Out & About

May 1, 2014

The women behind John Brown

LAKE PLACID — The women in John Brown’s intimate circle are the focus of Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz’s talk at John Brown Day 2014.

Dr. Margaret Washington of Cornell University will also lecture on “Women and Abolition” at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid on Saturday, May 10.

With the Brown homestead in sight, Laughlin-Schultz will talk about the work of Mary, Brown’s wife, and his daughters, Ruth and Annie, on behalf of antislavery there.

While in graduate school at Indiana University, Laughlin-Schultz read a Brown biography and was intrigued by the women in his family. That led to her dissertation on the topic and her 2013 release “The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism” published by Cornell University Press.

“There is a lot of new books on John Brown that always mention the women in his family in passing,” Laughlin-Schultz, who is a professor of history at Eastern Illinois University.

“You can teach classes about him but the question is what was it like to live with this guy? I have just long been interested in the antislavery movement in the 1830s and 1840s and how they were trying to live out their radical beliefs about racial equality.”


She has tracked the Browns all over the country.

“I came to Plattsburgh to use the resources (Special Collections) at SUNY there. Edwin Cotter, the longtime superintendent of the John Brown Farm, left all his papers to SUNY Plattsburgh. The Browns, their stuff is everywhere. I went to California, New York, Boston and West Virginia. There’s stuff in Ohio.”

The paper trail for ordinary women at the time is rather thin but for the Brown women, not so, because of their association with one of the 19th century’s most controversial figures.

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