Goals

My main goal for 2020 is to finish my book on faculty wives. I hope to complete chapter five, which I have been working on for over a year, shortly. I would then have five or six chapters left. At the very least, I need to pick up the pace.

When I was thinking about my progress, I realized that I would need more structure, focus and motivation to achieve this goal. Beginning the end of January, I will be participating in the year long non-fiction manuscript group that the Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop offers. Most of the other members of the group will be memoirists but I think paying for the workshop and having regularly scheduled meeting once a month will provide a lot of structure and motivation.

The other writing commitment that I am undertaking is being part of Nerissa Nield’s Writing It Up in the Garden workshop for ten weeks. This is two hours once a week. Both of these writing groups require a commitment which I hope will benefit my rate of production for the book.

Besides writing the book, my other big commitment is to my ice skating. Having competed in October, my focus is now on being part of an adult group number, for the annual skating show of the Skating Club of Amherst. I hope I will be less nervous skating on home ice. My other skating goal is to complete at least one three turn this year. Here is link to a video, by a professional, of a three turn. After today I will have 357 days left to do it.

Because finishing my book is imperative, I am going to try to keep my schedule free from the other activities. This will not be easy; I have trouble saying no. The only thing I will consider getting involved in is efforts to defeat Donald Trump.

What are your goals for 2020? I would love to hear them.

Sisters

On Saturday, I went to see a Shakespeare and Company staged reading of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Kate Hamill wrote the play.  The actors played the story mostly for laughs, presenting the material more broadly than Austen’s version.

One serious moment which was deeply affecting was when Marianne is seriously ill, and Elinor pleads with her to live. “Don’t leave me Marianne”  says Elinor. I felt tears come to my eyes in response to this wonderful portrayal of the deep connection between the two sisters. I have a sister; our relationship is very complicated, but I don’t want to lose her. However, Elinor’s speech comes from the playwright not Jane Austen.

Thinking about this scene led me to reflect on other sisters in literature and movies.  The original Frozen is definitely about sisters. Elsa and Anna are the “heroes” of the movie; their sisterly bond enables them to triumph.

Another movie which is about sisters and is appropriate for the season is White Christmas.  There is even a song, “Sisters” in the movie. It stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen play the sisters. When I was little this was one of my favorite movies.

It is more difficult to come up with books that feature two sisters with as deep a bond as Marianne and Elinor. Little Women is all about sisters but there are four. Throughout the book, at various times, the sisters have different connections to each other. The relationships are not static.

I want to find good examples of sisters in a few novels for my Jane Austen book club. Starting in February we are reading Northanger Abbey. The rest of the year we will read gothic novels. Thinking ahead, the following year I might do Sense and Sensibility so I would need works that fit with the book’s themes, especially sisters.

Jane Austen’s Birthday

December 16th is Jane Austen’s birthday. She was born in 1775 so this is the 244th celebration of her birth. As you may know, I have been leading the Jane Austen’s Regency World book club at the Jones Library, Amherst, MA since last February.

Tomorrow is the last meeting for this fist year of the club. Since we are meeting in December, I am planning to bring refreshments for a celebration of Jane’s birthday. The menu is going to be ginger cakes and apple cider. The recipe for the cookies is from Jane Austen’s Card Games; 11 Classic Card Games and 3 Supper Menus from the Novels and Letters of Jane Austen by Jo Ann Staples.

For this meeting, we read Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. Even if you haven’t read the book, all are welcome to attend.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JANE!

 

Stalemate

I was having trouble finding a topic for today’s post. The end of last week was very stressful if not traumatic and I am still getting my bearings. I feel like I have been on a roller coaster for the last twelve days.

From November 8 to November 10, I attended a writing retreat in Northampton, MA. Nerissa Nields runs writing groups and retreats under the rubric, “Writing it up in the Garden.” This retreat was women only; the Kali Retreat. The group was 11 women, including Nerissa.

The retreat was a great experience both for my writing and my psyche. Thinking about a retreat was most enticing; the idea that I would be able to focus on my writing and nothing else was incredibly appealing.

My feelings about the writing part were more mixed. I write non-fiction from an academic background and I thought most of the people would be creative writers. I feared that my work would not resonate with the group.

The retreat exceeded my expectations in both areas. The two and half days were a wonderful escape from real life stress and the group couldn’t have been nicer and more supportive about my work. I was incredibly productive; writing almost ten pages during the retreat. Another great benefit of the retreat was that the motivation it engendered lasted into the following week.

On Thursday I had to go to New York City to attend a legal hearing, concerning a civil matter on Friday. I spent the late afternoon on Thursday prepping with my lawyer for several exhausting hours. Thursday night my husband and I had a lovely dinner with our son, his fiancée and her parents.

Friday was the hearing, which was definitely not a pleasant experience; it did not go my way. Because of privacy concerns I cannot say much more about the proceeding. However, my friends and family know the judge’s decision was wrong. I appreciate their love and support.

 

 

 

The American Wife


As I continue to work on my manuscript about faculty wives, I am always interested in books that appear to be about wives or more broadly women. After reading The New York Times obituary of Elaine Ford, I read her collection of stories, The American Wife.

In the story, “Changeling”, the main character, Sandy, thinks the following: “It’s as if getting married when you’re an undergraduate and then having a baby before your husband’s career is well established, together amount to sheer irresponsibility, which cannot be allowed to go unpunished.”

The story is about a young woman living in Athens with an infant while her husband is off on an archaeological dig. Sandy experiences extreme psychological distress to the extent that she believes the baby is not hers.

The story has autobiographical elements; in 1958, Ford, an undergraduate at Radcliffe married a Harvard student, Gerald Bunker. Together with their infant they pursued lengthy travels while he completed his Ph.D.  By 1964, she had three children but did completed her bachelor’s degree.

The couple continued traveling and having more children. By 1976  they five children and were living in Northern Ireland while Bunker was in medical school. Ford divorced Bunker, returned to the United States and began pursuing a writing career. She published her first novel, The Playhouse, at the age of 41 in 1980.

Ford, writing  about “Changeling”, said it “reflects my experience of living in Athens with a baby while my husband was far away on an archaeological dig. Though I’ve imagined the central plot of the story, the protagonist’s sense of isolation and disorientation certainly expresses my state of mind at the time.”

 

Stop The Bans

Yesterday I attended a  Stop the Bans rally in Northampton. Similar demonstrations  were held all over the country in response to the draconian anti-abortion laws that Alabama and other states have passed. It is very depressing to me that  reproductive rights are so threatened in 2019 when I can remember marching for the right to have an abortion in New York City in  the late 1960’s.  Abortion became legal in New York State in 1970.

Abortion was not legal in Massachusetts until Roe v. Wade in 1973. Massachusetts was also one of the last states to legalize birth control. However, last year, Gov. Baker, a Republican signed  the Nasty Women Act which repealed several old laws regarding abortion and birth control.  Nasty stands for Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women; legislators felt  the bill was necessary in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh ‘s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Several of the speakers at yesterday’s rally spoke about pending legislation in Massachusetts, the Roe Act.  This legislation would remove the requirement of parental consent for  an abortion for people under the age of 18.  The Roe Act also provides health care coverage for abortions for people who don’t have Mass Health.

Current Massachusetts law does not provide abortion coverage after 24 weeks. The Roe Act would extend that time period in cases of fatal fetal anomalies. Other provisions of the bill include ending the currently required 24-hour waiting period, and codifying the principles of reproductive freedom into state law. You can get more information about the Roe Act here.

Women and Computing

In early December the New York Times had an obituary of Evelyn Berezin who apparently “built the first true word processor. The Times has been trying to include more diversity in its obituaries; this one is probably part of that process.

It interests me because both my mother and my aunt were involved with the computing industry from its earliest stages. Coding and computer science are still overwhelmingly male so it was nice to hear about a woman pioneer.

An untended consequence of Berezin’s work was the elimination of most secretarial tasks since ultimately everyone could be their own secretary  with their own computer. I became a feminist at an early age and I vowed not to learn typing because I was not going to be a secretary. To this day, I rue that decision since the inventions of Berezin and others has meant that I have to type to do this blog, write my book and complete a myriad of other modern tasks.

Ancestry

 

 

This is a picture of my grandmother, Ceil with her three siblings and another relative at the graveside of my great-grandmother, Bessie Shapiro. My grandmother is the one with her head against the stone. This picture is so sad since Bessie died in 1914, aged 36, and left four children. The youngest, the little boy in the picture, was five.

For about four years I have been searching for that little boy whom family stories said died around the same time as his mother. Growing up, I was never told his name and none of my remaining relatives knew it either.

I first started by using Ancestry to try to find the family in census data. The Shapiros are in the 1910 Census. One problem was that Ancestry read the little boy’s name as Olive. Of course I knew his name was not Olive since it is a non-Jewish girl’s name. Because Ancestry  coded him as Olive, it made it very difficult to search  for him in other databases on the site.

Although I had the picture of the family at the grave when I began my search I didn’t know where Bessie was buried.   My working hypotheses was that the little boy would be buried where his mother was, especially if he died soon after her.

It turns he didn’t died right after Bessie but lived to be twelve years old. I spent a lot of time looking at the handwriting in the 1910 census and eventually decided the child’s name was Abie.

In the 1920 Census there is a Shapiro family  with my great-grandfather Sam, his second wife, her children and my grandmother’s three siblings including Abie.

By the time I figured this out I had found out that Bessie was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens.  There was an Abe there also but Shapiro was spelt Schapiro. Eventually I found that both Bessie and Abe were buried in the section of the cemetery for the United Mazirer Society which was one of many Jewish burial societies.

After all that I was able to get Abe’s death certificate which listed his mother Bessie and his father Sam. He died of encephalitis with a secondary or contributory cause being respiratory failure. He spent eleven days at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City and died on Feb.21, 1922.

A moth ago, I was able to go to Mount Zion Cemetery and visit both Bessie and Abie.  I was very glad to both name and claim Abe as my relative.

 

Alewives

The relationship between women and the brewing industry is an interesting one. Women were a major force in the temperance and prohibition movement which led the brewing industry  to oppose women’s suffrage.

Historically women were involved in brewing beer throughout the middle ages and in America before industrialization. This article looks at that history. My only quibble is that women disappeared from the American brewing industry well before the 1950s.

When I was writing Brewing Battles, my research uncovered a few women involved in the United States Brewers Association. Here is what I wrote:

One way to begin to create a beverage that would appeal equally to both sexes was to employ women in the industry. Brewing was overwhelmingly male, but by 1937 Modern Brewer had unearthed two female beer sales personnel. The journal also had a woman, Elsie Singruen, as its technical editor. Ms. Singruen had studied brewing in Berlin, and had written on brewing techniques and the history of the craft. The technician made further history when she addressed the Philadelphia District Master Brewers in 1938. Ms. Singruen, the first female to speak publicly before a brewers group, gave a talk on “the history of American Brewing Literature.[1]*

[1] Modern Brewer, May 1937, 25; December 1937, 64;  April 1938, 39.

©Amy Mittelman 2018.

Notable Nurses Part Two

This is the second part of the list from Regis College. The information about Margaret Sanger is somewhat problematic. As the birth control movement progressed it moved further and further away from its’ radical roots and  often embraced eugenics and population control rhetoric.

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912): First African-American Union Army Nurse in the American Civil War

Lillian D. Wald (1867-1940): Public Health Advocate

  • Shortly after beginning classes at the Women’s Medical College in New York, during a trip to coordinate classes for immigrants in New York’s Lower East Side, Wald was so shocked by the poor state of health of those living in tenement houses there that she felt she needed to do something. She left school and founded the Nurses’ Settlement at Henry Street to help those most in need of medical care.
  • At the Nurses’ Settlement, Wald and a small number of other nurses pioneered the field of public health nursing. The group charged for medical care on a sliding scale. They hoped that by adjusting how much they charged based on the means of their clients, they could make health care affordable to everyone.
  • Wald’s bold decision to leave the medical establishment and prioritize the general health of the community was a success. Her efforts at improving the health of her community, as well as educating future medical practitioners on the need for this service, contributed to the founding of the National Federation of Settlements. Much like Wald’s Nurses’ Settlement, this organization aimed to provide desperately needed medical aid and public services to the communities that needed them the most. The field of public health nursing would eventually become its own profession.
  • Wald became the first chairperson of the National Organization for Public Health Nursing, which worked to develop this new field.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966): Founder of Planned Parenthood

Mabel Keaton Staupers (1890-1989): Advocate for Racial Equality in Nursing