Academic journal article Journalism History

Everyday Women Find Their Voice in the Public Sphere: Consciousness Raising in Letters to the Editor of the Woman's Journal

Academic journal article Journalism History

Everyday Women Find Their Voice in the Public Sphere: Consciousness Raising in Letters to the Editor of the Woman's Journal

Article excerpt

This article examines letters to the editor published in the Woman's Journal, an eight-page woman's suffrage newspaper published weekly and distributed nationally, from 1870 to 1890. Letters to the editor provide insight into the workers of the movement, who may not have been able to attend conventions or meet with like-minded women. Although much has been written about the leaders of the American woman's suffrage movement, little is known about the average suffragist. This study shows that readers of the Journal used consciousness-raising rhetoric similar to the genre of women's liberation rhetoric of the twentieth-century women's rights movement. Thus, the press was an interactive communication partner that enabled them to form a community of geographically separated suffragists.

Early leaders of the American woman's suffrage movement recognized the importance of the newspapers that were produced to promote their cause, realizing that only through this medium could they "reach, educate, and inspire scores of women who could not be tapped by other means."1 As E. Claire Jerry explained in 1991, "Most American women were often geographically isolated, of limited income, and legally dead. Therefore, traditional means of movement involvement, such as attending conventions and lectures, were unavailable to vast numbers of this movements potential membership."2 As a result, woman's rights papers helped create and identify the movement's leaders, reaching a larger, less homogeneous audience than individual speakers could, and a single copy of a newspaper could have many possible readers because it could be read more than once. For particularly isolated women, there were no suffrage clubs and conventions; they were too far away.3 Thus, suffrage papers were the only lines of communication open to them to support the cause, and these newspapers built a community of people who, although they were shunned by their neighbors, friends, and even families, discovered they were not alone in their suffering.4 As Mari Boor Tonn pointed out, the papers "provided a unique avenue for women of all circumstances to find commonalities as women."5

Numerous suffrage newspapers appeared and disappeared throughout the late 1800s and the early 1900's, but none persevered as long as the Woman's Journal, which was published in Boston and affiliated with the American Woman Suffrage Association. It was the dominant, representative voice for the woman's suffrage movement, enduring for forty-seven years. As Carrie Chapman Catt stated in 1916, "The Woman's Journal has always been the organ of the suffrage movement, and no suffragist, private or official, can be well informed unless she is a constant reader of it. It is impossible to imagine the suffrage movement without the Woman's Journal"6 The eight-page, weekly newspaper was financed by a joint-stock company with Lucy Stone and her husband, Henry Blackwell, holding the most shares, while other notable shareholders included Stephen Foster, Sarah Grirnke, Angelina Grirnke Weld, and Julia Ward Howe.7 Stone, Mary Livermore, and occasionally Blackwell initially produced the paper with Stone overseeing its publication until her death in 1893. The Journats original price was $3 for an annual subscription, but it was quickly reduced by 50 cents to make it more affordable.8 Its purpose, as stated on the original title page on January 8, 1870, was to be, "A weekly newspaper devoted to the interests of women-to her educational, industrial, legal and political equality, and especially to the right of suffrage."9 The Journal claimed to have sold all 5,000 copies of its first issue in only three days, by 1875 every state and thirty-nine foreign countries were represented on the subscription list, and by 1883 it claimed to have 30,000 readers.10

Although other suffrage newspapers, such as the Woman's Column, the New Northwest, and the Woman's Tribune, aided many women around the country, these were regional papers because after the Civil War the idea of a national woman's movement was slow to take hold. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.