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.

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.

A message from the Amazons to the Women of the Future

Dear Women of the Future,

We are Penthesilea and Hippolyta. We are Andromache and Antiope. You know us as queens and ruthless warriors. You know us wrongly. Those who control the present have rewritten the past to suit their wants and needs. We are the Mothers. We are a nation of women. We are leaders. We are healers. We are creators. We are weavers and potters. We farm and tend our herds. We are skilled in weapons and wisdom. We are as strong and resilient as need be. And we stand in combat as need be.

You know us as the daughters of Ares, the god of war. We are the daughters of Artemis, goddess of hunting, wild nature, and chastity. We are the daughters of Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and peace, and spinning and weaving. We are who we are, a tribe, a nation of self-sufficient women who stand with strength and pride, and care for our own.

We, the Amazons, are the wild women who inhabit the wild places. Freedom feeds our souls, death trembles before our deeds. We write our holy books, we shape our rules and rituals, we craft heaven from the holiness of our hearts, lives and love.

We the Amazons say to you Women of the Future, choose your battles with the wisdom of your heart, mind and soul. Never give up. Learn each day. Each day do your best to the betterment of your craft and hearth. Face your fears with trembling knees and courage; nature may taunt us with our weakness; our destiny may be poured by a measure beyond our understanding; and yet, goodness will triumph in the end.

Good Women of the Future, you are now the scribes! Take up your words, reclaim the vision of our wisdom, and let our dream and our deeds fade no more. Good Women of the Future, through your actions and voice, the songs of the Amazons, the creativity and courage of wild and willful women will echo ever more symphonically through the valleys of eternity.

(with thanks to Anne Fortier for the inspiration of her book, The Lost Sisterhood)

A message from Alice Paul to the women of the future

Dear Women of the Future,

Wake up girls! There is too much at risk to be napping or resting on our laurels!! Do you not realize how much we who went before you have sacrificed? Do you not realize how long and hard we labored to build the foundations for women’s rights upon which you now stand?

But wait, this is not the tone I intended to take. I do not mean to be a shrew or a nagging elder, but to shine a light on the wealth of opportunities within which you bask. I mean to encourage you to invest in those opportunities, to develop them, to see them grow and multiply.

To those whom much is given, from them much is expected. I know this. I was a child of wealth and opportunity, born in Mount Lauren Township, New Jersey in 1885. I was able to attend Swarthmore College and then I completed my postgraduate studies at the New York School of Social Work. I was even able to study social work further in England where I participated in the women’s suffrage movement. Oh how that shaped and sharpened my skills on protesting tactics. When I returned to the US, I earned a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, rounding out my credentials. But more importantly, I soon joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association and eventually started my own organization, the National Woman’s Party.

All in all, I have devoted my life to the cause of women’s equality. There are goals yet to be achieved, but our achievements warrant celebration. In 1878 we introduced an amendment to the United States constitution to grant women suffrage, which is to give women the right to vote. In 1878, we women of America proclaimed that America was not a democracy, not when twenty million women are denied the right to vote.

We worked long and hard to gain attention and support for our cause. We organized protests outside the White House, which had never been done before. Our group became known as the Silent Sentinels. We continued our protests continued even when the country was preparing for World War I. After all, when you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row. Many of us were jailed multiple times during the protests, we went on hunger strike, and some of us were force fed via a tube. But our determination for equality eventually gained public and political support.

We kept at our work until the amendment was passed by the House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, by the Senate on June 4, 1919. Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin ratified the amendment within days.  By March 1920 35 states had ratified the amendment, but a core of southern states rejected it. It came down to Tennessee. And the outlook was not good. The vote in the state legislature was 48 to 48. A tie. One representative was yet to vote – Harry T. Burn, a 23 year old Republican, who was known to oppose the amendment. But, his mother wrote to him:  “Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt (Carried Chapman Catt) put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” He honored his mother’s wish, voted yes, and the 19th Amendment was ratified by the required 36 states on August 18, 1920, and certified on August 26, 1920.

The Nineteenth Amendment simply says: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

I have long believed that there really is nothing complicated about ordinary equality. So, once the vote was secured, we took up the work for a women’s Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution. I could not help but take the next step in our journey to equality out of a feeling of loyalty to our own sex and an enthusiasm to have every degradation that was put upon our sex removed.  I know if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it. It is not for me to judge the choices of other women, after all, courage in women is often mistaken for insanity. 

Dear women of the future, it is time for you to put your hearts, minds and hands to the plow, to take up the work of women’s equality.  How much longer must women wait to get their liberty? Let us have the rights we deserve.

(the above includes a number of quotes from Alice Paul, woven together and elaborated with words from my heart.)

A message from Abigail Adams to the women of the future

Perhaps you will remember me as the wife of the second president of the newly formed United States of America. I would rather you knew me as I was, a woman who thought deeply and who acted with care. The times of my life placed many limits on the actions and engagements of women. But I believe the women of my time stretched and strained those limits to the best of our abilities.

Our times were times of greatness and of grief. They were times of hope and of desolation. They were times in which a genius would wish to live. Your era has said, ‘keep calm and carry on.’ I think that a calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Humans were made for action and for bustle too, I believe. Indeed, it is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. It formed the habits of a vigorous mind in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. All history will convince you of this, and that wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement and leisure. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.

But let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act. No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience and perseverance.

I beseeched my husband and the men of my time to remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than their ancestors. I urged them to not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands; to remember, all men would be tyrants if they could; to remember that members of your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of master for the more tender and endearing one of friend. I cautioned them that if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Well, my entreaties went unheard. To you women of the future, I say, if we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you, I know, have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the sentiment. If much depends upon the early education of youth and if the first principals which are instilled take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women. Even while I argue that knowledge is a fine thing, remember that while mother Eve thought so as well, she smarted so severely for hers. Most of her daughters have been afraid of it since. Women of the future, set aside that fear. Take up your books. Take up your lives of action. Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence. To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of human beings, comprised in a few words. Learn each day. Each day, do your best, for your soul, for your family, for your community.

(the above is a collection of quotes from Abigail Adams, woven together and elaborated with words from my heart.)

Thinking about Ruth and David and Christmas

Tis the season, and so I find my thought turning to scriptures and relationships. I mean, this is the moment when many folks celebrate the birth of Jesus, right? I got to thinking, Jesus was a descendent of David—that was what got Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. And David was the son of Jesse, the grandson of Obed and the great grandson of Ruth.

Now my brain does two things with that.

First, Ruth is one of my favorite People of the Book – Ruth of Ruth and Naomi. And that is what this blog is really about.

But second, there is Ruth my sister, and it occurs to me that I have finally recognized Ruthie’s claim to Christmas. You see, when we were really, really little kids, Ruthie would get miffed, because everyone said “Mary Christmas” (who knew for spelling), and not “Ruthie Christmas”.  But think about it, if it weren’t for Ruth and David and the line of their offspring, there would be NO Christmas! So, “Ruthie Christmas” one and all!!

But back to the other Ruth, of Ruth and Naomi. You might remember that Ruth was from Moab, but she married into a Hebrew family.  After a very little while, all of the men in that family died, leaving Ruth, her sister in law Orpah, and their mother in law Naomi widows. Orpah decided to go back to her people. But Ruth said she would stay with Naomi.

Now, Ruth didn’t just say, “Hey Naomi, look, I know you are getting on in year, so I will hang around and help you out.” Oh, no, nothing like that at all. What Ruth said was something more like, “Oh, Naomi, do not ask me to leave you or to not follow you. Dearest Naomi, where ever you go I will go. Where ever you live, there I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where ever you die, I will die, and there also I will be buried. May the lord smite me and more also if anything but death ever parts me from you.”

Now, I’m here to tell you, that is one holy and powerful assertion of love! Indeed, it is a vow of love that has been borrowed and used in many heterosexual wedding ceremonies. So, let us remember that it was first and foremost an assertion of love between two women – two women of the bible who then went on to live a long term committed loving relationship together, a relationship that was acknowledged and blessed by their community.  Two women who have a book of Holy Scripture dedicated to them.

And let us also remember that genealogically, Ruth, one of those two women, is the Great Grandmother of King David, the ancestor of Jesus the Christ whose birth we celebrate shortly! Now this, I think is something to remember, and something for all women who love women to celebrate!!

On Seeing an Apparition of Millicent Fenwick

The other day we were driving through Bernardsville and I noticed a statue of a woman in a little park near the railroad station. Now we have driven down that street often enough that I should have noticed the statue before, but nope, this was my first time noticing it.  I thought I knew who it was, but I wasn’t sure. So, we had to pull the car over so that I could explore. The statue captured a woman just about mid stride, with her arms wide open, ready to embrace the world. That woman in that place could only be one person, and indeed it is Millicent Fenwick. All that was missing was the pipe! (And I later learned that if I had looked more carefully I would have seen the outline of the infamous pipe in her jacket pocket.)

If you are not from Central New Jersey, you are probably saying, “who on earth is Millicent Fenwick? She is the politician with the pipe. She is ‘outhouse Millie’ for her work to secure better working conditions (including sanitary facilities) for migrant workers. She was the Katharine Hepburn of politics.

Mrs. Fenwick was widely known for her wit, zest and idiosyncrasies like her pipe. The story goes that her doctor told her to quit smoking cigarettes and so she took up the pipe.  She has been described as tall and patrician, but down-to-earth. She was the inspiration for Garry Trudeau’s Lacey Davenport character in his “Doonesbury” cartoons.

Mrs. Fenwick came to politics as something of a second career. Before politics, she modeled briefly for Harper’s Bazaar, then worked as a writer and editor at Vogue magazine and compiled “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette” (Simon & Schuster, 1948), which sold a million copies. Her first election was to the New Jersey State Legislature at the age of 59 and then to the US Congress at 64.

Mrs. Fenwick was a lifelong Republican, but she was a woman of her own mind. Even while she was strong willed, she often charmed her ideological adversaries. Her advocacy included a wide variety of issues such as civil rights, peace in Vietnam, aid for asbestos victims, help for the poor, prison reform, strip-mining controls, reduction of military programs, urban renewal, campaign spending limits, gun control and restrictions on capital punishment, and establishing a mechanism to monitor compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords on human rights.

Walter Cronkite dubbed her the “Conscience of Congress.” She was a strong voice of honesty, integrity, and ethics. When congress voted itself a raise, she thought it improper to give yourself a raise, so, she wrote checks to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse the government for those pay raises members. Not only that, she returned more than $450,000 to the U.S. Treasury in unspent office expenses. She was, not surprisingly, opposed to PAC money and she practiced what she preached. She advocated for campaign finance reform and refused to accept any PAC money.

In 1983, after she lost a race for the US Senate, President Ronald Reagan appointed Mrs. Fenwick as the first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in Rome. It was the perfect ending to a 50-year career in public service that began with the local school board and ended in a country for which she felt at home and where her brother-in-law was an Italian Count. Fenwick’s fluency in Italian and French, and passion for the issues, served her well at the FAO.

In 1987 Fenwick returned home to Bernardsville, New Jersey. It is there that she was raised, and there that she died in her sleep in 1992, at the age of 82 years old.

Those are some of the facts as I have teased them out from various web sources and from Amy Shapiro’s book, ‘Millicent Fenwick her way.’

For all of the facts, my favorite Millicent Fenwick bit of trivia is this slightly apocryphal attribution to her debating skills: In a debate over equal rights for women, Mrs. Fenwick once recalled that a male legislator said: “I just don’t like this amendment. I’ve always thought of women as kissable, cuddly and smelling good.” To which she replied: “That’s the way I feel about men, too. I only hope for your sake that you haven’t been disappointed as often as I have.”

Oh, and the statue? It was first unveiled in 1995. At that time it was the first outdoor statue of a woman in New Jersey – and one of the first in the country. In 1996 a statue honoring Eleanor Roosevelt was unveiled in Riverside Park in New York City. But by and large most statues of women in the United State are of mythological figures.

Ah, Millie we miss you. We so need your wit, wisdom and integrity.