- Editor’s Note
Thirty years ago, in February 1984, the first issue of Legacy appeared. Martha Ackmann, Karen Dandurand, and Joanne Dobson, then graduate students at UMass Amherst, recognized that, as Dobson puts it, while scholars were working “in isolation on various aspects of nineteenth-century American women writers[,] … an extensive community of scholars did not yet exist; there was as yet no critical scholarly mass, and there were no institutional resources in the field” (Tuttle 198). Ackmann, Dandurand, and Dobson determined to bring such a field into being, and their vehicle would be Legacy. As they wrote to their graduate dean, they proposed
• To provide a forum for the scholarship on nineteenth-century American women writers from 1820–1880, including literary criticism and biography of individual authors and literary history of the period.
• To provide a reassessment of a neglected major body of work.
• To promote and assist in restoring the works of these authors to their place in the American literary canon, and to encourage their republication and study.
• To contribute to the development of new critical standards that allow us to evaluate this literature (to paraphrase Adrienne Rich) on its own premises.
• To work toward providing a comprehensive bibliography.
• To provide a directory of scholars doing work in the field. (Tuttle 199)
“When I look back on the audacity of this proposal,” Dobson reflects, “it almost takes my breath away: three abd grad students advancing boldly on the scorched earth that was then the field of nineteenth-century American women writers. We knew without being able to articulate it that we needed a scholarly discipline, and that we had to build it from the ground up” (Tuttle 199).
Since that time, successive generations of Legacy editors, board members, consultant/readers, and contributors have worked as part of a larger community of scholars, teachers, authors, and students to shape, strengthen, diversify, and expand the field. On the occasion of this thirtieth anniversary, we at [End Page ix] Legacy renew our commitment to honor our founders’ audacity through our own work on the journal and to “amplify and extend,” as former Legacy editor Nicole Tonkovich put it, “the directions so firmly established by … initiatives in feminist literary recovery” from the last three decades (242). Building on the solid foundation this work has provided, we encourage and publish scholarship that “account[s] for the multiplicity of a literary tradition that included writing women” (Tonkovich 257); this scholarship demonstrates innovation in approaching the work of those writers with whom we are familiar as well as “a willingness to read for women at the margins … and an incisive theoretical and historical framework for dealing with the texts that become newly visible when we reorient our scholarly compass bearings” (Tonkovich 256).
Contributors to the present issue exemplify these multiple aims. A special book review feature called “Critical Legacies” celebrates foundational scholarship by Nina Baym, Frances Smith Foster, and Shirley Samuels with tributes that detail the myriad ways these early works sparked awakenings and enabled subsequent contributions and innovations. Despite these gains in the field, however, audacity is still called for, as much of the work in this issue suggests. For example, the cluster of short papers on approaches to recovering early American women challenges those of us who push the chronological boundaries of the field ever earlier to think more critically about women’s agency in shaping the archives from which scholars would recover them, to find new ways of hearing women who left no direct accounts of themselves in the historical record, and to seek out new sources, such as Phillis Wheatley’s letters, that explode our long-held assumptions about women’s inner lives. In her full-length essay, Rosalyn Collings Eves extends the scholarship on Sarah Winnemucca, insisting that scholars situate Winnemucca’s rhetorical performances within the disciplinary spaces in which they were delivered, such as reservations and military forts; Eves adds nuance to the literature on Native women’s cultural production while also modeling a valuable approach to studying women across time, region, and ethnicity. And, demanding that academics interrogate our own practices in our own disciplinary spaces, contributors to the forum on “A...