Busy Week

This past week I was very busy. As I wrote last week, Saturday was the first night of Passover. We had  a great time with my sons and daughter-in-law. Next year I hope we can have even more family attend our seder.

Passover is one of my favorite holidays ,but eating just matzah for a week is tough. The change in diet gave me some minor health issues, primarily the stomach kind. Regularity begets regularity, if you get what I mean.

Because at the end of last week, I was getting ready for Passover, I fell behind on some routine tasks, such as mail, email (the bane of my existence) and bills. This week I had to play catch up.

As a result, I spent most of the week not actually writing anything. I did finish reading and taking notes on two books that had to go back to the library.  Although I didn’t write much, I had writing experiences due to the two groups I am involved with.

This was week was the first meeting of a new ten week session from Nerissa Nields’ Writing It Up in the Garden. I switched from her group that meets Wednesday evenings back to the group I was in last year, Tuesday midday. I like the people and I got good feedback on some pages I read from the chapter I am currently working on.

One of the people in the group read something about ALS, which was hard for me to listen to. I have known several people, including my brother Fred, who have died from that terrible disease and my first cousin, Lowell, is living with it.

The other writing  experience involved the year long Pioneer Valley Writers Workshop Creative Nonfiction Group that I am participating in. The first meeting was at the beginning of last month. One part of the program is having a different accountability buddy each month. I really enjoyed my first buddy, Jennifer. We have a lot in common and are working on similar topics. It was great to talk about my book to a fellow historian.

Although the week had hard parts and was busy, I did do some enjoyable things. Last week  was the World Figure Skating Championships. I couldn’t watch them in real time so, starting this past Monday, I watched repeats of all the events. It ended last night with the ice dancing. It was a pleasure to watch the superb skating of all the athletes. I love skating and, in fact, I am going skating today. The week is ending on a good note.





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.

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.

Reflection’s of a Professor’s Wife

I have continued working on my new book  about faculty wives and I am almost done with the fourth chapter which is about the socioeconomic status of academics. The chapter starts in the 1910s and ends with the effects of the Great Depression on college communities.

This is an excerpt from the chapter. The life of the anonymous writer is eerily similar to many experiences I have had as a woman with a Ph.D who is married to a college professor.

In 1882, 65 college-educated women from eight colleges founded the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. The ACA published a journal until it merged with the Southern Association of College Women, becoming the American Association of University Women.

In the January 1921 issue, an anonymous writer described her discontent being married to a professor. When the couple first married they were equals; both were teachers. After two years of marriage they both enrolled in graduate school, pursing the Ph.D. “Looking back upon those years, I think of them as the happiest in many respects that we have spent together. We were more truly comrades than we have been at any other time…. We were in every sense equals.”[1]

After graduate school, the husband got a job at a state university in a small town. Her plan was to teach but a roadblock emerged in the form of “a ruling which eliminated wives of members of the faculty from teaching in the university.”[2] The wife could not use her education in paid employment and absent a salary she had to keep house.

“I put on my apron and went into the kitchen where for six years I have cooked a professor’s meals and pondered over the policy of our university. Can it be in the divine order of things that one Ph.D. should wash dishes a whole lifetime for another Ph.D. just because one is a woman and the other a man.”[3]

Her duties as a professor’s wife did not stop at housework. Social obligations required a considerable amount of “unpaid service.” “Through faculty women’s clubs composed of the women of the faculty and wives of faculty members and wives of faculty members she (the wife) spends much energy helping arrange receptions, teas and picnics for the faculty group.”[4]

Being unable to progress in her career or pursue her scholarship created tensions in the marriage. “… There is no real companionship between a husband and wife who are not growing together and it is difficult for them to develop equally under existing conditions.”

The situation of this writer who was probably anonymous as to not jeopardize her husband’s career, was typical of many faculty wives throughout the twentieth century. The nepotism rules that prevented her from working were widespread in the early twentieth century, increased during the Depression and World War II and persisted into the 1970s.

[1] “Reflections of a Professor’s Wife,” The journal of the Association pf Collegiate Alumnae,” vol. 144, 1921, p. 90-92.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

© Amy Mittelman 2018

Faculty Wives

I am writing a book about academic communities and faculty wives. To make sure I get anything that is posted online about the topic, I have a Google alert for the string, “faculty wives”. Mostly I get obituaries of women all across the country, in their 80s and 90s, who have had rich lives with many volunteer experiences. Their activities include membership in a faculty wives club. This generation of women were probably born in the 1920s and 1930s and were young marrieds in the 1950s which was the high point of participation on faculty wives clubs.

In April I received an alert on a slightly different topic. It was a letter to the editor of the East Oregonian endorsing Carol Innes for a seat on the Pendleton City Council., Ward 1. The writer was Innes’ sister. Among her many qualifications for the seat, her sister, Jackie, included her membership in the Blue Mountain Community College faculty wives club. Her husband, Murray Innes III, was chair of the English Department.

In running for office, Innes is following the path of many women who moved from volunteer positions in clubs to civic engagement and often paid employment. Innes and her sister must feel that her participation and service to the school is part of what makes her an excellent choice  for City Council.

In the May 15th primary, Carole L. Innes was the top vote getter receiving 354 votes. She cleared the fifty percent plus 1 threshold so there will be no runoff. She will take her seat in January.


Yesterday I completed the chapter of my book on faculty wives that I have been working on for quite a while. I started the research last year and started writing it in July. Just like it is hard for a pitcher to close out innings it is hard for a writer to know when to stop writing. There is always more research to do and more books to read.

I decided it was finished because I can’t work on it any longer. I  have covered the points I wanted to make so I am going to put it aside and start something new. After writing a first draft of something, you need to let it sit for a while.

The chapter is about African-American faculty wives and their clubs. Several of the women became very prominent in the black community; some like Margaret Washington had stature in the white community as well. Most faculty wives clubs, black or white, were primarily focused on their academic community. The service they provided was most often to the school itself.

The first generation of African-American faculty wives operated on a larger stage. They used their position and connections to make a difference in the community their school was located in as well as in national organizations such as the National Association of Colored Women.

I also looked at clubs that fit the more typical pattern of inward involvement with their school. The Howard University Faculty Wives Association primarily focused on the school, setting up a scholarship and loan fund. In their programming, however, they  had a more global orientation, inviting the Haitian minister and his wife to an event as well as Mr. Francis Nwia- Kofi Nkrumah who later became the first president of Ghana.

The chapter started out one way and took a different focus after I had done more research. I learned a lot about both the writing process and African-American women and their history by doing this chapter.

World’s Fair

One of my goals for 2017 was to work more regularly on my book on faculty wives. Recently I have been able to do that and I have run across an interesting subject. Various World’s Fairs have come up in my research because the fairs have often been contested spaces.

The chapter I am working focuses on African-American wives and their clubs. Beginning with the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and going on until at least the NY Fair of 1939, African-Americans sought a seat at the table. Women, both black and white, also sought representatives.

The fair that is most interesting to me is the St. Louis Louisiana Exposition of 1904. Josephine Yates, President of the National Association of Colored Women, (NACW) negotiated with the Fair managers to have a World’s Fair Day for the organization. Other African-American groups also arranged for days.

Hallie Q. Brown, a member of NACW sought employment at the Fair and was refused. This prompted Margaret Murray Washington to urge the NACW convention to boycott the planned event. This became the official position of NACW, however many convention attendees did visit the fair. Interestingly, Booker T. Washington disagreed with his wife, feeling that cries of racism were over stated.

Over 10,000 people picketed the offices of the NY World’s Fair in 1939 demanding employment for black people. The women had more success, happily attending  a National Association of Colored Women Day at the Fair.



200 and Counting

The post I did last week on the Women’s March was my two hundredth  on this WordPress blog. It was my 238th post if you count the thirty-eight I did  when I had a website hosted by Network solutions which had a sort of blog page.

238 is not that many since I  started blogging in February of 2008. It is about twenty-six a year. That is why I am trying to step it up and  blog at least once a week this year. I am also trying to tweet at least once a day.  I am doing pretty well with both tasks but it is not as easy as it looks.

Because of a time crunch I am doing this shorter, accounting type of post today but there will be longer posts in the future. Next week I plan to blog about one of my favorite topics – the brewing industry and taxes. In two weeks I will tackle beer history and the different meanings of that term. Looking further ahead, I  hope to post about my work on my new book about faculty wives.

See you next week.

Book Review: Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners by Laura Claridge

In the interest of full disclosure, I read this book because an agent suggested it as a way to help with Dames, Dishes, and Degrees. Having finished the book, I think I understand what the agent was getting at, but I am pretty sure I don’t want to write a book like this one.

Before reading the book, I didn’t really know much about Post. Claridge does a good job of positioning Post in the Gilded Age upper class, but it is just not that interesting. Emily Post suffered a humiliating divorce and then wrote six novels. At the age of fifty she transitioned into writing about etiquette, publishing Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home in 1922.

The story of Post’s evolution into a successful, independent career woman holds some interest but once Claridge gets past 1922, she resorts to almost a laundry list of what Post did every subsequent year.

Claridge fills in the gaps with basically irrelevant stories about what else was happening in America and the world while Emily Post was single-mindedly pursing her goals. This is not a book I would use as a model for my own writing.