One year ago today, as part of a Women’s History Month series curated by Dana Rubin, RCP readers were treated to the wisdom of journalist and author Lillie Devereux Blake. Titled “A Woman Spoke Today,” the series featured a cross section of addresses made by women at pivotal historical points.
Ms. Blake’s came in the spring of 1883 in response to lectures by Morgan Dix, rector of Trinity Church in Manhattan and a trustee of Columbia University. Dix’s weekly homilies imparted his vision of “Christian womanhood.” Finding this view of women’s roles far too constricting, Blake rented her own meeting hall and on four consecutive Sunday evenings she gave a rebuttal to “the haughty rector of Trinity.”
In the March 11, speech, Blake took aim at the injustice of divorce laws then on the books as well as the Bible-based notion of “headship” -- that a wife belonged to her husband. “These dueling themes present two poles of the ongoing debate about women in society,” Dana Rubin noted in her introduction. “Dix believed maternity was woman’s highest role and opposed letting women enroll at Columbia. Blake was one of the most vocal and determined advocates for women’s admittance to the university.”
Her vision was the more persuasive. Or, as we would say today, she had history on her side: Six years after her speeches, Barnard College opened its doors as a women’s liberal arts college. The prestigious school it was affiliated with? Columbia University.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.