Emails and Identity

As I have said in several earlier posts, I am trying to revise Dames, Dishes, and Degrees. Unfortunately, I have found it difficult to get into a consistent rhythm of working on the book.

The family members that I do a lot of caregiving for have taken up most of my time so that has been one limitation on how consistently I can work on the book. The other thing that happened more recently and pertains to my manuscript is that Hampshire College changed its email system. Essentially Hampshire email is now part of a college-based Google account.

Without getting too much in the weeds, I’ll just say that since I already had my own personal Gmail account, the first attempt at accessing the Hampshire Gmail did not go that well. Monday and Tuesday were involved with figuring out how I could make this new system work and occupied a lot of my time. Wednesday morning I finally figured it out and I think I have a workable process by which I can access all of my different emails in Thunderbird. At least I now have a working system.

The way this email trouble intersected with the topic of my book, faculty wives, and the fact that I am one, is that I have for many years had a Hampshire email account but the username indicates to anyone in the know that I am a guest and not a full functioning member of the Hampshire community. My actual Hampshire email address is amGU at hampshire dot edu. The GU stands for guest.

I’ve been aware of that classification for years, choosing to ignore how badly it made me feel. In this process of the transition from the old email system to the new Google based system I had to stare at amGU, my email address, repeatedly. Looking at it reminded me how precarious and constrained my position at Hampshire has been all these years. Most of the women I write about in my book were in a comparable situation. They were often part of elite families – being the wife of a Harvard college professor is nothing to sneeze about – yet their role, their identity, as a faculty wife mostly constrained them from having an independent autonomous life.

This week I realized, again, that my own life has consisted of constraints that I have endured for many years as a Hampshire faculty wife even though my husband’s position has allowed me to have a very comfortable lifestyle making me, as a white woman, among the more elite groups in American Society. Although triggering has become an overused word and the subject of ridicule by the American right by Republicans, having to stare at amGU at hampshire dot edu repeatedly this week was certainly triggering for me.

The net result of all of this is that I have decided to begin a process where I eventually will not have that Hampshire email address. My husband is retired. We don’t really have an active connection to Hampshire anymore although I did do over 20 oral histories for Hampshire and I’m still trying to get that to be an actual collection in the archives.

In general, we don’t really have anything to do with Hampshire, therefore I can be like everyone else, accept that Google now rules the world, and just have a Gmail account. Another possibility is to have two email address instead of three, keeping mail amymittelman dot com which is from my website where I post this blog. I think at this point in my life I can forget about existing within the constraints of being a faculty wife and try to have an identity that is just me,  Amy,  as I go through the world.

Recovery

For many years now I have attended twice a month meetings of a Friends and Family group sponsored by NAMI which is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Most of the attendees are dealing with an adult child who has psychological and emotional dis-ease. I attend because of a family member but luckily not my adult children.

Since I’ve been going for a long time, I have learned a lot about some of the other regular attendees’ issues with their loved ones. Several weeks ago, there was a special event at our regularly scheduled meeting. A speaker, one of the regulars’ adult children, described their experiences being psychotic and their process of recovery. It was an inspirational and moving talk.

The presenter described their recovery journey beginning with a psychotic break towards the end of college and ending now, over seven years later, as a successful professional with a fulfilling life.

My own family member never fully recovered; presently they are safe and well cared for which is ultimately more important. Reflecting on how the speaker’s parents dealt with them while they were in extreme distress, I wish that, at times I could have had more compassion and patience with my own loved one.

The presenter had some suggestions for friends and family who have a loved one in psychological distress. The ones that stand out to me dealt with compassion including “doing work with yourself so you can show up for or with your loved one in compassionate ways.”

Although I do have some regrets about my own behavior, I realize that caregivers must find a balance between helping their loved one and protecting themselves. I and others looking to alleviate the demanding situation of a family member have to remember that a person will only change when they are ready to. This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn.

Life, Again

I recently completed a hectic ten days which is one reason I didn’t blog last week. Before this period of intense activity, I had blocked out several weeks’ worth of posts. Theoretically I have post topics for the next few weeks. Today’s topic was supposed to be about the show Stars on Ice.

On April 30th we spent the night in Boston so that I could see Stars on Ice. Everyone who was on the US Olympic team was in the cast as well as Mirai Nagasu who competed in the Olympics four years ago. Although our seats were high up, we were dead center and had a great view. I found it very exciting to see athletes such as Jason Brown and Mariah Bell.

We had a wonderful time but to be honest it feels like that was a year ago. A few days after we came home from Boston, we flew to Florida to spend time with my Aunt Ruth. She is the relative who had a bad accident last year fracturing her hip and wrist. My aunt is quite elderly and still has some chronic health problems which I am trying to help her with.

Although it was nice to be in Florida because it was at least 30 degrees warmer than it is here in western Massachusetts I wouldn’t call the five days we spent there a vacation. Although my aunt is 91, she is not ready to cede any of her authority or autonomy over her own life and there’s really no reason that she should. Her desire to remain as independent as possible does sometimes make caregiving for her more difficult. Therefore, the time in sunny Florida had a decent amount of stress attached to it.

My aunt’s current medical condition has made me think about my own health and what illnesses I fear getting. My mother had Alzheimer’s so any lapse in my memory makes me panicked about getting dementia. My father died of heart disease but somehow, I don’t worry as much about that. I can’t really explain why.

Both my brother and my first cousin died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and I do worry some about that. My cousin did genetic testing that revealed a mutated gene that may have been responsible for his disease. My brother never did that kind of testing so whether he had a genetic component or not we will never know. I just don’t want to burden my family with either dementia or ALS. I also wouldn’t want my children or potential grandchildren to get Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Even though I worry sometimes about these diseases I realize that life is a crap shoot. A bus could hit me tomorrow and that would be it. I am going to focus on the beautiful skating I saw at Stars on Ice, the shiny warm sun I experienced in Florida, and the fully in bloom trees I returned to while continuing to lead my life.

Trees

A few weeks ago, in Nerissa’s writing group, she read a prompt about trees from a book by Richard Powers, Overstory. One of the participants then drafted a beautiful essay about her relationship to trees, both in her yard and in the world. J’s essay made me think about a song I have been trying to learn on the recorder.

Playing the recorder is one of my pandemic endeavors. I am not a musical person. I really didn’t even know how to read music before I started taking lessons. Studying a musical instrument has been a stretch for me. The song I have been trying to learn, “Where have all the green trees gone”  is Swedish with very evocative lyrics.

The essay made me ponder the wetness of our own yard. As I sit here writing, I am looking out at a wide swath of partly dry, partly wet, partly hardened clay in my backyard. This area has spread into an ever-larger mass over the 30 years that we have owned the house. As you might remember we had two floods in our basement within a six-week period. The floods made me acutely aware of climate change and its personal impact. I hope to plant some of the trees J mentioned including the American hornbeam and a river birch.

The lyrics of “Where Have All The Green Trees Gone” are as follows:

Where have all the green trees gone?

Why have they spoiled rivers?

Why do people do these things?

Takers, yes-not givers.

Each of us must do his share,

So our children know we care;

Will you help us save the earth?

Won’t you please be givers?

These lyrics sum up for me climate change in a way many other things have not. When I think about the meaning of the words, takers and givers, and the contrast the song illustrates, they evoke the responsibility we all have for helping other people. Because the song puts children front and center, it reinforces the imperative that we must avert climate change so that our children and grandchildren have an earth to inherit.

Why Meths Drinkers?

For a long time now, my most widely viewed post has been the one I wrote almost 10 years ago about methylated spirits. I had heard a paper at an Alcohol and Drug History Society conference about people in Britain in the 1950s and 60s who became addicted to methylated spirits.

About two years, I had a sudden and brief uptick in views, and they were all of that original post. You can read about that here. On April 3 of this month, I had 1,151 views of which 1,120 were of the original post on methylated spirits. I believe this huge increase was due to a Call The Midwife episode which aired that Sunday and was about a meths drinker who was nearing the end of his life.

The episode described the symptoms of prolonged drinking of methylated spirits. They include rotting flesh, ulcers, gastritis, and gangrene. The show was preaching tolerance and understanding, even love, for the homeless, many of whom were meths drinkers.

For a few days following the episode, I had many more than usual views and visitors. By this week it is settling down, but I still am having slightly increased viewership. I really don’t understand why this is my most popular post, but I guess it is a topic that interests a lot of people.

Many years ago, prior to writing the post on methylated spirits, my most popular post was one I did on seeing a production of Mary Poppins in Israel. I also never understood why that was so popular. There is no accounting for what people will be interested in and try to seek more information about on the Internet.

Of course, posting this will probably lead to another temporary uptick in views. Maybe I should  find a way to stick the term “methylated spirits” in all my posts.

 

https://www.pbs.org/show/call-midwife/

 

See google console for past 28 days

Women and the State Department

Madeleine Albright died March 23rd of this year.[1] She was the first of only three women to serve as Secretary of State, which is the senior most cabinet position. Prior to Albright achieving that rank, Lucy Wilson Benson, who served as Under Secretary from 1977 to 1980, was the most prominent woman in the state department.

For my book Dames, Dishes, and Degrees I researched Benson’s life. Lucy Wilson Benson was born in New York City and graduated from Smith College in 1949; she also received a Master’s of Arts in history from the school. The same year she graduated, she married Bruce Benson, an Amherst College physics professor.[2] While in college she participated in state politics, working for the election of Representative Edward Boland (Dem.). In 1951, living in Amherst, Massachusetts, she went to register as a Democrat. A perplexed town official informed her that was illegal, and that no Amherst college professor had ever been a Democrat.[3]

Despite such discouragement, Lucy did register as Democrat, becoming involved in her local League of Women Voters.[4] In the post-World War II period, many women in a similar position to Lucy joined the League. League memebrship increased forty-four percent from 1950 to 1957, when it stood at 128,000.[5]

A sizable portion of the local membership came from University of Massachusetts faculty wives.[6] Some joined the League in opposition, consciously or not, to the faculty wives clubs  on their campuses while other women participated in both organizations. Lucy Benson recalled that in the 1950s women, most probably members of the Ladies of Amherst, that school’s faculty wives club, went grocery shopping adorned with hat and gloves. She did not.

Lucy Wilson Benson, Amherst College faculty wife, was the president of the National League of Women Voters from 1968 to 1974. She commuted to Washington and spent three days there every week. After serving as national president, she was Governor Michael Dukakis’ Secretary of Human Services. She then served as Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology in the Jimmy Carter administration. At that time, she was the highest-ranking female to serve in the State Department.[7] Asked about her position, Lucy said, “Don’t ask what it feels like to be a woman under secretary of state, because I don’t know. I do know what it is like to be an under secretary of state, however.”[8]

Despite her prominence, when Lucy Wilson Benson died last year, The New York Times did not publish her obituary. Her husband Bruce, who spent his whole career at Amherst College predeceased her. Despite never having held a national position, the paper, in 1990, recognized his demise.[9]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/us/madeleine-albright-dead.html

[2] Jonathan Thrope, “Benson Paves the Way for Working Women”, Amherst Student, Issue no. 7, October, 19, 2007.

[3] “Amherst Women on the move, 1959-2000”, panel discussion, East Lecture Hall, Hampshire College, March 6, 2009.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Eugenia Kaledin, Kaledin, Mothers and more, American women in the 1950s. Boston:1984, passim.

[6] Personal communication with Georgiana Foster, undated.

[7] Jonathan Thorpe, “Benson Paves.”

[8] “WASHINGTON TALK: WOMEN IN GOVERNMENT; Tales of the Pioneers,” New York Times, November 13, 1987.

[9] “Bruce B. Benson, 68, A Professor of Physics,” The New York Times, March 10, 1990.

 

Ice Show

Last Sunday I skated in an adult group number, the chimney sweep song, Chim Chim Cher-ee, from Mary Poppins.

The number was part of the annual show of the Skating Club of Amherst. The club had planned to have a Disney themed show, Be Our Guest in 2020 but had had to cancel two weeks before the performance because of COVID. When that happened, I wrote this post.

My regular readers may remember that in October 2019 I competed in an ISI event, the 33rd Halloween Classic, Winterland Skating School, Rockland, Massachusetts. You can read more about that here and here.

When I was competing, I was extraordinarily nervous and didn’t perform the way I had expected to. My hope for the show was that I would be less nervous this time. I practiced extensively both with the eight other people in the number and on my own. I also tried to be mindful around the event including repeating a mantra that went something like:

I know how to do it.

I can do it.

I will do it.

I believe in myself.

Saturday was the dress rehearsal and as soon as I stepped on the ice once again my legs were like jelly. One of the coaches, perhaps concerned that I might hyperventilate, said I could take my mask off while we were practicing. Another one of the coaches, Kyla, said that I could skate with her and that really made all the difference.

Saturday, we ran through the program about four times and by the last time my legs felt a lot better, and my nervousness had decreased. The problem with the actual event on Sunday was that I didn’t think I would have any practice time. I did try to walk around the rink wearing my skating guards to warm up my muscles a bit. Since all the mindfulness that I did on Saturday hadn’t made any difference I didn’t do any on Sunday. I was able to do  warmup skating for a couple of minutes in an alley behind the curtain.

Once the music started, I was nervous but because I was holding on to Kyla, I was able to perform all the steps. A lot of people told me to try and have fun. I can’t say that I did. Mostly what I felt when the one minute of performing was over was significant relief. A deep sense of accomplishment came next.

Now that I have skated two separate times, in front of an audience, and had intense stage fright, I realize that stage fright is a physiological reaction and there isn’t that much you can do to control it. Given that, I am proud of myself that this time I did all the steps and did not let my fellow performers down.

I am not sure I will ever compete or perform again in front of a crowd but that is something I don’t have to decide at this moment. I can just revel in the fact that I did it on Sunday.

Sorry that I am late with this post. Yesterday just got away from me.

 

 

 

First Quarter Report, 2022

In the post I wrote saying goodbye to 2021 I wished for a more even keeled year with less difficulties. Now that three months of 2022 are gone, I’m not sure I can say that has happened. Several members of my extended family have been ill and that has consumed some of my time as well as the fact that our house renovations continued into the new year.

Most of the work for our new mud room and laundry room finished in February and we have now been spending time filling the new space and reorganizing the old spaces. Because I am a neat freak and more than a bit compulsive, this work has elated me.

When the new year started my plan was to begin revising the first draft of my manuscript, Dames, Dishes and Degrees, which I completed in November. I have had a couple of false starts and will honestly admit I haven’t gotten that much done yet. The university press that I had sent a couple of chapters to in the fall eventually said revise it and then send it back to us again without providing any concrete advice about how to do that. It felt like a less than completely enthusiastic response.

This was a little discouraging, but I rallied and then sent off the whole manuscript including a book proposal for a writing contest that an affiliate of Writer’s Digest is sponsoring. You can read more about the contest here.

I also sent a query letter to an agent who then asked to see my book proposal. Other than that, I haven’t really done much work on the manuscript itself. I did sign up for a revision class that Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop is offering, beginning in May, which will hopefully  jumpstart my revision process.

I have managed to continue to post every week even though sometimes it is hard to figure out what to write about. As far as tweeting goes, Wordle has transformed that process. I jumped on the Wordle bandwagon a few months ago before the New York Times bought it. Doing the game every day and then sharing it on Twitter has increased my tweeting output considerably. On the other hand, I am not sure figuring out the word every day is so great for my overall productivity and focus.

This is how the year has been going so far. I will keep you posted on any new developments in my revision and publishing endeavors.

 

Taxes and Inflation

Two things I read recently reminded me of the central argument of my dissertation and Brewing Battles. At the beginning of the month, I read a review of Roger Lowenstein’s new book Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Eric Foner wrote the review. Eric is a very prominent historian and was my dissertation sponsor.

The other thing I read was from a newsletter I get from the New York Times DealBook. DealBook which is about business and economic news had a post that Roger Lowenstein wrote discussing inflation and how war can affect the economic climate of the country.

Both Eric’s review and Lowenstein post talked about the need of the north to finance the war which resulted in a myriad of taxes being a placed on a variety of objects and activities. Many years ago, I discovered that Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, and the Lincoln administration established taxes on alcohol and tobacco as well as creating an income tax. Although Congress repealed almost all the other taxes from following the end of the war, the Internal Revenue taxes on liquor and tobacco remained. These taxes provided over 50% of the federal government’s revenue until the enactment of the Internal Revenue tax in 1913.

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Two of Brewing Battles that describe the efforts by Chase and the Lincoln administration to finance the war.

“From the moment Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter the Federal government required large sums of money to finance the Civil War. A Special Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (July­–August 1861) attempted to meet this need by increasing certain customs duties, imposing a direct tax of $20 million on the States, and instituting an income tax.[1]

It soon became clear that these measures alone could not relieve the country’s financial burdens. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was hoping to raise $85 million and sent a bill to the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Congress, which reconvened on December 2, 1861, reviewed his request for a small increase in the income tax and excise taxes on manufactured goods. Distilled spirits, malt liquors, cotton, tobacco, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, gross receipts of railroads, steam boats and ferries, and playing cards all became taxable items. Signed by President Lincoln July 1, 1862, the measure became effective the following month.[2] By the 1870s Congress had repealed most of the excise taxes; the liquor tax, however, has remained in effect until today. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 marked the entrance of the federal government into the affairs of the liquor industry; it has never left.

The federal government did not regard the liquor industry as an ordinary business. Alcohol was more than a manufactured item — officials saw drinking as a luxurious, even evil, habit that deserved a heavy tax. Ignoring the mixed history of ante-bellum attempts at taxation, collection, and sumptuary legislation, Civil War legislators assumed that an excise on distilled and fermented beverages would raise a large amount of much needed revenue.

Civil War legislation of 1862 established the federal system of taxation of alcoholic beverages. At that time, the government instituted excise taxes on liquor, tobacco, and other items as well as imposing an income tax. Most of these Civil War taxes were short lived; the liquor and tobacco taxes were permanent. Until the imposition of the federal income tax in 1913, liquor taxes generated a significant portion of the nation’s internal revenue and played an important part in maintaining the economic health of the country.

Taxation provided the context for an explicit relationship between the state and industry, a pattern that would become more common later in the century. For the liquor industry as a whole the relationship did not develop smoothly. Throughout the nineteenth century, mismanagement and politicization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue led to fraud and corruption. The government did not seek and could not maintain regulatory power over the liquor industry. Although several individuals devoted themselves to reform efforts, officials failed to develop or maintain long range plans for efficient tax collection. Within this context, the brewing industry developed a good working relationship with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and was able to hold the line on tax increases”

[1] U.S. Department, Internal Revenue Service, History of the Internal Revenue Service 1791-1929, prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3; Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1962), 149; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-Military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), 149–181; Bray Hammond, Sovereignty and an Empty Purse: Banks and Politics in the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 52; Charles Estee, The Excise Tax Law (New York: Fitch, Estee, 1863), passim.

©All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without the permission of the author. Amy Mittelman, 2022.

 

Pregnancy and Academia

The March 16th edition of Inside Higher Ed’s Daily News Update contained a story with the headline, “A Win for Academic Mothers”. Evdokia Nikolova, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, Austin sued the school because the administration denied her tenure. Nikolova believes she didn’t receive tenure in the engineering school because she is a woman and was pregnant at the time of the decision.

A federal jury agreed with her and awarded her a million dollars for past pain and suffering, two million in further damages and another $50,000 for back pay and benefits. The four page article goes on to detail the points that both Nikolova and UT Austin made at the trial.

A few points that Nikolova’s legal team made stood out to me. An expert witness discussed the conflict between the ideal mother and the ideal academic scientist. A science professor must show complete devotion to their research, writing and teaching while a mother is supposed to do the same while caring for and raising her children. There are probably not enough hours in the day for the ideal women to do both jobs at the same time.

We often assume that misogyny and sexism are the most prevalent during the hiring phase. This usually means that white men are privileged over everyone else in getting higher. Nikolova’s case showed that such privilege becomes even more pronounced when colleges have to uh decide on promotions and other financial rewards for any given professor.

The most damning aspect of Nikolova’s case against UT Austin were the following statistics. In her engineering department there are 53 tenured faculty members but. only four are women. Since 2014 UT Austin began considering hiring Nikolova to the present, 9 male assistant professors got tenure while the two women who also went up for tenure did not receive it.

Nikolova’s case made me think about some of the women I discuss in my manuscript Dames, Dishes and Degrees. Arthur Schlesinger, a tenured professor at Harvard University, told Constance Green that she cannot pursue a graduate degree in history because she was a mother of three who lived in Holyoke. He didn’t think she would be able to make the trip and do the work. Green later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her pioneering urban history of Washington DC.

A generation, after Constance Green, Miriam Slater did manage to have a successful academic career at Hampshire college. At the beginning of her educational journey when she was an older student returning to school at Douglass College, she became pregnant. Her female professor and mentor assumed Miriam’s pregnancy was the end of her aspirations for an academic career. Miriam proved this professor and many misogynistic men wrong.

Nikolova story reminds me of an experience I had when I was attempting to gain academic employment. I went for an interview for an assistant professor tenure track position at Wesleyan University. It was going OK when the white male professor interviewing me asked if I thought I would be having any distractions in the coming year. I had no idea what he was talking about, and I tried to answer the best I could. After the interview ended, I realized he want to find out if he was pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Asking me this in a direct and easily understandable way would have been illegal.

I didn’t get the job. I don’t know if my failure to provide an answer to his ambiguous question made any difference in the decision. Years later the misogyny embedded in that interview is still stunning. In researching and writing Dames, Dishes and Degrees, I realized that I, as well as society, have many misplaced assumptions about how much things have changed for women since the 60s and 70s.While it is true that many women have made tremendous strides in in professional employment, Nikolova’s case indicates that misogyny and the patriarchy are still alive and well.

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