Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward (August 31, 1844 – January 28, 1911) was an early feminist American author and intellectual who challenged traditional Christian beliefs of the afterlife, challenged women’s traditional roles in marriage and family, and advocated clothing reform for women.
In 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, she published The Gates Ajar, which depicted the afterlife as a place replete with the comforts of domestic life and where families would be reunited—along with family pets—through eternity.
In her 40s, Phelps broke convention again when she married a man 17 years her junior. Later in life she urged women to burn their corsets. Her later writing focused on feminine ideals and women’s financial dependence on men in marriage. She was the first woman to present a lecture series at Boston University. During her lifetime she was the author of 57 volumes of fiction, poetry and essays. In all of these works she challenged the prevailing view that woman’s place and fulfilment resided in the home. Instead Phelps’ work depicted women as succeeding in nontraditional careers as physicians, ministers, and artists.
Near the end of her life, Phelps became very active in the antivivisection movement. Her novel, Trixy, published in 1904, was constructed around the topic of vivisection and the effect this kind of training had on doctors. The book became a standard polemic against experimentation on animals.