Jane Swisshelm

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 Jane Swisshelm

1836 - 1884

Jane Swisshelm was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jane Cannon Swisshelm was a journalist, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate at a time when women were discouraged from holding those positions. She also became one of the most infamous women in the United States.

Swisshelm’s father died when she was eight, leaving her and her mother to support the rest of the family. She did lacemaking and became a school teacher at age 14. In 1836 she married James Swisshelm but soon found that married life, where she constantly had to leave major decisions up to her husband, did not suit her.

In the 1840s, Swisshelm established her own anti-slavery newspaper, the Pittsburgh Saturday Visiter. In time, the paper also began to advocate women’s rights as well. She was paid $5 a week, a large sum in those days, to write a column for Horace Greely’s newspaper, the New York Tribune, and eventually became the paper’s Washington, D.C. correspondent. She became the first woman to sit in the Senate press gallery, an unheard of thing for a woman at that time; this angered many men in the press.

Shortly before the Civil War, Swisshelm moved to Minnesota and began another newspaper, the St. Cloud Visiter. She also ran a column in the paper that advised women on how to deal with their husbands. Between her anti-slavery views and her thoughts on women’s rights, she angered so many people that her newspaper office was attacked and her printing press destroyed. Instead of giving in, Swisshelm bought a new press and began the St. Cloud Democrat, another anti-slavery paper.

On the outbreak of the American, Swisshelm sold her paper and worked as a nurse for the Union army. She served in Washington D.C., as well as at the battles near Fredricksburg. At the end of the war, she moved to Swissvale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. There she wrote her autobiography, "Half A Century," in 1880. She died in Swissvale several years later, still pushing for women’s rights, including the right to vote.



The Library of Congress :  Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910. Crusader and feminist; letters of Jane Grey Swisshelm, 1858-1865


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