The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840

The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840

The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840

The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840

Synopsis

Tracing the deep roots of women's activism in America, Anne Boylan explores the flourishing of women's volunteer associations in the decades following the Revolution. She examines the entire spectrum of early nineteenth-century women's groups--Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish; African American and white; middle and working class--to illuminate the ways in which race, religion, and class could bring women together in pursuit of common goals or drive them apart.

Boylan interweaves analyses of more than seventy organizations in New York and Boston with the stories of the women who founded and led them. In so doing, she provides a new understanding of how these groups actually worked and how women's associations, especially those with evangelical Protestant leanings, helped define the gender system of the new republic. She also demonstrates as never before how women in leadership positions combined volunteer work with their family responsibilities, how they raised and invested the money their organizations needed, and how they gained and used political influence in an era when women's citizenship rights were tightly circumscribed.

Excerpt

He Female Asylum; the Orphan Asylum Society; the Society for the Relief of Respectable, Aged, Indigent Females; the Widows' Society; the Roman Catholic Asylum for the Children of Widows and Widowers; the Afric-American Female Intelligence SoT ciety; the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans; the Abyssinian Benevolent Daughters of Esther Association . . . These evocatively named organizations, and dozens of others like them, were the projects of New York and Boston women who, in the era spanning the 1790s through the 1830s, threw time, energy, skill, resources, and talents into what modern Americans would term volunteer work. As women's associations launched a variety of religious, benevolent, charitable, mutual aid, and reform projects, their founders and leaders set out together on new seas of opportunity and activism, collecting individual women almsgivers into entire fleets of charitable laborers. Some groups set a focused course concentrating on raising money for a single purpose—such as supporting Protestant missionaries—but others encompassed as much activity as a modern United Way agency: running institutions such as orphanages, hiring employees, placing neglected children in foster homes, and lobbying for municipal funding. Whether substantial or slight, each vessel that women organizers built had its own distinctive shape and appearance; the arrival of first a few, then many such vessels altered once and for all the forms of women's charitable labor. Simply by banding together, women leaders and . . .

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