Pious women only

Last month, we looked at the story of Amanda Lucas and her relationship with male merchants/JFA trustees/poor farm administrators/county courts. While espousing the benefits of women’s education, the trustees of the JFA also forced low-income women to work off debts. Since then, I’ve cross checked the names of all the women forced to work at the Morgan County Poor Farm during the 1850s and 1860s with names on the JFA rosters. None match. This continues to perplex me as I’ve wondered: what made a woman worthy of an education? Why would the JFA not extend a helping hand to these young women in need?

Continue reading “Pious women only”

New Year’s Resolutions

No, this is not a list of things I want to accomplish. In fact, it’s my anti-list. It’s my call to tell myself and everyone else on the planet to just relax. The holiday season was one of much needed rest and reflection. Feeling as though I had not accomplished all that I had hoped in the first semester of my sabbatical, I sought a few sources to help me think constructively about the American Athena project. For my writer and academic friends out there, here is a selection of three sources that you might find helpful as well.
Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions”

Wives of Famous Men

Happy holidays! This week we’ll keep it short and sweet with a touch of humor. As I go about thinking of women in Jacksonville, many of the main players were the wives of famous men. Unlike their husbands, however, they left few records as to how they actually felt about their families, their marriages, and their roles in society. We always have to be careful to assume that money and prestige don’t necessarily equate with happiness.Continue reading “Wives of Famous Men”

Infant Schools – or Daycare in 1830s Jacksonville

20151210_143513Last month, you read about women coming to Jacksonville in the 1830s to teach. This week, we’ll add one more to the list: Miss Caroline Blood. Her name first caught my eye when I found this ad, placed by Sarah Crocker in the Illinois Patriot on 19 October 1833. Just above it is an ad for an Infant School, taught by Miss Caroline Blood and held in the back of Mr. D.B. Ayre’s Druggist Shop (you may recall that Mr. Ayres was on the board of the JFA and later the superintendent of the Morgan County Alms House and Poor farm).  More than a woman trying to get by through taking in young children, Miss Blood was an important player in a national movement to establish the first preschools and daycares in the United States. Continue reading “Infant Schools – or Daycare in 1830s Jacksonville”

One town, two worlds

On November 1, 1848, twenty-two-year-old Mary Ann Lucas arrived the Morgan County Poor Farm, blind and destitute. Her widowed mother, Elizabeth, had fallen on hard times. It was up to her younger sister, nineteen-year-old Amanda Lucas, to support her mother, sister, and twelve-year-old brother, John.

By the end of November, Amanda accumulated a debt of $16.50. She purchased shoes, eight yards of calico, and 2 yards of domestic cloth from the merchant T.D. Eams. She also purchased eight yards print and 1/5 yards of domestic cloth from from James Dunlap. David W. Ayers gave her 25 cents to attend a concert, someone named McAllister simply gave her a $1 cash loan, and she hired someone else to do mending. To pay her debt, Morgan County ordered her to work for $1 per week at the county poor farm from December 1, 1848 until February 25, 1849, a total of 16 weeks and 3 days. Mary Ann was discharged on Christmas Eve, but Amanda stayed on two more months. Even as a native-born white female, Amanda would have struggled to find an adequate job to cover all of these expenses and the poor farm was likely her best bet. But you’ve read about this before. Here’s the twist…

Continue reading “One town, two worlds”

Quenching the fire in her heart: The Ladies’ Association for Educating Females

IMG_20151111_152512.974One of my big questions in American Athena is: What happens when you have a community of educated females? Do women agitate for and enjoy more social, political, and economic rights? Does it affect how they shape their institutions and move in public spaces?

Continue reading “Quenching the fire in her heart: The Ladies’ Association for Educating Females”

The Personal Retreat

In the previous post on finding a topic, I mentioned the benefits of taking a personal retreat. As we approach the holidays that require we think on gratitude and giving, it is a good time for personal reflection and setting new goals. That can be hard to do – and really do well – without intention and structure. So today’s post reflects on the power of reflection. After the insanity that was the Fall 2014 semester, I wanted to take some time to really work on figuring out what was next. If you’re facing one big question in your life, no matter what that question might be, the personal retreat is one way to quiet your mind and productively search for answers.Continue reading “The Personal Retreat”

Choosing a topic

Every writer has a unique way of arriving at their subject matter. For me, American Athena was something of a surprise. There were more than a few raised eyebrows when I announced to friends and colleagues in January 2015 that I was embarking on a history of Midwestern women in the nineteenth century because it was so unlike anything I had ever done before. Today’s post is intended to give some background on how this project came to be and hopefully provide some insight for writers out there who are, as we say, “between projects.”Continue reading “Choosing a topic”

Finding the meaning in sources: the diary of Laura Manier

Historians approach sources in two ways: first, what does the source say. Second, what does the source mean. As a historian with a dual interest in archives, I enjoy an unusual relationship with source materials. Unlike most researchers who visit distant repositories, I’m still the primary steward of the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives  at Illinois College (that is, until they hire an archivist in the next few months). This means that when I look at sources, they hold multiple meanings and responsibilities. I not only want to know what they say, but I have vested interest in their preservation and public use. One of the most insightful sources that has turned up in my research so far is  the diary of Laura Manier, who attended the Young Ladies’ Athenaeum in 1878 (if you click on the link, you can read the whole thing yourself). An account of the spring 1878 semester, Laura wrote about parties and friends, outings with young men, difficult professors who made her friends cry, violin lessons (for which she did not always practice), and the cultural events and concerts in Jacksonville. Continue reading “Finding the meaning in sources: the diary of Laura Manier”

A Fire in Her Bones

Phi Alpha00011

As its main selling point, this 1892 advertisement claims the JFA is the “oldest institution in the West for the education of young ladies.” My colleagues and I have often repeated this fact, but we have to ask: It this true? Is this really important? Why do they need to be first? Why to we need them to be first? If this isn’t true and they weren’t first, does that somehow devalue my research?

So let’s get one thing straight: the JFA was not first. But that’s okay because I’ve learned that this obsession over being at the front of the line obscures a much richer story about how women on the frontier created new communities.

Continue reading “A Fire in Her Bones”