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Schnader Salutes Jane Swisshelm, an Unsung Woman Hero, in Honor of International Women’s Day

On March 12, 2020 by Schnader in News

Jane Swisshelm (born Jane Grey Cannon) was an American journalist, publisher, abolitionist, and women’s rights advocate, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1815. She was one of the first women journalists hired at the New York Tribune, as well as the first female reporter admitted to the reporters’ gallery in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

In November of 1836, Cannon married James Swisshelm. During the 1830’s and 1840’s, a married woman in Pennsylvania could not possess land, money, furniture, china, clothes, or take legal custody of her children, thus making Cannon’s possessions the legal property of her new husband. The couple moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Swisshelm witnessed slavery for the first time and, at the age of 21, she began helping with the Underground Railroad.

After two years in Louisville, Swisshelm returned to Pittsburgh to care for her sick mother against her husband’s wishes. In January of 1840, her mother died, leaving her estate to Swisshelm and her sister. Later, Swisshelm decided to sell some of the land, but purchasers demanded that both Jane’s husband and her sister’s husband sign the deed. James Swisshelm refused, unless all of the money was paid to him. Swisshelm experienced firsthand how the law protected the interests of husbands and property owners, and left wives without basic rights. In 1857, she divorced her husband and moved to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where, through writing and lecturing, she promoted abolition and women’s rights. She became one of the most influential journalists in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Jane Swisshelm died on July 22, 1884 in her Swissvale home. In Pittsburgh, the neighborhood of Swisshelm Park is named in her honor.   It was not until 1887, three years after her death, that the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law granting married women the right to retain their own property.

Schnader salutes Swisshelm and we are inspired by her contributions to women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

More information on Jane Swisshelm can be found here.