A Life Remembered: The Voice and Passions of Feminist Writer and Community Activist Flora Kimball

By Nye, Matthew | California History, September 2010 | Go to article overview

A Life Remembered: The Voice and Passions of Feminist Writer and Community Activist Flora Kimball


Nye, Matthew, California History


I wished--oh! so ardently--that a moral earthquake would startle the women in this country who are in a death-like sleep, oblivious to the laws that oppress them. Shocks are not harmful, but on the contrary may have the effect of showing us more clearly the "wrongs we know of" in our very midst.

--Flora Kimball, California Patron, 1879 (1)

Flora Kimball was an active and prominent voice in California during the state's early history. In clear, strong language, she articulated the growing views held by both women and men in rural white America in support of women's suffrage and increased independence for women outside of the traditional confines of the family. Kimball carried the banner raised by her contemporaries, including the political writers and activists Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton? A look into her life and writings offers us a wonderful glimpse into the mind-set of a progressive agrarian woman in nineteenth-century California.

Flora Kimball was a writer, a community activist, and a lay horticulturalist. Through her writing, she articulated her views on the changing social and economic dynamics for women and the need for a more equitable society. Through her civic commitments, she activated those beliefs.

She offered her opinions freely, but she was not a maverick, nor was she always unique in her vision. Many politically astute women of the time asked both men and women to rethink their positions and responsibilities in the evolving society of the 1800s, among them Carrie A. Colby, Maria B. Landers, and L. M. Daugherty.

Though her writing and activism were not on the same scale as the era's nationally recognized women in their notoriety or scope, Kimball did help spread the gospel of California's growing woman's suffrage movement. And though she neglected to address the greater range of issues that Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, and others (including twentieth- and twenty-first-century contemporary activists) would consider inclusionary in the capacity of the suffrage movement--such as race and class (3)--she addressed the pressing concerns of rural women: their changing role within the family, work outside of the home, and the right to vote.

In her life and writing, Kimball exhibited contrary aspects of feminist thought, simultaneously championing the importance of women in the home and the need for self-sufficiency outside the home. Through her own example, she encouraged women to achieve mastery over their own lives. A product of, as well as an influence on, the changing society for women in nineteenth-century California, she brought the philosophies of New England liberalism--the antislavery, suffragist politics of the Northeast-to the West. In a style that was often dogmatic and occasionally sentimental, she wrote with passion and persistence on issues that helped to spread these views and propel California into the twentieth century. Kimball's name and voice has gone unheard for many years, and while her work may not necessarily garner a place of academic merit or even recollection, its focus on the role of nineteenth-century women and its fervor and determination do warrant historical attention and review.

THE JOURNEY WEST

Flora Mary Morrill was born in Warner, New Hampshire, on July 24, 1829, one often children of John and Hannah Hall Morrill. Her maternal grandfather was the Revolutionary War surgeon Dr. John Hall. Her paternal grandparents, Zebulon and Mary Morrill, espoused the theological, intellectual, and social reform tenets of Congregationalism. (4) Her older sister Hannah Frances Foster (Brown), the well-known Spiritualist, was, like Flora, an avid abolitionist and women's suffragist. (5)

Embarking on a career at the young age of fifteen, Flora was a teacher in her hometown. She worked for ten years in the schools of New Hampshire, eventually becoming the head of Concord High School. …

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