arthur Huff Fauset. The couple separated soon after their marriage, and he divorced her in 1944. In 1933 she was named executive secretary for the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College While serving in ...

Article

Ula Y. Taylor

As both an analytical tool and a political paradigm, black feminisms—referred to here in the plural because there is no one feminism—are fluid and diverse, focusing in various ways on the convergence of race, gender, sexuality, class, spirituality, and culture. This diversity is often oversimplified in an effort to provide a single, coherent picture.

The primary expressions of black feminism in the United States are marked by three distinct periods or waves that are directly connected to, and grew out of, key movements in African American history: the abolitionist movement, which culminated with the suffragists’ securing passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920; the modern civil rights and black power movements, which peaked with the enforcement, during the 1970s, of Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the post Civil Rights era that helped to usher in the professionalization and institutionalization of ...

Article

Wilma King

During the 1930s, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) asked the Texan Margrett Nillin about her days in bondage. Her comments appear in George P. Rawick’s The American Slave and note changes in the status of enslaved and emancipated woman. “In slavery I owns nothin’,” said the ninety-year-old freedwoman, adding, “never owns nothin’.” By contrast, “In freedom,” she affirmed, “I’s own de home and raise de family. All dat cause me worryment.” Despite these woes, when an alternative was at hand Nillin declared, “I takes freedom.”

Emancipation for Nillin and millions of blacks within the context of the bloody Civil War resulted in one of the most significant constitutional, economic, and social occurrences in American history. The circumstances surrounding that grand event overshadow other occasions when black women gained freedom.

The number of free persons in the United States with no distinction made between freeborn and ...

Article

Black women played a significant part in the frontier West, both before and after the Civil War. After the War, however, and especially as Reconstruction came to an end, their numbers grew. In 1870, according to the United States Census, there were 284,000 African Americans living in the sixteen states of the West. More than 250,000 of those lived in the state of Texas, which had been a slavery state and did not, for most African Americans, represent freedom. There were just over 4,000 black Americans in California and 17,000 in Kansas. The number in the Oklahoma territory had dropped by nearly 2,000, to 6,378. Other states and territories numbered the African American populations in the hundreds rather than thousands.

That changed because a number of migrations would occur between about 1878 and 1930 These population shifts were referred to as exoduses echoing the flight of the Jews ...

Article

Ruth Mazo Karras

Although there were many commonalities in the experiences of all slaves, there were also important lines of division among slaves. One of these divisions was gender. In any given society men and women, both enslaved and enslaving, experienced slavery differently. The experience of men and women slaves differed both for biological reasons related to their sexual and reproductive use, and for sociocultural reasons related to gender divisions of labor.

In many societies slaves have been predominantly or stereotypically female In part this is because war was an important source of slaves and men were often killed rather than captured Women captives of various social groups were part of the booty of war Elite women for example might become wives or concubines the distinction was not made in many legal kinship and linguistic systems although they never gained the status of a wife married by agreement with her male relatives In ...