“Jane Grey Swisshelm, an outspoken critic of slavery and unequal treatment of women, moves to Minnesota in 1857 and publishes the St. Cloud Visiter newspaper. Mobs twice destroy her printing office, but she continues her courageous crusade for equal rights with the “St. Cloud Visiter” later renamed the “St. Cloud Democrat.” *
Jane G. Swisshelm was a pioneer in all senses of the word: in travel, in her passionate writings, and inwardly. She saw observed the cruelty of slavery when she lived in Kentucky. She lost her mother in Pennsylvania, and shortly afterwards, her husband lost his business. She moved to the Midwest to start over, joining her sister nearby. **
Already a established as a strong voice for abolition during her decade in Pittsburgh, she became the editor of a newspaper named the “St.Cloud Visiter”. Though owned by a Democrat, (who in those days were not usually abolitionists), she insisted on representing the paper as such. In effect, she offended local Democratic sensibilities resulting in the destruction of the “Visiter’s” offices and printing presses. ***
In the following decade, she aimed her pen at the Dakota Nation of Minnesota. Originally a supporter of Native Americans, the Dakota War of 1862 and their atrocities of unprovoked attacks on their neighbors changed her mind. Incensed by Native attacks, she even lobbied the Federal Government that more strident measures be taken against them. ***
Today, we thank You for voice of Jane Swisshelm, and her commitment to vigorously and forthrightly speak her mind. Her story is a cautionary tale that no individual, tribe, or nation gets it right all the time. Irregardless of passion, we all have an incomplete picture of the truth.
American politics of her day may shock modern ears; Republicans led the charge in the abolition of slavery, and the vast majority of slave states held to Democratic politics. Will You forgive us our over-identification with partisan politics in this era, and our failure to unite to oppose the evils of slavery? Will You forgive us our sins of partisan rhetoric, and more specifically to Swisshelm where her words unnecessarily broke relationship with our Southern brothers and sisters?
Next, we fail to understand much of the context of her era, and may draw some wrong conclusions from the women’s rights movement. Certainly, some 19th Century women suffered harsh abuses at the hands of men, often without hopes for a legal redress of their grievances. (We praise You that most of these legal issues are corrected, and that American women have known exceptionally high-status and equality when viewed through the lens of human history.)
Yet, our preset-day perspective may cause us to miss the ways that 19th Century male-female relationships were strong. Children trusted that their fathers’ were committed to provide for them. Wives trusted that their husbands’ love meant shelter and protection. Families busy with survival did not have lots of time to deal with legal or political issues, and often for them, it made sense to trust dad with that role.
Jesus, thanks that You have made us to be free. Will You forgive the city of St. Cloud and Minnesota any infringement of the freedom of Jane Swisshelm? Will You free us from her sinful judgment’s against those she opposed; broadbrushing all men, those who disagreed with her method of abolition, and promoting punishment against the Dakota? Thank You that Minnesota has raised awareness of the status of women and those in bondage through her voice! Thank You that even her words of judgment against the actions of a few hundred Dakota, as harsh as they may be, record the specifics of broken relationships. Will You enter into these rifts, bring humility, and restore to us a place in Your Land-Clear-Blue-Waters? Amen.
** Swisshelm, Jane Grey. Half a Century. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg, and Company, 1880.
*** Webster, Eric W. “Swisshelm, Jane Grey (1815–1884)”. Internet. https://www.mnopedia.org/person/swisshelm-jane-grey-1815-1884