Monthly Archives: October 2012

Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America

Indiana University Press; 2001

Ann Braude’s work[1] presents her incredible research findings about spiritualism and its influential partnership with the promotion of women’s rights in the mid-late 19th century America. When the Spiritualist movement arose, it is compelling to find that it was actually adolescent girls rather than adult women or men who were the most common spiritual mediums. This information raises numerous questions about the specific understanding authenticity and its popular association with girls in the late 1800s as well as the kinds of ideas that are circulating about the same issue in this modern century.

During previous centuries, words like “pious”, “pure”, and “moral” were customarily used to describe women. It was an obvious connection that Americans made, considering what they thought about the public and private spheres. Thus, even if spiritual participants were both male and female, most spiritual activities were conducted within the women’s private sphere—their homes—instead of the organized church. Braude expounds that spirituality was linked to femininity; therefore, mediums were most commonly women and girls.

More specifically, she argues “Americans throughout the country found messages from spirits most plausible when delivered through the agency of adolescent girl.”  While testimonies from children might be more likely to be dismissed as childish chatter, Spiritualists believed that a young girl had the potential to be more innocent—untainted and moral—than older women. This innocence further attached itself to the idea it also presupposed trustworthiness. Although Spiritualists’ primary reason for spurring this new trend was to find mediums who made it easier for spirits to speak through, the byproduct was that it offered girls a radical platform to experience and practice public work despite the discouraging backdrop of their current society’s norms on proper girl behavior. Unfortunately, Spiritualists’ efforts perpetuated the suppression of girl’s actual agency because, with their role as mediums, girls were only viewed and treated as passive vessels.

In the 21st century, a greater emphasis on the legitimacy and authenticity of children’s testimonies has allowed space for further implementation  in child empowerment—everything from self-expressive creations to the expansion of child’s rights. Dr. Marnina Gonick, professor and author, wrote Between Femininities chronicling her research on adolescent girls who actualized their own agency by creating fictional films that were in fact testimonies of their own life stories. Their stories allowed them to personally vocalize various types of issues they were experiencing as young, developing girls. Gonick and Yasmin describe the project to be an extension of “postmodernist privileging of girls’ voices, resistance and agency.”[2]

Although Spiritualists and postmodernists provided girls with the chance to stand and speak in wider public spheres, both groups chose to do so for drastically  different reasons. Spiritualists believed that pure, innocent, girls were  ironically non-participatory, transparent mediums whom the spirits could use to speak through. On the other hand, postmodernists continue to believe in encouraging girls’ agency on the basis that, regardless of age, girls thoughts, perspectives and experiences are valuable narratives that should be heard by their peers as well as the larger society.


[1] Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-century America. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001. Print.

[2] Gonick, Marnina, and Yasmin Jiwani. “BETWEEN FEMININITIES: Ambivalence, Identity and the Education of Girls.” Resources for Feminist Research 31.1 (2004): 14-6. ABI/INFORM Complete; GenderWatch; Los Angeles Times; ProQuest Central; ProQuest Criminal Justice. Web. Oct. 2012.

 

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Women’s Well-Being: Ranking America’s Top 25 Metro Areas

How to Assess Human Development and Well-Being

Human Development of Women in the 25 Most Populous Metro Areas

U.S. Female Life Expectancy by Racial and Ethnic Group

Women’s Educational Attainment by Age

Male and Female Higher Education Enrollment

 

To get further information about Women’s Well-Being in America:

Download the Measure of America PDF

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Religion and Domestic Violence in Early New England: The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey

Indiana University Press; 1989

Abigail Abbot Bailey’s account[1] of domestic violence neither seems atypical nor surprising from many other women’s accounts of what they’ve experienced in abusive relationships. However, Abigail’s faith and trust in God coupled with her understanding  of it—what it actually means and the way in which it should be manifested in her life—is what sets her story apart from other women’s stories.

Abigail’s family upbringing explains how her understanding of trust in God had been shaped. She had a relatively peaceful and loving family. Submission to her parents was never a problem because they provided care and sacrifice. Her lack of experience in struggles and hardships did not allow her to understand what it meant to fully trust God and activate her faith.

Early on in her marriage to Asa Bailey, she notices that he exhibits sinful behavior in his life, but she is eager to show him grace because she believes he has yet to be converted and that every human being has sinned before God. Thus, she has no right to judge, but only to impart forgiveness on her husband. Abigail honestly explains that she “would rather suffer wrong than do wrong” (Taves, 57). Her first and foremost devotion is to please God and live in holiness. Her belief could also be explained through her understanding that any kind of earthly suffering was endurable because Christ’s life entailed the ultimate suffering on behalf of the world. She would simply be partaking in Jesus’ life and her duty as a Puritan woman to conform to the image of her Savior.

Multiple times she “trusted in the Lord to deliver” her (Taves, 60). Abigail believed that trusting in God meant praying and idly hoping that he would either rescue her hardships by changing her husband to be a better man even to convert. In fact, her hope that Asa would change was probably one of the main factors that encouraged her to remain in the marriage for so long. One psychology article[2] states that one of the factors that contribute to a person finally deciding whether or not to leave an abusive relationship is “belief that the abuser would change” (Strube, 837). If her own previous definition of “trust in God” did not change, I do not believe that she expected to separate from him by leaving him or attaining a divorce.

Nevertheless, in the latter part of their marriage (after Asa’s incest with their daughter was made known to her) together she began to consider a new definition—“that trusting in God implies the due use of all means” (Taves, 174). Her faith became active and she became a participant in the decisions she made for her life.


[1] Bailey, Abigail Abbot, and Ann Taves. Religion and Domestic Violence in Early New England: The Memoirs of Abigail Abbot Bailey. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989. Print.

[2] Strube, Michael J., and Linda S. Barbour. “Factors Related to the Decision to Leave an Abusive Relationship.” Journal of Marriage and Family 46.4 (1984): n. pag. JSTOR. Web. Sept. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/352531&gt;.

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