New Woman

While working on my book this week, I read an article that I wanted to use and cite from. It came from a magazine called New Woman. Because I can get interested in almost anything I googled it and found a October, 1970 New York Times article. The article stated New Woman was going to start publishing in February, 1971. The Times piece had a patronizing tone and was particularly snarky about Mrs. Hermione Miller,  the advertising director, who had been working in New York City since June to find advertisers for the magazine.

Mrs. Miller was “‘the former ad director of Fort Lauderdale’s Pictorial Life magazine. She said she’s found the agencies very interested. But, then, she’s a blonde.” The article ends there.

When I first read that line I had no idea what they were talking about.  I wondered if somehow part of the article had gotten cut off. Thinking about it, I realized that misogyny was so embedded in institutions like the New York Times that they didn’t realize how awful that sentence was. There was no author so some staff writer, mostly probably white and male, made  assumptions about what it meant to be a blonde and, I assume, attractive woman and unabashedly wrote that last line.

It makes me aware that 1970 is really not that far away and, in some ways, not that much has changed. Yesterday’s Times had an article about the Norwegian women’s handball team and the fine they received for refusing to wear bikini bottoms while playing. The Handball federation is now considering changing the rules.

Generally the women’s sports, particularly in the Olympics, that are the most popular feature scantily dressed athletes. Beach volleyball is the best example. This shows that we still live in a world that judges women by their looks.

Although I thought this was an important topic for the blog, I know that I have to control my insatiable curiosity and stay focused on writing my book.

Book Review: The Equivalents

I finished the book The Equivalents while we were in Florida. it is the first of the books I plan to read for my summer reading. You can read about that here. The book, by Maggie Doherty, tells the story of five women who were in the first two groups of Fellows at the Radcliffe Institute.

Mary Bunting,  president of Radcliffe College from 1960 to 1972, established the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study as a way to provide opportunities for married women with children who may have delayed or stopped their study or profession because of  marriage and children. Maggie Doherty  chose to focus her book on five women who all were accepted to the Radcliffe Institute but did not have advanced degrees. They received the term. “Equivalents” because they did not have advanced degrees but their experiences as writers, poets and artists counted as equivalent. to advanced degrees.

The women were the poets, Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, the writer Tillie Olsen who started in the second year,  the artist Barbara Swan and the sculptress, Marianna Pineda. Sexton and  Kumin had a relationship that began before their time together at the Institute, 1961-1963, and lasted until Sexton’s suicide in 1974.

The parts of the book where Doherty explores the lives of her five main characters and their relationships while they are at the Institute are well-written; this is the strongest part of the book.

During the first few years of the Institute, all of the Fellows were white. Although the story of the five “equivalents”  is the main part of the book, she tries to place their experiences within a larger societal context. To do this she introduces other characters, such as Alice Walkers, Institute Fellow 1966-1968, so Doherty can talk about issues such as race which her main actors didn’t experience.

Alice Walker is a compelling figure but Doherty should have written about her with more nuance. I find it problematic that she does not even mention Walker’s later career and controversies over her perceived anti-Semitism. A few sentences would have sufficed.

Doherty tries to position the women as precursors to second wave feminism. Although the bond between the five “equivalents” was very strong with elements of later consciousness raising sessions, I feel this is overstated. None of the women expressed overtly feminist ideas while they were at the Institute.

I read the book because the topic interests me and has something to do with what I’m currently writing about in my own manuscript. Because I am taking the PVWW writing class I read the book both for what it said about these women who were in the first group of the Radcliffe Institute and also how it is written, what kind of techniques and craft skills she used in writing it. Doherty does a good job with scene setting and uses quotations judiciously (both craft techniques)

I enjoyed the book and it did give me ideas about how to strengthen scenes and reduce my use of quotes, by putting more things into my own words. I am off to a good start with my summer reading. If any one else has a summer reading plan, I would love to hear about it.

Beaches

On Tuesday, I returned from ten days in Florida. Over the July 4th weekend my sons and daughter-in-law  were there as well. On July 4th we all took a shuttle and went to the private beach owned by the hotel we were staying at.

The rest of the time, my husband and I walked to a public beach about one mile away. All this beach going make me reflect on the tortuous history of Jim Crow and Florida beaches.  In my current manuscript I write about attempts in the 1960s to de-segregate  the public accommodations in St. Augustine, Florida. Here is an excerpt from the first draft of the sixth chapter of my book.

St. Augustine, Florida was one of the country’s most segregated cities. Beginning in 1960, it was the site of many civil rights demonstrations including students from Flagler Memorial College sitting in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.

1965 was the 400th anniversary of St. Augustine. In preparation for the planned celebration, in 1963 the city embarked on a restoration of its downtown buildings. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to attend the dedication ceremony for the first restored building. All the festivities were for whites only. His advisors became concerned about him attending a segregated event. The organizing committee set aside two tables in a dining alcove for local African Americans. Blacks had pushed for city officials to meet with civil rights activists as part of the festivities. This did not happen.[1]

Following this event, the activists started picketing segregated local businesses. The uptick in civil rights action led the Klu Klux Klan to descend on St. Augustine. The Klan embarked on a reign of terror. “Homes were shot up, cars set on fire, people were beaten, jobs were lost, jail sentences handed out and threats made.”[2]

The situation was becoming intractable; St. Augustine civil rights activists sought help from Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The activists sought assistance in early 1964; at the same time the U.S. Senate was engaged in the longest filibuster that body had ever seen over the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[3]

Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders sought an end to the filibuster and passage of the bill. They chose St. Augustine as a case study in the law’s necessity. Part of the proposed legislation dealt with segregated hotels, motels, and restaurants. St Augustine, a tourism site, had plenty of these establishments.[4]

Local activists choose Easter, 1964 to begin their campaign. They called for college students to spend spring break in St. Augustine; not for a vacation but to participate in sit ins and demonstrations. Four prominent Boston women came as well. When Mrs. Esther Burgess, the wife of the first black elected diocesan bishop of the Episcopal church and Mrs. Mary Peabody, mother of the Governor of Massachusetts, were arrested, the tension in St. Augustine became a national story.[5]

Mary Peabody’s arrest made it very likely that Martin Luther King would, at some point, arrive in St. Augustine.[6] He came to St. Augustine in early June, renting a beach front cottage, which was vandalized and burnt twice.[7]

On June 11, Martin Luther King, Jr. Ralph Abernathy, and eight other civil rights activists attempted to enter the Monson Motor Lodge, St. Augustine, Florida. James Brock, the motel manager stopped them at the entrance. The group refused to leave. Brock called the police who also asked King and the others to leave. They still refused and were arrested. They did not post bail and were placed in the St. Johns country jail.[8]

Two days later, Sarah Patton Boyle led a group of civil rights activists seeking service at a St. Augustine restaurant. They were all arrested. The Tampa Tribune described Boyle as the “wife of a University of Virginia professor (and the) great granddaughter of a Virginia governor and second cousin of the late General George S. Patton.[9]

After spending three nights in jail Patty, and other “white integrationists” including Reverend William England, Boston University chaplain were released on bond.[10] She was proud of being arrested. “I would rather have the voice of a civil rights jailbird than the voice of a mockingbird. That is why I announce with pride that I was one of those who went to jail for freedom in St. Augustine …. “My heartaches that such drastic action as going to jail is necessary to make America what she claims to be–a land where there is freedom and justice for all. But since it is necessary, I am proud to take full integrationist part in it. I regard my arrest as an honorary degree in the struggle to implement the principles in which I so deeply believe.”[11]

[1] https://civilrights.flagler.edu/digital/collection/p16000coll11/id/4/rec/1 Accessed 10 13 2020

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Warren, Dan

[7] Florida Room: Battle for St. Augustine 1964: Public Record and Personal Recollection Author(s): Claudia S. Slate Source: The Florida Historical Quarterly, Spring, 2006, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Spring, 2006), pp. 541-568.

[8] Tampa Tribune, June 12, 1964, pg. 1.

[9] Tampa Tribune, June 14, 1964, pg. 2.

[10] Tampa Tribune, June 17, 1964, pg. 1

[11] https://civilrights.flagler.edu/digital/collection/p16000coll11/id/4/rec/1

©Copyright Amy Mittelman 2021. Do Not Reproduce without Author’s Permission

Summer Reading

For several years, pre-Pandemic, I have participated in summer reading challenges hosted by the Jones Library. Usually you are supposed to read, at least, three books, and write a review of one. Once you turn that information in, you get a gift card to a local retail or dining institution.

In the past, the library also had a bingo game connected to the theme for the year’s summer reading challenge. Playing that meant you read three more books, for a total of six,  and had a better chance of winning a more elaborate prize.

Obviously, last year, the library didn’t do anything for summer reading or anything else. This year, they are doing an Adult Summer Reading Program; the theme is Tails  & Tales. It started yesterday and continues until August 27th.

I went today and picked up the material for the Jones Library program and a few of the books they suggest are entrancing. One,  a nonfiction book, The Trainable Cat A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat, by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis is particularly appealing because, eventually, we are going to get a new cat to replace Bella, our cat who we had for eighteen years. Early this summer we had to put her down.  If possible, I would like to get a short haired cat who we keep indoors and we don’t have to declaw. Maybe the book would help us have a cat who doesn’t starch.

My plan for my own summer reading is to finish five books; six if I add the cat book. The books are Maggie Doherty, The Equivalents which I want to read because it is about the early years of the Bunting Institute , a program of continuing education for women at Radcliffe College. The chapter of my book that I am currently working deals with similar programs developed at various academic institutions in the post World War Two period.

For my Jane Austen book club meeting in August I am reading Zadie Smith’s, White Teeth. Also Austen themed, I will be reading, The Heiress by Mollie Greeley. I read her book, The Clergyman’s Wife which is one of my favorite Jane Austen retellings. I wrote a review of it which you can read here.

One of the people in my year long manuscript class suggested I read Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidya Hartman. She thinks it will be a good model for how to structure my  book.

The final book I plan on completing before August 27th is Octavia Butler’s, Parable of the Talents. I just finished reading her Parable of the Sower and it was a great book; very dark but very prescient. Written in the 1990s, the novel starts in 2022, a year from now. It tackles issues of race, climate change, loss of our democracy and  concepts of God and organized religion. These are all issues we are currently grappling with. I highly recommend it.

To complete all of these books by the end of August, I will have to read about 36 or 37 pages  a day. I think that is very doable. If I add in the cat book, it will raise my daily reading page count to about 43 pages a day which I still fell is doable. I will keep you posted about my progress.

I will not have a blog post next week. I will resume my regular schedule on July 16th. Have a nice two weeks.

 

Me-Too and the Craft Brewing Industry

Last year, in the aftermath of the George Floyd’s murder, the craft brewing industry confronted racism in their industry. You can read about one response here. This spring they are now realizing how much sexism and misogyny exists in craft brewing.

Last month Brienne Allan, who works at Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts, posted on Instagram about her negative experiences working in the craft brewing industry which is overwhelmingly white and male. She got over 1,000 responses. You can read more about that here.

Here is a very brief excerpt from Brewing Battles about one woman in the brewing industry in the 1930’s in the post-Repeal period.

The newly legal brewers were also concerned with advertising and promoting beer as a distinct and pleasurable product to a public, which might have forgotten its existence. Of particular importance to brewers were “the men and women who were boys and girls in 1919” who “represented a tremendous new market with new habits and new buying perspectives.”[1] Of course the vast majority of pre-Prohibition brewers, local in nature and relying overwhelmingly on a male, working class population for its clientele in the saloon, had never approached marketing in quite this way.

Prior to Prohibition, public drinking in saloons had an overwhelmingly male face; from 1919 to 1933, both men and women drank in public at speakeasies and other illicit watering holes. Drinking became a companionate social activity. Brewers knew they would have to address their marketing to both men and women.

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.[2]

[1] Modern Brewer, March 1933, 22.

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

© Amy Mittelman 2021

 

Old Age

I recently completed the sixth chapter of my manuscript, The Real Housewives of Academe. “Civil Obedience” deals with activism in the 1950s and 60s and faculty wives who fought for social justice.

One of the people I discuss is Sarah Patton Boyle. She became an early white supporter of civil rights in her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

After spending fifteen years as an active participant in the movement, she retired, got divorced, and moved, at the age of sixty, to Arlington, Virginia, to start her life over.

Below is an excerpt about Boyle from the first draft of my chapter, “Civil Obedience”

In 1983 at the age of 77, Sarah-Patton Boyle published her third book, The Desert Blooms: A personal adventure in growing old creatively. The Desert Blooms is a memoir about a more private and personal chapter of her life.[1] It detailed her journey from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville where she had been a faculty wife for many years to Arlington, Virginia at the age of 60.

Patty had decided to move because much of her life had changed. “My children were far away, intent on finding mates and creating careers. The Southern civil rights revolution of the 1950s, which had riveted my attention and drained my energies for fifteen years, had changed direction and was moving swiftly away from my area of competence and commitment.”[2]

Although Patty was leaving the life she had known and moving by herself to a completely new place, she “lacked the sense to be frightened. … Nothing could be worse than the ordeals I had already weathered, I thought.  Hadn’t I even survived my husband’s announcement that when the last of our children left home, he would too? “[3]

Patty had enjoyed being a housewife and mother while she was doing it but “my unlived life had beckoned often and the thought had occurred to me now and then that nothing held me back but a ball and chain. So now that liberty was thrust unsought upon me, I resolved to focus, not on what I had lost, but on what I would gain.”[4]

Religion was very important to Patty so she looked for a church to belong to in her new city. She found a church that she initially felt comfortable in, forming a relationship with the minister and his wife. The minister sought to change the church and believed that Patty would assist him in this work. “Knowing I had opposed the old guard on civil rights in the 1950s, he thought I would oppose it in this case, too.” Patty was not as on board with changing the church as the minister initially believed. ”His sudden silences, I now know, resulted from doubt that he was right.”

Patty had relied heavily on religion to get her through the difficult years of her involvement with the civil rights movement. “During the black revolution, when I had /battled on the minority side of what was the nation’s hottest issue, a stream of threats and insults had descended on me that only my faith had enabled me to survive. Traditional Christianity had been for me no candy bar but the staff of life.”[6]

Patty’s disappointment in her new church, the minister and his wife led her to feel old in a way that she had never experienced before. “It was now several months since I had recognized that I was old. But shocked as I had been at first, I had not felt old. Now I did. It wasn’t a feeling of accumulated years so much as one of having outlived my power to achieve anything – a feeling of not having any life ahead of me but only behind me, of having passed from anticipation into merely marking time.”[7]

[1] Jennifer Rittenhouse, “Speaking of race : Sarah Patton Boyle and the “T.J. Sellers course for backward southern whites” in Martha Hodes, ed.  Sex, love, race : crossing boundaries in North American history, New York : New York University Press, c1999, p. 493.

[2] Desert, p. 19

[3] Desert, 20

[4] Desert, 22

[5] Desert, 56.

[6] Desert, p, 99-100

[7] Desert, p. 104.

© Copyright 2020 Do Not Reproduce without the Author’s Permission.

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas

One of the assignments for this month from my Pioneer Valley Writer’s Workshop Year Long class, was to read three essays to look at the craft tools used in presenting ideas.

First, I read “The Futurist Manifesto by Flippo Tommaso Marinetti. For the class assignment, we were not supposed to say whether we like a piece or not but rather, look at the craft elements used in the writing and determine if they would be valuable for our own writing.  However, this is is my blog, so I will  say that I hated this essay. The language  was over wrought, hyperbolic and flowery. I would not want to write in that style. The piece felt dated with racist and misogynistic elements and I had a strong suspicion that the author was a fascist. When I Googled him, I found out I was right.

Our teacher implied that Verlyn Klinkenborg’s, “Our Vanishing Light”, had  lyrical tone, and visual and sensory imagery.  The writing was okay but it seemed a fairly standard journalistic article. Written in 2008, it might have been startling then but felt like nothing new thirteen years later.

In “Sick Women Theory”, Johanna Hedva uses her personal story to make her point. I thought that was a good strategy or tool to use. By personalizing her ideas, it made thinking about those ideas more accessible. Hedva weaves her story of chronic illness into a compelling critique of western medicine. She explores how disability interacts with political participation, seeking a redefinition of both public and private.  I found her writing the most compelling of the three essays and I enjoyed reading it.

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.

 

 

 

Meghan Markle and Me

I didn’t watch the Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. That doesn’t stop me from having an opinion on the subject. At first, when I read about Meghan’s claim that she hadn’t googled anything about Harry or royal life, I was incredulous. Hadn’t she ever read or saw anything about Princess Diana?

Yesterday I read The Anti-Racism Daily  entitled, “Believe Black Woman.” The Daily is a newsletter curated by Nicole Cardoza. She started it in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. One of her points was about colorism. “Colorism is the reason why Meghan Markle was likely even able to marry Prince Harry and be considered part of the family to begin with. She experienced this violence because she was ‘white enough’ to be included and still ‘too black’ to be loved, respected and projected.

The part of the Meghan-Harry interview that has been the most sensational is Meghan’s claim that members of the extended Royal Family were concerned that Archie, their child, might be too dark. I recently read Nella Larsen’s Passing. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book occurs when three light skinned African American women are discussing giving birth. Two of the women are passing; both had deep anxiety about what color their children would be.

If you take away the fact that Meghan was marrying into royalty and instead look at the situation as a case of a woman marrying for love and putting the man’s interests ahead of her own, you have a typical story of the choices women usually make.

When I got married and moved to Massachusetts, that act seemed like a no-brainer to me. After all my husband had secured a teaching position and we were married. I never thought about how much I would be defined as a wife and how badly that would make me feel.

Nicole’s newsletter made me think about Meghan in that light, leading to an increase in empathy and understanding from me. Women often make life choices based on their husband or partner’s needs. It is not that the reverse never happens, but it is not that frequent.

When I was looking for academic positions, my husband always said he would move with me. The further I got in my job search, the more I thought that wouldn’t really work. By the end of my time trying to get an academic position, I not only had a husband, but I also had two children. I didn’t think that he could handle not having a job while I had one. Eventually I gave up, went back to school, and became a nurse.

Maybe Meghan loves Harry, knew his family and position were important to him, so she made her choice with that in mind. I am glad she is now in a position where her needs can also be met.

 

 

Sepsis

On January 5, news broke that the actress Tanya Roberts died from sepsis following a urinary tract infection. Roberts was sixty-five; she had been both a Bond girl and a Charlie’s Angel. She collapsed on December 25th, 2020. Roberts was hospitalized and put on a ventilator. Before her collapse she had not appeared ill.

Over thirty percent of UTIs lead to sepsis; this is 2.8-9.8 million cases in the United States and Europe. These result in as many as 1.6 million fatalities. Sepsis occurs when the immune system, in response to a perceived threat in one’s blood stream, goes into overdrive and starts attacking the body.

UTI’s are usually contained within the bladder and antibiotics easily cure them. If a UTI goes untreated, it can progress to a kidney infection which in turn can became sepsis. Tanya Roberts death resonated with me for two different reasons. The first is that my paternal grandfather, Frank, died in 1937, following a sinus infection. Antibiotics were not widely available; his infection went unchecked and he died. My father was eighteen; his older brother twenty and his younger brother eleven.

The other reason I felt deeply about Roberts’ death was that I had a similar, although obviously not fatal, experience. From December 2011 to the beginning of January 2012, I had a urinary tract infection that went untreated for as long as four weeks. (The reasons for my lack of treatment is another story for another day).

By January 2, 2012, I had a very high fever, was chilled to the bone, and was ashen in color. I had a raging kidney infection and my doctor sent me to the hospital. One of the ER nurses said my white blood cell count was the highest she had ever seen. If the infection had continued to go untreated, it is likely I would have developed sepsis. Once sepsis sets in, there is a very high rate of mortality.

As women age, they are more susceptible to UTIs and often the infection does not generate any symptoms. That certainly could have been true for Roberts since she did not seem ill before she collapsed. As with most illnesses that occur more frequently for women, the progression from a urinary tract infection to sepsis is not well studied.

Tanya Roberts’ story is very sad, and I wish she could have received treatment before she became septic. My kidney infection was the sickest I have ever been but I am glad that I did get treated and did not become septic.