I Learned it in the Archives: Women’s Rights Activism Runs in Steinem Family

The Wright State University Libraries' Special Collections and Archives are currently in the process of reviewing collections for women’s suffrage and women’s rights materials to potentially digitize to help commemorate the upcoming women’s suffrage centennial (2020).

Martha McClellan Brown (1838-1916) was active in the temperance and women’s rights movements in late 1800s/ early 1900s. Naturally, her collection—MS-147: Martha McClellan Brown and Rev. William Kennedy Brown Papers—was high on our list to review for items of interest, and as expected, there are many! For a time, Mrs. Brown was even president of the Cincinnati Harriet Taylor Upton Club, a women’s suffrage organization.

One file of suffrage correspondence held many items on letterhead from the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Association, of which Harriet Taylor Upton was president for many years. The letterhead listed the names of all the officers, and one name in particular caught my attention. Further review of this same folder yielded two letters signed by this intriguing officer, during the time period in which she served as president (1910-1911).

The woman’s name was Pauline Steinem.

I had never heard of Pauline Steinem, but I knew of feminist and activist Gloria Steinem. Two women named Steinem fighting for women’s rights? That didn’t seem like a coincidence.

A quick Internet search returned a helpful encyclopedia article from the Jewish Women’s Archive in Brookline, Massachusetts: Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, 1866-1940. The article was written by none other than Gloria Steinem, who, as it turns out, is Pauline’s granddaughter. In addition to learning about this family connection, I also learned of their Jewish heritage and that they both lived (at least part of their lives) in Toledo, Ohio! (You can also read the JWA’s article about Gloria Steinem.)

Another Steinem connection here in the archives? Gloria Steinem actually spoke at Wright State University on January 19, 1972, in the Oelman Auditorium. You can read more about that in the January 26, 1972, issue of The Guardian on CORE Scholar.

You never know what you might find or learn when you open that acid-free box!

The two Steinem letters were just two pieces of correspondence in a single folder (among dozens of other letters), in a 0.5 linear foot box. Imagine what could be waiting in any of the rest of the 16,000+ linear feet of materials!

This piece originally appeared on the Wright State University Libraries' Special Collections and Archives blog and is republished here with permission from the author. It was edited by Rebecca Long.

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How to cite this page

Rickey, Lisa. "I Learned it in the Archives: Women’s Rights Activism Runs in Steinem Family." 10 December 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/i-learned-it-in-archives-women-s-rights-activism-runs-in-steinem-family>.

Letter from Pauline Steinem to Martha McClellan Brown, who was active in temperance and women’s rights movements in late 1800s/ early 1900s. Via the Wright State University Libraries' Special Collection and Archives, from MS-147, Martha McClellan Brown Papers, Box 10, File 6 (“Suffrage Correspondence”). Via Lisa Rickey at Wright State.

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