National Anti-Suffrage Association, 1911 (?). Harris & Ewing, photographers. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
In looking up more information on Caroline Merrick, I found an article by Samantha LaDart called “Caroline Merrick and Women’s Rights in Louisiana” published in Loyola University (N.O) Student History Journal. As it turns out, Merrick is somewhat famous not as obscure as I hoped. But, just the same, I believe most people would not be that familiar with her unless they have studied much about women’s rights.
LaDart begins by spelling out how the southern woman was expected to be a model of virtue, a guardian of youth. Also, she points out that the ideal woman in the South differed from her counterpart in the North. As we have been reading in class, Northern women in the nineteenth-century experienced a shift of the female power in the home, to make the home a haven from the workplace. LaDart explains the woman’s weakness in the South is her strength and her only right is to be protected. With this right to protection she is obligated to obey. So the southern woman was expected to be nervous, fickle, and delicate so the man will worship and adore her. (Scarlet O’Hara?)
The article by LaDart, explains the feminine ideal was an essential part of the psychology of the institution of slavery. This struck me as I never associated the two, i.e., women’s rights and slavery. Submission to the master from the household was expected by all family members so as not to threaten the whole and therefore slavery itself.
However, the Civil War challenged the “right to protection” and the “obligation” that went along with it. During the war and Reconstruction women in Louisiana took on new roles for the first time. LaDart brings out how these changes in roles began Caroline Merrick on the road to lead women’s rights in Louisiana.
Merrick did many things during the war such as nursing the sick and wounded for both sides. She would often take dangerous voyages on the river for supplies. Additionally, she nursed her family and slaves on the plantation during the war years. Caroline Merrick enjoyed these new duties and she felt she had to use every faculty of her mind.
As an outcome of these new roles, women in Louisiana pushed for more responsibilities after the war; they could not go back to the pre-war days. Merrick pushed for the rest of her life for women’s rights and they were slow in coming. But progress she did make. She fought for women’s representation and the right to vote. She was the first woman to organize a woman’s suffrage association in Louisiana. It was called the Portia Club.
I plan to go more into this very important part of her life in the final blog. Hopefully, this whets the appetite. Also, please note the picture above how men were opposed to women’s rights!