Clara Virginia Townsend was a teacher in Fulton, Missouri and Kansas City, an early feminist and writer. Her columns were published in Youth’s Companion, The Ladies World (New York), The Kansas City star, and other newspapers. This author’s personal scrapbook of her published works includes many columns entitled “Back talk to girls by Naomi Wantmore,” and a speech about women’s rights addressed to the Alumnae of Synodical Female College (1895).
Townsend was born September 28, 1857, in Fulton, the daughter of Eli and Margaret (Kelley) Townsend. She attended public schools and graduated from Synodical College with highest honors in 1877. In 1887 she was granted a state certificate by the Superintendent of Schools. Townsend taught for over fifty years.
In addition to teaching she found time and talent for writing. Few writers are so fortunate as to have their very first story accepted by a major periodical, but this was the case for Townsend, whose work “Mollie’s Valentine” appeared in the publication Youth’s Companion. According to Literary Honors, “Miss Townsend possesses an individuality of style that insures her success in the literary world.”
Townsend’s poetry and prose centered on education, teachers, and women’s rights. In “She Declares Herself,” Townsend wrote of the woman’s sphere, and encouraged all women to break out.
“Farewell the timid ones who fear to tread at dusk or eve in their native city’s street; welcome the woman who in self-reliance can circumnavigate the globe alone…our place is what we choose; our sphere the world.”
And what teacher cannot relate to Townsend’s poem “The Dream of the Average Teacher”?
“Sleep no more, examination grades have murdered sleep!…and last there came a creature wan and pale who said, ‘Behold me, wretch! I was a parent. Full many a time and oft in days gone by my little boy that I esteemed so bright by your relentless hand was graded zero’…I would not pass another such a night for all the salary of a high school teacher. My friends, I bid you shun the teacher’s path, that way distraction lies.”
Perhaps one of her more uplifting writings comes from her address before the alumnae of Synodical Female College, June 4, 1895, entitled “Woman, To-Day and Yesterday”:
“To be a woman is to reign an uncrowned queen, who sees the golden field of opportunity the field where she may do a woman’s part…Our place is what we choose, our sphere, the world. Our limitations, simply to be womanly, for no pent up Utica contacts our powers but the whole boundless universe is ours.”
In a review of her address, the alumnæ association noted that Townsend’s address was delivered before the largest audience ever attended by alumna. Her words surpassed any address before, “her treatment of the woman’s rights question was a source of enthusiasm to her audience and an inspiration.”
Contact Samantha Dodd, curator of the Archives of Women of the Southwest for additional information or assistance with accessing these materials. To view more materials on women’s rights, check out the digital exhibit Women’s Voices Women’s Vote. The DeGolyer continues to expand our digitization efforts, adding new content weekly. We have thousands of items digitized and searchable in our digital collections with many thousands more to come!