April 2012 Time Capsule: Ladies’ Might

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

From Adam down, all men have said to all women: “House-keeping is your sphere. In that you are most admirable. Literature, art, science, these are all beyond you. Stay in your own sphere and we will worship you, we will adore you: therein you are angels. Out of it you are a misery and a detestation: if you go out of it we will abhor you, we will shun you, we will have none of you.” And women like to please men, you know!
» Lucinda Chandler, “Enlightened Motherhood,” 1873

They have been brave enough to elect to walk through life alone, when some man has asked them in marriage, whom they could not love; with white lips they have said “no,” while their hearts have said “yes,” because duty demanded of them the sacrifice of their own happiness. Their lives have been stepping stones for the advancement of younger sisters.
» Mary Livermore, “Superfluous Women,” 1875

Both of these speeches were presented at Association for the Advancement of Women (AAW) national conferences and reprinted in The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868-1914, by Karen J. Blair (Holmes & Meier Publishers). The First Woman’s Congress of the AAW was held in 1873; conferences convened through 1893.
Female ancestors can be difficult to trace. They changed surnames at marriage and they had few legal rights, so you might not find documents such as land records, wills or military records.

Club documents are often-overlooked records for women. Whether or not your female ancestor was a feminist, she might’ve joined a local women’s club, literary society, church organization or charity group. Finding these organizations and their records might be easier than you think. Check old newspapers for meeting notices and recaps, and city directories for society listings (which may include names of board members).

After you learn what women’s clubs were operating in your ancestor’s area, check manuscript collections at libraries and historical societies for membership rosters, meeting minutes, programs, yearbooks, historical accounts and newsletters. The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in Buffalo, NY, for example, houses the Western New York Federation of Women’s Clubs Papers. The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library of the History of Women in Cambridge, Mass., holds the New England Woman’s Club Papers, among others. And Smith College in Northampton, Mass., maintains the papers of the Association for the Advancement of Women. 
From the March/April 2012 Family Tree Magazine