Civil War, Civil Rights

This July, Dr. Judith Giesberg, Professor of History at Villanova University, gave a public lecture at the Library Company organized in conjunction with a National Endowment for the Humanities funded Summer Seminar What Did Independence Mean for Women: 1776 – 1876? Dr. Giesberg spoke about the inequalities faced by African Americans in Philadelphia during and after the Civil War, particularly the incredible efforts of African American women in fighting against racial injustice in the city and repairing the damage of slavery on black families.

The lecture highlighted important women such as Emilie Davis, whose diaries provide a snapshot of late nineteenth-century life for an educated black woman frustrated and empowered to change the social injustices she witnessed in Philadelphia. In addition to the lives of notable Philadelphia black activists, Dr. Giesberg spoke about the over 2,000 surviving newspaper advertisements for lost family members after the abolition of slavery in 1864, which were written mostly by women. Both large-scale political efforts and the seemingly private ads seeking family members were both powerful ways for African American women to assert their independence after slavery, demand social equality, and reclaim their humanity in an extremely hostile nineteenth-century Philadelphia.