June 28, 2021

Sophonisba Breckinridge


Sophonisba “Nisba” Preston Breckinridge, born April 1, 1866, was a woman of firsts. Breckinridge was the first woman admitted to the Kentucky bar to practice law in 1895; the first woman to earn a PhD in Political Science at the University of Chicago in 1901; the first woman to earn a JD at the University of Chicago Law School in 1904; the first woman professor granted a named professorship at the University of Chicago in 1929; and the first woman to serve as U.S. representative to a high-level international conference in 1933.

Along the way, Breckinridge co-founded the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Social Service Administration (now the The Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice), was instrumental in the creation and promotion of The Social Security Act of 1935 and The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and published extensively in the fields of  family, public welfare, and children.

Kelly briefly tells Breckinridge’s story and interviews Anya Jabour, Regents Professor of History at the University of Montana, and author of  Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women's Activism in Modern America.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Episode image: By Bain News Service - Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ggbain.07524. Public Domain.

Transcript available at: https://www.unsunghistorypodcast.com/transcripts/transcript-episode-4

Sources:

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/UnsungHistory)

Transcript

Kelly:

This is Unsung History, the podcast where we tell the stories of people and events in American history that haven't gotten much notice. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then interview someone who knows a lot more than I do. Today's story is about social reformer and social scientist Sophonisba Breckinridge. Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge was born on April 1st, 1866, in Lexington, Kentucky, into the prominent Breckinridge family, which included members of Congress, a governor of Kentucky, a US Attorney General, and even a US Vice President, Nisba's cousin, John C. Breckinridge. At 14 Breckinridge attended what was then called the Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College, which later became the University of Kentucky when it opened to women in 1880. Women were not allowed to pursue degrees, but Breckinridge studied there for four years. She went from there to Wellesley College, where she was able to pursue a degree and graduated in 1888, after which she taught high school math in Washington DC for a couple of years. Breckinridge accompanied her younger sister on a long trip to Europe, and planned to attend law school at the University of Michigan on her return. Unfortunately, the death of her mother disrupted her plans and she instead moved back to Kentucky to study law in her father's law office. In 1895, Breckinridge became the first woman to be admitted to the Kentucky bar. Unfortunately, few people wanted to hire a woman lawyer. A chance trip to Chicago to visit a college classmate led to Breckinridge meeting Marian Talbot, the Dean of Women at the University of Chicago, who encouraged Breckenridge to enroll in graduate school and offered her a job as her personal assistant to fund her education. Breckinridge was the first woman to earn a PhD in political science at the University of Chicago in 1901. Despite earning her PhD magna cum laude Breckinridge could not find a faculty position in her fields of expertise, unlike the men she graduated with. So Breckinridge continued her education, finally attending law school at the University of Chicago, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1904, the first woman to graduate from UChicago Law. In 1904, Marian Talbott finally succeeded in convincing the president of University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, to appoint Breckinridge as the Assistant Dean of Women. Shortly after, Talbot created the new Department of Household Administration at UChicago, and Breckinridge was appointed Assistant Professor. There Breckinridge taught arguably the first Women's Studies class in the United States, called The Legal and Economic Position of Women. One of the students in that class was Nebraska school teacher, Edith Abbott, who came to UChicago to pursue a PhD in Political Economy. From 1905 to 1920 Breckinridge continued to work as the Assistant Dean of Women, and live-in head of Green Hall, a women's dorm at UChicago, while at the same time serving as Director of Research and eventually Dean of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, and spending much time at Hull House, the settlement house co founded by Jane Addams. The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy had no endowment and an always precarious financial situation, and Breckinridge started to advocate for the school to be affiliated with the university. Minister and social work educator Graham Taylor, the founder of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy, hope to keep the school independent. But by 1920, the school was insolvent. When Taylor was on an unpaid leave for health reasons, Breckinridge, as acting president, convinced the Board of Trustees to agree to a merger with the University of Chicago and the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Social Service Administration was created. As a side note, the school has recently been renamed the Crown Family School of Social Work Policy and Practice following a $75 million gift from James Crown and Paula Crown. By 1925, with the assistance of university trustee Julius Rosenwald, SSA, as it was then known, was removed from the oversight of the business school, and Edith Abbott was appointed as Dean. When Marian Talbert retired that year, she established a trust fund for the advancement of the education of women, with the insistence that Breckinridge be promoted to Professor of Social Economy. Abbott was promoted to full professor at the same time. Until her retirement in 1942, Breckinridge continued to teach and was instrumental in shaping the curriculum of SSA. SSA became the first School of Social Service to implement the case method because of Breckenridge's experience in law school. The University appointed her the Samuel Deutsch Professor of Public Welfare Administration in 1929, making Breckinridge the first female Professor granted a named professorship. Breckinridge was not just an academic and played a crucial, if often behind the scenes, role in the adoption and implementation of public policy, including the Social Security Act of 1935, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In 1933, Breckinridge was the first woman to serve as the US Representative to a high level international conference, the Seventh International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay. A prolific writer, Breckenridge's also authored many books, including The Delinquent Child in the Home, Family Welfare Work in a Metropolitan Community, Public Welfare Administration, The Family and the State, and Social Work in the Courts. On July 30th, 1948, Sophonisba Breckinridge died at the age of 82 in Chicago. She is buried in the Breckinridge family plot in Lexington, Kentucky. To learn more about Breckinridge, I'm speaking with Anya Jabour, Regent's Professor of History at the University of Montana, and author of the 2019 book, Sophonisba Breckinridge: Championing Women's Activism in Modern America, which is the source of much of the introduction you just heard. Hi Anya, thanks for joining me.

Anya Jabour:

Hi, Kelly, thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Kelly:

Yeah. And I am excited to have learned so much about someone who lived in the neighborhood I live in for such a very long time and was so key here, and yet I never knew about her. How did you first become interested in Sophonisba Breckinridge. And you know, what, what drew you to writing a whole book about her?

Anya Jabour:

So I really had no intention of writing a biography of Breckinridge or anyone else at that particular moment in my career. I had previously written a book about young women's experiences and the Old South that my, you know, my nickname for it while I was working on it was my "Southern School Girls Project," because so many of them, I first encountered as school girls writing letters home from school, and then I would track them in their after school years. So, in the process of doing that I had, of course, as an educator, become really interested in their relationships with their teachers. And so I thought I would do kind of a companion project, but my nickname for it was the "Southern School Marms Project." So that was sort of the entry point. So I was doing initial research, just trying to identify potential candidates for inclusion and what I thought was going to be another monograph with lots of characters. And then I ran across Breckinridge and I had actually run across her name before, but just had not kind of gone quite deep enough to get interested. The reason she crossed my radar was because she taught school for a while, both in Washington, DC, and in Virginia, in rural Virginia. And so that's sort of why I started looking and, and I read a couple of biographical profiles of her as one does. And one of those pointed out something that I may have seen before, but that did not strike me before, which was that she had gotten all of these advanced degrees in political science, and political economy and law, and that she could not get a job in any of those fields, even though she was at the top of her class, I mean, you know, across the board, and you know, that she got her degrees at the University of Chicago. So I mean, we're talking about an extraordinarily well qualified individual. And instead of going into any of those fields, she then pioneered this new field and turns what had been just kind of a continuation of 19th century charitable practices into a nascent profession, and that profession, of course, was social work. And I thought, well, that's really an interesting response to sexism. But along the way, I mean, before she got there, because it took her about 20 years to really make that happen, she got a part time post teaching in the department of Household Administration at the University of Chicago in 1905. And she taught this class on the legal and economic status of women, which I'm fairly confident, although when your listeners hear this podcast, perhaps they will come out with alternatives, was the first Women's Studies class in the United States. And that was sort of where I was hooked. I was like, oh, my gosh, you know, like, "Who is this woman? And why have I never heard about her?" And at that point, I've been teaching US women's history for like, 15 years. And so I thought, you know, this is crazy, I've never heard of her. And so then I thought, well, maybe there's just no source material. Ha!

Kelly:

There's a lot of source material.

Anya Jabour:

That clearly was not the issue, right? Because at the Library of Congress alone, just her papers, not counting the rest of her family, take up 39 boxes, archival boxes of materials, and I was able to get all of them, four reels at a time through interlibrary loans. So I was able to do the first big chunk of my research here in Missoula, where I live and teach. And yeah, so clearly, there was no shortage of material. So that was, that's sort of the genesis of the project. But I thought, you know, wow, this is a really interesting person. And then I thought, well, who's written about her? And the answer was, well, not very many people. And when they have they've, like, spelled her name wrong. Well, are there no sources of that? I was like, Oh, no, there are plenty of sources. Okay, then. And yeah, so I spent, I was on sabbatical, and so I spent my sabbatical reading those reels of microfilm primarily, and getting kind of deeper and deeper into the story. And by the end of that time, I was, you know, I mean, I was well thoroughly hooked, you have to be pretty pumped to spend, you know, eight hours a day on a microfilm reader in the basement of the library, which is what I spent nine months doing.

Kelly:

And so how do you then take all of that when you have that much material, and you know, that this person that no one knows anything about. So you have to say everything about her life, and what happened. How do you take all of that and form it into a book and you decided not to go strictly chronologically? So, you know, how do you how do you weave through all of that?

Anya Jabour:

Well, that's a really good question. Well, with with a great deal of struggle, and a lot of a lot of false starts a lot of rearranging. I, when I first started the project, you know, I had lists of themes and lists of potential chapter titles. And I mean, had I written the book that I that that would have produced, it would have been like, a three volume behemoth, literally, that was not going, that was not going to fly. I would never find a publisher. And even if I found a publisher, I would never find a reader. So that was not going to work. So I yeah, I mean, I just worked a lot at figuring out how to hit the main, you know, hit the main themes in her life that I saw as being most important, and that either had the strongest connections with extant scholarship, or where there was maybe a bit of a gap in the scholarship. But of course, I you know, I mean, it is a biography. It's not strictly speaking chronological, but I did know that I did want it to be, you know, cradle to grave so that I can keep together her personal life and her upbringing with her adult career, rather than, say, focusing on just one aspect of her career, which, you know, I mean, I could, of course, have done, I could have just done "Sophonisba Breckinridge on the international peace movement" or "Sophonisba Breckinridge, you know, social worker," I mean, but yes, as you say, since it was the first, and because I found her so fascinating, I felt a compulsion to at least try to give a sense of the scope of her work and the fullness of her life from beginning to end. But it was, it was very challenging. The manuscript that I ultimately submitted to the publisher is about a fourth of the length of the original manuscript. So there was a great deal of editing. I had to leave many things on the cutting room floor.

Kelly:

I think somebody needs to make a miniseries to get all the rest of this.

Anya Jabour:

That would be a great idea. Just you pass that along to anyone who wants to do that.

Kelly:

I'll let everyone know. So you have an interesting theory that you talked about in the beginning of the book about why she isn't better known, or there's a few different reasons, but one of them is this idea of coming between different waves of feminism or spanning multiple waves of feminism. Could you talk through that a little bit because they think that's so crucial to thinking about who else we might be missing in this conversation.

Anya Jabour:

Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, one of the interesting things about Breckinridge is that the best documented years of her life are actually those so called "lost years" in the 1920s and 30s, following the successful campaign for the 19th amendment, and so the time period that she's most active in the national and international sense, anyway, and in which she kept the most thorough records, are these decades that many historians, fewer now, but at the time that I started this, many historians tended to kind of skip over and say, "Oh, well, you know, the 19th amendment was achieved, fragmentation ensued, things fizzled out." And of course, that's not at all the story of Sophonisba Breckinride, I mean for her. I mean, it's all just one long life long campaign for rights and justice for all. And the suffrage movement is a piece of that story. But it's by no means the only piece of that story. And because she was never a single issue activist, achieving the 19th amendment for her was never the end goal. It was simply, you know, yet another step toward that end goal of justice and freedom and equality.

Kelly:

Do you think I mean, one of the other things you talk about in there is, yeah, because she had these sort of multiple goals, multiple things that she wanted to achieve. And because she was so much working in concert with other people that she doesn't stand out on her own. You know, I'm in Chicago, so everyone knows who Jane Addams is, for instance, and they were contemporaries, but she doesn't stand out in the same way, because she did so many different things. Do you think it's likely that there are other people like this that that we are missing in this larger conversation about women's rights and social justice and and that sort of long story of getting to where we are today?

Anya Jabour:

I do. Absolutely. And I think that biographies, or in some cases, group biographies are really a great way of getting at that. So my book came out at the tail end of 2019, which of course, meant that it was turned in before that, but all of these wonderful books have been coming out for the centennial for 2020. And one of the things that's exciting for me about reading these other books that came out after mine, is that many of them also document these sort of multi issue activists. So Allison Parker's biography of Mary Church Terrell, and Kathleen Cahills, kind of group biography of women of color, and voting rights. And then I'm most recently I just finished Amy Aronson's biography of Crystal Eastman, which of those is the most explicit in referring to their activism as intersectional. But all of these folks, I mean, Breckinridge included, I think, are, are wonderful examples, you know, 100 odd years ago, of this whole notion of intersectionality and intersecting identities and intersecting movements. And I think that perhaps, you know, this is, you know, this is the moment right when we've been engaging in this reassessment of the suffrage movement. And we, as scholars, I mean, have been acknowledging that not everything is about a single issue, and that if we focus on a single issue, we leave a lot of people out, if that was not their, you know, their one and only cause, right? And so we missed those other people. And so I'm really excited to see other scholarship that is kind of reaffirming this notion that I was really still kind of grappling with with the Breckinridge book about the importance of multi issue activism and why that mattered, and, and why this was the moment that these folks were finally going to get there due I hope, but I really wasn't sure when it came out. So yeah, so I mean, I think I think this is a pretty exciting time to be re-examining, overlooked lives and paying attention to people who engage in multiple issues, rather than, you know, being front and center of one movement, but people who are engaged maybe a little bit more behind the scenes, and a whole lot of different movements, but where there was a through line that ties it all together in some way.

Kelly:

So we of course, can't talk about Breckinridge without talking about her relationship with Edith Abbott. And I was wondering too, as I was reading it, if you had ever considered making the book about both of them, you know, if that had had been something that you had considered because so much of the book, you know, they're they're very much together, they're a partnership. So I suppose that's one question. But then another thing in that is, you know, you have talked and certainly in articles and things since the book about how would that same sex relationship, whether or not however, you know, it's actually defined, how that sort of helped them have more of a diverse approach, I think, maybe more intersectionally. So I wonder if you could sort of expand a little bit on that?

Anya Jabour:

Sure. So I did, actually, somebody, one of my colleagues, Kyle Volk, who's now Chair of my department actually asked me early on if I was thinking about doing a joint biography. And I was not, primarily because Lela Costin had already done a joint biography of the Abbott, sisters of Grace and Edith. And so I felt like Edith's story had been told, and people could find that, whereas Breckinridge's story had not. Having said that, obviously, I mean, they they were together for more than 40 years. And they were not only life partners, but also colleagues and fellow politicos, and their work really emboldened and strengthened each other. And so, of course, Abbott is, is a big part of the book. As it happens in Breckinridge's incredibly well documented life, however, her relationship with Abbott, at least her the personal dimensions of her relationship with Abbott, are one of the least well documented aspects of her life, for the kind of ironic reason that they were always together. So, so they did not really need to write to one another because they were literally always together, except for a few sort of short times when one or the other of them was off traveling. And then there'll be like this little, precious little collection of incredibly sweet letters between the two of them. And you know, and then they're together again for the next 10 years and so there aren't any letters. And then until of course, Breckinridge died, predeceasing Abbott, and Abbott got reams of condolence letters from their mutual friends. And, and they're just, you know, the most charming, wonderful, heartbreaking letters that you can imagine that clearly testified to the centrality of this relationship, and to its emotional, as well as practical and political significance. Although, of course, nobody actually defines it, or names it and in the ways that contemporary readers really want them to. So yeah, but I mean, I think one of the things that's interesting about that relationship is, you know, not not just like, documenting the existence of an important same sex relationship, but really highlighting the way in which that relationship helped them to do more together than they could have done, simply because they were such a united force, they worked so well together, they, you know, they would carve out areas of influence that were distinct to one another, they would, you know, take turns almost sort of pushing the other one to the forefront. And then, you know, whoever it was at the forefront, the other one would sort of play the backstage role. But their correspondence behind the scenes shows that they were actually working together, even if only one of them was the figurehead at that particular moment. So yeah, I mean, I thought it was, it's a really interesting relationship. And I think, definitely contributed to them being able to achieve as much as they did, both in terms of establishing the profession of social work, but also in terms of advancing a plethora of social policy advances.

Kelly:

Well, so let's go into this social work in the establishment of the University of Chicago, what was then called the School of Social Service Administration has just very recently changed names. And, you know, I, I've been around academia long enough to know that at least now, establishing a whole new of school is like, a really big years-long process, you know, so this seems like such a singular achievement to be able to take what is a pre existing school, but to get it into the University of Chicago structure, and to really set it up to be a pre eminent school in the field still today. So can you talk some about that? I mean, there's good practical considerations, of course, that go in there for her of setting this up as a school but you know, what, what it really means to have established that and you know, what it sort of meant in her life and an Abbott's life.

Anya Jabour:

So that's one of those chapters that it's definitely much, much, much longer than I mean, there's all as you can imagine, there's all kinds of behind the scenes politicking, and academic infighting and hurt feelings and people being left out and kind of shady backroom deals, and all kinds of all kinds of good stuff. So for Breckinridge and Abbott, there were a number of advantages to creating the school or rather taking the pre existing Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and transforming it into an A university affiliated school. One, of course, was that it provided them with a secure power base. So both of them had at that point been working multiple part time jobs for, you know, 15 or 20 years, never having never having a secure position, never having a reliable paycheck. I mean, at the Chicago School, I mean, there literally were, you know, was no electricity to keep the lights on. At various times, they both didn't get paychecks, at various times, their status was marginal, at best, although they'd worked very hard to raise the profile of social work and assert its importance as a research based field at the school. It wasn't officially their school. So there were limits to how far they could go with that. So. So it created a secure space for them where they could really wield influence and have power and have the security to do that. It also meant that they could advance their particular shared vision of social work as a field that was really based on research and intended to change policy. And of course, this was one of the things that, from the beginning, made the University of Chicago's program distinctive, was this focus on social policy and addressing the structural causes of injustice, rather than focusing on individual casework and individual adjustment to the existing, unequal society, right. And so, and Breckinridge and Abbott were really united in that vision. Their students joked about it, you know, they call that the Abbott-Breckinridge point of view, and, and they got into some serious tussles with people at other schools, like the New York school in particular, at the annual meeting, you know, the annual professional meetings of Social Work educators. And this is one of the places that I think them being a team was really helpful, because if one of them ever felt doubtful about it, and I'm not saying that they ever did in any records that I had, but if they did, the other one would have been there to say, No, no, this is the right course, it doesn't matter if everyone else is going down the casework path. We have the True Vision, right, of how to use social work, not just to help individuals, but to improve society for all and they just really hewed to that vision. And were so insistent on that vision. I think I say somewhere in the book that they were, I mean, even fairly arrogant about it at times. I mean, the the official reports are, are quite insistent that the University of Chicago program was not only distinctive, but quite clearly the best. And like everyone else should be doing, even though the other schools hadn't realized it yet.

Kelly:

There might be a fairly limited audience for it, but this sounds like such a great movie plot. This whole story about the creation of the SSA. I mean, you know, at least SSA students and alumni would probably find it fascinating.

Anya Jabour:

And I mean, there's so much infighting, and there's also this super interesting, really interesting, at least, you know, to me as an academic especially, but interesting gender dynamics of the whole thing, because they're resting control away from Graham Taylor, the male founder of the Chicago School and, and he was quite put out about the whole thing. And they're trying to make their school you know, this beacon of research. Meanwhile, the school of sociology, or the sociology department, which was also male dominated. They also are profoundly threatened by Breckinridge on Abbott and so and then social workers, who were still, you know, in positions of leadership at the other schools also were threatened by them, not so much because of their gender is because of their different vision of what social work should be. So, I mean, they're really kind of embattled on all sides, where they're asserting themselves as research experts. And the male sociologists are like they're you know, they're They're a little girly do gooders, and Graham Taylor, who our course is a minister, is like, oh, they're, you know, their academicizing social work, you know, and how dare they do that. And both of those were kind of, you know, very gendered. And then in a different way, though, the women, social workers who are criticizing them, it's also gender, because women as social workers are supposed to be like, caring and, and compassionate, and should be talking about people instead of talking about policy. And so you know, every which way you go, they were being criticized for not being, you know, the right kind of professionals, the right kind of women, the right kind of social workers. And this is where I think that it's one of those instances where I think the importance of their partnership really shows up that they were able to sustain each other in the face of all of that criticism, and just full speed ahead, and they made it work. They also had some very powerful backers like Julius Rosenwald, I mean, and some other very important backers. So, you know, obviously, I mean, they did not do it without some powerful allies, in this case, a powerful trustee of the University of Chicago, who was, you know, the person in charge of them serious fortune, who made it quite clear to the university president, that this was what he wanted. And if the president knew what was good for him and the university, I he continued financial support. he would he would fall on the line. And of course, that's what happened.

Kelly:

Yeah. So I, we could probably talk about, I could talk about SSA and creation of this all day. But one other topic I wanted to make sure we talk about is the Equal Rights Amendment. And so it's so fascinating to me that Breckinridge was actually opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment. And of course, that that is not a fight that is over because we still don't have the Equal Rights Amendment. But could you talk to them about what her particular objections to it were? Because obviously, she, you know, very much wanted women's rights?

Anya Jabour:

Yes, absolutely. So I mean, one of the things that's, I think, most difficult to explain now, is why not only Breckinridge, but the majority of women's groups oppose the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1920s. And for many of those folks, the central issue was so called protective legislation, right, this gender specific legislation that set limits to the working day, and in some cases established a minimum wage, but for women only. And of course, this was a way of making an end run around the Supreme Court, which had previously upheld the so called idea of freedom of contract for male workers that had struck down efforts to set a limit to the working day for male workers. And so, um, labor advocates, including but not limited to, Breckinridge had come up with this strategy to make a case that that women's health and women's morality and woman's capacity for reproduction were important enough that they demanded a special protection from the state special consideration from the state and that that overrode the freedom of contract now from, you know, our vantage point. Now, I mean, it's easy to see the the pitfalls here, right, because it enshrines a difference in the Supreme Court and in law and policy. And it says that, yeah, there are legitimate reasons for treating women differently from men. And we can of course, see how that would open the door for a lot of discriminatory policies and behaviors. But from Breckinridge's point of view, she thought it was that was actually not a problem, because she never saw a difference and equality as being incompatible. In fact, she believed that true equality had to acknowledge difference, that if you didn't acknowledge difference, and if the state did not use its power to offset differences, that women would never achieve equality, because because they weren't equally positioned with men, they did not have equal access to education, they did not have equal access to training. They were the ones who gave birth to children, and were primarily responsible for rearing children and maintaining a household. They simply were not equally situated. And so true equality or, you know, real equality or fair equality. I mean, she had lots of ways of saying this really required that the state acknowledge and offset those kinds of differences. So so she wasn't concerned. I mean, she didn't see this as being kind of problematic at all. She saw this as being you know, Like, of course, this is how you get to real equality. And then in addition to the end that extended beyond the the issue of protective like labor legislation in the workplace, it also dealt with things like maternal and infant care. So one of her pet projects was the Sheppard-Towner act, or the Maternity and Infancy Act, which was the nation's first federal health care program. Of course, it was only for women and children. So it was also gender specific. Another one of her pet projects was what were initially called mother's pensions, which is financial support for low income single mothers. Again, that's a gender specific program. And so, for Breckinridge, who spent, you know, years, I mean, more than a decade, at the time that the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed, working for these programs, she saw the the amendment as just being a threat to all of these programs that she'd worked so hard to establish that she saw as really essential to women being able to achieve their full potential. And that sense of equality, not equality in the sense of sameness, but equality in the sense of actually leveling the playing field. So she became this incredibly outspoken opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, which I think is probably an I mean, I have a laundry list of reasons that she may have been neglected by scholars. And I think this is one of them that most feminist scholars, I mean, myself included, support the Equal Rights Amendment. And it might be a little off-putting, I suppose to, you know, spend years writing about somebody who was so vocally opposed to it. I like contradiction and irony. And so, you know, that didn't put me off at all. It just it attracted me and I just sorted I was like, really wanted to dig in and be like, Okay, why why does matter so much to her? I mean, not that she just didn't support it, but that she became like one of the most vocal opponents on like, every platform, including the international stage, that she could find, she insisted on speaking out against the equal rights. And then I was like, Okay, this is interesting.

Kelly:

Do you think she would support it today?

Anya Jabour:

That's a great question. You know, here's the thing preppin. Rich was, on the one hand, she was very much an intellectual. They're very, you know, very much persuaded by reason, and especially by numbers. And so, on the one hand, I would think, you know, she might look at the situation now and say, and so, well, you know, now that there are minimum wages and maximum hour laws for all workers, for example, we wouldn't we no longer need to worry about gender specific legislation. If it was only about labor, I think she would. But for her, it was not just about labor, it's also about all these other issues. And I, so I think also that she would look at the situation and say, well, still, and yet, women have primary responsibility for home maintenance and for child rearing. And that's still a difference that the state could have address in some way. There's also the fact that I mean, with this particular fight, she got so dug in that I, I, I mean, normally, I would not say that emotion overrode reason for Breckinridge's. But on this particular issue, she might not just even listen, you know, came back today to any disagreement. I mean, she was really invested in this particular fight. I mean, she said the most terrible things about Doris Stevens, who, of course, was the second in command at the National Women's Party and a major advocate for the amendment. And they they just hated each other. I mean, they were just oil and water. And in a way that went beyond a philosophical difference, right. I mean, that this is real, personal animosity. So I'm not sure, frankly, that that Breckinridge could get over that.

Kelly:

Yeah. So as listeners may have sensed, we have just barely scratched the surface of everything there is to know about Breckinridge. If they'd like to read your book to find out more, how can they do tat?

Anya Jabour:

Well, they can order it from the University of Illinois Press. And it's available and not only paperback and hardback, but also as an E book.

Kelly:

I'll make sure to put a link up for that as well. Is there anything else that we want to make sure before we're off the topic of Sophonisba Breckinridge that, you know, any any last thing that we should make sure that people know about her?

Anya Jabour:

Oh my goodness, I'm probably gonna think of a million things once we end the recording, yeah, I mean, she's just she's a really interesting and remarkable person. And I think, I think her I think her story is, has the potential to be very inspiring for people who are engaged in activism and or academia, which she always combined. I call her an academic activist. And yeah, I hope I hope other people will learn more about her and get a sense of the enormity of women's activism 100 ish years ago, through the lens of her life.

Kelly:

All right, excellent. Well, thank you, and I'm thrilled to have learned about her.

Teddy:

Thank you so much. Thanks for listening to Unsung History, you can find the sources used for this episode at UnsungHistoryPodcast.com. To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain, or are used wi h permission. You can find us n Twitter, or Instagram, at Unsung__History, or on Faceb ok at Unsung History Podca t. To contact us with questions r episode suggestions, please mail Kelly@UnsungHistoryPodca t.com. If you enjoyed this podc st, please rate and review and tell your friends.

Anya Jabour

Anya Jabour is a professor in the History Department and a past co-director of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at the University of Montana. She teaches courses in U.S. women’s history, family history, and southern history as well as several upper-division writing courses.