Ever hear about Mary Edwards Walker?
Of course you have not for teaching about a tireless worker for women’s rights might turn your daughters gay.
It is a Friday so let us learn something.
Back in the days when women had very few rights Walker was an up and coming leader….
Let’s go to the year 1873….
January 1873, hundreds of women convened at the National Hotel in Washington, D.C. It was the fifth convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association and a 44-year-old Susan B. Anthony had taken the floor. She spoke of unity, forming a national women’s newspaper, and the vote. But few people were paying attention to Anthony. Even suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton was distracted, verging on annoyed. Because there, just to the side of the podium, an imposing woman stood in pants and a slimming man’s coat, waiting. Her name was Mary Edwards Walker. The first female surgeon in the U.S. Army and a prisoner of war during the Civil War, Walker, who flouted the day’s rigid gender norms, was something of a celebrity. As more and more of the crowd noticed her, they began to murmur and whisper, “she’s here!” But still Walker stood, patiently waiting for Anthony to yield the floor. When Anthony finally did so, Walker launched into a scathing critique of the NWSA, and Stanton and Anthony with it. They had abandoned the cause of dress reform, she said, giving up the fight for women to renounce health-damaging corsets. Anthony and Stanton lacked courage, she said. At a later suffrage convention, Anthony and Stanton called the cops on Walker. After narrowly avoiding arrest, Walker shouted at the pair, “you are not working for the cause, but for yourselves!”
Following the January 1873 convention, Stanton forbid any mention of Walker in the event’s official summary. Stanton and other critics derided Walker as a “she-man” and a “ghoul.” Years later, when Stanton and Anthony wrote the History of Woman Suffrage, they erased Walker and her involvement almost entirely. “They deliberately sought to conceal the queerness of the suffrage movement,” writes historian Wendy Rouse of San José State University. Rouse, who has written a new book on the topic, Public Faces, Secret Lives: A Queer History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, uncovered many stories like Walker’s. From queer relationships known as Boston marriages to publishing radical newspapers about free love, the women’s suffrage movement was full of individuals “queering the norm,” as Rouse puts it—individuals history consciously deleted. Atlas Obscura spoke with Rouse about these queer suffragists, the female cavalries they led, and why so many of their stories have gone untold.
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