Lydia Maria Child—A Lifelong Fighter for Justice

When Europeans arrived in North America during the 1600s, many of them were surprised to find that people were already living in this “new land”. Nonetheless, the Europeans believed they had the right to take over the continent. Several centuries later, Americans are still struggling to undo long established injustices. After President Biden was elected in 2000, he appointed the first person of Native American ancestry to his Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior—Deb Haaland. The rights of Indian tribes have been recognized as an important value. But it took many arguments over hundreds of years to start ensuring justice for Native Americans. 

One of the earliest and most persistent fighters for fair treatment of Native Americans was the novelist and activist Lydia Maria Child. During her long life she fought for social equality for all races and sexes while at the same time carrying on her career as one of the most popular writers of the 19th century. Unlike many of the more famous suffragists, she was not willing to place the importance of women’s rights above the importance of justice for enslaved people and Native Americans.

Lydia Maria Child

Child was born in Massachusetts in 1802 into a family of strict Calvinists. As a girl, she did not receive much formal education, but her brother, Convers Francis, shared his books with her and encouraged her studies. After her mother’s death, Child lived for a time with her brother’s family and was introduced to many of his friends from Harvard. With his encouragement she wrote her first novel, Hobomok: a tale of Early Times, in 1824 and its success started her on a lifelong career as a writer.

Hobomok was widely acclaimed and brought a level of fame to the young author. She was even given a free ticket to use the Boston Atheneum, a valuable library from which women were usually barred. But Child was not content to support only popular causes. Ten years later, when she published an abolitionist pamphlet, “Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans called Africans” the ticket to the Atheneum was snatched away from her and her books were removed from the library. Despite this rejection, Child continued to support the three causes that were most important to her—Indian rights, Abolition, and Women’s Suffrage. Throughout her life, she never wavered in her loyalty to her causes.

After her marriage in 1828, Child continued to write, and her works were popular. Her practical domestic guide, The American Frugal Housewife, was one of the most successful books of the 19th century. Her husband, David Child, was an activist and public speaker, but he was never able to support himself and his wife. He developed many commercial ideas and borrowed money to carry out projects that rarely succeeded. His wife was responsible for earning enough money to support the couple, but she was not allowed to make decisions about spending it. Her husband could invest her money in any way he wished. Even when she wrote her will, she found that she was forbidden to distribute her money or the property her father had left her unless her husband signed the will. This must have made her more aware than many other women of the need for women’s rights to include the right to own property as well as to vote. Nonetheless, despite some short-lived separations, the couple continued to maintain their marriage.  

Lydia Maria Child lived until 1880 and during all those years of life she continued her tireless support of the important social reforms of the time. It seems ironic that such a tough, committed fighter should be remembered, if she remembered at all, by a sentimental children’s poem she wrote. It is the traditional Thanksgiving poem “Over the river and through the trees, to Grandmother’s House we go…”

To learn more about this tireless fighter for human rights, you can read the excellent biography The First Woman in the Republic by Caroline Karcher (1994).

Julia Ward Howe and her Ever-Changing Battle Hymn

Last weekend’s Fourth of July celebrations included many musical tributes to the United States and its history. One of the most familiar of these is the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, a popular and honored patriotic song, but one that has had a long and contentious history. Most Americans will recognize these lyrics:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on

Glory, Glory halleluhja
Glory, Glory halleluhja
Glory, Glory halleluhja
His truth is marching on

The author of these lyrics, the version that we usually hear at concerts, in schools and other public occasions, was Julia Ward Howe, one of the most notable poets of the 19th century. She was also an activist for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights. Her inspiration to write these verses came during a visit to Washington DC in 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War. From her hotel window she heard Union soldiers singing a popular wartime song:

John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave
John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave
John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave
But his soul goes marching on
.

John Brown, of course, was the insurrectionist who had attacked federal property at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 hoping to lead a revolution that would end slavery. He failed in his mission and was executed, but he remained a hero to abolitionists and to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe wrote her new lyrics to make the song a more unifying and uplifting tribute to justice and freedom for the entire country to sing. Her version appeared in the Atlantic magazine and made her famous.  

Howe’s lyrics for the song are the ones are still the most famous ones, but her version is only one of many variations. In 1915, half a century after the Civil War had ended, and five years after Julia Ward Howe’s death, a different set of lyrics were written for the familiar tune by Ralph Chaplin, a labor activist.  His song was composed for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies. It soon became an anthem for a number of labor unions under the title “Solidarity Forever”.

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

We don’t know what Julia Howe thought of radical labor unions like the IWW, but she probably would have enjoyed knowing that the tune she made famous has indeed gone marching on.

AN UNUSUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU THIS MONTH:

One of the women who inspired Julia Ward Howe in her career was Margaret Fuller, the most famous female journalist and author in early 19th century America. The ebook version of my biography Margaret Fuller an Uncommon Woman is now on a special summer sale at Smashwords.com. The price is right—it is free! Just click on the website and order your copy. The sale ends on July 31. (If you prefer a print version of the book, you can find it at Amazon.com)

Adelaide Crapsey—Scholar and Poet

Some poems seem to be spontaneous outbursts of feeling—“My heart is like a singing bird…” (Christina Rossetti) or “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun/Nor the furious winter’s rages:” (Shakespeare). But poetry is not easy. Most of the poetry that we continue to read and to love is the result of many long hours of careful work.

One of the scholars who spent years studying metrics—the way words can be put together to achieve art—was a young American poet named Adelaide Crapsey. Although she died young and her work is often forgotten, she was an important writer of the early twentieth century. Her work continues to influence many poets today.

Adelaide Crapsey

Born in Brooklyn in 1878, Adelaide Crapsey and her family soon moved to Rochester, N.Y. where her father was pastor of an Episcopal Church. She was raised in a family that valued women’s education and Adelaide was encouraged to attend Vassar College. There she had a happy and successful educational life. She was president of the Poetry Club and graduated as valedictorian in 1897.

Two of Adelaide’s sisters died while she was in college, and Adelaide herself became sick with a severe illness that was later diagnosed as tuberculosis. After recovering and spending some time teaching, she went to Europe in 1904 to study at the American Academy in Rome. Although she was very happy in Rome, family problems prompted her return to the United States in 1905. Her father was accused of heresy by the leaders of the Episcopal Diocese, and he was brought to trial in 1906. He was found guilty of refusing to support the doctrine of virgin birth and lost his position with the Church after an unsuccessful appeal. He and his family had to leave the rectory.

Despite her desire to return to Europe, Adelaide chose to stay close to her family to offer support and encouragement. She taught at a private school and also continued to work on her scholarship and writing. Eventually she was able to return to Europe for a few months and while she was there she completed her book,  A Study in English Metrics, although it was not published until after her death. She returned to America when her tuberculosis became more severe and died in 1914 at the age of 36.

Adelaide’s study of metrics led her to investigate various poetic forms such as the Japanese haiku and tanka. She invented a new form of poetry called the cinquain and much of the poetry for which she is remembered uses this form. One example is this well-known piece:

November Night

Listen…
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Although Adelaide Crapsey’s poems are no longer included in many anthologies, you can find a good sample of her work at the website of the Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/adelaide-crapsey

Another legacy of Adelaide Crapsey’s life is the effect her poetry has had on the teaching of poetry to school children. A simplified version of the cinquain has been introduced in many classrooms, for example:

Cinquain: (This is the format used in many schools—didactic cinquain)

  1. One word (subject)
  2. Two words
  3. Three words
  4. Four words
  5. One word (synonym for line 1 or five words to sum up the poem)

Many students, both children and adults, enjoy following this pattern and producing verses that can be satisfying both to write and to read.

Summer Beach

Ocean

Creeping waves

Tickling children’s toes,

Hurling broken shells against bare legs,

Triumph.

Adelaide Crapsey’s early death deprived the world of a notable poet, but it is some comfort to know that her work is still inspiring other writers.

Gwendolyn Brooks—A Poet for Our Times

African American women have been writing and publishing poetry since colonial times but have not always been known and acknowledged. One of our earliest poets published in the United States was Phillis Wheatley. One of the best known, and most often studied African American women poets of the 20th century has been Gwendolyn Brooks whose birthday is celebrated this month.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917, Gwendolyn moved with her family to Chicago before she was a year old, and her work and success are closely identified with that Midwestern city. From early childhood, Brooks had few doubts about her career. Her first poem was published in a children’s magazine, American Childhood,  when she was thirteen years old. She continued to write and publish poems until she died at the age of 83 in 2000.

After graduating from a community college in Chicago, she worked for the NAACP (National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and continued to publish poems eventually appearing in the prestigious Poetry magazine. She was invited to join a poetry workshop where she met several other important African American poets including Langston Hughes who became a lifelong friend. She married Henry Lowington Blakely, Jr. in 1931 and the couple had two children. And year after year she continued to write poetry, which met with continuing success.

Her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville was published in 1945. Her poems were admired by critics, and they were also read and cherished by a large popular audience. Brooks was able to write about the people of Bronzeville with warmth and an acknowledgement of the struggles of their lives.  In her poem “Kitchenette Building”, for example, she wrote of the difficulty of dreaming big dreams in a stunted environment:

But could a dream send up through onion fumes

Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes

And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,

Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms.

The list of Gwendolyn Brookes achievements is a long one: She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, the first African American to be so honored. She added many other prizes too. In 1986 she became the Poet Laureate of Illinois. She also served as a consultant to poetry in the Library of Congress and was the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Now, almost 25 years after her death, she is still honored and, more important, still read. You can read many of her poems on the Poetry Foundation website. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gwendolyn-brooks, and her books are available in almost all public libraries.

Fanny Wright and Her Impossible Dream

2021 has been one of the most divisive years Americans have endured. But if we look back at history, this is by no means the worst we’ve seen. The early years of the 19th century found Americans bitterly divided over the institution of slavery, the power of the federal government, and the importance of religion. Some people wanted nothing to change, but many others were determined to change society in a way that would eliminate slavery and ensure justice for everyone. The question was—how could that be done?

One of the most ambitions dreamers of a new, more just America was a young immigrant named Fanny Wright. Born into a wealthy family in Dundee, Scotland, in 1795, Fanny Wright was orphaned as a young child. She was raised mostly by an aunt of her mother’s and an uncle who was a professor of philosophy in Scotland. In the university library, she read every book she could find and soon began writing poetry and plays. When she read about America and how it was dedicated to a just and fair society for all, she determined to visit the country.

Fannny Wright

At the age of 23, she was able to fulfill her plan and sailed to America with her sister. She was delighted by the freedom of American society, but shocked when she discovered the realities of slavery. In the book she wrote about her travels she said, “The sight of slavery is revolting every where, but to inhale the impure breath of its pestilence in the free winds of America is odious beyond all that the imagination can conceive.”

After her book was published in Great Britain, many important people admired it and wanted to meet the young author. One of her most congenial new friends was the Marquis de Lafayette. In fact, they became such close friends that she moved into Lafayette’s house for a while and was rumored to be his lover. Whether that was true or not, when Lafayette was invited to return to the United States in 1826 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United States, Fanny and her sister followed in his footsteps.

On her second visit to the country, Fanny was even more troubled by the continued existence of slavery and the failure of Americans to confront the issue and find a way to end it. One popular idea in the 1820s and 1830s was that slaves should be freed and then transported out of the country. Very few people liked the idea of having free Blacks live in the same areas in which they had been enslaved. Two popular destinations for these people were Liberia, in Africa, and Haiti, the Caribbean Island that had won independence from France in 1804 and had abolished slavery.

Fanny Wright conceived an ambitious plan to demonstrate how slavery could be abolished in the United States without slaveowners losing the money they had invested. She proposed starting a farming colony where slaves could buy their freedom through the products they raised and sold. Unfortunately, the location she found was Nashoba, Tennessee, a swampy, isolated area that did not offer good soil for farming. It was also far from the markets where produce could be sold  and there were no roads. Fanny Wright had never farmed, and she apparently did not consult anyone who could give her practical guidance.

The bad start soon grew worse. Fanny had hoped to form a utopian community, but the Black residents were still slaves and were not given any responsibility for running the organization. Instead, Fanny recruited white men and women who wanted to form an ideal society, although they did not know much about how to farm or to run a business. Nonetheless, the trustees made all the decisions, while the slaves that Fanny had purchased, did the practical farm work.

When Fanny got sick, probably with malaria, and she left the colony under the supervision of the white trustees while she traveled to Europe to find treatment. When she returned to the farm a year later, she found that nothing had gone well. The farm was failing, most of the trustees had left, and the man who was left in charge treated the slaves just about as badly as they had been treated by their old masters.

When Fanny published a paper to justify her plans, she got herself into more trouble. For one thing, she suggested that the free Blacks could intermarry with white citizen and the differences between the races would disappear. She also revealed that she was an atheist and did not believe religious services would help the community. Both of those beliefs caused Wright to lose the support she had enjoyed earlier. Many people could hardly decide which was worse—believing in inter-racial marriage or being an atheist.

That was the end of the Nashoba colony. Fanny was able to purchase freedom for the eight slaves she had brought there and eventually to send them to Haiti, but the community never recovered. And the failure of Nashoba led to the end of Fanny’s dream of freeing all the slaves in America.

Fanny Wright spent the rest of her life traveling between Europe and America, lecturing on rights for women and sometimes on the abolition of slavery, but her reputation was damaged beyond repair. She died in 1852, years before the Civil War had finally led to the abolition of slavery in the United States.  

Happy Birthday to an Immigrant Child—Madeleine Albright

Today, when immigration has become a contentious topic for many Americans, is a good day to honor one of the many immigrants who have used their knowledge and talents to improve American life. Today Madeleine Albright, who has served the country in many ways for almost half a century is celebrating her birthday.

Madeleine Albright was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on May 15, 1937. She spent her early years in Prague, and during World War II, in exile in London. Her father was a diplomat who moved the family to the United States in 1948 after the communists took over Czechoslovakia. In 1957, Madeleine became a U.S. citizen.

Madeleine Albright

As the daughter of prosperous and well-educated parents, Madeleine Albright had an easier path to education than many other immigrant children, but it was her own hard work that led her to earn a degree from Wellesley College and a PhD from Columbia University. She married, raised three daughters, and worked as a fund raiser. After her family moved to Washington D.C., she became an advisor to Senator Edmund Muskie as well as other Democratic office holders and she also taught at Georgetown University.     

When Bill Clinton was elected President, he appointed her to the position of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Later she became the first woman to serve as Secretary of State. She was known for her keen insight into foreign affairs and her ability to negotiate with world leaders. News media paid special attention to the signals she sent by her choice of jewelry. Reporters wrote stories not only about what she said, but about what she wore, because she often signaled her message by her choice of pins.

Examples of Madeleine Albright’s Collection of Pins

Her jewelry became so famous that after leaving office at the end of the Clinton Administration, Albright organized an exhibit of her collection of pins and published a book entitled Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box.

In the years since leaving office, Albright has held a variety of posts and worked for several nonprofit organizations. She has also written a series of memoirs chronicling her life from her childhood in Europe through her work on the world stage. Her most recent memoir, Hell and Other Destinations; A 21st Century Memoir was published in 2020. Madeleine Albright is a woman well worth knowing and we are lucky to be able to read her lively accounts of life both inside and outside of government service.

Happy Birthday, Madam Secretary!

It’s Labor Day But Who Is Celebrating?—the Rana Plaza tragedy

May 1 is Labor Day (or Workers Day) throughout most of the world, but despite the celebration, these are not good times for many working people. Over the past several years, injustices and tragedies have struck around the globe.  And now workers who were already suffering from low wages and poor working conditions are among those hit hardest by the pandemic. But while wealthy countries struggle to help India and other third world countries to overcome the tragedy of illness, we should not forget that even ending that plague will not end the suffering of many workers caught in a cycle of unfair working conditions.

Eight years ago this week in Bangladesh, more than a thousand garment workers were killed when a factory building collapsed. The Rana Plaza tragedy brought an immediate outcry and urgent calls for reform. An international chorus of voices were raised to decry the conditions that led to this tragedy. Even the pope was moved to respond.  

Rana Plaza Protest in Bangladesh

On May 1, 2013, Pope Francis spoke out: A headline that really struck me on the day of the tragedy in Bangladesh was ‘Living on 38 euros a month’. That is what the people who died were being paid. This is called slave labour. Today in the world this slavery is being committed against something beautiful that God has given us – the capacity to create, to work, to have dignity. How many brothers and sisters find themselves in this situation! Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God.

From the amount of publicity surrounding the Rana Plaza tragedy, many people have probably assumed that conditions must have improved. Surely changes would have been made to ensure that workers received better wages and safer working conditions. That is what happened after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City a hundred years earlier.

But, this is not what has happened to today’s workers.  As reported in Vogue this month In November 2020, 12 people were killed in an explosion at a garment factory in Gujarat, India. In March this year, 20 people were killed and dozens left injured after a fire tore through a clothing factory in Cairo, Egypt, with a further eight killed and 29 injured when a 10-storey building collapsed in the same city later that month. (Vogue 27 April 2021)

The worldwide pandemic has brought greater suffering to the workers in India and other countries because fashion companies cut back on their production of clothing. Orders were cancelled and workers lost their jobs. Now that many developed countries are once again ramping up production, they are looking to cut costs and are encouraging lower wages and fewer safety rules.

How can Western consumers help? Primarily by pushing clothing manufacturers to support reasonable wages and to insist on better safety measures in factories. Of course prices will have to rise, but do most consumers really want to save a few dollars on an outfit at the price of costing a human life? Clothing production is a woman-dominated field. From the factory workers in Bangladesh to the fashionable professional woman in New York or London, it is women who drive the market and purchase the products. It is up to women to make sure that our clothes are not causing suffering and death.

Several organizations have been begun to describe what a consumer can do to help improve the fashion business. One website (fashionabc.org) offers suggestions on how to fix the problem, starting with the resolving to buy less clothing. You can also examine labels and find companies that support international labor agreements. You could also shop in thrift stores for some items and perhaps take the time to learn basic sewing skills at your local adult education classes.

The threat of Covid 19 will eventually fade, but let’s not forget that the struggle against unfair labor practices will continue. The time to start fighting for better lives for all is now.

Playing Poetry with the Big Boys—Amy Lowell

What does a woman poet look like? They are frequently pictured as frail and waiflike.  Think of Emily Dickinson floating about her family home, a recluse dressed always in white; or Elizabeth Barrett Browning retreating to her sickbed to write her poems. Often these maneuvers have helped women to find time to do their writing and achieve the art they wanted. But not all female poets fit these stereotypes.

Today, to celebrate Poetry Month, we will talk about a poet who turned all these stereotypes around. Amy Lowell was never frail, seldom shy, and looked nothing like a waif. She was a strong, heavy woman who used her strength and power to influence the course of poetry in America and all of the English-speaking world.

Amy Lowell

Born in 1874 into an old New England family that had provided leaders for generations, Amy never suffered from a lack of money or influential friends and relatives. She attended private schools but was not popular with other girls. She grew up believing that she was ugly and of less value than her four brothers. She was not sent to college because her family believed that college was inappropriate for girls.

Instead of a conventional education, Amy turned to books and later to travel. When she was in her twenties, she started writing poetry. Her first work was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1910 when she was in her mid-thirties. She may not have been an early bloomer, but once she started writing and publishing poetry, she had a major impact on the literary world. Her most famous poem, “Patterns” is still widely taught in schools today. The opening stanza introduced many American readers to a new type of poetry—free-flowing and often unrhymed.

I walk down the garden paths,

And all the daffodils

Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.

I walk down the patterned garden paths

In my stiff, brocaded gown.

With my powdered hair and jewelled fan,

I too am a rare

Pattern. As I wander down

The garden paths.

Source: Selected Poems of Amy Lowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002)

Amy Lowell was soon recognized as one of the most prominent modern poets of the early 20th century. She travelled to Europe and met Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and others who were part of the imagist movement. She conceived the idea of publishing an anthology of imagist poetry, which she did in 1915. Unfortunately, she ruffled the feathers of some of the early leaders of the postwar literary scene, especially Ezra Pound, who suspected she was trying to take over the imagist movement. The ruling men of the poetry world did not welcome a woman intruding on their ranks.

Lowell not only wrote poetry and published anthologies she also went on speaking tours throughout America and England. She was a vivid presence on the stage and introduced many audiences to modern poetry. Her poems continued to be popular with the public throughout her life, although reviews by literary critics were mixed. Many of the men who dominated literary criticism found it difficult to accept a spinster who wrote about love and sexuality as easily as about more ladylike subjects. Lowell never married, but she had a long and loving relationship with her partner, Ada Dwyer Russell. The strength of their bond and what it meant in Lowell’s life was seldom mentioned, however, because of the prudery of readers and critics during that time.

During the early 1920s, Lowell took several years off from poetry to write a biography of John Keats, one of her favorite poets. During these years, unfortunately, her health deteriorated, and she died of a stroke in 1925 at the age of 51. The Keats biography was published after her death and in 1926, she was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. You can read a detailed account of Lowell’s life and death in Carl Rollyson’s biography Amy Lowell Anew: A Biography (2013).

It is almost a century now since Amy Lowell died and she is often ignored or treated as a minor figure in the history of American literature. During the 1930s and 1940s her achievements faded from public notice as tastes in poetry changed. But critics are not always right in their assessments and, as many readers have found, Amy Lowell’s poems are well worth rereading. They speak to modern concerns just vividly as they spoke to the people of her time—like these final unforgettable lines of “Patterns”.

And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace

By each button, hook, and lace.

For the man who should loose me is dead,

Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,

In a pattern called a war.

Christ! What are patterns for?

Struggling to be Accepted as an American: Tye Leung Schulze

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
…I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Those welcoming words are enshrined on the Statue of Liberty that towers over New York harbor. But despite that generous offer, America has made it very difficult for many people to enter the country. And few groups have been as badly treated as Chinese Americans.

From 1882 until its repeal in 1943, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned all immigration from China. It was the only United States law ever to specifically ban one ethnic group. While new immigrants were banned, Chinese Americans who were born and raised in the United States were subject to hostility and prejudice. Among those who suffered was a tiny Chinese American woman named Tye Leung Schulze who spent most of her life trying to help Chinese Americans to become valuable members of the community.

Tye Leung Schulze

Born in San Francisco in 1887, Tye Leung was unable to attend public school because California’s segregated school system did not provide schools for Chinese students. Fortunately, she discovered a Presbyterian Mission School where she found education and encouragement.

In 1910, Leung took the civil service exam and became the first Chinese American woman employed by the federal government. Assigned to the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay, she became a translator. Two years later she made history by voting in the 1912 presidential election. (California women had gained the right to vote in 1911). She was the first Chinese woman in vote in a United States election, and perhaps the first to vote anywhere in the world.

Leung valued the importance of voting and she expressed her faith in the importance of women’s suffrage in an interview shortly after she had voted: I think…that we women are more careful than the men. We want to do our whole duty more. I do not think it is just the newness that makes use like that. It is conscience”

While she was working at Angel Island, Leung met her future husband, Charles Schulze, an Immigration Inspector. But once again the government opposed her because of her Asian roots. At that time, California banned intermarriage between whites and Asians. To escape this law, Leung and Schulze had to travel to Washington State to celebrate their marriage. And to add further injury, both Leung and Schulze lost their jobs with the Immigration Service when they returned to Angel Island.

Eventually, Tye found work with the Pacific telephone exchange. She and her husband lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown and raised four children. Although her husband died in 1935, Tye continued to work with the Chinese American community as a bookkeeper for the Chinese Hospital and an operator for Pacific Telephone’s Chinatown exchange. During World War II, she helped Chinese brides to enter the country and become citizens. She remained an active force in the community until she died at the age of 86.

Tye Leung Schulze’s life story has been told in a documentary film available on YouTube .

You can also read more about her life in Julia Flynn Siler’s book The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown (2019).

In 1987, Leung Schulze was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project. She is a woman well worth remembering and honoring.

Giving Women Control—Margaret Sanger

For more than a century, suffragists fought for women’s right to vote, but voting wasn’t the only thing on women’s minds at that time. What good was the right to vote if women weren’t entitled to get an education so they could learn about political issues and develop their opinions? And being able to vote was small comfort to women who were barred from holding a job that would make it possible for them to earn a living. But even the right to learn and to get a job were not enough to give women control of their lives.

Margaret Sanger

Deciding when to have a child and how many children to have made a huge difference in women’s lives. Today It is hard to realize how the lack of birth control affected families. Employers often refused to hire married women because they might become pregnant. Graduate schools rejected married women applicants with the excuse that an unplanned pregnancy could derail a degree plans at any time. And lots of women, especially poor women, often had far more children than their family could support. But during the 19th and early 20th century it was very difficult to get information about birth control. Christian reformers had passed laws declaring that information about birth control was obscene and therefore distributing it was illegal. In many states even married couples were forbidden to use contraceptives.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, progressives began to recognize this problem. One woman, Margaret Sanger, devoted most of her life to changing the way women experienced motherhood. Born in 1879, the sixth child in a family of Irish immigrants in Corning, New York, she saw at first hand the result of having a large family. Each year as another child was added to the family, Michael Higgins, their father, who was a sculptor of gravestones, became less able to support them all. Maggie Higgins, Margaret’s mother, gave birth to 22 children of whom eleven survived to grow up. She died at the age of 48 leaving the family to struggle on without her.

First Birth Control Clinic

Margaret Sanger was fortunate in having older sisters who helped her to get an education and to become a nurse. After getting her degree she married, quit work, and settled down to raise her three children. For several years she was a traditional housewife and mother, but she wanted a more active life. When she went to work in New York City as a visiting nurse, she saw for herself the way women’s lives were restricted by the number of children they bore. Most of the women she worked with were immigrants with little money and no way of finding out how they could limit the number of children they had. Sanger decided that she had an obligation to give these women information. In 1916, she opened the first birth control clinic in the city and was promptly arrested for distributing obscene material. That arrest inspired her to become a lifelong crusader for birth control.

Sanger has become one of the most controversial leaders of the early feminist movement, but much of the criticism directed at her has been misinformed. She has been reviled for supporting abortion, but in fact she always opposed it. She knew that many women were driven to having abortions because they had suffered through too many pregnancies. These illegal abortions sometimes led to illness and death. Sanger promoted birth control as a way of preventing abortions by allowing families to limit the size of their families. She founded birth control clinics in Harlem and in the Lower East Side. She worked with African American leaders to make sure that both Black and White women could control the number of their pregnancies.    

Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League which later became Planned Parenthood and has become a national source of support for women’s health across the United States. Sanger’s interest in the eugenics movement during the 1920s, has led to much criticism, but she was only one of many people who were searching for ways to encourage Americans to have fewer, but healthier babies. She was a woman of many enthusiasms who spoke out about her beliefs and incited both strong support and bitter hatred. Several biographies have been published. For a well-balanced account of her life and accomplishments, you might want to try one of the more recent ones—Jean Baker’s Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion (2011).