Women who Shaped History by Henrietta Buckmaster (must have been sometime in the 1920’s) This book contains profiles of six nineteenth-century women who pried open the door to male-dominated arenas, making access a little more possible for the women who followed. Dorothea Dix took on the plight of mentally ill women. She visited the institutions where these women were housed (some supported by Quakers) amassing data which led to her demands for states and finally the federal government to invest in decent hospitals to tend to the destitute mentally ill. In 1843, to her dismay, her old friend Franklin Pierce vetoed her bill. She went on to organize with Elizabeth Blackwell a medical system to treat soldiers during the Civil War.
Buckmaster recounts the story of Blackwell, whose struggle to become a doctor is a profile in courage. “A blank wall of social and professional antagonism faces a woman physician,” wrote Blackwell. That is putting it mildly. Prudence Crandall, born a Quaker, struggled to find a way to educate girls and then, against all odds, offered schooling to Black girls. She incurred the wrath of the town. Eggs were thrown against her windows at night for educating Black girls “above their station.”
Others discussed are Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Baker Eddy. Though these three are widely known today, reading about the obstacles that they overcame makes one acutely aware of the courage and ingenuity it took to realize their achievements. Consider Tubman’s harrowing times hiding in the attics of Quakers, or Stanton’s being excoriated in the press as a hen “that crowed like a rooster,” or Eddy’s homeless and destitute existence as she tried to garner support for her new religion.
This book came out in 1966, and undoubtedly reflected and supported second-wave feminism. Society was curious about what had led to that moment in history. Hearing these stories reminds us of how much courage goes into bringing about change and how much we owe to these determined women.