I’m working on a talk about how I get to “know” the historical people I write about. One way is doing research regarding experiences, descriptions, accounts from a contemporary of the person. Here’s a telling account about an almost seventy-year-old Susan B. Anthony by Anna Howard Shaw: “Seeing, as in a vision, the figure of ‘Aunt Susan’ as she slipped into my hotel room in Chicago, late one night after an evening meeting of the International Council. I had gone to bed–indeed, I was almost asleep when she came, for the day had been as exhausting as interesting. . .She had a great deal to say, she declared, and she proceeded to say it–sitting in a big easy-chair near the bed, with a rug around her knees, while I propped myself up with pillows and listened. Hours passed and the dawn peered wanly through the windows, but still Miss Anthony talked of the Cause, always of the Cause–and what we two must do for it. . .Suddenly she stopped, looked at the gas-jets paling in the morning light that filled the room, and for fleeting instant seemed surprised. In the next she had dismissed from her mind the realization that we had talked all night. Why should we not talk all night? It was part of our work. She threw off the enveloping rug and rose. ‘I must dress now,’ she said, briskly. ‘I’ve called a committee meeting before the morning session.’”
More of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter Margaret’s observations of life with ECS & SBA at ECS’s home in Tenafly, NJ: “In the evening, with a bright wood fire on the hearth, they plot and plan, in their easy chairs, work enough ahead to keep them busy, if they should live to be the age of Methuselah. I notice they never contend in the evenings . . . .Often we read aloud the scourgings and criticisms they get in letters and papers, at which they cooly laugh, no matter from what quarter they come. So long as they are at peace with each other, what others think or say seems to trouble them very little.”
So how Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony resolve disagreements during their intense collaboration on vol. 3 of the monumental “History of Woman Suffrage”? ECS’s daughter Margaret who was living with them at the time observed: “Susan is punctilious on dates, mother on philosophy, but each contends as stoutly in the other’s domain as if it were her own particular province. Sometimes these disputes run so high that down go the pens, and one sails out one door and one out the other. And then, just as I have made up my mind that this beautiful friendship of 40 years has at last terminated, I see them, arm in arm, walk down the hill to a seat where we often go to watch the sun set in all his glory. When they return, they go straight to work where they left off as if nothing had happened. I never hear another word on that point.”
One more photo from Val-Kill, a wall display with words of wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt:
Linda and I spontaneously took off today on a women’s history road trip to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Park, Hyde Park NY. Displays were organized around ER as a Journalist, Activist, Diplomat, Party Leader, Educator, Grandmother. We also found a Sojourner Truth landmark that I knew about but hadn’t photographed yet. Best of all! We serendipitously discovered a fantastic new memorial to Sojourner Truth that I’ll write about next week. A totally wonderful day!! Here are words of wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt: Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.
Thanksgiving Day has a mother, a proper Victorian women, arguably one of most powerful magazine editors in the mid-1800s–Sarah Josepha Hale, a woman who was widowed and “left poor” shortly before the birth of her fifth child. Of medium height with a high forehead, heart-shaped face, small hands and feet, Sarah Josepha Hale had a smile that, it was said, “broke slowly, ended in a flash.” For forty years she ceaselessly campaigned for the establishment of a National Thanksgiving, at a time when Americans had only two national holidays to celebrate: Washington’s birthday in February and the Fourth of July. “These are patriotic and political,” she wrote, “Are not the sounds of war borne on the breezes of those festivals? . . . .Should not the women of America have one festival in whose rejoicings they can fully participate?” Her relentless efforts finally resulted in President Lincoln resuming a precedent established by Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison of issuing a Proclamation of Thanksgiving, “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” In 1876, the centennial anniversary of the United States, Hale wrote: “It is a holiday especially worthy of our people. All its associations and all its influences are of the best kind. It unites families and friends. It awakens kindly and generous sentiments. It promotes peace and good-will among our mixed population . . .” I suspect Sarah Josepha Hale would not be entirely pleased at being represented by this item sold by the New Hampshire Historical Society– a bobblehead labeled “Mother of Thanksgiving,” but here it is, along with a marker located in Newport, NH.
4th topic with the questions I asked in Thanksgiving: The True Story about how to connect Thanksgiving Day to the world outside my dining room table: “Questions about the wider community: How do other people spend Thanksgiving? What do they eat? What do they do? Are they surrounded by friends and family? Are they at the Day of Mourning in Plymouth? Are they involved in an activity that promotes peace and goodwill in the world?” The image is a cartoon by Thomas Nast celebrating diversity and political equality (Nov. 22, 1869 issue of Harper’s Weekly). Uncle Sam is standing carving the turkey. Columbia, a benevolent symbol of America, is depicted with a tiara. A diverse group of people are seated around the table, including Chinese, Arab, African, Italian, Spanish, Irish, Native American. The centerpiece touts “Self-Government” and “Universal Suffrage.” The portraits from left to right: Presidents Lincoln, Washington, and Grant. Behind Uncle Sam is a painting of Castle Garden with the word “Welcome”, the entry point for immigrants in Manhattan. “Come One Come All” and “Free and Equal” flank the title “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner.”
3rd topic: “Questions about how we spend Thanksgiving: Preparing the food? Savoring the feast? Going to parades or football games? Watching television? Playing intergenerational games? Talking? Walking? Volunteering at a food pantry or homeless shelter?” The image is of a group of ragamuffins, a Thanksgiving Day tradition from the early to mid-1900s. Dressed in clothes they borrowed from their parents or older siblings with dirt smeared on their face or wearing a mask, and their hair tucked under a cap, children would go door-to-door asking: “Got anything for Thanksgiving?” Over the course of giving talks about “Thanksgiving: The True Story” I’ve met people who remember being ragamufffins, most recently an 87-year- old man who said he and his friends would dress up and sing in the courtyard of their apartment building. “People would throw pennies, probably to shut us up,” he said.
Thankfulness is the second topic for the questions I asked in Thanksgiving: The True Story, about how to connect Thanksgiving Day to the world outside my dining room table. My questions are: When are we thankful? Just on Thanksgiving? Just when something good happens? Every day? For what are we thankful? Family and friends? Material objects? Good health? A four-day holiday? The people who prepared our feast? To whom or what are we thankful–to God, to another person, to luck, to an unknown entity? What do you think about thankfulness? The 39-cent stamp was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2001.
Writing my book “Thanksgiving: The True Story” prompted me to think about how to connect Thanksgiving Day to the world outside my dining room table. One way, I concluded in my book, is to ask questions around 4 topics: the food on our table, thankfulness, activities, and wider community. Here is the first topic: “Questions about the food on our table. Where does our food come from? How will climate change affect our food supply? How can we make sure agriculture is sustainable? What can we do about poverty and hunger here and around the world?” Please feel free to add your own questions, answers, topics, etc. Before Thanksgiving, I’ll post the other questions, plus tell you the story about the Mother of Thanksgiving. p.s. The turkeys on the book cover are eating their Thanksgiving dinner at a Farm Sanctuary.