Guest Blogger: Tracey Hagan on “The Ladies Missionary Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Written by Tracey Hagan, a student-athlete senior psychology major from Ridgefield, CT. Student in History 306: Women and Gender in US History from to 1870.  

Davidson College Presbyterian Church (DCPC) began as a small congregation of six women, two male elders, Robert Hall Morrison as the leader, and fifteen Davidson students in 1837.1 As the Church grew, it became more than just a place for worship. The Church developed into a social institution for its members, specifically for the women of the church.  

The Ladies Missionary Society Constitution was created in 1885. In its first year, Mrs. Dupuy was nominated president, Mrs. Knox was vice president, and Mrs. Vinson was secretary. The constitution contains a preamble and twelve articles. The articles provide the details about what was to happen at each meeting of the society. According to the constitution, they were to meet at a minimum on a monthly basis to discuss selected articles about other missionary works in America, Asia, and Europe or Africa. Generally, the meetings consisted of attendance, reading, singing, general business discussion, and the president’s appointment of the readers for the next meeting.  

First page of the constitution of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 1885. Establishes the name and officer positions of the society.
First page of the constitution of the Ladies Benevolent Society of Davidson College Presbyterian Church, 1885.

This three-page constitution alone shows that the white women of Davidson in 1885 had a much more hands on role in DCPC than what was expected from the Presbyterian Church norms of that era. Women’s roles in the Presbyterian Church in general were limited to leading Sunday schools, attracting new members, running women’s prayer meetings and church organizations, furnishing the church and raising her own family.2 Women were not to be active members in the church, or hold any leadership positions.3 Despite the General Assembly’s restrictions on women’s roles within the church, the Davidson women formed this society.  

They wrote the constitution and ran this entire group on their own. In this way, this society gave them a position of power outside of the traditional roles and domestic sphere to which the Church and societal traditions confined them. The society also served as a form of group education. The members were essentially given homework assignments to learn about other missionary works across the country, and across continents. In this way, this society served to empower its members. It is important to note that not all the women of the town were members. As outlined article 8 in the constitution, members were strongly encouraged to give monthly donations to the society. This monetary element of the society may have made it so only affluent white women in Davidson could be members. While this society certainly gave white women in Davidson some more power in their lives, it did not extend this opportunity to all the women of the town.  

Works Cited:

[1] Beaty, Mary D. A History of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church . Davidson College Presbyterian Church, n.d.

[2] Boyd, Lois A. “Presbyterian Ministers’ Wives—A Nineteenth-Century Portrait.” Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985) 59, no. 1 (1981): 3-17. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23328155.

[3] Brackenridge, R. Douglas, and Lois A. Boyd. “United Presbyterian Policy on Women and the Church—an Historical Overview.” Journal of Presbyterian History (1962-1985) 59, no. 3 (1981): 383-407. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23328186.

Guest Blogger: Tommy Bohannon on “A Girl of the Seventies – Domestic Labor and Women at Davidson College in the Mid-Late 19th Century”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Tommy Bohannon is a senior Biology major and History minor at Davidson College. He is extremely excited about working on this archival research in order to better grasp an understanding of the role women have played in Davidson’s history.

In order to contextualize the history of Davidson College in the mid-19th century, it is important to recognize that the town was very small and relatively isolated from populated urban locations. The relationship between the town and the college was extremely strong, and societal traditions were largely based on family units. When visitors came into town, they stayed with the families that lived there – no hotels were available to accommodate their presence. Women in these families were expected to be gracious hosts, and extensive pressure was put upon them to entertain visitors despite a general lack of resources to do so. 

The A Girl of the Seventies article in the Davidson College archives goes into detail about how women were forced to play the role of the hospitable mother and wife in the years between 1869-1875. According to the record, “there was no market,” but rather “one or two small groceries supplied the heavier items of food,” with items like “eggs, butter, chickens, fresh beef, mutton, or pork,” coming from local individuals with strong personal ties.1 To have a grand feast was a special occasion, one that women were pressured into perfecting. In one instance, a local woman apologized to a visiting Governor, believing that her food was “too simple for such a distinguished guest.” The pressure on Davidson women to prepare extravagant feasts for visitors was extremely high, especially given the lack of options in terms of food sources.  

Newspaper article titled "A Girl of the Seventies." The article goes into detail about dinner parties and lodgings provided by women in the town of Davidson in the late 19th century.

Article written by Lucy Phillips Russell and found in the DC0157s manuscript collection in the Davidson College Archives. The content describes conditions in Davidson in the late 19th century.

Guests were treated with the utmost respect and were typically welcomed even if they appeared unannounced. In one circumstance where a woman was noted to have objected unexpected guests, she told her husband that all she had for them to eat was “some mush and milk,” to which they obliged and ate with gusto.2 Visitors were polite, likely understanding the difficulties that women encountered in trying to assemble grand dinners. These difficulties were normalized in the town of Davidson, and women were expected to fulfill the role of being gracious hosts without complaining. 

This source will be extremely useful in noting the domestic labor of women in the town of Davidson. With descriptions of the roles that women played in acquiring food products and producing them for their families and occasional visitors, this source would inform my research on the role that women played in food production in the Antebellum South. The norm of women being subjected to domestic labor was extremely ingrained in the history of Davidson College, and this source is great for recognizing the extent of that subjugation. 

Works Cited:

“A Girl of the Seventies.” DC0157s Lucy Phillips Russell Collection. Davidson College Archives.

Guest Blogger: Tindall Adams on “Trailblazing Teachers: Davidson’s First Female Teacher”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Tindall Adams is a current sophomore and prospective English major (with a History minor). She is involved with other organizations on campus such as Warner Hall and Planned Parenthood Generation Action.  

Today, a little over half of the professors at Davidson College are female; however, this hasn’t always been the case. In 1896, Eulalia Cornelius became the first female teacher at Davidson.1 Although she was not a regular, full-time faculty member, Cornelius was evidently well-regarded by the Davidson community for her musical talents and teaching.  

As a female teacher in the 1890s, Eulalia Cornelius was teaching during a unique and influential period of education history. In the late nineteenth century, society began to promote the notion that teaching functioned as an “extension of mothering”.2 Additionally, religious institutions also began to promote the idea that women were the “moral sex” in order to increase female church attendance and support of the church.3 During this period, the main function of school was to teach children moral values and women’s expected role was to raise children. Therefore, society increasingly viewed teaching as a natural and acceptable job for women.4 Specifically in North Carolina, where Eulalia Cornelius taught, southern Progressive men advocated for the higher education of women because they believed it could help spur economic progress in the post-Civil War South.5  

Program for a public recital led by Eulalia Cornelius. Features duets, solos, and instrumental performances.
Recital program from the manuscript collection, DC0324s.

The Davidson Archives currently has a program from a music recital given by Cornelius. Eulalia Cornelius not only gave private voice lessons to Davidson students, but to women who lived in the town as well. Therefore, all of her students were most likely white and were in a fairly well-off financial position if they could afford private music lessons. The program is nicely printed, and has a least ten different “pupils” performing at the recital. While there is no mention of this March 21, 1898 recital in newspapers from the time, there is mention of a Eulalia Cornelius recital in 1897 in the Statesville Record and Landmark newspaper. The paper highly praises Cornelius’ skills as a teacher.

Newspaper clipping from the Statesville Record and Landmark. Describes Eulalia Cornelius' music lessons.
Excerpt from the Statesville Record and Landmark, March 19, 1897. Courtesy of the North Carolina Collection.

There is no mention of Cornelius in any Davidson College Faculty minutes from the late nineteenth century. Therefore, this recital program, which could initially seem trivial, brings light to an important part of women’s history at Davidson. Although she was not a full-time employee, Cornelius was one of the first women to teach at Davidson. This recital sheet, supplemented by many other newspaper articles praising her skills, gives her recognition of her success as a teacher.  

Works Cited:

Cott, Nancy F. “Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850.” Signs 4, no. 2 (1978): 219-236. 

Davidson Archives. “Active and Benevolent Ladies: A Short History of Women at Davidson College.” Davidson College Library. Accessed November 8, 2019. http://library.davidson.edu/archives/women/#staff

Hoffman, Nancy. “‘Inquiring after the Schoolmarm’: Problems of Historical Research on Female Teachers.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 22, no. 1/2 (1994): 104–18. 

Laud, Leslie E. “Moral Education In America: 1600s-1800s.” The Journal of Education 179, no. 2 (1997): 1-10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42741719

McCandless, Amy Thompson. “Progressivism and the Higher Education of Southern Women.” The North Carolina Historical Review 70, no. 3 (1993): 302–25. 

Guest Blogger: Stefan Moskowitz on “Music Education in the Town of Davidson”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

My name is Stefan Moskowitz, a senior at Davidson who is majoring in Latin American Studies and minoring in Gender & Sexuality Studies. Some of my other academic interests include US history and the factors that influence the culture of different regions of the country. 

Music education became an important part of the cultural fabric of the town of Davidson and other nearby towns such as Statesville, during the latter part of the 19th century, particularly among the upper classes. Aside from being used as a class marker to separate the upper classes from everyone else, music education also provided a source of entertainment on weekends to several residents of the area. This type of education became prevalent in the public’s consciousness to the extent that local media outlets were actively providing coverage of recitals featuring the performances of college-aged students and residents. 

Excerpt from the Statesville Record and Landmark dated March 19, 1897. The text describes the coeducational music program led by Miss Eulalia Cornelius.
Excerpt from the Statesville Record and Landmark, March 19, 1897. Courtesy of the North Carolina Collection.

The content in the image above focuses on a coeducational music program run by Miss Eulalia Cornelius, a resident of Statesville at the time the article was published in March of 1897. Some time after graduating from the conservatories of Boston and Berlin, she taught music classes in several towns of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, including in the town of Davidson. A local correspondent of the Raleigh News and Observer newspaper reported on one of the live performances that took place on a Saturday night at the residence of Mr. Stirewalt, presumably a wealthy figure in the area. The report attributed the positive reception of the performance to Ms. Cornelius’s skills as a teacher in addition to her success during her studies at the Boston and Berlin conservatories. 

Ms. Cornelius’s program was available to both Davidson students (which at the time of the publication were entirely white and male) and to young women of the village, which was rather progressive for the time these events took place. However, it is likely that young women’s participation in the program helped form the intersection between their gender identity and class position, which was only true regarding the latter in the case of men. One reason for why the study of music was associated with femininity at the time is because it was not seen as a practical means to a career path. This was intensified by the fact that most professional musicians at the time were men, given that conservatories were prejudicial to admitting women into their programs. 

Works Cited:

“Miss Cornelius Music School at Davidson.” Statesville Record and Landmark Statesville, North Carolina (March 19, 1987) p. 3 (Downloaded on October 1, 2019). 

Guest Blogger: Sadie Harden on “Women’s Work?”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Despite popular belief, the first Davidson women did not suddenly appear on campus the day the college became co-educational. Women have always played an important part in the town formerly known as Davidson College, long before the trustees voted to allow women to enroll as degree-seeking students in 1972. The involvement of women in community life is most obviously seen in their contributions to and leadership within Davidson College Presbyterian Church, a cornerstone of campus and community social life particularly in the nineteenth century. 

Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, February 27, 1880. Members discuss meeting a Mrs. Helper's house and officer appointments.
Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, February 27, 1880. Found in manuscript collection DC023: Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Women of the Church.

One such example of women influencing and participating in communal religious life in Davidson is the Ladies Benevolent Society. Officially founded on February 27th, 1880 by a group of local church women (primarily wives of college faculty or local businessmen), the organization aimed to serve the community, largely through sewing and donating clothes.1 As recorded in the February 1880 minutes, the group would usually meet at a member’s house where attendance would be taken, the minutes of the previous meeting would be read, the sewing work would be distributed, and the next meeting time would be agreed upon.2 Most notably, those women in the society who did not receive any sewing work for the week and who were able would pay five cents to this society instead.3 

This relatively concise primary source contains clues about how women organized and wielded power within their social sphere. Within this collection of recorded meeting minutes spanning from February of 1880 to August of 1881, the women discuss finances, organizational questions, and the appointment of various women to various roles within the society. At a time where women would have been expected to remain within their separate sphere of the home while it would have been socially acceptable for men to engage in conducting business and managing finances, the women of this society were able to exercise power through organizing independently of their husbands for religious purposes.  

Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, May 7, 1880. ecretary Minnie Helper writes on May 7th, 1880, “Those who are willing will pay .05 or more if so disposed for the month of June instead of doing the work."
Minutes of the Ladies Benevolent Society, May 7, 1880. Found in manuscript collection DC023: Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Women of the Church.

When decisions about personal finances are recorded in the Ladies Benevolent Society minutes, it is only in reference to the particular woman who is a member of the society, not mentioning husbands as a consideration. For example, Secretary Minnie Helper writes on May 7th, 1880, “Those who are willing will pay .05 or more if so disposed for the month of June instead of doing the work…”4 Though to what extent is unclear, the women of this society had influence over how money in their family was spent, and it appears they were confident enough in that influence to write it into the regulations of the Society. Additionally, this addendum points to the value of these women’s unpaid labor. The five cent donation was seen as equivalent to the sewing and garment work other women were performing for the Society, demonstrating one way the work of women functioned within the small-town economy. 

The Ladies Benevolent Society serves as an example of how women in nineteenth-century Davidson broke the mold that dictated the spheres that women of their time were expected to operate within. 

Guest Blogger: Michael McClelland on “Slavery was Present at Davidson”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Michael is a history major at Davidson College who is taking a class entitled Women & Gender in US to 1870. He has taken an interest in slavery in the region especially with how enslaved women experienced the institution.

As much as we may want to deny it, the institution of slavery existed here at Davidson and the surrounding areas. North Carolina sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War, so it should not be the biggest surprise that slavery existed in the area. While the college itself did not own slaves, many plantations in the immediate area, as well as college presidents and trustees, owned slaves.  

In digging through the archives here at Davidson College, I stumbled across a rather interesting document from the Brevard Plantation which was only a few miles from the college. A man named Franklin Brevard McDowell, a local plantation owner, wrote a biography of some of his slaves which was unique. After reading through his biographies, an enslaved woman named Cynthia stood out to me more than anyone else because McDowell referred to her as his ‘nurse’ when he was young. While we may understand ‘nurse’ as a caretaker, Cynthia was most likely McDowell’s wet nurse.  

Typescript of a letter written by Franklin Brevard McDowell describing enslaved people on his family plantation. The contents is described in the paragraph, above.
Typescript of a letter written by Franklin Brevard McDowell found in the Brevard Plantation file from manuscript collection DC058: Chalmers Davidson Plantation Files.

In a reading for our Women & Gender in US to 1870, we discussed how plantation owners exploited enslaved women for both their reproductive capabilities and their manual labor abilities.1 Wet nursing for historians proves difficult to find and identify because rarely plantations used the term ‘wet nurse’.2 Most of the time, ‘nurse’ referred to those who wet nursed. Since Davidson is in the South and was surrounded by many rather large plantations, it is conceivable that wet nursing occurred in the area. I only came across one instance of a ‘nurse,’ however, wet nursing could have been common in the Antebellum South. Since wet nursing was probably not the most talked about issue during the time period, we do not have much tangible proof of the institution. I stumbled across mine in a biography about a prominent slave owner in the region, but most historians see proof of wet nursing only in literate women’s diaries and letters.3  

Bibliography:

West, Emily and Knigh, R.J.. “Mothers’ Milk: Slavery, Wet-Nursing, and Black and White Women in the Antebellum South.” The Journal of Southern History, (2017): 37-68. 

Guest Blogger: Meghan Rankins on “When the Bell Tolls: Presbyterianism and Student Life in the 1870s”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Portrait of Henry E. Fries' sisters, Mary, Caroline, and Emma. 1860.
Text Box

Today the Chambers bell alerts students and professors to begin and end class. However, in Davidson’s early years, the Davidson College Presbyterian Church’s bell, like Chambers’ bell now, symbolically dictated every aspect of Davidson students’ lives. As an institution that determined social morals and discipline, the Presbyterian Church not only told students when to go to church, but what to study, and how to live. 

Henry E. Fries, a student at the college from 1874-1876, wrote two separate letters to his sister and mother on April 2nd, 1876. In both letters, Fries discusses the significant role the church played in the organization of his day-to-day life. He apologized for his delay in response to his sister by blaming the church: “I have as much, if not more, to do on Sunday than any other time.”1 On this Sunday, Fries had to “attend church three times” and prepare for bible study.2 The Presbyterian Church also instilled social morals into Fries who decided to forgo dancing, which the church saw as an anti-religious encouragement of perverse sexualities.3 He writes to his mother: “I can now see the evil in some of my past pleasures, and as I spoke to you about dancing, you will see that at last, I have conquered my love for it.”4  

Letter from Henry Fries to his mother, April 2, 1876. Contents of the letter is discussed, below.
Text Box

Fries’ letter provides insight to the religious fabric of the United States South. Religion generally provided a social web and community-situated framework for morality and actions. Presbyterianism consumed most of Davidson students’ life at the time. Sunday, Fries’ supposed day of rest, was actually filled with worship and community building within the college and the town.

“Worldly pleasures,” now often associated with typical college life, like dancing, drinking, pre-marital sex, profanity, and theatre were considered violations of Presbyterian morals. These actions could be swiftly punished by admonishment or, in severe cases, excommunication by the church, and, as church membership was required by the college, expulsion.5 Therefore, when Fries ended his letter to his mother quickly stating: “I believe this is about all I have today, the church bell has already rung, so I must close,” he truly meant it.6 From what students read, to where they went, and when they had to be there, the Presbyterian Church, and its bell, determined all aspects of student life. 

Works Cited:

Henry E. Fries, Letter to Sister, 2 April 1876, DC0029s, Henry Elias Fries, 1857-1927 (1878) Papers, Davidson College Archives and Special Collections, Davidson, N.C.

Jane R. Jenkins, “Social Dance in North Carolina Before the Twentieth Century: An Overview,” (PhD diss., University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 1978), ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (7824302).

W.D., Blanks, “Corrective Church Discipline in the Presbyterian Churches of the Nineteenth Century South,” Journal of Presbyterian History Vol. 44, No. 2 (June 1996): 99.

Henry E. Fries, Letter to Mom, 2 April 1876, DC0029s, Henry Elias Fries, 1857-1927 (1878) Papers, Davidson College Archives and Special Collections, Davidson, N.C.

Guest Blogger: Marshall Bursis on “Davidson during Reconstruction”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Marshall Bursis is a senior political science major and history minor. He is from Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania. 

Handwritten childhood reminiscences of Lucy Phillips Russell during reconstruction in Davidson, North Carolina. Contents of the letter is discussed in following paragraphs.
Letter written by Lucy P. Russell in 1920 about life in Davidson, NC immediately following the Civil War.

Davidson College is a fundamentally Southern institution. Its antebellum founding and setting within the former Confederacy intimately connect the college and the town to the social context of Southern life in the 19th century. This may seem like a truism, but it is an essential acknowledgement. If we hope to more fully understand the history of the school and the town, we must interrogate the parts of the Southern experience that we may wish to overlook—like the systems of slavery and Jim Crow. Included in this more complete history is how the town reconciled with the realities of Reconstruction.  

The writings of Lucy Phillips Russell, daughter of professor Charles Phillips, provide a description, albeit incomplete, of Davidson College during Reconstruction and the childhood of the local elite. Lucy Phillips moved to Davidson in 1869, where she lived until 1875. Her recollection of her childhood at Davidson includes stories about the workings of the college and the town and a subtle assessment of her own experience as a young girl navigating the norms of the post-war South.  

Her account makes clear that religion dominated the lives of the students and those in the town. She describes religion and the church as “the shining element of the college and village life.” Russell characterizes her childhood in Davidson as “singularly monotonous and centered around the church.” Furthermore, her recollection of a single-mother living in the town is especially compelling. The exact source of the estrangement between the mother and father is unclear, but she implies that he abandoned her. Writing from 1920, Russell decries the “medieval times” that trapped this woman and made her miserable. “A modern woman” she writes, “would fly to a divorce court and make a joke of the whole situation.” It is clear that divorce, even for legitimate reasons like prolonged abandonment, were socially unacceptable in the Davidson of the 1870s. Russell’s characterization of this woman’s struggle indicates the significant transformation in marriage norms over less than fifty years.  

However, despite the source’s usefulness at examining the religiosity of the community and the town generally, it only tacitly acknowledges the broader context of Reconstruction. Russell remembers that during her childhood “every body was poor, because the whole South was.” Russell, however, makes no recognition of the source of this widespread condition—the destruction of war and the emancipation of slaves that previously provided incalculable amounts of free labor. 

From this believed universal poverty, Russell perceived her community as radically egalitarian, where “every body lived in charity with every body else, nurse each other in sickness, wept with each other in times of sorrow and death, enjoyed with each other when fortune smiled.” It is natural that Russell would hold nostalgia about her childhood, but her conception of an idyllic Davidson ignores the tension that remained in the South between the white community and newly freed blacks. Russell’s failure to adequately reckon with this troubled history mirrors our modern struggles with the problematic portions of our past.  

Bibliography:

Russell, Lucy Phillips. Letter, “Lucy P. Russell 1920 Letter,” 1920. http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/digital-collections/lucy-p-russell-letter-1920#Works.  

Guest Blogger: Mads McElveen on “Dancin’ in Davidson: A Glimpse of Female Deviance in the Old South”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Mads McElveen is currently a senior at Davidson College. She is pursuing a major in German Cultural Studies and a minor in Health and Human Values. 

Back in the day, being a church-goin’ Christian who enjoyed kickin’ off your Sunday shoes and dancing was regarded as immoral, and thus, deserving of discipline. On the eighth day of the sixth month in year eighteen forty-four, a woman name Margaret White attended a “dancing party” at Davidson College. White, a member of the Davidson Presbyterian Church, was “admonished” for her crime, as the church strictly prohibited dancing.1 Getting any 1984 Footloose vibes?  

Handwritten minutes of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church from June 9, 1844. Digitized microfilm.
Minutes of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church from June 9, 1844. Digitized microfilm (right image).

In the mid-nineteenth century, the quaint town of Davidson, North Carolina was deeply rooted in Presbyterianism, a religious ideology that informed notions of pious womanhood. The Presbyterian Church perceived dancing as an anti-religious, impure activity that led to the premature incitement of sensual passions and permitted perverse forms of sexual pleasure.2 Women, more specifically white women, were to exist in a morally superior sphere – confined to domesticity and ascribed the purpose of reproduction. To engage in social dancing was to be labelled as deviant by the Presbyterian Church.  

The deviance of women is an area of human behavior that has been notably ignored in literature. In order to create a more comprehensive narrative of female deviance, one must learn how to extrapolate meaning from little tidbits of information. The affairs and details recorded in the 19th century session minutes for Davidson College Presbyterian Church, including the admonishment of Margaret White, exemplify the manner in which the Presbyterian Church functioned as an extra-legal determinant of social morals and surveyor of discipline. The predominant approach to female criminality was moralistic – judged against the patriarchal society’s notion of the ideal woman. Through governing appropriate behavior, institutions like the church often reinforced the socially-prescribed boundaries of normative womanhood and perpetuated the control and ownership of women by white men.  

By choosing to engage in the fashionable amusement of social dancing, women were exercising bodily agency and consequently destabilizing the very boundaries of gender that allowed institutions to exert control over female bodies and actions. So, in the words of Lee Ann Womack and in the spirit of Margaret White and other women like her, “If you get the choice to sit it out or dance…I hope you dance!” And, remember, well-behaved women seldom make history.3  

Bibliography:

Jenkins, Jane R. “Social Dance in North Carolina Before the Twentieth Century- An Overview.” PhD diss., University of North Carolina Greensboro, 1978. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (7824302). 

Minutes of the Davidson Presbyterian Church, June 9th, 1844, Davidson Archives and Special Collections, Davidson, N.C.    

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. “Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735.” American Quarterly 28, no. 1 (1976): 20.  

  

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Griffin on “The Crescendo of Women Music Teachers in Antebellum America”

In Fall 2019, Archives, Special Collections, & Community (ASCC) had the privilege of working with Dr. Rose Stremlau’s “HIS 306: Women and Gender in U.S. History to 1870” course. Over the course of a semester, students researched the history of women and gender in the greater Davidson, North Carolina area using materials in the Davidson College Archives and other local organizations. The following series of blog posts highlights aspects of their research process.

Jennifer Griffin is a junior Education Studies major from Polk County, North Carolina.  

Picture this, it’s the antebellum South in the late 1800’s in the small town of Davidson, North Carolina. The well to do white adults and parents of the town are buzzing with excitement as they get ready to attend the recital of the town’s music students that have been taught by Miss Eulalia V. Cornelius. Young men and women along with a sprinkling of married women are performing, the recital featuring an array of exciting duets and beautiful piano solos.  

The year is 1898 and as the country is on the verge of celebrating the turn of the century, certain shifts have taken place nationwide that contributed to the production of this recital performed on March 21st. One of these shifts to note is the growing presence of women in the field of teaching. This shift can be attributed to the increasing focus on the instruction of morality, a concept bestowed upon women as they were then seen as the “more moral” sex (Laud). Along with this, Miss Eulalia Cornelius is probably also permitted by the community as a music teacher since music instruction was viewed as more suitable a profession than the instruction of other subjects such as math or physical education. 

Scanned program for a music recital led by Eulalia Cornelius in 1898. Recital features solo singer, solo piano performances, and duets.
Program for a music recital led by Eulalia Cornelius in 1898.

Despite limitations, the encouragement women received as music teachers paralleled their increasing opportunities in the overall American society (Hinely). It is important to note that this specifically references middle- and upper-class white women. Enslaved people’s work allowed for white slave owning women to spend more time away from the home and in the job field.  

Looking over the recital, I observed the fact that Miss Cornelius’ pupils were a combination of young men, young women, and married women. The co-education of young men alongside both single and married women is a progressive notion for southern culture of the 1800s, something I was quite excited to see.  I also enjoyed recognizing Miss Cornelius’ name alongside those of the performers, noting that she was skilled enough to feel confident in performing to the community a number of times, including both a solo and being involved in the final performance of the recital.  

In short, Miss Eulalia V. Cornelius’ occupation as a music teacher marks a specific example of the shift towards white women’s increasing opportunities and influence within American society as the 20th century approached.  

Bibliography: 

DC0324s, Music Program of Eulalia Cornelius in 1898, Davidson College Archives . 

Hinely, Mary Brown. “The Uphill Climb of Women in American Music: Performers and Teachers.” Music Educators Journal 70, no. 8 (1984): 31-35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3400871

Laud, Leslie E. “MORAL EDUCATION IN AMERICA: 1600s-1800s.” The Journal of Education 179, no. 2 (1997): 1-10. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42741719.