For those who prefer to read, here’s the text of the video.
I love Mary Ann Bickerdyke for her fierce devotion to the soldiers she called “her boys.” As a Civil War nurse, she was a particular favorite of the soldiers.
Bickerdyke set up more than 300 field hospitals for soldiers and made sure they were clean in an era when many wounded died of contagious diseases. She gathered nutritious food and medicines for them and set up laundries, often finding that their clothing was in rags.
Mother Bickerdyke, as the men called this Civil War nurse, had no patience with officers who didn’t treat their men right. One morning when a surgeon was late because of a drinking spree, she called for his discharge. When he protested about her to General Sherman, the general replied, “Well, if it was her, I can do nothing for you. She ranks me.”
In my Civil War era novel The Truth About Daniel, Annie Anthony works with a local chapter of the Sanitary Commission to supply soldiers with sewing kits called “housewives,” because it helped them to repair their own clothing.
Though Miss Anthony did not know all of them, each one came from her era and worked to make us a more equitable and just nation. We have far to go to complete the reforms they championed, but knowing of their work can help us go and do likewise whenever we have a chance.
Today we remember Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte as one of these great American women. She traced her desire to study medicine to an experience at the age of eight. Young Susan LaFlesche kept vigil at the bedside of a Native woman while waiting for a (white) doctor who promised to come, but never arrived. The patient died. In those dark moments, Susan realized that Natives needed doctors devoted to their care. Rather than lament the lack, she became one.
When fleeing slaves from the southern U.S. reached Niagara Falls, they knew they had one more river to cross. But what a river it was with its roiling cataract. The new Underground Railroad Heritage Area in Niagara Falls, NY. chronicles some of the notable African-Americans who escaped across the river and helped others to make their way to freedom.
Recently I had the privilege of touring the new museum. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Underground Railroad” refers to a series of places where escaping slaves could receive shelter and assistance after leaving the South. Following the North Star, they headed for the northern U.S., where slavery was outlawed.
However, after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, bounty hunters could recapture slaves in the north and return them to bondage. For this reason, it was far better for these fugitives to go all the way to Canada. When they reached Niagara Falls, they had one more river to cross.
Anthony Involvement in the Underground Railraoad
The Anthony family approved of this civil disobedience of helping slaves escape. They hosted many antislavery dinners at their farm home in Rochester, and three of their children (Susan, D.R., and Merritt) campaigned against slavery with speeches, petition campaigns, and physical warfare. Among the family’s closest friends were Undergound Railroad “conductors” (owners of safe houses) Amy and Isaac Post and Frederick Douglass.
Active or Passive Escapees?
Sometimes conductors used the code word “parcel” for a fugitive needing assistance. This term erroneously suggests that freedom seekers were passive goods carried away from slavery by other (usually white) people’s initiatives. The term gives little credit to the courage and intelligence exhibited by fleeing slaves themselves. (I strove for the correct balance in The Truth About Daniel,when I wrote about the escape of Randall Burton on Martha’s Vineyard.)
The Underground Railroad Heritage Area tips the racial balance by showing black abolitionists at work, united in the effort to help freedom seekers cross their last barrier to freedom, the Niagara River.. A daring feat, to say the least. More next time.
The story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass packed a full house tonight, the opening of “The Agitators.” Rochester’s famous reformers really showed their mettle at this fine play at GEVA Theater. Actors Madeleine Lambert and Cedric Mays delivered the pair’s famous arguments with conviction and humor against a massive timeline that resembled the double arches of the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge in Rochester.
“Agitation is the spark of all change”
This is one of my favorite quotes from the play, and served as the theme to portray the lifelong friendship between these reformers. Especially moving were the scenes where the pair toured Frederick’s burned-out home; where they fought over the enfranchisement of black men before women; and where he begged Susan not to hold a women’s rights convention in a southern state where black women were not welcome.
In Charlottesville young white nationalists tossed verbal grenades against blacks and Jews that quickly exploded into injury and death. Sadly, it coincided with the August 1863 Lawrence Massacre, which I discussed in my last post. Then, a band of racist ruffians killed 180 men and boys. Unlike this month, the 1863 officials made a historic mistake by upping the ante on revenge.
They may have felt justified in attacking Lawrence. After all, the two states had been duking it out on their common border for almost a decade in the escalating conflict over slavery. Those who launched the Lawrence Massacre wanted revenge. And they got it. But like the young demonstrators of Charlottesville, they didn’t bargain for all that they received.
In the wake of Charlottesville, other cities are hastening to remove their Civil War statues to preclude more violence. If what the nationalists really wanted was their statues and their symbolism, they ended up worse than they started.
Upping the ante on revenge
The Missouri ruffians’ satisfaction, like that of the marchers in Virginia, must have been short-lived. On August 25, 1863, General Ewing retaliated by issuing the infamous Order No. 11, which authorized the depopulation of the Missouri farmland where the Confederate raiders resided, foraged and took shelter. Not only that, but Union soldiers burned the very land. They, too, got worse that they gave.
Who started it?
In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act (drafted by Senator Stephen Douglas and President Franklin Pierce) decreed that the Kansas Territory could decide by popular vote whether it entered the Union as a slave or free state. Whenever a vote was taken, proslavery Missourians squatted on the land and stormed the ballot boxes.
In response, eastern abolitionists (including D.R. Anthony) emigrated to the territory, founding an abolitionist stronghold at Lawrence. Anthony later led Jennison’s Jayhawkers to defend Kansas and conduct counter-raids on Missouri.
You could say that the ill-conceived Kansas-Nebraska Act began the border wars in Kansas and Missouri, which escalated into a nationwide Civil War. Let us hope that our legislators respond more wisely than Stephen Douglas and Franklin Pierce in laying down decisions with far-reaching effects. And that those involved in Charlottesville realize that violence begets violence, and that everyone loses.
As a nation, we should treat Charlottesville as a warning and do what we must to heal before it escalates into a tragedy on the scale of the Lawrence Massacre and Order No. 11.
Click here to read more about the artist and painting above.
Ontario County is celebrating woman suffrage at a fine exhibit in Canandaigua, NY, the town where Susan B. Anthony was convicted for voting. It runs until April 1, 2018. In addition to great details about the women who campaigned hard for New York State suffrage, it also contains several beautiful period gowns and a reproduction of a bloomer costume. (To my surprise, the bloomer outfit was calico!)
The exhibit shows how the various cities and towns in New York State voted on its own woman suffrage amendment in 1917, three years before the federal amendment passed. I’m sorry to say that Rochester, the city where Susan lived her last 40 years, voted no. Thank goodness that neither she nor Mary Anthony were living in that year. Fortunately, the majority of the state endorsed the amendment, and it passed.
Susan’s Trial in Ontario County
Susan B. Anthony’s 1873 trial for “voting illegally as a woman” occurred in Ontario County. The museum that houses this exhibit sits just a few blocks away from the courthouse where the judge denied her a trial by jury and found her guilty.
Starting at the museum, I walked downhill past the courthouse toward the shopping district. Browsing the stores, I wondered whether these same buildings lined Canandaigua’s main street when Susan attended her trial. Since it’s about 30 miles away from her Rochester home, she probably stayed overnight . That evening, did she lodge with a friend or keep her nerves to herself in a hotel? Where did she take her meals during the days when her trial was in session?
The courthouse (pictured above during the 19th century) was considerably smaller in 1873 than it is now. I can imagine the number of carriages parked around it as people jammed the courtroom to hear Susan’s lawyer* and the district attorney square off. Even former president Millard Fillmore attended.
After receiving the guilty verdict, Susan stayed in town for a couple more days to witness the trial of the voting inspectors who allowed her to register and cast her ballot. I hope she got at least a glimpse of the beautiful lake at the bottom of the hill. When the inspectors were found guilty and jailed for a week, she made sure they had plenty of visitors and good food to pass the time.
*Henry Selden defended Susan. Interestingly, when Frederick Douglass had to flee Rochester because he was suspected of supporting John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, he borrowed Selden’s horse. Shows just what a good guy Selden was.
The film A Quiet Passion did not serve up the Emily Dickinson I know. Having read some biographies of Dickinson as well as her poetry, I have to say that the movie seemed pretty one-sided in portraying her life as one of angst and frustration. Continue reading →