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Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

Sometimes, you can encounter women’s history outside of textbooks, women’s history classes, and monographs–and it is always very exciting to me when it happens.  This week, I have read two great blog posts on sites not devoted to women’s history.  The first is Louise Bernikow’s article “The Radical Rich,” on NYCityWoman, about 3 wealthy women who fought for suffrage in NYC. There are some great lines in this piece- from the opening sentence (“By the early 20th century, New York was a city of women in revolt”) to the description of Alva Vanderbilt Belmont (“Like a lioness loosed from her cage, Belmont became an important strategist and leader for suffrage”).  There is also a fantastic slideshow.  The second post is Susan Amper’s post about Anna Katharine Green’s mystery novel The Leavenworth Case, published in 1878.  Amper notes, “Green’s first novel predates the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes by nine years, yet it seems much more modern.” I can’t wait to read it.

Another great site in women’s history this summer is the exhibition “Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore” at The Jewish Museum, on the Upper East Side.  It offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of Claribelle and Etta Cone, siblings who helped introduce avante-gaurde modern art to the US through the amazing collection they amassed and their friendship with Matisse.  It is open until Sept. 25–see it if you can!

 

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Carol Faulkner, chair of the History Department at Syracuse University, will give a talk titled “Lucretia Mott, Quakers, and the Early Women’s Rights Movement” at the Framington Quaker Meeting House, in Framington, NY, on Aug. 27 at 2 PM.  The Meetinghouse, built in 1816, was the site of the Genesee Yearly Meeting of Friends and, according to its website, was a “national crucible for major reform movements in the nineteenth century.” It has been the center of major preservation and restoration effort since suffering major damage in a windstorm in 2006.  Faulkner has just written a wonderful new biography of Mott–Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America–and this is sure to be a wonderful talk in a fascinating setting.  I wish I could be there–if you are in the area, check it out!

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Tuesday was the 128th Anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is one of my favorite NYC sites–I wrote about my personal history with the bridge as part of the NEH Along the Shore workshop last summer.  In that workshop I also learned that Irish immigrants protested the opening celebration of the bridge, as the date coincided with Queen Victoria’s birthday

For your enjoyment–a television commercial for the 100th anniversary, with appearances by some great ’80s characters.

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This past weekend, the New York Public Library celebrated the centennial of the magnificent building which houses its research collection with a series of events.  The one I was the most excited about was the tour of the stacks.  As many of you know, the  42nd Street research library is a closed stacks  institution.  Users fill out a form and submit it, and 20 or so minutes later the book appears at desk in the middle of the reading room. The forms until very recently were sent downstairs, to the 7 floors of stacks below the reading room, by pneumatic tubes, but I believe, sadly, that system has at last been made obsolete.  Anyway, the whole process seems very mysterious and slightly magical to someone like me, who has has spent countless hours in the building.  Most people on the tour seemed to feel the same way, especially the woman who had tears in her eyes she was so excited about seeing the stacks.  Perhaps not surprisingly, once we got down to the stacks, I felt like I was in a Wes Anderson movie set, in a charming thicket of  old card catalog cases, shoots and conveyor belts, call slips and (of course) books.

There is also a wonderful exhibition of some of the library’s treasures.  Highlights for me were seeing Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, Jack Kerouac’s diary that served as the basis for On the Road and the first book published by Europeans in the Americas, from the 1500s.  The oddest item might have been Charles Dicken’s letter opener–the handle was the paw of his beloved cat Bob, who had passed away. The exhibition’s curator Thomas Mellis is making a series of videos about some of the artifacts.

Another highlight–models of the library’s famous lions (Patience and Fortitude), made of Legos.

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Visiting Middlebury with my grandparents and cousins, spring 1987.

In the spring of 1987, I was trying to decide between matriculating at Middlebury or Bowdoin. They were in many ways similar, of course, and I was basically framing the choice as being near the ocean or being near the mountains.  Then one day at school, Mr. Warner came up to me; his official title was the “Dean of Discipline,” and he seemed quite gruff, but he was really very sweet and concerned about his students.  This seems amazing to think about, but in 1987 a lot of the small liberal arts schools in the Northeast had been co-ed for less than two decades.  Middlebury, however, had admitted women in 1883. Mr. Warner said, “Bowdoin is still a boys school.  Middlebury has been taking women for over one hundred years.  I think you will be happier there.”  It really struck me, and while it wasn’t the only factor in my decision, it certainly played a part. (And no offense to any one who went to Bowdoin, which is a great school).

Middlebury students in 1886.

I thought of that conversation a few years ago when a friend of mine who is a very loyal Wesleyan alumn noted she wished there had been more older women alumni to turn to for career advice when she first graduated in the early 90s .  (Wesleyan turned co-ed in 1970).

Anyway, this is all a long prelude to say the Middlebury (Not-So) Old Girls Network has been firing away this week.  A college pal is the award-winning blogger Book Club Girl, and she allowed me to post some thoughts about Harriet Hosmer and the challenges of writing a biography in honor of women’s history month.  If you are in a book club, or just are interested in contemporary fiction, make her blog a regular stop on your trips around the internet.  She has giveaways, great guest posts, and lots of fantastic information about new books.  She also hosts an internet radio show, giving readers a chance to ask questions of some of their favorite authors.

Book Club Girl and me (on the right) at a performance of Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States in 2008, just a month before her adorable daughter (and perhaps future Middlebury alumnae) was born.

By the way, I have written a series of reading questions for Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography.

(Pictures from the Middlebury website.)

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Last week, the NY Times had an article about an app that lets you locate NYC landmarks.  And of course I was thrilled the piece highlighted the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, which is on the Bronx Community Campus, where I work.  It was actually the first Hall of Fame in the United States and was designed by Stanford White.  Someone at the NY Times seems to have quite an interest in the campus (which was originally built as the NYU uptown location).  There was had a less-than-flattering article about the Hall and its present condition in Dec. 2009, as well as a more positive one about the entire campus in 2006.

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