Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Onward Josephine Walcott

Josephine Walcott to Linda de Force Gordon, November 3, 1878
(Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley)

It’s not surprising that the passionate Josephine began traveling on behalf of women’s suffrage long before her three children left home. Lectures to the largest possible audiences were the mainstay of the movement. Both Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony campaigned all the way to the Pacific Coast. And one of California’s best advocates, Linda de Force Gordon, befriended and inspired Josephine.

Both women were spiritualists as well as suffragists. A trance medium with superb oratorical abilities, Linda often represented the suffrage movement in the political sphere. Correspondence between the two women shows their collaboration.

“I lectured successfully at San Jose and found many liberal pleasant friends,” Josephine reported to Linda in 1878. “It is only among liberal people that woman can find sympathy, or audience to give utterance to her thought.” But further on, Josephine confided: “I begin to feel that there is nothing quite worth doing. Why should we pour forth the rich largess of our thought upon deaf ears?”

Josephine Walcott wrote to Linda de Force Gordon from
San Francisco's luxurious Baldwin Hotel, 1879

She persevered, however. In 1880, the California State Legislature received “A petition from Mrs. Josephine Walcott and one hundred and eighteen others, asking for legislation such as will permit women to vote on all school questions.”

She must have been very proud that her daughters, Mabel and Maude, matriculated at Berkeley the following year. Both became teachers. Maude married a professor at San Jose State College and Mabel married William Adam Beatty, son of a policeman, who became a lawyer in San Francisco. Tragically, Maude and Mabel died young. But Mabel and William had a son, Willard (see earlier post), who grew up to be a brilliant progressive educator.  

Josephine made an appearance with baby Willard in a dissertation written by the first female recipient of a PhD at Berkeley, Milicent Washburn Shinn. Considered a pioneer in developmental psychology, Milicent asked several young mothers – all Berkeley alumnae – to record information about their children’s first few years. Her thesis, Notes on the Development of a Child, includes Mabel’s descriptions of Willard.

Here, I have to interrupt the story to say that it is extraordinary if not unheard-of to have a detailed account of a baby, whose life’s work would involve the study of child development, learning how to walk in 1892.

Charmingly, Mabel reported:

On the same day on which he first took his hand thus off a chair to walk alone, he started to walk from his grandmother to me, but when he had gone half way, and I held out my arms to receive him, he suddenly whirled about and walked back to his grandmother, evidently pleased that he had played a joke on me.

Josephine surely enjoyed the joke.

After Willard was orphaned in 1901, he became the ward of his uncle Earle. Josephine shared their apartment. She died in 1906 a few months after the San Francisco Earthquake and five years before California voted for a proposition granting women the right to vote in state elections. From a conversation with one of Willard’s granddaughters, I know that she read her poems to him.

See also 2015 posts: November 4 + 11 + 29 + December 2; January 12 + 16, 2016.  

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