I spent another amazing day in the company of fascinating women at the Concord School of Philosophy. This time, we had three separate presentations--two before lunch, one after. Debra Ryals from Pensacola State College spoke first on "The Condition of Women: Literature of the 19th and 20th Centuries." She focused on six authors--including Alcott--to demonstrate who women viewed themselves in terms of employment. She also talked about the importance of understanding context before you can appreciate and understand the literature. One piece of context that she shared stirred up some discussion: The suicide rate for unmarried women in the mid to late 19th century was 40% because there were so few options for them. Most often, they'd jump off low bridges into shallow water, breaking their necks. Even Louis May once thought about going over a bridge but was "saved" by a passerby. Jobs for women then weren't great or plentiful. There was no outlet for too many. They'd get depressed at the seeming dead end. This was before Freud, before psychology, before there was any helplines... This was staggering to think about.
Between conversations, I had a conversation of my own with Debra Ryals mother. That was delightful as she clearly took joy in hearing her daughter's presentation. She told me about the fun they've had reading and learning together. I enjoyed meeting her. During lunch, I had a conversation with Caroline Davis and a couple other participants. We somehow found our way to talking about Anne of Green Gables which is a great favorite with many young people, but isn't often studied in academic circles, but certainly in this context could easily compete...
The afternoon conversation was spurred on by a presentation by Lisa Stepanski from Emmanuel College on "The Friendship of Bronson Alcott and Mary Baker Eddy." Turns out Eddy sent an early copy of her Christian Science manifesto, Health and Science, to Bronson Alcott hoping that he'd read and publicize it--which he did. They corresponded back and forth briefly about it, and this information led to a discussion about mid-19th century religion and spirituality which I found most interesting, and which may well lead to some independent research of my own in the near future. If I get to it, I'll share it here!
In all, it was a stimulating 6 hours in a very warm School of Philosophy building (although much more comfortable than yesterday afternoon).