December 10 – American Women for the Win!

Posted on December 10, 2015

On this date in 1830, “one of the most significant of all American poets,” Emily Dickinson, was born in Massachusetts. 

On this date in 1869, women were given the right to vote in the Wyoming Territory.

And on this date in 1931, Jane Addams became the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was quite shy, never married, and eventually became something of a recluse. You can probably guess that this meant that she wasn't much of a self-promoter. As a matter of fact, fewer than a dozen of her poems were published during her lifetime, but when she died her sister discovered a cache of 1,800 poems!

Even when the breadth of her work was finally known, most of the public and even publishers were unimpressed. Those who published her poetry in the late 1800s and early 1900s usually altered the poems quite a bit to fit the “rules” of the time.

It wasn't until the mid-1900s that her unaltered poetry was published, and the skepticism about the merit of Dickinson's work began to give way to praise.

What made Dickinson's poetry so unusual for her time? Many of her poems didn't have titles; they often contain short lines; they generally use slant rhyme (which is kind of a “near rhyme” instead of words ending with exactly the same sounds).

  • Here is an example of a Dickinson poem:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise - you know!

How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public - like a Frog -
To tell one’s name - the livelong June -
To an admiring Bog!

Women Voting in Wyoming!

Sometimes really wonderful things happen for less-than-wonderful reasons, and women winning the vote in the Wyoming territory (Wyoming was not yet a state) was probably one of those things. In the 1860s Wyoming was a large swath of rugged country that was little-known to the rest of the United States. It was fairly unpopulated, with only 6,000 adult males – and only 1,000 adult females! (I presume that Native Americans were not included in these counts.)

So Wyoming, by 1869, needed more publicity, more people, and particularly more women.

I gather some of the territorial legislators figured, what could be a better way to attract newspaper stories and to lure women to the territory than to grant women suffrage!

Apparently some of the men really did care about women having the right to vote. William Bright had been convinced by his wife that women not being able to vote was very unfair, and Edward M. Lee had been arguing for women's suffrage for years.

But the less lovely motivations persuaded other legislators to back Bright and Lee's bill, and Wyoming became the first territory or state in the U.S. to grant women the vote!

  • To find out what happened to women's suffrage in Wyoming when it became a state, check out this brief video.

Jane Addams

Today is Jane Addams Day in Illinois (a holiday celebrated since 2007).

Jane Adams was a writer, a philosopher, and a leader in women's rights, social reforms, and world peace. She did an incredible amount for the nation and the world, although some of her lasting contributions sound like alphabet soup! I'm talking about founding AAUW and IWPA, and helping to found ACLU, NAACP, and IWLPF.

Here is what all those acronyms stand for:
AAUW = American Association of University WomenIWPA = Illinois Woman's Press AssociationACLU = American Civil Liberties UnionNAACP = National Association for the Advancement of Colored PeopleIWLPF = International Women's League for Peace and Freedom

Given the fact that Addams was born in September and died in May, why is December 10 Jane Addams Day? Today is the anniversary of her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

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