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A Brief Trip to New Bedford

I’ll be on whirlwind trip to New Bedford tomorrow, to speak at “Old Dartmouth Roots: A Genealogy & Local History Symposium” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. My panel is titled “Unlikely Connections: The Grinnells and the Howlands; the Jacobses and the Knoxes.” The conversation, or at least my part, will be about Harriet Jacobs‘ two connections to New Bedford.

One connection was through the prominent Grinnell family. For years, Jacobs’ worked for Nathaniel Parker Willis and second wife, Cornelia Grinnell Willis, who had been adopted by her uncle, the merchant and politician Joseph Grinnell. Cornelia helped arrange the purchase that led to Jacobs’ freedom. Although Jacobs always resented the fact that she had to be purchased to be free, she stayed close to family throughout her life. The Willises, after Nathaniel’s death, lived in Jacobs’ boarding house in Cambridge in 1870. Bailey, the youngest Willis child who became a prominent geologist and explorer, often visited Harriet and her daughter Louisa in Washington D.C. when they were all living in Washington, D.C., in the 1890s and two of the Willis daughters–Edith and Lidian–as well as Cornelia helped care for Jacobs during her final illness. Bailey accompanied Harriet’s body from D.C. to Cambridge after her death in March 1897; she was buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Louisa stayed in contact with the family, living with Edith in her final years.

Jacobs other connection to the area was through her half-brother Elijah Knox. He was born to a freewoman in Edenton, N.C., was indentured to the age of 21, and eventually moved to New Bedford. One of his son’s was named William Jacob Knox, his middle name likely a nod to Harriet and her brother, John S. Jacobs. William had five children, all of whom were well educated and successful. Two of the brothers–William, Jr., and Lawrence–were among only 30 African American to receive Ph.D.s in Chemistry between 1919 and 1935; William worked on the Manhattan Project and was a civil rights leader in Rochester, NY, among other accomplishments.

By the way, the New Bedford Whaling Museum has a great Flickr stream.

Save the St. Marks Bookstore

A few weeks ago, Red Fox Books, in Glens Falls, NY, announced the sad news that it would be closing, the victim of a particularly bad local economy and ebooks.  Now St. Marks Bookstore, in NYC’s East Village, is threatened.  I remember going to this store when it was still actually on St. Marks Place when I was visiting NYC in college; it was always a highlight of my trips and seemed like a portal to the world of the city and the life I wanted to live here.  Some books from those trips still sit on my bookshelves.  I’ve never completely cozied up to the store’s (relatively) new space on 3rd Avenue, which is very slick and modern and a little sterile, compared to the funky warmth of the old space.  But the content of the shelves still can not be beat.  There is currently a petition drive to ask Cooper Union, the shop’s landlord, to lower its rent so the store can survive.   Peter Cooper founded Cooper Union–which still has free tuition–specifically to make education accessible; I hope the school will consider helping save a beloved local bookstore a part of that mission. I’ve signed the petition, and now I’m going to buy a book.

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!

 

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!

I’ll be speaking at the Wellfleet Public Library, on Cape Cod, about Harriet Hosmer: A Cultural Biography July 27 at 8 PM.  I’m very excited, as I love Wellfleet, which is one of the most beautiful spots on the Cape.  And it is a great public library. Another must on a trip to Wellfleet is Mac’s Seafood, a terrific fried food shack on the town pier. It even as peppermint ice cream, which is my favorite flavor and is harder and harder to find.

Here are few pictures of my family’s trip to Mac’s Seafood from last summer.

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I’m excited that another Hosmer is making headlines these days.  Eric Hosmer debuted with the Kansas City Royals on May 6.  According to a recent article on the Sports Illustrated website, “Hosmer started the season in the minors hitting like that ranking was an insult. Upon his call-up from Omaha, Hosmer was leading all levels of the minors with a .439 average and .525 on-base percentage, to go along with three home runs in 98 at bats and 26 games. By not waiting a few weeks until June before promoting him, the Royals have risked making him arbitration-eligible a year sooner than he would be otherwise, which could cost the team several million dollars down the road. But incumbent first baseman Kila Ka’aihue was hitting below .200, creating an opportunity for Hosmer.” He hit his first major league home run in Yankees Stadium on May 11.   I’m a Yankees fan, but I may need to get a Hosmer jersey.

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.

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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I’ve been meaning to see the exhibit “The Diary: Three Centuries  of Private Lives” at the Morgan Library since it opened in January, but I only managed to get there today, 2 days before it closed.  I’m glad I finally made it, as it is a fascinating window into the ways people have recorded their thoughts for themselves and for posterity.  Standouts for me were the joint diary kept by Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charlotte Brontë’s diary entry that spun into a dramatic fantasy world. If you can’t make it to the museum, there an extensive online exhibit and some great podcasts on the website.

I love Harry Potter, although I fear I can’t keep up in conversations with the most ardent fans.  Nonetheless, I am excited about the next movie.  And I can’t wait to read this new book on Harry Potter and History, which was edited by Nancy Reagin, a professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Pace University.

From the publishers website:

“Harry Potter lives in a world that is both magical and historical. Hogwarts pupils ride an old-fashioned steam train to school, notes are taken on parchment with quill pens, and Muggle legends come to life in the form of werewolves, witches, and magical spells. This book is the first to explore the real history in which Harry’s world is rooted.

Did you know that bezoars and mandrakes were fashionable luxury items for centuries? Find out how Europeans first developed the potions, spells, and charms taught at Hogwarts, from Avada Kedavra to love charms. Learn how the European prosecution of witches led to the Statute of Secrecy, meet the real Nicholas Flamel, see how the Malfoys stack up against Muggle English aristocrats, and compare the history of the wizarding world to real-life history.

  • Gives you the historical backdrop to Harry Potter’s world
  • Covers topics ranging from how real British boarding schools compare to Hogwarts to how parchment, quills, and scrolls used in the wizarding world were made
  • Includes a timeline comparing the history of the wizarding world to Muggle “real” history

Filled with fascinating facts and background, Harry Potter and History is an essential companion for every Harry Potter fan.”

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