New Project Reveal: Biography of Suffragist Virginia Minor

Virginia Minor

I’ve been kind of cagey about the biography I’m working on (not Rose Ferron, which is on the back burner at the moment, this is another one), but I’m getting close to finishing my research and submitting to agents, so I’m now comfortable with talking about it. I am working on a dual biography of husband-wife suffragist team, Virginia and Francis Minor. I happen to have a guest post today about Virginia over on author Suzanne Adair’s website, if you want to see a summary of her life.

I first heard about Virginia when I was researching Victoria Woodhull for my book Madame Presidentess. Virginia was a contemporary of Victoria’s. While we can’t prove that they knew one another, it is likely. Virginia was a big deal in the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and she is the one who originated the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, and idea Victoria used when she spoke before Congress. Even if Victoria didn’t personally know Virginia, she almost certainly had heard of her.

You know me and stories of forgotten women. There was something about Virginia that I was immediately attracted to. I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on what. But I knew I had to tell her story. This one didn’t strike me as right for historical fiction, though. I did some digging and found that no one has ever written a biography of her. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

The book started out just being about Virginia, but then I realized that her relationship with Francis was integral to her work and highly unusual. They lived a life of purposeful equality, beginning in the 1840s, way before that was common practice, so I knew I had to include him as well. They also both lived in my hometown of St. Louis for over 40 years, which is really helping with the research. We have some great archives here with very valuable information. Neither Francis or Virginia is well-known, and so not much about them still exists, but it is possible to find it if you look hard enough. I love the thrill of the chase in research, so I am having a ball. This June I will be visiting archives in Virginia, where they were both born, so hopefully that will shed light on their childhoods, which is really the missing piece at the moment.

I can’t wait to tell you more about them as the project progresses and to hopefully soon have a contract on the book.

P.S. – So far, I have not been able to track down a photo of Francis, which is why there isn’t one in this post. I have, however, held documents written in his own hand. It was so cool!

Celebrate Women’s Equality Day with These Interesting Projects in Women’s History

As August 2020 and the centennial of women’s right vote in the United States grows closer, we’re starting to see some really creative projects highlighting the brave, groundbreaking women of American history. Unfortunately, none of them include Victoria Woodhull yet (trust me, I’m contacting each one as I learn of them), but they do include many of her contemporaries. Here are three projects I’m keeping an eye on:

Rebel Women – A project to get more statues of amazing women of American history built in New York City and throughout the country. The author of the article I linked to is asking for nominations for women from your home town. I’ve already nominated Victoria for New York City and Virginia Minor for St. Louis. Please, feel free to nominate your own or second one of mine by emailing dearmaya@nytimes.com.

Embrazen Wines – This is by far the most clever of the three projects. A winemaker has created three special vintages with labels that highlight the accomplishments of three women in American history: Josephine Baker, Nellie Bly and Celia Cruz. A special app called Living Wine Labels allows you to scan the bottle and hear Beginning August 26 (National Women’s Equality Day, which many groups are lobbying to make a Federal holiday), you can nominate women of history or today to be added to the next group of wines. If you nominate a contemporary woman, she could win a $25,000 grant. You bet I will be making them aware of Victoria when the Trailblazer campaign opens on August 26.

Where Are the Women? – This Kickstarter campaign aims to create sculptures of 20 notable women of U.S. history. Even though Victoria is not among them, her friends Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone are. I have backed it and I have also recommended Victoria to them. Please help them reach their goal. It’s so important that we spread the word about women’s history and all those whose accomplishments have not received the attention they deserve.

Why am I telling you about these? Well, besides oversight of not including Victoria, I’m still working on a proposal for a book on the history of feminism in the U.S., which I’d love to have published near the centennial. Cross your fingers!

Feminism: One Movement in Four Waves (Part 4)

This is the final installment of this series. Here are the other parts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Wave Four: 2017 – Present – Women Resist
Key Figures: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Reese Witherspoon and Emma Watson, and women of the general public who demonstrated.

By Elvert Barnes from Baltimore, Maryland, USA via Wikimedia Commons

In 2005, Pythia Peay became the first women to argue, at least publicly, that the country had slipped into a fourth wave of feminism, one she believed combined justice with spirituality. Jennifer Baumgardner points to 2008 as the date the fourth wave began because of the sanctioning of Take Our Daughters to Work Days and the broadening of feminist agendas to include transgender women, acceptance of sex-positivism and sex workers, support for plus-sized women and other issues.

But I personally believe the change came in 2017. Regardless of who you voted for, it’s hard to deny that the Trump election changed everything for women in the United States. You could argue that this wave began with Hilary Clinton’s campaign, but I believe the stunning blow many women felt when she lost, combined with Trump’s public distain for women, is really what set us into a new wave.

Within days of his election, women were planning ways to protest the rise of a culture in which a political leader with pending lawsuits for sexual misconduct and widely-seen video/audio footage of him bragging about kissing/groping women without their consent is given a pass by fellow lawmakers and voters. They also used it as a chance to advocate for legislation and policies regarding human rights, women’s rights, immigration reform, health care reform, reproductive rights, the environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality and freedom of religion. The resulting January 21, 2017, Women’s March in Washington was the largest single-day protest in American history. It and 673 others around the world drew 2.6 million people in all 50 states and 32 countries. (In 2018, more than 1 million women turned out for a second Women’s March in cities across the country, with an emphasis on resistance and creating change through voting in the midterm elections to be held later in the year.)

By Rob Kall from Bucks County, PA, USA via Wikimedia Commons

2017 also saw the ideas of men habitually interrupting women or “mansplaining” ideas to them come into mainstream media when California Sen. Kamala Harris was cut off by two male colleagues during an Intelligence Committee hearing, not once, but twice in a week, without censure.  This event led to former Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller branding Harris with the age-old female label of “hysterical.” During the same hearings, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren objected to the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Senate voted to silence her in the middle of a speech, citing  Senate Rule XIX, which prohibits ascribing “to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.” In defending this action, Sen. Mitch McConnell said, “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Thus was born the fourth wave feminist slogan “Nevertheless She Persisted.”

Perhaps the most visible movement within the reenergized feminist fourth wave began in October 2017 with a tweet from actress Rose McGowan in which she revealed she had been raped by a man she called HW (who would later be identified as media mogul Harvey Weinstein). Her Charmed co-star Alyssa Milano responded to her tweet by urging women to use the hastag  #MeToo to show how widespread sexual harassment and sexual assault are. A movement was born, resulting in hundreds of thousands of women (both famous and not) around the world sharing their stories, as well as accusations against more than 50 Hollywood heavyweight actors, producers, directors, and other public figures. Time magazine later named the #MeToo silence breakers the Person of the Year for 2017.

A high-profile offshoot of #MeToo is #TimesUp, a movement involving more than 300 women in the film industry who are supporting one another in the fight against sexual harassment and violence through lobbying and providing funds for victims who can’t afford legal counsel.

Given all this fiery activity, it is little surprise that feminism was Merriam-Webster’s 2017 Word of the Year – a move many saw as confirming the rise of feminism from near-death.

From NBC news

One positive outcome of this fledgling wave of feminism is that more women than ever are running for political office, seeking to change trends that threaten to normalize sexual harassment and overall disregard for women’s rights and feelings. Currently, women occupy just 19.1% of House seats, 21% of Senate seats, and only four current U.S. governors are women, according to Catalyst.org, but this may well change with 2018 mid-term elections leaving several seats up for grabs. According to the Washington Post, a record number of women are running for governor: 79 women — 49 Democrats and 30 Republicans — are considering runs for the 2018 campaign. That’s more than double than four years ago. In Michigan, it appears that women will be nominees for every statewide office and more than 110 women have signed up to run for the Texas legislature.

Only time will tell what else this new wave will bring or what permanent changes it will usher in. I, for one, am grateful to be living “in interesting times” where history is made each and every day. If previous waves are any indication, persistence, loud voices and bold action will win the day and hopefully, finally, bring to an end the need for feminism to exist after nearly 200 years. It’s a tall order, but as Rosie the Riveter reminds us “we can do it!”

 

Feminism: One Movement in Four Waves (Part 3)

This is part of an ongoing series. In case you missed them, here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Wave Three: 1990 – 2016 – Women Fight for Multiple Ideas and Individuality
Key Figures: Anita Hill, the Riot Grrrl bands, Sarah McLaughlin, Hillary Clinton, and others.

By RockCreek [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With the advent of the Internet, the agenda of the feminist movement became fragmented as the world became smaller. This was a time when many issues were brought to the fore, including (but not limited to) gender violence (including rape and rape culture), reproductive rights, the meaning of derogatory language (such as bitch and slut), equal pay, and gender expectations. A key feature of the third wave of feminism was a focus on intersectionality, recognition that the movement should include women of all races, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations. These women were the daughters of second wave feminists and they were determined to learn from their mother’s mistakes.

It can be argued that Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee was the beginning of this wave, as it brought high profile sexual harassment into American homes through the nightly news and newspaper headlines. The Pacific Northwest punk movement that came to be known as Riot Grrrl is also credited with starting the third wave. These bands helped open a discourse on feminist subjects through their unabashed lyrics that took on rape, the patriarchy, sexuality, women’s and empowerment. In addition, the divisive issue of sex and sexuality blossoming into the so-called “feminist sex wars” in the early 1990s was another force driving feminism into a third wave.

The popularity of the all-female music festival Lilith Fair and the goddess movement of the 1990s placed a cultural emphasis on Girl Power (Spice Girls, anyone?) and gave women safe havens (both spiritually and at traditionally male-dominated music festivals) that were difficult to ignore. At the same time, The Vagina Monologues drew attention toward female sexual desire and raised money for support services for battered women.

The late 1990s and especially the early 2000s were marked by a backlash against feminism, which caused some in the media to name it the “post-feminist era.” Within the realm of popular imagination, feminists had gained a reputation for militancy and man-hating, which many women wanted to distance themselves from and Rush Limbaugh famously termed “feminazis.” Celebrities came out as openly saying they did not identify has feminist, even though they were for equal rights. It many ways, it began to look as though the movement was dead.

Controversy stalked the third wave in the form of accusations of creating a “culture of raunch,” which grew up around the sex-positive aspects of the movement. Pornography, strip clubs and risqué fashions were taken by many feminists and turned into symbols of female sexual empowerment, rather than being seen as degrading. In a similar vein, in 2015 and 2016, women sought to take back the word “slut” and to end the practice of “slut shaming” through public “slut walks” in which they proclaimed their sexuality and spoke out against victim-blaming and rape culture.

It was into this chaos that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign marched, reigniting the hopes of many and reviving the call for women to vote. Clinton’s election to the presidency was seen by many as the inevitable crowning achievement of the feminist movement. While she was certainly not universally adored and many societal issues still remained against women, the idea of finally having a woman in the highest role in the land – 144 years after Victoria Woodhull first tried – trumped (no pun intended) those concerns for those who viewed her election as the strongest victory for women, perhaps since we were granted the right to vote nearly a century before. This sense of optimism reigned until results started coming in and the unthinkable began to suddenly appear unavoidable.

Feminism: One Movement in Four Waves (Part 2)

I got so busy yesterday I forgot to post part two! So you get two posts today. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

Wave Two: 1960-1988 – Women Fight for Equality
Key figures: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Anna Nieto-Gómez, Sandra “Casey” Hayden, Mary King, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and others.

The second wave of feminism in is often attributed to the strict gender roles that oppressed women in the wake of WWII. Despite new household technologies making homemaking easier than ever and socioeconomic change resulting in an abundance of new jobs not confined to the brute strength of men, women were still expected to fulfill many of the same roles they always had, and women were growing restless. In 1963 author Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, criticizing how white women were shown in the media (as good little housewives with no drive or potential) and showing the emotional toll such a life took on women. Add to this the 1961 advent of the birth control pill which made employment without the threat of unexpected pregnancy a reality for the first time, and American females were primed for action.

It can also be said that there was a direct correlation between the fight for Civil Rights by African-Americans and the beginning of the second wave of feminism, which focused on equality for women. The Civil Rights movement gave women a template to follow and showed that their voices matter in terms of activism. These “radical feminists” went on to led the second wave in speaking out on violence and sexism.

Legal victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave women momentum. But this time, there wasn’t just one theme, but many. The women spurred on by consciousness raising meetings fought for the right for women to have access to and equal opportunity in the workforce, as well as the end of legal sex discrimination, championed reproductive rights (especially after 1973’s Rode v. Wade case made abortion legal) and spoke out against domestic violence and marital rape.

By the 1980s many people felt that the movement had achieved its goals through sexual harassment laws, the legalization of abortion and legislation that gave women more equal opportunities with men, so large-scale protests faded away, along with much of the energy behind the movement. Supporters still fought to uphold abortion rights and sexual harassment laws, promote full equality in the military and prevent violence against women, but overall it had lost its spark. On top of this, some feminists were starting to argue over the inclusion of sex workers in the feminism movement, a fight that would continue into the next wave.

The second wave was highly criticized by many African-American feminists and others of color as focusing far too much on the rights and politics of white women, as well as by the LGBT community for being too heteronormative.

Feminism: One Movement in Four Waves (Part 1)

Some of you may be aware that I’m working on a proposal for a non-fiction book on the history of U.S. feminism that I hope to have published on or near the 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote, which is August 19, 2020.  This week, Diana at Creating Herstory is featuring a four-part article I wrote on this very same subject and I thought I’d repost the article each day as it runs on her site. It will give you a rough idea of what the book will include, although the book also will have a section on colonial feminist thought that this article doesn’t cover.

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

For me, every day is Women’s History month because I’m currently researching the history of the feminism movement in the United States for a book.

Honestly, although I’ve considered myself a feminist for more than 20 years, I never really thought much about the movement in general or how it came to be. But then I researched my historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, a suffragist and the first woman to run for president in the U.S. in 1872 – 48 years before women won the right to vote. Because she was friends with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, I came to learn a lot about how feminism and women’s rights came to be in our country.

Historians generally agree that there have been at least three “waves” or intense periods of activity around women’s rights. But that is where the consensus ends. Exactly when these waves took place and what they encompassed is a serious matter of debate, especially where later waves are concerned. Some people (like me), believe we’re currently living in a fourth wave of feminism, while others say we’re still in the third or even in a fifth. There is even some debate on whether or not feminism in American dates back to colonial times, far before the generally accepted seminal event of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.

While one article could never do justice to the many facets of the feminist movement (that’s what the book is for, and even then it is impossible to hit all points), here’s a brief summary of the three accepted waves, as well as my theory of a current fourth wave. All dates are approximate.

Wave One: 1840-1920 – Women Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage
Key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others.

Susan B. Anthony (standing) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Beginning in the 1830s, women started to quietly talk amongst themselves about their rights and to question why, under United States law, they were not considered full citizens. This eventually led to the first public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College in 1846 and the first public address about women’s rights the next year. The first women’s rights convention in the United States took place the following July in Seneca Falls, New York. From this meeting came the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled on the Declaration of Independence, was all about woman and her rights, or lack thereof, in the country at that time. It became the basis for the women’s rights movement until the Civil War disrupted the whole country and placed the public’s attention squarely on abolition.

After the Civil War, the women’s movement split into two groups divided over the idea of enfranchisement of blacks as well as whether universal suffrage should be granted at the Federal or state levels. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the leaders of the radical National Woman Suffrage Association, whose members believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote and called for a federal agreement for women suffrage. On the other side of the fence were Lucy Stone and the American Woman Suffrage Association, whose members supported the 15th Amendment and worked for women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis.

This division hampered the efforts of both groups, by weakening resources, causing in-fighting within the movement and fracturing public attention. As time went on, some states granted suffrage on a case-by-case basis, usually beginning with school suffrage. The first state to grant women full voting rights was Wyoming in 1869. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president, even though she wasn’t technically old enough and the vast majority of women didn’t have the right to vote for her. Despite the odds, Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting in that election (not for Victoria, as the two were bitter enemies by this point) but was arrested and found guilty of illegal voting. But she made history and headlines with her act, and her widely publicized trial spurred on flagging suffragists across the country. In 1875, Virginia Minor, a suffragist from Missouri, argued before the Supreme Court that women already had the right to vote under the 14th amendment of the Constitution, which that states suffrage is a right of all citizens of the United States. But the Supreme Court ruled against her, stating that all “men” had the right to vote, and the suffragists realized that the Federal government wasn’t going to help them. Thus began the decades-long campaign

Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women.

The two warring factions of women’s suffrage finally reunited in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the united cause of getting suffrage state-by-state. Twenty-six years later, tired of this slow, tame approach, Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. The following year, more than 200 members of this group – known as the Silent Sentinels – were arrested while picketing the White House. Many of them went on hunger strikes in prison and were subjected to torture and barbaric practices like forced feeding. (These women were the Iron-Jawed Angels of the 2004 film of the same name.)

Despite these setbacks, the women’s movement continued under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, who focused whole-heartedly on the national amendment from 1916 on. Women finally gained the right to vote on a Federal level on August 20, 1920. But it took a long time for the states to catch up (Mississippi was the last state in the union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in 1984) and it wasn’t for several decades that African-American women were truly able to vote without fear of discrimination and harm.

Tomorrow’s Part 2 will talk about the Second Wave of feminism, which lasted approximately from 1960-the late 1980s.

P.S. – Did you know that the National Woman’s Party still exists? I’m a member!