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Potomac Books


Nature's Aristocracy, Nature's Aristocracy, 0803219342, 0-8032-1934-2, 978-0-8032-1934-2, 9780803219342, Jennie Collins Edited and with an introduction by Judith A. Ranta, Legacies of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers, Nature's Aristocracy, 0803229984, 0-8032-2998-4, 978-0-8032-2998-3, 9780803229983, Jennie Collins Edited and with an introduction by Judith A. Ranta, Legacies of Nineteenth-Century American Women Writer

Nature's Aristocracy
A Plea for the Oppressed
Jennie Collins
Edited and with an introduction by Judith A. Ranta

2010. 260 pp.
1 b&w photo
$35.00 s

In 1871 Jennie Collins became one of the first working-class American women to publish a volume of her own writings: Nature’s Aristocracy. Merging autobiography, social criticism, fictionalized vignettes, and feminist polemics, her book examines the perennial problem of class in America. Collins loosely structures her series of sketches around the argument that nineteenth-century U.S. society, by deviating dangerously from the ideals set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, had created a corrupt aristocracy and a gulf between the rich and the poor that the United States’ founders had endeavored to prevent.
Collins’s text serves as a mouthpiece for the little-heard voices of nineteenth-century poor and laboring women, employing sarcasm, irony, and sentimentality in condemning the empty philanthropic gestures of aristocratic capitalists and calling for justice instead of charity as a means to elevate the poor from their destitution. She also explores the necessity of suffrage for female workers who, while expected to work alongside men as their equals in labor, were hampered by lower wages and lack of control by their exclusion from the voting process.

Jennie Collins (1828–87) began working at age fourteen in New England textile mills, where she labored for some years before becoming a domestic servant and later a garment shop seamstress. In the 1860s she began to speak publicly and write about labor causes and women’s rights. In 1870 she left garment shop work and founded Boffin’s Bower, a Boston charity to aid poor and working women. Judith A. Ranta is an independent scholar whose published works include The Life and Writings of Betsey Chamberlain: Native American Mill Worker and Women and Children of the Mills: An Annotated Guide to Nineteenth-Century American Textile Factory Literature.

"[Natures's Aristocracy] provides a window into the kinds of debates, arguments, and language that animated contemporary debates and discussions about the condition of the working class and more particularly the situation of working women."—N.B. Rosenthal, CHOICE

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