Celebrating Women’s History Month, Two Histories

Americas women:. by Gail Collins. 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2010.

Pocahantas and Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Madam C. J. Walker and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, Wilma Mankiller and Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama

These are a few of the well-known women in Gail Collins’ America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines and its sequel, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, Featuring the famous and the ordinary, the books span the centuries from the Vikings to the sixteenth century Eleanor Dare of the lost Roanoke colony to Betty Friedan’s march down Fifth Avenue in 1970 to the Hillary Clinton campaign for President in 2008.

In these extraordinary narratives, Collins has written both a political and a social history of America’s women. She traces the epic journey of women through America’s history as they sought that “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” promised by the Declaration of Independence but so often denied them.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins. Back Boy Books. Little, Brown and Co. 2010

This story of women in America is a fight for freedom from an intrusive society that tried to tell them what they could and could not do or be. Society was so resistant to women’s pursuit of happiness that, as late as 1947, Modern Women: The Lost Sex was a bestseller. Its authors advocated that women were psychologically disordered. It argued “that higher education got in the way of women adjusting to their natural role as wives and mothers.”

Collins begins with the Viking women, Gudrid and Freydis. They were two of the first Europeans to step foot on the North American continent over a thousand years ago. These two women illustrate one of the themes in her book: How society’s portrayal of women has always been false. The image that women are either “virtuous wives on the one hand, or on the other, the women who stepped outside their appointed roles, causing disaster.” In many cases, a woman was both virtuous wife and one who stepped outside their appointed roles, yet not causing disaster as illustrated by the life of Annie Oakley.

Throughout the book, women managed businesses, ran farms, and became preachers, civic leaders, merchants, artists and store managers. And they did it despite all the legal restrictions society threw at them. In the seventeenth century, one, Margaret Brent, even ran the state of Maryland during a crisis.

Again and again, Collins calls attention to the resourcefulness of American woman. Crossing the prairies in wagon trains, women often did their domestic chores while on the move, such as rolling piecrust from a wagon seat while driving a team of oxen. Just one example of this resourcefulness was Luenza Wilson. She followed her miner husband to the gold mining camps and made a fortune. It seems her talent as a cook was “much more valuable than her husbands was as a gold miner.”

And when the country went to war, women took on roles that often belonged to men, so the men could go off and fight. In World War II, 1,000 women pilots flew 60 million miles–mostly in experimental jets and planes grounded for safety reasons. They often towed targets past lines of inexperienced gunners. One anecdote of these female pilots: Several were arrested for leaving base wearing slacks after dark.

Collins includes the women’s battles with the corset. Even when everybody talked about fashion reform in the early half of the nineteenth century, there was way too much resistance to loosen it, much less dump it. Due to health standards previous to the twentieth century, pregnancy could be a death sentence for a woman or cripple them for life. As far as food and diets are concerned, Collins points out that the Gilded Age was “perhaps the only era in the nation’s history that favored large women.”

In the sequel, Collins continues on one of the greatest epic stories in human history. It takes us through the late twentieth and into the twenty-first century as women overcame the restrictions of the past and triumphed beyond their wildest dreams. The twenty years between 1960 to 1980 saw women able to pursue careers and be accepted in a variety of occupations they were never allowed in the past. It seemed that the sky was the limit. But this led to new challenges never faced before, such as the balance between work and home. And this history is told through the lives of hundreds of individual women’s stories.

Gail Collins has used letters, diaries, historical documents and numerous secondary sources as well as interviews to provide a history of American women that is both enjoyable and informative. These are books that will make women, and men, proud of the heritage from their mother’s side of history. These gems shine a light on history that has been ignored for a very long time.

Near 500 words: Independence

Happy Birthday, USA. It’s Independence Day. 

Well, we got to see Independence Hall in Philadelphia on our vacay. Gollee, it was so nice. Just to think that’s where Betty Ross made that flag. And it was a real pretty flag too. On top of that, it was where George Washington freed them slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. Man, that’s a mouthful. And he did it all at the same time he chopped down that cherry tree. I looked for its stump but it wasn’t there.

Before we went, we studied all about independence in school. I looked up the word. I read about it. Its definition, you know. I told my mama that I could do anything I wanted. Independence means freedom from control or the influence of another or others.

Darn if she didn’t slap my face. Said, “Boy, it also means you gotta be able to support yourself. Till you can do that, you gotta do what I say. And I say get in there and do the dishes.”

‘Course I did the dishes. I may be independent but I sure gotta do what my mama says. ‘Cause I don’t want a whooping.

Then I went and translated it into German and Dutch and Greek. Not whooping. Independence. Used that there Google translate. Got some really nice words too. Don’t know what they mean but they were nice. Hard to pronounce though. And that Greek was all squiggly words. Looked like they’s moving and all. Weirdest thing.

Anyway I copied that Greek word. Even drew a picture of what it looked like. It looked like that time I was at the beach and there’s Uncle Ernie with all his kids. They’s all standing in a row for that picture we took of them. Nice. Really nice.

Hope y’all know that I can’t wait till I grow up. Then I can be independent and eat all the ice cream I want. And I don’t have to eat my spinach. That’s for sure.

Uncle Bardie’s Spot Creator: Elie Wiesel

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight is the Holocaust survivor and humanitarian, Elie Wiesel:

Elie Wiesel’s essay, “A God Who Remembers”.

What happens when we die.

Thank you, Elie Wiesel, for remembering and giving witness.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Creator: Archaeologist Heinrich Schleimann

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the archaeologist Heinrich Schleimann:

The Discovery of Troy

The Adventure Continues at Mycenae

These films are from the Michael Wood BBC’s “In Search of the Trojan War”.


More Comedy 

Is the world ready for more comedy? That’s what I lie awake every night wondering.  Isn’t there way too many chuckles in the world? Too many guffaws? Too many chortles?

Since I run this here blog, my vote counts. And I say that what Americans want, what Americans need is more comedy. There just isn’t enough funny in this country.

Next Wednesday Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such brings more comedy for your enjoyment. It will be another novel, parceled out into chapters.  And it will be here for your delight. That is the way Mr. Dickens did it. If it was good enough for Dickens, it’s good enough for me.

If you are looking for history and the facts, The Absolutely Unbelievable Endearing Adventures of Lady Marye Wimpleseed-Prissypott is not for you. No, this is what I refer to as a historical frolic. The history may not be correct but it was never meant to be. If I followed the facts, none of this adventure would take place. Instead I’ve thrown in a bit of this and a bit of that with a generous smattering of that and this and the other and come up with a “stew” that might be fun to read.

 A tale in the tradition of George MacDonald Fraser and his Flashman novels, and the movies “The Perils of Pauline”, “The Great Race” and “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”. It is what I hope the readers will agree, jolly good fun. As far as the facts are concerned, both you and I know ghosts do not exist. At least, I haven’t met one yet. But don’t tell B. P. Nutt, Early Grey and Sir L. J. Since they are the spectres who haunt the halls of Haggismarshe Manor house, I think they would disagree most fervently.

The spirit of the tome is meant to be read on a dark and stormy night or at the beach on a warm summer day. It is a complete waste of time. Then so are many other activities we love and take part in. Who is to say that having a good laugh is time wasted? After all, such a thing has been known to cure a cancer or two. My goal for writing this frolic was not so noble. It was written simply to give the reader a good laugh.

Next Wednesday A Royal Sendoff