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The Scum Gentry journal - An Alternative News Source
Miscellaneous news articles from a different perspective in alternative media headlines.

Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies by Joseph Kaminski

The idea of studying history through a feminine perspective is an interesting, albeit modern, one. With so much of our world’s history being recorded, translated, and basically dominated by men, it is no surprise that the notion of women’s history didn’t come around until more recent events in our society. The first, second, and now third waves of feminism have implemented new thoughts in history—causing the subject itself to be rewritten from an entirely new perspective: one through the records of women.

Although individual women had been making striving steps to record their own personal histories from the very beginning of American history, we as a society lacked an organized effort to approve of, research, and analyze the history of our country through women’s eyes. Individual women throughout our society worked largely on their own until the early 20th century, during the first wave of feminism and the overall enlightenment of equal rights. Of course, we see some of the patriotic women of the Revolutionary War, those women who came together to enforce local non-consumption policies against the British to support their husbands’ push for revolution. However, such political activism is only the first step to acquiring the push to look back and study the women in our world.

Although women have been a fundamental part of our history from the very beginning, the first largely organized effort to record and showcase “women’s history” in America came from the development of the United Daughters of the Confederacy—oftentimes shortened to its acronym of UDC—in the early 20th century. These women understood the “male-washed” history presented throughout the short-lived Confederacy, which urged them to tell the stories of women living on the home-fronts of the South. While the male historians of this time period preferred to focus on the intense battlefields and the biographies of generals, women’s history offered a more domestic look at the Civil War. These women, uniting under the UDC, created a large push for society to begin to accept such activism and leadership from the historically submissive gender.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that the first real breakthroughs for women’s history came to fruition. The work of women scholars and historians went largely unread and labeled as unimportant by society until the second wave of feminism. It is important to realize that the United States of America and the United Kingdom both went through their own forms of radically changing women roughly around the same time. While America witnessed their own women’s history growing from a hobby to a field of study, Britain passed their “Divorce Reform Act”, giving women in relationships more power than ever before. With such groundbreaking activism entering the world of contemporary politics, history began opening itself up to equally groundbreaking research on a relatively new form of historical study: women’s history.

Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies by Julia Cherry Spruill is one of the best examples of this early, modernized research on women in the American south. Born in 1899 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Julia Spruill became a figure in early women’s history through her dedicated research—despite having her research be relatively unknown until later in her life. She received her B.A. in English from the North Carolinian College for Women (now the University of North Carolina) in 1920 and went on to receive her M.A. from the same academy. She made an impact on the local education system and became the first woman to win the William Jennings Bryan Prize for Excellence.

It was the contemporary topics of women’s history that transferred Spruill’s interest of English into her love for history. She received grants from the Institute for Research in Social Sciences to research the women of southern American colonies. Her work—Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies—was published by the university in 1930; and, to her dismay, it was treated as the research and activism conducted by the UDC at the turn of the century. It was widely ignored by the “male-washed” elitism of society until well into the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Mrs. Spruill lived through the success of her book, which received a second and third reprint attached with an introduction written by the famed historian Anne Firor Scott. She died in 1986—twenty years after the initial success of her then fifty-year-old book.

Spruill’s Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies is the perfect representation of women’s history. It went widely unknown—unheard of, even—until it became contemporary in terms of social activism, becoming widespread and recommended globally. The content within the book itself is directed towards a target audience—anyone with a background in history would enjoy reading the author’s detailed research on the gender obstruction of the colonial south. However, it is rather clear that a reader must have some background experience in history or, in the very least, extensive reading comprehension before completely understanding the immense detail that Spruill lays out in her four-hundred-plus pages of work.

“Women [...] did not wait to come until inducements had been offered and the plantations had become settled and secure, but they were found in each of the colonies almost from its beginning.” Spruill begins her opening pages by expressing to her audience that women are an essential part of American history, even though the subject of understanding women’s role in said history was only a recent “discovery” in her field. When the typical American history class discusses the early American frontiers in terms of colonialism, it oftentimes discusses the native chiefdoms and male-faced pilgrims that dawn the cover of every elementary school textbook. In these opening pages, Spruill shuts down the earlier notations of a male-washed history. As women’s history knows, the imbalanced sex ratio witnessed in the Chesapeake Bay at the very start of colonization was an important factor in distinguishing the differences in life and society between the upper, middle, and lower colonies. With an imbalanced sex ratio came hardship and struggles—from repopulation to filling in the early forms of the “women’s sphere” in society. It should be noted that, in these early days, we began seeing rapid change to “men’s work” and “women’s work” that divided the society’s gender roles. A new world—with new culture, new social roles, and new geographical struggles—brought the foundation to later change in our American society. Spruill outlines this in her first chapter, aptly named “Women Wanted”.

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