What I learned about and from Clover Adams

Last week I wrote about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture commemorating Clover (Marian Hooper) Adams. This week I want to write about Clover Adams, the woman. I don’t want to know and remember her only because of the statue that commemorates her death. I don’t want to know and remember her as the wife of Henry Adams. I definitely do not want to know and remember her only as a woman who committed suicide. But what to remember about her?

Which leads to the ubiquitous question, how did we live before the internet and search engines? I can remember, and it was not pretty. So, I fired up my computer, and searched for Clover Adams’ name. Troll as I might, the findings were slim. And then I came across Natalie Dykstra’s biography of Clover, “Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life.” I struck gold with that find. Here is some of what I learned:

Clover was a practical and quick-witted woman. Henry James described Clover as an ideal specimen of a particular type of American woman: practical, honest, quick thinking with a streak of independence and rebellion. When she was 28, in 1872, she married Henry Adams, who was 5 years older than her. A typical day for the couple included horseback riding in the morning, Henry would take the afternoons for writing, Clover was left to fill that time as she might, then they would serve tea at 5PM for visitors, followed by dinner, and then perhaps an evening ride, a stretch of reading by the fire, dinners with friends or activities supporting various causes.

But Clover battled dark moods throughout her life. She used her wit to maintain perspective and her will to manage people and events around her to suit her needs.

In May 1883, Clover took up photography, both taking and printing her own photographs. She didn’t just take photographs, she made art, and the process changed her life, giving her a new focus and purpose. She reveled in the process: composing the scene, planning and exposing the image, developing the negative, sensitizing the printing paper, making and developing the print—processes that required patience and concentration.

But just as Clover discovered photography as a way to express herself and her creativity, her life started to unravel. Around 1884, Henry evidenced a growing interest in Lizzy Cameron, one of Clover’s friends. It there is no evidence that Lizzy and Henry were ever more than friends, but about that same time Henry began to speak about how he and his wife had grown bored with each other. In April 1885, Clover’s father died. After her father’s death, Clover’s wit deteriorated into sarcasm. By Jul 1885, Clover was profoundly depressed. She lost her appetite and could not sleep. But in late November, she showed signs of improvement and recovery. In early December 1885, Clover committed suicide by drinking from a vial of potassium cyanide, a chemical she used in developing her photographs. The vehicle of her creative release became her pathway to self-destruction.

Clover Adams was a woman who had it all, who had a perfect life rich in family, friends, creativity and the means of enjoying it all. And she stands as a testament to us all that sometimes everything is not enough, that what looks like perfection may in fact be pyrite (fool’s gold).

So, trust your heart, my friends. Be honest with yourself. Stay close to at least a friend or two. When you need some help, ask. Even the hero’s journey includes a mentor/guide/helpmate.

One thing I learned for sure from the Covid years: hugs—warm, cuddly, bear hugs from people you choose—those hugs are precious and life giving.

My encounter with The Peace of God // Grief

On Wednesday February 5, 2020, Washington, DC was enjoying a balmy 50°F, with cloudy skies that were producing an on again off again heavy mist.

(A month later on March 11 the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, on Friday March 13 the President of the United States declared a national emergency, on March 14 CDC issued a “No Sail Order” to all cruise ships, and on March 15 states began to shut down schools, bars, restaurants and places of employment to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We all discovered zoom, grocery shopping online and home food delivery).

But on February 5 was I was blissfully ignorant of what was waiting just beyond the turn of a calendar page.

On that Wednesday, we were on a scavenger hunt looking for Rock Creek Cemetery, and for Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture commemorating Clover (Marian Hooper) Adams.

But why? When I was doing research for my novel, “Letters from Eleanor Roosevelt” I learned that in 1918, during one of the most trying times in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, when she discovered Franklin had been carrying on with someone else, they were living in Washington DC, and she found great solace in Rock Creek Cemetery. Mrs. Roosevelt spent hours gazing at a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in that cemetery.

Henry Adams commissioned the sculpture in memory of his wife, Clover, who committed suicide. In her book, “Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life” Natalie Dykstra says that Henry Adams instructed Augustus Saint-Gaudens to take his inspiration from two sources: Michelangelo’s frescoes of the five seated Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel and images of the Buddha, especially Kwannon, the goddess of mercy. Saint-Gaudens notebook for the sculpture notes: mental repose, calm reflection in contrast with the violence or force of nature, beyond pain, beyond joy.

during one of the most trying times in Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, when she discovered Franklin had been carrying on with someone else, they were living in Washington DC, and she found great solace in Rock Creek Cemetery. Mrs. Roosevelt spent hours gazing at a statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in that cemetery.

The statue is a hooded figure about 6 feet tall, sitting on a rough-hewn granite block, deep in contemplation. The hood of the cloak drapes over all of the figure except the face. A large slab of polished red marble forms a background for the figure. At a bit of a distance away from the statue, there is a marble bench—the bench where Mrs. Roosevelt sat and contemplated the statue and her own future. There is no plaque on the statue, but Henry Adams called it ‘Peace of God,’ but most people know it as ‘Grief.’

The more that I read about the statue, the more I wanted to see it. It took a little time to convince my wife that this might be a worthwhile adventure, but finally, we were on our way in search of Rock Creek Cemetery and the statue. Neither was easy to find. Neither was well marked, but trusty GPS and persistence got us to both. It was worth the effort. The statue is starkly beautiful, cloaked in an aura of mystery, dignity, and solace. I’m glad that we made the trip. The memory of being in the presence of that statue carried me through the months ahead.

But my searching was not finished. I had to know more about Clover Adams. Usually I can uncover a wealth of information on the internet for the women I blog about here. But not so much for Clover (Marion Hooper) Adams. She was not a very public person. But, you have to be asking, then why did she warrant such a very public and grand memorial? Well, therein lies a story.

To be continued next week.

May I introduce Clare Boothe Luce?

My first experience of Clare Boothe Luce was her toast to Eleanor Roosevelt at Mrs. Roosevelt’s 70th birthday party, “Here’s to Eleanor. No woman has ever so comforted the distressed, or so distressed the comfortable.”

I was smitten. Who was this woman who conceived such an eloquent epigram, encapsulating the essence of Mrs. Roosevelt’s life works? I had to know more!

Ah, the power of reading! I learned that Ms. Luce was an American writer, politician, U.S. ambassador, and public conservative figure. Ah, but she was so much more. I learned that Clare Boothe Luce was born on March 10, 1903, in New York city to William Boothe and Ann Clare Snyder. Both of her parents were involved in the theater, and to help pay the bills, young Clare performed in several plays and did not begin her formal schooling until she was 12. As she grew and matured, Ms. Luce became known for her intelligence, wit, and a knack for publicity that, along with her celebrity and beauty, made her a media darling.

As a young adult, Clare set her sights on writing, the publishers of Condé Nast hired her at Vogue. By 1933 she served as the managing editor at Nast’s Vanity Fair magazine. On November 21, 1935, Clare Boothe married Henry R. Luce, founder of TimeLife, and Fortune magazines. Shortly thereafter Clare Boothe Luce came into her own as a successful playwright.

In 1936 she wrote a Broadway hit, The Women, a satire about the lives of Manhattan socialites that features an all-female cast. The play was made into a movie in 1939 starring Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford (and was remade in 2008, featuring Meg Ryan and Annette Bening).

Clare began to develop an interest in politics during the Great Depression. When war broke out in Europe, she toured the world as a Life correspondent and reported on countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa and interviewed such famous people as Nehru and Chiang Kai-Shek.

Her first active participation in Republican politics came with her energetic support of Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential campaign. By 1942, Connecticut political leaders lobbied Luce to run for a U.S. House seat encompassing Fairfield County and the wealthy town of Greenwich, where Luce had a home. Luce based her platform on three goals: “One, to win the war. Two, to prosecute that war as loyally and effectively as we can. Three, to bring about a better world and a durable peace, with special attention to postwar security and employment here at home.”

Luce won a Connecticut U.S. House seat in 1942, despite never having stood for elective office. She served in the House of Representatives for two terms, the 78th Congress (1943–1945), and the 79th Congress (1945–1947). Though she was critical of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), Luce’s internationalist bent led her to back the broad outlines of the administration’s plans for the postwar world. She once described her philosophy as, “America first, but not only.” And, despite her status as a leading GOP spokesperson, Luce voted to support the general outlines of FDR’s foreign policy.

On domestic policy, Congresswoman Luce was centrist. In 1943 she supported the Equal Rights Amendment on the twentieth anniversary of its introduction in the House. Luce also endorsed the development of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, arguing that, “We have always been fighting women and never afraid to do our part.” She advocated a heavy wartime tax on the rich: “those who can afford it, the well-to-do and the rich, must be taxed almost to the constitutional point of confiscation.” 

Republican Party leaders selected Luce as the keynote speaker at the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago, the first woman so honored by either party.

In 1946 Luce introduced a bill to create a Labor Department bureau to ensure women and minority workers equal pay for equal work. Clare Boothe Luce became the first woman ambassador ever appointed to a major diplomatic post. Luce left Italy in 1956 after suffering arsenic poisoning, and in 1959 she was nominated to be Ambassador to Brazil.

In 1973, Richard Nixon named Luce to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. President Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the first woman member of Congress to receive the award.

Clare Boothe Luce died in Washington, DC on October 9, 1987 at age 84 having left her mark on our world, having blazed new trails for the women who would follow stand on her shoulders. She has left us a legacy of strong and sturdy shoulders.

May I introduce Charlotte Perkins Gilman?

Spring is in full bloom and summer is right around the corner. Picnic time is with us. Imagine, if you will, a wide sweeping lawn, with maple and oak trees around the borders that give just enough shade so the sun is not oppressive. Imagine a table set for five. My wife and I, you and your sweetheart, and—and I think this week I would like to invite Charlotte Perkins Gilman to join us.

May I introduce her to you?

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 3, 1860, her mother raised her with the help of Charlotte’s three aunts: Isabella Beecher Hooker, a suffragist; Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and Catharine Beecher, educationalist.

She attended the Rhode Island School of Design, and for a time supported herself as an artist of trade cards (precursors to business cards, with illustrations and information about merchants and their business). She also worked for a time as a painter, a tutor, encouraging others to expand their artistic creativity. During this moment in her life, Charlotte met Martha Luther. Charlotte described their relationship as being: “closely together, increasingly happy together, for four of those long years of girlhood. She was nearer and dearer than any one up to that time. This was love, but not sex … With Martha, I knew perfect happiness …” In these early years of her adult life, Charlotte was happy. Never take happiness for granted.

Charlotte had two husbands and one daughter. Profound postpartum depression followed the birth of her daughter in 1885. Charlotte left much of the raising of their daughter to her first husband, but she maintained an ongoing relationship with her daughter. Charlotte lived life on her own terms, but those terms and that life were not always easy. At one point, Charlotte supported herself by selling soap door to door.

In 1888, she moved to Pasadena, California, with her friend Grace Channing. In Pasadena, her depression began to life. She worked with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and the International Socialist and Labor Congress, and Nationalist Clubs movement (which worked to “end capitalism’s greed and distinctions between classes while promoting a peaceful, ethical, and truly progressive human race”).

In 1890, the Nationalist magazine published her poem “Similar Cases” (a satirical review of people who resisted social change), and that launched her writing career. 1890 was a watershed year for Charlotte. She wrote fifteen essays, poems, a novella, and a short story.

Between June 6 and 7, 1890, in her home in Pasadena, Charlotte wrote the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. The New England Magazine printed it a year and a half later in the January 1892. That short story is now the all-time best-selling book of the Feminist Press. In the story, a man rents a cottage for the summer. His wife is trying to deal with her depression, so he locks her in a bedroom, and she, well, she sort of goes crazy. Maybe. Or maybe she finds an alternate reality. If you have not read The Yellow Wall Paper, just stop what you are doing, go to your local book store (or the Feminist Press web page), buy a copy, sit down and read it. It will creep you out. It will make you angry. And it will inspire you to action! (do be careful, reading can do that!).

The short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, is why I want to invite Charlotte Perkins Gilman to our picnic. I really want to know what motivated her to write this story. What was she thinking? How autobiographical was it?

Please do read it—but not when you are alone. Maybe read it on a sunny summer day, on the beach together with some like-minded friends, so you can talk about it with those friends over some hot dogs and s’mores.

Just to finish Charlotte’s life, she published her first volume of poetry, In This Our World, in 1893 and gained public recognition. She eventually became a successful lecturer and her speeches to activists and feminists became a primary source of income.

In 1932, Charlotte learned she had inoperable breast cancer.

In both her autobiography and a suicide note, she wrote that she “chose chloroform over cancer” and she died quickly and quietly on August 17, 1935. Reflecting on death she said, “Death? Why all this fuss about death? Use your imagination, try to visualize a world without death! Death is the essential condition to life, not an evil.”

May I Introduce Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin

Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin is high on my list of people I wish I could invite to a dinner party. She was a diligent, dedicated, hardworking woman and a world class astronomer.

Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin was born on May 10, 1900, in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England, and died on December 7, 1979 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And oh, what a life she lived in those 79 years. She was the first person to earn a PhD in astronomy from Harvard University. She was the first woman to become a professor in her department and the first woman to become a department chair at Harvard. In 1976, the American Astronomical Society awarded her the Henry Norris Russell Prize, its highest honor, in recognition of her lifetime of excellence in astronomical research.

But the prizes and accolades at the summit belie the obstructions and obstacles in the climb. Gaposchkin began her academic studies in Cambridge, England, in the 1920s. She prohibited from sitting in the same rows of seats as her male classmates. The University prohibited her from receiving a degree. Even though she fulfilled all the requirements, women were only granted ‘certificates.’

In 1923, she moved to the United States and began her studies at Harvard, where she completed her PhD in 1925. Her dissertation showed that helium and hydrogen were the most common elements in the stars and in the universe. That contradicted the scientific consensus of the time, and her findings were highly controversial. Her work was dismissed, and she took on less prestigious, low paying research jobs at Harvard. But she worked, and she worked in her chosen field. (Her discovery was later credited to Henry Norris Russell of Princeton University, who reached the same conclusion by different means. Gaposchkin’s role in the discovery remained in the background for decades.) But she worked, and she worked in her chosen field. Eventually, she claimed some small measure of recognition.

I highly recommend her autobiography for her personal views on her life, and to taste both her brisk style and her ability to communicate both complexity and nuance.

Reflecting on the way her dissertation findings were treated, Gaposchkin said, “I was to blame for not having pressed my point. I had given in to Authority when I believed I was right. That is another example of How Not To Do Research. I note it here as a warning to the young. If you are sure of your facts, you should defend your position.”
When asked for advice, Gaposchkin often said: Do not undertake a scientific career in quest of fame or money. There are easier and better ways to reach them. Undertake it only if nothing else will satisfy you; for nothing else is probably what you will receive. And yet, there is nothing personal in the thunderclap of understanding. The lightning that releases it comes from outside oneself. Your reward will be the widening of the horizon as you climb. Indeed, the reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience. The reward of the old scientist is the sense of having seen a vague sketch grow into a masterly landscape. If you achieve that reward, you will ask no other.

How I wish I could sit with her, share an evening and a glass of wine, and explore the contours of her mind.

I would like you to meet Callie Guy House

Of all the women, living and dead, that I might invite to a dinner party, Mrs. Callie Guy House (Born approximately 186, died 1928) is at the top of my list. Mary Frances Berry introduced me to Mrs. House in her biography of this amazing woman, My Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations. Let me just say right up front, you should go read the book! Mary Frances Berry makes history come alive. She will make you wish you could claim Callie House as your ancestor.

Here are some highlights from Mrs. House’s life story.

Mrs. House was born a slave, died a free woman. She was in Tennessee in January 1865 when William Tecumseh Sherman issued his order for each adult freed male slave to claim 40 acres. She cheered when the Freedman’s Bureau promised each freed man 40 acres and then wept when President Jackson pardoned the rebels and restored their lands to them, taking away the possibility of land for freed slaves.

Along with Mr. Isaiah Dickerson, Mrs. House championed the ex-slave movement. Forty acres and one mule for three hundred years of hard work with no pay—that was not too much to ask. Mrs. House and Mr. Dickerson argued that if the government had the right to free the slaves, then the government had a responsibility to ensure provisions for them. She argued that our government made promises at Emancipation and those promises should be fulfilled.

In 1896, House and Dickerson formed the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association. Mrs. House must have been a force of nature as she held forth on the needs and the rights of the ex-slaves. She traveled all over the south talking to groups of freed slaves. She talked to people who were struggling to keep body and soul together. She listened to people who were turned loose — People who were illiterate, barefooted, and naked without a dollar or a pocket to put it in; people who were free but with no place to go for shelter from the wind and rain. She listened to people who were free from the man who once had the power to whip them to death, but who were still dependent on that same man who now had the power to starve them to death. Today, we argue for freedom as a prized state of being. But for the people Callie House met with, freedom meant loss. The Ex-Slave Association gave them hope. They contributed monthly dues and helped each other out with illnesses and with burials. They sent petitions to Congress. Their petitions went unanswered. 

The late 1890s were many things, but they were not a time of benign neglect. In 1899, the Post Office issued a fraud order against the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association and its officers. The Post Office said that the Association and the officers could no longer use the mail because they were collecting moneys for fraudulent purposes. The Post Office kept obstructing their work. They made it difficult to collect the dues that kept the offices running. They made it difficult to put out newsletters and notices to the members. Even so, the Association found ways to struggle along. They used Wells Fargo and American Express. They used their brothers’ and sisters’ names.

But institutions are resilient and persistent and have power. On August 1916, the police arrested Mrs. House. For 20 years, she exercised her constitutional right to petition the government and taught other ex-slaves to do the same. But the Post Office accused her of using the mail to defraud people. They sent her to prison for a year. Callie House was resilient and persistent. But human beings have limits. By the time she got out of prison, the association was dead. Mrs. House was free, but she was too broken and too tired to do more than take in washing and sewing. She earned barely enough to put food on her plate. It was time for others to take up her cause. It IS time for others to take up her cause.

May I introduce you to Madame Germaine de Staël?


Who would not want to meet a woman born in 1766, who lived until 1817, who not only survived the French Revolution,  and who Napoleon Bonaparte repeatedly sent into exile!

At a dinner party, Madame Germaine de Stael proclaimed, “Ought not every woman, like every man, to follow the bent of her own talents?” Her familynurtured her formation of opinions such as this from a young age. Madame de Stael’s mother, Suzanne Curchod, ran an extremely well-regarded salon in Paris, entertaining such luminaries as Voltaire and Diderot. She was a woman of letters steeped in the liberal principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and well-read in authors such as Montesquieu, Shakespeare and Dante. These experiences strengthened her intellect and encouraged her emotional intensity. She learned to live her life with a wholehearted enthusiasm, and grew to become a popular salonnière in her own right, captivating foreign dignitaries, liberals, nobles, wives, and mistresses. Her dinners included such personages as Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette, Thomas Paine, and Gouverneur Morris (American envoy to Paris).

Madame de Stael supported the French Revolution in its early days and eventually backed the more moderate elements in the Revolutionary cause. During the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille, Madame De Staël remained in Paris. She was protected by her relationship with an ambassador, and continued to hold her salon, which was frequented by moderates and monarchists. After the declaration of the French Republic in September 1792, Madame De Staël tried to flee Paris with her full entourage. The crowd stopped her carriage and forced her to the Paris town hall. Robespierre, an influential figure in the French Revolution interrogated her, but eventually, she was allowed to leave the city with a new passport.

For a time, she was constantly on the move, traveling from France to Sweden, Germany and England. Even while she traveled, she was always writing, as she said, “The search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.”

She is generally recognized as a defender of Republican and liberal values: equality, individual freedom – especially for women, and the limitation of power by constitutional rules. She asserted that “Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man’s power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened.”

Lord Byron who she met in England, described her as Europe’s greatest living writer, ‘with her pen behind her ears and her mouth full of ink’. He also wrote she was ‘sometimes right and often wrong about Italy and England – but almost always true in delineating the heart, which is of but one nation of no country, or rather, of all.’ Sadly, after travelling in Europe and England she returned to Paris only to die in disillusionment, on Bastille Day, July 14, 1817.

Of all that she said and wrote, I will remember her assertion that “In matters of the heart, nothing is true except the improbable. Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time; effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end.”

Ah, yes. Let there be love.

Introducing Bella Savitzky Abzug

Ah, my friends, if you don’t know her, or know about her, let me introduce you to Bella Abzug.  The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about her is ‘hats.’   Before Madeleine Albright claimed pins/ brooches as her signature wardrobe statement piece, Bella Abzug flaunted her hats, “I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.” If you google search images of Bella Abzug, 99.44% of the images show her wearing a hat. Oh, but she was so much more.

The second thing that I think of when I think of Bella Abzug is activism—for civil rights, for feminism, and against the political establishment even as she served the state of New York in the United States House of Representatives for three terms, from 1971 through 1977. She was a woman who spoke her mind, loudly and proudly.  She ran her campaigns on an antiwar, pro-feminist platform with the slogan, “This woman’s place is in the House … the House of Representatives!”

Writer Norman Mailer once described Abzug’s voice as an instrument that “could boil the fat off a taxicab driver’s neck.” She knew that her personality irritated some and inspired others, but Abzug had a backbone of titanium. In response to Mailer she said, “I’ve been described as a tough and noisy woman, a prize fighter, a man-hater, you name it. They call me Battling Bella, Mother Courage, and a Jewish mother with more complaints than Portnoy. There are those who say I’m impatient, impetuous, uppity, rude, profane, brash, and overbearing. Whether I’m any of these things or all of them, you can decide for yourself. But whatever I am—and this ought to be made clear from the outset—I am a very serious woman.”

And that my friends is what I want to be when I grow up—a very serious woman, with a clear sense of self, and an steadfast sense of humor.

A few facts:

1920, July 24 Born Bella Savitzky in the Bronx, New York.

1944 (maybe 1945?) Married Martin Abzug. They raised 2 daughters.

1942 Earned a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College

1947 Earned her LLB (law degree) from Columbia University Law School

Early 1950s (During the McCarthy era) she was one of the few attorneys willing to fight against the House Un-American Activities Committee.

1961 cofounded Women Strike for Peace, a group that protested the nuclear arms race and, later, the American military commitment in Vietnam.

1970 ran for political office—she was 50.

1974 the first national legislator to introduce a bill to increase the rights of gay Americans; the bill proposed amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual or affectional preference.”

1990 co-founded the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), an international activist and advocacy network.

1998, March 16—gave her final public speech before the UN in March.

1998, March 31— after battled breast cancer, died on in New York City from complications following open heart surgery.

Here’s a bit of Bella Abzug in her own words:

Women’s struggle for equality worldwide is about more than equality between men and women. Our struggle is about reversing the trends of social, economic, political, and ecological crisis a global nervous breakdown! Our struggle is about creating sustainable lives and attainable dreams.  

I always had a decent sense of outrage.  

Women have been trained to speak softly and carry a lipstick. Those days are over.

We are coming down from our pedestal and up from the laundry room.  

Maybe we weren’t at the Last Supper, but we’re certainly going to be at the next one. 

The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes.

 Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.

Meet Anne Bradstreet Poet of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

This week I would like to introduce you to Anne Bradstreet. She was the first writer in the North American colonies to be published, the most prominent of the English poets in North America, and the first Puritan figure in American literature. That is a lot of firsts for anyone, and she was also a woman and a mother.  Anne Bradstreet was born March 20, 1612 and lived about 60 years until September 16, 1672.

Anne Bradstreet was born in Northampton, England. She did not attend school, but she was born to well to do parents and was educated by her father and by reading extensively from the libraries of her father’s associates. She was married by the time she was 16. Two years later she and her husband and her parents migrated to North America where they were founding members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She was mother to 8 children, ran her household, attended to the duties associated with being a wife and daughter to public officials; and she wrote poetry. Her first collection, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was widely read in America and England.

On the surface her life was triumphantly successful. But like everywoman she struggled – with the privations of life in the colonies, with the demands of motherhood, with the religious and emotional conflicts she experienced as a woman and a writer and as a Puritan. Her poems examine sin and redemption, physical and emotional frailty, death and immortality as well as her conflict between the pleasures of sensory and familial experience and the promises of heaven. As a Puritan knew she should relinquish her attachment to the world, its people and things; but as a woman her attachments to her husband and children were powerful.

Remember Anne Bradstreet lived in the same era as the exiled Anne Hutchinson. She must have felt the conflicting demands of piety and poetry, the social expectation of respectability and the literary call to daring. She live in a time and place that was hostile to personal autonomy and valued poetry only if it praised God.

Anne Bradstreet in her own words:

  • Youth is the time of getting, middle age of improving, and old age of spending; a negligent youth is usually attended by an ignorant middle age, and both by an empty old age.
  • Authority without wisdom is like a heavy ax without an edge — fitter to bruise than polish.
  • I am obnoxious to each carping tongue who says my hand a needle better fits.
  • Fire hath its force abated by water, not by wind; and anger must be allayed by cold words, and not by blustering threats.
  • If we had not winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.
  • Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.

It is Women’s History Month: Celebrating Anna Maria van Schurman, a Strong Women

Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678) was a philosopher and a Dutch polymath. She spoke more than a dozen ancient and modern languages when women were officially excluded from colleges, universities and intellectual academies, when women were rarely given any formal education at all. That her genius was recognized is all the more remarkable.

She was neither a traditional Aristotelian philosopher nor a modern scholar who challenged the Aristotelians, but in expressing her views on contemporary scholasticism in depth correspondence with leading intellectual figures of her day, she charted her own unique path. And, her path was to articulate a breath of arguments advocating women’s education.

Anna Maria van Schurman demonstrated her intellect through her linguistic abilities. She was fluent in ancient languages such as Hebrew, Greek and Latin and in modern languages such as English, French, German. She was also a poet, a philosopher, an embroiderer, and a painter.

Some have divided Anna Maria van Schurman’s life into two periods: an early time of learning, philosophy, painting, and literature, and a later era of religious conviction and the rejection of her previous secular ways. But there is a thread of unity that weaves together both periods: throughout her long life, van Schurman was a woman of great conviction, and also a confident and independently minded person. She very deliberately did not allow the gender norms of her day to prevent her from achieving a deep education and a level of intellectual fame that was simply remarkable for any woman.

She was an inspiration and mentor to many men and women, including Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, and a challenging debater for many others, including Descartes. In her later life, she was an inspiration and mentor to many people who sought a new form of religious life, including most prominently the famous Quaker William Penn.

If you are hankering to learn more about this trail blazing woman, check out: annamariavanschurman.org