Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

#SalonsAtStowe Recap: What Makes a Family?

On Thursday May 21st, the Stowe Center presented What Makes a Family?, as part of the Salons at Stowe series. Salons at Stowe is a program series aimed at connecting history to contemporary issues and events. Leading the discussion were Anne Stanback of the Equality Federation and Dr. Elizabeth Rose of the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

Check out the notes below from What Makes a Family? and include your thought on the program and issues discussed in the comments below!

Maura Hallisey, Program Coordinator, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center:
What makes a family?
  • Broad question, lots of complexity 
  • Impacted by many things – politics, religions, beliefs, laws 
  • Definition of family has shifted over time
Two featured guests for the program:

Dr. Elizabeth Rose is a historian with interests in women, children, and social policy, past and present. She is the author of The Promise of Preschool: From Head Start to Universal Pre-K (Oxford University Press, 2010) and A Mother’s Job: The History of Day Care, 1890-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1999), as well as many articles on preschool, child care, and motherhood in several different books and journals. She has taught classes on the history of motherhood at CCSU, Wesleyan, and Vanderbilt and is currently the Library Director at the Fairfield Museum and History Center in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Anne Stanback is the Director of State and National Partnerships for the Equality Federation, the strategic partner to state-based organizations winning equality in the communities we call home. Anne’s primary focus is working with states to develop plans, strategies and resources to pass laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Anne spent nearly 30 years working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, including her work as the founding Executive Director of Love Makes A Family, the lead organization that successfully fought for the freedom to marry in Connecticut. She is a graduate of Davidson College and Yale Divinity School.Anne is originally from North Carolina and though she will always be a Southerner at heart, she has lived in Connecticut for 32 years, 30 of those with her wife, Charlotte Kinlock, and pets too numerous to list. She serves as the Moderator at Immanuel Congregational Church (UCC) in Hartford.

Dr. Elizabeth Rose:

Prospectives from history
  • For a historian endless topic 
  • Different kinds of family relationships in different time periods, certain things about today may be new or different but there are many experiences that are similar in looking to the pas
  • Lots of different ways people have created their own families 
  • Marriage – think of it as a private and personal relationship, something we choose and that has great personal meaning 
  • Marriage in fact needs to be publicly recognized in some way 
  • No other institution is so private and so public 
  • Why is the government involved in marriage at all 
  • Marriage has been a means of strengthening public authority 
  • Church in the middle ages 
  • States in the modern age 
America – colonial legislators saw marriage as a civil matter not a religious, boundaries between church and government
  • Marriage seen as metaphor or model for government itself 
  • MAN governed over household 
  • New government set up on the consent of the governed – marriage would also be based on consent 
  • Voluntary allegiance 
  • Public policy encouraging marriage, recognizing common law marriage, state had interest in encouraging people to marry, households that were governed by male head who had political representation
19th century
  • Who could marry and who couldn’t 
  • Enslaved people were not allowed to marry did not have civil status as full person 
  • Marriage represented indication of citizenship – slaves could not give consent as they did not own themselves 
  • Marriage seen as requirement for citizenship 
  • End of slavery, former slaves flocked to get married – reunite their families 
  • 1,000s of people looking for family members 
  • Importance of legal recognition of marriage 
  • Polygamy 
  • Intense hostility 
  • 1878 – congress has power to make polygamy a crime, religion not a justification 
  • polygamy linked to despotism and opposite of democracy 
  • Bans on interracial marriage 
  • 1948 CA became first state to declare this unconstitutional 
  • Have always been changes in understanding of marriage and definitions of marriage
Anne Stanback: 
LBGT families and how can they be legally recognized
What makes a family?
  • Love 
  • Whether or not the government or faith communities recognize families they are still a family 
  • End of next month supreme court will rule on the marriage case 
  • Does not mean churches will have to recognize marriages will have to recognize same sex couples 
  • Marriage will be redefined or changed 
  • Give over 1,000 rights, protections, and benefits to loving and committed couples 
Marriage is evolving
  • Being able to say that you are married gives a respect and dignity 
  • Made progress in the last 18 months – 37 states where same sex couples can marry 
  • 72% of americans in 1967 opposed inter racial couples 
  • Today only 30% of americans oppose same sex marriages 
How did this happen so quickly?
  • CT was 2nd state to allow same sex couples to marry 
  • Told our stories 
  • 2001 very controversial issue – very few elected officials that were willing to come out publicly and support 
  • People continued to talk about it 
  • Move from engaging peoples brains to engaging their hearts 
  • Civil union 
  • Needed to talk about something beyond rights and benefits 
  • Engage unlikely partners 
  • Clergy, people of faith 
  • Civil rights communities 
  • Republicans 
Coming out was/is important 
  • Hard to deny rights and equalities to someone you know 
  • Less of a threat to civilization and more friends and neighbors and co workers
Marriage equality model  
  • Still work to do 
  • Marriage is not the only way to have a family 
  • More than half the states in the country still do not have protection of LGBT in terms of housing, education, and employment 
  • Connecticut has always been a leader on many family issues 
  • Important that once marriage becomes legal we don’t close our minds and say we are done
Audience member:
When did gay marriage start?

Anne Stanback:
  • First legal marriage in Netherlands in 2000 
  • Massachusetts in 2004 
  • As far back as the middle ages there may have been something like same sex marriage
Audience member:
When was the shift from children as workers to children as part of the family?

Dr. Rose
  • Economic setting 
  • Colonial family – lots of children, needed people to work on the farm, some children might die before they reached adulthood 
  • Overtime economic functions move out of the household, mans works takes him out of the home, children are not economically useful, they become the opposite 
  • “Pricing” the priceless child 
  • Sentimentality attached to the idea of childhood, innocence late 10th century ideals associate with middle class families and urban families, associated with education become more important and more prolonged and the idea that children are not supposed to work 
  • Families move into the factory, men woman and children working in the mills
People had idea that family and economics are separate but in fact they are directly related

Marriage has never been restricted to those are are swearing to have children

-definition of family moves away from requiring people to have children

Audience member: 
Assuming court acts in favor, such euphoria that we’ve won, what will activist groups do to focus on other things?

Anne Stanback
  • It's not about marriage at all but about trying to get protections for employment and housing 
  • Any political work requires a lot of public education, especially true for the transgender community 
  • Decade or so behind people understanding sexual identity 
  • Scare tactics – bathrooms 
  • Freedom for all americans 
  • Commitment to transgender community 
  • More than just lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender
Audience member:
Did corporations have something to do with rapid movement?

Anne Stanback
  • Absolutely 
  • Each group impacts another 
  • Corporations recognize they need to recruit everyone to get the best people 
  • They have the ears of legislators
Audience member:
Has zoning ever been used to say what is or isn’t a family?

Dr. Rose:
  • Been used to control what types of people live in certain areas 
  • Exclusionary zoning
  • Move towards voluntary kinships 
  • Golden Girls phenomenon
  • Birthrate continues to drop
  • Marriage itself is decreaing – becomes an aspirational thing, cant married till you’ve arrived at a certain emotional and economic stability
  • Family is a lived experience and a metaphor
  • Can mask power relations but also be a powerful relationship 
Audience member:
I work in the mental health field and have never worked with a client who didn’t feel failed by the idea of a nuclear family. We need to change the definition of family.

Anne Stanback:
  • Coming out is important in many forms 
  • People kept quiet for many reason
  • Criticism of marriage equality movement
    • -seen as holding up one model and only one model as a result there have been cases where states get rid of domestic partnership
  • Need more options
“Conflicted” middle
  • At war with true values and the “naturals” they’ve been raised with 
  • Not trying to change values, trying to tap into the right values 
  • Use the right words 
  • Need more research into language that is used
Audience member:
Are there some groups of people that are very resistant to the change?

Anne Stanback
  • Less so than has been stereotyped 
  • Latino families are more supportive than white communities 
  • More associated with the frequency in which they go to church
Need to bring everyone into the conversation!

Inspiration to Action:  
-Educate yourself on the history behind marriage and family
-Learn about the marriage equality movement
-Vote for officials who support equity in families
-Advocate for intersectional approaches to family advocacy
-Watch the Golden Girls- advocate for shared housing and fair zoning policies  

Have any more action steps to add? What do you think about the changing definition family? Let us know below! 

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