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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Books on a shelf

Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: African American “Women of Distinction”

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

This week on That’s Distinctive! we highlight a book from Special Collections titled Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction by Hallie Q. Brown. The book, published in 1926, highlights notable African American women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by, in the words of a Google Books summary, telling the stories of “[enslaved people] and social workers, artists and activists, cake makers and homemakers.” In so doing, it offers “unusual insight into female networks, patterns of voluntary association, work, religion, family life, and Black women’s culture.” The book highlights many notable figures such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Dinah Cox, Matilda J. Dunbar, and Martha Payne (mother of Daniel Alexander Payne).

Dark green background with the title, the author's name, and a woman's silhouette in gold.
The poem "Ode to Woman" by Sarah G. Jones, accompanied by a silhouette of Martha Payne.
Four black-and-white headshot photos of Mrs. Sarah H. Fayerweather, Mrs. Dinah Cox, Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Tanner, and Mrs. Charlotta Gordon Pyles.
The first part of a biography of Matilda J. Dunbar, accompanied by a black-and-white photo of her sitting in a rocking chair holding a cane.
Black-and-white photo of a plaque dedicated to Harriet Tubman.
The front cover of – and selected pages from – Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction by Hallie Q. Brown, 1926. Call Number: Howey C6221. Click image to enlarge.

According to Britannica, author Hallie Q. Brown was an

“American educator and elocutionist who pioneered in the movement for African American women’s clubs in the United States. In 1893 Brown was a principal promoter of the organization of the Colored Woman’s League of Washington, D.C., which the next year joined other groups to form the National Association of Colored Women. In 1893 she was appointed professor of elocution at Wilberforce University, but her teaching duties were limited by her frequent and extensive lecture tours, notably in Europe in 1894–99. Her lectures on African American life in the United States and on temperance were especially popular in Great Britain, where she appeared twice before Queen Victoria. She was a speaker at the 1895 convention of the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in London and a representative of the United States at the International Congress of Women there in 1899. Browns other works include Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations (1880) and First Lessons in Public Speaking (1920).”

Black text - and a black-and-white photo - on a cream background.
The title page of Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction with a picture of author Hallie Q. Brown. Call Number: Howey C6221. Click image to enlarge.

Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction is a part of the Howey Collection within Special Collections at Spencer Research Library. The Howey Collection houses many books that originate from the Gerritsen Collection. Spencer’s copy of this volume originally came from the library of physician and women’s activist Aletta Jacobs (1854-1929) and her husband C. V. Gerritsen, who collected books, pamphlets, and other materials on women’s issues. Acquired by the John Crerar Library of Chicago in 1903, the Gerritsen collection was purchased with other Crerar Library materials by the University of Kansas in 1954. The collection was microfilmed and is now available digitally through subscription to libraries worldwide.

Black-and-white illustration of a man surrounded by books, plants, and the words "great is the gift that bringeth knowledge."
The John Crerar Library bookplate in Spencer’s copy of Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction. Call Number: Howey C6221. Click image to enlarge.

A digital copy of the book can be found at Documenting the American South, or the library’s physical copy can be viewed in the Reading Room, Monday through Friday between 10am and 4pm.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services

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