- Abigail Adams
Julia Ward Howe
- Frances Watkins Harper
- Clara Barton
- Florence Nightingale
- Lydia Maria Child
All the women file onto the stage (through the side door on the stage, and stand with shawls over their heads, their backs to the audience).
Narrator: Women in the 18th and 19th century were supposed to stay in their place- in the home, raising children, not get an education, not vote, not work, not to think for themselves about God or life- but somehow Unitarian and Universalist women didn’t always fit the mold…
One by one, they come forward to the mike and introduce themselves.
Abigail Adams: I am Abigail Adams, the second first lady of the United States. I was also a mother and managed a farm. I made homemade bullets for the Revolutionary War. And I told my husband, in no uncertain terms, when he was writing that new Constitution of his, “Remember the Ladies!”
Julia Ward Howe: I am Julia Ward Howe. You probably know me as the woman who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but I was also an active abolitionist. My husband and I supported John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry and were strongly against slavery. I also fought for women’s rights, prison reform and education for all. You know in my day, women couldn’t go to college and poor people got no education at all.
Frances Watkins Harper: I am Frances Watkins Harper, a novelist, poet, writer and educator. Some have called me “the mother of African-American journalism” because I wrote and published so many magazine articles. I also fought against slavery, and helped slaves escape through the Underground Railway. After the Civil War, I joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in fighting for women’s right to vote.
Clara Barton: I’m Clara Barton. I was a nurse on the front lines of the Civil War at a time when women weren’t supposed to nurse soldiers and it was brutal. I founded the American Red Cross. I was also a teacher, and established the first public school in New Jersey. People didn’t think poor children or women should go to school, but I did!
Florence Nightingale (English accent): So you were a nurse! I’m Florence Nightingale. I was a nurse too. That’s amazing. And I faced the same problem you did, although as you can tell, I came from England and a pretty wealthy family. I didn’t want to get married, I wanted to serve others. I worked in England’s hospitals for the poor- with their terrible sanitation and on the front lines with dying soldiers in the Crimean War.
Lydia Maria (pronounced Ma-ry-a) Child: You know me, I think, as the author of that cute Thanksgiving song “Over the River and Through the Woods.” A nice tune, but I believe I have done more than that! Everybody loved my children’s stories, and my book The Frugal Housewife, which frankly I wrote because my husband and I were having a tough time surviving. But my reading public wasn’t thrilled when I joined the abolitionist cause, and spoke out strongly against slavery. I also helped slaves in the Underground Railway. Later, I founded the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage association, advocating for the vote for women, and also worked for the cause of the Native Americans having their own language and religion.
Narrator: You're certainly a remarkable group of women. But I have some questions for you all. In your time, all women were supposed to be wives and mothers first. What do you all think about marriage?
Julia Ward Howe: Well, to be honest, not much. My husband Samuel believed in abolition and many other good causes. But he didn’t believe women should work. He resented it when I wanted to work outside the home. It was only after he died that I was able to really do what I wanted, although he died without leaving any money. Still, I had my freedom. He also didn’t believe that women should have sexual freedom outside of marriage --though he believed that men could; the old double standard.
Abigail Adams: I have a slightly different opinion. I truly loved my husband John. He was a good man. He respected my opinions, although he didn’t listen to me about putting women’s rights into the Constitution. I said “remember the ladies,” and he forgot them. And he did leave me alone to raise the children and tend the farm by myself for years on end, while he worked for the Continental Congress, and was Ambassador to France and then President of the United States! I confess, it was sometimes very hard. I felt very lonely. It was really better later in our lives when he retired and we could spend some time together on our farm in Quincy.
Clara Barton: Well, I can’t really comment. I chose not to marry, so that I could do the important work of helping others. Some people thought that was strange. I didn’t. I was happy with my work.
Frances Watkins Harper: I started working as a seamstress when I was 14, and didn’t get married until I was 35, after I had already become a writer and activist. I loved my husband Fenton, a widower with 3 children. But I must admit, I stopped lecturing while I was married to him, and only started again after he died. I agree with Julia, however, that there is a double standard about sex for men and for women. In fact, I wrote a poem about that! It’s called “The double standard.” Do any of you want to hear a little of it? It’s too long to read it all.
Frances: “Crime has no sex and yet today
I wear the brand of shame;
Whilst he amid the gay and proud
Still bears an honored name.
Can you blame me if I’ve learned to think
Your hate of vice a sham,
When you so coldly crushed me down
And then excused the man?”
(They all applaud)
Florence Nightingale: My parents exposed me to all sorts of reading and study, and travel. But in the end, they wanted me to use all that education just to be a good housewife and mother. My father nearly had a stroke when I refused an eligible young man and refused to marry anybody. But I found my true vocation was nursing, healing the sick and wounded and improving the terrible hospitals in England.
Lydia Maria Child: My husband David was a good man too, and we worked together in many of the same causes, but he couldn’t manage money and wound up in jail for debt. We both had to struggle quite a bit. After he died, I continued my own work, and for the first time, had some financial security.
Narrator: How many of you supported the women’s right to vote?
They all raise their hands, and say in unison:
All: We all did!
Narrator: How many of you actually got to vote in your lifetimes?
They all look sad and shake their heads.
All: None of us.
Narrator: Is there anything you’d like to say to young women today?
All: Yes! Stand up for yourselves, and for others, and exercise the right to vote we all fought so hard for. Get involved. Use your God-given hearts, talents and minds freely and generously.