Friday, July 23, 2010

In History: Frances Wright

This is the 35th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

This isn't just about Frances Wright, it's about this caricature of her. I think it illustrates well what some people thought of outspoken women at the time -- and really, probably isn't that far off the mark of what some people think of outspoken women today.

Frances Wright was born in Scotland in 1795, and later emigrated to the United States and eventually became a U.S. citizen. She was a feminist, advocating for equality, particularly in education, and women's right to vote. She was also an abolitionist, a writer and a lecturer, and outspoken against capitalism. She believed in freeing slaves, sexual freedom and birth control. Wright and her sister went on a speaking tour around the U.S. Eventually, Wright "became the first woman to lecture publicly before a mixed audience when she delivered an Independence Day speech at New Harmony in 1828."

And that brings us to this caricature:

Image description: "'A DownWright Gabbler, or a goose that deserves to be hissed --'", an 1829 caricature which takes a hostile view of Frances Wright's public lectures. Many at the time considered the mere fact of a woman lecturing in public to be a shameless act of brazen impudence and effrontery in itself (regardless of the particular content of her lecture), and the fact that Wright preached radical views of slavery abolition and giving women the right to vote only increased the criticism she received.

The caricature depicts her with a goose's beak and eyes, wearing a somewhat unfashionably high-waisted and narrow-sleeved black dress, and reading from a book as she lectures. A young man with a somewhat vacant look, and a hand tucked into one side of his vest (à la Napoleon), patiently holds her bonnet. (This was probably intended to be interpreted as going a little bit beyond an ordinary daily act of chivalry into a more or less subserviently deferential role.)"

Wright died in 1852 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and her tombstone is said to read "I have wedded the cause of human improvement, staked on it my fortune, my reputation and my life." She is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati (image).

There was much more to Frances Wright's life. You can read more about her here, here and here.

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