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Martha Farnsworth

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Feb 10, 2020 by Michael Church

Between 1896 and 1900, the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association (KESA) published four poems and one article by writer and women’s rights advocate Charlotte Perkins Stetson (later Gilman) in their official paper, the Kansas Suffrage Reveille. While Gilman has achieved an exalted position in the cannon of American literature, many of her poems and articles survive today only because libraries and archives preserved copies of obscure little papers like the Reveille. The Kansas Suffrage Reveille is now available on Kansas Memory.  

Born in New England in 1860 and descended from the influential Beecher family, Charlotte Perkins married Charles Stetson in 1884. In 1888, after a nervous breakdown, Charlotte took her daughter and moved to California. She published “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in 1892 and a book of poems a year later. In 1900, she married Houghton Gilman.

 

Gilman’s visit to Kansas in 1896 coincided with the publication of KESAs new monthly paper, which promoted Gilman regularly. Gilman spent most of June in Kansas speaking in Kansas City, Topeka, Holton, Madison, Eureka, Howard, Winfield, Concordia, and Yates Center. From Kansas she traveled to Montreal where she sailed for Liverpool.

 

In the January 1897 issue of the Reveille, editor Katie Addison noted “Every suffrage club in the state should have Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s book of poems. They are constantly kept at headquarters. 50 cents per copy.” Indeed, the new organ for the KESA regularly featured reports on Gilman (as Charlotte Perkins Stetson) and promoted her publications which could be purchased from the KESA headquarters.

 

In 1897, the Kansas Agricultural College in Manhattan (now Kansas State University), offered Gilman a position as a teacher in economics. In her autobiography, Gilman recounts how flattered she was to receive the offer since she had never been to college herself. But she declined the position due to poor health.

 

A list of Gilman’s writings published in the Kansas Suffrage Reveille under the name Charlotte Perkins Stetson follows:

 

A woman – in so far as she beholdeth , Vol. I, No. 6, August 1896

 

Woman Suffrage and the West , Vol. II, No. 4, June 1897

 

A Prejudice , Vol. III, No. 10, October 1898

 

Feminine vanity! O ye gods! , Vol. IV, No. 8, August 1899

 

O, sister woman! You were created man’s equal , Vol. IV, No. 10, September 1899

Mar 23, 2019 by Megan Rohleder

By: Megan Rohleder, Senior Archivist

As part of 19th Amendment centennial commemorations, staff members at the Kansas Historical Society have been working to create a digital program that will highlight the words of one Kansan who worked tirelessly to earn the right to vote for women. Martha Farnsworth was a Kansan who documented life pre and post suffrage in Kansas. The Kansas State Archives is home to a collection of diaries written by her over a span of nearly 40 years.

Martha Farnsworth Portrait  

Martha was born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa on April 26th, 1867.  When Martha was three, her mother died while giving birth to the youngest Farnsworth daughter, Belle. Her father, James, remarried and together the family moved to Winfield, Kansas when Martha was five.

  In 1883, when Martha turned 16, she moved in with a neighboring family due to problems with her stepmother.  After five years of virtually independent living, Martha moved to Topeka, Kansas where she lived the rest of her life. 

It was in Topeka where Martha met her first husband, Johnny Shaw. The courtship and marriage were tumultuous and Martha often commented in her diaries that she was unhappy. 

 Martha Farnsworth Diary Entry September 19th, 1889

  During their four-year marriage, Martha suffered multiple miscarriages which added to her unhappiness. On January 24th, 1892, though, much to Martha's happiness and Johnny's displeasure, Martha gave birth to a baby girl, Mabel Inez Belle. It took just a couple months for Martha to realize that her baby girl was very sick and on June 27th, 1892, Mabel succumbed to her illness.

Martha lived with Johnny for two more years before consumption took his life in October of 1893. Her diary entries during this time were less about his emotional abuse and drinking and more about her unhappiness. This unhappiness was short-lived, though, as she cautiously started a relationship with Fred Farnsworth, a co-worker of Johnny's at the Topeka Post Office. 

Fred Farnsworth in Postal Uniform 

After their marriage in 1894, Martha wrote of her many community engagements. She was passionate about social reform movements, including campaigning for women's suffrage. In 1905 Martha was voted into the Good Government Club, a group crucial to the success of equal suffrage in Kansas in 1912. 

Good Government Club Flier for suffrage

Martha's diaries not only highlight one ordinary Kansan's extraordinary contributions to many social reform movements, they also highlight the social and political climates of the state during those times. To highlight the story of this special woman, our Senior Archivist, Megan Rohleder, will be tweeting words from Martha's 1912 diary in a new Twitter account starting April 1st. Followers will be able to read what was happening on this day (OTD) over 100 years ago as Kansans fought for equal suffrage. Follow along at @MFarnsworthKSHS to see history through the words of someone who lived it.


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