Marina Raskova

Within a year of earning her pilot’s license, the Russian aviatrix Marina Raskova, took part in two record-breaking flights. Raskova was content to continue breaking flight records until, in 1941, Hitler’s army was just 19 miles away from Moscow and Raskova managed to convince Stalin to enlist women aviators in the fight against Hitler. With 1,200 women making up the entire crew of aviators, mechanics, officers, and ground crew, this group was divided into regiments of night flyers who would greatly cripple Hitler’s attack on Russia. By 1942, Hiter’s troops were referring to these dangerous night flyers as nachthexen (night witches) because the night flyers were so deadly. Raskova commanded the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment, a regiment that was given the best of the Soviet bombers, the Petlyakov Pe-2, which is a point that did not settle well with her male counterparts who were flying less desirable aircraft. In 1938 She and two others were the first women to be awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union Award.  The 125th Guards flew over 1,134 missions. Raskova died in combat on January 4th, 1943.

The Woman They Could Not Silence; an interview with Kate Moore

I will be recommending The Woman They Could Not Silence for a long time to come. Not only is the writing flawless, but the tale itself is riveting. Thanks to Kate Moore’s impeccable research, the reader is immediately caught up in this historical account of Elizabeth Packard’s journey from her home with lovely green shutters to an asylum of grated windows.

For committing the offense of thinking.

In the United States in the 19th century, a married woman had no legal rights to property – including her own body which was the property of her husband. When Elizabeth Packard’s intellect put her at odds with her husband’s views he threatened to have her put in an asylum for the insane. Only an insane woman would contradict her husband, after all. It was not an unusual occurrence; many husbands and fathers all across the country were committing their wives and daughters for offenses such as “domestic trouble, religious excitement, puerperal (postpartum), spiritualism, hard study, even novel reading,” and more.

As terrifying as the situation was, once Elizabeth got a handle on the reality – she was not the only sane woman in the asylum – she began to fight back. She fought for her freedom, she fought for her friends’ freedom, she fought for the freedom of women everywhere. Moore’s book takes us along on that triumphant and harrowing journey in vivid detail.

Recently, Ms. Moore has been kind enough to answer some questions I’d emailed her. I was so intrigued by The Woman They Could Not Silence, so impressed with her accomplishment in not only gathering so much information from across the pond (she lives in the U.K.), but also in her flawless presentation, her ability to keep the story flowing and interesting… I’d formed so many questions!

I am bowled over at her generosity in not only answering my questions, but in allowing me to post our electronic conversation on my blog.

Following is a copy of our correspondence:

The date was June 18th 1860. The place was Manteno, Illionois, United States. Theophilus Packard claimed his forty-three year old wife, Elizabeth, to be insane. On his word alone, Elizabeth was swiftly committed to an asylum. Even while she was forcefully carted away from her home and family, instinctively cool and rational, not a man in town publicly disputed Theophilus’ actions.

How is it possible to have spent years beside their neighbor, conversing at Sunday socials and town meetings and perhaps at the table as invited guests, then turn their backs on Elizabeth based upon the word of Theophilus?

KM: To answer this, I think it best to turn to the evidence of Sybil Dole, Elizabeth’s sister-in-law, who had known Elizabeth for two decades as a model wife and mother, yet supported Theophilus in his plan. Sybil said: “Mr. Packard was the first to ever suggest that she was insane. After that, I would more carefully watch her actions to find out if she was insane.” (my emphasis) Sadly, yet predictably, once assertive Elizabeth was under such unfair, biased scrutiny, her behavior was found to be wanting. As Dr. Andrew McFarland himself wrote: “As soon as [the allegation of insanity] has been whispered abroad, its subject finds himself often at arm’s length with the rest of the world, viewed with distrust, gazed on as an anomaly, and given to understand…that [he is] a social exile…There still lingers something of the same mysterious dread which, in early times, gave him the attributes of the supernatural.”

After all, it was not so many years since the whisper would not have been “insanity,” but “witch”…

Elizabeth herself appreciated what was happening. “The least mistake, a slip of the tongue, a look, a gesture, are all liable to be interpreted as insanity,” she remarked anxiously, “[while] the least difference of opinion, however reasonable or plausible, is liable to share the same reproach.”

Nothing she did could negate the rumors her husband had started. “Whatever I say or do,” she wrote in despair, “[they] weave into capital to carry on [the] persecution.” Should she rail against being called insane, or narrow her eyes and speak sharply to those who whispered it of her, her unfeminine anger was perceived as madness. Even simply gardening in her day-dress, hot and sweaty in the midday sun, was cited as insane behavior. She was a woman who could not win.

It is worth adding, however, that it wasn’t all the townspeople who thought this way – largely, it was her husband’s parishioners – and Elizabeth did have some defenders among her neighbors. They didn’t act to protect her at the time of the “kidnap” because they were threatened with arrest should they intervene. As it was legal for Theophilus to commit his sane wife to a mental hospital, it was illegal for the defenders to try to thwart his will.

Because Elizabeth became more and more outspoken about her right to have her own opinion; affronting her husband who decreed she must say and do as he instructed, Theophilus could have been motivated to commit her to the asylum as an attempt to lash out at the women’s rights movement.

To what extend was the women’s rights movement influencing public thought at this time?

KM:Since 1848, when the first Woman’s Rights convention had been held, the movement had achieved some incredible successes and was really making things happen at this time. In some states, laws were being changed to treat women as people, for example by acknowledging that mothers were officially joint guardians of their children and also allowing women to transact business. In religion, spiritualism was adding millions of new members across the U.S. and this was a religion that put women front and center and gave them a voice. So the status quo was being shaken up across the board and many men hated every bit of it.

Elizabeth Packard was a strong, tenacious woman. No other perfectly sane women who suffered the same misfortune was nearly as successful as Packard at fighting back against the misogynist practice of automatically accepting a man’s word over a woman’s.

What was so different about Elizabeth Packard that, eventually, she would become a major influencer in rewriting the laws for women and the insane toward equality and justice?

KM: I think she was, simply, an extraordinary person. And her character was such that truth, integrity and justice meant everything to her. She would no longer be her if, at any stage in her journey, she accepted her husband’s lies about her. So she was driven in ensuring that the truth of her sanity was known by the world. Additionally, she was always a thoughtful, caring, altruistic person. She could never stand by to see injustice impact on anybody. So she chose to use her many talents to help others, rather than simply helping herself. The combination of all these factors – and let’s include her intelligence, insight, magnetism and command of language here – made her a historic force to be reckoned with.

If not for Elizabeth Packard’s published accounts of her experiences in the asylum and in fighting for the rights of women and the insane, we may never have known of her accomplishments. Though many good laws were brought about due to Packard’s leg work, her name is scarcely known in the realm of women’s rights compared to names such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Sojourner Truth.

Did being labeled as “insane” follow Packard for the rest of her life and into history?

KM: Quite simply, yes. History was being rewritten even in her lifetime – recasting her villainous doctor as a respected hero, and painting her as a madwoman for pursuing her political career. That biased account of events continued easily into the twentieth century and was built upon by subsequent historians who repeated the slurs and added misinformation of their own (such as that Packard was menopausal when committed but settled down to a quiet life once her periods stopped – wrong on every level). It’s only been in the past couple of decades that we’ve started to reassess her and her legacy, and realize what an amazing person she was and how incredible she was not only to overcome what happened to her, but to turn it into political capital that resulted in law changes to enhance millions of women’s lives, and the lives of the mentally ill.

Switching gears, let’s spend a little time discussing your books and the writing aspects of The Woman They Could Not Silence. You have ghost written several books which went on to become best sellers.

What are the benefits of ghostwriting?

KM: I guess the answer depends on from whose perspective you’re looking at! For me as a writer, and as a ghostwriter of memoirs specifically, the benefits are that the story of the book is all laid out for me – I don’t have to go looking for it. Good ideas can be hard to find. Additionally, research is centered on the person for whom I’m ghosting – I spend hours interviewing them, rather than having to track down multiple sources. They can also tell me pretty much everything I need to know (the texture of the carpet, the scent of their mother…), whereas historical records can at times be scant on the details that really bring a scene to life. I also love helping people to have a voice.

The biography posted on your website reveals your love of theater.

What has your production/acting experience added to your writing career?

KM: So much. I ghostwrote before I wrote history books, and I always described being a ghost as “the ultimate acting/writing job” – because my job was to embody the person for whom I was ghosting, to write in their first person, to really put myself in their shoes and relive and restage, through the written word, whatever they had experienced. You have to take on their tics – linguistic in this case, whereas on stage it might be a mannerism – and empathize incredibly deeply. So all of that was enhanced so much by my acting experience. And those skills actually transfer to history books as well, especially when you create the intimate narratives I do. I actually think of myself as my historical subjects’ ghostwriter – they can’t sit down on the sofa with me and tell me their story, as I do with my ghosted subjects, but I can unearth their first-person accounts through memoirs, court testimonies, letters and so on, and “listen” to them with as much attention and depth and heart as I always did my living subjects.

As a final note on this, I’ll just add that it’s all about storytelling for me. When you’re on stage, you’re telling a story. A story with drama, with emotion, with meaning. And that process transfers seamlessly to the page.

I find your ability to construct such a reader-friendly historical account around so much quoted material impressive beyond measure. The quotes were nestled flawlessly into the scenes, leaving the book to be read as fluidly as a novel.

How did you learn/develop this method of history writing?

KM:Thank you for that lovely comment! I think my ghostwriting experience helped tremendously with this method, as explained above. When I’m ghosting, I always try to use my subjects’ own words as much as possible in the text. I simply did the same thing here, putting the voice of my subjects center stage. Before I became an author, too, I was a book editor for over a decade, specializing in narrative non-fiction, so all that work, both reading the words of others and helping those authors to construct reader-friendly, dramatic narrative arcs, also impacted on me. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I was also inspired by author Ben Macintyre. His gift to me was showing that you didn’t have to cite your sources in your narrative: you could weave the words in and put all the sources in endnotes. That is perhaps the number 1 revelation which helped me to find that flowing voice.

Your source notes for The Woman They Could Not Silence,” are quite well organized and extensive.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers of history concerning how to organize all the material they will collect?

KM:In all honesty, I think every writer has to find their own way and their own system, and it will probably evolve over time. All the history writers I know organize their material in different ways. For me personally, I’m incredibly methodical and painstaking in how I work, and I won’t write a word of the book until I’ve completed all my research. All my sources have a unique reference number – for example, LC101 for the first document I found at the Library of Congress. I plot all the “good stuff” – quotes, period details, facts – from each source in a chronological timeline. I do that with every source and, once complete, I open another Word document and write a detailed book plan, which is almost paragraph by paragraph in places, listing where I’m going to put each nugget of information (and, crucially, where I can find that nugget). Then, when I start to write – following the book plan but with deviation allowed! – I can find that quotation, detail, fact in a matter of seconds. I find that process works for me, but it is very laborious!

Thank you for joining this unconventional Q&A session. If you have anything you’d like to add, please do so. Have a blessed day!

KM:Thank YOU for asking me and for such great questions! I’m delighted that Elizabeth’s story resonated with you so much and I very much hope your readers may find their way to her world too.

If anyone would like to learn more about my work, they can visit me online at www.kate-moore.com, where there is also an option to sign up for my author newsletter. I’m on Twitter @katebooks. Thank you!

Kat Moore
Kate Moore, photo credit Duncan Moore

Cai Yan 170-249

Cai Yan

The Han Dynasty was a time of great development in China. 206 BC-226 AD was a 400 year period in which roads and canals were expanded, the Great Wall was extended, paper was invented, the scholar class was instituted as a way to train and select government workers, and the territory was increased through the execution of many wars. With the ratio of women to men so unbalanced due to the Han’s building projects which cost many lives and with the many wars they fought, men at all levels of society were taking many wives and concubines. It was one tenet of the Confucian structure of the Han Dynasty that each and every female was subordinate to a male, be it her father, brother, husband, or uncle. Any female alive would have a male master. Females in Confucius theory were considered as property, to be laborers for their male masters.

Though an exact date is not certain, between 174 and 178 AD Cai Yan was born in present-day Qi District, Henan Province to the renowned literary, mathematics, astronomy, and history scholar, Cai Yong (133-192) who was also a gifted musician and calligrapher.

The family was a fairly well to do family, and even though it was not a customary practice to educate girls, the more wealthy families tended to educate their daughters. This was very fortunate for Cai Yan, who was very bright and learned her subjects with speed and efficiency. She also had an ear for music, making her the consummate Renaissance person much like her father.

The legend of Cai Yan’s astute abilities in music begins with her father playing the gu qin in another room. Although Cai Yan was only six years old, when the string broke she came into the room and pronounced to her father that he had broken the second string. Cai Yong had no way of knowing if Cai Yan had merely guessed correctly at which string was broken on the zither-like seven-stringed instrument or if she really had that precise of an ear for music. To find out for sure, he broke another string and Cai Yan correctly told him that it was the fourth string. Finding that his daughter could judge pitch and tone quality perfectly, Cai Yong encouraged her to pursue her musical interests.

When Cai Yan was 16 years old she married, but her husband died within two years and they had no children. She moved back home, where she found that her father had passed away while in prison, where he had been sent for offending an official. The Xiongnu (the Huns) began to invade parts of Northern China, kidnapping slaves and stealing valuables. Cai Yan was taken captive and married to a tribal chief in modern day Inner Mongolia. She gave birth to two children while married to the chief.

Cai Yan was not only an adept musician, calligrapher, and historian; she was also an accomplished poet. Away from her Han home as a captor of the Huns for twelve years, she wrote poetry to express her longings. One such poem, “Indignant Grief,” or “Poem of Affliction,” shows this ability:

Frost and snow covered the ground all over,

The wind howls even in the summer,

With a puff it blows up my fur,

The rustling sound came to my ear,

Missing my parents, endless sighs I heave,

Hearing visitors come, great delight filled me,

But none sees how disappointed I feel,

Knowing he wasn’t from my home.

The last emperor of the Han Dynasty, Cao Cao, realized that the great work of Cai Yong, The Xu Han Shu (The History of the Later Han Dynasty), needed to be completed. In order for this history to be written, Cao Cao needed Cai Yan’s help, for committed to her memory were hundreds of her father’s books and she was a great historian in her own right. This story is written down in “Xu Han Shu”:

Cao Cao asked her: “I have heard, Madam, that in your home there used to be a great many books: do you still remember them?” Cai Yan replied: “The books bequeathed by my late father totaled some four thousand juan, but they have been scattered and ruined, none are left. Those that I can recite from memory number only a little more than four hundred.” Cao Cao then said: “I will now order ten clerks to go to your residence, Madam, to write them down.” Cai Yan said: “I have heard that propriety requires men and women to be separate, without handing things to each other. I beg to be given paper and brushes so that I can write them down, either in standard script or in cursive script, as you may command.” Subsequently she wrote out the texts and presented them, and no words were missing or incorrect. *

Cao Cao ransomed Cai Yan back from the Xiongnu with much gold and jade, but Cai Yan’s children were not allowed to come with her, as the tribe insisted that the children stay with their father. The act of leaving her children behind caused Cai Yan tremendous grief and sorrow which she laments in her poem, “Poem of Affliction”:

Desolute, I faced my orphan shadow;

Grief and anger swelled in my entrails,

I climbed a hill to look off into the distance,

And my spirit seemed suddenly to fly from me;

Cai Yan married a third time when she rejoined her people, then she set to work in the Imperial library rewriting her father’s articles, or books, which had been either lost or destroyed during the preceding wars. Through the terrible heartache of having an “orphan shadow,” Cai Yan was able to reproduce 400 pieces of her father’s work in beautiful calligraphy.

Being a historian and poet in her own right, Cai Yan put her own work to paper as well, though only three such pieces survive today and only one of those poems is agreed upon by present-day historians as rightly being attributed to her; “Poem of Affliction” is a narrative poem of 108 lines with five characters on each line. It is a poem which shows all these centuries later a lady of great courage and tenacity as she faced terrible hardships and yet through the pain was able to accomplish the enormous deed of setting her people’s history down for future generations.

The fame of Cai Yan’s musical, literary, and artistic ability was passed along from generation to generation in Chinese lore, as demonstrated by a series of poems by Liu Shang, a Tang Dynasty poet and by musicians of that same dynasty. In Liu Shang’s Cai Yan poems, he writes Cai Yan’s story in first person, but signs the poem with his own name. Though historians have often written and spoken of not only Cai Yan’s immorality in marrying a barbarian, but also her shame in failing her first husband by not achieving her duty of bearing him a son, the triumph of her spirit still holds true. Perhaps it is because she was forced against her will to marry the barbarian, perhaps it was because her first husband died so soon after being wed, whatever the case, Cai Yan was soon endowed with the courtesy name of Cai Wenji, which is translated as “Lady of Literary Refinement.”

YENNENGA

Yennenga, 12th century Founding mother of burkina faso

The Dagomba tribe of Northern Ghana in West Africa has a longstanding tradition of oral histories. Often these exciting tales of heroes and heroines are told against the backdrop of pounding drums and dancing revelers, galvanizing the story within the hearts of all who hear it. One such narrative record is the tale of Yennenga, founding mother of Burkina Faso.

In the land now known as Northern Ghana, there once lived a great king of the Dagomba tribe who had a daughter with unmatched beauty, skills, and knowledge. As was always the case with ruling a kingdom, wars were inevitable as rivals would always seek better land for crops, or to force their ways upon another tribe. King Nedega soon found his multi-talented, fourteen-year-old daughter, Yennenga, joining his troops against the neighboring Malinkes. The Malinke, or Mandinkos, repeatedly made war against the Dagomba tribe in attempts to convert them to the Islam religion sweeping through Africa.

Yennenga’s skill with the javelin, and bow, as well as her grand horsemanship abilities, were the talk of all the kingdom and it was not long before she was in charge of her own battalion of men. But being great at everything apparently has its drawbacks. Yennenga’s father revered her so much for her skills and knowledge in protecting the kingdom from its neighbors that when she reached marrying age and informed him of her desire to marry and have children, his immediate response was a resounding NO. He refused to arrange a husband as was the tradition of their tribe.

Yennenga’s courageous heart led her to retaliate against the King’s oppression of her dreams. She grew a beautiful field of wheat and showed it proudly to her father. He was pleased without measure to see another thing touched by his lovely daughter become golden; his good fortune had no end when it came to her. Yennenga abandoned the wheat and let it rot. When her father saw the ugly decay, he was enraged. He demanded she explain her neglect of the field and why she left it to rot. Yennenga told him she was the same as the golden field left to decompose because he would not allow her to marry and have a child.

King Nadega was furious at his daughter’s impertinence and had Yennenga locked away in prison.

With a history of fighting many battles beside the king’s warriors and developing a comradeship with them, Yennenga had many friends among the king’s forces. One night, one such friend helped her escape. He brought her some men’s clothing for disguise her stallion to ride, and they sped away. The Malinke tribe north of the Dagomba region attacked Yennanga and her fellow rider. Although she managed to get away, her companion was killed in the skirmish.

Yennanga continued to ride her steady and swift stallion northward. When she came to a river with strong currents, she guided the horse across and emerged on the other side totally exhausted. Her faithful equine carried her into a lush forest where she met an elephant hunter by the name of Riale who saw through her disguise as a man and they immediately fell in love.

The elephant hunter Riale and the Princess Yannenga were married straight away and before long had a son they named Ouedraogo (O-a-dray-goo), which translates to stallion. Ouedraogo is to this day a common name in the Mossi kingdom.

When he was grown, Ouedraogo visited his grandfather, the king of Dagomba, who was very happy to finally hear of his daughter’s good health and success. He showered his grandson with many gifts which Ouedraogo would use to establish the Mossi kingdom in the land now known as Burkina Faso, West Africa. Because of this, Yenninga is celebrated as the founding Queen Mother of Burkina Faso. There are statues of her in the capital city of Ouagadougou (Wagoo-Do-goo), many roads named in her honor, and a football team named The Stallions, after her strong and swift horse.

Ghana Ethnic Groups : Dagomba, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/tribes/dagomba.php.

History, HomeTeam. “The Legend of Princess Yennenga.” Https://Www.patreon.com/HomeTeamHistory, HomeTeam, 11 May 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIlav-cyTUw&feature=youtu.be.

House, Stephen and Cathi. “VIRTUAL: VILLAGES OF WEST AFRICA.” Center, http://www.centersf.org/virtual-villages-of-west-africa?pgid=k8573t1r-db90f514-db44-4fe5-a8f4-bdee31cb6f46.

Nduta Waweru | Contributor “Yennenga, the Dagomba Warrior Princess Whose Son Founded the Mossi Kingdom of West Africa.” Face2Face Africa, 7 July 2018, face2faceafrica.com/article/yennenga-the-dagomba-warrior-princess-whose-son-founded-the-mossi-kingdom-of-west-africa.

Porath, Jason. Rejected Princesses. Harper Collins 2016, pp. 39-40.

“Yennega: Women.” Yennega | Women, en.unesco.org/womeninafrica/yennega. Last vistited 9/5/2020

Pruitt, Sarah. “Who Are the Mandinka?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 15 Apr. 2016, http://www.history.com/news/who-are-the-mandinka.

Click to access Yennega%2C%20Princess%20of%20Gambaga_Women%20in%20African%20History_Comic%20Strip.pdf

Tschannen, Rafiq A., and Rafiq A. Tschannen says: “Islam in West Africa. Introduction, Spread and Effects.” The Muslim Times, 26 Aug. 2020, themuslimtimes.info/2020/08/26/islam-in-west-africa-introduction-spread-and-effects/.

Joaquin Miller

In researching my current WIP I’ve come across a name associated with Oregon which rather surprised me. Years ago, way back in junior high (middle school in contemporary language), I found my first writing niche — in poetry! More often than not, it was an endeavor in word wrestling – an obsession with counting, rhyming, and syllable stresses that kept me busy for hours at a time. During these years I read a little poetry, even understood it some, which is why when I read the name of Joaquin Miller while reading about Opal Whiteley, I took a moment to pause my explorations; I recognized that name from long, long, ago.

The journalist, poet, naturalist, international traveler, Joaquin Miller spent some years in Oregon where he grew up to become a lawyer and then a county judge before he went off to travel the world and write romanticized and sensationalized, or fantastic even, melodramatic poetry and prose.

Fantastic. Sensationalized. Romanticized. Melodramatic. Likely, he was a man before his time.

At any rate, he spent some years living in Lane County, same as the heroine in my current work, Understanding Opal. Perhaps he should be included in the work somewhere, though his story in Lane county occurs 50 years before hers. A time, not much different from our own, when those who controlled the printing presses controlled, if not the ideas, then the opinions about the ideas.

Fortunately, Joaquin Miller’s work is still available and I’m setting out after I’ve finished the typing of this post to revisit some. I’ve also learned Miller’d built a park in Oakland in 1919, the same year Opal went to Boston to secure her destiny. Opal Whiteley’s work is available for reading as well, but as far as I know she has no sprawling public park. She does, however, grace the entire side of a building butted by a plaza of lovely foliage – something she’d have loved, and a statue of her at age 10 greets visitors to the Cottage Grove Library and the Knight Library at the University of Oregon, thanks in large part to Steve Williamson‘s efforts to share her story.

Two fantastical Lane County poets, naturalists, journalists, international travelers, meeting with scandal, intrigue, and reaching forward into the future to remind us of our nature.

Is it in the water or the ink?

(Click here to read Steve McQuiddy’s article on Opal Whiteley) and here for an extensive bibliography of everything you ever wanted to know about Joaquin Miller.

Dorothy Ann Hobson

My husband and I recently drove to the abandoned townsite known as Valsetz, Oregon, about an hour and a half westerly drive from our house in Salem. Valsetz got it’s name by combining the two words Siletz and Valley, the name of the railroad which ran through it when the town was established around 1919. Valsetz was a company town first owned by Cobbs & Mitchell Lumber out of Cadillac Michigan and later by Boise Cascade. In 1984 Valsetz’s usefulness as a lumber town ran dry and it was razed and blazed. When I was growing up in the 70’s, I would occasionally run across someone who either lived in Valsetz or knew someone there, which is why I felt something of a tinge of sadness a few years back when I learned that Valsetz was a town no more. I always meant to visit there.

The day we drove to Valsetz was a beautiful spring day; the sun lit our way through the hour-long drive along a private gravel logging road. We drove between towering trees the likes of which I rarely see down in the valley. We drove up a mountain, back down again, and across a valley, once being very closely passed by a logging truck. We were sprinkled on a couple of times, but encountered no real down-pouring of rain, which would not have been unusual considering that Valsetz is an area which receives 140” of rain a year.

Aside from wishing to visit Valsetz because I once knew someone who worked there, a bit of nostalgia if you will, I also wanted to visit Valsetz to see the place where Dorothy Anne Hobson spent her childhood.

Dorothy Ann Hobson. Oregon Historical Society.

In 1937 the town of Valsetz was still owned by its originators, Cobbs & Mitchell Lumber. Dorothy Anne Hobson was a precocious youngster who, at the age of 9, announced that she was going to edit a newspaper for Valsetz entitled The Valsetz Star. She made this proclamation while eating in the Valsetz cookhouse, where both of her parents worked, to Mr. Herbert A. Templeton of the Valsetz Lumber Company. Mr. Templeton then offered to publish the paper for her in the company’s Portland office and the deal was struck. Dorothy wrote out her rough draft with a pencil and Mr. Templeton passed it along to his office staff who typed it up as received; no corrections in spelling or grammar and without any censoring of the subject matter. The staff then printed it up on legal sized (8.5”x14”) paper and it was distributed around Valsetz, in the Portland offices of the company, and to various business associates.

The Valsetz Star made it’s way around the country, and even to international hot spots, by way of an advertising opportunity embraced by Mr. Templeton who almost immediately began mailing copies of the newspaper to lumber dealerships around the United States and to several foreign countries. Dorothy’s wit, humor, and knowledge quickly made The valsetz Star a much anticipated monthly read.

1937: “We believe in Hemlock, Fir, Kindness, and Republicans.”

1938: “Russia and Finland stopped fighting but the cats are still fighting under our house something fierce.”

“We forgot to mention last month that we have no police or sheriff in Valsetz. Everyone just does what they please.”

1940: “We received a letter from Shirley Temple and she thinks editing a paper would be fun-but it isn’t.”

and of course, dorothy understood the business side of things, or how the paper was printed. Advertising.

“Hurry and get your order in for Cobbs & Mitchell’s nice smooth lumber. It’s going fast but it’s not too late if you order now.”

Radio stations began reading the paper on the air, The Valsetz Star had subscribers in nearly every state in the U.S., and by 1940 more than a dozen newspapers were printing excerpts from it. From the Portland Oregonian to the Denver Post, The Christian Science Monitor to the New York Herald and the Washington D.C. Post, it seemed that the little adolescent living deep in the forest was a national sensation. Even Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt quoted The Star at her regular press conferences. Counted among the famous and semi-famous people who wrote to Dorothy were Herbert Hoover, Postmaster General James Farley, Wendell Willke (Presidential candidate), and Charles McNary, U.S. Senator from Oregon.

Dorothy edited The Valsetz Star for four years, which amounts to nearly fifty issues, ending the streak with the December 1941 issue with nary a notice to her loyal readers. It seems she was going to move to Salem and attend Parrish Junior High School to “improve her education, take music and vocal lessons, and have her teeth straightened, with no time left for anything except the Parrish Pep Club.”

Dorothy finished junior high and high school, then graduated from Willamette University before marrying Frederick H. Graham in 1949. They raised three children together, then ran a hardware store, and Dorothy became involved with real estate and interior decorating. Dorothy was honored as a guest of the Valsetz High School graduating class of 1984 (a class of 9 students), probably relishing the drive on a gravel road instead of the dust or mud (depending on the weather) road she drove on back in her day of the dirt roadway. Later that year the town was demolished. Dorothy Anne Hobson Graham passed away twelve years later in 1996.

Towns without purpose always fade away. Mining towns and timber towns alike often suffer the same fate; resources become depleted, or technological advances render them unnecessary. The people move away and it is, after all, the people who made the town. Valsetz still has a few roads, some foundations to long-gone buildings, and occasional railroad beds, but it is no longer a town. The spire-like trees, trickling brook, towering mountains all around, and fields of beautiful flowers made me wish it was, but just like Dorothy Anne outgrew the newspaper industry; the lumber industry outgrew the town.

Valsetz OR

(First published in WOODS READER.)

Biblio

My compelling exploration of Biblio in its entirety:

I believe if we’re not actively encouraging a love of reading in our children, we’re enforcing a subtle ban.

The Bibliophile —Book lover—

We live for books. Umberto Eco

Some people read cereal boxes, encyclopedia entries, shampoo bottles, recipes, discographies, filmographies, and nearly every genre of recorded fiction and nonfiction imaginable. Old books, new books, hardback or paper. They read novels and the specs of engineering and mechanical marvels such as the Golden Gate Bridge or the amazing steam engines that once pulled mile-long locomotives or powered industrial sized manufacturing plants. Some don’t take notes on file cards as those with an insatiable thirst for knowledge might do, or scribble in the margins creating a missive to revisit later or highlight interesting facts and ideas or dog-ear favorite pages. Instead, they let the words lounge in the perch of their mind before the infused essence slowly trickles into their hands then down through the very fingers actively underscoring words on the page, leaving behind the fullness of one who’s been intimately involved with the marriage of knowledge and wonder and was able to set it free.

Every day, people carry remnants of all they’ve read and what they’ve forgotten along with them wherever they go, the aggregate of all they’ve read a tender and solid part of them. In a strange twist of imagination, they are also a part of everything they’ve ever read. Not that they are the Golden Gate Bridge, of course, but having read about it, having run their fingers over the 10 point pica, the descriptors becoming blood-kin or ink-siblings, they have a relationship of respect with it, a deep connection to it and should they place their hand upon the great span over the bay, surely a spark of recognition would trill their arm.

To nearly every conversation which readers such as these have with people, they can invariably add the words, “Like in the book…” These book lovers are known as bibliophiles. Being a booklover is difficult to describe to someone who has never lived it for themselves. Perhaps what makes the experience altogether magical is the allusionary description, or maybe it’s a literary love affair because of a soul-deep kinship with character, condition, or culture. Whatever the case, it can be difficult if not seemingly impossible to explain the love of reading to someone who has not experienced it, especially if they hate reading, which is said much more often than book lovers care to hear and is a phrase which makes writers break out in hives.

The Logophile —Word lover—

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation, they deepen and widen and expand our sense of life; they feed the soul. Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird.”

Writers are up against great obstacles in trying to get to their readers. Flashy screens, beeping “in”-boxes, and easily digested two-hundred word news blurbs as they swipe left and right, all vie for the attention of current and future book readers. The competition for the reader’s attention is electric, but logophiles and bibliophiles alike have a deep desire for all to know the kinship, the blood relationship, of ink, be it virtual or tactile.

Book lovers the world over have been known to spend hours searching store shelves for a specific title or a general idea that grabs onto their imagination and won’t let go. They are dedicated browsers at used bookstores, new bookstores, thrift stores, libraries, and e-book retailers all over the world. Though their walls at home may be supporting shelves stacked and weighted past safe load-bearing specifications, the hunt in the paper (or digital) jungle goes on and on.

How do they know when they’ve found the book they need?

The rush. The bibliophiles browsing bookshelves are often in it for the rush. Not the hurried, but the sublime. Much like gold miners who dig through thick overburden to uncover the gold rich gravel underneath, the book lover will browse beyond rational human endurance until maybe they see a light blue cover with a splash of burgundy on the spine and get a tingle on the back of their neck. Upon lifting the book from the shelf, where it’s perhaps been leaning sideways for some time, they read the end flap to find a story of a war hero’s painful homecoming to an empty house, or a tale of a marathoner’s triumphant race against cancer, or how Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla were involved in a convoluted and sometimes much-heated partnership/rivalry/three-way business relationship. The tingle becomes more powerful, gains momentum and travels down their spine, racing to knock against the backs of their knees, and the reader makes an effort to steady themselves against their failing balance.

That reaction, or one similar, is what writers dream their readers have when picking up a book they’ve written.

It is most likely that writers began their logophile life first as bibliophiles and have experienced endless joys of reader-word connections from that point of view. Also likely is that the reader who one day picked up a pen to write a poem for a class at school, or perhaps a note in their diary, was shocked to experience a sensation at the back of their throat very similar to the reading sensation, yet contrary. The location was different. The sensation was stronger and subtler, alive and still. Hiding behind corners, lurking in secret chambers and peeking from dark shadows. Forever present then and always, it was awakened by the sound of a pen scratching across paper.

The obsession of the writer began with the search for the right word. The word announcing itself with the thunder of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or the grit of a cat’s tongue waking them from sleep. They add and add and add to that word and the next like a bull rider at the rodeo until not one more second, not one more letter could be coaxed from the mysterious hidden places, fingers racing over the keyboard, the writer’s growling stomach long neglected, and their throat tight with thirst.

Spent, staring with wonder at the words on the computer screen pulsing with life, the writer is elated and hopeful that one day a reader will know the excitement, the utter joy he or she felt while chasing after those words. The dedication it took to throw open the shutters and draw them from the back corners and deep chambers, the light of hope exposing everything that lay in the dark shadows.

The Bibliopole —Buyer/seller of books, especially rare ones—

And you read your Emily Dickinson, And I my Robert Frost,

And we note our place with book markers That measure what we’ve lost.

Simon and Garfunkel, “The Dangling Conversation.”

Ideas, drama, information, instructions, and the like can all be found in places other than inside the pages of books, but nothing is experienced in the same way as books are. Every time the reader opens one, then turns first one page, then another, head bent in rapt posture, there’s a good chance they’ll find something nothing else offers; themselves. There is a phrase which ascertains that the reader has their head in a book when enthralled in such a way, but maybe, just maybe the book is in their head. Whether traveling to different worlds, a foreign country or a fantastical one, learning the role of floor space when decorating the living room, or finding out what happened when God gave the people the king they’d demanded, the turning of the pages or the swiping left on the e-reader signify a rapture unparalleled.

Readers have found books they never knew existed while browsing book stores. Have discovered ideas they never thought to think or ever saw put into words before. Readers have run across tomes that put their own thoughts into plain language for them and gained serendipitous knowledge. To run their hand along the spines, to open them up and breathe the scent of the inky pages, and to run their fingers across the name of the genius who brought characters, imagined and real, to life is one of the pleasures of book browsing all made possible by the bookseller, a person who has most likely read more material than anyone who has ever entered through the book shop’s doors.

The curator of the bookshop has probably at least touched, if not actually read from, every one of the thousands of books on the shelves. This trusted keeper of words also knows how to recommend the book most likely to attract the attention of almost any reader. The keeper of the books sees their function as a feeder of souls and therefore sees a book as a table set for a savory feast with all the hors d’oeuvres and entrees anyone could possibly need all served up with relish and flamboyant flair. Book sellers know that anyone can unexpectedly fall in love with a book. From babies who turn the hard pages of board books about cute puppies to people in their 90’s bent contentedly over the large print book of the month, no one is immune to the spark, the connection, the bond, that can unexpectedly peak their interest. From Dr. Seuss to Charlotte Bronte’, to J.R.R Tolkien, the possibilities are as diverse as people themselves. The book written by an impassioned writer who hopes to touch someone with kindness and inspiration is deeply indebted to the bibliopole, the Golden Gate Bridge between writer and reader, who knows when the right connection between person and tome are made by the trill of recognition trebling along his arm.

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Beverly Cleary

A biography about Beverly Cleary I wrote for the Literary Ladies Guide.

Beverly Cleary (1916 – 2021)

How does a person go from living on a humble little farm in an obscure town in the Pacific Northwest to someone who is undeniably the leader in creating and perfecting books children love to read? By deciding to, some might say.

Beverly Atlee Bunn was born on April 12th 1916 in McMinnville Oregon and until she was six years old lived on the family’s farm in Yamhill just a few miles from her birthplace. Although an only child, Beverly loved roaming freely about on the farm, tripping up chickens with a pole (something she did when her mother wasn’t looking, as she told Beverly it was mean. Beverly thought tripping the chickens was not mean compared to when her father took an ax to their neck), eating apples in the shade of the apple tree, juice streaming down her chin, watching her father milk the cow and the farmhands thresh the wheat, helping her mother bring in the cow, and gathering wildflowers, some which smelled so strong they stayed out on the porch!

When Yamhill lacked a much needed library, Mrs. Bunn solicited funds, acquired some borrowed space in a building downtown, organized fund raisers, and procured children’s books from the state library in Salem in order to build Yamhill’s first library. Beverly loved the books being read to her, the pictures in the stories, listening to the tales. There were so many children’s books available at the Yamhill library now, Mrs. Bunn begged Beverly to let her teach her to read, but Beverly wanted to wait and learn to read in school with the other children, not in her mother’s kitchen.

By the time Beverly was six years old, the family farm grew more and more in debt. The Bunns moved to Portland where Beverly’s father got a job at a federal reserve bank as a night guard. First grade was going along well for Beverly until she contracted chicken pox and missed at least a week of school. Upon her return, not only did she fail to receive any more of the gold stars she was used to getting for her schoolwork, she began to fail miserably at reading and her teacher was becoming mean enough to make her afraid to go to school. Beverly caught smallpox from a neighbor, missed even more school, and grew terribly hopeless at reading. Her mother continued to read aloud to her and encouraged Beverly to choose which stories she’d like to hear.

Beverly disliked reading and it wasn’t until the third grade when she “picked up The Dutch Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins planning to look at the pictures and I discovered that I was reading and enjoying what I read! It was a miracle. I was happy in a way I had not been happy since starting school. I read all afternoon until I had finished the book. Then I read The Swiss Twins. For once mother postponed bed time, until I finished the book.”¹

From that point on, Beverly Bunn read countless books for pleasure, to combat boredom, for escape, to kill time while waiting for the rain to cease, and to learn about all manner of things from animals to people and everything in between. Over the next decade or so, some of her favorite stories would be, Les’ Miserables as it was told to her 7th grade healthy living class by a teacher apparently bored with the standard curriculum, Peter Pan, Tom Sawyer, and Jane Eyre.

Also in seventh grade, Beverly had a reading teacher who would inspire her to become a librarian and a writer². Miss Smith was the first teacher to allow the students to read for enjoyment (without answering questions about the books, etc.) and a kind librarian who let Beverly into the library first on the daysSt. Nicholas Magazine³was delivered.

When the great depression hit upon the Bunn family of Portland, Oregon, adjustments and sacrifices were made by all, much like most families all over the world. Beverly’s father lost his job, her mother picked up work cold calling from their living room, they had to sell their car, the tension was thick and laughter was a memory⁴, yet they muddled through.

When Beverly was 18 in 1934, she moved to California to live with her mother’s cousin and attend Chaffey Junior College, a free community college where she earned her associates of arts degree before going on to complete her masters degree in Berkeley. She studied, worked her way through college, and began to date the man who would become her husband, Clarence Cleary. Although it was a tradition for women to attend college in order to catch a man, it was not Beverly’s motivation for getting an education. She wanted to be able to stand on her own two feet. She wanted to accomplish her dual goals; earning a librarianship degree and writing books. Catching a man was left to nature, as it were. Her plan was to work for a year after college before getting married.

After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree, Beverly attended the school of librarianship at the University of Washington in Seattle and upon graduation took a job as a children’s librarian in Yakima. She soon discovered the local boys were not interested in reading the books available to them, as they often asked her where to find the books about kids like us, something she made as a sort of personal quest. She spent hours memorizing stories from books for a lively retelling during story hour in the library and, during the summer, in the park. All told, Beverly memorized a total of sixty-two stories during her time in Yakima. The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop was the most popular of these stories.

Finally having an income, Beverly bought a portable typewriter, but she had no time to write.

On October sixth 1940, almost one year to the day after beginning her job in Yakima, Beverly Bunn headed to California to marry Clarence Cleary. When she left Yakima, the head librarian commented that she didn’t understand why the children liked her so much: she treated them just like she treated the adults.

Beverly Cleary embraced her role as a housewife, and spent the holiday season working at a bookstore. With the murmur of war on everyone’s lips, the Cleary’s decided against starting a family, as Clarence could be drafted despite his high draft notice number. Beverly began a library position for the Army, which she held until the end of the war.

After the war, the Cleary’s moved to Berkeley and Beverly found herself staring at her typewriter with nothing to say. She’d always known she wanted to be a writer. She’d always known that someday she’d have all of life’s necessities taken care of and this opportunity to write would finally present itself. The problem was, she didn’t know what to write.

Thank goodness Beverly Cleary had a great imagination! After waiting and planning for the time to write for nearly 20 years, without ever having written a word of fiction, at the age of 33, she began to imagine the children in the Yakima library who wanted to read stories about kids like us, and she thought about the kids on her street in Portland riding skates and playing along Klickitat Street. Thank goodness that though Beverly Cleary was not sure how to begin writing, she knew exactly how to tell an interesting story. The world of Henry Huggins was born! Thanks to her imagination, her dreams, her goals, when it came time to write, the stories and new characters such as Ramona, Beezus and more, poured from her creativity with such perfection she never received a single rejection letter!

For more than three generations, Beverly Cleary’s books have been enjoyed by countless children. She wrote books children wanted to read, which is precisely the point of writing them she would likely quip if she were here. She passed away in March of 2021 at the age of 104. Beverly Cleary’s books have been translated into twenty-nine languages, sold over 91 million copies and received a long list of awards including the prestigious John Newberry Award in 1984 for her book, Dear Mr. Henshaw.

¹ Cleary, B. (2016). In A girl from Yamhill (p118). essay, HarperCollins Children’s Books.

² ibid (pp. 174–178)

³ St. Nicholas Magazine was published in the late 18th and early 19th century. It was full of stories, illustrations, and information of interest to children of all ages. To get an idea of what inspired Beverly Bunn, open the link below, click on the thumbnail, select “images” above Material Information, browse through page numbers.

https://ufdc.ufl.edu/collections/nick/results?page=1

⁴ Cleary, B. (1999). In My own two feet: A memoir (p.51). essay, Avon Books.

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/03/26/beverly-cleary-has-died-oregon-author/ 26:10

“It’s wonderful books that inspire children to be readers.”

beverlycleary

Annie Lock

Annie Lock was a woman of many strengths, possibly less than an average amount of human flaws, and a personality most peers found too abrasive to work with, but her commitment to God and her zeal for humanity’s salvation was never in doubt.

Lock was born on August 1st 1876 in Rhynie, South Australia, the seventh child of Ann and Walter Lock. Until 1901 she worked as a dressmaker before enrolling in Angas College in Adelaide where she was trained to be a missionary. She joined the New South Wales Aborigines Mission (later turned Australian Aborigines Mission, then United Aborigines Mission) in 1903 and thus began her mission work among the Aboriginal people of Australia.

Sending a single woman to the missions field was becoming an ordinary practice of the missions board and feeling called to the field, Lock had no qualms about aiding and ministering to the less sought after aboriginal people who were spoken of as being “too dirty and nobody can do much with them,” (Bishop, 1991). She spent the next 34 years cooking, cleaning, nursing, and protecting the people she felt called to evangelize. In that time, Lock lived in 10 different mission camps in four states.

When it was reported to her that there were children being neglected, she would bring the news to the attention of the mission and would likely soon have new children to care for. (Bishop. Appendix E; Locks letters, Oct. 5 1910). Lock requested food and clothing for the people in her care, and gave ample thanks in her letters for both prayers and provisions. Sometimes, as when natives came from other areas for a meeting (letters; Sept. 7 1914), Lock “gave out 80 lb. of flour, 12 Sugar, oatmeal & rice from my own stores so as to prevent them begging too much in the town.” She referred to her living quarters on the reservation as “home” and wrote of many touching moments with the children; “It was getting quite dusk when we turned homeward, and the thought just came to me to wonder whether the child would be frightened in the darkening shadows. In answer to my thought a little hand stole into mine, and a little voice appealed to me – ‘God will take care of us, won’t He Miss-?’ So we hummed the comforting chorus for the remainder of our walk” (letters; 02/28/1910).

Annie Lock image from Women’s Museum of Australia and Old Gaol Alice Springs.

34 years is a long time to camp in the Australian bush and would require a colossal commitment to one’s belief in one’s work. Those responsible for inquiring into the Coniston Massacre labelled her ‘a woman missionary living amongst naked blacks thus lowering their respect for white people’, possibly due to her role in helping to publicize the massacre. She also made no friends when she stood up against the abuses the whites inflicted upon the Aboriginal women. The whites brow beat her for letting the native children sit on her lap, and for sharing so intimately with the native people as to even drink from the same cup. Lock endured it all until she found love in 1937 and at the age of 60 married for the first time. They retired to Eyre Peninsula and six years later she died of Pneumonia.

Catherine Bishop’s 1991 Master’s Theses on Annie Lock

Catherine Bishop Postdoctoral Fellow. (2021, October 20). Hidden women of history: Annie Lock was a Bolshie, outspoken Australian missionary, full of contradictions. The Conversation. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/hidden-women-of-history-annie-lock-was-a-bolshie-outspoken-australian-missionary-full-of-contradictions-167781

Herstory. Women’s Museum of Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from https://wmoa.com.au/herstory-archive/lock

Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Bolivia, South America

Juana Azurduy de Padilla was a leader of the Bolivian revolution in the 19th century. She fought for freedom from Spain’s rule with such vigor as to attain the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

This is her story.

According to Professor Catherine Davies on the University of Nottingham’s website, Juana Azurduy was born on March 8th 1781 in Chuquisaca, Upper Peru (modern day Sucre, Bolivia). Other sources give July 12th 1780 as Juana’s birth date.

Juana’s mother was part indigenous and her father was Spanish, making Juana a mestiza. She grew up speaking not only Spanish but two of the local native tongues of Quechua and Aymara as well. After the death of her mother in 1787, Juana spent all of her time with her father, working alongside him and the native laborers learning to shoot, ride horseback, and farm as well as or even better than any of the men. Working so close beside the indigenous people, Juana developed a deep appreciation for them and saw the way the Spaniards cruelly enslaved them; taking and gaining at their expense.

During most of the Spanish Colonial rule, Bolivia was known as Upper Peru. Chuquisaca was an important town as a leading provider of silver from the mines in neighboring Potosi for the Spanish empire, a flourishing agricultural hub, and home to the second oldest university in the America’s; Royal and Pontifical Higher University of San Francisco Xavier of Chuquisaca. It was a town which fed the empire great amounts of produce and precious metals while also nurturing the minds who would study the works of such renowned thinkers and individualists as Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, John Locke, Denis Diderot and others, and discuss not only philosophy, but also independence from Spain.

Juana Azurduy

When Juana was twelve her father died. She moved into the Santa Teresa convent where at the age of seventeen she became a nun and spent the next few years serving at the convent.

In 1805 Juana married her childhood friend, Manuel Ascencio Padilla who was a law student at the university and fellow sympathizer of the indigenous people. Not long after the independence struggle against Spain began in 1810, Azurduy and Padilla joined the revolutionary forces, often fighting side by side. Unfortunately, their four sons were killed in these battles.

Azurduy de Padilla fought in approximately twenty-three battles from 1810 to 1817, she was greatly accomplished at recruiting many patriots to join the battle and even led her own cavalry of women known as Amazonas and her own battalion of male soldiers, Los Leales. Until 1816 her husband continued to fight along with her, until he was killed at the battle of La Laguna, the same battle she returned to after giving birth to their daughter. On March 3, 1816 she led a force of 30 cavalry, including a number of Amazonas and defeated the forces of the Spanish general La Hera.

Image

Azurduy de Padilla received an officer’s appointment of Lieutenant Colonel for her part in the 1816 battle of Cerro Rico of Potosi where she led bravely and captured the enemy flag. General Belgrano gave her an officer’s sword to emphasize the gravity of her accomplishments.

Image

She retired to Salta to raise her daughter and returned to Chuquisaca in 1825, the year Bolivia declared its independence from Spain. The government of Salta gave her four mules and 50 pecos for her journey. She lived in Chuquisaca until the age of 82 in 1862 whereupon she was buried in a communal grave.

Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Azurduy de Padilla’s heroic deeds have been resurrected from obscurity in recent years. Her remains have been moved to a mausoleum in Sucre. In 2015 a 52 foot tall statue erected in her honor in Buenes Aires, in 2009 she was posthumously given the rank of General, Azurduy de Padilla is a national hero in both Argentina and Bolivia where her birthday is celebrated every year, and Sucre’s international airport is named after her.

Nien Cheng 1915-2009

Eyes Toward Heaven

Sometimes a person has so much confidence, grace, and poise, that it comes through in even something as static as a photograph. Nien Cheng (Kneen Chen) was just such a person. Some of the other adjectives used to describe her in older magazine articles, on various blogs and in the comments section of an interview with her that is posted on YouTube are; gentle, courageous, elegant, intelligent, indomitable, dignified, incredible, charming, and so on… Looking in her peaceful eyes, it is hard to believe she was a survivor of, and witness to, the myriad horrors brought about during the Cultural Revolution in China. A revolution know to claim the lives of untold millions.

Born Yao Nien-Yuan in 1915 Beijing, China to a fairly well-to-do family, Nien Cheng was not a pampered child despite her family having man-servants, maids, a cook, a gardener, and all manner of help at their disposal. Nien’s father insisted that she and her younger brother walk to school instead of being driven in one of the cars. She later said in an interview that this attitude of her father’s toughened her up and made it possible for her to endure many of the hardships which she encountered later in life.

In June of 1966, Mao Zedong gave his blessing to the Red Guards, a teacher-led group of armed youth instructed to enforce Maoist ideology (Mao Zedong Thought) all throughout China. The media proclaimed the mission of the Red Guards was to rid the country of the the four olds; old culture, old customs, old habits, and old ways of thinking. “Old,” was not clearly defined, and was a term left to the bearer’s interpretation as the Red Guards were released on Shanghai. They methodically visited each house to exact confessions, extort funds, destroy antiques, and intimidate people. Anything short of murder was allowed by the teachers who led them, for killing someone could eliminate the possibility of obtaining vital information for the Party.

At that time, no one could have possibly known that the list of difficulties which Nien would face in her life would number many, and none of them were as simple as having to walk to school instead of getting a chauffeured ride. By 1966 she was widowed, her husband having died in 1957 of colon cancer, the mother of an energetic college student of 24, and an assistant manager at Shell in Shanghai.

The Red Guards came to Cheng’s house on August 30 1966 while Meiping (Mayping), her daughter, was still at school. They all wore red arm bands as identifiers. Except for the teacher, they were all under 20 years old. One youngster towered above her diminutive form with anger in his eyes, feet apart, shoulders braced and declared, “We have come to take revolutionary action against you.”

Cheng asserted that it was illegal, against the Chinese constitution, to enter her house without a warrant. Pushing her aside, they disregarded her claim and in a flurry of adolescent, unfettered zeal, the group of Red Guards tore her house apart, cut up her clothes, smashed up some of her precious porcelain figurines, stole many of her valuables, and burnt her books.

Cheng was put under house arrest until September, when she was sent to prison as an enemy of the state. The allegations against Nien Cheng which got her put into solitary confinement at the Number One Detention House in Shanghai was a combination of having been educated at the London School of economics, being a widow of a Chiang Kai- Shek official, and working as an assistant manager of Shell, a major American corporation, which proved she was a spy against China. The espionage accusation kept her in prison for six and half years. The Maoist attitude which governed all of China’s population was to get rid of the higher class, get rid of the old, and to do everything Mao’s way. From agriculture to cooking, Mao was the do all and end all of everything any citizen of China undertook. The prisons were full of people who either actually did not conform or whose neighbor’s confessed that they did not conform. Nien Cheng was not alone in being singled out for the lifestyle she lived.

The authorities wanted Cheng to confess so they could use her declaration to attack Zhou enlai.(Cho Enlye) by accusing him of facilitating the spying on the Chinese by Shell because he was involved in the original agreement between the Shell Corporation and China in 1950. Mao wanted to get rid of some of the Chinese leaders, those less Maoist, and having them arrested for treason was how he planned to accomplish it. All the Number One Chinese of foreign banks and businesses were locked up in the men’s prison, because they arrested every single senior Chinese in every foreign company and forced them to confess. None of them did because they all knew it was a political process used to aid Mao in getting rid of the mild factions of the Communist Party leaders, those who realized that Mao’s policy was not working.

Being wrongfully charged as a spy and held in solitary confinement where she suffered isolation wore on her soul, but reciting the 23rd Psalm was a balm that softened the chafe. At one point she had to accomplish all her daily duties, including personal hygiene and eating, with her hands cuffed behind her back for three weeks straight. The cuffs carved deep wounds into her wrists that would scar her for a lifetime. In prison, the food so lacked nutrition and was so sparse, she would endure rotting gums which caused her to lose her teeth. She was routinely tortured in attempts to force a confession. What brought her through those years in prison was prayer. Nien Cheng believed in God, that He is just and righteous and had a plan for her, and what faith she must have had to endure the torture, beatings, and starvation level rations. She clung to the Psalms, encouraged by the recitation of, “Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil,” and was reassured in prison with a heart ready to heal.

When Cheng was released, she was told her only child, Meiping had passed away. She was told that her daughter had jumped from a nine story building and committed suicide. After Mao’s death in 1976, when people began to speak without as much fear, she discovered Meiping had been beaten to death by a gang trying to gain favor with the Party.

Cheng missed Meiping every day. She felt so much grief she decided to leave Shanghai. She had sisters in both Hawaii and California and that’s where she started the journey on the road to her new life in America where she would further her education, become an American citizen, and eventually the author of the memoir, Life and Death in Shanghai. Writing the book helped her purge the demons lingering behind her eyes and encourage the generations behind her to stand strong in their faith.

Nien Cheng

Cheng, Lien. Life and Death in Shanghai, 1986, Grove Press

http://articles.latimes.com/1993-12-19/news/mn-3446_1_cultural-revolution

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/politics-obituaries/6545847/Nien-Cheng.html

MacAskill, Ewen. Nien Cheng and the Flames of Revolution, Washington Post, July, 15 1986

Lady Fu Hao, 13th Century BC

Between 1,600 B.C. and 1,050 B.C., long before the production of the Terracotta Army, the teachings of Confucius, and the importation of Buddhist thought, parts of modern day China were living among divided Kingdoms. They held religious ceremonies, and were well versed in literary application with a dictionary of over 4,000 characters. Some tribes painted these characters with brushes on bamboo slips to keep daily records.

During this time along the Yellow River Valley, near modern day Anyang, Henan Province, the Shang Dynasty flourished. The advances of bronze smelting during this period ensured that skilled craftsmen would have work, that Kings would have fine decorations and utensils, and that warriors would be well armed.

It was a time before the vast area we know of today as China was brought together under one rule. In fact, much of the area known as China today was home to approximately seven different warring tribes before being unified by its first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang (King Zheng of Qin) of the Zhou (JO) Dynasty in 221 B.C. (It was Qin Shi Huang who thought that having united all the surrounding kingdoms into one vast empire, he should be addressed as Emperor of the nation, not simply as a King. This is why he is referred to as “First Emperor.”)

The Shang culture was one of agriculture, hunting and animal husbandry, all of which sustained not only the farmers who worked the fields and raised the animals, but also the citizens who were employed by the king in the areas of bronze crafting, weapons building, being a member of the Imperial Guard, or those who made up the Armed forces. The Shang Dynasty expanded bronze making to an efficient artistic and practical craft; the foundry and workshop for bronze smelting were usually within earshot of the King’s palace and occupied approximately 36,000 square yards. With the perfection of bronze production, the Chinese began making some of the most elaborate bronze pieces ever formed which served as both practical pieces for daily use as well as artistic sculptures. Birds, horses, dragons, tigers, phoenix’ the sun, and other depictions of fantasy and reality could be found on tools, musical instruments, weapons (daggers, arrowheads, spears), and food and ritual vessels.

Pyramids had long been constructed to protect the tombs of kings in Peru, Bosnia, Brazil, and of course Egypt. During the time in which the Shang Dynasty tombs were being built in China, Moses had recently descended Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments (approximately 1446 B.C), the Hindu Scripture, “The Vedas”, was written in India, and King Tutankhamen’s body was being embalmed in Egypt.

Not only was Chinese civilization quite advanced in its artistic and technical skills during the Shang Dynasty, but their mathematical skills were becoming more sophisticated as well; the principles of the Pythagorean triangle theory were being taught as were mathematical permutations, or “magic squares.” Even with all of the intellectual and physical achievements which the Shang Dynasty instigated, their religious beliefs remained primitive and archaic, though highly structured.

It is in this society, a social structure of hard labor by males, of great thinking credited to males, and of artistic achievement and religious rites ruled by males, that we meet our first Chinese Heroine, Fu Hao (FU HOW), who found herself at the palace of King Wu Ding by way of marriage.

It was an apparently effective decision of King Wu Ding to marry a woman from each surrounding tribe in the region in order to stave off warfare. It is in this way that King Wu Ding found himself married to over sixty wives, one of which was Fu Hao, who the King discovered had a knack with both divination and the sword.

Believing that the ancestors had power over their lives was sacrosanct to the Shang and it is the King who tried to divine the intentions of the ancestors as well as seek favor of God (Tien) with the means of a diviner. Considering the great importance of the diviner to the King, Fu Hao gained the King’s great favor. She could be found almost daily conducting a ceremony by which oracle bones were inscribed with questions for the ancestors and gods.

In order to obtain direction from the deities about the weather, battles, illness, or the success of crops, the questions were chiseled into the bone of an ox or the shell of a tortoise with a sharp tool. A heated rod was then applied to the oracle bone until the bone or shell cracked, at which point the diviner would interpret the cracks in relation to the inscribed question. Thus, it can be assumed, the diviner had much power. In an age when superstition was the dominant method for explaining medical and scientific phenomenon, the diviner was an important facet of society.

Not only did Fu Hao have great ability as a diviner, a reader of oracle bones and of conducting sacrifices, she became the first known female general in the history of China. Not long after being appointed diviner to the King, she and King Wu Ding set out on a three year tour of the countryside. They may have been skirting the boundaries of the kingdom in search of ore deposits such as copper, tin, and lead to use in producing bronze. Upon arriving back from their long journey in which they formed alliances and conducted trade with many tribes throughout the region, they found that the Shang territory was being invaded by hostile enemies from the north, the Tu Fang.

Fu Hao had been trained in military tactics in her youth. Coupling that education with her experience as a ruler in the art of war to her recently acquired knowledge in geography she learned traveling around the Shang territory, King Wu Ding granted Fu Hao’s request to lead the military campaign against the Tu Fang. It is here, in Fu Hao’s first battle as a General, that the full force of her abilities as a military leader was recognized. After being routed by a female leader, the Tu Fang never again challenged the forces of the Shang.

There were more challenges coming right on the heels of the Tu Fang battle. The Qiang Fang tribe in the northwest soon came to test the Shang, but again Fu Hao would lead the Shang to victory, riding high and mighty on a grand chariot made of wood and held together not with nails but with wooden pegs and leather lashing. The complicated structure of the Shang chariots, coupled with their well-stocked armament, made them a formidable army for any contender in battle.

Soon after the Shang defeated the Qiang Fang, threats from the southeast and southwest began to materialize. It was not long before the Shang ousted the Yi Fang as a threat with Fu Hao’s military strength and wit. Fu Hao’s genius demonstrated itself again when she fought alongside her husband, King Wu Ding, and cleverly laid a trap for the attacking forces of the Ba Fung tribe in the southwest. This fourth and final battle of Fu Hao’s was so demonstrative of military prowess that she was celebrated with fervor as the most outstanding military leader of the country. At one point, Lady Fu Hao led 3,000 soldiers in battles to protect the Shang Dynasty from invaders.

Not long after returning home from battle against the Ba Fung, Lady Fu Hao became very ill. During this illness her son, Xiao Yi, died, which distressed her so much that she was not able to recover and she soon died. King Wu Ding, having been so enamored with Fu Hao, had her tomb erected near his palace where it would be safe from looters. In fact, Fu Hao’s tomb remained unmolested until it was discovered more than 3,000 years later.

The treasures buried with Fu Hao are numerous; not only many animal and human sacrifices (16 slaves), but also with her earthly treasures; 490 different hairpins, articles of opal, 755 objects made of jade: birds, phoenix’, horses, dragons, tigers, etc., ivory objects, cowry shells, bronze jue’s, and over 440 smaller bronze vessels, pottery and130 weapons; one of which was a bronze battle axe which is a symbol of her great military influence. Lady Fu Hao’s tomb was found at the Capital of the Shang Dynasty, Anyang (present day Henan Province), in 1976 and is the only Shang Dynasty tomb of a member of the royal family to have gone unmolested since its construction in approximately 1250 B.C.

Statue of Fu Hao

Dynasties of Imperial China:

Bronze Age Dynasties:

Xia (Shaw) 2070-1600 BC

Erlitou (Arleetoo) 1900-1500 BC

Shang (Shang)1600-1046 BC

Zhou (Joe) 1046-256 BC

Early Imperial Period:

Qin (Chin) 221-207 BC

Western Han (Hon) 206 BC-8 AD

Xin (Shin) 8-23

Eastern Han 25-220

Three Kingdoms 200-280,

Pei (Pay)Northern region,

Shu (Shoo) SW region

Wu (Woo) SE region

Six Dynasties 222-589

Wu 222-280

Dong Jin (Dong Chin) 317-420

Liu-Song (Lew-Soong) 420-479

Nan Qi ( Non Chee) 479-502

Nan Liang (Non Leeyang) 502-557

Nan Chen (Non Shen) 557-589

Southern and Northern Dynasties 586-589

Late Imperial Period:

Sui (Swee) 581-618

Tang (Tong) 618-907

Five Dynasties 907-960

Later Liang 907-923

Hou Tang 923-936

Hou Jin 936-947

Hou Han 947-951

Hou Zhou 951-960

Ten Kingdoms 902-979

Wu 902-937

Nan Tang 937-975/976

Nan Ping 924-963

Chu 927-951

Qian Shu (Chi-en Shoo) 907-925

Hou Shu 934-965

Min 909-945

Nan Han 917-971

Wu-Yue (Woo-You-A) 907-978

Bei-Han (beh hon) 951-979

Song 960-1279

Yuan 1271-1568

Ming 1568-1644

Qing 1641-1911

Sources:

“Fu Hao (fl. 1040 BCE).” Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Ed. Anne Commire. Vol. 5 Detroit: Yorkin Publications, 2002. 807-809. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Peterson, Barbara Bemmett ED.. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century, M.E. Sharpe, 2000, pp. 13-16, Electronic Book, 10 Feb. 2014.

Hammond, Kenneth James, ED. The Human Tradition in Premodern China (Issue 4 of Human Tradition Around The World) Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, pp. 11-12. Electronic Book. 10 Feb. 2014

Nana Yaa Asantewaa Queen Mother, GHana

One of the most heroic attributes of a citizenry is their ability to reclaim their history after the treasures, artifacts, and all things sacred have long been hauled away to fill the coffers and landfills of those who would enslave them. Subverting attempts of thievery at the onset can be considered an equally epic act. In 1900, the Ashanti people of Ghana would rise up and prevent the loss of their history with dauntless courage. The leader of their uprising was a sixty year old grandmother by the name of NanaYaa Asantewaa.

The Ashanti (Asante; Asa means war, nte means because of) was a tribe in modern day Ghana founded in the 17th century when, tradition indicates, a priest by the name of Okomfo Anoykye brought a golden stool down from heaven and anointed Osei Tutu as asantehene (king) of the kingdom. Osei Tutu rallied the forces of the neighboring chiefdoms against their mutual enemy, Denkyira, and these rallied forces formed the Ashanti, the ruling power of the region. The Golden Stool not only became a symbol of the king of the Ashanti people, it was also believed to hold all the souls of the Ashanti; past, present, and future.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Ashanti developed strong trade relations with the Europeans, exchanging slaves and gold for guns and ammunition. They had always used many slaves themselves and their land was rife with gold. They soon became far better armed than the neighboring villages they fought against and greatly increased the size of their empire.

The Berlin conference of 1884 formalized the colonization of Africa and set the Europeans scrambling to seize West Africa’s many natural resources. As they carved up the continent among themselves, Ghana came under British rule and in 1886 the Ashanti rebelled against them. In 1896, like a classic move in a game of chess, the British took the King of the Ashante, Prempeh 1, and exiled him along with other powerful leaders such as Kofi Tene to Seychelles. The British had been attempting to make the region a protectorate in three previous wars, 1824 where the Ashanti were the victors, 1863 again the British lost to the Ashanti, but the 1874 war saw the Ashanti lose ground along the coast to the British, who eventually named the area the Gold Coast. With the blessing of the Berlin conference, the British were emboldened to accomplish the subjugation of the Ashanti people.

On March 28, 1900, to prove his dominance and superiority over the Ashanti, the British governor spoke at Kumasi, the Capital. “Your King, Prempeh 1, is in exile and will not return to Ashanti. “ He continued to tell them of the Queen’s authority, his power as the queen’s representative, and the amount of taxation the Ashante will be required to pay as a colony under British rule, as per the 1874 peace treaty, which the Ashante had yet to pay one iota. He also requested they forfeit their Golden Stool.

“What must I do to the man, whoever he is, who has failed to give to the Queen, who is the paramount power in the country, the stool to which she is entitled? Where is the Golden Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power in this country; why have you relegated me to this chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool and give it to me to sit upon?”

Kofi Tene’s grandmother, Nana Yaa Asantawaa,was the Queen Mother of the Ashanti. Nana signified her high position after she became Queen Mother when her brother Afrane Panin became chief of Ejisu around 1884. With the exile of so many leaders, Nana Yaa Asantewaa assumed the position of Chief. She was a courageous woman with a strong sense of integrity, and justice who did not take kindly to the governor’s proclamation that he should be brought the sacred stool, a golden representation of Ashanti strength.

Yaa Asantewaa gathered the leaders together and they hid the stool away from the invaders. The governor’s demand for the stool and payment for his self proclaimed overlordship was the last straw, she wanted to fight them and send them away from her home. While the British searched everywhere for the Golden Stool, Yaa Asantewaa noticed the solemn faces and weak wills of the fellow chiefs who seemed ready to meet the demands of the British. She stood to summon their solidarity in order to keep the stool from falling into enemy hands.

“How can a proud and brave people like the Ashanti sit back and watch while white men take away their king and chiefs, and humiliate them with demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white man; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the Governor. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.”

With a rally cry sure to motivate even the most fearful of men toward action, Yaa Asantewaa was able to organize an army of 5,000 soldiers to confront the would-be thieves. She led a strong charge against the soldiers, killing many before all the British throughout the Ashanti kingdom, including missionaries and government employees, retreated to their heavily fortified fort in Kumasi.

As Commander in Chief of the Ashanti Army, Yaa Asantewaa ordered the cutting of the Fort’s telegraph wires and the blocking of shipments of food, weapons, and supplies. For three months they kept the captors captive. Approximately 3,500 people were living within the close confines of the fort. So many grouped together encouraged the spread of diseases such as small pox and yellow fever. With no way to leave the fort, the living were forced to drop the dead from the windows, which created an even more putrid and infectious environment.

Yaa Asantewaa made a truce to allow the women and children to leave the compound. One of the women who was released carried with her a message to the Cape Coast. A strong enforcement team was mobilized to march to Kumasi where they overtook the Ashanti on July 11th 1900.

With the capture of Yaa Asantawaa in September, the Yaa Asantewaa war, or the war of the Golden Stool, was officially concluded. Asantawaa was exiled to Seychelles where she lived until 1921. She passed away at the age of 81 surely taking pride in having won the battle, though she’d lost the war. The sacred Golden Stool never left its rightful place.

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history. George Orwell.

The Golden Stool

“Yaa Asantewaa.” Yaa Asantewaa, http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/people/person.php?ID=175.

“Berlin Conference of 1884–1885.” Oxford Reference, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195337709.001.0001/acref-9780195337709-e-0467.

Everipedia.org, everipedia.org/Frederick_Mitchell_Hodgson.

The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 13 Aug. 2020 .” Encyclopedia.com, Encyclopedia.com, 27 Sept. 2020, http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ashanti-wars.

West, Racquel. “Yaa Asantewaa (Mid-1800s-1921).” Welcome to Blackpast •, 10 Oct. 2019, http://www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/yaa-asantewaa-mid-1800s-1921/.

A fun discovery!

Here is a review of a very inspirational book by Nava Atlas, The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life from which grew an inspiring and informative website that gets better and better every day; The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life.

The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life is a beautiful work of art, a creative presentation of ideas, and a fanciful tête-à-tête with twelve inspiring female authors from the past such as Alcott, Austen, Brontë, Sand, Woolf, and more. The book contains anecdotes, insights, and musings, about all the elements of the writing life experienced by these twelve women.

Almost every page has a graphic of some sort, anchoring the reader’s eyes and feeding their artistic appreciation. The colors and backgrounds of aged journal entries are calming, the photographs vivid, the graphics such as flowers and books are cheery and those of a vintage typewriter are a sure prompt for the writer.

Atlas’ choice of presentation is so unique as to make the reader feel as though we’re not actually reading a book so much as engaging in a conversation. These aren’t biographies per se, but single ideas explored by individual authors so each person maintains an autonomous voice and doesn’t get lost in a net of “literary ladies.”

Atlas’ writing style was quite inclusive and she shared many things I didn’t know about even some of my favorite authors. I’ll be sure to keep this book by by my keyboard for inspiration because that’s exactly what it is – inspiration!

9920561

Whatever happened to Dorothea Lynde Dix and Nelly Bly?

Who Cares? An observation of Dorothea Lynde Dix and Nellie Bly concluding that a society neglecting it’s most vulnerable population is indeed wholly poor in virtue.

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Proverbs 29:7 NIV.

As a child, Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887) was a pseudo-pauper, for although her paternal grandparents were fairly well-off, her father and mother were rather underfunded, as neither maintained steady employment. Dorothea’s parents, Joseph and Mary Dix, and the family lived on a tract of land owned by Joseph’s father, Elijah Dix, in Hampden, Maine.

Dorothea’s father was known for his fanatical flights of religious fervor equal only to his propensity for strong drink. A Methodist lay pastor by trade, Joseph traveled and distributed tracts of sermons he wrote preaching hellfire and damnation.

Dorothea’s mother suffered from some sort of mental infirmity; the accepted speculations favoring depression, but whatever it was that ailed Dorothea’s mother, she felt it was personal business and never shared the details with anyone. It can be sure the mental infirmities suffered by her mother made a grave impression on the young girl.

There was more than a little bit of mystery and tragedy slapping against the face of Dorothea Lynde Dix’s childhood. By the time she was twelve she grew tired of pasting and sewing her father’s religious tracts together for him and spending all of her remaining time seeing to the household duties her parents neglected in favor of their various oddities, conditions, and pursuits.

One day in 1814, Dorothea appeared on her paternal grandmother’s doorstep in Boston Massachusetts, having had enough of what biographer Francis Tiffany termed as Dorothea’s “immediate parents’ lacking in energetic fibre.” Though her grandmother was a strict disciplinarian, Dorothea preferred the sewing, cooking, and knitting lessons of her grandmother to the arrant disregard of her parents and especially the endless drudgery of the gluing and stitching of her father’s tracts. When Dorothea went to her grandmother’s, her brother, Joseph, was 2 years old, and Mary Dix was expecting a third child.

Without any formal schooling herself, other than having been taught to read by her father, Dorothea began teaching school at the age of 14. She moved in with her great-aunt, Sarah Lynde Duncan, in Worcester and discovered her knack for storytelling, which her cousins deeply enjoyed. Dorothea set up her dame school over the bookstore on Main Street and began teaching the three R’s to any child who would pay the small fee. To the delight of her students, it was with her own favored stories that she taught science to the children as well as devotions and tales with a moral lesson. The school was very successful because even though Dorothea executed fair and strong discipline, she was also gentle and kind.

When she was 17, Dorothea moved back to Boston into her grandmother’s mansion, bringing her little brother Joseph along. Her second brother, Charles Wesley, remained at home. Here she not only continued teaching, but also set up a second school so that poor children could have access to moral training. Dix wrote eight books between 1824 and 1829, including hymns for children, short stories, meditations, and botany. Two examples of the books she wrote are Conversations on Common Things, (reprinted 60 times by 1869) and The Trials of a School Girl,

Raising her brother Joseph, and now her other brother, Charles, as well as caring for her mother, along with teaching at two schools, preparing her own texts, and looking after her aging grandmother, all made for a heavy work load which took a toll on Dix. After about fifteen years of it, all told, she had a nervous breakdown. To recuperate, she quit teaching and took to traveling and visiting friends. In 1836 Dix’s mother and grandmother passed away and left her a legacy which, combined with her own savings and the money she earned from her books published a few years prior, provided funds enough to live on as she recuperated from her malady, which some speculate to have been associated with some form of depressive disorder.

Despite her feeble health, on March 28, 1841, Dix volunteered to teach Sunday school to some twenty female convicts in the East Cambridge jail for a pastor friend of hers. This was where she saw the fate of society’s indigent insane, which propelled her into the political/social-welfare arena. When Dix found the bowels of the East Cambridge jail were over crowded not only with criminals, but also the indigent insane, as well as the mentally and physically handicapped, all herded together in filthy and freezing conditions, her first political act undertaken on behalf of these innocent persons was to present a proposal to the court which won heat to warm the prisoners’ jail cells.

Certain that conditions should be improved for those less fortunate souls, Dix spent the next two years traveling with a notebook to every almshouse and jail from Berkshire to Cape Cod, noting the conditions of each institution along the way. With her notes, she wrote a memorial (report) addressed to the state legislature with the hope of gaining humane living conditions for the innocents who were neglected and abused. In the memorial, Dix wrote:

I proceed, gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of insane persons within this Commonwealth, in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience. Lincoln. A woman in a cage. Medford. One idiotic subject chained and, and one in a close stall for seventeen years. Peppernell. One often doubly chained, hand and foot; another violent.

The local newspapers cried that the memorial written by Dix was pure fiction, that there were no almshouses keeping the poor citizens of Massachusetts as prisoners, behind bars, with iron chains around their necks! “Incredible” the citizens argued. “Sensational and scandalous lies!” But Dix would not be discouraged. She garnered the support of politicians and respected statesmen, and after many weeks of heated debate, finally convinced the state legislature to expand the size of the state hospital in Worcester in order to accommodate more patients and provide better care, such as the gentle and therapeutic moral treatment she’d learned from Elizabeth Fry, Samuel, Tuke, and William Rathbone in her travels.

Spurred on by her empathy for so many poor people suffering in jails and almshouses in other states, in three years’ time, Dix traveled over 30,000 miles, visiting institutions all over the United States and lobbying for improved conditions for the poor mentally ill. In New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. From the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic to the Mississippi, contracting sicknesses, and sometimes bedding with rats and cockroaches. Her practice in each state was the same; she visited every jail and almshouse she could, collected data, prepared a memorial using her meticulously documented research, all to be presented by an affable and well-known politician pressing for better facilities for the indigent insane. The tireless woman carried on this process for ten years, pleading with state after state to provide humane conditions, moral treatment, for the weak-minded who could not afford the care provided in the private hospitals of the wealthy. The moral treatment contended that environmental factors such as beauty in architecture, landscaping, interior design, etc, and pursuits such as reading and enjoying company, all played a significant role on the way to recovery.

One after another, the states began building adequate mental hospitals. In 1845 Dix published a treaty, Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States, which advocated for separating prisoners according to the crimes they’d committed and for educating them in the hopes that the acquisition of knowledge would improve their lives. Throughout the 1850’s Dix advocated for mental health institutions and for the incorporation of moral treatment on an international basis, and her pleas were heard all throughout Europe, Canada, Russia, and Japan. Her intercessions for active reform were building momentum.

With the building of mental institutions all across the United States and even internationally, and on the heels of the failing of a land grant bill she’d spent six years (1848-54) lobbying for, Dix took a much deserved vacation in Europe. She soon discovered a great inequality between the private hospital care provided for the wealthy and the public care facilities relegated to the poor. She managed to get an appointment with Pope Pius IX who verified the research in her statements and set out to make changes in Italy’s system. Upon her return home, Dix again took up the cause of seeing to the needs of the mentally infirm and began to ask the state governments for larger appropriations and more hospitals suited to provide efficient and effective moral treatment.

In 1861, at the age of 59, Dix volunteered her services in the Civil War and was appointed Superintendent of Nurses for the Union Army. This was, as had been all of her previous official activities, an unpaid position. She was responsible for recruiting and training over 2,000 women as nurses, and organizing and procuring all necessities for the Union Army hospitals. Dix was the first woman in such a high federal position. She found herself often confronting doctors about their drinking habits and lack of sanitation and the nurses complained of her severity, but the soldiers called her an angel of mercy. Obviously, she was not politically motivated, as making friends with the drunkard doctors and seemingly uncaring nurses was not in par with getting the needs of the patients met.

After the Civil War, Dix returned to her role as a representative for the impoverished mentally ill. She examined hospitals and tested proposed sites for water purity. She ate the food being served to the residents, inspected the heating systems, looked over the finances; she thoroughly examined all aspects of the asylums that she helped to create. Before her death in 1887 she would help establish 32 of the 110 new mental institutions built in her lifetime. The first institution that Dix helped set up was built in Trenton New Jersey. That institution is where she retired to in 1881 and is the one institution dedicated in her name, for Dix was forever and always the humble empath, proven by the fact that she rarely put a name to any of her endeavors in her lifetime. Even many of her books are void of her name.

Nellie Bly

In the same year as Dix’s death, the journalist Nellie Bly undertook an assignment for the editor of the New York World Newspaper as investigative reporter. Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, a town began by her father, Michael Cochran, a successful miller, store owner, postmaster, and associate judge. Though her father passed away when she was only six, Bly managed to acquire some college education at the Indiana Normal School in Indiana Pennsylvania before financial restraints sent her to help her mother manage a boarding house in Pittsburgh. In 1882, Bly fired off a hot missive to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch rallying against Erasmus Wilson’s recent editorial which stated women who work outside the home were a “monstrosity.” The editor, George Madden, immediately offered her a position at the paper.

By 1885, Bly was becoming increasingly bored at the Dispatch where the editor assigned her to the women’s page and ever further away from a chance for writing exciting journalistic endeavors. Two years later, she managed to move to New York and land a gig with the New York World newspaper. One of her first assignments was to enter, undercover, the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt’s Island), an institution for the indigent insane in New York. She was to report on everything she saw there, be it good or upsetting, happy or sad, whatever she experienced, heard, felt, because the editor wanted to know if the reports he’d heard about concerning the asylum’s brutality and neglect were true.

After getting herself committed, which was a clever bit of acting itself as she feigned the demeanor of a person who did not know where she was or whence she came, it wasn’t long before Bly found herself on Blackwell’s Island. The ten days of her incarceration were the first immersion journalist actions ever recorded in an American newspaper. The conditions exposed were far from Dix’s practical philosophy of moral treatment. In the Women’s Lunatic Asylum, Bly witnessed horrid abuses of the women, many who were taken to the closet and beaten by the caretakers and verbally teased into fits of rage or tears. She suffered through eating wretched food, bathing in a cold water dorm-successive tub, forced silence, freezing conditions in thin clothing as the heat was not allowed until October (Bly’s subterfuge took place in September), and witnessing patient’s fingers getting twisted and their faces slapped by the nurses.

With the publication of the two part series of Bly’s report on the women’s asylum, the New York World not only introduced immersion journalism to the reading public, but due to the exposure of the conditions inside, New York City awarded $100,000 in additional funding toward the care of the insane. Bly was proud of her accomplishment in aiding the penniless mentally ill.

Unfortunately, moral treatment for the institutionalized insane who were underfunded was not to make a comeback, as for the first three quarters of the 20th century, state institutions crowded more and more patients into their quarters, anesthetized and sometimes euthanized their souls with medications, straightjackets, frontal or medical lobotomy, shock treatments, wet towel treatments, cold water treatments, foul food, and kept them under observation for experimental purposes.

By 1977 the number of patients housed in institutions fell to 160,000 from 1963’s 600,000, a result of President Kennedy’s enacting of the Community Mental Health Centers Act, an act hoping to afford a more humane treatment to those in need. Those remaining institutionalized tended to be heavily medicated mental hospital patients suffering from dystonia (painful muscle spasms), tardive dyskinesia (stiff, jerky, uncontrollable movements of face and hands), and suicidal tendencies; many test subjects having signed no informed consent form.

The community-state model of moral treatment expanded in the last decades of the 20th century, affording for a meaningful and fruitful life for some. The many advances in medications prescribed by doctors combined with local outreach nonprofits as well as government funded programs and services, became a more attractive treatment resolution to the states.

By the turn of the 21st century, the buildings once toured by curious admirers of impressive architecture reminiscent of castles and cathedrals, manicured landscapes, and the relative order of moral treatment, were lauded as exciting haunted asylum tours. However, without enough spaces available in the underfunded, understaffed, and undertrained care facilities intended to care for the many who needed help, the prison population exploded with mentally ill persons falling through the cracks (Federal prisons: 78,800, state prisons: 705,600, local jails: 479,000. (2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics, BJS) and the streets increasingly became homes for the insane who could not afford private care. Recently, I saw a statistic that a full 33% of the homeless people we see huddling on the sides of roads, cowering near bushes, and curling under plastic tarps suffer from mental illness.

Certainly, there is not one simple and easy answer for the current problem of homeless people who wander aimlessly through the streets, but the original answer wasn’t easy for Ms. Dix as she parried and wrestled with bureaucrats until she tore through their hardened prejudices to expose their humanity. Because the federal government no longer provides funds for long term mental health care and the states can’t afford to provide it for them, are we going to, collectively – as a strong, thriving, robust nation, – ignore those poor souls who’ve lost their connection to their own community?

Who among us will rise from the circumstances dealt us, only to turn around and sleep among rats and cockroaches, heroin needles and feces, in order to secure a dignified future for those we don’t even know, who likely wouldn’t even know us or thank us for our troubles? While the buildings of Ms. Dix’s creations are being dismantled brick by brick, or turned into museums, where will all the people go?

The stresses of Dix’s ideals were to engage with the patients, provide them therapy, music, books, recreation, and meaningful work. Where were the Dorothea Lynde Dix’s in the 20st century? Where were the Nellie Bly’s to expose the perfidy? Where was the humanity? If “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members” (Mahatma Gandhi), the United States’ lack of moral treatment toward the indigent insane in the 20th century may display the nation under a less than favorable light. It is yet to be seen if we will redeem ourselves in the 21st, a century which, through the lens of modern history, given that we’re confirmed navel gazing screen swipers, looks to have spawned more sloths than doers and more ailments than caregivers.

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Hazel Hall

Literary Ladies Guide has been kind enough to reprint my piece on Hazel Hall  in its entirety.

(February 7, 1886 – May 11, 1924)

THREE GIRLS

Three school girls pass this way each day,

Two of them go in the fluttery way

Of girls, with all that girlhood buys:

But one goes with a dream in her eyes.

Two of them have the eyes of girls

Whose hair is learning scorn of curls,

But the eyes of one are like wide doors

Opening out on misted shores,

And they will go as they go today

On to the end of life’s short way;

Two will have what living buys,

And one will have the dream in her eyes.

Two will die as many must,

and fitly dust will welcome dust;

But dust has nothing to do with one—

She dies as soon as her dream is don (sic)

By 1910, the city of Portland Oregon was becoming a lively city of commerce and community. A bustling population of well over 207,000 established it as the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. From the port side along the Ocean-accessible Columbia River to the West Bank of the roaring Willamette, people spent their days working in factories, window-shopping, strolling hand-in-hand, riding trolleys, and bustling about in all the ways that folks of large cities do.

Though Portland was host to much lively activity and trade, young Hazel Hall could not take part in any of it. Being confined to a wheelchair since she was 12, she sat in the upper room of her home watching life in its myriad of shapes and sizes parade before her. Having limited mobility, Hazel could not stand up to peer out her window so she fashioned a hand-mirror in such a way as to be able to view the streets below in the reflection of the glass.

Hazel Hall was born on February 7, 1886 in St. Paul Minnesota to Montgomery and Mary Garland Hall. She had two sisters, Ruth and Lulu. The family moved to Portland, Oregon when Hazel was yet a toddler. Though young, Hazel romped and played just as exuberantly as any other child until the age of 12 when she fell ill with scarlet fever and was stricken lame ever afterward, binding her to a wheelchair. Not to be discouraged by her strict confinement, Hazel spent her days under the light of her window sewing and adorning fine linens and bridal robes, baby clothes, lingerie, Bishop’s cuffs, and christening gowns. These items were so beautifully embroidered that she became one of the favorite seamstresses of many of Portland’s social elite in the West Hills, bringing her money enough for her to earn her keep.

Hazel’s sister, Ruth, a librarian in the Portland School District, borrowed numerous books for Hazel to read. From classics to science, Hazel read everything that her sister brought home for her, but developed a particular interest in poetry. Emily Dickinson, who passed away the same year of Hazel’s birth, was counted among her favorite poets, along with Robert Frost and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Hazel had always occupied herself by writing and by the age of 30 she accomplished being published in the Boston Evening Transcript. Her poem, To An English Sparrow is a musical piece of rhyme and meter and deep in feeling. The life of the poem resembles the life of a sewing needle, which Hall knew the ins and outs of very well.

`TO AN ENGLISH SPARROW

(excerpt)

Little feathered tufts of gray,

Skipping blithely through the day —

Never resting,

Yet protesting

In your querulous, quick way —

Little sparrow;

You who would the woodland spurn —

Bird-prized haunts of leaf and fern —

Ever grace the crowded street,Seeking man’s companionship

With your chippy-chip chip chirp—

On your wing or tripping feet —

Ever lightly

Always sprightly

Comes your note so nearly sweet,

English sparrow

Following her success of having a poem published in The Boston Evening Transcript, Hazel Hall’s poems appeared in such prestigious magazines as The Century Magazine, Harpers Magazine, The New Republic, The Nation, Yale Review, and Literary Review. In 1920 her poem, Three Girls, was chosen as one of the five best poems of the year by critic William Stanley Braithwaite.

Acquiring only a fifth grade education before becoming fettered to a wheelchair failed to prevent Hazel Hall from reaching out to a world that she could not fully take part in. With her poetry she managed to inspire not only poetic appreciation, but also admiration for the simpler things that life brings one’s way. Her interest in philosophy inspired her to think deeply about humanity and helped her to resist the temptation to become overwhelmed by her circumstances. In many ways it was her circumstances which she considered to be advantageous to writing poetry, for the solitude that she experienced aided in not only thinking through iambs and meters, but also in creating artistic presentations of the seemingly routine.

Many of her poems were included in numerous anthologies, gaining her popularity even in England. Her first book, Curtains, was published in 1921, her second book, Walkers, in 1923, and in 1928 her third book, Cry of Time, was published posthumously by her sister, Ruth. A group of her needlework poems within the pages of Curtains gained Hall the Young Poets Prize from Poetry magazine.

When Hall’s eyesight began to fail her, she no longer wrote poetry about sewing, such as in Curtains, but instead began to write more about the things she spied from the confines of her room. Thus, Walkers, came to be. The editors of The Bookman literary journal gave Hall’s newest book much praise within its pages of the August 1923 issue, calling the poems “genuine, individual, and very lovely,” including in their review a quote from her poem, Protection:

I have envied, I have pitied,Wrapped their sorrows over me

Like a shawl, to keep from knowing

Cold that is colder than the sea.

At the age of 38, Hall succumbed to an illness and passed away in the family home. Within eight short years, from 1916 to 1924, she had managed to touch the hearts of many readers with her poems. Upon her death on May 11, 1924, her obituary was on the front page of the Oregonian newspaper with the headline: “SWEET VOICE OF HAZEL HALL IS HUSHED BY DEATH.”

Yet, it was not hushed for long, thanks to John Witte, English Professor at the University of Oregon. In 2000, Witte collected all three of Hazel Hall’s books into one volume and published (Northwest Readers) The Collected Poems of Hazel Hall, making it possible for Hall’s voice to continue ringing out loud, strong, and sweet, teaching us all how to live life as fully as we are able.

The Oregon Book Award for poetry is named for Hazel Hall and William Stafford (the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry). The award’s sponsor, LITERARY ARTS, refers to Hall as “The Emily Dickinson of Oregon.” Hall’s home at 106 NW 22nd Place in Portland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Hazel Hall House. In 1995 the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission built a memorial park, or poetry garden, next to the Hazel Hall House. The park is home to three of Hall’s poems carved in granite; Light Sleep, Things That Grow, and The Listening Macaws.

Hall

Guest Blog Post: Amazing Women in History

Guest Blog Post at Amazing Women in History

In 1629, China was entangled in a war with nature and men. Between fighting with Mongolia, Korea, and Japan, the military stretched the country’s budget to bursting. When China was hit with the longer, colder winters caused by falling average temperatures, famine exploded all over the north. Not enough crops could be grown to provide food and many of the starving soldiers banned together in gangs who ravaged the countryside.

1629 is also the year Lin Siniang (Lean Shinjang) was born to a struggling military family.

Lin Siniang’s family may have been poor, but her father made sure to give her proper instruction in the use of sword, spear, and the martial arts. She was so adept that even at the age of six, people were astounded by her expertise.

When Lin Siniang was a teenager, her parents were killed and she was left with no family to care for her. She became a prostitute, working all day by the Qinhuai River, near modern day Nanjing.

Lin never stopped honing her fighting skills every chance she got. One day as she was improving on her martial arts down by the river, King Zhu Changshu (Chew Chunjoe) happened by and fell deeply in love at the first sight of her. He asked her to come away with him to the palace.

Not long after they were married, the king asked Lin Siniang to teach her fighting skills to all the royal concubines. The women enjoyed the fighting and defending so much that they stuck with it and became an all female army.

A terrible drought and famine in the North brought rebels from the Shaanxi (Sha-she) and Shanxi (Shon-She) provinces in search of food. King Zhu failed to take the threats as seriously as he should have and he was taken hostage by the rebels while at his mountain retreat.

Lin Siniang heard of the king’s capture and responded immediately by rallying her army of concubine soldiers together and leading an attack on the rebel army. At first the enemy was confused at being confronted by women and Lin’s army was quite successful at taking out a large number of the rebels.

The women managed to free the king from captivity but the rebel army eventually overpowered the female military until Lin was the only one who remained alive.

She fought off every punch, kick, sword, and spear until she could stand no longer and was struck down by the blow that would take her life.

It would not take long to share the story of Lin Siniang, perhaps a minute or maybe two, but sometimes it is the smaller things in life that can make the biggest impact. Lin Siniang was only fifteen years old when she died leading her self-trained army in a battle to save the king. Such a great conquest on the heals of living as a peasant, a prostitute, and a princess.

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