History 266: Women and Social Movements in Antebellum America
Oberlin College
Spring 2002
King 235
Monday and Wednesday 2:30-3:50

Professor Carol Lasser

Office: Rice 313


Office Hours: Tuesday 2-3:30


Course Assistant Courtney McGee


Class E-mail Contact List


This class explores the participation of women in the United States in social movements before the Civil War. It examines why and how women organized for social and political change, the constraints on their actions, and their understandings of their own roles in terms of the gendered constructions of antebellum society. It then explores the participation of antebellum Oberlin women in local and national social movements in order to produce a collaborative case study of women’s participation in an evangelical community.

During the first half of the semester, the class will discuss historical and historiographical issues as well as approaches to reading and using primary sources. Students will write two short "Response Papers.” After Spring break, the class will be divided into two working groups, and each group will meet one day per week. With guidance, each student will prepare annotated editions of two primary documents to be posted on a class website that focuses on women and social movements in antebellum Oberlin.

Books to Purchase

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Lori Ginzberg, Women in Antebellum Reform

Julie Roy Jeffrey, The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women’s Rights Emerges with the Antislavery Movement

Students will also be able to purchase Roland Baumann, ed., Guide to the Women’s History Sources in the Oberlin College Archives through the instructor at half of the regular cost ($5 for students), or they can access the electronic version of this publication at http://www.oberlin.edu/~archive/resources/women/mainframe.html

Electronic Reserve and JSTOR: Class reading assignments not in the books to be purchased will be available either through Electronic Reserve (http://eres.cc.oberlin.edu/) or through the stable URLS on this syllabus for JSTOR articles.

Course Requirements: Students are expected to attend all classes, to complete reading assignments for the days on which they are assigned, and to participate productively in class. In addition, students are expected to complete the following writing assignments, described more fully at the end of the syllabus:

February 20

First Response Paper

March 13

Second Response Paper

April 8

Monograph Analysis

May 14

Final Submission of Final Project; interim project deadlines are identified in the extended project description, and on the schedule of classes.

Schedule of Classes: Click on a linked date for handouts

Monday, February 4

Introduction: Women and Social Movements in Antebellum America: Gender, History and Agency

Wednesday, February 6

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Gender, History and Agency in an American Classic

Reading Assignment: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (entire)

Monday, February 11

The Universe of Antebellum Reform for Women

Reading Assignment:

Lori Ginzberg, Women in Antebellum Reform, entire.

Questions to consider: what are the social movements women joint? What are the historiographical questions that Ginzberg addresses? What difference, if any, existed between women’s auxiliaries and women’s organizations?

Wednesday, February 13

Doing Antebellum Women’s History on the Web

We will examine two sites that explore Uncle Tom’s Cabin:



We will also begin a collaborative web page.

Monday, February 18

Moral Reform and Women’s Organizations

Reading Assignments:

Women and Social Movements Website—“What was the Appeal of moral reform to Northern Women?” at http://womhist.binghamton.edu/fmrs/intro.htm#end1

Carroll Smith Rosenberg, “Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman,” American Quarterly 23 ( 1971), pp. 562-584, at

Anne Boylan, “Women in Groups: An Analysis of Women's Benevolent Organizations in New York and Boston, 1797-1840," Journal of American History, 71 (1984), 497-523, at

Wednesday, February 20

Library Session: Finding Primary Sources in Women’s History

Presented by Jessica Grim, Reference Librarian


First Response Paper due

Monday, February 25

Religion, Gender and Separate Spheres During the Second Great Awakening

Reading Assignments:

Barbara Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood,” American Quarterly 18 (1966):151-174, at

Nancy Cott, “Religion,” from The Bonds of Womanhood, pp. 126-159 (ERes).

Optional: Mary Kelley, “Commentary [on “The Cult of True Womanhood],” in Locating American Studies, pp. 67-70 (ERes).

Wednesday, February 27

Oberlin College Archive Orientation.


Assignment: Read from Roland Baumann, ed., Guide to the Women’s History Sources in the Oberlin College Archives, the Table of Contents, Introduction, and entry for one of the records groups mentioned on the Selected Archives Research Page at the end of this syllabus.

Please submit electronically, at least 2 hours before class, the name of the record group entry that you read.

Monday, March 4

Women, Antislavery and Abolitionism

Reading Assignment:

Julie Roy Jeffrey, The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism, entire.

Wednesday, March 6

The Politics of Race in the Antislavery Movement

Reading Assignment: At least two of the following:

Shirley Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, Chapters 2 and 3, pp. 40-85 (ERes).

Anne Boylan, "Benevolence and Antislavery Activity among African American Women in New York and Boston, 1820-1840," pp. 119-137 in Jean Fagan Yellin and John C. Van Horne, eds., The Abolitionist Sisterhood (ERes).

James Horton, “Freedom’s Yoke: Gender Conventions Among Antebellum Free Blacks,” Feminist Studies 12(1986): 51-76 (ERes).

Monday, March 11

From Antislavery to Women’s Rights

Reading Assignments:

Kathryn Kish Sklar, Women’s Rights Emerges within the Antislavery Movement, 1830-1870, pp. 1-76

In addition, each student will be placed in one of six groups to present on a group of documents to the class:

· Seeking a Voice: pp. 77-83 (5 documents)

· Women Claim the Right to Act, pp. 84-109 (11 documents)

· Redefining the Rights of Women, pp. 110-152 (17 documents)

· The Antislavery Movement Splits, pp. 153-164 (5 documents)

· An Independent Women’s Rights Movement, pp. 165-190 (10 documents)

· Epilogue, pp. 191-204 (6 documents)

Wednesday, March 13

And What about Politics?

Elizabeth Varon, “Tippecanoe and Ladies, Too: White Women and Party Politics in Antebellum Virginia,” Journal of American History 82(1995):494-521, at

Response Paper Due

Monday, March 18

Antebellum Oberlin Women’s Movements in Historical Perspective

Reading Assignments

Delevan Leonard, The Story of Oberlin, Selections on ERes, including:

· Chapter 3, "The Founders and their Scheme," pp. 76-103

· Chapter 6, "The Development of Coeducation," pp. 153-179

Robert Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College: From Its Foundation Through the Civil War, Volume I: Selections on ERes, including:

· Chapter 14: The Guarantee of Academic Freedom, pp. 167-178

· Chapter 21: Female Reformers, pp. 290-315

· Chapter 26: The Joint Education of the Sexes, pp.373-385

Lori Ginzberg, “The ‘Joint Education of the Sexes’: Oberlin’s Original Vision,” in Carol Lasser, ed., Educating Men and Women Together, pp. 67-80 (ERes).

Catherine Rokicky, "Lydia Finney and Evangelical Womanhood," Ohio History 103(1994): 170-189 (ERes).

Wednesday March 20

Discussion of Primary Document assignment and monograph analysis assignment.

Preliminary choice of document project focus due.

Please come to class prepared to suggest a first and second choice for your monograph, and at least two preliminary ideas for your final project. Try to relate your monograph choice and your preliminary project focus.

Technology for Transcription introduced

Break Week

Monday, April 1

Group I: Monograph analysis report
Group II: Independent Library Work Session

Wednesday, April 3

Group II: Monograph analysis report
Group I: Independent Library Work Session

Monday, April 8

Group I: Documents work session in King 235
Choice of Document #1 Due

Wednesday, April 10

Group II: Documents work session
Choice of Document #1 Due

Monday, April 15

Group I: Documents work session in King 235
Choice of Document #2 Due

Wednesday, April 17

Group II: Documents work session
Choice of Document #2 Due

Monday, April 22

Group I: Documents work session in King 235
Substantial transcription /annotations for Document #1 Due

Wednesday, April 24

Group II: Documents work session in King 235
Substantial transcription /annotations for Document #1 Due

Monday, April 29

Group I: Documents work session in King 235

Substantial transcription /annotations for Document #2 Due

Wednesday May 1

Group II: Documents work session in King 235
Substantial transcription /annotations for Document #2 Due

Monday, May 6

Group I: Final presentations in King 235
Headnotes Due

Wednesday, May 8

Group II: Final presentations in King 235
Headnotes Due


Students must complete all assignments in order to pass the course. Late papers will be graded down according to the degree of lateness, and will not receive comments if more than two days late. Approximate weighting of work will be as follows (although improvement over the course of the semester is encouraged and will be appropriately rewarded):

First Response Paper


Second Response Paper


Monograph Analysis


Document Project: Document #1
--includes headnote, quality of transcription, quality of annotation, and fulfillment of project timeline)


Document Project: Document #2
--includes headnote, quality of transcription, quality of annotation, and fulfillment of project timeline)


Class participation and collaboration
--includes verbal contributions to class discussions, presentations to class on March 11, April 1/3, and May 6/8, as well as participation in partnerships for transcription and proofing of documents)


Response Papers
Due: February 20 and March 13

You will write two response papers during the first half of this course. Response papers should be between 1000 and 1500 words in length (4-6 pages, double spaced), with appropriate citations and academic apparatus (that means footnotes/endnotes).

A response paper should be framed around the readings for the particular week, and should identify the key historical issues addressed. It should determine if conflicting points of view or interpretative frameworks exist, and suggest approaches to understanding differences if they exist, or future directions for historical study if current works seem incomplete or inadequate. You may use personal reactions to the work, but please frame your reactions in analytic terms.

Monograph Analysis Assignment
Due: April 1/3/ and April 5

Each student will read a monograph from the list provided here, and prepare a 1000 word analysis of the work. The analysis should concentrate on placing the book in historiographical context and identifying its contribution to the historiography. Some information should be provided about the scope of the study, and its use of evidence and argument, but the primary focus of your work should be identifying the relationship of the particular work to other work in the history of women and social movements in antebellum America.

If at all possible, please choose a book from this list that will relate to the topic of the documents you will work with for the final assignment. All these books are available at Mudd Library.

You will make a 10-minute class presentation on your work during the week of April 1. A final version of your 1000 word essay is due no later than Friday, April 5.

Suggested Books for Monograph Analysis
(Note: If you do NOT choose one of the books on this list, you MUST consult with me, BEFORE SPRING BREAK)

Lori Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence

Catherine Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845

Anna Speicher, The Religious World of Antislavery Women

Mary Ryan, Women in Public

Nancy Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America

Deborah Gold Hansen, Strained Sisterhood: Gender and Class in the Boston Female Antislavery Society

Jean Fagan Yellin, Women and Sisters: the Antislavery Feminists in American Culture

Nancy Hewitt, Women’s Activism and Social Change: Rochester, New York, 1822-1872

Caroline Lawes, Women and Reform in a New England Community, 1815-1860

Ann Firor Scott, Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History

James Horton and Lois Horton, In Hope of Liberty

Bonnie Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement, 1830-1860

Chris Dixon, Perfecting the Family

Clare Midgley, Women Against Slavery: the British Campaigns

Karen Sanchez-Eppler, Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism and the Politics of the Body

Glenn C. Altschuler and Jan M. Saltzgaber, Revivalism, Social Conscience and Community in the Burnt Over District: The Trial of Rhonda Bement

Final Assignment: Document Transcription, Annotation, and Headnote

The final assignment for students in this class will involve the creation of an authoritative edition of two or more documents that illuminate the role played by Oberlin women in antebellum social movements. These documents can be of many different types: newspapers, publications, organizational records, personal papers, diaries, letters, correspondence, although at least one document MUST be drawn from the Oberlin College Archives. The authoritative edition will include for each document:

· a headnote introducing the context,

· an error-free transcription, and

· appropriate annotation.

In addition to creating two authoritative documents, each student will also collaborate on a section introduction. Student partnerships will be established to assist in transcription and proofing, and, when possible, will involve students in collaborative research for annotations, headnotes, and section introductions.

The following timeline identifies the due dates for each step of the process by week. Students will be divided into two meeting groups for the second half of the semester. Within the meeting groups, collaborative workteams of two or three students will be established.

Preliminary choice of focus

Wednesday, March 20

Choice of Document 1

April 8/10

Choice of Document 2

April 15/17

Transcription and substantial annotations for Document 1

April 22/24

Transcription and substantial annotations for Document 2

April 29/May

Headnotes and completed annotations for both documents

May 6/8

Corrections to Documents and Contribution to Collaborative Introduction

May 14

Selected Archives Research Leads

The list below provides a series of “research leads” in the archive that the instructor believes may well yield good documents. The leads are listed here by the record group in which the documents may be found with occasional marginal notation about what might be found in the collection. You will want to supplement this information with the appropriate entries in Baumann, ed., Guide to Women’s History Sources in the Oberlin College Archives, and finding guides to particular collections available at the Oberlin College Archives website: http://www.oberlin.edu/~archive/holdings/finding/mainframe.html

You may also want to consult Robert Fletcher, A History of Oberlin College, Volume II: "A Partial List of Sources, " pp. 927ff which, in the words of the Archivist, “offers students a nice glimpse into individual documents held by us.”

But remember, nothing in research is assured! You are participating in a real collaborative research project, not a “canned” laboratory or exercise, so be patient, look carefully, and be prepared for surprises.

Group 1: Records of the Board of Trustees

· Microfilm minutes of meetings, 1834-1964 (decisions on the admission of women, admission of African Americans, relations to moral reform)

· Document files supporting meetings of the Board of Trustees (as above)

· Student Labor Accounts

· Indexes of the meetings of the Board of Trustees and Prudential Committee, particularly with respect to entries for

o Women’s Board of Managers, aka Ladies’ Board

o Mrs. Pelton

o Missionaries

o Literary societies

Group 2: Papers of the Presidents, Papers of James Harris Fairchild

· Papers, reviews and publications relating to his books:

o Women’s Rights and Duties (1849)

o Joint Education of the Sexes (1852)

· Correspondence with Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and others

· Correspondence with Mary Kellogg Fairchild

Group 7: Records of the Office of the Treasurer

· Biographies of female students, 1834-1836

· Printed material relating to the Ipswich Female Seminary

· File of Timothy Hudson

· File of Emily P. Burke

Group 19: Records of Student Life: Records of the Ladies Literary Society

Group 20: Records of the Alumni Association

Group 21: Autograph File (assorted materials)

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: George A. Adams

· Correspondence with abolitionists and with wife, Emily Higgins

· Correspondence of Emily Higgins Adams with Lucy Mahan, wife of OC President Asa Mahan

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: George Nelson Allen

· Correspondence with wife, Caroline Mary Rudd, among first women to earn the Oberlin A.B. in 1841

· Newly added material

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Archibald McCullum Ball and Sarah Curtis Ball

· Includes correspondence of Irene Ball Allen, early OC student and wife of abolitionist minister

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Dan Beach Bradley

· Includes papers of his family while he was a missionary in Thailand, including

o Emilie Royce Bradley, first wife

o Sarah Blachly Bradley, second wife

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Betsy Mix Cowles

· Correspondence from and to OC 1840 graduate, active in antislavery and education.

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Henry Cowles

· Diary dealing with death of Mary Edmondson, former slave who studies at Oberlin with support from Harriet Beecher Stowe

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Francis H. Dart

· Autobiography of Helen Mary Dart Leonard (1825-1916) dealing with antebellum women’s rights movement

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Florence Fitch

· Letters to Frank Fitch (father of Florence Fitch) written by Frank Fitch’s mother, 1856-1863, describing antebellum schools

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Robert S. Fletcher. As the preeminent historian of antebellum Oberlin, Fletcher collected Oberlin history materials that have been preserved in his personal papers. Among these sources are:

· Diary of Mary Louise Cowles, April-August 1854

· Letters of Hannah Warner Huntington, 1840-1863

· Letters of Delia Fenn on Oberlin in 1835

· Letters of Nancy Prudden, 1836-7

· Miscellaneous Copies including matters relating to:

o Temperance

o Antislavery

o Female Moral Reform

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Frances Juliet Hosford. Hosford’s Father Shipherd’s Magna Charta: A Century of Coeducation in Oberlin College was prepared in 1937 for the college Centennial Celebration. In her papers are sources collected for that volume, including:

· Many early Oberlin women (Betsey Mix Cowles, Marianne Parker Dascomb, etc.)

· Materials on the Amistad case

· Statistics on occupational and marriage patterns of early Oberlin graduates

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Lucy Fletcher Kellogg

· Notebooks and correspondence, including with her daughter, Lucy Fletcher Kellogg, one of first female students in OC College course, addressing religion, antislavery and other topics

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Ellen Lawson and Marlene Merrill. From 1977 to 1984, Lawson and Merrill conducted a project on Antebellum African American women at Oberlin, identifying 152 African American women who attended Oberlin 1835-1865. Papers collected here include:

· Copies of records of Antebellum African American students at Oberlin

· Relevant portions of records of First Church in Oberlin

· Materials on African American teachers in American Missionary Association

· Materials on African American women and temperance

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Prudden Family

· Letters of Nancy Prudden written in 1837 while she was enrolled in OC Ladies Course

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Mary Sheldon (Vincent)

· Composition books and essays of Mary Sheldon while an OC student (1848-1852) before marrying and becoming deeply involved in antislavery movement

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: John J. Shipherd

· 1834 Letter of Maria Fletcher from Cincinnati where she worked with the “Lane Rebels” and taught in African American Sunday Schools.

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Papers of Various People Of potential interest here:

· Letters of Lovancia Pease and classmates Rhodelia Cole and Fannie Hovie while at Oberlin, 1839-1841

· Letters of Lucinda Pease to Lovancia Pease, 1839-40

· Letters of Elizabeth Russell Lord, especially as relating to fugitive slaves, verdict in the Norton antislavery case of 1842, and other matters

Group 30: Papers of Other Individuals: Henry E. Woodcock

· Letters to Henry Woodcock from his sister Lucy Woodcock, 1856-1871, from Jamaica, where Lucy worked as a missionary after receiving a literary degree from Oberlin in 1852.

Group 31: Records of the Oberlin Community: Records of First and Second Church. Of special interest: 3 church trials for domestic violence, abuse and slander of a woman’s reputation:

· Maria Penfield v. E. J. Penfield, 1852

· Brokaw v. Bardwell, 1853-1854

· Eliza Livingston v. Jasper Livingston, 1848-1857

Group 31: Records of the Oberlin Community: Records of the Maternal Association, 1835-1866

Group 31: Records of the Oberlin Community: Records of the Female Moral Reform Society, 1835-1857

Group 21: The Oberlin File Assorted materials such as:

· Poetry and watercolors of Thirza B. Skinner Pelton

Newly Acquired Collections in the Oberlin College Archives:

Papers of William C. Cochran: many items relating to life and family of this grandson of Charles Grandison Finney

Papers of Sally Rudd, aunt of Caroline Mary Rudd, one of first female students enrolled in college course at OC