Today in history

NYT 2:3

Today, in 1917, America broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, who had announced unrestricted submarine warfare. This was the beginning of America’s entrance into the Great War, also known today as WWI.

I recently finished listening to a book I’ve re-read frequently since I was about 11, Rilla of Ingleside, which is all about Anne of Green Gables’ daughter as she experiences the war while being stuck at home, knowing very little of what’s going on, and trying to remain brave and heroic. The book hasn’t aged perfectly. It was written several years after the war, and is quite patriotic and very idealistic about the war, but I try to remember that during the war itself, these sentiments would have been true and dearly held. But, I was surprised by some of the very modern and very true ideas in the story that I would not have noticed as a child. I still love it, and it still makes me cry and breaks my heart. It does what good fiction ought to do– help place us there, make us empathize and make sense of what we are experiencing.

Having grown up since I first read this book, and studied WWI extensively, both in college and on my own, I know just how terrible and meaningless this war was. All war is terrible, but for me, this one was even more tragic because the modern warfare we know today was basically unfamiliar to the young men facing the enemy from mere yards away across no-man’s-land. Machine guns, barbed wire, airplanes, chemical warfare– all of these were new experiences for the armies and they ripped apart the old world, leaving an entire generation to die or figure out how to live again. This war changed the course of human events in ways we are still feeling today. It influenced civil rights movements, the music, poetry and art of the era, language, it changed the political and social climate and set the stage for another terrible war.

Please take a minute to think about that. 99 years ago today, our country took steps that would lead into a war that would impact us even now.

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Inspiration Monday

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The Dewstow Gardens and Grottos in Wales are deceptively beautiful. Built in 1895, the surface looked like any normal estate garden as you can see in the photo below.

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But just below lay a secret world, full of water falls and fountains and lushly green ferns. It was a fairy land. An unexpected world for discovery and daydreams.

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During WWII these underground gardens and grottos were covered by tons of dirt and weren’t rediscovered and renovated until 2000.

Can you imagine how amazing it would be to have discovered this fanciful masterpiece under the garden you were fixing up? I’ve always loved discovering the past that lays just under the surface of our world. I think it’s one of the reasons I write historical fiction– because I’m always wondering what people’s lives were like as they stood in the same spot I am standing and look out over the same vistas I am seeing.

Ever since I was a child, living in a house built in 1910, I’ve been fascinated with digging down to discover the worlds below. And I’ve been fascinated with the possibility of fairies living secretly, just under the flower petal, or beneath a mossy hill. This garden, for me, would be the most magical thing my childhood self could come across. Even now, I’m wondering how to work it into a story, or my next trip.

Inspiration Monday: Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

MLK Jr quote

This is one of my favorite quotes from an imminently quotable man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s Martin Luther King Day here in the United States, which, if you know anything about our current situation, is irony at its most depressing. I don’t want to get into it in an Inspiration post (#BlackLivesMatter), but I do want to talk about why I love this quote.

It comes from his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” which was given in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination, and it is frighteningly prophetic.  He had just been attacked and nearly killed in New York City, and so he is talking about how, like Moses, he has seen the promised land, but might not get there with everyone else. He is encouraging his listeners to keep up their efforts and to keep the movement alive, even though he’s also telling them he will probably die. And even as he talks about the struggles they have gone through, and will go through, and the mace, and dogs and violence against them, he holds fast to his principles, saying “it’s nonviolence or nonexistence”.

This is a powerful speech. Not only because it outlines the economic boycotts they will impose, or its prophetic qualities, or even his rhetorical skill. It’s powerful because of the inspiration and encouragement he gives. And that is why I love this quote so much, because of the truth behind it, and the context in which he says it:

“The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding–something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya: Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee–the cry is always the same– ‘We want to be free.'”

Even today, over 40 years later, we still face so much confusion and trouble. And we must keep marching forward, arm in arm, focused on that statement, and that goal: “We want to be free.” It’s a beautiful quote, and it means so much to me as I watch the efforts of groups like “Black Lives Matter” and more trying to use their voices and continue this struggle forward.

But I also love this quote for the encouragement it gives to all struggles. I say it to myself when I am stuck and frightened, or worrying too much and can’t see the answer. I remind myself that only when it is dark can we see the light that leads us forward. When it is dark we can see the light shining from the people ahead of us, or the ones who love us so fiercely that they light up with it. And we can see the light of all the good things that we do have in our lives.

We can see the beauty of the stars, and that is a gift too. I begin thinking about the people who watched the stars all those years ago and how far we have come. We have used science to shoot ourselves up into that darkness and learn about the stars and planets that shine down on us. That is proof of progress right there. These are the thoughts I have when I’m trying to remind myself that it’s just one more step, just keep going one more step.

I hope you are encouraged in your struggle today. I hope you take heart from Dr. King, and look at the stars when it is dark. I hope you think for a while about how far we’ve come, and I hope you take a step further today, both in your work, and also in your efforts to make this country one that Dr. King can be proud of.

If you would like to watch the full speech you can do that here.

 

Old & Interesting

I just discovered this website, Old & Interesting, and boy did they nail that title! I could get lost in the articles about washerwomen, tinderboxes and cleaning for a duke in the 17c. to name a few! Everything is so informative, and uses pictures as well as excerpts from diaries and letters to explain or illustrate the article. I can’t decide if it’s a new research tool, or rabbit trail tool, either one, I’ll learn a lot!

Fascinating Person of the Week: Alice Paul

Alice Paul toasts the passage of the 19th Amendment (with grape juice)

As you might have seen on Google’s home page today, it’s Alice Paul’s birthday! Who is Alice Paul you may ask?

According to the Alice Paul Institute, she was a feminist and suffragist who worked for the passage of the 19th Amendment. But she didn’t stop there!

After the amendment was passed on August 26, 1920, she continued her work by focusing on the Equal Rights Amendment. This was finally passed in 1972 after decades of being introduced every session in Congress. In the 1940s it was dubbed the “Alice Paul Amendment”. She died on July 9, 1977 after years of working to ensure women had the vote and the rights they deserved in this country, and world wide.

Here’s the thing: so often in our history classes, we hear about one or two important women over and over that we miss all the others that were also working hard and speaking out about the need for equal rights for women. Until yesterday I’d never heard of Alice Paul, and that’s sad. I call myself a feminist and a history fan and yet, there is so much I don’t know about women’s history. Unless we collectively work to share this knowledge with our daughters, friends and students we will lose them. And that is a tragedy because these women are powerful examples of what can be done and changed when we speak up. They spoke up for what they believed in and they even starved for it. They went to prison and they fought against a system that at every turn refused them a voice. If they can do it then, just imagine what we can do now. But we need to know what came before us before we can imagine what we can accomplish. And that’s why this week’s fascinating person is this strong-willed, fierce advocate for women’s rights, Alice Paul.

Linen Condoms?!

One of my favorite things about the research and discovery phase of writing is the fact that you learn such odd tidbits from history. For instance, while researching the Irish linen industry, which is going to be a component of my WIP, I learned that Casanova occasionally used linen condoms. Yes. Think about that for a moment. Linen… in your lady bits. Linen is a lovely fabric, and can be quite soft and finely made. But… ouch!

Helping Preserve Women’s Rights History

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In 1848 the first women’s convention on equal rights was held in Seneca Falls, NY. There, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Coffin Wright and Lucretia Mott led the gathered women in the creation of a document modeled after the Declaration of Independence, which held that men and women were created equal.

Their Declaration of Sentiments, as the document was called, was then signed by the women and the 30 men who attended (including Frederick Douglass). This kicked off the women’s rights movement in our country and paved the way for women’s suffrage, and other vitally important changes to ensure women’s rights. But, in addition to actual improvements, it also called for things like equal pay, which is still an issue we struggle with 167 years later. Their last sentiment especially hit home. It is as follows:

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Women still face these issues. The fight is not over. And the need for recognizing women who began this movement is not over. The White House, and the Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, have been working with the National Archives to find the original Declaration of Sentiments. After Frederick Douglass took the document to Rochester, NY to publish it in his newspaper, The Northern Star, the document has gone missing. They are hoping to find the original Declaration, or any evidence that can explain what has happened to it. In addition to this important piece of history, they are seeking other artifacts important to the women’s rights movement in this country. You can read more about it on the White House’s blog. And you can help spread the word! Get the message out so that we can find and preserve a part of history that is often ignored or unknown. Use #FindtheSentiments to spread the word!