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Did the First Women’s Right Movement Occur in Mobile?

an old photo of a church

By: Chris Andrews

 

Mobile was founded in 1702 by the French. Led by two brothers, D’Iberville and Bienville, the colony began with less than 100 men working to grow the newly found settlement along the Mobile River. 

In order to grow the colony, young French girls were sailed over to marry the settlers. Most of the girls were teenagers who come from convents and orphanages through France. They were promised a utopian new world with a chance to be courted by the French-Canadian men. 

In 1704, over twenty girls arrived aboard the Le Pelican, thus forever known as the Pelican Girls. Some of the carried a casquette with their belongings, thus also known as the Cassette or Casket Girls. These casquettes carried the girls only belongings. One other thing some of them were unknowingly carrying was disease. The girls contracted Yellow Fever during a stop in Cuba which spread throughout the colony killing dozens upon their arrival. 

The girls must have been disappointed to find the paradise they were promised in France was not a land of milk and honey when they arrived. Instead they had been brought to new world of backwoods, disease, and hardship. Despite these circumstances, the girls did marry the men and begin to grow the colony. However, the men were more interested in being a coureurs de bois, or “runner of the woods”. They would trade with the natives in exchange for fur and animal skins. To make matters worse, most of the men were more interested in the young Native women than the Pelican girls. 

By 1706, the women were reduced to a diet of corn and acorns and finally had enough. They rebelled against Bienville and the men over the deplorable living conditions in Mobile. Many of the women demanded a return to France. Ultimately their grievances were appeased but not without angering Bienville and the leaders. 

It’s very possible to suggest the Petticoat Insurrection of 1706 was technically the very first women’s right movement in North America!  Hear more of these stories on our Life is Sweeter With You tour every Saturday in May! It’s a dessert tour where you’ll learn all about women who made an impact throughout Mobile’s history.