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Kansas History - Summer 1998

(Vol. 21, No. 2)

Kansas History, Summer 1998Nicole Etcheson, "'Labouring for the Freedom of This Territory': Free-State Kansas Women in the 1850s."

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Using Ellen and Harriet Goodnow as two of her prime examples, Professor Etcheson examines "the interplay of politics, domesticity, and western settlement in the lives of nineteenth-century women." Middle-class women such as Ellen, the wife of Isaac Goodnow of Manhattan, coped with the hardships of pioneer life and adapted their belief in the "woman's sphere" to the new natural and political environment that was territorial Kansas. They joined the crusade to make Kansas free, embracing the "politics to reconcile themselves to the hardships of re-creating their domestic ideals on an embattled frontier." Nevertheless, few of these women actually challenged male authority at home or in the public realm. Harriet, on the other hand, asserted her independence and "struck a small blow against woman's subordination" by refusing to move west despite the entreaties of her husband William.

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg, "Tragedy as Triumph: Liberal, Kansas, and Its 1933 Tornado."

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A deadly tornado that struck in the late afternoon of May 22, 1933, tested the mettle of Liberal residents, who were already straining under the twin burdens of drought and depression. With hundreds homeless and the business district in shambles, the people of this small southwest Kansas town rose to the challenge and soon the "scenes of desolation . . . were obscured by a flurry of community action." Riney-Kehrberg, an associate professor of history at Illinois State University, skillfully recounts this human drama and analyzes the town's effort to turn tragedy into triumph. Within a month, the tornado had "become a part of their mythic past"-- another challenge overcome. "The residents of Liberal chose to believe that they were bigger than a tornado and able, in spite of the times, to recover fully and even profit from its destructive powers. In the same way they faced the Dust Bowl, constantly reassuring themselves of their strength and resilience in the face of potential desolation."

Gail L. McDaniel, "Women, Medicine, and Science: Kansas Female Physicians, 1880-1910."

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Doctors Deborah K. Longshore, Maggie McCrea, Ida Barnes, Frances Storrs, Sara Greenfield, and Frances Harper are the subjects of this study of turn-of-the-century medicine. Focusing on their published writing, McDaniel concludes that these were outstanding female practitioners who "proposed specific changes in women's health care." They stressed the importance of preventive medicine, " challenged certain traditional therapeutic measures," and advocated health education. Although in many ways extraordinary, "these Kansas women represented a widely held perspective among women who entered public life during their time because of the contributions they believed they could make as women to women and to society."

Kevin J. Abing, "A Holy Battleground: Methodist, Baptist and Quaker Missionaries Among the Shawnee Indians, 1830-1844."

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Much has been written about the cultural clash that occurred when Christian missionaries went among the Indians preaching salvation and teaching Euro-American ideas of "civilized" conduct. Largely ignored by the historical literature, however, according to Abing, is the interdenominational rivalry and strife that permeated the mission field. The competition for souls and government largess was no where more intense than it was in what would become Kansas. Not surprisingly, this situation "contributed little to the Shawnee's welfare. The tribe faced drastic cultural challenges, which invariably bred disharmony between those who assimilated to American culture and those who retained their traditional heritage. . . . Shawnee bands and individual families were torn apart, as members either joined one of the Christian faiths or adhered to their traditional religion. The interdenominational feuding only added to the confusion, with the Indians attempting to make sense of this Christian onslaught."