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Jane Swisshelm

Jane Grey Cannon Swisshelm (December 6, 1815 – July 22, 1884) was an American journalist, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate.


Swisshelm was born Jane Grey Cannon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, daughter of Thomas Cannon, a Presbyterian merchant and real estate speculator. A teacher at age 14, she married at age 21; she moved with her husband, James Swisshelm, to Louisville, Kentucky, where she first encountered slavery. It made a strong impression on her. Jane was strong-willed, and her marriage was difficult. In 1839, she moved to Philadelphia, against her husband's wishes, to care for her ailing mother. After her mother's death, she headed a seminary in Butler, Pennsylvania. She rejoined her husband two years later on his farm, which she called Swissvale, east of Pittsburgh. (Today the area is Swissvale, Pennsylvania).

During this time, she began writing articles against capital punishment and stories, poems, and articles for an anti-slavery newspaper and others in Pittsburgh. When that paper went out of business, Swisshem founded her own called Saturday Vistior. It eventually reached a national circulation of 6,000. She wrote many editorials advocating women's property rights.

In 1857, she divorced her husband and moved west to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where she controlled a string of papers, promoting abolition and women's rights by writing and lecturing. Writing in The Saint Cloud Visiter, Swisshelm waged a private war against General Sylvanus Lowry, an aristocratic Southerner who had settled in the area and reigned as Saint Cloud's political boss. Swisshelm was especially infuriated that Lowry owned slaves in the free territory of Minnesota. Writing in The Visiter, she accused General Lowry of swindling the Indians, ordering vigilante attacks on suspected claim jumpers, and torturing his own slaves. After a particularly fiery editorial, Lowry formed a "Committee of Vigilance," broke into the newspaper's offices, smashed the printing press, and threw the pieces into the nearby Mississippi River. She soon raised money for another press and raised her attacks to a fever pitch. General Lowry, who was being groomed for the post of Lieutenant Governor, was forced to watch the destruction of all his influence over Saint Cloud politics. He died in obscurity in 1865.

In 1862, when a Sioux Indian uprising in Minnesota resulted in the deaths of hundreds of white settlers,[1] it prompted her to demand punishment by the federal government against the Indians. She toured major cities to this end and, while in Washington, D.C., met her Pittsburgh friend Edwin M. Stanton, then Secretary of War, who offered her a clerkship in the government. She sold her Minnesota paper but worked as an army nurse during the Civil War in the Washington area, until her job became available. She became a friend of Mary Todd Lincoln.

After the war, Swisshelm started her final newspaper, the Reconstructionist, but her blasts against President Andrew Johnson led to her losing the paper and her government job. In 1872, she attended the Prohibition Party convention as a delegate.

Swisshelm died in 1884 at her Swissvale home and is buried in Allegheny Cemetery. The city of Pittsburgh neighborhood of Swisshelm Park, adjacent to Swissvale, is named in her honor.



  1. Duane Schultz, Over The Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993. See page 5: "Estimates of the death toll range from four hundred to two thousand."


  • Hoffert, Sylvia D. (2004). Jane Grey Swisshelm: An Unconventional Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2881-5. 
  • Larsen, A.J., editor (1934). Crusader and Feminist: Letters of Jane Grey Swisshelm, 1858-1865. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society. 
  • "Jane Grey Cannon Swisshelm" by Harriet Sigerman in American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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