In case you haven’t noticed, it’s Women’s History Month! I’ve really been enjoying keeping up with posts on social media of really cool women from around the world that I haven’t heard of before. It’s inspiring and reminds me that there is still much more we don’t know about women’s experiences. So without further ado, here are five women from North Carolina history that you should get to know!
Penelope Barker (1726-1796)
In October 1774, Penelope Barker and fifty other women gathered in an Edenton home in the first recorded act of women’s political action during the American Revolution. Barker is credited with drafting the agreement which called for a boycott of British tea imports after the passing of the Tea Act in 1773. Barker and her patriot sisters were later lampooned in a London publication as the “Edenton Tea Party.”
Find out more in Cynthia A. Kierner’s article: “The Edenton Ladies: Women, Tea, and Politics in Revolutionary North Carolina,” in North Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, ed. Michele Gillespie and Sally G. McMillen, vol. 1 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014), 12-33.
Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897)
Born into slavery in 1813, Harriet Jacobs endured years of sexual exploitation at the hands of Edenton’s Dr. James Norcom. Around 1842, Jacobs escaped enslavement in North Carolina and, between 1853-1858, wrote an autobiographical account of her experiences as an enslaved woman while in New York. The account was published in 1861 as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself amidst Jacobs’s ongoing abolitionist and relief work efforts.
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887)
Dorothea Lynde Dix spent several months in North Carolina studying treatment for the mentally ill and lobbying the state legislature to support the construction of a hospital for their care. The former school teacher had already made successful inroads in her home state of Massachusetts in mental asylum reform. In 1856, North Carolina began appropriating funds for a hospital after Dix’s persistent campaign and the help of her friend, Louisa Dobbin, wife of state legislator James Dobbin.
Mary Jane Patterson (1840-1894)
In 1856, Raleigh’s Mary Jane Patterson earned a bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin College. The daughter of a free black bricklayer and plasterer, Patterson was the first African American to receive a college degree. She went on to become and pioneer educator and activist among black women in the nineteenth century.
Patterson’s Washington, DC home is featured on the city’s African American Heritage Trail
Bayard Wootten (1875-1959)
A single mother abandoned by her husband for the gold rush, Bayard Wootten set up her first photography studio in her hometown of New Bern in 1904. Her adventurous approach to the medium allowed her to explore not only portraiture, but landscape and aerial photography. Unknown to many, she contributed the name “Pepsi-Cola” and it’s original logo design to her neighbor Caleb Bradham’s famous soft drink. Bayard also was the first female member of the North Carolina National Guard!
See more of Wootten’s work in this New York Times article