Welcome to American Athena, a blog that documents the creation of a new book tentatively titled American Athena: Cultivating Victorian Womanhood on the Midwestern Frontier, 1825-1925. Our central question is: What happens in a community where women are educated?
The study focuses on Jacksonville, Illinois, founded in 1825. Local boosters dubbed the town the “Athens of the West,” and placed their faith in institutions as a vehicle for ordered progress. By the 1860s, Jacksonville was especially unique in that it boasted three institutions dedicated to women’s higher education, an all-male liberals arts college, thriving churches, political organizations, schools for the deaf and visually impaired, and the Illinois State Hospital for the Insane. Women played critical roles within these institutions as reformers, patrons, administrators, teachers, students, alumnae, medical practitioners, and patients. My project challenges existing narratives in American women’s history by shifting the focus to the Midwest and focusing on women’s daily interactions within the community.
This blog offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process of historical research, teaching, writing, and publishing. It is a creative construction zone, where I invite you to ask questions, provide input, and see the very same documents and sources that I see. Together, we’ll navigate the creative process and learn more about women’s lives, social movements, and feminism in the nineteenth century.