This is a revision of the Headlines and Heroes 2019 International Women’s Day blog.
Sunday, March 8, 2020, was International Women’s Day and today we return to our historical newspaper archives for stories featuring change-making women in newspapers searchable in Chronicling America. This database, sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, provides access to historic United States newspapers published between 1789 and 1963. As the Library’s digital collection grows to over 16 million digitized pages, we are featuring 16 Chronicling America topics pages. (There are, of course, many more!) Each page provides links to articles and includes significant dates and associated search terms useful for searching the topic in historical newspapers.
Alice Paul was arrested seven times, jailed on trumped-up charges, and force-fed in prison – all for having the audacity to fight for women to be enfranchised. She was in relentless pursuit of a federal amendment to the constitution that would grant women the right to vote. Her story is one of trial and triumph, as she continued to fight for equality for women even after the Nineteenth Amendment was passed.
Fashion became political in the 1850s with the introduction of the bloomer, loose-fitting trousers named after women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer. Promoted as a healthier and more liberated dress alternative to tight corsets and heavy petticoats, the bloomer was quickly adopted by suffragettes such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. While the 1850s fashion trend was short-lived, the bloomer’s popularity returned stronger than ever with the bicycling craze of the 1890s.
In June of 1889, Clara Barton and 50 American Red Cross volunteers assist the survivors in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, after a massive flood kills over 2,000 residents. The response to this disaster was one of the first major relief efforts organized by the American Red Cross, which Barton founded in 1881. She led the American Red Cross for 23 years, helping establish the organization as a renowned resource of humanitarian aid.
Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer (aka Dorothy Dix) was the original syndicated women’s advice columnist and a well-known American journalist. Throughout her career, more than 2,000 people wrote to her for her advice, and about 60 million read her daily column published in newspapers and magazines across the country.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” Penned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton at Seneca Falls, the Declaration of Sentiments paved the way for the first organized women’s rights and women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Stanton, one of the most prominent of the American suffragists, fought to secure equal rights for women, including the right to vote.
Golden Flyer Suffragettes
On April 6, 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke set out from New York to cross the US stumping for the women’s right to vote. Traveling in the Golden Flyer, a yellow two-seater, the suffragettes embarked on a five-month cross-continent trip across many dirt and gravel roads. Armed with a fireless cooker, hand sewing machine, typewriter, and a cat named Saxon, the women spoke tirelessly across the country to garner support and encourage women to attend parades at the 1916 Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Chicago and St. Louis.
Known as the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman ran away from slavery but went back to the South at least 19 more times, risking her life to bring others to freedom along the Underground Railroad. In the Civil War, she worked as a Union spy and scout and was celebrated for her courage.
Despite being the leading American prima donna of her day, Helen Bertram’s story is often left unsung. Bertram was a comic opera soprano who trained at the Cincinnati College of Music before becoming the lead singer for various opera companies, such as Abbott, Conried, and The Bostonians. Her roles in “The Gingerbread Man” and “The Prince of Pilsen” helped to further develop the unique genre of comic opera. But her off-stage life may have been even more interesting, with scandalous affairs, deceased lovers, heated rivalries, and multiple bankruptcies.
Ida B. Wells
“The facts have been so distorted that the people in the north and elsewhere do not realize the extent of the lynchings in the south,” stated Ida B. Wells in June of 1895. Wells worked tirelessly to fight against lynching in the American South through newspapers, pamphlets, and speeches. A former school teacher, she is remembered for her work in both civil and women’s rights.
“Woman Rebel” Margaret Sanger spearheaded the birth control movement in the United States, coining the term “birth control” and opening the first birth control clinic in the country. Her activism directly targeted the Comstock Laws, which made it illegal to disseminate birth control information. A prolific writer and lecturer, Sanger overcame many obstacles to pave the way for women’s rights in the United States.
Labeled as “a very modest and undemonstrative woman,” by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser in 1910, Marie Curie’s accomplishments in the fields of science and physics were anything but. One of the most renowned scientists in history, Marie made her mark in her field in 1898 when she, along with her husband, discovered the new elements radium and polonium. Throughout her life, she dedicated her time to the study of these new elements and their practical applications. She was rewarded for her work with the Nobel Prize in 1903. She traveled to the US for the first time in 1921 where she was presented with 1 gram of radium by then-President Warren Harding.
Irish born Mary Harris Jones, known as “Mother” Jones, was a constant presence in the labor movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jones once testified before Congress that she lived “where the big thieves are wringing their dollars out of the blood and bone of my poor, miserable people.” As the “angel of miners,” she witnessed many major labor events including the Colorado Coalfield War and the March of the Mill Children.
The most famous newspaperwoman of her time, Nellie Bly amazed readers across America with her pluck and fearlessness. Writing for The Pittsburg Dispatch, New York World, and New York Journal, Bly pioneered the field of investigative journalism, posing as all kinds of characters and going to great lengths to seize the inside scoop. As well as writing the headlines, Nellie Bly was frequently the subject of them as a trailblazing business leader and humanitarian.
Queen Victoria is the second longest-reigning monarch in British history, following the present Queen Elizabeth. Generally popular, Queen Victoria pushed for social and educational reform and also oversaw the great expansion of England into an empire. As a woman, she constantly dealt with power struggles and detested the ideas of marriage and babies.
Susan B. Anthony
“No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent,” declared Susan B. Anthony, renowned American social reformer and suffragist. Alongside close friend and partner Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B. Anthony campaigned for women’s rights in the United States. The Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, is popularly known as the Anthony Amendment. She also became the first non-fictitious woman to appear on U.S. currency when her portrait appeared on the 1979 dollar coin.
Victoria Woodhull was one of the most controversial and well-publicized women of her time. The first female presidential candidate as well as a proponent of “free love,” Woodhull also operated the first female brokerage on Wall Street and exposed the sexual infidelities of America’s favorite preacher, Henry Ward Beecher.
Finding more stories about remarkable women in Chronicling America? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to check out more Headlines and Heroes posts featuring amazing women.