Stay-At-Home Public Project with Four Dartmouth Faculty

There’s No Place Like Home: 19th Century Women Writers and the Opportunities of Domesticity
Colleen Boggs, Carolyn Dever, Christie Harner, Ivy Schweitzer

Imagine if Stay-At-Home were not a temporary order but a way of life. We are working with students to build a WordPress site that showcases how nineteenth-century women writers dealt with the challenges of enforced domesticity and saw the home as a site of artistic and personal constraint as well as opportunity. We believe that women writers from the past newly speak to a broad audience in the present moment, now that millions of people are under stay-at-home orders and experiencing, in highly gendered ways, the restructuring of the workforce, the economy, and the political landscape. We will explore what the lives of 19th century women might teach us about stay-at-home orders, for one, but also about women’s labor and creative output during times of crisis.

Dartmouth students will be key partners in our work, serving as research assistants and building content via fall and winter quarter class assignments.

The four of us plan to develop one module each that highlights an author or a pair of authors, discusses relevant texts and contexts, offers discussion questions, curates relevant resources, and suggests experiential learning activities that can be adapted for different age groups.

❖  Colleen Boggs plans to put Louisa May Alcott in dialogue with the poet and novelist Frances E.W. Harper, placing ​Little Women ​(1868) in conversation with Iola Leroy​ (1892). That pairing will revolve around both women’s engagement with what home meant for white and African American women during the Civil War, might include a discussion of the recent Greta Gerwig movie (and why there are no films of ​Iola Leroy)​ , and offer a learning module around the nursing care (including letter-writing for the wounded) both women portrayed.

❖  Carolyn Dever will develop a unit on the “Michael Fields,” two women who published poetry under this pseudonym and co-wrote diaries. She will integrate aspects of her archival work into the unit, opening questions of how the “House Beautiful” movement in the late-nineteenth century provided gendered spaces for the exploration of beauty, privacy, and intimacy. The learning module will focus on the writers’ painstaking construction of home--textiles, rugs, forks, mirrors, paint colors--as the artistic manifestation of their deepest and most passionate feelings.

❖  Christie Harner asks how women writers of children’s fiction emphasized interiors and their ability to inspire imaginative acts, as in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s ​A Little Princess ​(1905) and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ​Anne of Green Gables​ (1908). The unit will focus on female children’s fiction oriented around domestic “adventures,” and will pair that literature with Clementina Hawarden’s domestic photography of her daughters (early 1860s).

❖  Ivy Schweitzer will focus on the famous recluse, Emily Dickinson, putting her in conversation with a contemporary, working class poet Lucy Larcom, who wrote for the ​Lowell Offering​, and Sarah Winnemucca, a Pauite Indian who spoke out against the removal of her people from their homelands to concentration camps. She will draw on the extensive work she has already produced as part of the White Heat​ blog, and offer new resources and projects, such as a virtual tour of the Dickinson home and gardens and instructions for making an herbarium based on plants around one’s house and neighborhood.

All four of us plan to work with Rauner Special Collections, to see how we can integrate the collections into our online platform, discussions, and project suggestions. There is a conference in the works for Spring 2021, in which students from our courses will have the chance to participate.

Courses affiliated with this project:

English 24: Victorian Literature and Culture, 1837-1859 (Dever; Fall 20; remote synchronous, MWF 2:35-3:40)

English 29: American Fiction to 1900 (Boggs; Fall 20; remote synchronous, MWF 1:10-2:15)

English 52.02: The Civil War in Literature (Boggs; Fall 20, remote synchronous, MWF 10:20-11:25)

English 52.17: Victorian Children’s Literature (Harner; Fall 20; remote synchronous, TTH 10:20-12:10)

English 72.06: Dickens in Context: Senior Seminar in Group 2 (Dever; Fall 20; remote synchronous, MWF 10:20-11:25)

English 52.05: Desire and Difference in Victorian Literature and Culture (Dever; Winter 21, 10A)