because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Susanna Wright

Susanna Wright's Quaker family immigrated to Pennsylvania from England in 1714 at a time when women were barely more than furniture, servants or breeding cows. But she didn't care a whit. She was an in-your-face woman and didn't give the norms a second thought.

Physician Benjamin Rush (one of the forefathers of the United States) called Wright: "a lady who has been celebrated above half a century for her wit, good sense and valuable improvements of mind." From her house at Wright's Ferry on the edge of the frontier (see above), she counseled such luminaries of the time as Benjamin Franklin (who talked her into contributing to his pamphlet on the massacre of the Conestoga Indians) and James Logan, the Mayor of Philadelphia.

In addition to her much sought after counsel, Wright -- who never took the time or inclination to marry -- engaged in scientific study (about the uses of medicinal herbs, for one thing), raised silkworms, and helped her neighbors make sense of official matters, all of which made her the hub of a wheel of much influence in colonial America. But it was her poetry that resonates with in-your-face women still.

Wright encouraged other women to do as she had done, using reason to call into question male privilege protected by law. She wrote: "But womankind call reason to their aid and question when or where that law was made, that law divine (a plausible pretense) oft urged with none and oft with little sense." It didn't do much to change the status quo in the 1700's and the situation hasn't changed a great deal since beyond the superficial, but it tells us in-your-face women not only existed at that time, but were hard at the work of challenging the system.

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