The Exclusion of Native American Women from Early American History by Rebecca Johnson

Unlike the previous readings that we have done in class, Pedestal, Loom, and Auction Block, a chapter from Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents by Ellen Carol Dubois and Lynn Dumenil, the authors use a combination of many primary and secondary sources while discussing true womanhood, early industrial women workers, and women in slave society. Alternatively, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” by Linda K. Kerber uses predominantly secondary sources to make her argument. Although she does frequently reference Alexis de Tocqueville’s books illustrating his experience in America, which is considered a primary source, quite frequently. However, regardless of their differences both articles discuss the idea of “true womanhood” and “woman’s sphere” in early America, they both leave out a significant group of women in their discussion.

Both of the articles focus primarily on the experience of white women at the time. More specifically, on upper class white women. Poor white women were discussed as well, but in less detail and at less length. When the issues were discussed in a general sense it was typically referring to the experiences of just that narrow class.  Kerber only briefly discusses the experience in the African American community by addressing the gap in the existing literature and making assumptions based on what was available[1]. This appears to be a significant drawback of using predominately secondary sources. The older studies which the author was using largely failed to discuss the experience of African American women at this time and because of that it was largely left out of her article as well. The issue was also discussed by Dubois and Dumenil, who did a much better job covering the experiences of both poor white women and African American women due to her wider sources. Pictured blow is Ellen Craft, an escaped slave with an amazing story that was only able to be told because of transcriptions created during the New Deal in order to document the real experience of slavery before all of the freed slaves died[2]. However, both articles completely fail to mention Native American women in a significant manner.


While the European influence in the trends noticed in early America is discussed, the contradictions that can be found in the Native American community are not referenced by Dubois,, and only momentarily touched on by Kerber. Kerber mentioned briefly that the different gender roles in the Native American community caused the European settlers to view them as uncivilized. However, her coverage of the issue took up less than a paragraph[4].

Dubois and Dumenil say that to Americans at the time, it seemed ‘natural’ that women were suited to become teachers, take on domestic roles, and were sexually innocent. However, these feelings were only due to societal pressures in Europe[5], that were taken over to the United States. However, the gender roles that were already present in the land where the United States would eventually be born were quite different from those in Europe. While there were still somewhat separate spheres for Native American men and women, their circles overlapped more. For instance, they were both heavily involved in different parts of the farming process.[6]



[1] Linda K. Kerber, Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 25-26.

[2] Dubois, Ellen Carol, and Lynn Dumenil. ” Pedestal, Loom, and Auction Block 1800-1860.” In Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents, (Boston: Belford/St.Martins, 2012), 226.

[3] Dubois, Pedestal Loom, and Auction Block, 227.

[4] Kerber, Separate Spheres, 19.

[5] Dubois, Pedestal Loom, and Auction Block, 190.

[6] Brown, Kathleen. “The Anglo-Indian Gender Frontier.” In Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and

Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 20.


Women’s Place in Colonial America by Ryan Perez

Women in U.S. History have always been a crucial component to the development of Colonial America whether one wants to believe it or not. Countless primary sources rise up and provide us with essential details about our ancestors and how life used to be.  Unfortunately for us today, there aren’t many pieces of evidence from females because men dominated in every facet of life during Colonial America.  In Susan Klepp’s “Revolutionary Bodies” and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “How Betsy Ross Became Famous” we see a glimpse of how women were viewed and treated by the mass society during Colonial America.

In Klepp’s “Revolutionary Bodies”, she talks about the metaphoric language that was used to describe a pregnant woman as “fruitful” and how these descriptions disappeared with the declining birth rate.  There were common themes during this time, mostly originating from Europe, that reflected certain motives for a family to reproduce at such a large scale.  The idea of marriage was directly connected to complex deals for economic survival.  There were cases where spouses were selected based on whose family had a nearby plot of land or farming tools needed for their crops.  The idea of marriage and reproduction was a political and economic institution that served important functions in society.  The power of the church also played a significant role in influencing the relationship between a man and woman.  The relationship between God and man proved to be a stronger bond than between the couple.  The idea of free choice in marriage only served to reinforce the wife’s duty to serve her husband.  John Winthrop once said, “The woman’s own choice makes such a man her husband; yet being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him” (Winthrop 1853).  There was a correlation between fertility rates and education.  Klepp mentions, “the higher the educational attainment of women, the lower fertility rates” (Klepp, 915).  Perhaps this suggests that as more and more women became educated on the matters of mass fertility and personal human choice, it contributed to the steady decline from the average seven children to an average of two today.  There was an incentive to having boys over girls.  The oldest son would naturally inherit the family home or farm.  Women during this time, once married, any property that a woman brought to the marriage would be directly inherited by her husband.  Klepp’s essay provides insight to the transition of the feminist mindset and where the modern family today stems from.

Betsy Ross plays into the same narrative of women establishing a voice for themselves.  It’s hard to think of women that stand out like the men who built the country we know of today.  The fact of the matter is there were women just as important as these men and contributed a great deal to our country.  When I think of women like Betsy Ross, I can’t help but think of the movements that were created by the Grimke sisters.  Angelina and Sarah Grimke hailed from the South when the institution of slavery was nearing the peak of its time.  They both declared themselves abolitionists and desired equality for men and women.  They were the first to push the boundaries of women’s public speech towards women’s rights and question African American rights.  However, when you think of famous abolitionists you quickly think of names like Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  However, women were very much involved in the abolitionist ideas like men were.  Like Ulrich says, “Betsy became famous, not because of what she did or did not do in the 1770s, but because her story embodied nineteenth-century ideas about the place of women” (Ulrich, “How Betsy Ross Became Famous”).  Betsy Ross’s contribution to the American flag helped challenge the notion that only men created the new nation thus becoming a product of recognition for women in our country.

The Grimke sisters lived to see the end of slavery and the beginning of the women’s rights movement.

Women in 18th and 19th Century Paintings by Marguerite Digiorgio

Both “Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid- Atlantic Region” and “How Betsy Ross became Famous” pulls primary evidence from portraits painted by male artists. These men both provide examples to support the cultural shift of women’s perceived sexuality and profit off the imagery and mythology behind significant women in U.S history.

“Revolutionary Bodies” dictates that the style of painting women’s portraits when analyzed reflects their abilities to produce heirs. Frequently women are showed sitting with their legs apart (covered by a dress of course) with either flowers or fruit. This visualization of flowers or fruit at crotch level draws the eyes there and acts as a kind of advertisement that this woman is ready and willing to produce children. Elizabeth Peel by Benjamin West is a prime example of this trend painted in 1751. Elizabeth is shown in the typical pose; legs spread apart, flowers siting on her crotch but this painting quite literally has leaves pointing at her crotch. As well her hands are shaped to make it appear the she already has a rounded belly. The paintings included in this article, that show these characteristic poses were painted by men. Which is a confounding issue because this only portrays men’s portrayals of women not how women view themselves or their own sexuality which would be a vital component for a women’s history class.

How Betsy Ross became famous also struggles with the theme of men profiting of their own portrayals of women figures. Charles H. Weisgerber took the image of Betsy and made her into an enterprise. Beginning with his painting of her called The Birth of our Nation’s flag (1892) which was seen by millions of people at the Chicago’s world fair. Weisgerber created this imagery of a domestic woman doing her part to support the revolution. The idea of a woman being patriotic while still being domestic was a significant idea at a time in which women’s rights were viewed as a radical endeavor. Betsy became an ideal for the place of women with the American society. Not only did Weisberger impose his own idea of the domestic patriotism upon Betsy Ross but he profited off of her name. He started a movement to renovate the home thought to be Betsy’s then moved his family into it. He Was a charter member of the American flag house as well as the Betsy Ross Memorial association. His own promotion of Betsy Ross appears to be much less a desire to increase awareness as it is a business venture. The more popular he makes Betsy Ross the more valuable both his painting and business will be, as he partly supported himself by selling souvenirs.

“Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid- Atlantic Region” and “How Betsy Ross became Famous” share an unfortunate similarity in in both cases men use their own influence to control the way women are viewed to both historical and modern societies. With women subjugated for so long it is not a surprise that we do not have more paintings by women artists. Better known art is more likely to be preserved. Therefore, we as viewers should be aware of such biases and interpret accordingly.


West, Benjamin. “Elizabeth Peel.” PAFA, 2007, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia PA,

Weisgerber, Charles. “Birth of Our Nation’s Flag.” Library of Congress, 1893, Library of Congress,

Heroism has Many Forms by Katelynn Zuvich

When discussing the Revolutionary War, the first connection that is usually made is that of male soldiers fighting for their independence from Great Britain. These men are undoubtedly seen as being heroes and making a very crucial mark in history. But, heroism has many forms, some of which do not consist of male and/or war dominance. It seems that history is often written about males, leaving out dominant female figures or contributions and when a dominant female figure comes to surface, controversy takes place.

Women are often overlooked in most of history, but specifically overlooked throughout a large portion of the 18th century. They were present during these events, some witnessing it, others actively taking part but we never really hear of women’s contributions before we hear about the “Founding Fathers”. There was this expectation placed on women during the Revolution to reproduce as much as they could and, in some cases, women had more than a dozen children. That in itself is heroic considering the risks pregnancy and labor can bring. But moving on from that, women during this time had so much more to offer than only being “big-bellied” and “big with child”. Klepp states on page 920 that “barrenness was unnatural”, that there was this undying connection between women and pregnancy, that the center of their “housewifery” was procreation. In the pictures Klepp shows throughout her writing, there is an emphasis on womanhood and reproduction. As we discussed in class, the eye is drawn to the woman’s abdomen, for example the symbolism of the strawberries on in the picture of Rebecca Holdsworth Young and her Granddaughter on 925. The caption under the picture explains that the granddaughter holds more than one strawberry symbolizing a future filled with many children. As for the Grandmother, she can no longer bear children but the “real fruit of her loins is likewise placed between her outspread legs”, being her granddaughter, pictured below. Again, reproducing can be seen as heroic but also dangerous and was one of the reasons there became a decrease in fertility rates during time (including the husbands being away at war) and a shift of views towards women’s roles as well.

Betsy Ross is still seen as heroic today. In fact, when I was in 5th grade, my teacher assigned a project called “Important People in American History” and provided a list of names. The list contained the names of men and women and ironically Betsy Ross is the person I chose. During the 18th century, Ross maintained this expectation of having children, but it was not her life duty. In Ulrich’s piece, there is this extreme emphasis put on the innocence and purity Ross carried, portraying her as this genuine person who would never do wrong. We are seeing a woman who is so dedicated to her nation that she wanted to contribute in establishing quite a crucial symbolic aspect of nationalism. It is said that she worked alongside George Washington for more than one reason, some of which were due to altering or creating clothing for him. As “legend” has it, Washington asked her to make an official flag for the nation, and the birth of the nations flag is depicted below.

There are controversies over who established the first flag and when exactly is was established, deeming the initial oral tradition of Betsy Ross questionable due to lack of documentation and mainly storytelling. Although, the significance of storytelling at this time was how women made their mark in history, they had a significance attached to their name and participated in “honorary societies”. These strides taken by women to create their own history is what ultimately “created a version of American history that broke the male boundaries of war and politics and the domestic boundaries of women. The credibility of Ross’s oral tradition can be questioned, but the real question is why? Taking into consideration the time of the establishment, word of mouth held just as much importance as writing did because, as I already stated, Ross would do no wrong, she would never lie. What it ultimately comes down to, as Ulrich states on page 4 “The debate over Betsy Ross exposes the difficulty of including women in a national narrative constructed around the biographies of leading figures.” It was still not enough to fully believe that Ross did create the first flag, even with validation of documented eyewitness accounts as stated on page 5.

With such strong male dominating roles during this crucial time for the US, it is common to see little to no mention on women, some of who made more contributions than men! It seems that the men want all of the credit, preventing women from being viewed as equal. On page 12, Ulrich closes with “women’s stories encompassed many themes, but they were animated by civic pride and insistence that women, no less than men, created a new nation.” This is, in my opinion, the most crucial sentence in this entire writing because it defends women’s roles and shows that women do have the ability to do great things. The prime example is Betsy Ross, she witnessed and took part in this shift from a domestic role in society while still being the loving, warm mother and wife.

“The Head and the Heart” by Charlotte Wells

Both readings this week, “Revolutionary Bodies” and “How Betsy Ross Became Famous”, revolve around the lives of white women in the pre Civil War era. Both of these texts emphasize the lack of clarity in the historical record about women in America. Many lower class women did not write at all, and when women did produce written documents they were far less likely to be saved and deemed important. Thus, much of the deductions historians make are based on informal letters, popular linguistic terms at the time, and stories passed on verbally through generations. These methods are of course biased and unreliable as compared to official documentation of events.

However, these sources can often provide a look into the social world of these women and how they, as well as men, viewed their role in society. In the Revolutionary Bodies article, Klepp uses linguistic trends to map the attitudes of fertility from 1760-1820. Prior to the 19th century, much emphasis was placed on the belly of pregnant women and the language reflected comparisons between human fertility and the fertility of land and livestock. By the late 18th century, this metaphorical language declined dramatically and along with it the fertility rate. One supposed reason for this is women’s desire to “stress the head and the heart” instead of their bodies. Another plausible correlation is the presence of war causing women to think ahead in terms of economic hardships that come with raising many children.

These reasons depict women as the drivers of their own narrative; however, paintings of women over time also reflect these changes. The portraits shown in the article are all done by men, therefore suggesting that these views also permeated in the minds of men at the time. Paintings also play a role in the Betsy Ross article. Paintings of Betsy Ross presenting the flag to George Washington certainly take control over the narrative and depict Betsy as similar to the Virgin Mary. This mirrors the trends discussed by Klepp about how women were primarily viewed as a source of life.  

Narrative becomes key when discussing the history of colonial women, especially because there is so little documentation to make firm assertions. This problem is at the heart of the Betsy Ross article. There seems to be many conflicting stories in regards to the first flag and who actually made it. What makes Betsy Ross’ story so salient is not its factual accuracy, but it’s appeal to the general public. She has become an icon who is not controversial yet still shows women as strong contributors to the revolution. Ulrich states “her story embodied nineteenth-century ideas about the place of women”. This statement rings true for the changing trends in fertility rates and attitudes as well. As women’s roles shift, so do the art and linguistics surrounding the white female experience. Unfortunately nothing can be extrapolated from these texts to address the trends among lower class women and women of color during this time. It may seem difficult to make deductions about all women during this time period, but uncovering the stories and experiences of women of color is infinitely more difficult.


Women’s Revolutionary Roles by Chuck Sylvester

Discussions about fertility and flag making couldn’t seem more incompatible at first glance. During the American Revolution, however, both spoke multitudes about the place women had in society, the roles they were expected to play. Susan Klepp and Laurel Ulrich, in writing about the revolutionary fertility transition and the legend of Betsy Ross, respectively, tapped into a shared, often forgotten history about women and the contributions they made to the changing culture apparent in the burgeoning nation during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Both “Revolutionary Bodies” and “How Betsy Ross Became Famous” address how women, through their ideals and roles, helped create a new nation and its cultural atmosphere.

Although most of Klepp’s article revolves around the ways in which the view of women’s bodies shifted, specifically in childbearing, it’s important to note that at this point in history a great deal of conversations about women only centered on this aspect of them. Women still made up half of the population – any shift, especially as large as the one detailed in “Revolutionary Bodies,” would naturally lead to a shift in the overall culture and society.1 Revolutionary rhetoric around freedom, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness helped confront, establish, or emphasis gender norms in American society. Klepp argues that this rhetoric helped caused a move in thinking around fertility, these further emphasizing personal autonomy not just in women but in all of the populace.2 Personal autonomy allowed women to participate in Revolution, by creating invaluable women’s camps that followed the main army around, providing laundry or nursing services, or by participating in boycotts via non consumption and nonimportation.3

"Following the Army," Pamela Patrick White4

This participation is where Betsy Ross, or the legend of Betsy Ross, fits into the picture. The story of Betsy Ross is almost inseparable with other stories about the American Revolution, and it’s worth mentioning that the role of this creator of the most ubiquitous symbol of America would be a woman. She personifies this era in American history where women were becoming autonomous and becoming more outspoken but still embodied an idea of domesticity and even fertility, as evidenced in some art and language surrounding the creation of the flag.5  Betsy Ross was not a leader, or a politician, or involved in any military matters but she still factors very heavily into our national story and identity. Although most of her story only made it into the public consciousness during the 19th century, her image fits into the place women held during the Revolution and contributes to this shift in thinking.

It is impossible to discuss this topic, women during the Revolution, however, without discussing the simple fact that makes some of this conjecture – women’s voices were not as loud in the past as they are today, for various reasons.6 Not only that, but much of the history we gleam about women in this period, most notably Betsy Ross, is only passed down through oral tradition, a tricky source that often doesn’t allow for physical evidence. According to Ulrich, “To use such materials requires much sifting, much sorting, and more sophisticated analysis than most scholars have yet undertaken.”7 Because of this uncertainty, it is hard to imagine women’s own attitudes toward these changing ideals or confirm if certain modern theories and models are true. In the case of Betsy Ross, it is hard to be sure if she ever did the things she did – although because, as Ulrich notes, her story would likely be typical of many women during the Revolution, and as such her role in the conflict and movement in her legend can still inform us of the role of women in general at the time.8 Despite the limitations, however, the changing role of women can be seen throughout this period in history, and the role they played in war, revolution, and domestic life is one that was and is still invaluable.


  1. Susan E. Klepp, “Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1760 – 1820,” The Journal of American History 85, no. 3 (Dec., 1998): 914.
  1. Susan E. Klepp, “Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1760 – 1820,” The Journal of American History 85, no. 3 (Dec., 1998): 912.
  1. Susan E. Klepp, “Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1760 – 1820,” The Journal of American History 85, no. 3 (Dec., 1998): 930.
  1. Pamela Patrick White, “Following the Army”
  1. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “How Betsy Ross Became Famous,” Common-Place 8, no. 1 (Oct., 2007): 12, accessed January 30, 2018,
  1. Susan E. Klepp, “Revolutionary Bodies: Women and the Fertility Transition in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1760 – 1820,” The Journal of American History 85, no. 3 (Dec., 1998): 916.
  1. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “How Betsy Ross Became Famous,” Common-Place 8, no. 1 (Oct., 2007): 9, accessed January 30, 2018,

              8. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “How Betsy Ross Became Famous,” Common-Place 8, no. 1 (Oct., 2007): 3, accessed January 30, 2018,

“Strong People and Strong Leaders: African American Women and the Black Freedom Struggle” by Mary Ellen Curtin

In the article Strong People and Strong Leaders: African American Women and the Black Freedom Struggle, historian Mary Ellen Curtin traces Black female activism from the early decades of the Civil Rights Movement through the Women’s Liberation Movement.  Curtin argues that Black women are neglected in scholarship about the formative years of the Black freedom struggle. When women are mentioned, their importance is often relegated to grassroots organizing, which can understate their role in leadership.  Women asserted themselves as community leaders and activists while a Black female middle class emerged as early as the late nineteenth century. Curtin traces the lives of both well-known and more obscure Black female activists to highlight the many different versions of activism, empowerment, and feminism that have emerged over the years.

Curtin attempts to clarify the notion that Civil Rights organizations were inherently sexist because of their patriarchal religious roots and strict hierarchical structure.  Charles Payne argues that religion played a large role in the lives for many female activists because they, “either lacked fear or possessed faith”.  Curtin posits that his argument of a male leader/female organizer paradigm has had a large impact on scholarship of the subject. Curtin then explains Belinda Robnett’s concept of a Bridge leader, which were, “women who had leadership positions but whose strength lay in their ties with local organizations rather than widespread recognition”.  This suggests that while there is truth to Payne’s argument, it is oversimplified.  Women may not have held many leadership positions on the national level, but on the local level they played a critical role. By placing these works in conversation, Curtin corrects a fallacy about women’s everyday importance in the movement.

I appreciated that this article took time to acknowledge women that did not fit the traditional activist mold. Daisy Bates was outspoken and uncompromising when she changed Arkansas’ police force by writing about the murder of a Black army sergeant by a white police officer in 1942.  Gloria Richardson took up a direct action campaign and refused to bend to local political pressure in the early 1960s.  She was known for her militancy, which made her an enemy of many civil rights groups trying to be more moderate to gain widespread support. Curtin also talks about the patriarchal structure of the Black Nationalist and Black power groups that emerged towards the end of the Civil Rights movement.  By acknowledging the role of these more radical women who came just before and just after the largely studied mainstream Civil Rights Movement, Curtin paints a more comprehensive and informative picture of Women’s role in the black freedom struggle.  She also leaves article open ended, and suggesting that work still needs to be done on Black women’s organizations and their complicated history, which I think is an extremely effective way to end a historiography.

— Courtney Defelice

Beth Bailey’s She “Can Bring Home the Bacon

Beth Bailey’s article She “Can Bring Home the Bacon”, discusses gender issues, particularly in the 1970’s.  I thought this piece of work was very interesting and eye-opening.  This piece explored women’s liberation and the support and resistance against it through the 1970’s.  I thought this article was very well organized which allowed the reading to be very enjoyable.  I liked how in the beginning of the article Bailey jumped right in with an example of the resistance that women faced when trying to gain equality.  The piece then went into women’s liberation, what was it and the different definitions and stigmas around the term.

Although unfortunate, I thought it was very important and key to show the resistance to the women’s liberation movement by women.  I think that Bailey used a lot of great examples to take the audience through the women’s liberation movement.  She used examples like the Miss America Pageant and then interviews as well.  The interviews were so eye-opening to me.  I really enjoyed them because it was crazy to me that women were fine with their “place” in the home, and that they did not think things really needed to change or that they wanted them to.  I think Bailey also did a great job on showing how people confused the sexual revolution and the women’s liberation movement.

Her example of this, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, went into great analysis to show how this movie confused the sexual revolution and the women’s liberation movement.  Summarizing the movie, along with picking out specific scenes to analyze allowed this part of Bailey’s article to be very informative.  Lastly, I thought how Bailey ended the piece with how things were changing, and then how advertising how to change because of this was very intriguing.  Some questions I have are how are things different with equality now?  Do you think people still confuse the sexual revolution and the women’s liberation movement?  How do you define women’s liberation?  Do you think some women are still against equality?

-Blake Cohen


The Story of We the People Exhibit by Pamela A. Kelly

On March 21, 2016, I visited the National Constitution Center’s self-guided women’s history month tour. The focus of the tour is the history of women in the United States, from the struggle for equal rights to women in positions of power. The tour was quite an educational and engaging experience to take part in.

robeDuring the month of March, the National Constitution Center offers a women’s history month self-guided tour within the main exhibit called “The Story of We the People.” The focus is on the struggles that women have faced throughout American history, as well as the moments in history when women were successful in their endeavors for equality and justice. The self-guided tour begins at the main exhibit’s entrance with a section to the side of the entrance door where patrons can pick up a pamphlet that explains rather concisely the various content offered in the tour. As you walk through the doors into the main exhibit, the lights are dimmed, and the content is to the side of the room, moving in a circle. The theme appears to be expanding the freedom, focusing mainly on the creation of the United States Constitution and the decades after, as well as the obstacles Americans have faced in the name of freedom. The women’s history content is incorporated into this main exhibit, the stories and objects already on display. To guide the patron and to signal which sections are part of the women’s history self-guided tour, the museum has used rather large stickers placed on the glass cases. The women’s history tour begins farther in within the main tour, with the first woman displayed being Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Throughout, the main focus of the self-guided tour is on women’s struggle for equality, suffrage, civil-rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and ending with a display that focuses on Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, with her judicial robe being the main focus. Numerous letters are also on display, one being the letter that Ida B. Wells wrote to address the violence taking place in the southern states. Throughout the tour, there are also touchscreens where patrons can watch and listen, with a device similar to a receiver, to some of the most influential speeches in women’s history. Aside from the content on women’s history displayed to the side of the room, there is also a “national tree of faces,” where patrons can touch a screen and learn about numerous women in history.

The self-guided tour, though rather brief, displays some of the most well-known women in the history of U.S. suffrage, civil rights, and equal rights. Beginning with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the tour contains information on the Convention in Seneca Falls. This section addresses Cady’s role in empowering women to make their voices heard, as well as to address women’s rights. This section was rather short; although, the incorporation of Seneca Falls with the next display adds strength to the tour. Having read numerous articles focusing on Seneca Falls and women’s rights, these articles give clarity to this concise section of the tour. As much of the tour focuses mostly on women’s early fight for certain rights, including the right to vote, the incorporation of both Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells designates these two women as the tour’s women of the suffrage movement, yet Anthony is the woman that many people tend to see and hear about when learning about the women’s suffrage movement, so the display featuring Ida. B. Wells is quite refreshing. Ida B. Wels is also displayed within the exhibit as a woman who advocated for civil rights. Although together, the content is displayed in chronological order with the main exhibit’s content, which adds more depth to the displays but also took away from the idea of a women’s history focused tour. Aside from this, the section of the tour covering Ida B. Wells includes a paragraph detailing her story of being a passenger on a train and being violently forced out of the train car by a white male employee. 1 This story ties in with both the course content and specifically with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s “African-American History and the Metalanguage of Race.” Having already read Higginbotham’s article, which details Ida B. Wells’s ordeal in-depth, the museum takes great strides in re-creating Well’s experience to the patron. The story also shows that Wells was an advocate and a woman who struggled to overcome injustice. A letter that she wrote is displayed in the glass case, which was written as an effort to expose the injustice and violence African-American men and women were facing in the South. On display some inches away from the glass case focusing on Wells is a display case dedicated to the women who struggled to organize protests, while also focusing on the proposal for the Equal Rights Amendment. It was nice to hear about the stories of these women, especially when much of the tour focuses on both many of the events and women that we typically encounter at museums showcasing women throughout history. The tour progresses through decades of women’s history, ending with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s story of serving on the Supreme Court. This section of the display shows another side to the tour, a side that focuses on a woman in a position of power.

Surprisingly, many of the employees at the National Constitution Center were unaware of the women’s history month self-guided tour. It also took me some time to figure out where the tour began, as I would soon realize that the self-guided tour was actually a tour of the regular exhibit that just incorporates some events in women’s history throughout. I was also surprised at how little the event was advertised, as well as how few patrons were taking the self-guided tour. Aside from this, I would prefer there to be more cohesion in the tour; sections of the tour are spread around the room. What has left me with the most questions is why some women and events were designated as part of the tour, while others were left out. It appears that the content is a regular part of the museum; the self-guided tour for women’s history month just involves the addition of stickers to guide patrons to specific display cases, but I felt that a section that focuses on prohibition and the women involved with prohibition would be interesting to add to the tour. I also question why they left out the shirtwaist factory strikes when displaying women who protested. 2 Other than the how brief the tour remains, the tour gives patrons a chance to witness the accomplishments of women throughout United States history. The inclusion of the tour within the main exhibit also allows the content to be seen by patrons who may not have visited the museum because of the women’s history tour but otherwise are able to still take part.

The women’s history month self-guided tour at the National Constitution Center provides an interesting experience, while including a lot of information within a rather brief tour. While I may have liked to have gone through a tour separate from the main exhibit, the main tour put the women’s history self-guided tour into more of a historical context, just as numerous articles read in class and Higginbotham’s article did for the women’s history tour content. Overall, the tour was a nice experience and a clever way to incorporate women’s history month inside of such a well-known United States history museum.


1 Evelyn B. Higginbotham,  “African-american Women’s History and the Metalanguage

of Race”.  Signs 17, no. 2. (1992):  251–74. Accessed March 31, 2016.

2  Daniel, Sidorick. “The “Girl Army”: The Philadelphia Shirtwaist Strike of 1909-1910.”

Pennsylvania History 17, no. 3. (2004): 323-369. Accessed March 31, 2016.


Philadelphia History Museum – Power Couples by Emanuel Darby

Sarah AllenI attended the Philadelphia History Museum’s event for Women’s History Month. It hosted historian Dr. Cynthia Little who presented a Lecture entitled “Power Couples: 1682-1873.” She focused on the Women behind some of Philadelphia’s most prominent and important male figures. These women supported their husbands in ways that were critical to their husband’s success as major and great figures. Her point was that there was power, and impact in these women playing these roles that History should take note of and recognize.

The lecture was not a presentation of a collection “Power Couple’s” if we follow the strict definition of the term. In my mind, and according to the Free dictionary, Power Couples can be defined, “as a couple both of whom have high-powered careers or are politically influential.” Most of the couples she presented would be more properly presented through the frame of one of a privileged assistant, super-secretary, advisor or consultant, to a boss. A power couple denotes, a certain level of equality, collaboration but a separation of identity, in which each person pursues their own interests.

Dr. Cynthia Little started her conversation with the Patriarch of this city, William Penn and his relationship with Hannah Callowhill. She goes on to include a collection of some of the most recognizable names in early American history, and to elaborate on why their mostly unsung and forgotten wives deserve a place in the discussion of their husbands accomplishments because they were so instrumental to their success. This would follow to be the theme and unspoken but identifiable argument of the lecture. By looking at the personal lives of these prominent men, she was able to provide a critical lense into their success that involves such an unconsidered group in the historical discipline. For this reason her talk was useful, informative and necessary.

My only reservation for this lecture are the possible truths that were revealed but were left unspoken in the marketing and storytelling aspect of this event and her talk. How do we reconcile the fact that I went to this program with expectations of learning about women who actually carved their own identities separate from their husband’s into history and instead I found women who were should be considered only through the name of their husbands? This is not exactly a negative thing. The importance that Little was obviously trying to show is that these women in of themselves were unique and special in a way that opened up these relationships to unique and gender-role transcendent possibilities.

In her examples she demonstrates how certain partners were able to form “Power Couples” through unique levels of trust between husband and wife and honest recognitions by the husbands of their wives talents and capabilities. These men entrusted uncommon levels and roles of responsibility that were normally left to the responsibility of men, to their wives. Throughout her lecture, her examples each demonstrated different levels of collaboration, and sharing of responsibilities that made some closer to what is normally defined as Power Couple, and others seem to hedge closer to the dynamic of an assistant and a Boss. Other examples turn the Gender roles completely on their heads, such as Betsy and John Ross. Little’s liberation of the definition of Power Couples is not some egregious falsehood or work of deception in order to draw in an audience, or sensationalize reality, but instead understandable and functional.

Little began her lecture with the Patriarch of this city William Penn who married Hannah Callowhill. William Penn was a man of brilliance but who was not good with money. Hannah was a daughter of a financial accountant and was trained in the practice of managing finances and advised him in financial decisions. Hannah Callowhill had strengths that were complementary to William and filled out his weaknesses. Is this a Power Couple? Maybe.

She also talked about George and Martha Washington, a couple that I found even more troubling to assign in the Power couple category. Martha Washington ran George’s plantation, and traveled thousands of miles to accompany George at Winter-camp every year to give him the emotional support that she saw as her duty. Outside of running his plantation, which although is a responsibility with much economic potential, it is not really outside the realm of the home and is not really outside of the traditional role of homemaking or the level of home business which women have historically been assigned, although considered her home is not the one found traditionally in the American home. I was not expecting to see examples of excellent companionship support systems, as the dynamic of a power couple.

The example of Franklin and his wife comes much closer to the definition of a Power Couple for several reasons.  She would socialize in place of him at gatherings and conduct business for him, and also keep him up to date and aware of the situation in the state while he was overseas. She was able to speak in his place, and stand in his place and in this way was able to assert her identity and will in the public community on an influential and impactful level and put her own touch on the society and prodigious circles. Maybe a more contextual look at what a Power Couple would mean relative to its time period would allow, us to be fairer in disagreeing with the definitions of the term. Maybe the term can expand and shrink relative to the amount of opportunity women have at the time. But on the other side of the coin there were couples that, at the same time were demonstrating the conditions of what I would call a Power Couple.

The only couple that fit the strict definition of Power Couple who she presented was Sarah and Richard Allen. Richard and Sarah were both working towards their own independent goals. They both did their own unique individual jobs, instead of just one working for the other they were both raising money to build their church, instead of Sarah strictly handling Richard’s finances. Sarah also had her own operations she conducted that were hers to claim, such as her charity the Women’s Missionary Society and she was known throughout region as a prominent figure of power. I wonder if the fact that they were already outside the status quo of the society, being an African American couple allowed them to feel more comfortably switching up the normative gender.

In a constant battle of trying to tell a full and all-encompassing history we are determined in our search for different, and open-minded angles that present the impacts and stories of history’s unmentioned groups and individuals. Cynthia Little was successful in this difficult task, but at the same time she represented the challenges in this demanding effort; which are to convince the audience, public and academia that these stories and people are worth being studied and looked into. The title and term usage of Power Couples is the visible strain of carrying out this versatile effort. The History of Women no matter how significant, and of serious importance you claim it to be will in so many ways simply not carry the aura of what general audiences will consider real history, in which one can see visible cause and effect on influential political and social levels where their decisions and emotions directly translate into law and the status quo. By saying that these women formed Power Couples we see Little trying to appeal to the general audiences’ normal conceptions of who we should talk about in history- the people who are actually carving their own individual and distinct marks in history. In a certain way Little’s use of the term is both fitting with this conception and misleading, because these women are impacting history but only through their relationships with a man who ultimately surrogates the final actions and decisions that cause the effects that create and change history.