Women’s Dinners

I attended the Little Berks Friday and Saturday at Mount Holyoke College. The Little Berks dates back to 1930, starting as an organization for historians who were women.  In the 1970s, the group began holding conferences on women’s history, broadly defined. This is the Berkshire Conference; the next will be in June 2011 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Last night, many of the sixty women attending the Little Berks got “dressed” for diner. Most people were wiring skirts, dresses, or nice pants. When I looked at the assembled group in their finery the first thing that came to mind was how similar they were to the women from the University of Chicago who organized and attended the yearly Faculty Wives Dinners.

These dinners began as a response to the male only trustee dinner that the University held every year. The faculty wives wished to have alternative entertainment on that evening and in an eventually very elaborate volunteer effort provided dinner and a skit.  These women wanted to have something of their own in a similar fashion to the women who founded the Berks. Those historians desired have a network that would be comparable to the “old-boy network” they observed at meetings of the American Historical Association.

I find the discovery that the two groups of women have much in common very interesting because I am fairly certain that the individual who comprises the two groups would not feel that they are comparable.

Book Review: Good Morning, Miss Dove

Frances Gray Patton published Good Morning, Miss Dove in 1954. It was an immediate success. Prior to writing this novel, she had published short stories in various magazines, including Harpers and the New Yorker. Patton was also a faculty wife who lived her whole adult life in Durham, North Carolina.

I read this book because I thought I might do research on Patton when we went to North Carolina. Duke had several faculty wives organizations including Law Dames (wives of law students) and the Reviewers Club. The Faculty Wives of NCSU occasionally had joint luncheons or meetings with wives clubs from the surrounding area.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is not about a college town or an academic instruction. Liberty Hill is not even a southern town. The book is about learning and the role of teachers.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is very sentimental and somewhat unrealistic.  Patton’s portrayal of Miss Dove borrows from other literary figures, including Mary Poppins. One character in the book even remarks on Miss Dove’s similarity to the British nanny.

The two characters share certitude and high self-esteem. Miss Dove does not possess any of the whimsy or magic of Mary Poppins. They also share an ability to transform the lives of their charges. Patton does capture the phenomenon that teachers can sometimes be the most important figure in a student’s life.

The book is dated both in use of language – “colored” and in the portrayal of the relationship between nurses and doctors. Although it is set in the present, 1954, it has an old time feeling. The only modern element is her discussion of World War II and the fate of some of her students.

The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around the sudden onset of paralysis for Miss Dove.  Her hospitalization and surgery allows Patton to explore and elucidate Miss Dove’s character and memories. The outcome is unsurprisingly positive. Both the town and Miss Dove have gained greater appreciation of the meaning of her life.

In 1955, Jennifer Jones starred in the movie version of Good Morning, Miss Dove. I wish I could see the movie because Miss Dove was not supposed to be a beautiful woman. So far, I have been unable to find the movie in either VHS or DVD format, which is surprising.

Movie Poster Good Morning, Dove
Movie Poster Good Morning, Miss Dove

New Year Plans

My friend Jan, who blogs at Restaurant-ing Through History, has an excellent post with ideas for her blog in the coming year. I like what she did so I thought I would do the same.

I hope to post more about our recent research trip. On the way home, we stopped at Gettysburg and I have few things to say about it. We are planning more research trips so those will probably generate posts as well. One place we are thinking of going is Chicago, which would certainly enable me to compare another big city with New York.

I also hope to post more about my new project, Dames, Dishes, and Degrees. The upcoming political year promises to be very challenging so it is more than likely that I will have something to say about that.

I also plan to change the look of musings a bit. Some blogs will be leaving the blog roll and new ones taking their place. It is nothing against the ones I am removing; I just feel it is time for a change. I am now on twitter and I am hoping to display some of my tweets.

I wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year. Cheers!

Write Angles 24

Last Saturday I attended the 24th annual Write Angles conference I have attended this conference several times before and it is always a good experience. This year the two keynote speakers, Leslea Newman and Roland Merulllo both spoke about different aspects of the writing process. The theme of this year’s conference was “staying inspired.”

I had the opportunity to meet with a literary agent for fifteen minutes.  I am at the beginning of my new project so my query letter and book proposal are not as detailed as they will be further along in the process. It was still good to try to pitch Dames, Dishes, and Degrees to her.

I attended three panel sessions at the conference. The first was “Self-Publishing Success” I have often thought about self-publishing. Depending on who your publisher is, as an author you may have to do a lot of marketing, publicity, and even editing on your own. Small publishers and university presses may not have the same access to the large chain book stores as large publishers do. According to Jason Rich, one of the panelists, if you self-publish you will not get your book in Barnes and Noble.

Self-publishing is appealing because you would retain control over your work and have the potential to realize greater earnings from the sale of the book.

Apparently Apple will be releasing an e-book reader in the near future and Jason felt that this would lead to greatly increased sales e-books. It is very inexpensive to self-publish an e-book.

I also attended a session on blogging and one  on “How Agents Think.” The panelists  who talked about blogging included Jeannine Atkins, Kathryn Hulick, B. J. Roche, and Victoria Stauss. All of them mentioned that blogging is work. Jeannine, B.J., and Victoria all have blogs that have a different focus from their websites. I would find it very difficult to maintain two completely separate web entities.

Jeannine’s blog is about the writing process; her website promotes her books. B.J. has a website, Fifty Shift for mid-life women which is not exactly a blog. Victoria runs a website, Writer Beware and blogs there. She  also writes fantasy novels. These two different types of writing conflict. I have found that writing this blog helps my overall writing but it is also true that sometimes there are not enough hours in the day for both the blog and my research.

The main practical thing I took away from the conference was that I should finally take the plunge and start using social media. I have signed up for Twitter but I have only tweeted once. Stay tuned for further developments on that front.

Random thoughts on New York

Tomorrow we leave and go back to Amherst. Tonight we are going to the Yankees-Twins playoff game. This is a wonderful way to end our month here.

As a way of summing up our experiences, here are some random observation about life in the city.

There are a lot of dogs and a lot of them are big. There are also a lot of stores and other services for the dogs. Since most people live in fairly small quarters, it is hard to understand how they handle having such big animals. The level of services indicates that the dogs hold deep meaning for their owners.

Since I am a cat person, I will mention that there is a feral cat problem in the city. I didn’t see any evidence of it- unlike in Israel-, but there is an organization, The New York City Feral Cat Initiative. I gave them money.

There are also a lot of bicycles and bicyclists. Many people seem to use a bicycle as their means of transportation which is inspiring and terrifying. In general, New Yorkers seem to try very hard to engage with the outdoors. In Amherst, which is relatively rural, this would not be unusual. In New York there is a lot of concrete, but there are also wonderful green spaces.

If you live in midtown Manhattan you do not need a car to get anywhere in Manhattan, which is great. You definitely do more walking to accomplish daily tasks. Since many stores are open late, shopping is more of a daily occurrence. At home we drive once a week to the supermarket and buy food and other staples.

My final observations that we had a great time and I would love to live here.

101 Posts

This is my one hundred and one-blog post if you count the thirty-eight I did before I had a word press blog. If anyone is interested in reading them go to my website, amymittelman.com, and click on archives.

At the panel discussion on Monday about women and blogging, Jenny Davidson said she had started her blog because she wanted to promote her novel. I initiated my website, then the blog in both versions, for the same reasons. Somewhere along the line, however, the blog has become its own entity. I enjoy writing and I think writing more frequently has helped me to become a better writer.

My public online presence or persona has also evolved. In the beginning, I felt it was important to stick to writing about beer and other topics that directly connected to Brewing Battles. I also wanted to sell as many books as possible so I tried not to write anything controversial or potentially offensive. I also tried not to generate controversy, which may have had the unwanted effect of limiting my audience.

I still want to sell books and maintain a professional demeanor but I have relaxed about topics and opinions. Partly I am never sure whom or how large my audience is. This has given me some freedom to express myself since it is entirely possible I am talking to myself.

The internet and web have changed ideas and expectations of privacy. Because I have consciously sought a public identity, I have to expect that when I Google my name various things come up. I live in a small town so car accidents and the like are news in a way that they would not be here in Manhattan.  Because all newspapers have an online version, news items wind up being readily available.

The discussion on Monday touched on some of these privacy issues and Alexandra’s comments about the racial nature of disclosure are troubling. The real life consequences for someone’s risky behavior coming back to bite them later in life are very sobering.

Realizing this makes me more determined to behave online in an appropriate and professional way.  My blog persona is therefore close to my real life persona but not necessary how I am in the safety and security of my home and family.

This is a little more serious than I initially planned to commemorate my 101 posts. I will keep posting about beer, politics, women, and any other subjects that interest me. If you have been reading, I hope you stay around. If you are new, welcome and cheers!

How Not to Go On Sabbatical Using Craigslist

Today is the first of thirty days that my husband and I will be spending in New York City. It is my intention to try to blog every day that we are here. My husband is on sabbatical after having served for eleven year as vice-president and Dean of Faculty of Hampshire College. Our original intention was to try and swap our house with someone in either Boston or New York. That really didn’t work out and I would not recommend using craigslist to try to pursue either a swap or rental. One person, who seemed like  he was  anxious to rent to us, was not home when we arrived at the designated time to see the apartment.  Another couple  told us they would not be deciding for a couple of weeks; we got back to them in two days. They then said they had rented the apartment to someone else the same day we saw it. To make matters worse their  craigslist listing  reappeared three weeks later. I always checked that I didn’t not want any realtor listings but we wound up with a very unpleasant real estate agent in Cambridge. The final bad result from craigslist was a nice apartment in Boston. We went to see it but the man already had a couple from an agency who also wanted it and he was contractually obligated to give to them. Why did he have us come and look at the apartment then? I have concluded that craigslist is very prone to scams and unreliable listers. My friend owns the place we are renting in New York so that has worked out fine.

I didn’t set out to rant about craigslist but it was very frustrating. As far as sabbaticals go I feel a bit like I am on one too since I will not have my usual responsibilities during this month. I hope to post about interesting things we do in the city, both beer related and other, and include pictures. I also plan to work on my new book which I will talk more about later in another post.

Beyond Amethyst: The Conference

This past Friday I attended a conference at Hampshire College about the drinking age and whether it should be changed. Alex Torpey, a graduating student , organized the conference as part of his Division III, or senior project.

Ralph Hexter introduced the keynote speaker and indicated that he feels the issues around the drinking age and drunk driving hinge on responsibility. President Hexter is a signer of the Amethyst Initiative which called for lowering the drinking age to eighteen. Continue reading “Beyond Amethyst: The Conference”

This was cross-posted from Women Grow Business

“Am I a Woman in Business?” Learning to Promote Yourself the Same Way Businesses Do


Am I a woman in business, a businesswoman?
That is an interesting question for me to contemplate in writing a post for Women Grow Business. I started my website, AmyMittelman.com, and my blog, Musings, because I wrote a book, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

Many years ago, I had a business, Academic Publicity, that provided promotional help for academic authors.

In retrospect, my business plan had a fatal flaw: academics didn’t want to pay for my services.

In general, academics do not think of themselves as writers and thus do not want to pay to increase their book sales. The existence of the book itself punches their tenure ticket. And most academics write only one book. The one major business success I had was getting my husband‘s book, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 into paperback.

New business, young family, and next steps
At the time that I was running Academic Publicity, I had completed a PH.D in American history and had two small children at home. I had started the business because I was realizing it was unlikely I would be able to get an academic job without significant disruption to my life.

The perfect vision of hindsight
Because of life’s increasing complexity with family, including buying a new home, I ended the business after two years. With the perfect vision of hindsight, I realized that was too short a time to grow a business. I pulled the plug on Academic Publicity so quickly because I was losing money and I already had some feelings of guilt because I had been unable to find an academic position.

I think inadequacy, guilt, and feelings of illegitimacy are all common problems for women as they negotiate between professional goals and family life. I ended the business and quickly looked around for some way to be gainfully employed.

I settled on becoming a nurse.
I have been a nurse for 14 years and have worked in many different healthcare settings. I do not feel that being a nurse replaced being a historian. I brought all the skills and lessons I had acquired from my academic career, my business, and my family life to my new profession. Again, I think this is typical for women.

Many women’s lives do not occur in a linear fashion.
Both male and female baby boomers are famous for second acts and continually reinventing themselves. I believe this has always been truer for women and has certainly been true for me.

Contemplating a book on beer
Although I enjoyed being a nurse, I had always wanted to publish my dissertation as a book and that remained a goal. About seven years ago, with an increased focus, I began to contemplate taking material from my thesis and writing a book on beer. I was fortunate enough to obtain a publishing contract in the spring of 2006 and Brewing Battles was published in December 2007.

I believe persistence was the key to my achieving this long held goal.

And to achieve anything you probably have to have a passion for the endeavor.

Algora Publishing (who published Brewing Battles) is a very small press, providing very little marketing support for my book. So I have had to market the book myself. Luckily, I had the experience from once running my business Academic Publicity to fall back on. However, in the 15 intervening years since I ended the business, publicizing and marketing books changed completely.

I have marketed the book in both traditional and new ways.
I sent out advance copies to various academic and trade journals, hosted a book party, and have given book talks. Of course, almost all of my correspondence and press releases have been via email (…haven’t done any direct mailings). And many blogs also received my press release about Brewing Battles, in addition to traditional print media.

Learning curves and achieving mastery on the blogosphere
The blogosphere represents the most significant change from the world of book marketing 20 years ago. Setting up my own blog was definitely a challenge with several false starts. Every new task I have attempted has come with a new learning curve and a deep sense of accomplishment when I achieve mastery.

Persistence is key here as well.

Finding the answer to “Am I a woman in business?”
So in answer to my original question, I am a writer and that means I am in business for myself. My varied life experiences have taught me that everything in life is about marketing, marketing yourself. Not in a conceited or self-absorbed way but in the sense that…

You have to put yourself forward and promote yourself in the same way that businesses do.


A Day in New York City

Yesterday I had to go to New York City for the day. After my appointment I had about four hours to kill before my train left. First I went to the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum which until 2000 was the Abigail Adams Smith House. I had chosen to go there because I thought it was the headquarters of the Colonial Dames of America. colonial-barbie

The CDA does manage the Museum but their offices and presumably archives are in the building next door. This was built in 1977 to look old. Oddly enough, this building looks worse than the museum, which was built in 1799 as a carriage house for the planned mansion of Abigail Adams Smith, John Adams daughter, and her husband. The museum does not have any artifacts pertaining to the Smiths which may be one reason they changed their mission.In 1826 Joseph Hart purchased the carriage house and turned it into a day resort, equivalent to a spa today.  Hart operated this business for seven years until 1833.

The museum only has a few things that are actually from the hotel. The rest of the artifacts are “of the period.”  This is often the case with small museums. No one was in at the CDA so I couldn’t talk to them.

After the 30 minute tour of the museum I ate lunch and then I went to Bloomingdales. I haven’t been in Bloomies in a very long time. The display windows  are full of Barbie doll mannequins because Barbie is 50 and Bloomingdales is celebrating her birthday. According to the New York Times the store is “leaning on Barbie to salvage its quarterly bottom line.”

On the third floor there must have been over one hundred Barbies from different years dressed as different careers including doctor and stewardess. There were also Barbies as different celebrity figures. Apparently the first one of these was Twiggy in the 70s but there is also one of Beyonce. Most of the dolls are from the 90s. The 1959 Barbie is a replica.I confess I still have my Barbie which dates from that time.

On the second floor the store is selling Barbie purses and replica dolls. There is also a display of life size mannequins in designer clothes. Although I didn’t plan on it, the day turned out to have a theme, Both the  Colonial Dames and Barbie represent American womanhood and ideals of femininity. Now I just have to figure out how they are connected.

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