Eden Prairie owes its lyrical name to Elizabeth Fries Ellet, a 19th-century author whose work in literature and women’s history was considered progressive for her time.
Local writer Vicki Pellar Price is set to highlight Ellet’s unrecognized contributions to the women’s rights movement in her upcoming book, tentatively titled “Everlasting Feminine Revelations: The Indomitable Elizabeth Fries Ellet, Feminist,” due for early 2024 release by Edina-based Calumet Editions.
Ellet, who likened the Minnesota prairies to the Garden of Eden in 1852, a sentiment which subsequently inspired the name “Eden Prairie,” dedicated her life to highlighting women’s roles in American history until her death in 1877.
Price’s interest in Elizabeth Fries Ellet began with their mutual connection to Eden Prairie and has expanded to appreciate her broader historical importance.
“I was just compelled to defend (Ellet) and wondered if I was going to be able to do that,” said Price, a longtime Eden Prairie resident. “Well, it turns out I have found the real Ellet that very few people know about.”
Price is set to reveal a hidden chapter of the women’s rights movement, emphasizing Ellet’s contributions in her forthcoming book.
“This book is really about women’s rights in the 19th century and about basically how that came about in ways most people don’t know about,” she said.
Price characterizes the book as a scholarly deep dive, akin to a dissertation, on varied subjects such as the “New York Literati” and their role in the women’s rights movement, the societal upheavals spurred by the Civil War, and the democratization of literature for the working class.
“It challenges the notion that history was the sole domain of men,” Price said, citing a particularly fiery dialogue between an early feminist historian and a Founding Father.
Most crucially, according to Price, “the book reveals the real Elizabeth Fries Ellet that we’ve never seen — one obscured by her male critics.” She further adds, “a feminist whose circle included celebrated authors like Margaret Fuller, Ann S. Stephens, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, and pivotal women’s rights figures Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lydia Mott, a noted activist in the anti-slavery cause and a leader of the Underground Railroad.”
Uncovering hidden histories
Price’s meticulous research on Ellet for her book reveals lesser-known aspects of 19th-century life, from Victorian social customs to the synergy of reform movements. Her book aims to expose the interplay of advocacy, literature, and political dialogue that formed the foundation of early feminist ideology.
“I had to spend a lot of money on research,” she said. “I joined online academic organizations and bought books. I’ve got a whole slew of them, and I have to give credit to all those books. Throughout, I mentioned, for instance, Carol Mattingly, an English professor. She’s the first one I noted who came out in support of Ellet. As I’ve gone through so many different documents and books, I’ve realized there was just no end.”
Price also will examine Ellet’s interactions with Edgar Allan Poe, a master of macabre tales like “The Raven.” Their association, enmeshed in New York’s literary society, was marked by a scandal that exacerbated the difficulties in Poe’s already troubled personal life.
The book includes a chapter that explores the history of women in writing, which Price notes was “long disregarded by men as a genre they dominated.”
Ellet’s most famous work, “Women of the American Revolution,” is a three-volume series published between 1848 and 1850.
It became one of the first works to spotlight the contributions of women to the American Revolution, a topic largely overlooked by historians of that era.
“She excluded even George Washington. There’s no men in there whatsoever. It’s only women,” Price said, emphasizing Ellet’s exclusive focus on female figures. “And she has written so many books that are all dedicated to women. That’s all she wrote about.”
Price’s debut book, “Ramblings From The Trail: Wet Feet, Soiled Dress, and Defining Historical Truth,” was published in July by Calumet Editions under its Wisdom Editions imprint.
Price’s book serves as a guide to the Elizabeth Fries Ellet Interpretive Trail at the Richard T. Anderson Conservation Area in Eden Prairie, enlightening visitors about the area’s history and Ellet’s expansive travels.
In her book “Summer Rambles in the West,” Ellet shares her experiences venturing into landscapes rarely visited by women at the time, including a bluff over the Minnesota Valley where she envisioned the natural splendor akin to the Garden of Eden. Price captures this sentiment, stating, “Nothing deterred Ellet, and she would go wherever the men went.”
Describing “Ramblings From The Trail,” Price said, “It’s kind of a walking text; it’s a book you’re supposed to put in your pocket and take with you when you go trailing.” She highlighted the guide’s interactive elements, adding, “Then the book becomes theirs. It’s not just my book; it’s their book,” to emphasize its personal impact.
The interpretive trail winds nearly a mile with signs that educate visitors on the area’s history and natural surroundings. Price shepherded the trail into reality in 2007, serving as director of the nonprofit Writers Rising Up, which champions writers who depict place, natural habitat, and wetlands in their work.
Price contrasted her forthcoming book on Ellet with “Ramblings From The Trail,” underscoring its broader appeal.
“This book goes beyond regional interest,” she explained. “It’s a political work that reveals numerous previously unknown aspects of Ellet’s life and the 19th century.”
She believes the book’s detailed revelations will captivate readers, even those who may disagree with its perspectives.
“My joy is in writing it,” she said. “The notoriety or public recognition is less important to me. It’s the writing that’s the essence of my work. But I feel that way about all my books.”
Price’s approach to writing aims to ensure the lasting relevance of her research on Ellet’s life and contributions.
“In my first trail book, I made it clear I aimed to rectify Ellet’s story, and I may succeed for some and not for others,” she said. “But that’s how things go.”
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