Martha Schofield and the construction of a woman's autonomous life
Pavich, Melanie Roseanne
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Martha Schofield was a Quaker, a teacher, and a woman who came of age at the beginning of the Civil War. She began teaching in 1858 both to contribute to her family’s income and in answer to what she came to believe was her life’s calling. Along with abolitionism, women’s rights, and temperance were among the causes she and her family supported. In addition, her mother was a Quaker minister, often travelling from home to preach as well as to lecture. During the war Martha taught in a school for free blacks in Philadelphia and volunteered as a hospital worker and nurse. Her influences were many for women’s contributions in a reforming and expanded post-war world, including Lucretia Mott, Anna Dickinson, and Susan B. Anthony. At the same time, Martha hoped to become a wife and mother but that was not to be. Instead, with failing health she ventured south, first to coastal South Carolina and eventually to the town of Aiken, to dedicate her life to the uplift of former slaves. By 1871, she established what would become the Schofield Normal and Industrial School in Aiken, living and working there until her death in 1916. Through choice and circumstances, Martha Schofield became a freedmen’s teacher, established a school, and secured its success through her business and fundraising skills. For most of her adult life, she worked tirelessly for the rights of African Americans and women. Hers is a fascinating story of a nineteenth-century woman striving to change, some would say radically, the world in which she lived while struggling to find love and support outside the traditional roles most often associated with women of her time. Her attempt to find a balance between the expectations placed upon her by the culture at large and the reality of the life she ultimately came to lead, gives added insight into the range of American women’s experiences in the nineteenth century.