Happy Birthday, Susan B. Anthony!

Today is the 196th anniversary of Susan B. Anthony’s birth.  “Aunt Susan,” as she was affectionately known by the younger women in the woman suffrage movement, spoke often of the need for women to express themselves, to control their own message, especially in the political arena:

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Susan B. Anthony

“We need a daily paper edited and composed according to woman’s own thoughts, and not as woman thinks a man wants her to think and write. As it is now the men who control the finances control the paper. As long as we occupy our present position we are mentally and morally in the power of men who engineer the finances. Horace Greeley once said that women ought not to expect the same pay for work that men received. He advised women to go down into New Jersey, buy a parcel of ground, and go to raising strawberries. Then when they came up to New York with their strawberries the men wouldn’t dare to offer them half price for their produce. I say, my journalistic sisters, that it is high time we were raising our own strawberries on our own land.”  Chicago Daily Tribune, 24 May 1893

She, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, founded the newspaper The Revolution, which only lasted two short years but repositioned woman’s rights issues–particularly suffrage–in the national consciousness, and established Stanton and Anthony as significant voices that could not be silenced in the fight for women’s equality.

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The first issue of “The Revolution,” 1868.

 The financial cost of running the newspaper was $20,000 a year, and upon its folding left Susan $10,000 in debt, which she slowly paid off by working on the lecture circuit.  Her talks on behalf of woman suffrage around the nation made her a household name forever linked with the cause to which she dedicated her life.

Susan was a master publicist who knew the importance of expressing her message, of spilling ink, whether as a journalist for The Revolution or as a historian, when she began writing the first of the six-volume tome, The History of Woman Suffrage.  

She was also astute enough to know that women wanted both bread and ballots.  And strawberries.

the case for billets-doux, or love letters

 

About a year or so ago, I spent a winter volunteering in a local museum’s archives, where I was assigned a box of family correspondence from the 1840s to help catalog and preserve. It was a slow process, not simply because of the fragile condition of the letters, but because I couldn’t resist reading them as I worked.  The urge to read someone’s private mail is irresistible, no matter when the letters were written, and I soon found myself spending a grey afternoon subsumed in the concerns of people who lived over a century ago–a pleasant way to pass the time.

While opening one letter, however, something fell out of the envelope and onto my lap, and what I feared was a large bug turned out to be a lock of black hair tied with a ribbon.  I had stumbled upon several letters of courtship from a young couple shortly after announcing their betrothal, and the lock of hair was from the young man away on a business venture writing home to his beloved.

Love letters, or billets-doux, in French, run the gamut from tender and hopeful, like the ones I held in my hands that afternoon, to the heated and passionate, such as these remarkable lines to her “Master,” from Emily Dickinson:

“I am older–tonight, Master–but the love is the same–so are the moon and the crescent–If it had been God’s will that I might breathe where you breathed–and find the place–myself–at night–if I can never forget that I am not with you–and that sorrow and frost are nearer than I–if I wish with a might I cannot repress–that mine were the Queen’s place–“

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One of Emily Dickinson’s “Master” letters.

Scholars still debate who Emily’s “Master” may have been, or even if the letters were ever sent, as it’s possible they were merely drafted in a moment of heightened emotion.

Still, what emotion!   Who would not love to open a hand-written letter to read the words, “that I might breathe where you breathed–”  Why do we repeatedly leave heartfelt sentiment to mass-produced greeting cards?  We may not have the command of language Dickinson did, but certainly one’s own true feelings inked on creamy paper, sealed and mailed, is a gift worth receiving, a treasure to fold and unfold, to be read and reread until decades later it sits quietly in an archive, waiting to finally come to light again some snowy afternoon in February.  Or left unsent, tucked away in a book, journal, or desk drawer for another generation to discover.

And if a lock of hair is too archaic to include, maybe a single dried flower from the shy loves, or an entire bouquet of fresh blooms from the exuberant, so gorgeously captured in this 1770 painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard, appropriately titled, billet-doux:

Jean-Honore Fragonard 1770

 So grab some foolscap, and be a fool for love.  May you receive letters of love and endearment, and may you bravely stain the page with your own expressions of deep affection, sent or kept hidden.  Be well.  Be of warm heart.  Spill ink.

 

Circe’s Lament: An Anthology of Wild Women

I’m thrilled to have my poem, “She Sells Seashells” included in this vital anthology of women’s voices, just out this winter by Accents Publishing.  I’m even more pleased, however, to once again appear alongside dear fellow Mosaic poets Sherry Chandler and Tina Parker in these pages.  As poet Ada Limón said on the back cover of this collection, “These are poems for the she-wolves… They’ll teach you how to bite.”

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Langston Hughes Tribute Reading

Today join poet Rhonda Ward and artist Gretchen Higgins as they celebrate Langston Hughes in this annual recitation of his work.  Please bring a poem by Hughes to read; sign-ups will be the day of the event.  This is a lovely way to honor Hughes’ contribution to American letters, always near the anniversary of his birthday, 2/1/1902.

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Updates, MUSEings, and Such

It is New England.  It is winter.  Outside my writing studio window, snow falls.  The steam from my tea rises, the minestrone simmers in the crock pot.  I’ve been up since before sunrise, using the day’s enforced solitude to develop this website and blog.  With so many rich poetic and history-related endeavors completed and more on the horizon, it was time to share my life’s work in a larger format, and here, dear readers, it appears.   I look forward to posting as time allows and occasions transpire.  Be well.  Be warm.  Spill ink.