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Engendered: Seen + Heard

by Michelle McCoy 3/5/2014 10:48:00 AM

Digital exhibit graphicImagine dressing like a man in the mid-19th century in order to find sustainable employment only to be drafted into the Union Army during the American Civil War. Or imagine that after a lifetime of avoiding publication for the sake of female decency that it would be the political insights you penned in prison while awaiting the guillotine in revolutionary France that reach the public at large. The life stories of Sara Emma Edmonds and Jean-Marie Phlipon Roland are among the many diverse scenarios that women faced in previous centuries and decades.

Special Collections and Archives has begun a series of exhibits to honor the actions and words of women who have written about their experiences and whose works we hold in our collections. Women and War is the first installment and is currently viewable on the 3rd floor of the John T. Richardson Library or online at: With a focus on the French Revolution, the American Civil War, and World War I, the women in this exhibit represent a wide range of sentiments on the role of women in society. The political acumens of women like Madame Roland or Madame de Staël were honed through their engagement in Parisian Enlightenment salon culture. It was the promise of universal rights that drew such radical thinkers as Mary Wollstonecraft and Helen Maria Williams from England to France during the Revolution and eventually put them both in grave danger. Williams was even imprisoned for a time during the Reign of Terror. Other women, such as Mary Livermore, only came to advocate for women’s suffrage after witnessing the inequities placed upon women during the time of the Civil War. Meanwhile, the sisters in Catholic charitable orders demonstrated the importance of professionally trained nurses through their frontline responses on both Civil War and WWI battlefields. By WWI, as Harriot Stanton Blatch would chronicle, women contributed to the war effort by effectively performing a wide range of manufacturing jobs that were previously only open to men.

Michigan Bridget from Mary Livermore's memoir, My Story of the WarWhether they set out to take an active role in the war effort or simply found themselves in the midst of the action and captured their observations, the involvement of all of these women bring to life alternative voices and perspectives of war activities outside of the official state narrative.

The Special Collections and Archives department strives to acquire and highlight historical resources that capture many points of view. For more information about our titles written by women or about the roles of women over time, please contact us at:

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