On the shelves of my elementary school library were dozens of navy book books about various women who made a difference in the growth of our country. One such woman was Jessie Fremont, a political activist, writer, and determined opponent of slavery.
She was born May 31st, 1824 in Lexington, Virginia at the home of her maternal grandparents. Her father, Senator Thomas Benton had wanted a boy but decided to go ahead and name the girl Jessie after his father, Jesse Benton. Jessie was raised in Washington D.C while her father served in Congress. She was her father's favorite and he educated her like the son he'd hoped for, teaching her about politics, history, languages, and sociology. She became fluent in several languages and was hired to translate government documents at an early age.
John and Jessie
At sixteen, Jessie studied and lived at Georgetown Seminary. It was there she met Lt. John C. Fremont who had just returned from an exploration of the Missouri River. They became engaged, much to her parent's disapproval. They felt she was too young for marriage, and Senator Benton used his influence to have John assigned to a new exploration of the Des Moines River. When John returned, they were married on Oct 19th, 1841.
Jessie was important to our national history because first, she helped shape the country's opinion of Manifest Destiny. Her father felt that the United States was destined to inhabit the entire North American Continent and spread democracy throughout the land. This soon became Jessie's dream too. After she married and her husband would return from his many explorations, they would work together to write his experiences in the west for a voracious country. Their books became best-sellers and the movement west had begun.
Secondly, Jessie was an early opponent of slavery. Once her husband became a senator from California, Jessie petitioned that the state not allow slavery. This was a hot-button topic in Congress during the early 1850s, but Jessie wouldn't be deterred. Her efforts lead to her husband securing the 1856 nomination for President from the newly-formed Republican party and secured California as a free state.
Lastly, Jessie was politically active during a time when women weren't expected to know about politics. She was part of the political scene in Washington and knew how to read the situation and act accordingly. She was so well-known, she'd often be called upon by the crowds during her husband's presidential campaign to speak. One campaign slogan read 'Fremont and Jessie too' as if they were running as a team. Her activism and outspokenness planted the seeds for women's suffrage.
Jessie Fremont died in Los Angeles on Dec 27th, 1902. She was 78 years old.
Gold Dust Bride
Multi-published author Patty Smith Hall lives near the North Georgia Mountains with her husband, Danny, her two daughters, her son-in-law, and her grandboys. When she’s not writing on her back porch, she’s spending time with her family or playing with her grandsons.