Oppression has never been a word I have thought of when I thinking of the treatment of women. I have recently discovered women authors in history that have lived a double life that only women can. In the 1800s when Constance Fenimore Woolson and Mary E. Wilkings Freeman lived, they fought for equality with their words and the way they lived. They were women who were expected to be just pretty but silent, and they have been paving the way for women in the future to speak their minds . Though Woolson and Freeman lead different lifestyles, they both represent the female intelligence, strength, and independence.
Woolson was born to a family of five in 1840. A few weeks after her birth, however, her three older siblings died of influenza. Freeman was born in 1852, as the second child to her parents, and she lost her sibling to the same influenza virus a few months after her birth. Like many families in the 1800’s, colds and flues were more likely to become deadly than they are today, and both women were effected by it early on in their lives. Spoiled by her parents, and being the only child, Woolson had the opportunity to travel with her father on business ventures.
Freeman, on the other hand, was raised a puritan girl. She learned to be obedient, godlike, pious, and honest. She was a smart girl and a good student, so they sent her to her to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where she lasted but a year. In “Jury of Her Peers”, she is quoted to have said, “I was very young. . . and went home at the end of the year a nervous wreck. ” A student at a university, Lesa Z. Myrick, went further to illustrate that Freeman came home quite confused. She was, however, sure “that I ate so much beef in different forms and so many baked apples that I have never wanted much since.
” Freeman misbehaved frequently in the school, attributing it to the boring diet and strenuous “goading of conscience” (Reuben). Woolson was also given an education at a school in New York. She visited Mackinac Island, Cooperstown, and New England when she was not being educated. In her travels, she developed interest in cultural diversity and enjoyed a variety of scenery. Writing came as a natural talent to Woolson, and she was successful with it almost immediately. Many of her earliest writings were on the Civil war.
It claims in “Jury of Her Peers” that she wrote to a friend saying, “The war was the heart and spirit of my life. ” Freeman’s inspirational experience was not nearly as bloody, but equally as tragic. At the age of 24, Freeman’s 17-year-old sister died, leaving her in a traumatized state. It was the death of her sister that set the theme to most all of Freeman’s ghost stories. Her other inspirations came from the bizarre experience of living in a house forty yards from an insane asylum, where the inmates were free to walk about the town.
This experience would make anyone weary of who was in their company, and caused Freeman to later claims she did not care to be around people. Woolson began to think about herself as a serious writer a year after the death of her father. She began contributing regularly to bookish magazines and was an immediate success. She was a woman writer who saw her writing as an art form rather than writing out of necessity. It is said that the knowledge of her relational connection to the author, James Fenimore Cooper, helped a great deal with this attitude.
After her father died, Woolson’s mother was recommended by a doctor to move to a warmer area, and Woolson moved wither her mother to Florida. Freeman did not make any money from her writing until a year after her mother’s death, when she and her father were evicted from their home. In 1881, she wrote “The Beggar King” for a children’s magazine and was paid ten dollars for the piece. Freeman was nearly forty when she finally began to be paid she for her work. She continued writing children’s pieces and religious stories for magazines well into the 1890s.
Woolson’s mother died in 1879, and Woolson left Florida to tour Europe. She traveled to London, France, Italy, and Germany. In Italy, she met a man who went by the name Henry James. They formed a friendship that was long lasting and closely knit. They had similar taste in literature and admired each other. For a stretch of time, they shared a house together. Freeman took it a step further than sharing a house with a man. She married Charles Freeman in 1902, which was a match made in heaven, but was doomed to hell.
Charles was a severe alcoholic and was so infatuated with Freeman’s writing that he forced her to write more, making her keep up the pace of her writing along with her daily tasks. Several years later Freeman had, Charles committed to a hospital and they became legally separated. Freeman gave up on writing in her seventies, and she died of heart failure in 1930. Woolson was never married. She continued wondering from place to place, writing about what she would see and experience. She did suffer health conditions, and as the years passed, they continually got worst.
It was 1894 when she plummeted to her death from a second story window. Some people think it was suicide. Some think she fell because of her suffering from influenza. The truth is unknown. It is amazing to me that these two women have nothing in common. They were born twelve years apart, one was religious, the other was a vagabond (hippy), and one was married while the other never did. Their writing styles had nothing in common either; while Freeman wrote an array of gothic, ghost, love, and religious tales, Woolson used cultural diversity and places she had visited to create her tales.
These women were similar in their morals and virtuous life-styles. It did not matter if they were traveling the world by themselves, or being forced to go beyond expectation, they did what women today still do. They helped lay a foundation of dedication and strength, saying that they would do whatever it took to do what they loved. Woolson and Freeman both have been an inspiration to me by letting me know that I can be as flighty as Woolson, or as steadfast as Freeman can.
These women have done it before me, so why can’t I? ? McEntee, Grace. “Constance Fenimore Woolson” http://www. lehigh. edu. Appalachian State University, n. d. Web. 5/8/2013 Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 6: Mary Wilkins Freeman. ” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www. csustan. edu/english/reuben/pal/chap6/freeman. html (5/8/2013). Showalter, Elaine. A Jury of Her Peers: American Woman Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. New York: Vintage Books, 2009. Print.
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