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.
The historical marker along Michagan Ave. in Jacksonville showing the location of the North Immanuel Cemetery, the burial grounds for the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane. Note that the first patient and the first person to buried here were both female.
What we know of history is heavily edited. Edited by memory, shame, pride, or one’s right to privacy. In American Athena, I’m not just interested to know what happened to educated women, I’m interested to know what happened to an entire community where women were educated. There’s a big difference. Simply educating women is not enough to overcome deeply engrained patriarchal systems. But does it help?
Caroline and Charles Ingalls at the time of their marriage in 1860. “Ma” may not have fully recognized the character in her daughter’s books.
As historian Joan Jensen likes to point out, until quite recently most American women were rural women living on farms and in small towns. Yet somehow, historians of American women have chosen to either focus more on urban areas or remove geography from the equation all together. Continue reading