March 26, 2001
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
As part of Emorys Womens History Month celebration, a quartet of speakers addressed the importance of womens personal narratives as companions to generally accepted knowledge of history.
So That the Impression May Never Be Effaced: Womens Personal
Narratives as Historical Record, a panel discussion held March 20
in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library, took its name from a line in a
diary written by a young woman named Sadai Burge. Her writings are held
in Special Collections.
Writing a diary and ensuring that ones personal history is on record,
said Laura Micham of Special Collections, sums up the power and
importance of womens personal narratives to the historical record
generally and to womens studies in particular. Micham served
as moderator of the event.
The panel was made up of Jennifer Bernhardt Steadman, visiting assistant
professor in the Institute of Womens Studies; Scott Ellis, a doctoral
student in English; Victoria Hesford, a doctoral student in ILA; and Mary
Odem, associate professor of womens studies and history.
Each scholar approached the subject from a slightly different perspective:
Steadman read passages from the diary of Amy Morris Bradley,
an unmarried middle-class woman in the mid-1800s.
Steadman uncovered Bradleys diary in the archives at Duke University
while researching her dissertation on womens travel writing between
1820 and 1860,
Bradleys experiences included working as a governess for a family
in Costa Rica, 10 years of teaching, and even working as a housekeeper
for her father and unmarried brother. That last vocation didnt last
long, Steadman found.
I am not keeping house ... are you surprised? You would not
be if you knew how my brother treated me!! Steadman read from
Bradleys diary. Bradleys sense of humorand sense of
selfwas apparent throughout. In one passage, the then-34-year-old,
unmarried Bradley referred to herself as an old maid.
Despite her middle-class background and good education, Bradleys
single status kept her on the fringes of poverty. Still, Steadman insisted
on supporting herself and eventually started the first English-language
school in Costa Rica.
The record of her rebellion and success is fundamentally important,
Steadman said. Bradleys journal was semipublic, Steadman added,
as a means for it to serve as a legacy for her female relatives.
Ellis, a doctoral student in English who works part time at the Beck
Center, focused his presentation on the writing of Angel De Cora, a Winnebago
Indian woman whose autobiographical work Gray Wolfs Daughter
was printed in Harpers New Monthly Magazine in 1899.
It portrays the moment she left her Great Plains home for school at the
Hampton Institute in Virginia, Ellis said. The fact that it was published
makes the narrative all the more ripe for study.
We can explore the correlation of Gray Wolfs Daughter
to other stories that ran in Harpers at the same time,
Ellis said. One of those stories, he noted, was Mark Twains The
Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.
Like Steadman, Hesford explored womens diaries as narrative history,
only she outlined the writings of four women, not just one. The women,
three of whom are African-American, are in their ordinariness
... extraordinary examples of the truly complex way women live their lives,
according the web page she displayed to the audience.
Her subjects differed in their classes and backgrounds, and all four
womens writings are available in Emorys Special Collections.
Unlike the rest of the panel, Odems narratives are oral. She is
talking to Spanish-speaking immigrantsoften entire familiesabout
the ways they have reconstructed community life in the Atlanta metropolitan
Talking with the other panelists, Odem said, is making
me think about sources in a different way.
Oral history is just one of Odems research methods, she said. The
others include participant observation and archival research.
Not only did she talk about what she hopes to find out from interviewing
these new immigrantsthe impact of migration on womens lives
and gender relations, for instancebut Odem also sketched out some
of the difficulties inherent in producing a study such as hers.
A large number of Odems subjects are in the country illegally,
which makes getting them on the record difficult, she said.
The fact that she is not a native Spanish speaker, Odem admitted, could affect the narrative that comes out of the project.