Joy in the Morning: Book Review

Betty Smith wrote Joy in the Morning in 1963. She was the author of the very well known, A Tree Grow in Brooklyn. Joy in the Morning is about Annie Brown and her first year of marriage.  Only eighteen, she moves from Brooklyn to marry Carl Brown who is a law student at a midwestern state university.

The book is semi-autobiographical. As a newlywed, Betty Smith moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where her new husband was studying law at the University of Michigan.

I was interested in Joy because the book I am working on looks at the wives of students, both graduate and undergraduate. The University Of Michigan had a National Association of University Dames (NAUD) chapter well as a Faculty Women’s Club, which still exists.

Annie does not belong to any of these groups but Smith movingly conveys her sense of being an outsider. Annie, like Smith, wants to write and eventually audits a playwriting class.

The book is lovely and very sweet in a non-sentimental way. Smith depicts the struggles that Annie and her husband Carl have, dealing with money, adjusting to marriage, and the birth of their son, honestly, in an authentic voice.

Carl eventually gets a job as a night watchman at a nearby factory.  He is able to get this job because the previous guard died. Annie feels badly about their good fortune resting on the death of someone so she decides to write about it.“

Annie spent the night writing the story. She wrote under great compulsion. She couldn’t stand it that a human being had lived and died and that there was no record that he had ever been. She felt that writing about him she was establishing the fact that he had lived and walked the earth and had once been a man.” 1

The women I am writing about had families and people who knew and now remember them, yet this sentiment spoke to me because I want to give then back their identity and humanity.

Betty Smith
Betty Smith

It’s Academic

Several of the associates at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center (FCWSRC) have decided to have a writing group. We met for the first time yesterday. Each person said what they would like to work on while at the center and what help they hoped to get from the group. I have to present a poster at the American Historical Association annual meeting in January. I have never even seen a poster at any conference so I definitely can use some help.

In a discussion of authenticity, which is a subject I wrote about in Brewing Battles, *(see excerpt at end of post) one of the associates said she would like to see my footnotes. I replied that the ideas mainly came from me. In other words, it was my original analysis. This exchange made me realize I have come a long way from my academic roots. Academic scholarship and writing often seeks legitimization by showing that an idea has prestigious pedigree. My current sense of accessible writing is to document the facts and the ideas and analysis are my own.

Another aspect of academe that seems to have changed is literature reviews. When I wrote my dissertation at Columbia University, you had to include a historiographical overview in your prospectus. A prospectus is akin to a book proposal. The actual dissertation did not contain a literature review. Two people in the group who have completed history PhD’s more recently both had to include literature reviews in their dissertations. This seems like a bad idea that will only make it harder to turn the theses into a book.

Before I became a nurse, I had a business, Academic Publicity. It provided promotional services and publicity to academic authors. It was a great idea with a fatal flaw. Most academics don’t think of themselves as writers or authors. Therefore, they do not want to pay to promote their books. By now, I really think of myself as a writer and author. I am writing Dames, Dishes and Degrees from that perspective.

* Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer (New York: Algora Press, 2007, 190.

The emergence of craft brewing highlights a battle within the brewing industry over authenticity and identity. Since World War II the national brewers have connected beer to all things American —  baseball, barbeques, race cars, and pretty, sexy women.1 Yet the nationalizing of the beer industry removed one of the most potent aspects of beer’s identity — localism. The new generation of brewers emphasizes its connection to place and community even more than taste. They stake a claim to authenticity via their roots in a specific locale.

Craft brewers, whether or not they start as home brewers, are entrepreneurs. In this way they are similar to the many hundreds of people who start a business every day. What is interesting about the thousands of people who started breweries and brewpubs since the late 1970s is that they created these businesses in an industry dominated by some of America’s biggest companies.

Craft brewers have been able to exploit a hole, a gap, in the huge edifice of American brewing. Some three to fifteen percent of the American beer drinking population didn’t and still doesn’t like drinking Bud, Schlitz, Miller, or Pabst. In the nineteenth century ten percent of Pabst’s customers wanted pure malt beer; craft beer drinkers of the twenty-first century are their  descendants. 2


Five College Women’s Studies Research Center

Yesterday was my first day as a Five College Women’s Research Center Associate. The center is based at Mount Holyoke in two houses. I have a nice big office with three windows. This is great opportunity for me and I hope to get lot of work done on Dames, Dishes, and Degrees.

Yesterday was our orientation so various people from different parts of the colleges as well as from other schools in the Five Colleges consortium came and talked to us. The most interesting, in way, was the Mount Holyoke Public Safety officer. She was a pleasant young woman who started by telling us that she had moved here a few years ago because her wife had attended the college and wanted to return to the Pioneer Valley. The straightforward, unself-conscious way in which she said this struck me as fantastic. Not to be sappy, but I am proud to live in a state that makes such remarks possible. I am also glad that no one took this as unusual or odd but rather as “normal.” I really believe that it is only matter of time before we have equal rights including marriage for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-gendered people. Young people do not care about these social issues in the same way that older people do.

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!

Raleigh

We are home now after our two week research/vacation trip. Internet access was a bit of problem so I was not able to post as much as I would have liked. I have written before about the immediacy of blogging and how I sometimes just ignore that imperative. This turns out to be one of those times.

Our trip to Raleigh was very interesting, particularly because it was a Southern city. It seemed segregated; we did not see that many people of color in restaurants or at the university. Nine percent of the student population of North Carolina State University is African-American. This seemed low to me but there is a historically black college North Carolina Central University nearby in Durham, which is ninety percent African-American.

The underlying context of my new book, Dames, Dishes, and Degrees, is the changes in higher education in the past 100 years. After being in Raleigh, I wonder about the continued existence of historically black colleges, especially when they are state institutions.

I think my reaction to the lack of diversity in Raleigh is understandable, but I realize that Amherst, where I live, is not necessarily that much more diverse. The comparable public university in Amherst is the University of Massachusetts. Four percent of its student body is African American. The other two schools in Amherst, Amherst and Hampshire College are both private schools. Amherst College apparently does a good job in attracting a diverse student body since ten percent of its students are African-American.

My point is that I was approaching Raleigh from a holier than thou Northern perspective. On reflection, many places in America, both north and south, need to do a better job of creating and sustaining diverse, integrated communities.

Our last day in Raleigh we did sightseeing, which was very enjoyable. The Capital is a very pretty building and we got to go inside the Governor’s mansion, which was also very nice. The museums in Raleigh are free which is great. The history museum had a wonderful exhibit of pictures from the Depression and the natural history museum had a spectacular butterfly environment, which was spectacular.

The beer got better as we went along, and in the end I found two good craft beers:  Carolina pale ale and Bad Penny. Both were very enjoyable.

The people in Raleigh were very nice, hospitable, and friendly. My original impression of Raleigh was that it was similar to Springfield, Massachusetts. After six days there, I still feel this is true. Raleigh is a city with certain tourist attractions on an urban level but it does not have the energy, vitality, and thriving downtown of the great cities such as New York, Paris, Boston, Edinburgh, or San Francisco.

Raleigh - State Capitol

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.