On the evening of October 1, 2009, I sat entranced alongside my friends while Elaine Showalter imparted some special advice for her talk at the all women’s university. It would stick with me the rest of my life as a writer: be arrogant, cocky, and if you connect with another woman call yourselves a generation.
Hollins gave me the opportunity to form a Generation with brilliant and inspiring women. Award-winning and hardworking artists, who I am blessed enough to call my friends. Hollins also opened the door to network with the generations who came before me and those who follow. My MA thesis would not have been as successful without my Hollins’ connection to a descendant of one of the original Jewish colonists to Georgia. In fact, one of the only reasons I was able to afford my research trip down there was because a Hollins sister rented a room to me for a month.
There is strength in networks of women. I find myself nostalgic for my emersion in women-centered spaces as I transcribe the correspondence from Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard’s papers on women’s suffrage, women’s issues, women’s clubs, and her closest friends in the cause.
Dr. Hebard believed in the power of networking women, joining organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Association for Women Lawyers, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and later the League of Women Voters. Granted, these weren’t the only organizations to which Dr. Hebard claimed membership. She also joined or created clubs around hobbies and sports such as photography or golf. This is not to mention the historic associations she served, nor, her other professional clubs.
Dr. Hebard often used her connections to enact change in Wyoming and nationally. She used D.A.R. to help Wyoming gain her state flower and flag. Working within the mission of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Dr. Hebard promoted a traveling library and worked on child labor laws both in Wyoming and nationally. Her Americanization efforts found support from several of her women’s organizations. Whether it was raising money for the war effort or to establish monuments at old forts, Dr. Hebard worked alongside other women to fundraise projects for public benefit. Her varied interests impacted all aspects of Wyoming.
She not only labored for the causes she deemed just, Dr. Hebard was also a tireless promoter of other women. First and foremost, Dr. Hebard helped build up the women in her life. In her role as the secretary to the Board of Trustees for the University of Wyoming and serving on the board, Dr. Hebard had unprecedented power when it came to hiring and paying employees. Under her tutelage, women found true equality working at the university. In one of my favorite letters that I have read so far, Dr. Hebard urges the university president to increase the wages of two librarians who were “College women and trained special in library work…” [Box 4, Folder 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming]
Her tendency to romanticize other women has since gained her the ire of many a historian trying to correct the record on Sacajawea and Esther Morris. Other women, however, have been able to maintain the mythic aura given to them by Dr. Hebard. After all, she is also the person who publicized Louisa Swain as the first woman to cast her vote in Laramie, even putting her own money into erecting a monument in Swain’s honor. One skeptical letter from W.E. Chaplin, dated January 21, 1920, asks, “By the way, how did the people of Laramie come to know that Mrs. Swain was the first woman voter? Is it not possible or probable that a woman in some other election district voted simultaneously, or even before Mrs. Swain?” [Box 21, Folder 8, AHC, UW]
W.E. Chaplin’s skepticism bears merit, but still today Louisa Swain remains a central figure in Wyoming’s story of suffrage. There is even a foundation named after her and she is the central figure featured at the Wyoming House for Historic Women in Laramie, which honors Thirteen Historic Women. Surprisingly, Dr. Hebard is not among the honored women, despite the fact that Louisa Swain likely would have been forgotten to history without Dr. Hebard’s promotion. Dr. Hebard’s own role in preserving woman suffrage in the state of Wyoming has often been downplayed or ignored and forgotten. In June 1889, she served as the principal author of a resolution passed by a state-wide mass meeting of women. The resolution urged the lawmakers at the Wyoming Constitutional Convention to include a clause on woman suffrage. Dr. Hebard may have outsized the roles of Sacajewa, Esther Morris, and Louisa Swain, but she did not apply the same tireless promotion to herself. She could have used a little of Elaine Showalter’s advice perhaps. Regardless, Dr. Hebard did find her efforts recognized and celebrated by the national network of women fighting for national suffrage rights. Her contemporaries in this fight admired Dr. Hebard’s gift for oration, her charm, and her passionate dedication.
Dr. Hebard loved the freedom and equality she enjoyed in Wyoming, but unlike many other women in Wyoming, that was not enough for her. She wanted to see all women emancipated as the women in Wyoming were. Due to always having woman’s suffrage from territorial days into statehood, Wyoming women did not need to organize and create the same infrastructure being formed in other states. Often, Dr. Hebard served as the one-woman show for promoting Wyoming’s suffrage on the national stage. She attended conferences and spoke in Chicago, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut among several other places. Joining the Emergency Corps, she toured eastern cities giving speeches and attending rallies all urging state government officials to act in passing the 19th Amendment. She was honored at a convention in Chicago, where she won the hearts and admiration of many women who would fondly write praising her humor and intelligence. Having been in the class two years behind Carrie Chapman Catt at Iowa State University, Dr. Hebard formed a close friendship with the prominent suffragette. She wrote to her sister while attending the Chicago conference, “I sat at banquet table on the right hand of Mrs. Catt- teacher’s pet- Oh Betz- she was a dream in a light blue dress…” [Box 21, Folder 7, AHC, UW]
Dr. Hebard wasn’t alone in her admiration of the National American Woman Suffrage Association President. With the passage of the 19th Amendment achieved with Carrie Chapman Catt at the helm of the suffrage movement, Dr. Hebard was determined to honor her. Fortunately, she had just the means to do so, devising for the University of Wyoming to bestow Catt with its first Honorary Degree on June 12, 1921.
Dr. Hebard’s Generation of Women fought tirelessly out of love for each other and a deep-seated belief in gender equality. Working with her papers gives me that same comfortable feeling I have when I am surrounded by inspiring women. There is nothing more empowering than being in a room full of women all rooting for your success. Going through Hollins you will hear all of the inspirational “women uplift other women” rhetoric, but the truth is that it isn’t until you meet a woman like Dr. Hebard that you truly understand the power in a helping feminine hand. When we work together we are stronger and there is no limit to what we can accomplish.
I have been fortunate enough in my research journey to meet the women of Wyoming who are carrying on Dr. Hebard’s legacy– women in organizations like D.A.R. and the League of Women Voters; engaged and dedicated librarians; and bright and detailed historians. Hiring some undergraduates at the University of Wyoming to help me collect scans and photos from the archives, I too felt myself pick up Dr. Hebard’s mantel. I hope to continue collaborating and networking with Wyoming’s women. I will never stop striving for that Hollins’ feeling: dear friends, my Generation of Women, inspiring me to my best self so I may serve my community to my fullest potential. Along the way, I will try to heed Showalter’s advice to confidently promote my work and the work of women I admire.