Once upon a time, in New York, not far from where I live in New Jersey, a baby girl known as Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery to a Dutch-speaking master. She was auctioned off at the age of nine with a herd of sheep for $100 to a cruel English-speaking master who beat her for not understanding his instructions, leaving life-long scars on her body. Twice more she was sold. Then in 1826, when her master refused to honor his promise to free her a year before all adult slaves were to be freed in New York, she escaped with her baby daughter Sophie. Discovering that her five-year-old son Peter had been illegally sold to an out-of-state slave owner, she filed a lawsuit and won. About that time, she had a conversion experience and took the name, she said, God gave her–Sojourner Truth. In 1843, at the age of 43, she set out to witness against slavery and for women’s rights. A towering, majestic, fearless presence, Sojourner Truth was a passionate advocate for freedom and equality. I’ve visit a number of landmarks honoring Sojourner Truth. Most recently this extraordinary memorial to her in Esopus, New York, a hamlet in the town of Port Ewen, NY, the area just west of the Hudson River, where she spent almost thirty years as a slave. The bronze statue, by Trina Green, represents her as a girl. There are welts on her hands and back representing the beatings she endured. The jar represent the work she did for one of her masters, who owned a tavern, of carrying heavy jars of molasses and liquor long distances. The following images are: historical marker at Sojourner Truth Memorial “Sojourner Truth Daughter of Esopus”: Home of Martinus Schryver, a tavern owner who bought Isabella in 1808; Van Wagnen House, where Isabella sought refuge when she escaped with her infant daughter Sophie in 1826; Photograph and advertisement for Sojourner Truth, who sold her photograph and her Narrative to support her travels under the slogan “I sell the Shadow to Support the Substance; 1808 Inventory of the Estate of Charles Hardenburgh, who had inherited Isabella from his father, her original owner. This is the first official record of Isabella, whose value is listed at $100. Her mother, Bett, and brother Peet, are also listed.
Here’s a link to the National Women’s History Project’s list of January birthdays and events. In scanning it, I noted that I’ve photographed landmarks for five of the women–Lucretia Mott, Zora Neale Hurston, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, Julia Morgan. I have an autographed photo of Dolly Parton (how I got it is a story for another day), and for years I’ve had this quote by Barbara Tuchman posted above my computer: “Whether biography or a straight history, the writer’s object is–or should be–to hold the reader’s attention . . .want the reader to turn the page and to keep on turning to the end.” The photo is of Zora Neale Hurston’s grave in the Garden of the Heavenly Rest, Fort Pierce, Florida. http://www.nwhp.org/events/january/
Writing about Louise Boyd, the Arctic Explorer who was passionate about ice, in my book Adventurous Women: Eight True Stories About Women Who Made a Difference, whet my appetite for experiencing a glacier. A helicopter with me aboard landed on West Fork Glacier in Alaska. Thrilling!!!!!
Boston, MA: Friday night, I unexpectedly got to see the marvelous exhibition “Fiber Sculpture 1960-Present” at The Institute of Contemporary Art. The photo is of “Sistah Paradise’s Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent,” 1993-2009, acrylic and cotton yarn, by Xenobia Bailey. The story is a parable about Sistah Paradise, a fictional African medicine woman, or “Obeah.” A slave on a cotton plantation, she uses the cotton to crochet a magic tent, in which, after entering and drinking tea, slaves will be transported back to Africa. The exhibition notes explain that “Sistah Paradise remains behind to help future generations rediscover their origins and establish a sense of collective identity.” Straining to read text that I noticed on the lower back of the tent, I was rescued by the guide, Love Aridou, who had a written copy and read to me: “She clearest my path, and prepares a blissful sanctuary in the presence of my enemies. She protects me with her gaze streaming from a treasure house of abundant grace.”
Woke up reflecting on 2014, the year two more grandchildren joined our family–now 10-month-old Quinn & Balan, (born to one of my twins on his birthday)! The photo is from a celebatory Labor Day weekend with my brother Kip and his family in Bemus Point, NY: l-r: Ursula, Steve, Jonathan, David with Quinn, Sophie, me, Linda, Nickie with Balan, Katrin, Kip, Ford, Ana, Lisa, Joyce. With best wishes for 2015–Onward!!!
Posted in Musings
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.