While you are exploring the Heritage Area this month, keep in mind that March is National Women’s History Month! Since 1980, March has been nationally designated as Women’s History Month to help honor and commemorate the place of women in our nation’s past. This year’s them, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives,” encourages us to weave women’s stories into the “fabric” of our nation’s history, or in our case, the “fabric” of Freedom’s Frontier.
Founded by a group of women who noticed the absence of women in our history, including textbooks, the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) began in 1980. The organization first and foremost set out to broadcast women’s historical achievements. After bringing their needs to Congress and the White House, the entire week of March 8th (International Women’s Day) was designated to commemorate women. In 1987, the entire month of March was declared National Women’s History Month. Today, they continue their work and provide information and training in women’s history for educators, community members and “anyone wanting to expand their understanding of women contributions to U.S. History.” Their mission, stated on their website, is “The National Women’s History Project recognizes and celebrates the diverse and historic accomplishments of women by providing informational services and educational and promotional materials.”
Located in Wyandotte County, KS, Quindaro holds a special importance for women. Settled after the Kansas/Nebraska Act by abolitionists and Wyandot Indians, the town was in a prime location for helping slaves in the area travel to freedom. Clarina Nichols, women’s rights advocate, also settled in Quindaro after her move from Vermont with the New England Emigrant Aid Society. She even served as associate editor for the abolitionist newspaper the Quindaro Chindowan.Nichols was a leader in the struggle for women’s rights, she spent time petitioning for participation at the Wyandotte Convention on behalf of the over forty individuals of the Moneka Woman’s Rights Association. She was granted a platform, and the final version of the Wyandotte Constitution included women’s rights in child custody, married women’s property rights, and equality in matters pertaining to public schools. Nichols communicated through letters with women’s rights activists in the north, and many of those letters can be found on the Kansas Historical Society website. In 1867, Clarina was joined in by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and many others to launch the campaign for women’s suffrage in Kansas.
It wasn’t until 1912 that Kansas gained equality at the polls, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the determination and dedication of women like Clarina. Today in Quindaro, you can visit the Old Quindaro Museum as well as the Quindaro Underground Railroad Museum, focusing on the Underground Railroad History of Quindaro.
Not only did Susan B. Anthony come to Kansas with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to fight the fight for women’s rights, she also had family ties to Leavenworth. Anthony’s brother, Daniel R. Anthony was an abolitionist who lived in Leavenworth, often communicating with Nichols about the antislavery movement as well as women’s rights. You can see a portrait of Susan B. Anthony as well as Daniel’s original writing desk in the preserved 19th century Carroll Mansion in Leavenworth. Need another reason to visit the Carroll Mansion? You can also see several original pieces owned by Fred Harvey, whose chain of restaurants on the Santa Fe Topeka rail line boasted all women waitresses, or “Harvey Girls.” Harvey Girls were known for their good looks and fine manners.
If you’re in Missouri, head into Vernon County and explore the Bushwhacker Museum in Nevada, MO. Their new, Freedom’s Frontier Interpretive Grant-funded exhibit “The Border War & Civil War” provides a new look at the story of the Border War, and looks at the experience of a civilian during that time. Supplemental interpretive panels look at individuals and their stories; including Sophy Halley, born to a slave woman in Vernon County and later targeted for being a Union sympathizer and Sarah Halley Badger a woman who traveled through war-torn Vernon County to Fort Scott to obtain supplies for her family. There is also a panel on the notorious Mayfield Sisters, members of a family of Bushwhackers in southern Vernon County who captured dozens of Union soldiers.
Finally, it would be hard to talk about “weaving women’s stories into the fabric” of our history without mentioning Marla Quilts, Inc. African American Quilt Textile Museum in Lawrence, KS. Marla is an artist and quilter whose works have been exhibited in venues all over the world. Her works are inspired by the oral histories of her ancestors and Kansas history. Her latest work is on Maria Rogers Martin, an enslaved woman from the Wayside Rest Plantation in Missouri. Maria was kidnapped by Union soldiers and brought to Lawrence, KS as contraband. You can contact Marla Jackson to set up an appointment to view her works.
Although women have contributed to our nation’s past, sometimes their story is not as visible. Wherever you travel in March, take a moment to look for the story of women “woven in the fabric” of our history.
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