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Writing Process

I wrote my last blog four months ago; proof I guess of what I wrote in my forthcoming chapter “On Writing: One Writer’s Perspective” (in Keep Literature Alive! edited by Susan Lehr): “Whenever I talk or write about my writing process, I hasten to point out the following: a) What works for me will not necessarily work for someone else, and b) My process is contrary to much of the conventional advice put forth for writers. For example, I do not write everyday.”

I flipped back through my date book to see what I’ve been doing: teaching at Queens College, The City University of New York; doing research for my next book project that I’ve nicknamed Thunderbolts which is short for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Friendship That Changed the World; and cherishing my Sophie-Days, i.e. the day-a-week when my granddaughter and I take off on an adventure together–a trip to the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the New Jersey Children’s Museum, bookstores, parks; reading a stack of books; drawing; and, of course, talking about this that and everything.

Then there was the enormous amount of time I spent creating PowerPoint presentations for my intense Spring speaking schedule in diverse venues, e.g. Federal Bureau of Prisons, Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission; and the University of Maine.

Celebrating Women: Life Lessons From Our Foremothers is the title of one of my PowerPoint presentation. It is based on what I’ve learned from years of immersing myself in writing women’s history.

First, I’ve learned that women’s history is everywhere–pay attention and you’ll find it in monuments and plaques, etc.; in the names on street signs, schools, parks, museums, theaters etc.; in archives, historical societies, etc. When I find concrete examples of women’s history, I photograph it. My extensive archive includes statues of historical women and sculptures by women sculptors, gravestones, primary source documents, plaques and monuments, etc..

Second, I’ve learned that historical women offer us indispensable life lessons.

Using my photographs to illustrate life lessons from historical women, I created Celebrating Women: Life Lessons from Our Foremothers. My narration with the images is a mix of travelogue, memoir, and biography that entertains, informs and inspires audiences. This presentation is full of surprises and great fun to do. As always, I meet great people and learn from audience members(see my previous entry On Women’s History. In Maryland, I spent time with Edith Michel, the dynamic chief of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. She introduced me to Carole Bergmann, a forest ecologist, who generously showed me the way to Rachel Carson’s house, a women’s history site I’ve long wanted to visit and photograph.

More Women’s History Sites

In late April I drove to Maine to keynote the First Annual Nonfiction Institute at the University of Maine. (More about that exciting event in another entry). On the way, I stopped in Dover, New Hampshire, to learn about the pioneering 19th century lawyer, freethinker, and suffragist Marilla Ricker and to photograph her house.

Dover, NH, is the site of another women’s history event that I wrote about in my book, Strike: The Bitter Struggle of American Workers from Colonial Times to the Present: “In 1828 the first women millworkers struck on their own in Dover, New Hampshire, to protest new factory rules that included fines for begin late, no talking on the job, mandatory church attendance, and a requirement that workers give two weeks notice before leaving the mill. If they left without giving enough notice, they would be blacklisted. Newspapers from Maine to George reported how several hundred women paraded through Dover with banners and flags. The citizens of Dover were shocked. The mill owners advertised for ‘better behaved women’ to replace the strikers. Faced with losing their jobs, the women returned to work without gaining anything. Their leaders were fired and blacklisted.” (p. 16) There’s a picture of the Sawyer Woolen Mills in Dover, New Hampshire in the early 1800’s on p 17

Women’s History Road Trip

On May 30, my partner and I took off on a women’s history road trip, the most productive ever! Here’s our itinerary with highlights from a few spots, including two fabulous independent bookstores.

May 30 Route 9W (NJ), cross the Tappan Zee Bridge; Route 684(NY) to Route 7 (MA) to West Stockbridge, MA

May 31 Route 7 (MA) to Route 9 (VT) to Brattleboro, VT Located and Photographed: Stockbridge, MA: Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman’s gravestone; Her epitaph reads: ELIZABETH FREEMAN Known by the name of MUMBET died Dec. 28, 1820 Her supposed age was 85 Years She was born a slave and remained a slave for nearly thirty years. She could nei- ther read nor write yet in her own sphere she had no superior nor equal. She nei- ther wasted time nor property. She never violated a trust, nor failed to perform a duty. In every situation of domes- tic trial she was the most effi- cient helper and the tenderest friend. Good mother fare well.

Stockbridge, MA: The Norman Rockwell Museum Rockwell’s iconic painting, “Rosie” for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, May 29, 1943, is on the cover of my book Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II. The original cover is on display (the painting is in a private collection). Rockwell’s paintings based on Franklin Roosevelt’s speech outline the Four Freedoms are on display. Because my forthcoming book is Thanksgiving: The True Story, I was particularly interested in seeing the one titled: “Freedom from Want.” Rockwell illustrated this freedom by painting the serving of a turkey at a Thanksgiving Day dinner.

Lenox, MA: Edith Wharton’s estate and gardens, “The Mount”

Williamstown, MA: The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, now called The Clark. Historically, women, both unmarried, partnered, widowed and married, have played important roles as philanthropists, and still do. Adams, MA: Susan B. Anthony’s birthplace Plaque reads: Born here February 15, 1820 She devoted her life to securing equal rights for women. She died in Rochester, New York March 13, 1906. Wilmington, VT: Molly Stark’s Statue Plaque on base of statue reads: Elizabeth Page “Molly” Stark, 1737-1814 Wife of General John Stark, mother of 11 children, homemaker, patriotic defender of the household. Her love, courage, and self-reliance were constant virtues among the many hearty women of frontier New England’s 18th century towns. This strength and devotion to husband, home and family were virtues that sustained her, as well as so many women and their families during those times when husbands were called to duty for their country in the constant French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution. Molly Stark was General Stark’s inspiration in his victory over the forces of Great Britain in the Battle of Bennington on August 16, 1777, when he announced to his men, “The enemy are ours or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow.” General Stark’s victory march from Bennington to his home, his beloved Molly, and their family in New Hampshire is thought to be the same path of Vermont’s Route 9, which was recognized in 1936 as “The Molly Stark Trail” and was officially named as such by the State of Vermont in 1967.

Wilmington, VT: Betty Wolf’s black marble Bench Inscription with laser engraved picture of Wolf on the bench reads: Betty Wolf In honor of your 56 years of service to the Deerfield Valley. Nurse Extraordinaire, School Board Chairman, Founder and Trustee of the Deerfield Valley Health Center. Trustee of the Southwestern Vermont Health Care. We thank you and applaud your dedication. Deerfield Valley Health Center Trustees September, 2005

We ate at Dot’s Restaurant, really owned by Dot, nothing glamous, but good food. Spent the night in Brattleboro where in the mid-1800s, Clarina Howard Nichols, with her husband, ran a newspaper, the “Windham County Democrat.” She wrote editorials and petitions urging rights for women, including property rights for married women and the right for women to vote in school elections. She addressed the state legislature in 1850. (In retrospect, I’m amazed at how much we did on the 31st! Here’s how my partner explains our pace: “We were still revved up on NYC time!”

June 1 Route 91 North (VT) to Route 11 east (NH) to Route 4 south to Route 93 north to Route 112(Kancamagus Highway) to North Conway, NH

Newport, NH: Sarah Josepha Hale Room in Richards Public Library (and a special thank you to the terrific director Andrea Thorpe) House Plaque (in Guild section of Newport) reads: SARAH JOSEPHA BUELL HALE 1788-1879 Prominent humanitarian, poet and author was born and taught school in Guild section of Newport, Wid- owed mother of five, she edited “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, 1837-1877; composed poem now called “Mary Had A Little Lamb”; advocated proclamation of Thanksgiving Day as national festival; and appealed donstantly for higher education for women.

Boscawen, NH: Hannah Dustin’s statue (also spelled Duston) Historical marker at entrance reads: Hannah Dustin 1657-1737 Famous symbol of frontier heroism. A victim of an Indian raid in 1697, on Haverhill, Massachusetts, whence she had been taken to a camp site on the nearby island in the river. After killing and later scalping ten Indians, she and the two other captives, Mary Neff and Samuel Lennardson, escaped down the river to safety.

The towering statue of Hannah holding a tomahawk in her right hand and ten scalps in her left hand was erected in 1874, perhaps the first statue to a woman in America. Another statue to Hannah was erected in Haverhill, MA. Hannah’s story became widely known through the writings of the famous minister Cotton Mather. Other writers, including Henry David Thoreau continued to tell her story in the 19th century. In the late 20th century, some people have raised objections to the statue.

June 2 Route 16 north (NH) to 302 north to Cog Railroad up Mount Washington back to North Conway for night I spent many summers in New Hampshire and remembered taking the cog railroad up Mount Washington. It was too overcast to be worth the trip to the summit, but interesting to explore the area–although the sight of the coal smoke pouring out of the train’s smokestack was sobering–and the museum. Stopped at the magnificent Mount Washington Hotel, site of the 1944 Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference that set up the post-World War II system to stabilize the international economy and national currency. The Gold Room where the documents were signed is a museum. As always, we looked for women in the photographs of the delegates (730 attended from 44 countries). We found one woman.

Stopped at the Willey House Historical Site in Crawford Notch State Park to hike. Who was Willey (there’s also Mt. Willey, and Willey Range Trail)? Willey was Samuel, who in 1825 moved his wife and five children to Crawford Notch. A year later, Samuel, his wife and two children were killed by a landslide. From the perspective of women’s history, I noted that all the Willey references were to Samuel–his wife and children aren’t named, just subsumed under his name.

Stopped at Sisters’ Restaurant, 1950s vintage and food not much but we liked supporting a restaurant owned by two sisters

June 3 Route 16 North, to Route 2 to 115 to 302/10 to 93 North, to Route 14 to Barre, VT

White Mountains National Forest, near Gorman, NH: Dolly Copp Campground National Forest Campground. Copp settled in area in 1831, raised four children and housed overnight guest, made jams and cheese that she sold from a roadside stand. According to a local biographer, Dolly left her husband shortly after celebrating their fifieth wedding anniversary. “Fifty years is plenty long for any woman to live with any man,” she told her husband. Then she packed her things and moved to Maine to live with her daughter. Dolly and her husband divided their life savings equally.

Littleton NH: Statue on the library lawn in honor of Eleanor Hodgman Porter, the author of the classic book, Pollyanna. This popular book was made into several movies, a board game, and coined the term “pollyanna” to describe a cheerfull optimistic, naively trusting person. The statue depicts an exuberant Pollyanna, the fictional “glad girl” Pollyanna Whittier. Village Bookstore, fabulous independent bookstore well worth a trip

June 4 89 south to 50 to 12 north to 107 West Barnard: Dorothy Thompson Memorial Commons Historical marker reads: The Dorothy Thompson Memorial Common was established in 2001 by the Barnard Silver Lake Association, a non-profit organization in memory of the reowned (sic) journalist and one of Barnard’s outstanding citizens in the years 1928-1962. The Common offers an open space in the center of Barnard where residents and visitors can stroll, relax and enjoy the view of the lake. During the winter, the Common is used for sledding and tobogganing and affords snowmobilers access to the lake. The Barnard Silver Lake Association maintains the Common.

Plaque on a granite slab reads: Dorothy Thompson Memorial Common Dedicated to the Enjoyment to All The Barnard Silver Lake Association July 14, 2001 Dorothy Thompson world famous journalist was married to Sinclair Lewis and later to artist Maxim Kopf 1926 She became the first female internationally syndicated journalist 1934 Based in Berlin she was the first foreign correspondent to be expelled from Nazi Germany. 1928 She established Twin Farms as her summer residence which later became the center for her successful column “On the Record” and a haven for political refugees, many of whom established homes in this area. Dorothy loved Barnard and was an active community leader 1894-1961

June 5, Route 7 to 7A to Route 7 to Route 84, to Saw River Parkway, to GW Bridge and home

Manchester Center, VT: Northshire Bookstore, fabulous independent bookstore, well worth a trip

Arlington, VT: Martha Canfield Library The prominent writer and one of the founders of the Book of the Month Club, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, lived in Arlington. Fisher’s favorite Aunt Mabel lived in this house and maintained an informal library. After Mabel died, Fisher donated the building to the town. Fisher wrote nonfiction and fiction for adults and books for children. She criticized the idea that it was beneath a man to do “woman’s work” in her novel, The Home Maker. Fisher introduced Montessori Teaching Method in America and helped found the Adult Education Association.

New York City Women’s History Tour In an early entry I wrote about Mollie Hoben bringing a group of “bookwomen” to New York City for a week-long tour, “Books Afoot,” based on the campus of Columbia University. I met them on June 17th. What a great group of women! After talking about my books, I lead them on a virtual tour of women’s history in New York City, by that I mean I “walked” them through a a 2-page list of sites that I had keyed to a map. Then we set off on a walking tour. The first stop via the subway was 633 W. 155th Street, the location of the American Academy of Arts and Letters with its bronze doors that are dedicated to “The memory of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and women writers of America.” From there we visited a statue to Eleanor Roosevelt by Penelope Jencks; a plaque to Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Joan of Arc Island and Statue by Anne Vaughn Hyatt, and we talked and walked and talked–what a special group of women and what an interesting and fun time!

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