"A Ladylike Employment": Jennie Carter and the Performance of  Respectable African American Womanhood in Reconstruction-era California

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"A Ladylike Employment": Jennie Carter and the Performance of Respectable African American Womanhood in Reconstruction-era California
Attia, Vanessa
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Subjects / Keywords:
African American culture ( jstor )
African Americans ( jstor )
Black communities ( jstor )
Discourse ( jstor )
Elevators ( jstor )
Gender roles ( jstor )
Social activism ( jstor )
United States history ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Womens studies ( jstor )
African American women
Carter, Jennie, 1830 or 1831-1881
Women journalists
Undergraduate Honors Thesis


Recent scholarship on the construction of the racialized body as “Other” has incited historians of gender in the American West to call for studies that compare the role race plays in women’s self-representation across the United States. Prevailing images of nineteenth-century African American womanhood, embodied in the public personas of writers and orators like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, offer an incomplete picture of postbellum black identity and community uplift because they are derived largely from mid-Atlantic urban areas. In an attempt to complicate this vision, this essay examines California journalist and activist Jennie Carter’s contributions to the San Francisco Elevator and Christian Recorder, reading them against the works, life, and reputation of Frances Harper and other seminal black activists of the century. This comparison will examine the Pacific West as a physical and social space in which middle-class black women negotiated questions of race, gender, and political advocacy and represented themselves and the region in national discourse. This study found that Carter borrowed the popular tropes of her eastern contemporaries and the cult of True Womanhood that best served to legitimate her public voice as both an activist and a black woman. Conditions in the West allowed for her to break out of some of the more restrictive eastern traditions of black respectability, such as the reliance on rhetoric about light skin, desexualization, and overall rebuttals to plantation writing. Instead, Carter was able to extend her use of the respectability discourse to discuss temperance and to mobilize community activism around local politics. In other respects, Carter replicated the eastern tropes of black respectability that were most reliant on the cult of white True Womanhood—namely, the ideals of domesticity articulated in the figure of the maternalistic schoolmarm. ( en )
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Awarded Bachelor of Arts; Graduated May 3, 2011 summa cum laude. Major: History
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College/School: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
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Advisor Trysh Travis

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright Vanessa Attia. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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Respectable African American Womanhood in Reconstruction era California Vanessa Attia HIS393 1: History Department Senior Thesis Advisors: Dr. Louise Newman and Dr. Trysh Travis April 7, 2011


Attia 2 Table of Contents Acknowledgements ................................ ................................ ................................ .............................. 3 1 The Face of Black Female Respectability in the West ................................ ............................... 4 2 Power and Tension: Connections Between The Cult of True Womanhood and the Black Woman of Letters ................................ ................................ ................................ ......................... 11 Teacher or Prophet?: Antebellum Pressures on the Activist Black Woman .............................. 13 Limitations on the Eastern Black Woman of Letters ................................ ................................ 15 Understanding Eastern Respectability ................................ ................................ ........................ 20 3 ......................... 23 Black Women Lived in the Early West?: A Demographic Primer ................................ .......... 23 The Black Press: Specially Suited for Western Black Activism ................................ ............. 25 Constructing the Public Face of Respectable Blackness ................................ ........................ 27 ..... 28 Education as the Key to R s Early Activism in California ............. 32 Gaining Power through ................................ .................... 35 Community Organization: Conflict Between Action and Voice ................................ ............. 37 4 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ .............................. 41 Bibliography ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................... 44


Attia 3 A CKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to acknowledge those individuals and institutions whose invaluable help has made the completion of this thesis possible. Thanks to t he staff and students of the UF Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program for thei r financial and moral support; the UF University Scholars Program for additional funding of my research; Dr. Stephanie Evans for her critique of my preliminary research; and Professor Howard Louthan and Robert McEachnie for thei Finally, I would be remiss not to mention my sincere gratitude to my advisors, Trysh History Department. Your investment in my intellectual and personal g rowth as a scholar has been a great inspiration to me. You have both gone above and beyond as my mentors and I truly admire you as historians, instructors, and exemplary women.


Attia 4 Figure 1 Mary Ellen Pleasant, circa 1857. 1 C HAPTER 1: T HE F ACE OF B LACK F EMALE R ESPECTABILITY IN THE W EST Seated erectly i n her chair a young woman stares squarely and bo ldly at the camera with dark, clear, and challenging eyes H er hair is immaculately parted in the middle long e arrings drape either side of her stoic face, and she rest s her elbow on the seatback. This may have been her first sitting for a photograph, but it would not be her last. One of the most famous face s of African American womanhood in the nineteenth century West is of this woman, Mary Ellen Pleasant. While Pleasant may be the best kn own, there were other black women in mid century San Francisco, California competing for a space in the public mind. 1 Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. heroes of black history mary ellen pleasant/


Attia 5 On Indep endence Day in 1868, an African American woman from Nevada County, California set down to paper her earnest ple a to resurrect the black public school of San Francisco How long must w e tamely submit to all this injustice? Must our children grow up in ignorance, to make true their estimate of inferiority Elevator If I were a man, I would battle until death; but as I am merely Mrs. Trask, I will have to keep in my place. They cannot prevent me from talking and writing, and my tongue and pen shall be busy 2 These were the words of Jennie Carter, who began a column of didactic essays for children in 1867, published in the San Francisco based African American newspaper The Elevator and, later, in the Christian Recorder Her columns evolved to include a variety of narratives on race, politics, and womanhood, spoken through the semi autobiographical voice of an elderly narrator a Unlike Pleasant, no known photographs of Jennie Carter exist. And yet, through her writings, Carter offer s historians an opportunity to complicate the image of the w estern black female activist. While little is known about her life, her published articles provide and experiences of effecting racial uplift in the Reconstructio n era America of the trans Mississippi West. writings, entitled Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West recovery work has allowed this obscure but fairly prolific black writer a chance to rise into the same academic discourse that more well known figures like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Ida B. Wells 2 San Francisco, July 4, 1868 Elevator July 10, 1868: 1, in Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West, ed. Eric Gardner (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 40.


Attia 6 have been circulating for years. This essay will insert Jennie Carter into this historical discussion by comparing her methods of public self representation with that of Maria W. Stewart and Frances Ellen Wa tkins Harper fiction public personas and moral investments embodied some of the prevailing urban images of the nineteenth century African American woman activist. kind of comparative inquiry and this is a task tha t will hopefully illuminate the acceptable methods available in the nineteenth century for black women to represent themselves as public activists 3 must be examined against the backdrop of the monolithic images of the respectable, black woma n and Reconstruction activist of the mid Atlantic What was it about the s o ciopolitical conditions of the W logical and accessible performance available to black female activists who wanted to enter public discourse ? In the East, the image of respectability was made all the more rel evant in light of the recent memory of slavery and black female sexualization immediate and pressing concerns f or a region where African American illiteracy was in the majority and most black women were employed as domestic servants Carter on the other hand, was writing for a western black population that was already comprised primarily of a literate middle class. Speaking to an women like Carter to operate within t he established rhetoric of respectability. Such an inquiry in to this kind of gender performance can ultimately provide insight into the history of black feminist activism and the teno r of racial history in the West, a challenge that is illustrated in exi sting scholarship on the se fraught and complex subjects. Current literature on the history of gendered American self representation such as the work of mid 3 Gardner, Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West xvii


Attia 7 Atlantic states, wit h a minor emphasis on black women such as I da B. Wells and Sojourner Truth, arguing that the se women articulated their feelings about their body in their work and constructed its image according to their public life. 4 Piepmei e r written texts and recorded speeches as springboards to discuss configurations of the body through spiritualism, sensationalism, mythic physicality the body as text, an d the freakish or abject body. pproach to reading images of the body provides a valuable framework for further regional studies which have largely eschewed theory in analyses of female experience and embodiment, and is it through a similar lens that this analysis of Carter will investi gate the conditions of the American W est that created a space for women as public fi gures that in many ways mirrored the boundaries established in the East Public performances of the black female mind and b ody were crafted in a way that sought to deliber ately undo representations of the freakish by presenting a womanhood that was as respectable as possible. In this way, the figure of the public intellectual offered a way to disembody black women from the racist caricatures that emerged from the experienc e s of African American enslavement T he black press in which Jennie Carter wrote was particularly suited to portray the woman of letters who was all voice and indeed, refused to be publicly configured as a material body. research in 2003 meanwhile, focused on the stereotypic images attributed to the aforementioned black S an Franciscan entrepreneur, Mary Ellen Pleasant as a means to study the agency of women of color as they navigated the power structures of race, class, and gender r oles in order to construct a public image in the 1850s and 1860s. Pleasant was depicted as a "murderer, madam, and baby seller" because of her work as a prominent local 4 Alison Piepmeier, Century America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004).


Attia 8 boardinghouse keeper investor, "committed abolitionist[,] and civil rights activist." 5 The image that routinely circulated in local press. It was a persona that she herself perpetuate d in public in order to hide her wealth under the guise of prescriptive black servitude and the refore avert possible retaliation from individuals in the white community 6 women robbed them of their agency and ability to independently formulate a gendered public image of activism Her interpretations allow for a nuanced consideration of Western interracial relations, the power of stereotypes, and the complexities of social mobility and repression. This model of analysis is, therefore, one which I will aim to integrate into my o wn examination s of Carter. extant primary documents as a result of person accounts of a western woman of color. 7 My analysis will build on the history of public identity in resurrecting the voice of one of its lost historical actor s, Jennie Carter but it was not necessarily limi ted to the radical type of gender performance utilized by Pleasant. presence in the west. While great variation between black women and communities exis ted within the West itself (and indeed fu r ther interregional comparative studies are needed) the differences between black women living in different parts of the country also offer a useful opportunity to flesh out 5 Zoe A. Colley, "From Mammy to Schoolmarm: Challe ngi ng Images of Women as Civil Rights Activists in Nineteenth Century America," Gender & History 18, no. 2 (2006): 417. 6 Ibid., 419. 7 Much of what is known about Pleasant today comes to us from contemporary press depictions and the questionable 1953 biograp hy, Mammy Pleasant by Helen O'Donnell Holdredge. For the most recent scholarship on Mary Ellen Pleasant, see Lynn M. Hudson, The Making of "Mammy Pleasant": A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth Century San Francisco (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2 003).


Attia 9 the experiences of American middle class black activists in a manner that the works of Hudson and Piepmeier have rarely even gestured towards investigating Unlike existing literature on the subject, t his essay will read the works of monolithic mid Atlantic black activists like Frances Harper against this newly discovered Western counterpart in an attempt to test the powerful image s of nineteenth By conducting a careful content analysis of Jennie and published from 1867 to 1873, I intend to illustrate the provisions under which black women in the West were able to construct a socially sanctioned public voice and image, and how these terms were shaped by the transcontinental discourse on respectable African American womanh ood. T he trope s that reveal themselves as alternative s to the larger than life and caricature and closely resemble the images of the respectable black woman established by the literary traditions of mid Atlantic activists Several necessary admissions must be established at the o utset of this study. Firstly one must concede the limits of taking Carter as a representative author in the tradition of female writin gs of the Western black press. T he ve ry dearth of investigations into the literary traditions of female writers of color in this region dictate s that further work need s to be done to uncover the shrouded matrix of western writers in which Carter herself must be positioned The scarcity of his torical scholarship on Reconstruction era black activism in the West is only compounded by This study attempts to address this previously unexamined niche in order to reco nstruct a clearer image of the tactics employed in Chapter 2 Power and Tension: Connecting the Cult of True Womanhood and the Black Woman of Letters elucidate the discourse to


Attia 10 mid Atlantic blac k writers in the postbellum era through an illustration of the life, works, and reputations of Maria W. Stewart and Fra nces Harper In i llustrating the eastern image of black female respectability I will provide a launching point for an in depth comparison of eastern tactics of self Chapter 3 will illuminate the ways in which Carter utilized the tropes of the mid Atlantic respectability standard in order to legitimate he r femininity and tactfully advocate for political action and change through a public venue. Carter is most concerned in her columns with the issues of temperance, education, and mobilizing community action around local civil rights politics. She is able to address these issues publicly because she maintained an appearance of respectability in her discussions by grounding certain political causes in a discourse about natural, womanly proclivities. In Chapter 4, I will conclude with a discussion of how Car were not vastly different from the standards established by mid Atlantic literary traditions I will also meditate on the implications of such an assertion and suggest areas for future research Carter kept her July 4 th promise to write and speak continually to advocate for the racial de plume promised, more from her or commenting on the absence of a regular column. Carter never failed to assert the efficacy of injecting her voice into the black press and the discourse on racial uplift. was, a la dylike employment -far better than small gossip 8 We can begin to work in the broader context s of eastern Reconstruction era activism. 8 Jennie Carter, Letter from Nevada Coun ty Mud Hill, May 3, 1868 Elevator, May 15, 1868: 2, i n Gardner, 33.


Attia 11 C HAPTER 2 P OWER AND T ENSION : C ONNECTIONS B ETWEEN T HE C ULT OF T RUE W OMANHOOD AND THE B LACK W OMAN OF L ETTERS The legacy of African American women writers and activists of the nineteenth century North and South is structured around a dominant discourse of female respectability. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his Forward to Iola Leroy makes the claim that because the "progenitors" of the black literary tradition were women, "all subsequent black writers have evolved in a matrilinear line of descent, and that each, consciously or unconsciously, has extended and revised a canon whose foundation was the poetry of a black woman." 9 More importantly perhaps, is the fact that the black women who founded this literary tradition were also activist s for racial uplift, and their activism was derived from, and conditioned by, the tenants of the cult of True Womanhood established during the antebellum period and onward. While True Womanhood offered many opportunities for black women to redefine themsel ves after slavery, it also established a number of constraints that they were forced to act within and resist. Jennie Carter, as we shall see, broke free of some of these more constricting rhetori cal traditions. An understanding of t he constraints of res pectability (as defined by the cult of True Womanhood ) will be crucial to make sense of self representations and those of her eastern contemporaries. cussed the ideal image of the nineteenth century through the concept of a pervasive cult of True Womanhood True Womanhood was defined by what Barbara Welter called the four cardinal virtues piety, 9 Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In Her Own Write Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).


Attia 12 10 While not all women living in the nineteenth century actually adhered to these ideals, they were, for all intents and purposes, culturally recognized and shared characteristics for the ideal woman. All of these traits were, moreover, explicitly attribut ed to white women. W omanhood was synonymous with whiteness by the 1820s when the conditions of a fully entrenched slave economy positioned the white mistresses of the slave plantation at one end of the spectrum of respectability and relegated enslaved b lack women to the other (thereby defining whiteness as that which was not black, and vice versa) As Hazel Carby argues in Reconstructing Womanhood slave narratives and the works of free black women in the Incide nts in the Life of a Slave Girl and Harriet Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black sought to overturn and reconfigure the stereotypical images of blac k women as either hypersexual jezebels, ignorant mammies, or emascula ting matriarchs in the realm of respectable spiritual ity, domesticity, and submission that popular opinion attributed only to white women Carby persuasively argues that t he genre of the novel w as an ideally suited medium through which women could respond to, enter, and push against the prevailing 11 The cult of True Womanhood led black literary traditions throughout the nineteenth century the tenor of which can be traced from the works of Maria W. Stewart, the first recorded woman of an y race to lecture on political and theologica l subjects in public, onward to the works 10 Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood : 1820 1860," American Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1966): 152 11 Hazel V. Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro American Woman Novelist ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1987 ). For a succinct review of the common stereotypes of nineteenth century black women, see also: Marilyn Yarbrough and Crystal Bennett, : the Peculia r Treatment of African American Women in the Myth of Women as Liars Journal of Gender, Race and Justice (Spring 2000): 626 657.


Attia 13 of Frances Harper and, eventually, to our primary subject of study, Jennie Carter. The dominant representations of activist black womanhood employed by these women are : the maternalistic educator of the rac e, the intellectual woman of letters and the light skinned black woman T hese images encompass intermingling concerns about the place of female voice, action, and image, all of which are only further complicated by the aforementioned nineteenth century construct The cult of True Womanhood create d the boundaries wherein respectability for black women was defined. B lack activist women of the mid Atlantic borrowed from the cult of True Womanhood bending the model of white femin in ity to meet their own needs. They borrowed from, played against, and played to aspects of the cult to their advantage, but its tenants also constrained what they could say and do as activists and respectable women In the same motion that the cult of True Womanhood allowed black women to be public speakers and authors, it kept them restrained to the particular genres of their white literary exemplars primarily poets and writers of romantic fiction It also constrained them to a very specific activist discourse, which emphasized the cultura l politics of African American soc ial roles but barred them from legislative political activism around issues like suffrage. T EACHER OR P ROPHET ? : A NTEBELLUM P RESSURES ON THE A CTIVIST B LACK W OMAN The works of Maria W. Stewart, the first known woman of any race to lecture publi cally, deftl y illustrate some of the earliest rhetorical approaches of black female activism at the time of its recordable inception. Stewart was born Maria Miller in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. Orphaned as a young child and then taken in by members of the clergy, Maria worked much of her early life as a domestic servant and married James W. Stewart in Boston, Massachusetts in


Attia 14 1826. d, and presented in Boston and the Liberator from 1831 33, predate d the likes of such monolithic figures as Frances Harper, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass. 12 evolution of her views on appropriate fe male spheres of action were deeply informed by her religious beliefs. 13 them, reveal the tensions circulating between the ideal of True Womanhood as a tool for uplifting black women an d the then problematic visions of intellectual power and religious mission that Stewart developed in her readings of the Bible and historical/philosophical texts. The latter influences necessitated the conflicting shift from her original "ideal of black w 14 in what Richardson characterizes as an evolution from the acceptable voice of the woman as "teacher" to the radical "prophet" role of a woman driven to publically preach a 15 c entury rhetorical attachments to (and implications of) the white standards of True Womanhood and the nascent development of identity. Examining how women such as Stewart chose to navigate between these conflicting identities in the antebellum period will help inform my later inquiries into Reconstruction era activist identity in the black press by providing a point of comparison. Ultimately, Stewart retreated from her daring spiritually driven arguments for racial uplift and returned to the conservative acceptable tradition this time quite literally. Following her years of speaking and publishing in Boston, Stewart moved to New York and cultivate d a career as a 12 Maria W. Stewart, America's First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987 ), 4 5. 13 Maria W. Stewart xiv. 14 Maria W. Stewart 25. 15 Ibid., 26 27.


Attia 15 teacher at an all black school I will return later to the centrality of the image of the black woman as educator and the ways in which the limitations of this trope are indebted to the cult of True Womanhood L IMITATIONS ON THE E ASTERN B LACK W OMAN OF L ETTERS Frances Smith Foster asserted works, A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader that by 1867 Frances "Harper was the leading African Ameri can writer and a social activist of international stature." 16 Thus, as a recognized and lauded contemporary of Jennie Carter, Harper and her written works k of black female jour nalists. Harper was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1825, to free black parents. Her family had far free black community and middle class, so when she (like Maria Stewart) became an orphan at an early age she was able to maint ain this connection to the upwardly mobile black society of the mid raised by an aunt and an uncle, Henrietta and William Watkins. 17 to Ohio in 1851 to become an instructor of domestic service at a black school. Her later moves to New York and Philadelphia would lead Harper back to her true passion writing and speaking for the cause of racial uplift and by the end of the American Civil War she became well known as a suffragist, prohibitionist, poet, and orator. 18 Harper's letters, in particular those written during her tour of the South from 1867 to 16 Frances Smith Foster, A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader (New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1990), 122. 17 The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 113, no. 1 (Jan., 1989): 22. 18 I bid., 23.


Attia 16 1871, illustrate d her engagement with writing and public speaking as form s of activism perfectly situated for the needs of the Reconstruction era. She wrote for instance: "You may judge of my work when I tell that in two weeks I have spoken twelve times. Thank God! The work goes bravely on. Freedom of speech, which has been an outlaw in the South, has found a welcome a 19 By relating the conditions of the Reconstruction south (such as lynching and the intimidation of black male vote rs at the polls) to newly freed African Americans Ha rper expressed medium for social and political change. Before Reconstruction, it was almost unheard of that en themselves as an a ppropriately womanly activity. 20 Harper even remarked in one letter that the mixed race audience s at her lectures were regularly incredulous at the power of her speeches they declared that she must be a crossed dressed man or a perhaps not only upheld the newly won rights of southern black men, but also reveal ed an investment in improving the lives of black women and asserting the propriety of their r ole in uplifting the race through education and intellectualism. Her short fictional a young woman determined to improve racial identity and aspirations through the creative voice of a poet. Educated and active daughters not merely sons, were recognized as the future of the black community for Harper. In this configuration, the figure of the matern al teacher and the public woman of letters were reconciled and synthesized into a cohesive ideal kind of female activist. 19 A Brighter Coming Day 125. 20 Even Maria Stewart, who took on a similar role as early as the 1830s, did not necessarily advocate it as a womanly endeavor and grappled with the implications of her own activities as a black woman and a religious/politica l speaker.


Attia 17 Moreover, Harper made it a point to hold private lectures for women in the towns she traveled to (those women that wou ld agree to come) and emphasized in her letters that she never charged them for her time or accepted d onations from them. She bemoaned 21 Harper had a clear investment in building the intellectual and communal strengths of southern women Harper serves as an example of thi s particular model of intertwining Reconstruction era black female respectability, intellectualism, and activist responsibility. In addition to her lectures, was as an important milestone in the black literary tradition of the nineteenth century. Iola Leroy; or Shadows Uplifted popularity of "post writers of the New South" and the romantic Plantation School" o f fiction. 22 African Americans "had been urgently calling for novels that would refute these insidious stereotypes" of the "comic" Jim Crow and minstrel caricatures. Black literary works "directly contradicted those ideas" but the black authored essays an d autobiographies "did not necessarily teach the same readers on the same level as did the fiction of the Plantation School. To fight fire with fire, the call was not just for more facts but for writers who could shape those facts in ways that would appea l to the aesthetics of the late nineteenth century." 23 Harper appropriated the romanticism and sentimentalism of the popular plantation tradition in order to reconfigure, in a way most appealing and accessible to contemporary audiences, the dominant images of black men and women portrayed in New South literature. The necessity for this type of appropriation reflects the The need to discuss certain issues circulating in mi d Atlantic discourse limited the ways in which 21 Harper, "A Room to Myself Is a Luxury [Rural Alabama 1871(?)] Foster, 134. 22 Foste A Brighter Coming Day xxx. 23 Ibid., xxxi.


Attia 18 Harper was able to represent an acceptable female activist and elite social status had to be maintained through her work. was an idyl lically light skinned former slave, 24 army. 25 The virtual whiteness of Iola Leroy made see the refinement and beauty she possessed." They wonder ed "Could it be possible that this young and beautiful girl had been a chattel, with no power to protect herself from the highest i 26 Clearly, Harper was suggesting that thi s brutality against womanhood was named as such only because Iola was light skinned. Iola bore another cultural signifier of legi timated, genteel womanhood that is recognized "her han's look ez ef she neber did a day's work in her life." 27 Tom Anderson ensured the safety of Iola, by effectively facilitating her escape from her Master in an act that who was worthy of and indeed had to be defe nded by a benevolent patriarch. This was a truth that contemporary audiences would by and large associate with the so called necessary protection of white wo men from fr eed black men Harper underscored the hypocrisy of such a configuration by putting a black woman endangered by a white man into the foreground But despite still needing saving, Iola was 24 Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 ), 38 25 Ibid., 39. 26 Ibid., 38 39. 27 Ibid., 41.


Attia 19 willful, autonomous woman who is especially adept at deferring unwanted sexual advances 28 Creating the nearly white slave woman offered an identifiable model of womanhood for contemporary audiences to conceptualize the postbellum African American woman in society at large. Harper aff irmed True Womanhood through several points in her characterization: she was able to pass as a respectable southern white woman, she was worthy of defense and protection by white and black men alike, and she was worthy of marriage. She was describ ed as only by the strong arm of [Dr. 29 Harper located savior in a paternalistic influence, a tendency which was in keeping wit h contemporary ideas of the civil couverture ; Iola is saved first by a paternal istic government and then through a paternalistic romance with a doctor. Moreover, Harper informed her readers that Dr. Gresham told Iola that he had "loved you ever since I have seen your devotion to our poor, sick boys." 30 in ca ring for (white) men a trait which legitimized her womanliness. In these ways, Harper appealed to her desired white audience by constructing the re spectable black activist as one who fights also for whites, not merely alongside them. Harper was clearly not unaffected by the biological and socia l ideals of womanhood in the nineteenth century The light skinned Iola was deliberately fashioned after white womanhood in Harper's att empt to counter the debasement and denial of black women he contemporary way to do this in the tradition of the plantation school was to hearken to the virtuous features and qualit ies of the southern white woman as they are outline in the cult of True Womanhood It may be asking too much of Harper for modern criticism to underscore the very 28 Harper, Iola Leroy 41 42. 29 Ibid., 59. 30 Ibid., 60.


Attia 20 conflicting nature of upholding an image of whiteness as womanhood, but given the rhetorical st rategies available to her it was not an unusual or entirely ineffective approach And yet Jennie Carter, as I will illustrate in the next chapter, never portrayed a black woman's worth in ass ociation with her skin tone. These limitations of the cult of True Womanhood affected Harper becau se she was writing in the east and as a light skinned black woman herself she needed to upho ld certain tro class society. Carter, as we shall see, was still constrained by the transcontinental respectability discourse but in necessarily different ways because of the demographics of the Western black communities to whom she was speaking. U NDERSTANDING E ASTERN R ESPECTABILITY Pauline E. Hopkin's preface to her 1900 novel, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South articulated her stance on the value of fiction for the black community. Hopkins, born in Maine in 1859, wrote for the literary journal, Colored American Magazine and lived most of her life in the Cambridge area of Massachusetts. 31 Hopkins expressed sentiments similar to those of Harper a deca de or more before her, and articulated a comparable motivation for writing in response to contemporary plantation fiction : Fiction is of great value to any people as a preserver of manners and customs -religious, political and social. It is a record of growth and development from generation to generation. No one will do this for us; we must ourselves develop the men and women who will faithfully portray the inmost thoughts and feelings of the Negro with all the fire and romance which lie 31 Ira Dworkin, (1859 1930) The Pauline Hopkins Society


Attia 21 dormant in our history and, as yet, unrecognized by writers of the Anglo Saxon race. [emphasis original] 32 period and evolved through Reconstruction, but the desire to develop t he woman of letters as a community activist was constrained in the east by an adherence to the cult of True Womanhood that define d postbellum black respectability to of the century Afro their own moral condition [shaped by their failure to adhere to a model of True Womanhood that with the past." 33 Having analyzed the major concerns and rhetorical approaches of Harper and other prominent Nor thern respectable black women, it becomes appar ent that the standard s of respectable black activism and the conditions upon which black women's voices were allowed into the public sphere were expressed by the following tropes on the east coast : woman, the teacher, and the activist woma n of letters. In order to represent an accessible black womanhood to broader late century audiences, writers like Harper spun depictions of women that sought to close the divide between population imaginary perceptions of white and black 32 Pauline E. Hopkins, Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 13 14. 33 "primari ly in her near white app earance." See Richard Yarborou gh, "Introduction," in Contending Forces xxxii xxxiv.


Attia 22 of the century was constructed to publically stake 34 constructed wi th this goal of reconfiguring the public image of black womanhood in mind, and of fixing an appropriate sphere wherein the voice of such women could be heard by white audiences. T he next task at hand is to explore the ways in which Carter both conforms to and resists the standard repr esentations of black activist women portrayed by mid Atlantic authors Jennie Carter took seriously the imperative expressed by Hopkins and others, that black women must write their own history and experiences specifically because the social and demographic conditions of the West allow ed her to enter an activist public discourse through the distinct medium of the Pacific black press. 34 "In 1890 [Harper] had been publicly designated as one of "The Women of Our Race Worthy of Imitation." See Introduction, in Iola Leroy xxx


Attia 23 C HAPTER 3 M OVING W EST : C ARTER S N ARRATIVES A ND B LACK F EMALE A CTIVISM IN C ALIFORNIA I will return now to the primary figure of my study, Jennie Carter, in part by historically situating her among the black communities of nineteenth century California and the tradition s of the Pacific black press. Carter borrowed the popular tropes of her eastern contemporaries and the cult of True Womanhood that best served to legitimate her public voice as both an activist and a black woman. Conditions in the West allowed for her to break out of some of the more restrictive eas tern traditions of black respectability, such as the reliance on rhetoric about light skin, desexualization, and overall rebuttals to plantation writing Instead, Carter was able to extend her use of the respectability discourse to discuss temperance and to mobilize community activism around local politics. In other respects, Carter replicated the eastern tropes of black respectability that were most reliant on the cult of white True Womanhood namely, the ideals of domesticity articulated in the figure of the maternalistic schoolmarm. B LACK W OMEN L IVED IN THE E ARLY W EST ? : A D EMOGRAPHIC P RIMER Black women comprised less than one percent of all females living in the Pacific states until 1920, but in California in particular, their demographics lent themselv es to the creation of a distinct geographical locus of elite, black middle class womanhood. 35 A majority of the black population in the California Bay Area by 1860 were eastern transplants. In San Francisco, forty one percent of the black population was o riginally from the northern and mid Atlantic states, 35 Lawrence B. de Graaf, Pacific Historical Review 49, no. 2 (May, 1980): 286.


Attia 24 compared to the 37% who were former Southerners. 36 Lawr C ensus records revealed that black women living in California in the latter half of the century were more likely to b e older, have few children, live in cities, and be literate. According to Willi ee of literacy produced cultural tastes, social life, and a concern for education that collectively gave a majority of blacks in cities like San Francisco a middle 37 These demographic characteristics notably distinguished black f emale populations of the West with of the nineteenth century. 38 The pr esence of black middle class women in the west would have a great influence on the and supported by the voices of the Pacific black press. "The earliest si gnificant protests of black addressing issues like restricted or denied access to ride on streetcars and the right for blacks to testify in court against whit es. 39 A ctivist writing in the black press would come to parallel the 36 Willi Coleman, Seeking El Do rado: African Americans in California ed. Lawrence B. de Graaf, Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Taylor (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 101. 37 Ibid., 102. 38 Glenda Riley, The Magazine of Western History 38, no. 2 (Spring, 1988): 18. See also: Ralph Mann, "Peace Without Prosperity, 1865 1863 Shared Values: Family Life and the Foreign Born in After the Gold Rush: Society in Grass Valley and N evada City, California 1849 1 870 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982), 107. Mann notes that "t he census takers of 1860 proved reluctant to label a woman occupation ally unless she lived alone or was the sole supporter of her family, and unless the occupation was so cially accept 39 D e Graaf, 292


Attia 25 motivations of the law suits of the 1860s, as men and women negotiated the efficacy of effecting legal and social change through voice and through action. T HE B LACK P RESS : S PECIALLY S UI TED FOR W ESTERN B LACK A CTIVISM The high degree of literate middle class black communities in California can help explain the spirit of activism and intellectualism foun d in the institution of African American newspapers periodical, the Mirror of the Times The Mirror paper in a statement that would come t o embody the tradition of Pacific black newspapers throughout the rest of the century: "Our sole objective is, to present our grievances to the people at large in our own way." 40 The paper was aimed at both a black and white readership and o ften featured ed itorial calls to action directed at the local public. Publication of the Mirror ended in 1858. After a short gap without a black newspaper to serve the Pacific coast communities, two of the seminal California African American newspapers emerged, providin 41 These were the Pacific Appeal and the Elevator founded in 1862 and 1865 respectively. The Pacific Appeal began its publication on April 5, 1862, under the auspices of proprietor Peter Anderson and editor Philip A. Bell. The Pacific Appeal devoted much of its pages to a "campaign against California's Testimony and Witness Laws." The Appeal was even the home of the "first black woman reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area," J. Stella Martin. But by 40 California History 60, no. 4 (Winter, 1981/1982): 306. 41 Ibid., 308.


Attia 26 1867, Anderson abandoned his crusade for black suffrage in California, and the paper reflected 42 In 1862, Philip A. Bell had left the Pacific Appeal due to his political disagreements with Anderson and three years later, in April of 1865, he established The Elevator. Bell "was considered a 'militant' for his time" and the paper was meant to reflect his breed of activist fervor. 43 The fi rst issue explained the name, the Elevator wish to elevate the oppressed of all nations and of every clime to the position of manhood and freedom." 44 It is in this publication in 1867 that Jennie Carter would submit her first column and ask that her voice be disseminated to the African American children of California. The Elevator was the only black newspaper in San Francisco between 1882 (when the Pacific Appeal ceased publication) and 1884 (when James E. Brown found ed the Vindicator ). William Snorgrass makes the claim that "to this point [in the late 1800s] all black newspaper editors and publishers agreed that it would be through politics and protest that black s would receive some relief from their racial, economic and educational problems." 45 One may deduce that the writers and contributors to these publications would share this sentiment. If we very political act of writing in such a paper, revealing perhaps one deliberate rhetorical method used to navigate the public act of writing with the expectations for respectable, non political womanhood. 46 42 Snorgrass, 43 Ibid. 44 311. 45 Ibid., 312. 46 This claim is supported by the fact that The San Francisco Sentinel established in 1890, expressly politics as a means to the end of discrimination and p rejudice." See Snorgrass, 312.


Attia 27 Because Carter lived in a region of increased black literacy, it was appropriate that she was using her pen to reach black women and others about the imperatives for black communities in the post Civil War period. The circumstances that allowed Carter to do this are worth considering in contrast with, for instance, Frances Harper's speaking tours of the South. Because Harper was targeting a more illiterate population, lecturing was the mode best suited to reach her Southern Reconstruction era audience. This suggests one way in which the acceptability of ering public discourse differed as a result of the conditions in the North, South, and West. C ONSTRUCTING THE P UBLIC F ACE OF R ESPECTABLE B LACKNESS Saxon; our young women have all refinement of those around them, and the dear children every encouragement to study... We are on the eve of a glorious morning. May we awake every man adorned with true manliness 47 With thi s statement, Carter encapsulated t he relevance of publi c self representation to the task of racial uplift in the West. The origins of the importance and utilization of self representation in the west can be found in the example of Mary Ellen Pleasant, a wealthy San Francisco boardinghouse owner and civil righ ts activist, whose of 1800s California that could easily incite white retaliation against a black woman engaging in the dominantly white, public enterprise of bu siness and the radical path of political activism. Like Pleasant before her, Carter manipulated the popular archetypes of respectable nineteenth century womanhood to create a public image for herself that cautiously toed the line between 47 Letter from Ne vada County, Mud Hill, August 4 th Elevator August 16, 1867: 3, i n Gardner, 4.


Attia 28 public and privat e action. An analysis of Carter's contributions to the Elevator read against the established Eastern constructs, can reveal the p rimary mode s of constructing respectability and cr eating a public self available to nineteenth century black women The rhet orical tropes that Carter most heavily relied on are those of the temperance activist, the teacher, and the activist woman of lette rs An examination of these archetypes can reveal efficacy of voice versus action in enacting the w ork of a respectable woman. T EMPERANCE A CTIVISM : P REVENTING THE W HITE M AN S P OISON FROM P REVENTING B LACK U PLIFT One mode of examining respectability, and its relationship to Eastern black icons and representations of herself as a temperance activis t. In one of the sole investigations into African American relationships to the temperance in Nineteenth Century Am 48 century America led to the formulation of slavery as 49 Increasin gly, Herd claims, organization 50 In the antebellum period, Herd notes that in the free black population evidenced by th e formation of successful mid Atlantic organization s like the Colored American Temperance society in 1830s 48 Denise Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History ed. Susanna Barrows and Robin Room (Berkley: University of California Press, 1991), 354 49 Ibid., 358. 50 Ibid., 359.


Attia 29 Philadelphia. 51 Temperance in turn, became connected to the cause of abolition and the more that the movemen help and moral responsibility offered free blacks emperance activity was thus deemed important for gaining 52 While the popularity of these argumen ts died down as the turn of the twentieth century approached, they were actively employed by black activist s during the antebellum period and into the Reconstruction era particularly by women like Jennie Carter. Carter upholds th e value of sobriety for Af rican Americans as a way of positively distinguishing the black community from the dominant community of white men. Associating whites with foolish drunkenness, and blacks with sobriety and wit, was one means of championing a public image of a morally and intellectually competent (if not superior) black identity. As I will argue, this was made all the more commanding by the gendered perspective of Carter commits an entire column to the story of she and the specifically white town drunkards that they encounter on their way. "We found our way impeded by two of Erin's sons, with outstretched arms and reeling forms, declaring we should not pass, as no 'nagur' or Chi naman should pass them." And so, she addresses them: "Gentlemen, Fenians, illustrious sons of the dominant race of Anglo Saxons, bold advocates of a white man's Government, supporters of Andy Johnson will you tell me if a herring and a half cost a penny a nd a half, how much will eleven pence buy?" Mrs. Carter and her husband pass as the men discuss the "difficult problem." They return later in the day to find the men having figured out that "it was easy enough to see that eleven pence would buy five herr ing and a half, 51 Ibid., 360. 52 Ibid., 363.


Attia 30 and did not I know it? I told him no, but I would accept his solution, as he belonged to the ruling race, and home we went." 53 The blindly prejudiced white men are ridiculous drunks to be Anoth aged by hardship, plainly and modestly dressed "She was a little body, so slight and frail looking, I wondered if she was not afraid of 'being frown, but always the same sad expression and still, quiet way." 54 One day Aunt Sybel scares 55 What pronouncements and queer behavior. The embodiment of the female, in this case Aunt Sybel, is used to represent womanly virtue corrupted by the excesses and violen ce of male a lcoholism. Earlier in life, Carter discovers Sybel, all expected monikers for framing an ideal femininity as docile, melodious, and intrinsically be autiful. The signs of her insanity and ruin, caused be the abuse of her perpetually drunk husband, become literally marked on her body: she is rendered frail, aged, penitent, and plain in her Quaker dress, adopted after being released from the "Lunatic As expressionlessness, too, denoted a corruption of womanliness, which would normally be marked by the kind of unrestrained emotional display that made women out to be masters of the domestic sphere. 56 This cautionary tale against drinking tar gets both males 53 Letter from Nevada County Elevator February 28, 1868: 2, in Gardner, 2 5. 54 Elevator, March, 5, 1869: 2, in Gardner 60. 55 Ibid., in Gardner, 61. 56 Ibid., in Gardner, 62.


Attia 31 and female readers, for whom the mentally and ph ysically disfigured Sybel served as a symbol of the degradation of both womanhood and blackness. female sen sibility, or victimhood, in the matter. One anecdote in particular also brought in the question of place and region as a contributing factor to the advancement of black communities. Carter relates an incident in which she overheard a young girl speak of how she will never let her mother. Carter then learned from a friend that: the parents of this girl came to California from Connecticut, seven years ago, both endowed with superior mental and physical constitutions, with high hopes and considerable money. They commenced a life of pleasure, business prospered, and both being very social they soon had a host of friends around them social parties with wine in abundance was before them, and it was not long before champa gne suppers began to 57 Here we have a vision of California as a place with much to offer middle class black families in the way financial success, but much also to destroy that success in the specter of drinking and leisure culture. What does this imply Carter thought about the conditions in Connecticut where the family was originally from? Did the North not also have this problem (it did), or did it not also have the opportunities for advancement that California offered (which opened black entrepreneurs up to a greater risk of failure ?) "suffrage and temperance were important issues to a few individual black women but they did not command the attention that racial rights or social uplift did." 58 Why, then, was temperance important for 57 Elevator, April 30, 1869: 2, in Gardner, 68. 58


Attia 32 Carter ? This investment distinguished her among her western contemporaries and put her in a similar camp as that of Harper and the mid Atlantic activists. For Carter "racial rights" and "social uplift" were directly tied to the issue of temperance because of how sobriety could be used to frame the value of the black community against white incompetency and injustices. 59 E DUCATION AS THE K EY TO R ACIAL U PLIFT : B LACK W OMEN S E ARLY A CTIVISM IN C ALIFORNIA image of respectability as educators of children and professional teachers. The public face of the education. This task was not as formidable in the West as in the South, for western black women had a markedly higher rate of literacy than did those in ot black women in the West were classified" as illiterate in the 1860 census elsewhere in nation illiteracy was the norm. 60 Campaigns for educational reform and access to public schools were, therefore, a central concern for these literate, middle class black women. In the early 1850s, there were no state laws dictating the source of public school funding or white schools. The campaig n for access to public schools in California was initiated in 1854 with the establishment of the first African American schools in the state in San Francisco and ty. 59 Ibid ., 309. De Graaf notes, m oreover, that "p rohibition sentiment was strongest in rural areas of the West, where few black women lived. Most large cities were 'wet' strongholds, and black areas were close to establishm ents that depended on liquor." 60 Ib


Attia 33 women formed committees to raise additional money. 61 But the legal gesture toward the public funding of black schools by no means solved the issue of access. The development of public school campaigns was well documented and buttressed by the black newspapers circulating in the 1860s. Women remained ardent players in the fight for black school children to receive the educational resources afforded to white stu dents and, as we can see from Carter, they believed in the power of their voices to effect change. In her July 1868 column, Carter used the occasion of Independence Day to counter one such inequity in the school system. She wrote in protest against the c ity decree that, How long, O lord! How long must be tamely submit to all this injustice? Must our children grow up in ignorance, to make true their estimate of inferiority?... If I were a man, I would battle until death; but as I am merely Mrs. Trask, I will have to keep in my place. They 62 Coleman also notes that "the San Francisc o Elevator charged in 1874 that black schools received only two thirds of the per student appropriation that white schools obtained and that in twenty counties funds designated for colored schools had been diverted to whites." 63 The legal segregation of Ca 64 Not only were black women in California activists for educational reform, but many in their ranks of the middl e class were also professional teachers. De Graaf notes that "teachers 61 110. 62 Carter, "Letter to Mr. Trask Elevator July 10, 1868: 1, i n Gardner, 40. For more Letter to Mr. Trask, San Francisco, Elevator July 31, 1868: 1, in Gardner, 41 63 64


Attia 34 comprised the elite of black working women, but their numbers were small in comparison to the total number employed outside the home." 65 Working outside the home was, for most black wom en, a necessity despite their adherence to a Victorian ideal that exalted women's domestic role. The teacher, though, was situated in the ideal space to inhabit both the worlds of respectability (domesticity) and of necessity ( paid labor ). Other types of employment available to black women included domestic service, seamstressing, cooking, hotel or boardinghouse keeping, 66 restaurant management and real estate brokering. 67 teachers" succeeded far more than "other achievement or iented black women" who "struggled to become nurses, doctors, journalists, and editors." 68 Carter, who claimed both the image of a middle class women. 69 Given t he social capital awarded to the elite class of black female teachers, it is not surprising imparting and receiving education (her own especially). There existed, moreover, a decidedly moral imperative to be an educated member of the black community. In one early column, Carter related that that it [my education] would be defective no doubt caused my mother to utter when dying, Work unfinished. tration of the incongruence 65 66 Mary Ellen Pleasant famous boardingho use keeper. 67 The most famous real estate broker may have been Biddy Mason. Riley claims that "because of her charitable work she was called 'Grandmother' Mason, a point which gestures to the cultural capital of the maternal black 68 69 y the African American press in the West perpetuated an idealized version of women's place in society. In a style that was 'stuffy, moralistic, and Victorian,' female existence was tied Elevator as one publication in particular that was known for its relative liberalism. See Coleman, African American Women and Community Development 116 117.


Attia 35 between her young growing mind and body. Because she had read voraciously growing up, she my eighth year I was an invalid. My mind had out grown my body; then the opposite course was pursued, books kept away f rom 70 And yet, she remarked, "Oh, how necessary that woman should be educated." Not long after, Carter began to employ self representations of herself as a teacher to add to the strength and legitimacy of her narrative vo ice. In one column, she remarked that "concerts and for our children to excel in mathem atics, for there lays the foundation of every science." 71 G AINING P OWER T HROUGH W OMEN S I DEAL R OLE AS E DUCATOR S well. Education was the natural work of a good republ ican mother and so, the domestic work outside the home. Even domestic servants, and other women for whom jobs as teachers were out of reach, could arguably reemp hasize their respectability as women within the black community through their maternal association with the education of children. In one column from 18 68, Carter implored her female audience to exercise their voice and power as republican mothers because "whether it be sense or nonsense, truth or error, all you say is treasured, all be omen alone have learned the art of governing the affections, cultivating the intellect, developing the whole nature of the boy, the germ of t he man." 70 Letter from Nevada County, Elevator January, 24, 1868: 2, in Gardner 21. 71 Elevator, July 10, 1868: 1, in Gardner, 40.


Attia 36 In one of Christian Recorder under the pennam e Semper Fidelis, she reiterated this sentiment through the authoritative voice of an ld to me in childhood, I can 72 accustomed evening story, then, mothers, talk for eternity." 73 She wrote that "a mother's far than if she were lecturing on politics, or taking man's position in society." 74 Several issues later, a woman wrote in response to this column, writing that Carter had "crude and baby ideas of woman's dignified position," a claim which Carter counter ed with a tale from Roman history meant to display woman's role as educator is the foremost "woman's right." 75 This appeal to the virtue of motherhood was not a tactic unique to the Pacific West children, data which sheds some light on the social cache of the older black woman as a powerful narrative vo d in a domestic context and translate d this ideal to a valuable public voice through the pages of the Elevator allowing her to navigate a space that was at once public/pol itical and private/domestic. 72 Christ i an Recorder April 16, 1870, i n Gardner, 135. 73 Letter from Nevada County Elevator February 7, 1868: 2, in Gardner, 22. 74 Elevator, July 10, 1868:1, in Gardner, 40. 75 Elevator March 26 1869: 2, in Gardner, 63.


Attia 37 C OMMUNITY O RGANIZATION : C ONFLICT B ETWEEN A CTION AND V OICE Like her contemporaries in the mid Atlantic states Carter was often caught between the task of justifying the sociopolitical utility of her writing in community uplift and paying lip service to contemporary expectations of womanly behavior. One set of correspondences that played out over the Elevator pages was about "Mrs. Carter's Plan" to raise money for the paper from its women readers, a plan hatched in response to Thomas Myer[s] Decatur Ward. Carter asserted that this plan, the deta ils of which are now lost, may have "arguably led to the formation of a Sacramento based women's group devoted to raising money for the paper." A reply published in the Feb ruary 15, 1868 issue from "Mary," held these praises: "The communications of our ve nerable sister, 'Semper Fidelis,' are alone worth the price of a Indeed, this incident speaks to the potential reach and impact of Carter's columns and her calls to action. 76 women as an activist mouthpiece. She said of writing and the world of the activist woman of -far better than small gossip, or contending letters is open to women, and those that have leisure know not, until persuaded, the pleasure derived from good books as companions." 77 Carter also expressed the tension between gauging the usefulness of voice versus action. How was voice seen as an acti on (or not) that was appropriate for black women; if the voting booth was not a woman's place, what actions beyond the exercise of rhetoric, the oral traditions of teaching youth, or the persuasion of husbands were in women's power to exert? In one 76 Gardner, 25. See footnote 4. 77 Carter, Letter from Nevada County, Elevator May 15, 1868: 2 i n Gardner, 33.


Attia 38 column, Carter referenced a recent San Francisco earthquake to make her point. She used the image of the "shaking world" as a metaphor for civil rights "agitation." She writes, "Oh, if we only knew what weight we individually carry, it does seem to me we would strive to make a record that would tell future ages that we struggled in this 'shaking' that we were sincere. For words will not avail; It is acts." 78 She declared: enterprise by our people calls for unite d aid; and whether or not we each are assigned posts of honor, let us press on..." 79 While this suggest that singularity of purpose is importa nt, it raises an important question: if black women lack ed black men, what was the black woman's call to duty? Carter, after all reiterated the belief popular among Northern black activist communities that true black male suffrage and political rights had to be achieved before "'the women talk of their rights.'" 80 An d so, while Carter may have been willing to set the legal rights of women on the backburner, she was highly invested in the power of gendered activism. In response to the editor ucation question: "Mr. Editor, write, cease not, get the people in San Francisco to act, act as a unit. Organize!! Prese n t a united front to the enemy. Let all mankind know we are in earnest and are not to[o] lazy to progress." 81 Carter was willing to sp to the commu nity, but also the power of woma facilitating political action and change. Yet Carter often felt the need to cover her political discourse in the conventions of the time, dressing up her column in the trappings of respectability when she made potentially 78 Elevator, November 13 1868: 2, i n Gardner, 52 79 Ibid. 80 Elevator, November 5, 1869: 2, i n Gardner, 81. 81 Elevator May, 7, 1869: 2, in Gardner 70.


Attia 39 unwomanly political statements. After the defeat of her favorite candidate in a local election she wrote matter of e. Of course a woman is not supposed to know 82 Years later, she responded xenophobic polit ical platform and admitted Mr. Editor, -I thought not to use my pen politically again, but I cannot refrain just this once, and after I will try and hold my peace. 83 The statement she insisted on getting out, moreover, was surprisingly progressive for its t ime and place. She wrote: God will make plain our duty to them [Chinese immigrants] if we desire to do it, and I sincerely believe the same loving Father who has just brought us from oppressio n, now tries us by bringing us in contact with them; and how apparent the l to remember those in b Gardner claims that editor of the Elevator Bell had a much less liberal view, as xenophobia was not uncommon in the Pacific African American community 84 A letter written later that year reiterated this rhetorical re moval that Carter effected on her relationship to feel better for having had my say, and I only hope Gov. Booth will fail of election and Gorham will be elected, and the Chronicle will go on getting subscribers for their map, and let Sarge nt alone, and that the men elected this fall will be willing to grant equal school privileges to all 85 In summation, the trope of the maternalistic teacher or schoolmarm dominated not only eastern images of black middle class womanhood in activis t writings, but was in fact consistently 82 Sept. 6th Elevator, September 20, 1867: 3, in Gardner, 10. 83 Elevator, August 30, 1873: 2, in Gardner, 109. 84 Ibid., in Gardner, 110. This letter is signed Mrs. D.D. Carter. Carter seems not to have published her more blatantly political pieces under Semper Fidelis, but i nstead under and D.D.Carter (see also her August 30, 1867 column ). The narrative voice of Semper Fidelis appeared to have been reserved for the constructing the image of the Teacher and Storyteller, rather than the radically political woman. 85 Nevada City, Aug. 21, Elevator, September 6, 1873: 3, i n Gardner, 112. This letter is also signed Mrs. D. D. Carter.


Attia 40 referenced. Meanwhile, temperance to define respectable black womanhood and her work also re emphasized the imperative for the activist woman of letters to advance community uplift. While these findings inv mobility.


Attia 41 C HAPTER 4 C ONCLUSION Lawrence de Graaf in his study of African American women in the West, has made the unfortunate observation that, However distinguished black women may have become, they received virtually no [California] had entered several professions, participated in civic and wartime activities, and had established numerous social organizations, [the Who's Who among Women in California published in 1922] does not mention a single black wom an or group. 86 Inde ed, as early as Reconstruction, black female activists were speaking and writing not only for recognition in their community, but t o defend and legitimate the image of black womanhood and manhood to the nation at larg e It would be more than half a century more before the white public would begin to give credit to the accomplishments of these African American pioneers as but the history of their activism, creativity, and intellectual flourishing goes back much farther and exceeds many of the a rtificial geographic boundaries that are touted in the dominant narrative of post Civil war black history Although the tradition of representing respectability may have been less constrained in the West than i t was in the East, the conditions of Reconstruction America were still dominated by the force s of racism and oppression that prevented black women from being recognized for their activism (or, indeed, from living with any more freedoms than those allowed t o their eastern contemporaries). This essay has attempted to show how a sustained study of first person narratives, as well as comparative analyses of the experiences and modes of expression among black women, might expand historical understandings of gender, race, and place in the West. In the late nineteenth 86


Attia 42 century, r espectability discourse was transmitted throughout the social and physical landscapes of the expanding nation and it is important to remember that one way in which it traveled was through the voices of black women Hopefully I have expressed the utility of reconsidering the kind of narrative fiction that Carter wrote as a type of worth investigating. Tracking the movement of this ac tivist tradition from its inception in the east to its permutations in California allows us to problematize the history of gender in the West It provides moreover, a springboard from which to complicate claims that the sociopolitical and gender history of the west was substantially different, or exceptional, in how it shaped sexed and gendered relations. Rather, w hen it came to the p erformance of black identity, the transcontinental dimension of nineteenth century respectability discourse and the cult o f True Womanhood overrode the differences in the multicultural class history of the west It would seem as though the east coast standards of respectability were imported along with the middle class black families that headed out west. As Ca rter and her work illustrate s the most effective way for black women to engage in activism or achieve public power in the Reconstruction era West was through this respectability discourse, whose origins can be found in the literary traditions of the North and South The type of empowered black womanhood embodied by Mary Ellen Pleasant (and exposed by Lynn M. Hudson) with her highly public presence as a radical, high wage earning woman was actively being resisted by other activist, community minded women like Carter in much of the same way that eastern figures like Frances Harper pushed against portrayals of lower class blacks in the mid Atlantic states. Carter was willing to accept the constraints that the cult of True Womanhood imposed on her voice and public beha vior just as eastern women did.


Attia 43 Such a conclusion, however, only raises further questions Might the powerful relics of the cult of True Womanhood continue to inform sex and gender in the West despite racial and class differences? What were the experien ces of earlier eastern imports to California might their experiences articulate a different discourse of womanhood? Moreover, can we find examples of women of color activists who were indigenous, rather than transplants, to the Rocky Mountain and Pacific states? How did this familiar, imported discourse about public women of color fit into the array of raced and gendered experiences in the Pacific West? Explorations into the latter question are especially important to continue the work of historian Anton ia Casta eda and others in reframing how historians examine questions of race relations and mobility in America that is, to dismantle the binary portrayal of American racial histories as merely, or even primarily, between blacks and whites. 87 The West is a region especially ripe for illustrating the failings of this model. Jennie Carter is just one of many women, yet to be resurrecte d from the historical record whose cautiously formulated voice can expose the complex preconditions within which black women could enter the public sphere after the American Civil War. 87 The Pacific Historical Review 61, no. 4 (1992): 501 533


Attia 44 Bibliography Bacon, Margaret Hope llen Watkins Harper (1825 1911). The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 113, no. 1 (Jan., 1989): 21 43. Carby, Hazel V. Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro American Woman Novelist New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Carter, Jennie and Eric Gardner Jennie Carter: A Black Journalist of the Early West. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. Castaeda, Antonia I. "Women of Color and the Rewriting of Western History: The Discourse, Politics, and Decolonization of History." The Pacific Historical Review 61, no. 4, Western Women 's History Revisited (Nov., 1992): 501 533. Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California edited by Lawrence B. de Graaf, Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Ta ylor, 98 125. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001. Colley, Zoe A. "From Mammy to Schoolmarm: Challenging Images of Women as Civil Rights Activist s in Nineteenth Century America. Gender & History 18, no. 2 (2006): 417 420 De Graaf, Lawrence B. in the American West, 1850 1920. Pacific Historical Review 49, no. 2 (May, 1980): 285 313. Dworkin, Ira 1930) The Pauline Hopkins Society Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins. Iola Leroy, or, Shadows Uplifted New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins, and Frances Smith Foster. A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1990. Herd, Denise. n in Nineteenth n Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History edited by Susanna Barrows and Robin Room, 354 375. Berkley: Unive rsity of California Press, 1991. Hopkins, Pauline E. Contending Forces: A Romance Illustrative of Negro Life North and South New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Hudson, Lynn M. The Making of "Mammy Pleasant": A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth


Attia 45 Century San Francisco Urbana: Uni versity of Illinois Press, 2003 Mann, Ralph. "Peace Without Prosperity, 1865 1863 Shared Values: Family Life and the Foreign Born." In After the G old Rush: Society in Grass Valley and Nevada City, California 1849 1870 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982), 71 128. Piepmeier, Alison Century America Chapel Hill: The Universit y of North Carolina Press, 2004 Riley, Glenda ghters: Black Women in the West. The Magazine of Western History 38, no. 2 (Spring, 1988): 14 27. n Francisco Bay Area, 1856 1900. California History 60, no. 4 (Winter, 1981/1982): 306 317. Stewart, Maria W., and Marilyn Richardson. Maria W. Stewart, America's First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. W elter, Barbara "The Cu lt of True Womanhood : 1820 1860. American Quarterly 18, no. 2 (Summer 1966): 151 174 Yarbrough Marilyn and Crystal Bennett. African American Women in the Myth of Women as Liars Journal of Gender, R ace and Justice (Spring 2000): 626 657.

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