Domestic Servants: Seen, but Rarely Heard

American Athena will consider the relationships between women of varied ethnicities, religions, and social and economic backgrounds. I’m especially interested in those women who worked as domestic servants because of their close relationships with the middle class women who attended the female schools in Jacksonville. Finding that information, however, is not easy. During the nineteenth century, domestic servants tended to be young, single, uneducated women without significant economic resources. They rarely kept diaries or letters describing their experiences, and within the writings of their employers, domestic servants only appear when inconvenienced. Continue reading

The Power of the Past at the Congregational Library & Archives

Congregational Library and Archives in Boston, MA is my final stop on this leg of my NERFC journey. The founders of Illinois College: John Ellis, Julian Sturtevant, Edward Beecher, Asa Turner, and others, were Congregational ministers and I am here asking the question: as they and other Congregational missionaries went West to establish churches and educational institutions, did they all promote female education or was that unique to Jacksonville? Answering this question will be more difficult than I anticipated, but there are plenty of clues.

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Pieces of the Puzzle at the Schlesinger Library


This week finds me in at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, MA, another glorious repository of women’s history goodness. Walking into an archive, you never know how the day will unfold. Even if you’ve spent hours searching the on-line catalog and exchanged dozens of e-mails with archivists, there’s no telling what the actual sources will yield. Today’s post looks how I process documents as a researcher, as well as more on the social and gendered dynamics of 19th century Jacksonville.

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My Favorite Research Tools: #Evernote

I’ve just returned from seven weeks of research in New England with a suitcase that weighed approximately the same as when I left. Let me explain: back in the old days (2010), the best way to keep track of documents was the good ol’ photocopy. A few daring archives had installed scanners at that time and emerging smart phones could take photos, but most relied on the ‘ol 10 cents a page copier. As a result, I would leave a gaping hole in my suitcase – or even take an empty bag – just for the photocopies.

In 2016, my nose was set to the research grindstone for seven weeks and I didn’t make one.single.photocopy. I’m at home for ten days before heading out for two more weeks of research in Boston, so in honor of my time off today’s post focuses on my most favorite research tool: Evernote.

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Women, Slavery, and Politics

I’m still at the Vermont Historical Center this week, working my way through the diary of Augusta Merrill Bickford who, in 1848-1849, attended the Bradford Female Seminary in Bradford, MA. Her richly detailed account of daily life at a women’s school is a rare find, but in this season of presidential primaries, I am especially struck by Augusta’s interest in politics.

In 1848, Augusta was just 19 years old. She could not vote. Nobody really cared what she had to say. As a middle class white woman she might eventually have some pull in the community as a teacher, through a church, or within a women’s club, but at that moment in her life she barely existed before the law. Yet the fact that she cared about the future of her nation teaches us lessons both historical and practical.

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