I found this image at https://thebeetonideal.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/the-salience-of-the-home-19th-century-baptist-womens-domestic-role/, but I don't know its origin.
I haven’t written a blog in weeks. In fact, I haven’t written since December 2.
Long story short, December 2 marked the first week in Advent, the four weeks before Christmas. It is a time for serious reflection, but also a time for increased activity for those who serve on church staffs. For me that meant an extra service one Sunday, a luncheon hosted by the United Methodist Women at which I was the speaker, two separate campaigns to help those in need (one for coats and another for diapers), and the yearly intergenerational Christmas pageant and luncheon. If you notice that we seem to eat a lot at First United Methodist, you’re right. Food is usually involved whenever most Methodists get together. As our pastor likes to say, “food is love.” And we wonder why we have weight issues!
Anyway, I’m writing this blog perched on the edge of the weekend before Christmas and find that I have – crazy as it seems – a bit of breathing space.
So, here’s a little blog on women in 19th century politics. The information comes from Rebecca Edwards’ book, Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Edwards makes note that the metaphor of machinery was used for electoral systems and parties. Machinery, of course, was the stuff industry was made of. Industry and all activities outside the home were seen as part of the world of men. And it was in the realm of politics and elections that men debated “faith and deeply held values.” The subjects of these debates and campaigns often “rested on opposing views of the family’s relationship to the state.” (Angels, 3)
The opposite of men’s world was “woman’s sphere,” which was defined as the home. Women were to care for children, keep the home a haven of peace, and be responsible for religious nurture. Women became known as “angels of the home.” (NOTE: while these attitudes seemed widespread, they were practiced mainly among middle- and -upper class homes. The working classes, the poor, and enslaved women had vastly different expectations and experiences.) If you’re interested in where the term “angel in the house” originated, please go to http://victorian-era.org/angel-house-coventry-patmore.html
But overall, American society saw women as being selfless and pure, and therefore unfit for politics, which was a rough, tumble, and dirty business. Edwards writes, “The question was, should men manage politics in the interest of women and families, or should women join the debates and exercise power themselves?” (Angels, 3) After all, if the basic building block of American society was the family, then it was “the government’s first duty to preserve proper relationships within the home.” (Angels, 5)
Meanwhile, many women were taking notice of social and economic inequalities in American culture: slavery, poverty, alcoholism, child abuse, prostitution, women’s rights, and more. Women’s groups, such as the Methodists’ Ladies’ Aid Societies and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, began taking steps to address these things.
Most of us today will agree that our current era is politically polarized. This isn’t a novel thing. The Civil War and the era preceding it had much the same effect, one that lasted into the late 1800s.
Edwards writes: “The war took 600,000 lives and mobilized soldiers and civilians on an unprecedented scale. It also entrenched in Washington a new party with domestic and evangelical purposes. Republicans styled themselves ‘the party of the home’; they celebrated women’s moral influence and praised men who recognized the Christian example set by mothers and wives….By no means all voters shared these values at the time; in fact, a majority probably opposed them. But by the end of the Civil War, Republicans had won a loyal following.” (Angels, 6) On the opposing side, “Democrats attacked this ideology as destructive to patriarchal authority, and its proponents as effete aristocrats.” (Angels, 6)
About now, you should be thinking, “Hmmm… this argument sounds oddly familiar.” And you’d be right. The same attitudes still exist today to varying degrees. The only difference is that the parties seem to have swapped positions. The fascinating story of how that change happened in the 1900s will need to be left for another day – or perhaps another blogger. Let’s stay in the 19th century for the time being.
Since Maggie lives during the Civil War, she is subject to her society’s beliefs about “woman’s sphere” and therefore has an interest in some of the reform movements of her era. Most notably, she is involved in the Underground Railroad, but also has concerns about alcohol abuse, poverty, and women’s rights.
In A Good Community, she, Emily, Rosa, and Abigail seek to address a problem regarding equal education. As a result, Maggie finds herself embroiled in the debate over just how much a woman should get involved in a socially and politically charged question. She is of one opinion. Josiah Norton, the town’s leading industrialist, is of another. And, of course, her husband Eli has his own viewpoint.
I’ll address their stances in my next blog. Since I’m going to write the piece later today, it will be up Monday evening, hence thwarting the possibility that I’ll get derailed by the whirlwind of pre-Christmas work at church. (I have since given up doing all the “traditional” rushing about in my personal life. One can only do so much, after all.)
Yes, you read that right. “Woman Suffrage” is correct usage. Well, for a nineteenth-century person. Today we usually say, “Women’s Suffrage.” Our 1800s forebears tended to lump all women under the term “Woman,” as if we were/are a separate species. But that’s the nineteenth century for you!
So let’s talk voting rights.
Women gained the right to vote in federal elections when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August of 1920. But the story is much more complex than women gaining the right to vote for congressional representative, senator, and president.
Since my character Maggie may be entering politics at a time when women could not vote in most states and territories, I thought I’d look into the situation to make sure I was correct – or, if not completely correct, then on “fudge-able” ground. (By which I mean my story might be unlikely but generally possible.)
So here’s a little of what I learned about women and the vote in the USA and in the state of New Jersey.
First of all, New Jersey’s Constitution of 1776 stated that white males, women, and free people of color had the right to vote, as long as they owned property. This, however, did eliminate married women from voting, since at that time they could not own property. The good news was that property-owning New Jersey women and people of color were able to vote for presidential electors in 1800.
But good things always come to an end. For New Jersey, the end came in 1807 when the state legislature restricted the right to vote to white, property-owning males, disenfranchising women and black New Jerseyans. The document, Acts of the 32nd General Assembly of New Jersey (Chapter II, section 1, 1807) stated:
WHEREAS doubts have been raised, and Great diversities in practice obtained through-out the state in regard to the admission of aliens, females and persons of color, or negroes to vote in elections, as also in regard to the mode of ascertaining the qualifications of voters in respect to estate.-And whereas, it is highly necessary to the safety, quiet, good order and dignity of the state, to clear up the said doubts by an act of the representatives of the people, declaratory of the true sense and meaning of the constitution, and to ensure its just execution in these particulars, according to the intent of the framers thereof ;-Therefore,
Sec. 1. BE IT ENACTED by the council and general assembly of this state, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and after the passing of this act, no person shall vote in any state or county election, for officers in the government of the States, or of this state, unless such person be a free, white, male citizen of this state, of the age of twenty-one years, worth fifty pounds proclamation money; clear estate, and have resided in the county where he claims a vote, for at least twelve months immediately.
The real reason behind the disenfranchisement seems to have been political and it may be property-owning white males were afraid that the votes of property-owning single white women and free people of color would override their votes.
In 1844, the Second New Jersey Constitution continued to block non-whites and white females from the vote (Acts of the Legislature of the State of New Jersey and the First Session Under the New Constitution, 1845):
Every white male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years, who shall have been a resident of this state one year, and of the county in which he claims his vote five months, next before the election, shall be entitled to vote for all officers that now are, or hereafter may be elective by the people…
But all was not lost. In 1874, after a new law was passed in New Jersey that permitted women to run for school board, a woman took them up on the offer. Her name was Hannah Scholfield and she lived in Hanover, New Jersey (not far from my hometown of Parsippany). She ran for a school committee seat and won, making her the first woman (that we know of) to hold office in New Jersey.
What is fascinating is how many women actually dared to run for office, even though they did not have the right to vote.
In most states, to be eligible for elected office a citizen had to be a voter. In most locales this excluded women from office. However, challenges to the unequal citizenship status of women began in the first years of the early Republic.…Changes to women’s voting rights began in the 1850s and 1860s with women in Michigan (1855) and women in Kansas (1861) gaining the right to vote for school board members and educational officers. Women in Wyoming gained full suffrage in 1869. By the end of the century women in twenty-six states across the country had gained school suffrage, allowing them to vote for members of school boards and superintendents of schools. In some states women also gained municipal suffrage making them eligible for local or state offices as well. These were all hard-fought battles to prove that women could be voters and participate in politics if only on the local and state levels. When the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in August 1920, women in sixteen states already had full suffrage rights, and women had been elected to political office in forty-three states. (www.herhatwasinthering.org):
As you can see, although we focus on the 19th Amendment when we think of women’s suffrage, there is so much more to the story – and much of it has been forgotten until recently. For instance, around 6,000 women ran for office between the years of 1853 and 1920. They participated in over 7,500 campaigns – and many of them were elected! “In forty-three states and territories, single and married women, representing nineteen political parties, had campaigned for sixty different offices.” (www.herhatwasinthering.org):
All of which leads me to my big question is this. Would a little town like Blaineton (not to mention the state of New Jersey) allow a woman to run for town council in 1863? I’m still trying to parse the language of the state Constitution. Although it is clear that women have been disenfranchised, It seems to me that wording prohibiting women from running for office is not present. It seems “fudge-able.” I’m saying this based on other research that indicated school boards were associated with the New Jersey State Board of Education, after a certain point in time, and the association may have forbidden women from running for office in the state and local organizations. Clearly, I have more research to do.
My next question obviously is, could a woman be elected to town council? My answer, possibly. I’m saying this because of the way women were perceived in the 1860s, a perception that persisted throughout most of the 1800s.
But that material is for another, upcoming blog.
If this has piqued your curiosity about women and the vote, I suggest you check out the websites below. I hope they will give you more information and (with any luck) take you on a fascinating historical journey of your own.
Her Hat Was in the Ring! Women Who Ran for Office before 1920.
New Jersey Women’s History
About this time last year, I learned that my sweet Mini Australian Shepherd, Tippy, had osteosarcoma in her left knee. This sent me on a journey in which hope, grief, change, and love have intermingled, and ended with the soon-to-be publication of A Good Community.
Now, I’m sure some of you might be thinking, “Your dog died. Big deal. It’s only a dog.” Those who have pets know otherwise. When you share a home with an animal you and the animal bond. You have a relationship with them, and when something bad happens to them, you feel bad. It’s as simple as that.
Let me also add that I’m no stranger to that intermingling of grief, hope, change, and love on the human level, too. It would be weird if I weren’t. After all, I’m cruising into my elder years. But I had a particularly big dose of grief during from 2004 through 2006. My dad died in January of 2004, my mom followed him in August 2005, and finally, I lost my first dog, a blond terrier mix named Gremlin, in April of 2006.
That big wave of loss moved me to seek emotional shelter. I left the position I had in a local congregation. Working in ministry is emotionally and spiritually demanding and I just couldn’t balance that with all that loss. I did, though, keep my other job as Media Coordinator at the Greater NJ Annual Conference and returned to Fairleigh Dickinson University as an adjunct professor in the Core Studies Department. Both of those position demanded less emotional and spiritual energy of me, something I badly needed at that time.
Six months after Gremlin died, I made another change: I adopted Tippy. You see, a friend of a friend had agreed to adopt two puppies from a breeder who suddenly found that both of her females had become pregnant. The plan was only to breed one female. Obviously, the stud had gone above and beyond in his job description!
I had told my friend that I wanted to wait six months and then look for another dog. She saw the availability of these puppies as coming at the right time. And so, I became a dog mama once again.
But things continued to be topsy-turvy from 2006-2008. Raising a puppy involved house training and keeping Tippy from chewing up pencils, not to mention eating the skirt on my couch and anything else she could get her teeth on (she was a power-chewer) was a challenge. I took her for training at Pet Smart. Although labeled as the “ADHD Dog,” because she would start barking whenever she got bored, which was after about a minute, Tippy graduated from basic and intermediate training classes. I have the photos of her with her graduation mortar board hat to prove it.
Then, in 2008, I learned that the woman who owned the house in which I was living wanted to rent it for a more money to help boost her income. Boom! – I began looking for another position in a congregation, one that this time would put me closer to my guy, Dan.
And that is when I came to work at First United Methodist in Somerville, NJ, move into the parsonage they provide for the Assistant Minister, and live only a half-hour away from Dan. I’ve been at First UMC for the last eleven years.
Everything rolled along well until Tippy had her diagnosis. It was followed by an amputation of her left leg and, after a discussion with the oncological vet, we decided to give her chemotherapy because the cancer seemed contained to her knee. However, the vet warned me that if one or two cells managed to sneak through, we would see the cancer metastasize. Tippy had just turned twelve and was otherwise healthy, so we started the chemo treatment.
That dog rocked the chemo. Animals don’t have the same reaction as humans, probably because of the drug dosages, but also because they’re just not human. There was no hair loss, for example. But what really amazed me was that Tippy did not experience any nausea or lethargy. And this gave me a reason to hope.
But when her chemo ended this year in April, and when we had her three-week follow up and radiological exam, it showed otherwise. The cancer was in her ribs now. And, within a couple of weeks, I could see the disease was progressing, that Tippy was in pain, despite the medication, and so I made the tough decision with which all too many pet owners are familiar: I decided to euthanize her. Anyone who has done this will tell you that it is heart-wrenching. You know you’re doing it because there’s nothing else you can do and because the animal is in pain and does not understand why. On the other hand, you’re killing your beloved pet. It’s tough, even if it is “only a dog or a cat or a guinea pig.”
So what’s this got to do with my new book?
Not surprisingly, the emotional roller coaster ride had an effect on my writing, not to mention other aspects of my life. As far as A Good Community is involved, the past year slowed my writing process way down. It’s amazing I finished the book at all! But in a way, writing also gave me a chance to focus on something else. Holding the print proof in my hand yesterday gave me an honest to goodness sense of accomplishment.
The past year has been rough. For one, I totally neglected my health for ten months. For another, I often found myself sobbing helplessly when I was alone. And yeah, I still miss Tippy, even though I since have adopted a shelter dog: a two-year-old coonhound-beagle mix named Vida, who is an absolute joy. Here’s a weird side note. If Tippy was sweet, Vida is even sweeter. The shelter attendant who suggested that I take Vida for a walk knew what she was doing. She knew a good match when she saw one. Apparently, so did God.
The habit of writing, a homeless dog, great friends, a terrific family, a gradual return to routine, and faith that God walks with us through the difficult times (even though we may not be aware of it) has seen me through.
This latest life change has birthed a new book that continues Maggie’s story and connects the issues of the 1860s with those of today. For me, the new book also symbolizes this new chapter in my life. Interestingly, at the end of A Good Community, Maggie finds herself stepping into a life change, too.
Is art imitating life here? Maybe. But I think it more correctly might be a case of art reflecting life. As I move forward, so does Maggie.
Thanks for reading this little rumination, friends.
See you next week.
Image from Pxhere.com
It’s been a tough couple of weeks with regard to getting my new book out there. I had planned to print and distribute through IngramSpark, but things just didn’t work out in a manner that worked well for me. No recriminations. Choosing a company to print and distribute is rather like finding someone to date. The other person can be perfectly nice, but somehow just doesn’t click with you. That was the case for me when it came to IngramSpark.
So now I’m back at Lulu, which has done all my print books, anyway. (Note: I put eBooks out on Kindle. Sometimes you can’t fight City Hall, which in this case is Amazon). The good news of making the change is that I’ve ordered a print proof from Lulu and as soon as I get it and approve it, A Good Community will be out in print form. I will release the Kindle version at the same time.
As I’ve said before, indie authors need to “do it all” when it comes to getting their work out there. It’s frustrating and chaotic at times, but I suspect that most of us would write regardless of our ability to publish our work. We do it out of love. Anything that follows is gravy.
Now for the second thing.
Let’s talk about Maggie.
In the new book, we once again find her trying to do the right thing – and once again it gets her in trouble. But that’s the problem with doing the right thing. First, it isn’t easy. Second, it doesn’t always lead to popularity. In fact, it probably will lead to the opposite reaction.
And yet, throughout literature of all kinds, including literature found in the Bible, the theme of “the right thing” crops up again and again. Let me go a little theological on you. Currently I’m leading a study based on the late Rachel Held Evans’ book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. By the way, this is a great book if you cannot accept a “literal” interpretation of biblical literature but sense that it must be inspired or important to the point that it won’t leave you alone. Something I read the other day in the chapter on resistance really struck me.
Sadly, I can’t give you Evans’ direct quote about love, because I helpfully left the book at the church office, but in one chapter, she says something like this: the most radical act of resistance that one can do to upend the soul-stealing, life-quenching, greedy excesses created powerful and wealthy forces (i.e., the Empire) is to practice love. In short, Jesus presented his followers with a model of God’s intention for Creation that stands in direct opposition to the Powers running the world. This kind of resistance leads us to love others (including our enemies), practice mercy and kindness, create justice, practice generosity, and all other activities that lead to life and health.
Jesus’ approach to life is what my character Maggie wholeheartedly accepts and strives to embody in her own. And because she does this openly, it puts her at odds with the attitudes and practices of her time.
Like us, Maggie lives in a difficult, confusing, and violent era and, to be candid, I use her to explore how we might practice love today. It should surprise no one when I say that the issues of 1860s America are still at large in our time. I believe these things are still with us mainly because we only dealt cosmetically with them, rather than making the difficult, deep changes required for love to flourish.
So, although I make my stories entertaining, they have another level in them, one that I hope challenges readers to go out and, as Maggie might put it, “strive to live by the law of Love.”
Have a good weekend. And, please, do something out of love, too. One small thing might make a world of difference.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder