Speaking at Seneca Falls

The photos (click to enlarge) are from yesterday, July 16, 2017.  Coline Jenkins,, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s great, great granddaughter took them during my speech, at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, NY.  The event was “Convention Days,” the annual celebration of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, called to demand full and equal rights.

In my talk based on my book, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, I included this timely quotation from a speech by  ECS  at a 1898 convention, marking the 50th Anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention:

“The pioneers have brought you through the wilderness in sight of the promised land; now, with active, aggressive, warfare, take possession . . . . Make a brave attack on every obstacle which stands in your way . . . The women in every State should watch their lawmakers, and any bill invidious to their interests should be promptly denounced, and with such vehemence and indignation as to agitate the whole community.”   The second photo I’m standing in front of a slide in my presentation: The plaque  is located on the side of Wesleyan, Chapel, site of the first convention. It reads:  “On this spot stood/ the Wesleyan Chapel, where the first Woman’s Rights Convention/ in the World’s history was held./July 19 and 20, 1848/ Elizabeth Cady Stanton moved this Resolution,/ which was seconded by Frederick Douglass: ‘That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.'”

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Yellow bird

I’m in a writing frenzy, the end stage of finishing a book I’ve been thinking about and gathering material for, for many years.  A little while ago my cell phone rang. I glanced at it – Cesar, my neighbor and garden buddy who doesn’t typically call but his partner is in her 9th month.  I answer: “I hate to bother you. I know you’re really busy writing, but the yellow bird I’ve been telling you about is in your back yard.”  He’s so excited!  And I’m so touched to have a neighbor who calls me about a yellow bird in my backyard. Now, we just have to figure out what it is.

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For those of you who followed my Sophie & Sophie/Grammy Day posts, (search “Sophie”) here is a photographic update:  Sophie, age 13, with her parents, Jonathan and Katrin, June 22, 21017, the day she graduated from 8th grade.

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When I’m writing until the wee hours of the morning, I have a snack of three multi-grain crackers with a glob of crunchy peanut butter and a dab of honey – yummmmyyyy – and I read something different from what I’ve been working on.  Yesterday I read a brief article about dragonflies in the American Museum of National History magazine, “Rotunda”: Just so happened that earlier in the day I photographed a dragonfly on a rock in one of our gardens.   Here’s my pic and cool facts about dragonflies, an insect you’ll undoubtedly see somewhere this summer, at least I hope you do: “Darting over the surface of ponds, lakes, marshes, and streams, they can reach speeds of up to 50 miles an hour . . .Using separate sets of muscles for their four wings, these hunters can hover in one place as long as a minute at a time. They can also fly backward, turn upside down, and pivot 360 degrees . . .mechanical engineers are looking to these animals for clues on how to design small drones. . . .dragonflies also have exceptional eyesight. . . . 30,000 facets full of photoreceptors make it possible for them to see everywhere except directly behind them. Researchers have determined that dragonflies have the capacity to pick out individual prey – mosquitos, moths, and other flying insects – within a crowd.”

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Women Before Us

Writing and doing research today, I discovered the “Great Texas Women” website http://texaswomen.housing.utexas.edu/with the following:

The song, “Standing Before Us,” was discovered by Floyd Hoelting at St. Scholastica Convent in Fort Smith, Arkansas. For decades, this community of Benedictine nuns has sung the song in celebration of those before them. It is used in the gallery with kind permission of the author, Carole Etzler, to honor Texas women who came before us and to remind us of the importance of women to Texas greatness and how they will continue to impact the future of Texas.

“Standing Before Us”

These are the women who throughout the decades
have led us and helped us to know
where we have come from and where we are going,
the women who’ve helped us to grow.

(Chorus) Standing before us, making us strong,
lending their wisdom to help us along,
sharing a vision, sharing a dream,
touching our thoughts,
touching our lives like a deepflowing stream—
touching our thoughts,
touching our lives like a deep-flowing stream.

These are the women who joined in the struggle,
angry and gentle and wise.
These are the women who called us to action,
who called us to open our eyes.

These are the women who nurtured our spirits,
the ones on whom we could depend.
These are the women who gave us their courage,
our mentors, our sisters, our friends.

These are a few of the women who led us.
We know there have been many more.
We name but a few, yet we honor them all,
those women who went on before.



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Robin Red Breast!

Just now I was out on our back deck, working on my manuscript when the robin came to feed her babies in the nest under the eaves of our veranda. I slipped into the house to get my cell phone . . . snapped pictures . . .

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Marie White’s Bearded Irises

Many, many years ago an older woman, an artist, lived across the street from me. We never really talked, just smiled and waved. Then one day she moved away to a nursing home. A year or so later, she called me to ask for a favor . . .

Hello Penny, It’s Marie White, your neighbor from across the street . . . . Do you still have your flower garden in the front of your house?

Hello Marie, I’m so happy to hear from you! Yes, I do . . .

I was wondering: If I bought some Bearded Irises would you grow them in your garden for me, so I can come paint them?

Of course I said “yes”! Several weeks later a box of rhizomes arrived, and I carefully planted them, choosing what I thought would be just the right spot to please a painter.   Marie White died before her Bearded Irises bloomed.  And, in time, I moved to another house with a front yard, where I transplanted Marie White’s Bearded Irises. I just took a break from my marathon writing stint to take a walk in the rain. Here are Marie White’s Bearded Irises in glorious bloom:  Paint them if you like.



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Found Her Purpose in Life

On March 28, 1841, Dorothea Dix found her purpose in life. DlDpicIt was a cold, blustery day when she arrived at the East Cambridge jail in Boston, Massachusetts, to teach Sunday school to the prisoners. But, first, with her characteristic curiosity, she insisted on having a tour of the jail. To her horror she discovered two indigent mentally ill women confined in cages made of rough boards – disheveled, shivering people whose only crime was their illness. No stove heated their bare, filthy pens. Why was there no heat, she asked the jailer. Because “lunatics” don’t feel the cold, he replied. Appalled and outraged, Dorothea Dix launched a campaign to get stoves installed. When the jailer refused her repeated requests, she filed a legal case before the court.  Finally, her friend John Nichols recalled, “Her request was granted. The cold rooms were warmed.”  Were conditions as bad in other jails, she wondered. Where else were indigent, mentally ill people confined? How were they treated? Determined to know, Dorothea Dix set out to conduct an extensive, systematic, and controversial investigation. Outraged by what she found – people “confined in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens . . . chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience” – Dix lead a forty-year crusade for the humane treatment of people with mental illness. Year after year, she traveled thousands of miles by stagecoach, boat, horseback, and railroad to investigate and expose the horrendous conditions. She lobbied legislators, governors, and presidents to change attitudes and provide treatment and facilities.  She took her crusade to Scotland, Italy, and Russia. When she died in 1887, people around the world honored her. “Thus had died and been laid to rest,” one mourner wrote, “the most useful and distinguished woman America has yet produced.”

Dorothea Dix was the subject of my first biography. Given that I had grown up on the grounds of two state mental hospitals, where my father was a psychiatrist, I was deeply motivated to tell the true story of Dorothea Dix’s passionate and profound crusade with contemporary relevance. But then I discovered that she had vehemently refused to allow anyone to write about her. Unable to transgress her dictate but strongly drawn to write pc:dld:91about her, I finally drove to Boston and found her grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery. There, quietly standing, looking at her simple gravestone, the answer came to me – I could write about her crusade. That is why the title of my book is Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix “All alike may suffer,” she once wrote, “the rich and the poor, the young, the mature, and the aged.” Knowing that “all alike may suffer” didn’t make Dorothea Dix give up hope. It didn’t make her quit. Instead it inspired her to alleviate suffering, to overcome it, and to prove that one DLDnewperson can make a difference.’

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When we entered a medical supply store,  the woman standing behind a long counter was focused on putting staples in a stapler. Our approach did not solicit her attention. Aware that the store was closing in ten minutes, I asked, “Do you have a knee sleeve?” Continuing her task, she brusquely replied, “Who’s it for?”  “Me,” I said. Aware that the store was closing in ten minutes, I added, “and if tell me where they are, I’ll go see what you have.”” u can’t!”  Still fussing with the stapler, she snapped, “You can’t.”  “Why not,” I asked. “They’re locked in a closet.” Typically I would have had no patience with someone like that, except I was distracted by her appearance: dark dyed hair, very bright red rouge, very bright red lipstick, an effort, it seemed to camouflage what I guessed to be  her 70+ age.  Back in the car (yes, I got the knee sleeve), Linda and I compared our impressions: “Sour,” said Linda. “Very red rouge,” I said.  The experience prompted me to tell Linda about my ongoing project of compiling physical descriptions from nonfiction sources, e.g. The New Yorker articles.  It has been sometime since I looked at my list, so when we returned home, I opened the file and reviewed it. Here’s one example from each category:

Body, – rattle-boned; Complexion – neither pale nor tan;Hair – unkempt;  Face –  laugh-lined;  Eyes – usually filled with humor, but not today;  Eye Brows – thick, fierce;  Nose – like the prow of a ship;  Mouth – thin, full, curved down;  Cheeks – cheekbones as sharp as knives;  Ears – asymmetic;  Chin – cinder-block;  Smiles- sweet grandmotherly;  Teeth- gleaming;  Voice- the equivalent of a nasal air honk;  Neck – scrawny and ropey;  Personality –  not prone to soapboxes;  Appearance – disheveled

FPcoverAlso when I’m writing about a historic person, I collect descriptions of them written by their contemporaries.  For example here is Arthur Schlesinger, Jr’s  description of Frances Perkins: “Brisk and articulate, with vivid dark eyes, a broad forehead and a pointed chin, usually wearing a felt tricorn hat, she remained a Brahmin reformer, proud of her New England background . . . and intent on beating sense into the heads of those foolish people who resisted progress. She had pungency of character, a dry wit, an inner gaiety, an instinct for practicality, a profound well of religious feeling and a compulsion to instruct . . .”


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Why giving up hope is not an option

“We are carried along by the heroines and heroes who came before and opened the doors of possibility and imagination.”  The quote is by Rebecca Solnit in her essay “Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option” in The Guardian, 3/13/2017.  Although I have a dramatic chapter to finish writing, I took time to read Solnit’s essay:   I highly recommend it: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/13/protest-persist-hope-trump-activism-anti-nuclear-movement

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