Brev. Brig. Gen'l
- Feb 14, 2012
- Central Pennsylvania
Harper's published this image of the massive ladies meeting held in Cooper Union's ' Foundation Building ", April 1861. According to accounts 4,000 women attended a mass discussion about what would be their role providing relief and supporting men engaged in this war. A few men came. For awhile.
This article got funnier every time I read it. Laughing so hard by the third read-through I was weak. One man's speech included this -
He'd be sorry he said that.
April 26, 1861. WAR was here, the real thing. Despite the collective wave of patriotic fervor sweeping the country, as unreasonable as the tsunami it resembled was an uneasy suspicion we'd really done it this time. Men would die, your son, my father, our husbands. While Edmund Ruffin was still recovering his breath, lanyard in hand women were organizing. We're good at it. OH there were quite a few illustrious men as speakers, whipping up patriotic endeavor with speeches- this was Peter Cooper. The usual plus some blah blah blah.
4,000 women gathered in The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, in New York City. " The Foundation " building - still a landmark in 2019- was new, built in 1859. It " quickly became a common meeting place for intellectuals, inventors, tinkerers, and people from across the social strata " https://cooper.edu/about/history/foundation-building
From LoC, circa 1864
Cooper Union remains a New York City landmark, little changed from this 1864 image.
What. To. Do. It's too long to get into, basically women met to discuss how to HELP, individually and comprehensively, needs looming over a newly bloody horizon. They were there awhile, our estrogen fest of a demand to be part of the healing we're still undergoing. I'd had a vague idea relief organizations began later in the war. Cooper's vast meeting corrected this for me- women launched themselves into a different war than the one emblazoned over headlines from Maine to Florida. The ' What To Do ' swiftly became " Here's What We're Going To Do ".
This lady's meeting was termed " The Anti-Luxury Convention ". As a kind of start to immersing ourselves in the process of gluing men back together we'd all strip imported fribbles, frills, furbelows and expensive frou-frou, taking a pledge to that effect. It's what happened next that's so gosh darn funny.
So after the long winded, uber patriotic speeches- for some reason largely by men, The Pledge was suggested. It transpired there was a limit to male patriotism inside the gathering. The pledge, they said, was too hasty, too comprehensive, too harsh in its disavowal of goods. There's a lot of businessmen backsliding in fact, manufacture dollars ( and those who stood to lose money ) became a topic. Please ladies, may we re-write the pledge? Something less, er, harsh so no one's bottom line is offended?
4,000 women got pretty mad. That's a lot of mad.
" The gentlemen..... after counseling the ladies not to let their enemies and the enemies of their country say the meeting could not agree on a matter so vital to the welfare of the nation withdrew.... " OH to have been there.
Pledge was taken in its unadulterated, harsh ( to businessmen ) form. By 4,000 and no men. They were still under the stage.
I've never looked into how this pledge may have affected some bottom line somewhere, if it did. Most business may have been conducted by men 150 years ago- but women bought the stuff. Or not. Just ask 4,000 pretty mad women and the men who didn't hang around.