This Cause is Your Own

Reader’s Forum

By Caroline Donnola

Megan Marshall’s wonderful book, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, is taking me back in time to my earliest introduction to Margaret Fuller and the moment in my life when I first began to discover the history of progressive leaders and the movements that created them.

In the fall of 1972 I began my first semester at Franconia College in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire.  Franconia was a small, experimental college that empowered students to participate actively in creating their education.  At the time, there was a national movement for education reform, and colleges like Franconia were coming into existence. For me it was a complete delight after years of being frustrated with the rigid, tightly-controlled public school system I had attended on the South Shore of Long Island.  The first person in my family to attend college, I was fortunate to receive a hefty scholarship.  I was grateful for this opportunity and I plunged right in.

Franconia College From Main Street, Open in 1963

Franconia College From Main Street

That first semester presented me with many eye-opening experiences.  I met two women students—Gracia Woodward and Natalie Woodroofe—who were interested in starting a Women’s Studies course.  Women’s Studies was a very new discipline (the first-publicized course was taught at Cornell University in 1969).  Part of the thrill in launching this program was that students were coming together, deciding what we wanted to learn and how we wanted to learn it.  That was a quintessential Franconia activity.  Two extraordinary instructors, David Osher, History Department, and Nancy Walker, English Department, were our faculty sponsors.

The initial reading syllabus included many famous works—both fiction and non-fiction—highlighting the history of women.  But after a few weeks, we students rebelled and asked to have the opportunity to read books about women written by women.

One of the authors we read was Margaret Fuller, and the book we read was her seminal work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  The writing was typical of that era—somewhat dense, formal and full of references to classical writing, Greek mythology and scholarly thinking—but we were excited to read her own words.  That she was a feminist—and abolitionist—before the feminist movement took root, was a big part of her appeal.

During my years of studying social history at Franconia, I was repeatedly struck by the interconnection between the early women’s movement and the abolitionist movement.  White women of means stuck their necks out for the cause of abolition; black abolitionist men like Frederick Douglass stuck their necks out for the cause of women’s rights.

One of my favorite sections from Woman in the Nineteenth Century implores women to join the righteous cause of abolition and frames it as a highly personal, highly political act:

Women of my country … have you nothing to do with this? You see the men, how they are willing to sell shamelessly the happiness of countless generations of fellow-creatures, the honor of their country, and their immortal souls, for a money market and political power. Do you not feel within you that which can reprove them, which can check, which can convince them? You would not speak in vain; whether each in her own home, or banded in unison.

Tell these men that you will not accept the glittering baubles, spacious dwellings, and plentiful service they mean to offer you through those means. Tell them that the heart of Woman demands nobleness and honor in Man, and that, if they have not purity, have not mercy, they are no longer fathers, lovers, husbands, sons of yours.

This cause is your own, for, as I have before said, there is a reason why the foes of African Slavery seek more freedom for women; but put it not upon that ground, but on the ground of right.

Here’s to Margaret Fuller, and here’s to the exceptional opportunity I had many years ago, the daughter of working class parents, to not only get an education but to get one that was meaningful, powerful and radical and which helped inform my long political journey as an independent.  Can’t wait to join the dialogue with Megan Marshall on September 20th.

Caroline Donnola is the Executive Assistant to Jacqueline Salit, President of Independent Voting.
Caroline Donnola Franconia College

Caroline Donnola
Franconia College

Politics for the People Conference Call

With Megan Marshall

Sunday, September 20th at 7 pm EST

NOTE NEW CALL IN NUMBER

641 715-3605, Code 767775#

 

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2 Comments

  1. shatzi

     /  September 9, 2015

    Thank you Caroline. Loved reading about your great college experience and the quotes from Margaret Fuller

    Reply
  2. Warren

     /  September 10, 2015

    “During my years of studying social history at Franconia, I was repeatedly struck by the interconnection between the early women’s movement and the abolitionist movement. White women of means stuck their necks out for the cause of abolition; black abolitionist men like Frederick Douglass stuck their necks out for the cause of women’s rights.”

    A very astute comment. Here’s one example of such an “interconnection”, from an article in Wikipedia about the dazzling, courageous and indefatigable ex-slave and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman:

    “In her later years, Tubman worked to promote the cause of women’s suffrage. A white woman once asked Tubman whether she believed women ought to have the vote, and received the reply: “I suffered enough to believe it.”[139] Tubman began attending meetings of suffragist organizations, and was soon working alongside women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland.[140][141]

    “Tubman traveled to New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. to speak out in favor of women’s voting rights. She described her actions during and after the Civil War, and used the sacrifices of countless women throughout modern history as evidence of women’s equality to men.[142] When the National Federation of Afro-American Women was founded in 1896, Tubman was the keynote speaker at its first meeting.[143]

    “This wave of activism kindled a new wave of admiration for Tubman among the press in the United States. A publication called The Woman’s Era launched a series of articles on “Eminent Women” with a profile of Tubman.[143] An 1897 suffragist newspaper reported a series of receptions in Boston honoring Tubman and her lifetime of service to the nation. However, her endless contributions to others had left her in poverty, and she had to sell a cow to buy a train ticket to these celebrations.”

    Reply

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