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Half a Century

Jane Grey Cannon Swisshelm

Book Overview: 

In the spring of 1850, while the United States was polarized over the slavery debate and Daniel Webster was negotiating the compromise of that year, the outspoken abolitionist, feminist, and journalist, Jane Grey Swisshelm unleashed a congressional sex scandal. Frustrated by what she saw as the Massachusetts senator's surrender to the Southern Slave Power, she published an article alleging Webster's marital infidelities with women of color. As a result of the media storm that followed, Swisshelm lost her job at the New York Tribune. This is but one of the many episodes found in her 1880 autobiography, "Half a Century," which is a narrative of the frontier, of the fight against slavery, and of Swisshelm's fearless, compassionate, and innovative work as a surgical nurse treating Union soldiers who had suffered the most terrible wounds of war.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . salary would be twenty-five dollars a month, and this was munificent. Elizabeth went to Pittsburg to school, and I to Butler, where my success was complete and I very happy. Among my pupils were two daughters of my old patron, Judge Braden. One of these, little Nannie, was full of pleasant surprises, and "brought down the house" during examination, by reciting a country girl's account of her presentation at court, in which occurs this stanza:

     "And there the King and I were standing
       Face and face together;
     I said, 'How is your Majesty?
       It's mighty pleasant weather!'"

By Nannie's way of giving the lines, they were so fixed on my memory as to be often mingled with solemn reveries in after years.

Petitions were presented in the Pennsylvania Legisla. . . Read More