Thursday, February 10, 2022

19C American & European Women began Traveling across the Atlantic

Henry Bacon (American, 1839–1912) First Sight of Land 1877.

In a nation struggling to establish its own identity, all kinds of Americans, for all kinds of reasons, were enchanted with Europe. William W. Stowe tells us in Going Abroad that a European trip, whether extravagant or modest, could serve social advancement, aesthetic enrichment, or personal curiosity. Travel allowed women to shed their familiar surroundings & comfortable personas, adopt new roles, & measure themselves against the European experience. 

Some of these female travelers were often also writers. Throughout the 19C, celebrated authors & beginners alike published newspaper columns, magazine articles, guidebooks, travel essays, letters, & novels based on their European journeys.  Travel & the writing of it were important, Stowe argues, in molding a peculiarly democratic, yet essentially class-based, sense of personal & group identity. These sources can reveal new ways of understanding 19C Americans' concept of their nation & its place in the world.

Women began to travel in the 19C for many personal & political reasons. Some women sought to further a cause, like missionary work, while others traveled to visit friends & relatives or to satisfy personal curiosities of far away lands. Many women, however, traveled to escape gender oppression in Europe & the US. One form of gender oppression had manifested in scholarly & scientific writing, in which women scholars were not taken seriously. But some women kept journals of their travel experiences.

These women witnessed pivotal historic events of nations struggling for Independence as well as the 1st phases of the political & cultural autonomy of the newly formed nations& states. From the end of the War of 1812, to the end of the century, these women  observed the state-making that developed in the 19C & the inequality of their own positions in many societies, not just their own homeland..

European visitors traveling to the US often did not the wilderness they might have anticipated. Old Sturbridge Inc. tells us that more than 3,700 miles of toll roads, were built in New England between 1790 & 1820. Continuing through the 1840s, many thousands of miles of improved county & town roads were constructed as well. The new roads were much better built & maintained, & allowed for much faster travel. In response, the number of vehicles on the roads increased rapidly, outpacing the population. 

The most radical changes in the speed, scale & experience of traveling came with the application of newly emerging transportation technologies—the railroad, the steamboat, & the rafts & boats on canals—to American conditions. Beginning with Robert Fulton’s Clermont, which successfully made the journey up the Hudson from New York City to Albany in 1807, Americans developed steamboats to ply both the deeper eastern rivers & the shallower western ones. Although steamboats were sometimes dangerously prone to fires & boiler explosions, they traveled faster, met tighter schedules & could move against the river current far more effectively than rafts & barges. Steamboats vastly expanded passenger travel on the rivers & carried much higher value cargo upstream.

Americans turned as well to the massive infrastructure project of canal building, as the British had done decades earlier. Canals promised far less expensive transportation of farm produce, manufactured goods & passengers, but it was often difficult for them to return profits to their investors. The Erie Canal, traversing the breadth of New York State to connect Albany & Buffalo in 1825, was the great success among American canals. It opened up an enormous agricultural hinterland for trade with New York City & New England. In New England, New York & Pennsylvania, Americans created a vast system of inland waterways that significantly reduced transportation cost.

After 1830, the railroad or, as many Americans at that time said, the “Rail Way,” emerged as the most dramatic of the new technologies of transportation. Its speed & power was unprecedented. With good weather, a good road & rested horses, a stagecoach might manage 8 or 9 miles an hour. The small locomotives of the 1830s, pulling a handful of cars over uneven track, could travel 15 to 20  miles an hour. This was 2x as fast, over long distances, as anything Americans had previously experienced. By 1840, 3000 miles of railroad track had been laid down, most of it concentrated in the Northeast. A trip between Boston & Worcester now took less than 2 hours, & travelers could reach New York City from Boston in less than a day, using both coastal steamship & railway.

It was noted in 1830, that stagecoach lines had spread across the Atlantic coast states, using continual relays, or “stages,” of fresh horses spaced out every 40 miles or so. They made travel, faster, less expensive, & less perilous than it had been.  Good roads & stages extended across southern New England, the lower Hudson Valley in New York, & southeastern Pennsylvania. Until the 1830s, Americans seemed relatively unconcerned about the idea of women traveling in public without escorts. Strangers of the opposite sex traveling on stages might even share rooms in inns. 

But before 1840, railway travel was both noisy (from the grating & squealing of iron wheels on the tracks) & dirty (from showers of ash & cinders from wood-burning locomotives). But in the next 20  years the railroad, growing ever faster, more powerful & more efficient, would become America’s dominant mode of transporting people & products east of the Mississippi, sweeping away many stage lines & even making some of the canals obsolete.

By 1840, transportation costs had been greatly reduced & travel had become faster by a factor of 5 or more. These changes helped make possible America’s 1st “Industrial Revolution,” the widespread development of commercial agriculture in the Midwest, & a national system of markets & the distribution of goods. Many ordinary Americans could now become travelers for pleasure, & even the pathways of westward migration were becoming faster & safer.

Women visitors on both sides of the Atlantic wrote journals of their experiences often describing the landscape & local social & political aspects of the cultures they visited plus historical events. Many noted the everyday lives of women, their education, & their property rights & marital obligations. giving both empirical observations & subjective impressions from a feminine point-of-view.

The Library of Congress tells us that travel accounts of all sorts—published & unpublished, by women, by foreigners and Americans, written for pleasure, pay, or spiritual expression—can provide a wealth of unusual detail on topics such as manners, clothing, education, childcare, health, regional differences, interpersonal relationships, and political events.

Such works are rarely indexed, so only patient perusal of individual volumes will uncover the details. In these often overlooked sources you can explore important questions of gender, class, race, and national identity and observe interactions among people of different cultures.

The Library of Congress suggests these authors:
  • Adams, Almeda C., 1865- . Wrote about her experience as a blind traveler. She toured Europe 3 times.
  • Ahl, Frances Norene.
  • Allen, Harriet Trowbridge. Wrote about Europe and "the East."
  • Anderson, Isabel, 1876-1948. Traveled to East Asia.
  • Bridgman, Eliza Jane (Gillett), Mrs. [from old LOC catalog]. Wrote about China.
  • [Bullard, Anne Tuttle Jones, Mrs.] [from old LOC catalog]. Wrote about Europe.
  • Cazneau, Jane Maria (McManus), 1807-1878. [from old LOC catalog]. Wrote about life in Texas border town, which discusses the U.S. Government relations with Native Americans at that time.
  • Cushing, Caroline Elizabeth Wilde, 1802-1832. Wrote about France and Spain.
  • Delaplain, Sophia, pseud. Wrote about Cuba.
  • Eames, Jane Anthony, 1816-1894. Wrote about Bermuda, and "the East."
  • Faithfull, Emily, 1836?-1895. Forbes, A. S. C., Mrs. Wrote about California including missions and landmarks.
  • Haight, Sarah Rogers.
  • Hall, Margaret Hawthorne
  • Sophia Peabody, 1809-1871. Wrote a journal about traveling in Cuba, ND237.H38 A3 1985.
  • Kemble, Fanny, 1809-1893.
  • Kirkland, Caroline M. (Caroline Matilda), 1801-1864.
  • Le Vert, Octavia (Walton), Mrs., 1810?-1877. [from old LOC catalog]. Europe.
  • [Lippincott, Sara Jane Clarke], 1823-1904. [from old LOC catalog].
  • [Miller, Anna C. (Johnson), Mrs.] [from old LOC catalog].
  • Morrell, Abby Jane, 1809- . Recounts sea voyage between 1829 and 1831 from New England to the South Pacific. Paine, Caroline. Tent and Harem: Notes of an Oriental Trip (1859) is available online via HathiTrust.
  • Palmer, Phoebe, 1807-1874.
  • Ripley, Eliza, 1832-1912. Wrote about New Orleans, Cuba, & Mexico.
  • Schriber, Mary Suzanne, 1938-
  • Scott, Anna M. Sheldon,
  • Mary French, 1847-1936. Traveled "alone" but with an extensive staff. Wrote about her extensive travels of Africa. Shepherd,
  • Mary Rice Young. Travels in Mexico.
  • Shuck, Henrietta Hall, 1817-1844. Wrote about China, also about religion.
  • Smith, Abigail Adams, 1765-1813.
  • Wallis, Mary (Mary Davis). Wrote about Fiji or "Feejee."
  • Willard, Emma (Hart), Mrs., 1787-1870. [from old LOC catalog].
  • Workman, Fanny Bullock, 1859-1925. Two Summers in the ice-wilds of Eastern Karkoram: DS485.K2 W9.
  • Wright, Elizabeth Steel
Other 19C Travel Books:
See these Works about Women Travelers:

Adams, W. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport), 1828-1891 Celebrated women travellers of the nineteenth century by W. H. Davenport (William Henry Davenport) Adams. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Lim., 1882; 9th edition, 1906.

Birkett, Dea. Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.

Caesar, Terry. Forgiving the Boundaries: Home as Abroad in American Travel Writing. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1995.

Elsden, Annamaria F. Roman Fever: Domesticity & Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Writing. Columbus: the Ohio State University Press, 2004.

Fish, Cheryl J. Black & White Women’s Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies: Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, November 12, 2004.” American Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1, 2005, p. 17-57.

Robertson, Susan L. Antebellum American Women Writers & the Road: American Mobilities. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Russell, Mary. The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt: Women Travellers & Their World. London: Collins, 1986.

Schriber, Mary S. “Assuming a Public Voice: The Travel Writing of Margaret Fuller & Harriet Beecher Stowe.” Femmes de conscience : Aspects du féminisme américain (1848-1875). Eds. Daniel Royot & Susan Goodman. Paris: Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1994, p. 127-148.

              Writing Home: American Women Abroad, 1830-1920. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Steadman, Jennifer B. Traveling Economies: American Women’s Travel Writing. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.

Stowe, William W. Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture: Princeton University Press, 2017