Oct. 25, 1875 . . . I have scarcely got over the tire of the congress yet, although it is a week since I returned . . . . It was a grand affair, and babies came in arms. School-boys stood close to the platform and school-girls came, books in hand. The hall . . . could hold at least one thousand seven hundred. It was packed and jammed . . . . When I had to speak to announce a paper I stood very still until they became quiet. Once I had stood that way, a man at the extreme rear, before I had spoken a word, shouted out, “Louder!” We all burst into a laugh.
Maria was now the president of the Association for the Advancement of Women (AAW). This was its annual meeting in 1875. One of the founders of the AAW, Maria would also found its Science Committee which she would chair for life. Her sisters and sister-in-laws were members. Her sister, Phebe Mitchell Kendall, chaired the Women’s Dress Reform Committee – if you know anything about “bloomers” this is, in part, where it happened. I like to wonder if her Quaker upbringing provided her with any oratory skills. With some empowerment from watching other women stand up in Quaker meeting to address the meeting. Lucretia Coffin Mott stated that was something that gave her strength and confidence – watching women standing in Quaker meeting and addressing the gathering. The Reverend Phebe Coffin Hanaford implied the same – and as a young girl she stood on an apple box to speak to her “meeting” – her large gathering of siblings.
In this child’s hand, he holds power. The power to unlock doors, worlds, and the universe. At age one, he got his first library card. A card that will unlock many doors for him throughout his life – those that are real, those that are imaginary, those that someday could be.
At this library, our Atheneum, Maria Mitchell was the first librarian. It saw the first anti-slavery convention on Nantucket. Its Great Hall and attendees witnessed Frederick Douglass’ first speech to a mixed race audience. Numerous other luminaries came before Douglass – from island-born Lucretia Coffin Mott to Emerson, Thoreau, and William Lloyd Garrison. It was a space filled with books that opened the door and the world to Nantucket’s daughters and sons – always thirsty for knowledge. It was a repository for fantastic finds from around the world brought back by island whalemen, travelers, visitors, coastal traders, merchant ships, and fishing vessels.
He may not remember when he got his library card since he is so young. I acquired mine a few years older but remember that day. I still have my paper Atheneum card from when I was a child and when the children’s room was down in the basement. People screw up their faces remembering that dank space – I remember the wonder it held – and the orange/red carpet and being closed if it flooded. But that didn’t stop me – we were there several times a week. I also still have my library card from the town I grew up in in Connecticut – another place we were always visiting. As the daughter of a former English teacher who is also a voracious reader, books have always been a part of my world and have let me escape to other places and learn about new things. Now, my son will know the wonder of a book – the wonder of a library – and the treasures it holds and the history the Nantucket Atheneum has witnessed as well.
And as I stated a few posts ago, every month and everyday should be Women’s History Month.
One way to honor the women who have made our world what it is – and the young girls and women who are following in their footsteps – is to learn something new about a woman in history from your community, your family, or who has contributed nationally or internationally – from big to small contributions – every contribution means something.
And here is another thing to think about when contemplating the role of women in our society – did you know, that of all the monuments on the National Mall in Washington, DC, none has been built exclusively to honor women in our history? The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) has been striving to change that for many years. In December, their bill to form a commission was signed into law – meaning now they can fund, staff, and aid a commission to determine the feasibility of such a museum (it’s a long and tedious process). In the past, such commissions for monuments and museums on the Mall were government funded but this time – and from now on (guess they figured the ones to be the first to fund it privately would be women because WE CAN DO IT!) – it has to all come from private monies. There is one spot left on the Mall for one more museum. In the words of the NWHM, being on the Mall would mean mainstreaming women’s history. Mitchell House is a charter member of the NWHM. This is the same group that raised the funds to bring the sculpture you see here out of the Capitol basement (Yes, the founding mothers of women’s rights were relegated to the basement) and into the Rotunda. Lucretia Coffin Mott – a native Nantucketer, Quaker, and distant cousin of Maria’s – Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are featured in this sculpture.
This is a group well-worth the support of all of us. It’s high time our government and all of us, “remembered the ladies.”
Since the Wing has been emptied and all the Special Collection books have been cleaned and moved to a climate-controlled space, I miss meeting “new” books each day. But, as I cleaned the books, I took images of ones that struck me as interesting or had ephemera inserted, or had lovely covers or plates. This was one such book. It actually was not very “exciting” but when I opened it, this is what I found inside. The book is Quaker Ways by A. Ruth Fry, a British Quaker born in the late nineteenth century. She was an active promoter of peace, a writer, and came from a well-known activist Quaker family, her father being instrumental in the negotiations at the Hague Tribunal in 1917. One of Ruth Fry’s books, probably the more well-known one, A Quaker Adventure, concerned her travels through war-torn Europe helping refugees and others affected by the Great War.
I am sure that many of her books were found on the shelves of Quakers and others in the early to mid-nineteenth century. This book in particular appeared to be on the shelf of Ethel Parish Fletcher, the great-granddaughter of Lucretia Coffin Mott! Inside the book an envelope was pasted that revealed a calling card belonging to Mrs. Fletcher with what you see written on the verso. At some point, the book came to us. Pretty interesting and, dare I say, cool!