Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History: Chapter Five

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Feminism, Inspiration
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Jean Davenport Lander

(1829-1903)

Actor, Hospital Superintendent

A celebrated actor of the mid-nineteenth century, Jean Davenport Lander was a child prodigy who debuted onstage at the age of eight in a production called The Spoiled Child. She toured the United States and Europe in her teens, playing a variety of classical roles. One contemporary writer praised her as “a refined actress, presenting no rough point for the critic to censure,” who “thrilled and charmed the audience.” Davenport married Frederick Lander in 1860. He became a general in the Civil War; in 1862, he died after being wounded in battle. Jean Lander immediately tried to establish a hospital to aid wounded soldiers. She was temporarily foiled by Dorothea Dix, in charge of recruiting Union nurses, who ruled that no woman under thirty or good-looking could work in government hospitals. Lander instead moved to South Carolina, where she turned an empty building into a hospital. She furnished it through persistent and persuasive appeals to local residents and served as superintendent with her mother. Lander did not return to the stage until the war’s end, when she appeared in her own translation of the play Mesalliance.

Julia Clifford Lathrop

(1858-1932)

Social Worker

One of the five “maiden aunts” of Chicago, along with other notable women like Jane Addams and Mary McDowell, Julia Lathrop lived a full and eventful life of service to her community, including relentless effort against faulty government systems. After attending Vassar College, Lathrop began volunteering at Chicago’s Hull House, a settlement house that became the center for a national social-reform movement. She visited tenement areas and state institutions for the blind, the mentally ill, prisoners, and delinquent children, as well as counterpart institutions throughout Europe, and believed that through care, attention, and active therapy, the number of people in need of such services could be reduced. In 1912, President Taft appointed her chief of the federal Children’s Bureau, where Lathrop worked toward a uniform system for documenting births and for the passage of laws to restrict child labor. She retired after twelve years at the bureau but continued as an activist for the League of Women Voters. She also examined over-crowded conditions at the immigration point at Ellis Island, and in 1925 was appointed to serve on the Child Welfare Committee of the League of Nations.

Agnes Elizabeth Ernst Meyer

(1887-1970)

Journalist, Activist, Philanthropist

When her father refused to finance her college education, Agnes Ernst took matters into her own hands. Awarded a scholarship at Barnard College, she took odd jobs to pay her way. After graduation, she became the first female journalist at the New York Sun newspaper and studied in Paris, where she found herself in the company of artists, writers, composers, and scientists, including Gertrude Stein and Marie Curie. In 1910 she married financier Eugene Meyer, and the couple soon had their first child. Despite the responsibilities of motherhood, Agnes Meyer attended graduate school, publishing her first book– on Chinese art and philosophy– in 1923. She was appointed chairman of the Recreation Commission of Westchester County that year, promoting community events and programs for disadvantaged children. Her penchant for social reform increased as she wrote for her husband’s newly acquired newspaper, The Washington Post. She traveled around England and the United States, reporting on conditions of child labor, delinquency, and the decline of public education, as well as post-war rejuvenation projects.



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