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Before They Could Vote

American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819–1919

Edited by Sidonie A. Smith and Julia Watson

Publication Year: 2006

The life narratives in this collection are by ethnically diverse women of energy and ambition—some well known, some forgotten over generations—who confronted barriers of gender, class, race, and sexual difference as they pursued or adapted to adventurous new lives in a rapidly changing America. The engaging selections—from captivity narratives to letters, manifestos, criminal confessions, and childhood sketches—span a hundred years in which women increasingly asserted themselves publicly. Some rose to positions of prominence as writers, activists, and artists; some sought education or wrote to support themselves and their families; some transgressed social norms in search of new possibilities. Each woman’s story is strikingly individual, yet the brief narratives in this anthology collectively chart bold new visions of women’s agency.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xii

As we conceptualized, proposed, and prepared this anthology, we benefited from the generosity and expertise of numerous scholars, editors, and students. We thank our reviewers, especially Anne E. Goldman, for helpful suggestions that expanded our thinking about the heterogeneity of narratives from the period. For his unstinting encouragement, erudition, and advice, we are especially grateful ...

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Introduction: Living in Public

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pp. 3-22

American women’s autobiographical writing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, other than slave narratives, suffragist tracts, and Civil War diaries, has received relatively little attention from literary critics and cultural historians. For literary and cultural critics, autobiographical writing has often been seen as a poor relation to the novel and to poetry, the genres in which American women writers created ...

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1. An Authentic Statement of the Case and Conduct of Rose Butler, who was tried, convicted, and executed for the crime of arson (1819)

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pp. 23-36

ROSE BUTLER (1799–1819) remains a mystery except for the details we learn from the pamphlet that calls itself the “authentic account of the case and conduct of Rose Butler.” She was born in November 1799 in Mount Pleasant, New York. Until her imprisonment for arson in 1818, she lived in various households in Mount Pleasant and New York City. She was executed in July ...

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2. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison (as told to James E. Seaver) (1824)

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pp. 37-123

MARY JEMISON (1743–1833) was born of Scotch-Irish immigrant parents aboard a ship during a voyage to the “New World” in 1743. She grew up in a Marsh Creek settlement near what is now Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1758, during the French and Indian Wars, she and her family (with the exception of two brothers) were taken captive by a faction of ...

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3. The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee (1836)

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pp. 124-146

JARENA LEE (1783–?) was born in Cape May, New Jersey, to free parents of modest means. At seven she was hired out as a servant. In 1811 she married Joseph Lee, a pastor at a black church in a town called Snow Hill, outside Philadelphia. In the next six years, Lee suffered five family deaths, including that of her husband. Not ...

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4. Selections from Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838–1839 (1863)

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pp. 147-176

FRANCES ANNE "FANNY" KEMBLE (1809–1893) was born into a family of acclaimed Shakespearean actors in London on November 27, 1809. Raised primarily by an aunt, she was educated for several years in France. While in Paris, she studied French, Italian, and the Bible and was introduced to the poetry of Lord Byron and Dante, who influenced her early writing career. Kemble went on to ...

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5. Transcription of Speech Given at the Akron Women’s Rights Convention, from the Anti-Slavery Bugle (June 21, 1851)

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pp. 177-179

SOJOURNER TRUTH (1797–1883) was born Isabella Baumfree, a slave on the Hardenbergh estate in Ulster County, New York. Sold several times, her last master was John Dumont of Hurley in Ulster County, New York. In slavery she bore five children. When New York law prohibited slavery in 1827, she gained her legal freedom and became active in various organizations and religious communities. ...

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6. Selections from “Youth,” from Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1852)

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pp. 180-201

SARAH MARGARET FULLER (1810–1850) was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, in 1810. Her father, Timothy Fuller, a lawyer and later a congressman, encouraged her education, enabling her to learn Greek, Latin, German, French, and Italian. Fuller’s educational accomplishments were so impressive that Harvard University admitted her to its men-only library to facilitate her studies. ...

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7. “Testimony” Given in Canada (1855)

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pp. 202-204

HARRIET TUBMAN (c. 1820–1913) was born a plantation slave in Maryland. Growing up in the southern slavery system, she observed its brutality when two older sisters were taken away to a chain gang. Married to John Tubman, but childless, she fled to the North in 1849, possibly with the help of a white woman (Humez 16–18), and vowed to liberate her entire family through dangerous ...

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8. “A Brief Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Adele M. Jewel”(1869) Adele

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pp. 205-218

ADELE M. JEWEL (née George; 1834–?) was born deaf in Cincinnati in 1834. At the age of three, she and her family moved to Michigan and bought a farm where they lived for nine years. At her father’s death, she and her mother were forced to sell the farm to pay debts. Jewel and her mother then moved to Jackson, Michigan, where Jewel met and befriended Almena Knight. Knight became ...

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9. Selections from Her Journals (1874/78)

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pp. 219-231

MARTHA CAREY THOMAS (1857–1935) was born in Baltimore in 1857, the eldest of ten children. Her father was a physician and a preacher, and her mother was an active member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Called “Minnie” as a child, she later preferred that her first name be dropped. At ...

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10. “The Yakima Affair,” from Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims (1883)

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pp. 232-242

SARAH WINNEMUCCA (1844–1891) was born Thocmetony (“shell flower”) in 1844 in the Northern Paiute nation near what is now northern Nevada. Her father and grandfather, both tribal chiefs, promoted different relationships to whites—her grandfather established friendly relations, while her father endorsed a more distanced approach.Winnemucca’s own relationship to the dominant ...

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11. “An Old Woman and Her Recollections” (as recorded by Thomas Savage) (1877)

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pp. 243-253

EULALIA PÉREZ (dates unknown) describes her life in this narrative she dictated to Thomas Savage in 1877. Hired as an assistant to the Western historian Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1873, Savage interviewed California pioneers and natives, collecting information and oral histories for Bancroft’s History of California, published from1884 to 1890. Though of New England stock, Savage, ...

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12. “Beginning to Work,” from A New England Girlhood (1889)

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pp. 254-269

LUCY LARCOM (1824–1893), born in Beverly, Massachusetts, was one of ten children, eight of them daughters. The death of her father Benjamin, a sea captain and merchant, left the family with his large debt. Larcom’s mother, Lois, moved the family to Lowell, Massachusetts, where the girls took jobs in the Lowell Mills and their mother established a boarding house for female mill employees. ...

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13. “Looking Back on Girlhood” (1892)

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pp. 270-278

SARAH ORNE JEWETT (1849–1909) was born on September 3, 1849, in South Berwick, Maine, where she lived for most of her life. The small-town New England settings and themes that figure prominently in Jewett’s work have contributed to critical characterization of Jewett as a “local color” fiction writer. Although landscape and place are, indeed, key in Jewett’s work, she is now ...

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14. “The Club Movement among Colored Women of America” (1900)

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pp. 279-297

FRANCES "FANNIE" BARRIER WILLIAMS (1855– 1944) was born in Brockport, New York, in 1855, one of three children of Anthony and Harriet Barrier, free African Americans. There, the family suffered little discrimination, and she lived a childhood she would later describe as idyllic. Although the Barriers were the only African American family at the First Baptist Church, they were active ...

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15. Sketches from The Atlantic Monthly

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pp. 298-339

ZITKALA-ŠA (née Gertrude Simmons Bonnin; 1876–1938) was born at the Yankton Sioux Agency on what is now the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Her white father left before she was born, and her mother, Ellen Tate Iyohinwin (Reaches for the Wind) Simmons, raised her within the Yankton Sioux community. In 1884 ...

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16. “Nurslings of the Sky,” from The Land of Little Rain (1903)

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pp. 340-346

MARY HUNTER AUSTIN (1868–1934), born on September 9, 1868, in Carlinville, Illinois, was one of nine children (of whom four survived) of a lawyer, George, and a teacher, Susanna. Her childhood interests in nature and literature were stimulated when, after graduating from Blackburn College in 1888, she and her widowed mother moved to California. After touring San Francisco and Los ...

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17. “Mary MacLane Meets the Vampire on the Isle of Treacherous Delights” (1910)

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pp. 347-355

MARY (ELIZABETH) MACLANE (1881–1929) was born on May 1, 1881, in Winnipeg, Canada, to Scotch-Canadian parents. When she was four, the family, including a sister and two brothers, moved to Western Minnesota, about which she wrote a short memoir, “The Kid Primitive.” After her father died in 1889, MacLane’s mother married longtime friend Henry Klenze and moved to Butte, Montana. ...

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18. “The Promised Land,” from The Promised Land (1912)

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pp. 356-374

MARY ANTIN (1881–1949) was born in the small Russian town of Polotzk in 1881. Her father, a trader constrained by the social and economic circumstances of Czarist rule, immigrated to the United States in 1891, and the rest of the family immigrated three years later with borrowed money. After several failed business attempts, the Antins settled in Boston’s South End, where they lived meagerly on ...

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19. Lives in The Independent and the Question of Rac

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pp. 375-397

THERE IS NO INFORMATION on the lives of anonymous contributors to The Independent. Published from 1848 to the early decades of the twentieth century, The Independent was “devoted to the consideration of politics, social and economic tendencies, history, literature, and the arts,” and has been an important source for American literary scholars and historians. It regularly included ...

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20. “How I Made My First Big Flight Abroad: My Flight Across the English Channel” (1912)

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pp. 398-404

HARRIET QUIMBY (1875?–1912), in a narrative alleging she was the daughter of wealthy parents who provided her with a first-class education, claimed she was born in Arroyo Grande, California, in 1884. It is believed, however, that she was born on May 11, 1875, in Kinderhook Township, Michigan, and raised on a farm. In 1900 the family moved to San Francisco, where Quimby ...

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21. Autobiographical Essays

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pp. 405-426

SUI SIN FAR (1865–1914), a writer and activist, was born Edith Maude Eaton in Macclesfield, England, in 1865. Her father, Edward Eaton, was a British merchant and her mother was a Chinese immigrant named Lotus Blossom. They lived unconventionally as an interracial couple in an English borough twenty miles south of Manchester that relied on the silk trade. Close to her mother, Sui Sin ...

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22. Selections from Madeleine: An Autobiography (1919)

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pp. 427-446

THERE IS NO RELIABLE INFORMATION regarding the identity of the anonymous author of Madeleine: An Autobiography, although Marcia Carlisle, in her introduction to the 1986 reissue of it, suggests that the text was not a hoax and that its author was indeed a prostitute for decades, beginning in the 1890s. Complaints were ...


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pp. 447-454

E-ISBN-13: 9780299220532
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299220549

Publication Year: 2006