Academic Master

English, History

Historiography of Feminism

Feminism just like any other social phenomenon has been a subject of discussion for many years. Its history and progress has been recorded down by various historians and social commentators over time. What have stood out have been the differences in the accounts given by various historians-differences that came by as a result of such things as the prevailing conditions at the time of writing and differences in the times of writing among other issues. The aim of this paper is to study the differences in the approaches given by some historians in regard to feminism paying special and close attention to such feminist warriors as Angelina and Sarah Grimke, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony and their contribution to pushing the agenda for the emancipation for human rights.

By definition, feminism refers to all the political and social movements and ideologies that aim at defining, establishing and achieving political, personal, social and economic equality of all genders, paying more attention to educating and empowering women in such a way that they are men’s equal. As such the movements advocate for the rights of women key among the rights being the right to vote, work, earn fair wages and salaries, and own property among other rights. As well they seek to protect the women from such things as domestic violence, rape and any other abuse against them. As aforementioned, various feminists have stood for the rights of women, and how their histories have been recorded differs from historian to another.

One such feminist is Susan B Anthony whose history has been recorded by various historian among them James W Davidson and Yohuru Williams. Born in 1820, Susan rose to be one of the most iconic women in championing for women empowerment and rights. She is remembered particularly for the fact that, at a young age of seventeen, she gathered several anti-slavery petitions, something that showed her resentment towards slavery. Together with Elizabeth Stanton, who had turned out to be her long time friend and fellow worker in the push for social reforms she established the New York Women’s State Temperance Society after she was denied the opportunity to speak at some temperance conference earlier on, for the reason that she was a woman.

A difference in the accounts by the aforementioned came majorly as a result of the time gap between the two historians. . In his accounts, Davidson records the day to day accounts of what Susan did given that they lived at almost the same time, both living in the end of the 19th century. Meanwhile Williams lives in the 21st century and has contributed to the history of Susan in his book, Teaching U.S History beyond the Textbook. Therefore the major differences between their history literature comes through the fact that while Davidson relied mostly on first-hand information that he sometimes witnessed, Williams has most referred to the past written records of his predecessors.

Another difference between the accounts is that while Davidson was an explorer and historian with no interest in activism, Williams is not only a writer and academic but also an activist. As such their literature is affected by their sentiments towards the character they were discussing. It is for instance worth noting that the only reason William would mention Susan is for the reasons associated to activism, leaving out her other life activities, Davidson on the other hand would seek to demystify Susan’s life even on matters unrelated to her activism, as can be found in his book A History of the Republic; the United States, volume 1.

Sojourner Truth was another feminist whose history has been recorded by a number of historians. Born Isabella Belle Baumfree she changed her name to Sojourner Truth as a result of a conviction that God had prepared and commissioned her to leave the town in which she was living for the upcountry to spread the hope that she had. Having been born and grown in absolute slavery, she was subjected to slavery till her teenage age. However in 1826, she managed to run away from slavery with her young daughter. Two years later, she was charged with unlawfully attempting to escape with her son from her slave home. She is credited to be the first woman to win a case against a Whiteman and therefore retained the son.

Among the historians that sought to write about Sojourner was Nell Irvin Painter who wrote about Sojourner in her book Sojourner Truth: A Life a Symbol and Whallin W. Terry in his book Sojourner Truth. Just like their fellow historians, the two had their differences in approaching the history of the subjects in discussion, the main difference majorly being their attitude towards feminism and women empowerment in general.

Terry, in his book has majorly written about Sojourner, without any specific attitude towards feminism. This has largely been because of the fact that he is not alienated towards either side of supporting or objecting feminism. On the other hand, Painter being a Black feminist champion has had an attitude towards her discussion about Truth. What however makes them close to similar is that both have been subjected to referencing past books for information about their subjects and therefore their records subject to debating in terms of credibility.

Born in 1793, Lucretia Mott was an American abolitionist, social reformer and women rights advocate. She is famous mostly because of being one of the women that wrote the Declaration of Sentiment. Her activism arose out of her idea of being a reformer of the women’s position in the society after, together with some other women; she got denied a chance to attend the World Anti-Slavery Convention. As well she is remembered for having campaigned that all those that had been bound to be slaves in the United States be allowed the right to vote, immediately after slavery was abolished in the country, something that made her a public subject for quite long.

Like many other public figures in history, her story was written by a number of historians. Among those that set out to write about her included but were not limited to Margret Hope Bacon in her book Mothers of feminism: the story of Quaker Women in America and Otelia Cromwell in her book Lucretia Mott. What stands out is that these writers having studied the histories of their subject from other sources, they seemed to be in agreement by a larger angle and had almost converging ideas of the character.

Angelina and Sarah Grimke too are well known figures in the abolitionist warfare and fight for social reforms, especially in regard to female empowerment and emancipation. Sarah, the elder sister was born in 1792 and was a member of the women’s suffrage movement, a writer and abolitionist. They are credited with having been the very first women to have expressly speaking at abolitionist lecture circuits, following the steps of their predecessors such as Susanna Wright and Susan B. Anthony. Her motivation to speak about women empowerment largely resulted from the bias she witnessed at home. Her brothers were taken to school, for classical education, while she remained at home taking informal. This was despite the fact that her intelligence was a well recognized fact but was overlooked as result of her dreams being considered unwomanly. She had desired to pursue a dream to become an attorney. Though her father was rich financially, he did not find it worthwhile to educate Sarah and her sister. This therefore pushed the two sisters to speak out against prejudice against women.

Her history has been documented by a number of historians among them David C Downing in his book A South Divided: Portrait of Dissent in the Confederacy and Pamela R. Durso in her book The Power of a Woman: The life and writings of Sarah Moore Grimke.

Pamela R. Durso being a Christian evangelist had her attitude towards the Grimkes shaped and therefore differ greatly from that of his counterpart, Mr. Downing. In her account for instance, she puts more emphasis on her ability to interpret the bible in such a way that it did not make men more superior than women. She argues that the Grimkes worked successfully to reduce male dominance that hhad arisen out of men thinking that the bible made them higher than women, something she calls patriarchal interpretation of the bible. This is unlike his counterpart, Downing whose description of the Grimkes is impartial and unbiased based on religion. His views are more neutral and any bias, if any has not been influenced in any way by religion.

In conclusion, it can be seen that though speaking of similar major figures in history, the influence of such things as the time of writing, profession and personal sentiments can dictate how a writer will speak of that figure. As can be noted from the aforementioned examples, it is therefore safe to say, it is prudent to widen the spectrum when study on the people that made the history we have today, lest bias misleads us.



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