Thursday, March 19, 2020

Eliza Burhans Farnham (1815 - 1864)

Courtesy of Burhans Genealogy
Eliza Burhans Farnham was an author, feminist, abolitionist, phrenologist, and activist for prison reform. She married Thomas Farnham in 1836 and they had two sons. In 1844, she was appointed matron of the women's ward at Sing Sing Prison, New York. She had radical views, on how women prisoners should be treated and this eventually resulted in her forced resignation. It was at Sing Sing that she met and worked with Georgiana Bruce.

Eliza’s husband had left for California, and in 1848, she received news of his death. Eliza travelled west to settle his affairs, settling on land he had acquired in Santa Cruz County. Here she became a farmer. She was highly critical of the Anglo men who had married into ranchero families in order to gain title to the land.

In California, women were able to own land, and it was her goal that the profits from her land benefit her sons. However, she wrote: “It is no easy thing for a women to defend property here …”
Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, February 28, 1863,
Courtesy of

She found the local society to be illiterate and unsophisticated, and her harsh remarks left her lonely and isolated. She sent for Georgiana Bruce. Georgiana’s gentler character enabled the two to gain a place in Santa Cruz’s social and religious circles.

In 1864, she published Woman and Her Era where she promoted the concept that women were naturally superior to men.  She believed that women should not “be compelled to earn money,” but should be “supported by men,” and because of their high moral values they could and should influence society.

She died soon after of consumption.

In the book History of Woman Suffrage: 1876-1885, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al. they wrote: "The advocacy of woman's rights began in Santa Cruz county, with the advent of that grand champion of her sex, the immortal Eliza Farnham, who braved public scorn and contumely because of her advanced views, for many years before the suffrage movement assumed organized form Mrs. Farnham's work rendered it possible for those advocating woman suffrage years later, to do so with comparative immunity from public ridicule."

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