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Primary Source

In 1851 Sojourner Truth (Isabella Bomefree or Baumfree) spoke to the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her speech has become one of the most honored artifacts of American history. Because Truth could neither read nor write, the speech was preserved only through newspaper accounts and through that of Frances Gage, a white feminist who was at the convention. Her record of the speech is written in a heavy dialect that it is unlikely Truth used, given that she was from the far northern United States and grew up working for a Dutch family. She spoke only Dutch as a child and had a marked Dutch accent. For this reason, most historians refer to the speech rendered without dialect. Gage introduced the speech in the History of Woman Suffrage in this way Several ministers attended the second day of the Woman s Rights Convention and were not shy in ...

Primary Source

Few luminaries of the antislavery, pro-suffrage movement can be said to have raised as many hackles (or as much righteous hell) as the magnificent sisters Grimké, Sarah and Angelina. Born in the early years of the nineteenth century to a prominent judge (and slaveholder) the Grimké sisters went on to blaze a trail through the national debates over the slavery question and the rights of women. Their attention to questions of such national importance was not, to say the least, publicly welcomed. Angelina Grimké's 1836 Appeal to the Christian Women of the South a scriptural attack on the evils inherent in the peculiar institution made her a celebrity in the North a reviled figure in the South Such was her fame that in 1837 she became the first woman invited to address the state legislature of Massachusetts However soon Grimké married the redoubtable Theodore Weld and thus came an ...

Article

John Gilmore

Also known as Sara or Saartjie, and as Bartman (1788?–1815/16), a member of the Khoisan people of southern Africa, exhibited as a ‘freak’ in 19th‐century Britain. Her original name is unknown, but when she was employed by a Dutch farmer called Peter Cezar, she was given the Afrikaans name of Saartjie [Little Sarah] Baartman, and this was later Anglicized in various forms. In 1810 she was brought to Britain by Peter Cezar's brother Hendric [or Henrick], a Boer farmer at the Cape, and Alexander Dunlop, a British army surgeon. Dunlop soon sold his interest in the enterprise to Cezar, who made money by exhibiting Baartman in London and elsewhere in Britain under the name of ‘the Hottentot Venus’. ‘Hottentot’ was a traditional derogatory term for Khoisan people, while ‘Venus’ appears intended to refer to the idea of ‘the Sable Venus or more generally ...

Article

John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

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

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.

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Elizabeth Ammons

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of a slave, Hannah Stanley Haywood, and her white master, George Washington Haywood, with whom neither she nor her mother maintained any ties. At age nine she received a scholarship to attend the St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute for newly freed slaves, and in 1877 she married an instructor at the school, a Bahamian-born Greek teacher named George Cooper. Left a widow in 1879, she never remarried. She enrolled in 1881 at Oberlin College, where educator and activist Mary Church (later Terrell) also studied, and elected to take the “Gentleman's Course,” rather than the program designed for women. She received her bachelor's degree in 1884 and after teaching for a year at Wilberforce University and then returning briefly to teach at St Augustine s she went back to Oberlin to ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, farmer, public official, and three-term state legislator, was born a slave in Granville County, North Carolina, near the county seat of Oxford, to unnamed unknown parents. Little is known of his childhood, except that he received a limited education before the Civil War, probably because of his preferred status as the property, and possibly the son, of a prosperous white planter named Benjamin Crews. One account of Crews's early life says he was taken from his slave mother “at the age of two years and reared by a white family whose name he bore” (Edmonds, 102). He is also said to have attended both private and public schools in Oxford, where he grew up.

By 1870 Crews's education had enabled him to begin work as a schoolteacher in Oxford, even as he also ran his own farm and worked as a carpenter. Beginning in 1874 Crews embarked ...

Article

Elvita Dominique

physician, professor, mental health activist, and Harlem community leader, was born Elizabeth Bishop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the eldest of the three children of Shelton Hale Bishop and Eloise Carey. Her mother's father, Archibald James Carey Sr., was an influential African Methodist Episcopal (AME) clergyman in Chicago. Her father's father, Hutchens C. Bishop, was the first black graduate of General Theological Seminary in New York City, the oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church. He was also the fourth rector of the important and influential Saint Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem. Bishop's parents continued their families' tradition of public service. Her father, who received a BA and a doctorate of divinity from Columbia University, succeeded his own father as the fifth rector of Saint Philip's. Her mother was a teacher.

Elizabeth Bishop s interest in psychiatry can be traced to the work of her father He was an ...

Article

Marilyn L. Geary

television journalist, was born Belvagene Davis in Monroe, Louisiana, to Florence Howard Mays and John Melton, a lumber worker. She grew up in Berkeley and Oakland, California, with her mother's family. As a child, Belva lived in housing projects, all eleven family members cramped into two small rooms. In 1951 she graduated from Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California. Although her grades were exceptional and she was accepted into San Francisco State University, she could not afford the tuition. Instead she began work in a clerical position with Oakland's Naval Supply Center.

In 1950 she married her boyfriend and next-door neighbor, Frank Davis Jr. and they moved to Washington, D.C., where Frank was stationed in the air force. Belva Davis took a job with the Office of Wage Stabilization. The couple's first child, Steven, was born in 1953 Frank s next station was Hawaii but after two ...

Primary Source

In 1832, William Lloyd Garrison added the “Ladies Department” column to the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator both to convince women to join the struggle and to gain a wider audience. Still, the male-dominated abolitionist movement intended that women take a limited role in antislavery activities, as demonstrated in this example below. Signing only with the name L. H., the author of the piece dismisses the idea that women should consider entering the public square to voice their opinion. “True,” the author writes, “the voice of woman should not be heard in public debates, but there are other ways in which her influence would be beneficial”: namely educating herself so as to influence the private sphere only. Susan Zaeske, in her book Signatures of Citizenship: Petitioning, Antislavery, and Women’s Political Identity UNC Press 2003 states that it was around this time that female participation in petition campaigns slowly began to ...

Article

Lucy MacKeith

From as early as the 16th century, black people were employed in Britain as musicians and performers, and there was often an element of display in the employment of black servants, whose exotic appearance served to advertise their masters' wealth, colonial connections, or both.

Rather different was the way in which, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were cases of black people being displayed as exhibits to appeal to the curiosity of white viewers, especially if they were in some way out of the ordinary. Sometimes the curiosity was allegedly scientific, as with the ‘white boy’ (an albino child of African parents, born in Virginia in 1755) who was brought to Britain and ‘shewn before the Royal Society’ in London in January 1765 More often it was the result of the same sort of attitude that attracted paying customers to exhibitions of white people who were ...

Article

Marilyn Booth

Lebanese- Egyptian novelist, biographer, and early writer on gender politics and reform in Egypt, was born possibly as early as 1846 or as late as 1860 in the town of Tibnin in the predominantly Shiʿi region (and intellectual center) of Jabal ʿAmil in south Lebanon. Born into a family of limited means about whom we know little, Fawwaz apparently became part of the household of ʿAli Bek al-Asʿad, a local feudal ruler; she worked for or caught the notice of ʿAli Bek’s wife, Fatimah bint Asʿad al-Khalil, who wrote poetry and had considerable religious learning, and who seems to have taught Zaynab to read and write.

Sources disagree about the precise trajectory of Fawwaz s life as a young woman They also disagree about the details of her marriage s and when and how she moved to Cairo perhaps by way of Beirut and Alexandria She may have been married ...

Article

Miss Hale Joseph

Feminism is the belief that women should be equal to men in the economic, social, and political spheres. Feminism also refers to political and intellectual movements among diverse groups of women working to attain gender and political equality. The aims and purposes of the feminist movement, known earlier as the women's rights movement, were drafted at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Amy Kirby Post, had all been previously involved with the abolitionist movement and were personal friends of Frederick Douglass. Their involvement in the abolitionist movement caused them to reevaluate their subservient condition within American society. Using skills and political awareness gleaned from the antislavery movement, they spearheaded the movement for women's rights. The cross-pollination of ideas is obvious in the speeches of early women's rights leaders. In 1859Susan B ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

medical researcher, pediatrician, and hospital administrator, was born in Washington, D.C., to George and Mary Ferguson, occupations unknown. Despite having grown up poor, she decided to become a secretary or an accountant and somehow found enough money to enter Howard University. During her sophomore year, she took a chemistry course that redirected her education and led her to pursue a career in science and medicine. After receiving a BS in Chemistry in 1945, she entered the Howard University Medical School and received an MD in 1949. Upon completing her internship and residency in pediatrics at Washington's Freedmen's Hospital, which was also Howard's teaching hospital, she opened a private practice as a pediatrician in the nation's capital.

Because Ferguson s practice catered to African American patients she became interested in determining what constituted normal development in an African American infant She quickly realized however that no ...

Article

Gender  

Maria Elena Raymond

Gender roles in enslaved African American families in the United States before the Civil War were many and varied. Beliefs and traditions handed down through African family lineages; the pressures of environmental conditions (including geographical locations); British and American slaveholder practices in the treatment of their “property”; the forced separation of husbands from wives, parents from children, brothers from sisters; local politics and resulting laws with regard to the enslaved; the personal beliefs of individual slaveholders; and changing economic patterns were among the factors determining gender roles.

Throughout colonial American times the slave population increasingly consisted not of Africans but of African Americans The creation of an African American culture replete with evolving gender roles stemmed not only from African generational heritage but also from the influence of the British American world Enslaved African American people and their families were forced to adapt to constantly shifting pressures and drew upon ...

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 ...

Article

Diane Todd Bucci

journalist, author, editor, and professor, grew up in Yonkers, New York. Her parents were Curtis G. Giddings and Virginia Stokes Giddings, and both were college educated. Her father was a teacher and guidance counselor, and her mother was employed as a guidance counselor as well. The family's neighborhood was integrated, and Giddings was the first African American to attend her private elementary school, where she was the victim of racial attacks. Even now, Giddings regrets that she allowed herself to be silenced by these attacks. This, no doubt, is what compelled her to develop her voice as a writer. Giddings graduated from Howard University with a BA in English in 1969, and she worked as an editor for several years. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at Random House from 1969 to 1970 and then she became a copy editor at Random ...

Article

Bairu Tafla

was a woman of high birth who played a distinguished political role during the Zamana Mesafent (Era of the Judges, 1769–1855) in the region now recognized as Eritrea. Her fame is underlined in nineteenth-century sources by the unusual reference to Ras Woldemichael as the “son of Ilen” without any connotation of disparagement. The society’s norm otherwise required one to be called after the father. She was no doubt the most emancipated woman in Marab-Millash (highland Eritrea) in the nineteenth century.

Very little is known about her upbringing education and family history Even the name of her father is not given with certainty Killion calls him Aite Hagos Kantibai of Zagher p 25 ff and the informants of Kolmodin refer to him as Ayte Fisseha the son of Ayte Seltan p 142 while Yesehaq Yosef uses pp 41 f both names alternately However all sources agree that she was extraordinarily intelligent ...