We, Wild  Victorianesses. The Gynealogy of the First Wave Feminism
My, dzikie wiktorianki, czyli gynealogia pierwszej fali feminizmu

Ewa Majewska
30.11.09.

Queen Victoria began her reign in Britain in 1837, thus determining one of the possible beginnings of an era later referred to as “Victorian”. In the same year, Sarah Grimké published her Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women in the “Spectator Magazine”. This might be considered the beginning of the second stage of the first wave feminism, if we assume that the first wave emerged together with the public appearances of Abigail Smith Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympia de Gouges in the second half of the 18th century, which, naturally doesn't necessarily have to be interpreted this way. The first wave can be considerably shorter, and we could as well assume that it began in the 1890s. That is precisely how Maggie Humm describes it in her Dictionary of Feminist Theory, where she considers the possibility of prolonging the first wave until the year 1850. This is an unreliable strategy, if we remember, that – just to give two examples - the conference in Seneca Falls, an event crucial for the feminist movement, had been planned since 1840 and finally took place in 1848 and that the women publishing texts for and about women in the abolitionist movement back in the 1830s were inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympia de Gouges and others. It is quite possible that my interest in an enlarged version of the first wave is not so much due to a wish for writing a long text about the wild Victorianesses, but to my origins - I was born and raised in the proximity of the sea, which strengthened my relationship with the salty water and waves more than is the case in the writing of other feminist researchers. Anyway, it is worth remembering the first feminist manifestos and declarations, which were thoroughly inspired by the thought of the Enlightenment era and proved ultimately that although a woman could mount the scaffold, she had to struggle much more for obtaining suffrage – the primary goal and achievement of the first wave.



Mary Wollstonecraft

The Revolutionary Origins or: It's Been a Long Wave, Baby

When Abigail Smith Adams, the wife of the second President of the US, wrote her letter to the Congress in 1776 in which she explicitly claimed political rights for women, she evoked feelings of mere pity. Even a woman who was by some called “Mrs. President” due to her remarkable influence in politics, could not count on the willingness of her contemporaries to understand the significance of equal opportunities for women and men. Abigail Adams, who was usually portrayed as a lady wearing a bonnet, opens the 19th century history of the struggle for women's suffrage, during which the very bonnets will be taken off, hair cut shorter, and skirts replaced with pants, as it happened in the case of George Sand's, who while “transforming” into a man fulfilled the Baudelaire's vision of a flaneur and later – in case of the majority of feminist activists.

Olympe de Gouge, a French essayist and political activist, was less fortunate than Adams. When she published her famous Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, this act, as well as her subsequent pamphlets in defense of democracy, led to to her decapitation in 1793. Much later she was characterized by Cecylia Walewska, an important Polish suffragist, as proof for the thesis that a woman has the right to mount the scaffold, but she is not granted the right to mount the rostrum. In her text Our Ways and Goals Walewska wrote: “The Female Plebeian Tribunes are first to rise against the terror of the demagogues flooding Paris with a deluge of blood..”(1) and she quotes the words de Gouges shouted in Robespierre's face: .


Olympe de Gouge

Drawing her attention to the fact that women learn to be far more courageous than men because of the experience of birth and maternity, de Gouges emphasized the groundless inequality between sexes in the legal system. In her Declaration she wrote: “Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The effort to restore a stable, dignifying and just situation is perceived today as a paradox and a wish for the impossible”(2). The words of de Gouges resonate with the sarcasm in the Kantian description of the immaturity of most people in What is Enlightenment?. “The guardians who have kindly taken upon themselves the work of supervision will soon see to it that by far the largest part of mankind (including the entire fair sex) should consider the step forward to maturity not only as difficult but also as highly dangerous.”(3). In case of Olympia de Gouges this concern turned out to be fatal.

Mary Wollstonecraft, whose Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published in 1792, focused on the inequalities resulting from differences in the socialization of girls and boys. Referring to Rousseau and his pedagogical ideas as presented in Emile, Wollstonecraft pointed to the logical connection between training girls solely in simple and “decorative” tasks and the instability and foolishness of which women are later accused. She also campaigned for full political rights and more freedom for women and lived in a free relationship with William Godwin, a progenitor of the British anarchists, the father of her daughter Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.


Mary Shelley

These early public statements in favor of equality between the sexes set the very beginning of the first wave, which eventually brought suffrage for European and American women in the first half of the 20th century. I believe there is a logical and historical connection between them and the later public appearances of female abolitionists, groups like the “Enthusiasts” in Poland, suffragists and emancipatory activists of the women's movement, who also referred to reason and the natural law in order to defend the equality of all human beings. The dream of the Enlightenment about the possibility of realizing the idea of equality through laws and Constitution resounds in all 19th century social movements; the French and American Revolutions were a constant source of inspiration for them, which is nicely illustrated by the attempt of Emmeline Pankhurst, a British suffragist living at the turn of the 20th century, to change the date of her birthday from July the 15th to July the 14th.

With a Bonnet and on the Rostrum. Women in the American Abolitionist Movement and the Seneca Falls Convention.
In Women, Race and Class Angela Davis claims that the sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke initially did not plan to be feminists(4). Those keen members of the American Quaker community at first got involved in the movement for the abolition of slavery, which was popular among the members of this Christian denomination. They were forced to struggle for women's suffrage by the social conditions they lived in; the State of South Carolina banished them officially for publishing an abolitionist pamphlet addressed to “the Christian women”. The women who were also portrayed with bonnets and checked dresses on, responded by writing about the situation of women and became advocates of women suffrage. Sarah, who was more actively involved in politics, taught a slave reading - which was strictly forbidden in South Carolina – when she was still a young girl. In 1837 she was the first woman to attend an abolitionist meeting in Massachusetts, which caused a scandal, but also encouraged other women to participate in meetings devoted to emancipation of slaves.

Angela Davis argues that many women attempted to join the abolitionist movement in the 1830s. Two among them, Lucretia Mott and Elisabeth Cady Stanton, are recognized by history as the initiators and authors of the Seneca Falls Convention, during which the famous Declaration of Sentiments was signed by 100 people. The two ladies met in 1840 in the International Anti-Slavery Convention in London. It turnes out that although they were allowed to actively participate in the meetings of the opponents of slavery in the US, in London they were merely supposed to silently listen to the public presentations of men in a gallery prepared for this purpose. Davis writes, that a group of men entered the women's gallery in order to demonstrate their protest, including Charles Remond(5), a former slave. For Mott and Stanton it was a pretext for inviting a bigger number of both female and male advocates of the rights of women to Seneca Falls eight years later. The meeting took place between 19 and 20 June 1848, and was attended by approximately 300 participants. The Declaration was signed by 100 people, including Frederick Douglass. Angela Davis quotes his riposte to the “accusation “ of feminism he later faced – he claimed that he was never embarrassed to advocate rights for women, and that he was honored by the label “feminist”(6).


Elisabeth Cady Stanton

It is worth mentioning here that the very word “feminism” has probably been authored by a French Utopian socialist, Charles Fourier, supporter of the idea that people should fulfill their passions and ambitions, thanks to which, to his mind, equality and happiness could reign among humans. The author of Theorie des Quatres Mouvements wrote at the beginning of the 19th century, that women deserve the very same respect, rights and liberties as men do and he called marriage “legalized prostitution”, in which men benefit from the subordination of women. As early as in the writings of Fourier feminism was supposed to be a movement campaigning for a general social change, not only for the improvement of the situation of women. The author maintained that “The happiness of men is proportionate to the freedom that women enjoy”(7).

In the feminist publications available in Poland the analogies between the global history of women (self)organization focusing on rights and politics and the same kind of organizations and activities in Poland are mentioned very seldom. Meanwhile, if we take a closer look at the Polish herstory, we can see a number of parallels when it comes to the objectives that Polish and foreign advocates of the women's rights aimed at. Let us take a look at what was happening in Poland at that time.

One of the first documented Polish organizations of women was “The Enthusiasts”, established by Narcyza Żmichowska around 1830 and active until late 1840s. The activists who formed this organization, Bibianna Moraczewska and Anna Skimbrowiczowa among others, struggled for independence of Poland (occupied at that time), but in the same time they fought for the civic rights and independence of women. Most of them were active in the “Spring of Nations” (Revolutions in 1848), and it is due to their arrests, deportations or emigration that the group was dissolved. A significant issue indicating the feminist character of this group was the concept of “sister alliance” (the original Polish word bares some resemblance to the word “sisterhood”). This term, created by Żmichowska, described friendship that women should establish among themselves in order to develop and build a sense of community. When involved in polemics with Klementyna z Tańskich-Hoffmanowa (a Polish writer and pedagogue), she drew attention to the fact that , “Among the [feminine- EM] virtues, usually those that are able to make men happy are positioned at the top”, whereas the least valuable are these that equally refer to women and men, such as curiosity or tendency to gossip(8).



Narcyza Żmichowska

Among the Polish female writers undeniable propagators of the “women's cause” were also Maria Konopnicka and Zofia Nałkowska. The authoress of Rota (Oath) is also one of the first female celebrities living in a lesbian relationship – her relationship with Maria Dulębianka, a painter and one of the key Polish suffragists, was until recently treated as a friendship, but now tends to be interpreted as an intimate relationship(9). Dulębianka gained popularity for registering as a candidate for the Election to the Galician Parliament in Lwów (Lviv, now Ukraine) in 1908, 10 years before women in Poland obtained suffrage. She was a critic of militarism, which did not prevent her from participating in the Polish-Soviet War in 1920 as a nurse, as a result of which she lost her life. Her grave is one of the few female sepulchers in the Cemetery of Eaglets in Lwów, which is , as a rule, skipped by the tour guides.


Maria Konopnicka Maria Dulębianka


Flaneuse and Drag King – Women in Struggle for freedom and Motherland

Arguably the best known 19th century female character, who took off the dress and wore pants in order to be able to walk freely around Paris like a man (a category at that time usually reserved for white men), was George Sand, that is Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, who was a writer and host of one of the most significant “salons” of that century. She was befriended with famous poets and musicians (the story of her relationship with Chopin is well known in Poland), and she valued independence so highly that she challenged the taboo, which then obliged upper-class women to be accompanied by men if walking the city. In order to freely walk on her own in Paris she wore male clothes, which makes her a prototype for the later “drag kings”. In this artistic way she practiced Baudelaire's project of flaneurie. (It is may be worth mentioning, that Baudelaire detested Sand and assumed her attitude to smoking and use of abusive language, as well as attempts at going beyond the female standing were a set of mockeries).

A Polish example of a woman who challenged a very important set of cultural taboos was, naturally, Emilia Plater – a countess from Inflanty (Livonia, now mainly Latvia) brought up in the atmosphere of patriotism, who chose to fight in the November Uprising (1831) together with her friend, Maria Prószyńska, also became a man in order to do as she pleased. She was killed in battle, and was considered to be one of the best leaders of that uprising. Later also Maria Dulębianka, Konopnicka's partner, also wore trousers, which is one of the reasons why Konopnicka allegedly referred to her as “my brave Peter”(10).



Emilia Plater


The Cat and Mouse Act – Ending Stage of the First Wave Feminism
It has always struck me how keen certain current essayists are to ascribe the label “radical” to contemporary mainstream feminists. Emmeline Pankhurst, who at the turn of the 20th century suggested that a stone or Molotov's cocktail is a feminist's best friend was a better example of radicalism than the majority of today's activists, who even if they do carry stones around when turning up at peaceful demonstrations, those are always pieces of decoration not weapons to fight for the rights of women. The women whom the British Liberals bore in mind when introducing the Cat and Mouse Act in 1913, certainly seem much more radical than the feminists of today hesitantly demonstrating their dissatisfaction. It should be explained, that the very name “Cat and Mouse Act” depicted the relation between state and the imprisoned Suffragists, who as a result of lengthy hunger strikes were released from jail in order to recover and then be incarcerated again.



Emmeline Pankhurst

Mary “Slasher” Richardson, a Canadian frequently listed as one of the best known “Western” Suffragists, gained her fame by attacking with a knife the Rokeby Venus – one of Velasquez most famous paintings, just after one of the so many arrests of Emmeline Pankhurst. Richardson maintained that she was attacking “the most beautiful body in mythological history” as a token of her solidarity with another body that suffers in the British prison(11). Her act was later considered one of the most famous “art-terrorism” acts, which were frequently repeated in the Netherlands, where attacks on the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age functioned as a political gesture of support for the poor and excluded. In her later years Richardson joined radical rightists, which, on the other hand, was the case with some other suffragists too.

Emily Dickinson is also worth mentioning, as she gained fame by throwing herself under the King George's horse, by which she wanted to demonstrate her support for women's suffrage. She did not plan to commit suicide, her death was accidental. Finally, the voting rights were given to women in almost all European immediately after the First World War, with an embarrassing exception of France (1945) and Switzerland (three cantons did not introduce those until 1978). The Cat and Mouse Act is a forgotten element of the history of women's suffrage – few people today remember the arrests of suffragists, just as few realize, that Polish women got the right to vote after some hundreds of them occupied the Warsaw Belvedere for the whole night in 1918.



Mary “Slasher” Richardson

“Cat and Mouse” is not solely a term from the history of the British law, but also one of the important definitions in the psychoanalytic practice developed since 1880s. As Jane Gallop claims in her book on the relations between feminism and psychoanalysis, “playing cat and mouse can be an accurate description of some psychoanalytical cases, in particular in Dora's case”(12). According to her, when Freud informs the reader in the Introduction to the description of the Dora's case, that “he will call a cat a cat” (in the original version Freud used French, in which the term “chat” (cat) is colloquially used to refer to the female sexual organs, which gives the text some frivolousness). The idea of interpreting Freud's description of Dora's case as “a play between cat and mouse”, a play, which is, in addition, permeated by a certain degree of eroticism, is, according to Gallop, connected with the fact that Freud carefully omits all the moments, in which patient's genuine desire comes to the surface, as well as the harassment that she has been exposed to. He focuses on all the other possibilities of interpretations, which enables him to squeeze the case into the Oedipal pattern. Gallop arrives at such an interpretation following the writings of Catherine Clement and Helene Cixous who examine the misogynous intricacies of psychoanalysis in La Nouvelle Nee (Fr: “a newborn woman”) as well as pointing to the subversive (Cixous) and reactionary (Clement) character of the hysterical figure, as a possible symbol of female struggle for emancipation.

It is worth mentioning that some Freud's patients became symbols of struggle for independence and women's rights, not merely as “symbolic figures” but also in its literary sense. According to Joseph Breuer, it was the patient known as Anna O. who actually defined the very practice of psychoanalysis as a “talking cure”. She used these words to give a name to the conversations which eventually cured her from aphasia she had due to a phobia(13). Bertha Pappenheim – that was her real name - was one of the key Central European Jewish activist for women and Jewish people. Her main interest was to help poor and socially excluded women, in 1902 she founded a charity organization helping prostitutes and victims of traffic in women.


Bertha Pappenheim

Anarcha-feminists, Communists and Ministers

Although the brief sketch of the First Wave could be finished with more law-abiding figures, I have decided to give it a more explosive ending – that is to present here some women who, as activists, theorists and politicians, with some impetus marked the moment of women entering the public space.

Paradoxically, the first women to held the ministerial posts represented two of the most radical political ideologies of the XX century - anarchism and communism. The first female minister (or People's Commissar to be more precise) was a communist, Alleksandra Kołłontaj, appointed in 1917 for the work and family matters commissar, whereas in the “West” a Spanish anarchist, Federica Montseny was to take care of a similar set of duties. Although the last nomination took place well after the First World War, in 1937, it seems to me that this date could be perceived as a symbolic end of the first wave feminism. In other words, most of the goals achieved by women in the Soviet Union thanks to the October Revolution, and the ones were attained in the West due to the suffragists movements and the Spanish Revolution, turned out to be only temporary.


Federica Montseny
It should always remain meaningful to the women's rights historians, that it was revolutions that enabled women to take political posts. Before it happened, though, the first nominations for women to occupy political positions were preceded by a tedious construction of both - the social movements and communist and anarchists ideologies. Two
woman – Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxemburg played a fundamental role in this process. They shared two characteristics: they were eloquent orators and came from Jewish families. Inasmuch as Goldman could be described by making use of her own saying stating that “If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution”, Luxemburg was first and foremost an intellectual, involved in the development of Marxism, in particular, as some claim until today(14) in her analysis of economic crisis, both within capitalism as well as within European social democracies.


Emma Goldman



Rosa Luxemburg

Both women spent a lot of time in jail as contemporary suffragists did at that time. Luxemburg was a determined propagator of social equality and political transformation activist. Rightly assuming the necessity of an active struggle for the rights of the oppressed, she provides evidence confirmed by a realistic analysis of history, that human rights are never a gift of the oppressors to the oppressed classes, which certain representatives of the contemporary feminism seem to forget. The courageous Victorianesses function not only as a relic of a certain epoch, but also as a symbolic reminder of the recent struggle.

After a number of arrests and attempts at accusing her of influencing the assassination of the US President William McKinley by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, Emma Goldman was ultimately deported from the US in 1919. She traveled to the Soviet Union, assuming that although it was not entirely her revolution, she would at least try to see it. She escaped from the USSR a couple of years later and lived mainly in Great Britain only to travel to Spain ravaged by the revolution in 1937, where, after Franco took power, she helped numerous refugees flee the country oppressed by the fascist regime. She died in Canada in 1940.

Vitorianesses and Literature
Emma Goldman made acquaintance with one of the publishers of "The Little Review", Margaret Anderson, who she described as being “a woman feminine to extreme extent, enthusiastic all the time. A couple of hours with her changed my image completely, and I realized, that below her supposed lightness there was depth and strength of the character, which made possible every task she took(15). If we realize that Goldman describes the woman who was responsible for the first edition of the James Joyce's Ulysses – a novel deemed scandalous, and banned in many European countries of that time and later, we will be aware of the fact that social radicalism and literature frequently met in ways we would hardly describe as obvious. The anarchist lectures delivered by Goldman in Chicago in 1914 became a lasting inspiration for Anderson. "The Little Review" became even more subversive.

If making references to Ulysses, we should not forget to mention that the first female writer to draw her attention to the “stream of consciousness” and to adopt it as her literary strategy was Virginia Woolf. The writer can be simultaneously considered to have authored the idea of my own text. In A Room of One's Own she draws attention to something that we would not read about until recently – the way that “a woman looks at another woman”. In a novel by Mary Carmichael, an author invented by Woolf and described as not a very interesting one, there is a sentence: “Chloe looked at Olivia”. This information is shockingly contrasting with a vast array of literary descriptions of how men perceive a woman. When drawing attention to the necessity of adopting a new perspective, creating women's literature about women, Woolf expresses the Victorianesses's dream, here discussed as last. A dream to name and create our own reality... but that would already open another text...

Warsaw, 11.06.09


English translation: Ola Hołubowicz

Notes
(1) Cecylia Walewska, Nasze drogi i cele in: Chcemy całego życia. Antologia polskich tekstów feministycznych z lat 1870-1939, ed. A. Górnicka-Boratyńska, p.193. [Our Ways and Goals in We Want the Whole Life. Anthology of Polish Feminist Writings from 1870-1939].
(2) Olympe de Gouges, The Declaration of the Rights of a Woman. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Exploring the French Revolution, http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/d/293/ (accessed 2nd November, 2009).
(3) Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?, Gutenberg Project http://philosophy.eserver.org/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt, (accessed 2nd November,2009).
(4) Angela Davis, Women, Race and Class, (New York, 1981).
(5) Angela Davis, Femmes, Race et Classe, (Paris: Editions Des Femmes,1983), p. 62-63.
(6) Ibidem.
(7) Fourier, The Theory of the Four Movements. Texts in the History of Political Though, ed. Areth Stendamn Jones and Ian Patterson (Cambrigde University Press, 1996), p.137.
(8) Z. Nałkowska, Słowo przedwstępne do dzieł dydaktycznych pani Hoffmanowej, in: Chcemy całego życia, ed. A. Górnicka-Boratyńska, 37.
(9) K. Tomasik, Homobiografie, (Warszawa:Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2008). [Homobiographies].
(10) Ibidem.
(11) Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Mary Richardson, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Richardson, (accessed 2nd November 2009).
(12) The description of the case provided by Freud is to be found in the work: S.Freud, The Aetiology of Hysteria, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo KR, 2001). Further references to J. Gallop, Feminism and Psychoanalysis. The Daughter's Seduction? ( Cornell University Press, 1982.).
(13) Anna O.'s case was described in the book Studies on Hysteria by S.freud and J. Breuer first published in 1895 Polish edition: (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo KR, 2008) 33-34. Information about „talking cure” in: a text by Breuer.
(14) See for instance, P. Wielgosz, Róża Luksemburg i kryzys socjaldemokracji in: R. Luksemburg, Kryzys socjaldemokracji, (Warszawa: KIP, 2005): 29. [Rosa Luxemburg and Crisis of Social Democracy].
(15) Dickran Tashijan, From Anarchy to group force: the social text of The Little Review in: Women in Dada: Essays on Sex, Gender and Identity, ed. N. Sawelson-Gorse, (MIT Press, 2001):262.


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