Pioneer in Women’s Rights

Source: Living Lutheran

In a new biography Power, Passion, and Faith: Emmy Carlsson Evald, Suffragist and Social Activist (Open Books Press, 2022), Sharon Wyman chronicles the story of her grandmother, Emmy Carlsson Evald, remarkable journey as a mother, missionary, and suffragette.

Born in Illnois in 1857, Evald was inspired to pursue a career in ministry at an early age. Motivated by her father’s endeavors to found Augustana College in Rock Island, Illnois and her mother’s devotion to educating all the children including the girls, Evald developed a deep appreciation for the value of education.

Reflecting on her legacy, Ann Boaden, a professor emerita of Augustana, “She had an extraordinary ability to see the power women possessed, and though Mrs. Carlsson’s work was as a support to her husband—and that was certainly the role of women in that day—she saw the power that women had, and that [this] power could be driven beyond that role.”

After graduating from a girls’ school in Sweden, Evald attend the attended girls college at Rockford (Ill.) There, she became friends with activist and future Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams and would meet her husband Carl Evald, a Lutheran pastor, whom she would go on to have two beautiful children.

Using her status as a minister’s wife, Evald traveled the nineteenth century conference circuit promoting the role of women’s work in home and foreign missions. As a result of her endeavors, Evald founded the “Women’s Missionary Society”, which she presided over for 43 years. An early precursor to Women of the ELCA, the society organized and sponsored mission work both in local communities and in several foreign countries.

Evald said, “We can make an association where we each are doing individual things in our own communities, but we can do more if we get together…Let’s all come together and things will get accomplished faster because when we’re all together we become of greater power.”

Through the Women’s Missionary Society, Evald supervised the construction more than 70 buildings around the world including five homes for women only. During her tenure as president, she visited mission stations in China, India, and the Middle East.

“There was this big repository of power that wasn’t being used and tapped into,” Boaden said. “And because of her strong personality—she was charismatic and determined—she was able to harness that power.”

Additionally, Evald became active in early suffrage movements at the turn of the twentieth century. Partnering with Susan B. Anthony and Catharine Waugh McCulloch (the latter a friend from Rockford College) she became a charter member of the First International Women’s Suffrage Conference.

“Women have a lot of freedoms today in terms of choice of careers and their financial health,” said  Wyman. “I wish that women today recognize this was a long struggle that took 75 years to get the vote, and that wasn’t for everybody, since African American women didn’t get the right until later. The fact that we have choices today is because women like Emmy fought so hard for women’s rights.”

Growing up hearing stories of her great-grandmother’s exploits, Wyman commented that she hoped her biography will help inspire other women and pay tribute to Evald’s legacy.

“I hope [modern women] realize that Emmy was only one person, and there were a lot of women fighting this fight,” she said. “And I hope they have a high regard for the struggles that those women went through to have the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Source: Living Lutheran