It is Women’s History Month, and so time for a miniseries here on the SIUE Women’s Studies Blog! In previous years, we have had a miniseries on gender and media and of course our most successful miniseries: our 15-day series on Feminist Songs with individual entries written by feminists from all over North America about songs from all over the world. It began with Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill”, included Peggy Seeger and Nancy Sinatra and Laura Mvula and Ani DiFranco and Beyonce and Palestinian rap group DAM, and ended with a SNL comedy song-sketch . Today, we kick off this year’s Women’s History Month miniseries on Favorite Feminist Heroes with an entry by SIUE Assistant Professor of Sociology Kiana Cox.
My favorite feminist is Maria Miller Stewart. She is important to me for several reasons. Often, feminism is viewed within various aspects of black nationalist ideology as a white invention; as something that is foreign and inconsistent with black freedom movements. Likewise, popular stories of women’s political history in the U.S. often start with the “first wave” at the end of the 19th century. However, Maria Miller Stewart was a free black woman living in Boston in the 1830s and the first American woman to give a public lecture on social justice issues to mixed race and mixed gender audiences. This is important, given that elite black women of her day were consigned to literary or temperance societies if they wanted to do political work. Stewart is important because she becomes a forerunner of the black feminist tradition that we usually locate in the 1960s and 70s. In 1831, she published “Pure Principles of Morality” in the ladies section of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper “The Liberator”. (Note that Stewart knew and worked with Garrison in the abolitionist movement a full decade before Frederick Douglass met him). In “Pure Principles”, Miller speaks directly to black women of her day, imploring them about the need for them to be leaders. She stated,
Possess the spirit of independence. The Americans do, and why should not you? Possess the spirit of men, bold and enterprising, fearless and undaunted… Continue reading