Archive for Monday, March 18, 2002

s history

March 18, 2002


Tales of heroic men and boys gunned down during William Quantrill's early morning raid of the city in 1863 are well-known in Lawrence.

Perhaps not as widely known are the stories of their stalwart wives, who in many cases diverted raiders from their husbands and children.

"If one was to do a statue in Lawrence relative to Quantrill's Raid, it would probably be best if it were a statue of a woman," said Steve Jansen, historian at Watkins Community Museum of History.

Before that fateful morning and ever since, women have played significant roles in Lawrence's history, blazing trails in the arenas of abolition, suffrage, labor, education and pay equity.

March, designated since 1987 as Women's History Month, is a time to reflect on the lives and accomplishments of the city's foremothers and examine how life for women has changed through the decades.

Early Law-rence women like dentist Lucy Hobbs Taylor, seamstress Mary Barnes, newspaper woman Annie Diggs, Kansas' first First Lady Sara Robinson and others helped lay the groundwork for the rights and privileges women enjoy today.

"It's important we continue to celebrate women's achievements and not take for granted the work women continue to contribute," said Kathy Rose-Mockry, director of the Emily Taylor Women's Resource Center at Kansas University.

Like pulling teeth

Historians struggle to track women through time  an endeavor that's muddled because women have traditionally changed their last names at marriage, Jansen said. But the museum maintains files on a few of Lawrence's more notable female personalities, and local historians continue to uncover tidbits about everyday sisters, mothers and wives.

Existing records document women like Mrs. Leo Gates, who, from the day in 1854 when immigrants first set up camp in Lawrence, saw a niche for herself as an entrepreneur. She pitched a tent near the south bank of the Kaw River and served meals to some 150 people daily, charging $2.50 a week.

Later, Barnes came to Lawrence and started a dressmaking shop on Massachusetts Street, where she stitched dresses and taught young women to do the same for a fee. It's said that prominent national suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony stayed at Barnes' shop during their 1867 visit to Lawrence to campaign on behalf of women's suffrage.

Diggs, a reformist who wrote a column for the Lawrence Daily Journal, joined the suffrage struggle in the 1880s. She was the first woman who registered to vote in Lawrence after municipal suffrage passed in 1887. Universal suffrage for Kansas women didn't come until 1912.

Robinson, who in 1857 penned "Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life," convinced many people to get involved in the free state struggle by documenting early pioneer life in the state, Jansen said.

Taylor and her husband brought their dental practice to Lawrence in 1867. Taylor, the first woman in the world to graduate from dental college, pulled teeth from an office at 809 Vt. She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

"Lawrence attracted a lot of people who were into the cutting-edge issues of the day," said local historian Katie Armitage, who's currently researching how the 85 women widowed in Quantrill's Raid put their lives back together. "It is sobering and helpful to our understanding of the past to look at the lives of women of the 19th century."

Off to work we go

Wartime changed the lives of women across the country. Lawrence was no exception.

"There were always women involved in providing a significant portion of income, sometimes the only income, for their families," Jansen said. "During the Civil War, a lot of women did that because their husbands were away at war."

Another thrust in the movement of Lawrence women from the home to the labor force occurred during World War II, when so many of them were needed to work at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in DeSoto, Jansen said.

When the war was over, many tried to reverse its effects.

"Nationally, you see attempts to put the genie back in the bottle," Jansen said. "It's not that there was a whole lot of active resistance, but once a person's been allowed to try an experience and have opportunities to succeed in areas they weren't traditionally allowed, it's very difficult to say, 'OK, we're going back to the way it used to be.'"

Room for improvement

Lawrence women associated with Kansas University have been instrumental in making sure that kind of regression doesn't take place.

In February 1972, a few days after feminist activist and writer Robin Morgan spoke at KU, about 30 university women calling themselves the February Sisters occupied a campus building and demanded changes in university policies. Their protest helped create an affirmative action office, a women's studies department, campus daycare, a health care program more sensitive to the needs of women, more administrative positions for women and greater pay equity between genders, said Ann Cudd, director of KU's women's studies program.

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the protest, but there's still room for improvement, she said.

Though the ratio of male-to-female earnings in 2000 was near its all-time high, women on average earn just 73 percent of what men with similar experience make, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The still-existing wage gap between men and women is an important thing to think about  what its causes are and what we can do to change it because it's a clear sign of injustice," said Cudd, who's also a philosophy professor.

In that discipline, which is traditionally dominated by males, Cudd has faced a few roadblocks.

"I've had an extraordinary amount of support from my colleagues because and when I was willing to study the philosophical topics that most interested them," she said. "When my philosophical interests have gone to feminism, I've had somewhat less support. I think that is kind of symptomatic of academia and maybe the work force in general. As long as women are willing to do what men do in the way that men do it, they'll be accepted. If they want to change the workplace or change the way the work is done, then that's when there's friction between the genders."

Still, Cudd said, it's encouraging to realize the privileges women of today enjoy because of the sacrifices their mothers and grandmothers made.

"I feel very grateful that I've been able to make a lot of choices about my family, about when I would have a family, about building a career," she said. "I know my mother had fewer choices. Though she ended up having a very successful career, she had to struggle a lot more for that than I ever did."

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