Kamala Harris and Black Sororities

Kamala Harris is the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee[. The first African American and South Asian American nominee of a major political party, Harris is a graduate of Howard University, a historically black university, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American sorority in the country.

Here is an article about AKA today and Kamala Harris.

In one of one chapters of my book on faculty wives, I discussed the founding of AKA, at Howard in 1908.

Here is an excerpt:

Lucy Diggs Slowe was the first Dean of Women at Howard University from 1922 to 1937. Although she was not a faculty wife, Slowe’s involvement in national organizations connected her to that first generation of nationally involved African- American wives. Slowe was a graduate of Howard and in 1908 one of the founders of the first national Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Norma Boyd, a 1910 graduate of Howard was also a founding member of AKA. Boyd, a native of Washington, D.C. attended Armstrong High School and then went on to attend college at Howard in 1906. She described Washington as “the intellectual center for Negroes in the United States. Mrs. Mary Church Terrell was on the Board of Education. When I was a child about ten years old, I decided I wanted to be like Mary Church Terrell.”

Boyd was a sophomore when the senior students including Lucy Slowe founded the sorority. She described how she became involved. “You see, this the oldest colored sorority. … The very first. So, they decided to have a sorority but who was going to carry it on after they left. There were seven girls in my class – six or seven – and they asked us to come in. Now you were expected to have scholarship and the idea of service to be a member. So, they asked us to come in and we did. They called us founders because, although it was not our idea, we were in on the ground floor. It was not incorporated until 1913 and then I was one of the incorporators”

Although Alpha Kappa Alpha was a sorority based at Howard, it was unusual because it had graduate members. Because many of the African American sororities had adult members, they functioned more like the national club associations. Like NACW, the Tuskegee Woman’s Club and the Atlanta Union, AKA also had a social activist agenda. The organization pursued projects in health care and sponsored fellowships.

By the time Slowe became Dean of Women Students at Howard, there were three sororities, AKA, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta. Delta Sigma Theta grew out of AKA due to a desire for some members in the early years to expand beyond Howard. Five female students founded Zeta Phi Beta in 1920. These organizations still exist. Most of the prominent Afro-American women of the mid and late twentieth century belonged to one of these sororities.

©AmyMittelman 2020

 

Retreat

Last week I attended a virtual four day Jewish Women’s silent retreat. It was sponsored by Awakened Heart Project and Or HaLev. The  leaders were Sheila Katz, Rebecca Schisler and Rabbi Batsheva Meiri. Paige Lincenberg was the retreat manager.

Because it was a mindfulness retreat, there were many opportunities for meditation throughout the day. You can do a formal mindful practice in a variety of postures including walking, sitting, lying down and standing. Yoga can also be a mindful activity. The last day of the retreat, Rebecca led us in a practice, The Five Rhythms, which is contemplative dance. I really enjoyed that.

During the retreat I mostly sat which I found difficult. When one of the leaders guided us and we were all sitting together (via Zoom), I could calm my mind for a more extended period of time. It was harder to sit by myself without any guidance. Now that I am “home”, I am trying to sit for thirty minutes, first thing in the morning.

Overall, the retreat made me want to be more mindful and less reactive in my relationships and in how I lead my life. One of the most liberating  and revelatory aspects of the retreat was how it felt to not look at my phone or anywhere on the Internet, except for Zoom for four full days. It was a tremendous relief to not have to deal with email for that period of time.

The sense of relief and ease I experienced not being connected to my phone, the Web or social media has made me rethink my relationship to those platforms. For the first time in over three years, this past month I did not tweet every day. You won’t be surprised to learn the world didn’t fall apart.

Connected to cutting the cord is another aspect of the retreat I am trying to bring into my daily life. A meal should just be a meal without any multitasking, looking up things  on the internet or reading  things on the phone. Eating silently is actually a lovely way to concentrate. I enjoyed the silence of the retreat and I hope to have more quiet, peaceful time in my day.

My favorite parts of the retreat were the ones with Jewish content. Every morning at 9:30, there was a chanting service which was a beautiful blend of traditional Jewish ritual and contemplative practice. Wednesday night into Thursday was the Jewish holiday Tisha B’Av, the low point of the Jewish year. It commemorates the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. Over the years, the holiday has also become associated with other Jewish tragedies including the Holocaust.

To observe Tisha B’Av, we chant from Lamentations, one of the books of the Jewish bible. Rabbi Batsheva led the service and Paige, who is a rabbinical student, chanted. Her chanting was beautiful and deeply soulful. I had never really read Lamentations before. It is a raw expression of acute pain and sorrow. The complete bewilderment of the Jewish people about what would come next following the tragedy evoked in me the feeling I have about the pandemic and the situation our country is in.

Observing Jewish rituals throughout the retreat made me grateful that I am a Jew. I came away with a commitment to be more Jewish, which feels like a funny thing to say. The retreat ended on Thursday; I was really excited that the next evening was Shabbat. Built into the Jewish religion is a time every week to be more contemplative and peaceful. Attending a four day silent retreat was a very powerful experience; the power is actually increasing as I process and live with the experience.

Shirtless Men

This summer, partly because of Covid-19, I have been walking a lot. Sometimes I walk with my husband, sometimes by myself. Recently, we were walking in our neighborhood when a shirtless male in a Speedo style bottom ran past us. My reaction to this somewhat startling sight was that woman could never expose herself in the same way. It seemed a revealing example of the way society polices women’s bodies.

The man was neither young or particularly fit. A woman of similar age and fitness, maybe me, would never go out looking like that because she would think that she was too fat. Of course, women cannot or do not run topless down your average street. I guarantee you if I were walking or running with no shirt on and a bikini bottom, somebody would be notice and the police might get called. Women can probably get away with wearing a sports bra and shirt – the kind of uniform female beach volleyball players wear.

However, in most cities, a scantily dressed woman would be subjected to catcalls. I don’t know if most men, in any stage of dress or undress, ever face that. In response to this eye opening display of male privilege and patriarchy, I have decided to stop shaving my legs. This is a fairly easy act of resistance since, because of Covid-19, waxing salons are not open. Not that I would go right now anyway. Both men and women have hair on their legs. Why are men allowed men to have their hairy legs while standards of female beauty require women to be clean shaven? It is another example of the policing of women’s bodies.

In another context, I have been reading about forms of oppression which can be institutional, ideological, interpersonal, and internalized. Many women including me have internalized patriarchal notions of female beauty. It can be tough to try to change such ingrained misogynistic habits. The test will be whether or not I shave my legs for my son’s wedding next month.

 

Book Review: Such A Fun Age

I recently read Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid. The reason I read it is because I had seen an excerpt of a review of the book by JoJo Moyes which said “An amazing debut…A sort of modern Austen-esque take on racism and modern liberal sensibilities…except that description makes it sound far more serious and less clever than it is. [Kiley Reid] has a forensic eye.” 

Because I am a sucker for anything to do with Jane Austen, I decided to read the book. The joke was on me because Such a Fun Age has nothing to do with Jane Austen, neither the style of writing nor the topic of the book.

Such A Fun Age is, on one level, the story of a clash between a 35-year-old white woman, Alix, and a 25-year-old  black woman, Emira. Alix is an influencer, although the writer doesn’t use that word about her, while Emira is, to some extent, the stereotypical aimless college graduate. Emira works for Alix as a babysitter.

The author portrays the differences between the two women as stemming from class and race. Alix is established in her career, with a book deal, a husband, a home and two children. Emira has no idea what she wants to do and is worried about losing her health insurance when she turns 26.

One evening while Emira is at a party, Alix calls her to take her older daughter out of the house because there has been an incident and the police are coming. Emira and a friend go and get the child and bring her to a local convenience store. A white woman, a Karen, thinks it is odd that Emira, all dressed up, is with a white child and alerts security.

A confrontation ensues, a bystander is filming it and it is only resolved when the child’s father, Peter, appears and vouches for Emira. This is the beginning of the book and it is certainly a timely scene.

Once Alix heards of this incident she is determined to show Emira that she is a good person. She does not articulate to herself that she wants it proven that she is not a racist. Alix becomes almost obsessive about Emira.

Emira, on the other hand is disinterested in Alix and her life. She doesn’t even google Alix to find out about her. Peter is a local tv news anchor but Emira seems unaware of this as well. She is not savvy about social media or the internet. This seemed implausible, given her age.

Although the book had nothing to do with Austen, I enjoyed reading it, especially in these fraught times. For me, the book reveals how problematic transactional relations in intimate settings can be, especially when there is disparity between the two parties involving race and class.

 

 

Memories

A few weeks ago, in my writing group, Nerissa, the group leader, read, as a prompt, a portion of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, where she talked about the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, in 1953. Being a red diaper baby, I grew up believing that the couple killed could have just as easily been my parents. Of course, the Rosenbergs were innocent; for my parents and their friends there was no other truth.

March 6, 2020 was the fiftieth anniversary of a townhouse in Greenwich Village, New York City, blowing up, killing three members of the Weather Underground. I knew one of the people killed – Ted Gold. I grew up with him. He was the youngest son of one of my mother’s closest friends.

The chapter of my book on faculty wives that I am currently working is about activism in the 1950s and 60s. I focus on two women – Sarah Patton Boyle and Anne Bennett. Boyle was an early white supporter of civil rights in Virginia while Bennett worked to end the Vietnam War.

My mother was a part of this activist history. As a baby, I was wheeled to Ban the Bomb demonstrations. She was a member of Women Strike for Peace. In the chapter, I describe a demonstration in Washington, DC that WSP organized. It is very possible that my mother was there.

The arc of history from the Rosenbergs to the Weather Underground is, in a simple way, the story of the Old Left morphing into the New Left; a generational shift that I was a part of. I have often wondered what my politics would have been if I had grown up in a different household. In my house, noisy discussion about politics were an everyday occurrence. Most of my parent’s friends had also been in the Communist Party. Whenever they came over, it got even louder. Being on the left is probably in my DNA.

 

 

Florence Nightingale, Part 3

This is part three of my three part post of a paper I wrote in 1994 about Florence Nightingale. You can read part one here and part two here. I had a good time revisiting this paper from almost thirty years ago.

Amy Mittelman ©2020, Professional Nursing I,                                                           Fall 1994

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE

Lauren Smith used the Nightingale concept of management to frame her discussion of clinical nurse specialist (CNS) managed care for the chronically ill child.  In myelomeningocele clinics in Ohio, clinical nurse specialists provide case management.  Smith argues that this case management has provided early identification and intervention, continuity of care, increased parental advocacy skills, improved social and development skills for the children as well as professional growth and interdisciplinary collegiality for the nurses. She feels this work has carried out Nightingale’s directive of knowing that “what you do when you are there shall be done when you are not there.”[1]

Smith’s article was part of two in a recent issue of Clinical Nurse Specialist presented under the heading “Florence Nightingale: A CNS Role Model.”[2] The other article, “CNS Roles in Implementation of a Differentiated Case Management Model,” did not mention Nightingale.[3]

In doing research for this paper, I found many references to Nightingale, particularly in Japanese nursing literature. I disagree with the opinion expressed a few weeks ago that modern nursing views Nightingale as outdated. She remains a starting point for many nurse scholars and many nurses are eager to link their work with hers.  This may explain why that article appeared under the rubric “Florence Nightingale: A CNS Role Model” even though it did not mention Nightingale. Other examples of this are an article in Nurse Educator that is a letter by a nursing student to Nightingale and a response written by a Nightingale scholar, an article by Elise Gropper that claims Nightingale as “Nursing’s First Environmental Theorist,” and the work by Giger, Davidhizar and Miller that links Roy and Nightingale.[4]

Smith is an example of clinical use of an aspect of Nightingale’s theory. However, there are not that many explicit clinical examples because many of her themes – particularly asepsis – are an integral and unquestioned part of nursing today.  A Nightingale nurse caring for an ill hospitalized patient would not focus on the medical aspects of the patient’s condition. Nightingale did not consider that part of the nurse’s domain. As a Nightingale nurse you would assess the environment of the patient, paying particular attention to sanitary issues. You would draw your diagnoses from those functional health patterns that are environmentally oriented including Activity-Exercise, Sleep-Rest, Role-Relationship and Nutritional. Decreased Cardiac Output would not be an appropriate Nightingale diagnosis, but Impaired Physical Mobility or Impaired Skin Integrity would be. Your goals for the patient would focus on preventing illness from environmental conditions. Thus, your interventions would involve repositioning if the patient was bedridden, providing a restful, clean atmosphere and keeping the patient’s skin clean and dry to prevent skin breakdown.

Florence Nightingale had a tremendous impact on the history and development of nursing as a profession. I found it interesting and informative to read her work.  Many of her practical suggestions are still applicable today. Perhaps her claim that “observation, ingenuity and perseverance … really constitute the nurse” says it all.[5]

[1] Smith, Lauren D. 1994. Continuity of care through nursing: Case management of the chronically ill child. Clinical Nurse Specialist 8 (2), p. 68.

[2] Sparacino, Patricia S.A. 1994. Florence Nightingale: A CNS role model. Clinical Nurse Specialist 8 (2): 64.

[3] Brubakken, Karen, Wendy R. Janssen, and Diane L. Ruppel. 1994. CNS roles in implementation of a differentiated case management model. Clinical Nurse Specialist 8 (2): 69-73.

[4] Decker, Bernita, and Joanne K. Farley. 1991. What would Nightingale say? Nurse Educator 16 (May/June): 12-13; Gropper, Elise I. 1990. Florence Nightingale: Nursing’s first environmental theorist. Nursing Forum 25: 30-33; Giger, Joyce N., Ruth Davidhizar, and Scott Wilson Miller. 1990. Nightingale and Roy: A comparison of nursing models. Today’s OR Nurse (April): 25-30.

[5] Nightingale, Florence. 1860. Notes on nursing. New York: D. Appleton and Company, p. 65.

 

 

 

Florence Nightingale, Part 2

This is part two of my three part post of a paper I wrote in 1994 while in nursing school. You can read part one here. Nightingale’s advice on sanitary practices, especially frequent hand washing, seems very relevant.

Amy Mittelman ©2020,                                                                                   Professional Nursing I, Fall 1994

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE

In Nightingale’s view the environment was also nature centered and physically based; it was the nurse’s responsibility to manipulate it to provide sanitary conditions. Her emphasis was one of prevention. “True nursing ignores infection, except to prevent it.  Cleanliness and fresh air from open windows, with unremitting attentions to the patient, are the only defense a true nurse either asks or needs”[1] Giger, Davidhizar and Miller have found Nightingale’s focus on the environment to be similar to Sister Callista Roy’s adaptation nursing theory.[2]

In 1860 the germ theory of disease was not a part of scientific discourse.  As it became prevalent, Nightingale refused to believe it.[3] Because Nightingale believed that disease was a reparative process, external forces such as dirt, odors, and poor diet had to cause it. She would not accept that a person could get sick in sanitary conditions.  Nightingale did not believe that medicine was a “curative process . . . nature alone cures.”[4] Health was a state of nature; illness was a response to a disruption in that state.

Although Nightingale rejected the germ theory of disease which is a cornerstone of modern medicine and nursing, many of her opinions on sanitary practices are still appropriate. She emphasized frequent hand washing, the value of fresh air, the evils of dirty carpets, the importance of modulating the stimulus a patient receives, and the importance of maintaining a patient’s spirits. These all remain critical aspects of caring for a patient and effecting recovery.

Nightingale believed that the same guidelines of sanitation applied to the healthy as well as the sick. The person was a subject of nature and had the responsibility to observe nature’s law in such a manner (sanitary) as to avoid infection and illness.  Again, the emphasis was prevention.[5]

To Nightingale, the nurse’s role in the reparative process was “to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him” She felt that nursing should “signify the proper use of fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet and the proper administration of diet – all at the least expense of vital power to the patient.”[6]

Nightingale advocated a patient centered nursing. She stressed the importance of “sound observation” for “the sake of saving life and increasing health and comfort.” Although Nightingale emphasized the high level of attention that the nurse must undertake, she also pointed out the importance of delegating responsibility as a way of knowing that “what you do when you are there, shall be done when you are not there.”[7]

 

[1] Nightingale, Florence. 1860. Notes on nursing. New York: D. Appleton and Company, p. 34.

[2] Giger, Joyce N., Ruth Davidhizar, and Scott Wilson Miller. 1990. Nightingale and Roy: A comparison of nursing models. Today’s OR Nurse (April): 25-30.

[3] Vicinus, Martha, and Bea Nergaard. 1990. Ever yours, Florence Nightingale. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

[4] Nightingale, Notes, p.133.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nightingale, Notes, p. 133, 8.

[7] Nightingale, Notes, p. 125, 35

Constance Green

Last week I finished the chapter of my book about faculty wives that I have been working on for over a year. The chapter, “Aristocracy” is about the gendered and hierarchical nature of academia. I wound up using one family, the Angells, as the framework for the chapter. One woman, Constance Green became the focus. Constance McLaughlin Green was an urban and technology historian who, in 1963, won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on Washington, D.C. She died in 1975.

On Dec. 5, 1975, I was living in my parent’s apartment following my college graduation. My boyfriend who I had lived with my senior year was now in England on a scholarship. A scholarship I had helped him get while not applying for anything myself.

I was depressed and in pain from sciatica that had developed after I got out of the backseat of a two-door car. As I read the New York Times that day, I came across Constance Green’s obituary. “That’s it”, I thought. “I’ll go to graduate school and be like her.” She had gotten her Ph.D. from Yale; a school I wanted to go to because I loved the architecture.

Forty-five years later I have written a mini biography of Constance Green. The more I found out about her, the more her life story resonated with me. Of course, I have not; and will never win a Pulitzer Prize. I am the descendant of immigrants not college presidents. What strikes a chord with me is her determination to pursue scholarship and writing history.

Stuck in Holyoke, she was determined to go to graduate school. Harvard’s dismissal of her as a woman with children who belonged at home did not deter her. Although I did not have children when I got my Ph.D. I was pregnant with my first child when I defended my thesis.

A few years earlier, I applied for a job at Wesleyan. The man interviewing me asked if I was planning on having any distractions. This was code for asking if I was pregnant. I doubt if a man would ever receive a question about possible parenthood. As for Western Massachusetts, as a native New Yorker who had never lived anywhere else, the first year I lived in Northampton I constantly felt that I was living deep into the country, far away from civilization.

Constance Green did not receive her PhD until she was forty and had three children at home. She never held a traditional full-time academic position. She had a prestigious career because she persisted in pursuing something that mattered deeply to her.

When I decided to switch careers, I did not know how or if I would keep doing historical scholarship. I had 2 small children. It turned out that, like Constance, I had to persist. The first year I worked as a nurse, I spent a week’s vacation going to Amherst College to research The Ladies of Amherst. Twenty-one years after I defended my dissertation, I published Brewing Battles.

Both Constance Green and I came from generations that feminism impacted but neither of us were able to fully realize the benefits. My book is bringing back into history woman like us.

 

 

 

 

The Mysteries of Udolpho

I run a Jane Austen book club for the Jones Library. Despite the library being closing, I will be hosting, via Zoom, a meeting of the club tomorrow. This is the second year of the club. I have structured it so the first meeting of the year we read a Jane Austen book. Then, for the rest of the year, we read books related to the Austen work.

This year, we read Northanger Abbey. On Thursday we will be discussing The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Scholars consider Udolpho to be the first Gothic novel. Austen satirized it in Northanger Abbey. Udolpho is a very long book; almost 700 pages.  The gothic or “frightening part” is the middle third. It was slow reading up until that point and then the pace picked up.

During her stay at the Udolpho castle, Emily, the heroine suffered mightily. Many eerie and unexplained things happened. The author also builds suspense because you do not know if there will be a reunion of Emily and her love, Valancourt. After Emily leaves the castle, the pace of the book slows down again.

In the end, there is a rationale explanation for everything that occurred. Emily is a sensible, intelligent young woman. Throughout the book she only rarely succumbs to belief in the supernatural. In this way, she and Catherine Moorland, Austen’s heroine, are similar.  Catherine, partly because she is reading The Mysteries of Udolpho throughout Northanger Abbey, initially believes horrid things have happened in the castle she is visiting. In the end of her book, sense prevails as well.

I had mixed feelings about The Mysteries of Udolpho. There were parts I enjoyed and parts I disliked. The book, while it might have been new in 1794, feels dated in a way Northanger Abbey doesn’t.

Businesswoman

To be honest, I was having trouble coming up with a post for this week because I am busy, and my computer is on the fritz. I started looking at some of my old posts and stumbled across one from almost eleven years ago that I found interesting.

At that time, the host for my website and blog was Network Solutions. On social media, I complained about something that was wrong with my site and their response was to ask me to write a post for a blog they had, Women Grow Business.

I wrote the post, questioning whether I could find define myself as a businesswoman.  Click here to read the post. (The formatting is from Network Solutions). Reflecting on all the work I did to promote Brewing Battles, I am proud of what I accomplished. Although I do not make any money from this blog, I am also proud of the presence I have built on social media.