Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coretta Scott King

Due to the recent unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, the noted civil rights leader has, once again, been in the news and lauded. These recent celebrations lead my thoughts to his widow, Coretta Scott King. What must it have been like to be the wife of the great civil rights leader? He was able to do the work God lead him to do due to the supportive woman he was blessed with at home. She also took care of their four children who were only 12, 10, 7 and 5 respectively when Dr. King was assassinated.

Faced with racism and injustice as she attended school, Coretta Scott took an interest in civil rights at an early age. She attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1945. While there, she joined the Antioch Chapter of the NAACP. She later graduated with a BA in music and education. She won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

Coretta Scott’s life changed forever in Massachusetts. She finished her degree in voice and violin and met and married a young theology student, Martin Luther King, Jr. The couple was married on June 18, 1953. From there they moved to Montgomery, Alabama where her husband had been appointed as Pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. It was in Montgomery where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man. Dr. King along with Coretta began their work in the civil rights movement.

Mrs. King followed her husband all around the world in the name of freedom. May times their lives were in danger, along with their children. That danger culminated when Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968. This event strengthened Coretta Scott King’s work in the civil rights movement. She began by working on the building of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She continued in her husband’s causes. Ms. King led the charge to establish Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Women in the Continental Army

In the summer of 1778, during the Battle of Monmouth, Mary McCauley Hays (1754 – 1832), the wife of John Hays, fetched water for her husband and his gun crew, earning her the moniker of “Molly Pitcher”. After her husband John was injured, she took his place in the gun crew. Most of you did not hear the dubious tale in grammar school about Mary and the cannonball. When a cannonball was said to have passed through Molly Pitcher’s legs it ripped off her petticoats. Molly remarked to this narrow escape, “It was a good thing it hadn’t been higher, or it would have carried away something else!”
Mary became a scrubwoman after the war. Because of her duty with the gun crew, the Pennsylvania Assembly granted her a yearly pension of $40.00.
Another American woman who wanted to serve her country was Deborah Sampson (1760 – 1827). Before the war began, Deborah was an indentured servant; however, in 1782 she joined the army under the name of Robert Shurtleff. Miss Deborah Sampson was the only woman in the Continental Army to serve during the American Revolution.
“Robert Shurtleff” was assigned to the Fourth Massachusetts. “He” earned the nickname “Molly” because “he” did not shave “his” face. This fact still did not reveal her gender. She was discharged in 1783 after she contracted a high fever, which gave away her identity. The next year Deborah married and did receive a small military pension.
After the war, Deborah Sampson began a lecture tour in 1802 by donning a soldier uniform and relating her military experiences. She was one of the first women in America to perform on the lecture circuit. Congress granted her heirs a full military pension in 1838.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lady Liberty – An American Woman – Immigrant from France

On this, the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11, I want to point to an American woman, who as an immigrant herself has welcomed thousands into New York City and the United States. Lady Liberty was a gift to the United States in 1886 by the French people. She was presented in recognition of friendship between the two countries. Lady Liberty is officially known as “Liberty Enlightening the World”. The statue was designed by French sculpture Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.
No matter how discouraged I become when I hear someone trashing my beloved country I look to the many thousands of people who traveled to this America to make her their new home. How many other countries in the world have consistently had people coming to its shores to make a new life?
It has been reported that over 90 countries were represented in the Twin Towers on 9/11. They chose to be in America that day and therefore became victims of hate. I will never understand that hate; I do not want to. As many haters before have blamed their evil deeds on God’s direction so the 9/11 monsters did the same. They are as spoiled brats, still blaming their parents for their bad behavior.
I believe terrorists are jealous of the type of life we as American citizens enjoy. No, our country is not perfect. The U.S. has many problems; however, there has been no other country in the world like America. If the terrorists really believed in themselves and their man-made god, they would have no concern how other countries go about their business. However, they are angry, spiteful, green-eyed bullies who will not stop spreading their hate.
Perhaps when the United States has proven enough times that we will not kowtow to haters they will get the point, but I doubt it. Haters such as those on 9/11 have no concept of freedom and what the Statue of Liberty stands for and never will.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Pocahontas Myth

Pocahontas, the daughter of the powerful chief of the Algonquian Indians, Powhatan, born about 1595, was named Matoaka at birth. Most people know her as Pocahontas, meaning “Little Wanton” because of the baby girl’s playfulness. Most likely, the first white people she saw were at Jamestown in 1607. The story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith is well known. It is known because John Smith, later in his journals, romanticized the story.
According to Captain Smith, he was on an expedition in December 1607 and taken captive by Indians. They took him to the town of Werowocomoco to the official household of Chief Powhatan. Smith described that the Indians took him to a room and made him lie down on two flat stones. During this time, the Indians stood around him with clubs in their hands as if they would attack him at any moment. Smith’s story went on to describe how a young girl ran into the room and took his head into her arms to save him. The girl was Pocahontas. Her father, Powhatan proclaimed that they were friends.
However, the Powhatan Nation disagree with John Smiths version of the story until this day. According to the Powhatans, “Pocahontas” was a nickname that meant, “the naughty one” or “spoiled child”. They want her to be remembered by her real name of Matoaka. According to the Powhatan Nation, the colonists of the time described Smith as abrasive, ambitious and a self-promoting mercenary.
The Powhatan’s are embittered of the existing memory of Matoaka. According to the descendants, the truth was that the first time John Smith told “his story” was at least 17 years after it occurred. It was one of three reported by Smith of being saved by a prominent Indian woman. The story aided in the good Indian/bad Indian theme popular of the times. Pocahontas was seen as a hero by supposedly saving a white man. Most scholars believe Smiths story highly unlikely.
The Powhatan Nation states the true story of Pocahontas ended sadly. In 1612 when she was 17, she was taken prisoner by the English settlers while she was on a social visit. She was held for over a year. During this time, a young widower name John Rolfe took a special interest in her. They ended up married and she became Rebecca Rolfe. They then had a son, and named him Thomas. Their descendants were known as the “Red Rolfes”.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Women and the Civil War

The Confederate and Union Army’s forbade women to serve during the Civil War. Most images of women during the conflict showed them as nurses, romantic spies, or heroines protecting their home front while the men were gone. However, men were not the only ones to live in germ-ridden camps suffer in prisons and die for their causes. Women too took up arms and charged into battle. The women soldiers took on male names and wore disguises to hide their gender. It is difficult to know how many women soldiers served in the Civil War.

Some of the women soldiers were discovered while serving or came forward to admit their ruse. The U.S. Army did not advertise the fact that women made their way into the ranks. However, it was well known during the Civil War and on throughout the rest of the nineteenth century of the existence of women in military service.

It is important to recognize the importance of the women who fought in the Civil War. It was not that women significantly altered history, but that they fought. They were uncommon and revolutionary. They went against the views of the time for women. The not only faced death, but the sexual prejudices of their society. They were trailblazers.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mary Todd Lincoln and Me: What We Have in Common

I have known more than a few women who have hidden their spending habits from their husbands or significant others. I have been guilty, how about you? In my case, I now know (30 years later) that it was a source of comfort for a marriage gone awry. I stayed home to raise my kids therefore I did not bring in any money (a fact my now ex never let me forget). I also believe I was behaving passively aggressive because my then husband did not value my role as wife and mother.
I have discovered that Mrs. Lincoln practiced excessive spending in her life also. She helped Mr. Lincoln understand the urgency of fee collection for his services when speaking and constantly promoted him wherever she went. Mary felt as though she was only one-step ahead of Mr. Lincoln’s discovery of her overspending. She would tell everyone that he would be president one day. “He is to be President of the United States some day, “she said.

While still new, the Republican Party nominated Mr. Lincoln for president in 1860. He won the election to the relief of Mrs. Lincoln. Mary immediately received criticism as she redecorated the White House. She thought the leader of our great nation deserved an appropriate setting; going way over budget in doing so.
Mary Todd Lincoln even made the newspapers. In an article, during a shopping trip to New York, she created quite a stir. She was there to buy items for the White House and for herself. Her shopping companion was her brother-in-law, Clark Smith. They hit the town when they shopped at all the New York department stores, purchased clothes and jewelry. She and Clark attended all the tea parties.

Mary became over anxious during Mr. Lincoln’s next run for president. She feared they would end up homeless and broke due to her over-spending. She began acting increasingly irrational in matters of money. All she could think about was if Abraham lost the election, her out of control spending would become known to him.

Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of one of the greatest presidents, during a time of civil war had problems with money and hid it from her husband. I have been in the position of hiding from my husband my problem with overspending. It is the human connection over the years to do what we can to comfort ourselves from pain in our lives. Mary Todd Lincoln and me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"American Woman: What's Your History?"

For several years, my interest in American history has been emerging. My interest has narrowed to women’s roles in American history. I began to research noticing many of the historians were men. Recently I have been searching for women historians that feature their own gender. The amount of material is scarce in comparison to the female role in American history written by male historians.

In this blog, I will attempt to bring to light historical facts, themes, wives’ tales or even rumors, as well as humorous stories about the historical American woman written and researched by her contemporary counterpart. I say “counterpart” in as much as that is possible remembering that our female ancestors had few legal rights.

I want it understood that I am by no means a “feminist” as most people define the word in modern history. I am 56 years old and most of my life, self-declared feminists were, for the most part, staunch liberals. An organization, supposedly in support of ALL women cannot speak for me if the majority of their platform does not cover my beliefs. The same goes for the thousands of American women, with their own beliefs, wants and needs. We do not fit neatly in a box stamped “This is the way American women think”.

In many ways, we American women are alike. I’m sure most of us have our hopes and dreams; we do not wish harm to others even if we disagree. However, every one of us has the right to gain our happiness is our own way. Our journey to our dreams are just that, ours. No one else has the right to tell us how we are to take that trip
In this blog, I want to bring to light and write about women of other eras; but it will not be a soapbox debating “women’s rights”, etc. My point is to write how our “other selves” lived before us. I want to inject humor somewhat and find out if we as women have things in common despite the passing of time. I imagine that we do.