Saturday, June 4, 2011

Women in History

Women in History : 
Mary Chase Barney

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm interested in women's history, especially in ordinary women who did extraordinary things without knowing it. This is the first in a series of posts based on my research for a paper I wrote last semester.

Mary Chase was born on may 1, 1785 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father, Samuel Chase, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Supreme Court Judge. In 1808 she married William Barney whose father Joshua was a naval hero of the War of 1812. He was older and had a family from his first marriage. He and Mary had several children together.

In 1829, William Barney was removed from his job as a naval customs officer under President Andrew Jackson. Mary Barney was firmly convinced that Jackson fired her husband for voting for John Quincy Adams in the last election. She believed that Jackson replaced honorable men with his political cronies and she was really really mad about it. She was so mad, she published an open letter to the President accusing him of ruining her family. She wrote, “Careless as you are about the effects of your conduct, it would be idle to inform you of the depth and quality of that misery which you have worked in the bosom of my family.” 

Jackson refused to reinstate her husband and Mary was left to take care of her family during her husband's prolonged illness. She turned to writing a magazine, The National Magazine, or The Ladies' Emporium. She aimed the magazine at women and claimed that it would be "generally literary and occasionally political." It was a lot more than OCCASIONALLY political! She used her magazine to attack the Democrats, especially Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. The country was in a depression at that point and many people blamed the Democrats for not doing enough to get the country out. Andrew Jackson favored a strong Federal Government and high taxes.
Mary Barney called for the American public to take an interest in politics because the current administration was not behaving honorably and needed to be replaced by more honorable gentlemen who could bring the country back to the simplicity and prosperity of Jefferson's time. She asked, “Will the honest, plain-dealing citizens of the United States continue to be satisfied with an administration, that they must either laugh at or despise?”

She continued to criticize Jackson claiming, “He could surprise us in no other way than by exhibiting some trait of character which would entitle him to either the esteem which is awarded to virtue and patriotism, or the respect which is sometimes extorted by the union of courage and talent with high-reaching ambition.”

She also insulted and emasculated Martin VanBuren whom she felt was a  “wily politician” and  “A fearless, highminded, manly openness of conduct, is as much beyond his powers of conception as a melody of sounds is beyond the comprehension of a man born deaf.” 

It was unusual at this time for women to take such an active role in politics. Usually women played more of a supportive role in politics: waving banners, cooking, attending rallies to make sure men behaved themselves and dressing as patriotic figures. 

Mrs. Barney claimed she was only doing her duty to care for her family. She often emphasized her role as a mother and apologized for her actions. She played up her femininity as much as possible and used common beliefs about what women were supposed to be like to explain away her actions. She explained that she wouldn't get involved in party politics.  She said, "Female forms are not expected where stout hearts are wanted, because such hearts are rarely lodged in female bosoms.”  Women were not expected to have enough knowledge to be interested in politics, even though she showed that wasn't at all true.

She was a bit hypocritical though. Even though she tried to work within the framework of what was expected for women at that time, she held strong opinions. Her magazine contained articles on women’s education and the lack of sentimental fiction in her magazine showed that she favored strong-minded, intelligent women and thought that women were capable of intelligence equal to that of men.

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