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Mary Todd Lincoln – Judged Unfairly by History?

By many historical accounts, Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of the 16thPresident of the United States, is portrayed as emotional, irrational, difficult, and spoiled. In all fairness, she might have been these things, but the explanations for the reasons behind these behaviors varies.

As a teenager, Miss Todd’s contemporaries described her as kind, intelligent, well-educated and vivacious.

Mary Todd LincolnMary grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, a town her family helped found. The daughter of a wealthy merchant or banker (accounts vary), Mary had every luxury a young girl in the 1800s could want. Her parents, Robert Todd and Elizabeth Parker Todd raised their children in comfort and refinement. However, wealth did not provide much happiness for Mary after the death of her mother who died while giving birth to her seventh child. Robert Todd soon remarried and Mary, at age six, did not get on well with her step-mother.

Despite her unhappy home life, Mary received an excellent education and excelled in school where she mastered the French language and studied dance, drama, music, and social skills. She also showed a keen interest in politics.

As a young woman, Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois to live with her married sister, Elizabeth Porter Edwards. Outgoing and social, she soon became popular among the blue-bloods of Illinois and had many beaus. Among them, a young lawyer Stephen A. Douglas, the man who would run against her future husband for the presidency. But, Mary chose Abraham Lincoln, much to the concern of her family who thought she married beneath her.

Mary and Abraham shared a love of literature and politics, and their endearment for one another lasted until his untimely death.

Though very much in love, the Lincoln’s experienced more than their share of loss with the death of two of their sons; Edward (Eddie) at age four, and William (Willie) at age fourteen. William died while the Lincoln’s lived in the white house, three years before his father.

During her time as First Lady, Mary came under intense scrutiny. Coming from a Confederate family didn’t help her cause. Mary’s family had been slaveholders and several of her half-brothers served in the Confederate army during the war. Some accused her of being a Confederate spy. Fiercely loyal to her husband, she always supported his views and his quest to end slavery and save the Union.

For much of her adult life, Mary suffered from migraines and depression. The migraines became more frequent and more intense after a carriage accident during her time in the white house. Mary’s depression worsened after the death of the couple’s son Willie in 1862. Despondent and overcome by grief, Mary experienced wild mood swings and was prone to temperamental outbursts—sometimes in public. To assuage her grief, she also explored spiritualism and used mediums to reach out to her dead sons, and later her dead husband. All of this added up to a kind of “female hysteria” in the public’s opinion.

Mary also came under criticism for her spending habits. During Lincoln’s presidency, she completed a lavish redecorating of the white house. Probably not a good idea as money was needed to fight the war. She also spared no expense in expanding her wardrobe to include fine silks and lace. Perhaps as first lady, she felt she needed these things to be presentable on the arm of her husband while he went about the business of being President, but others didn’t see it that way.

As one could imagine, when her husband was shot at point blank right in front of her and then later died from his wounds, the state of Mary’s mental health did not improve.

As a widow, Mary returned to Illinois to be nearer to her two surviving sons, but when Thomas (Tad) died in 1871, grief overwhelmed her again. Her son Robert Lincoln became alarmed at his mother’s increasingly strange behavior. He had her committed to an asylum, but her depression did not improve. She experienced fever, headaches, gait problems, delusions and hallucinations. After a year in the asylum and many imploring letters to her lawyer and finally the Chicago Times, Mary was released to the custody of her sister. Shortly after, she took up residence in France to escape further public scrutiny, and her estranged son Robert, who controlled her finances.

Her health continued to decline and after four years in Europe, she returned to her sister’s household and died in 1882.

Many historians contribute Mary’s odd behavior for some thirty years to bipolar disorder, but it has also been suggested that she suffered from pernicious anemia—a vitamin B12 deficiency. She might have suffered from both.

It is hard to imagine what it must be like to be the wife of a president, or a country’s leader, especially during a Civil war. Given the difficulty of Mary’s life before she became First Lady, and certainly with the pressures she endured after with the death of three children and her husband, in addition to physical and emotional health issues, it’s no wonder she seemed a little off her rocker.

Although not one of the most popular First Ladies in history, Mary Todd Lincoln can be remembered as a devoted wife and mother, and loyal to her role in the white house. Despite illness, incomprehensible grief, and public disapproval, she showed fortitude in keeping up the good fight and enduring despite it all.

Nellie Bly – Mad, Committed or Both? (Part Two)

(Continued from 4/8/18 – Find Part One here.)

Bly remained at Blackwell’s Island for ten days. What she saw, she could never forget. Doctors seemed oblivious to their patients’ illnesses. Orderlies and nurses abused their charges. They served their patients spoiled food. There was no access to warm clothing or clean linens. In short, the place was a rat-infested hell-hole. Bly herself had to endure one of the “treatments” which consisted of buckets of freezing water poured over her head. She and the others had to sit for twelve to fourteen hours straight-backed benches, unable to talk or move. Many of the women there were foreigners, not insane. Their inability to communicate in English rendered them “crazy.”

When her ten days were up, Joseph Pulitzer sent an attorney for Nellie’s release.

Bly’s story, done in a series, rocked New York and the world at large. Her writings forced Blackwell’s and other asylums around the country to change the way they treated and provided for their patients. Bly herself became an overnight sensation as the world’s newest and most provocative “investigative journalist.” She later compiled the articles into a book called Ten Days in a Madhouse.

Nellie Bly
(Wikipedia)

In 1889, Bly would make the news again. She had just read the fictional book, Around the World in Eighty Days, by the French writer Jules Verne, and she wanted to see if she could make history again. She suggested to her editor at the New York World, that she try to beat the record set by Phileas Fogg, the possible inspiration for Verne’s novel. A year later, she boarded the steamship the Augusta Victoria, and Bly was on her way to complete the journey. She took with her the dress on her back, an overcoat, several changes of underwear and toiletry essentials.

The itinerary included England, France, Brindisi, the Suez canal, Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. She traveled by steamer and railway. While in France, she met Jules Verne, and while in China she visited a leper colony. In Singapore, she bought a monkey.

Despite occasional setbacks due to weather or other complications, Bly returned to New York seventy-two days later. She had beat the record. However, a few months later by a man named George Francis Train beat her record. He completed the journey in 67 days. Still, Bly’s accomplishment had been duly noted.

Bly married at 30 years of age. Never one for convention, she married a man 40 years her senior, a millionaire named Robert Seamen, the owner of a manufacturing company called the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company. Nellie joined her husband in running his business and retired from journalism. She then became one of the leading women industrialists in the United States. She herself invented and patented a unique milk can, and a stacking garbage can.

The couple had a happy marriage, but Seaman died in 1904 leaving Bly with control of his company. Bly continued her quest for social reform and installed fitness gyms and libraries at the company and provided health care for her employees. However, the cost of these additional perks took a toll and her inheritance dwindled. In her later years, Bly returned to her journalistic roots. She covered women’s issues in World War I and also wrote extensively about the suffragette movement.

At age 57, Bly died in 1922 from pneumonia. But her legacy lives on. Articles, books, television shows and movies have been made about the courageous woman who, committed to her causes and the plight of women around the world, had herself committed to an insane asylum to affect change in her own life and reformation around the globe.

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Empowered Women of the West – Dr. Nellie MacKnight (Part One)

Women studying medicine at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1892.
Cowgirlmagazine.com

San Francisco 1891

“Subjects, bodies for dissection, were divided into five parts—the head, two uppers and two lowers. By some ironical twist of circumstance, the first dissection assigned to me was a lower. The dissection of the pelvic organs was to be done in company with the young man who was assigned to the other lower. It was a male subject.

 … It came time for the quiz section in anatomy. The quizmaster was a dapper young graduate, much impressed with himself and his authority. He was of the group who hated the incursion of women into what he considered the distinctly masculine territory of medicine…The quizmaster walked over to our dissecting table.

 “Why has nothing been done on your subject?” he questioned.

 The young man hesitated, glancing at me.

 The quizmaster turned on me. “Have you the other lower on this subject?” His words were like a steel file.

 “Yes,” I replied, the blood rushing to my face.

 “Do you expect to graduate in medicine, or are you just playing around with the idea?”

 “I hope to graduate.” I tried to make my voice sound firm, but instead, I realized it sounded ridiculously weak and feminine…

“If you have any feelings of delicacy in this matter, young woman, you had better leave college and take them with your, or fold them away in your work basket and be here, on your stool, tomorrow morning. We don’t put up with any hysterical feminine nonsense in men’s medical schools.”

This, from the autobiography of Dr. Nellie MacKnight, is an account of one of her earliest assignments at San Francisco’s Toland Hall Medical School. One of only three women in her class, this naïve, but bold young girl would go on to graduate with flying colors and become one of the West’s most beloved and respected doctors.

But, medicine was not the profession Nellie MacKnight ever thought she’d choose. In fact, it wasn’t her choice at all. . .at first.

Dr. Helen MacKnight Doyle
Rangeandriverbooks.com

In Petrolia, Pennsylvania in 1873, Nellie came into the world as one of three children born to Smith and Olive MacKnight. Her two siblings died shortly after their birth, leaving Nellie to grow up an only child to a stern father, and an over-protective mother who lavished her with attention. An expert seamstress, Olive loved to dress Nellie in beautiful dresses made with her own hands. Though he loved his wife and daughter, Smith, found his profession as a surveyor dull, and his life in Pennsylvania uninspired. He desired to move out West in search of gold and riches, and in 1878, did just that, leaving his wife and daughter in the care of his parents in New York. He promised once he’d made his riches, he would send for the two of them. He never did.

Nellie found life at her grandparent’s farm happy and fulfilling. From her grandfather, she learned about horses and how to care for animals. From her grandmother, she learned more domestic chores, and also how to make remedies for certain illnesses. Her mother, Olive, did not fare as well. News from her husband that he’d purchased a mine with great potential raised Olive’s spirits momentarily until he stated that he would not send for her and Nellie until the mine “paid off.”

Despondent over the news, Olive fell into a depression. Life became harder when typhoid took Nellie’s grandmother and her favorite uncle. Fearing for Nellie’s health, Olive made the decision to move the two of them to her father’s home in Madrid, Pennsylvania. In order to keep herself and Nellie clothed, and Nellie in school, she took a job at the Warner Brother’s Corset Factory as a seamstress. Nellie excelled at her studies, and took a particular interest in literature and hoped to, one day, become an author.

Long hours and tedious work at the corset factory took its toll on Olive. Letters from her husband telling her that the mine had still not yielded any gold further distressed her. To relieve her pain and the stress caused from supporting herself and her young daughter—and the continued absence of her husband—she turned to laudanum, a tincture of opium. One night, in her drug-induced euphoria, Olive decided to end it all and overdosed. She left a note for ten-year-old Nellie encouraging her to “be a brave girl. Do not cry for Mamma.”

(To be continued next week)

Sources:

Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave

Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/

 

Tower of London – A Medieval Zoo

Lion-013-2048x2048In 1066 England suffered its only foreign invasion when the Duke of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings, squashing King Harold II and his troops. Firmly settled on English soil, and the new ruler of the land, the new king, who becomes known as William the Conqueror decides to build an enormous fortress to show his power to any defiant Londoners and to deter other foreign invaders. In 1076 he constructs the Tower of London, or the White Tower, at 90 feet high with 15’ thick solid stone walls strategically positioned on the banks of the Thames. In the 13th century, the Tower is further fortified with double surrounding walls and a moat built over 18 acres.

In the 1930’s a team of archeologists digging in the long dried up moat excavated the startling remains of a leopard, 19 dogs and two of the recently extinct Barbary Lions – the same medieval lions whose sculptures grace London’s Trafalgar Square. Further research revealed that over 60 species, up to 280 exotic animals, resided on the grounds of the Tower for over six hundred years.

The first animals to arrive were the Barbary Lions in 1235. Twenty years later an African Elephant took up residency as a prize from the Crusades. To ward off the London chill, his keepers kept him in a large stable and plied him with a gallon of red wine a day. The tradition of gifting the crown with foreign species continued and the menagerie grew to include tigers, zebras, kangaroos, monkeys, ostriches and even a Norwegian White Bear who was kept muzzled and chained, but often walked to the Thames to fish for his dinner.

For three centuries, visitors to the Tower had to go past the exotic menagerie to tour the castle and grounds. The animals served as a royal status symbol and showed the world the importance of the English monarchy. In the 18th century, the admittance price was three and a half pence, but if you brought a cat or dog to feed to the predators, you were admitted for free.

The confinement of these wild and exotic animals was a constant challenge and several times the large cats would escape and often kill the other animals and occasionally attack a tourist. In 1832 it was decided the animals had to leave. They were sold at auction as fixtures and fittings. Today, detailed wire sculptures of the famous beasts are strategically placed on the grounds so the modern tourist can get a sense of what visiting this unusual zoo must have been like.

 

Downton’s Dynamic Duo

*Spoiler Alert* If you are not caught up to Season 4 of Downton Abbey, you might not want to read this post.

Don’t you love these two?

They actually make me laugh out loud.

I think the writers of the show did a wonderful job of showing the interesting dynamic between these two strong, outspoken, bossy, meddling yet compassionate women. They truly have met their match in one another.

Outwardly, they can barely tolerate each other, but in times of crisis (like when the Dowager had the flu or when Mathew died) it becomes obvious that they actually care about each other. It is the quintessential love/hate relationship, which many of us have within our own social and family circles.

What do you  think about the relationship of these two characters? Do you have an Isobel or a Lady Grantham in your life?

Weird Inspirations – First Blog Post of 2014

Sometimes we find things that really click with our personalities. I’ve always been interested in fashion and I have a pretty classic aesthetic – i.e. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Yves St. Laurent, Coco Chanel. Not that I always buy or wear these designer garments, particularly Yves St. Laurent and Miss Chanel, but these fashion gurus (or companies) make clothes that look best on me. I’m tall and have somewhat of a boyish figure. I’ve never been the edgy, punk, trendy, goth-type customer, nor do I do well with floaty, flimsy, ulta-girly fashion. I fully appreciate those aesthetics, but they’re just not me.

When visiting New York City for the 2011 Romance Writer’s of America Conference, I had a chance to spend some time tooling around the city. My daughter, who has a B.S. in Fashion Marketing and was working at Armani in NYC at the time, was dying to see the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was shortly after he tragically took his own life. Of course, I complied. What I saw blew my mind. The depth of creativity that this man portrayed in his fashions was beyond anything I had ever seen. There was such freedom in his designs it was truly inspiring. On exiting the museum and entering the gift shop – the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift Shop is one of my favorite places on earth – I had to get something Alexander McQueen. There were books, greeting cards, scarves – and pencils. Pencils! Savage Beauty Pencils! They were thin, long, elegant and divine and they were screaming my name.

Fast forward to New Year’s Day, 2014 and I realize I am using one of two of my LAST Alexander McQueen pencils. Impending disaster. Panic sets in. What am I going to do if these two pencils are sharpened into pure nothingness? When I write I don’t use pencils very often, but when I do they must be SHARP.  I had visions of these beautiful pencils being ground into a mass pulp of wonderous reptilian dust. What to do?

Buy more.

Easier said than done.

Finally, through Ebay, I found a set of twelve for $37.50. Who in the hell pays $37.50 for a set of pencils? Well . . . me. And I will savor every single one of them. Whenever I use these pencils I am reminded of pure creative energy, and their long, tapered elegance encourages me to find the savage beauty in myself, and the world around me.

It’s weird what inspires us. For some it can be art or fashion or poetry or nature. For me, on this New Year’s Day of 2014 – it’s pencils. Savage Beauty pencils.

http://blog.metmuseum.org/alexandermcqueen/

Molly b’Damn

She was a gregarious and sweet natured person. She often put other’s needs before her own. She nursed the sick and took care of the poor. Mother Teresa? No, a prostitute turned madam named Molly b’Damn.

Maggie Hall was born in Dublin, Ireland on December 26, 1853. Her Protestant father and Irish Catholic mother raised their beautifulmaggie_151crop[1] golden haired child to be obedient and kind-hearted. They provided her with a lovely home and a fine education. The beautiful child grew to be a stunning young woman. Tall, with a halo of golden hair, sparkling blue eyes and an elegant, shapely figure, many men sought Maggie’s hand in marriage. She always managed to discourage these proposals because she desired more from life than an 1870’s Ireland could offer.  At the age of twenty, she set sail for America.

The American dream was harder to find than Maggie expected. New York City was a hectic, crowded, bustling city and a decent living was hard to come by for Irish Immigrants. She finally found employment as a barmaid. The job suited her buoyant personality and she was instantly popular, especially with the young men. She had to constantly remind them of her strict Catholic upbringing and that she wasn’t “that kind of girl.”

Little did Maggie know, her life was about to change. She finally met a man she couldn’t reject. He was handsome, charming, well-to-do, and loved by many women. His name was Burdan. By his third visit to the bar, he proposed marriage. Maggie accepted and left her job. She wanted to be married in her beloved Catholic church, but Burdan insisted on a Justice of the Peace. Once they were married, Maggie’s husband suggested her given name was too common and she should change it. He liked “Molly” and oh, by the way, the union was to be kept secret. If his upper-crust family found out he’d married a barmaid, his endless funds would disappear. The secret couldn’t be kept forever and that is exactly what happened. The newly married Burdans were penniless.

Burdan had never worked a day in his life and didn’t know where to begin to find employment. Molly wanted to go back to her job at the bar, but Burdan wouldn’t have it. They were evicted from apartment after apartment. Life was dire and the Burdans were desperate. Molly’s husband noticed the way his friends and other men looked at his beautiful wife. Perhaps she could earn them a living. Burdan suggested that Molly start “entertaining” his friends for money. Shocked, she refused. It was bad enough she hadn’t been married in the church, but this horrid sin? Unfortunately, her love for her husband won out, and she finally agreed. During this time of “employment” Molly made visits to confession. After she confessed her sins the second time, she was excommunicated from the church.

Thoroughly heart-broken and damned to hell forever, Molly left her husband of four years and left New York for the promise of the West. She travelled to California, Oregon, Nevada and the Dakota Territory, working as a much sought after prostitute. She garnered an expensive wardrobe and lived a lavish life-style. But at thirty, Molly grew restless again. She’d heard of a prosperous gold strike in the Coeur d’ Alenes in Idaho. In 1884, she boarded a train for Montana, bought a horse, and then joined a pack-train for Murray, Idaho.

The horse-back ride was long and hard, and those on foot particularly suffered. The pack-train started through the Thompson Pass, and was instantly beset by a nasty blizzard. Molly noticed a mother and young boy, not clothed for a harsh storm, struggling more than the rest. They soon fell behind. When the travelers came upon a meager shelter, Molly tethered her horse, gathered up the woman and her son, led them to the shelter, and bundled them up in her furs. She told the pack train to move on without them. The three, wrapped in Molly’s furs, huddled for warmth.

The townspeople of Murray heard about Molly and her rescue attempt from the travelers and feared the three would not live through the night. Imagine their surprise and delight when a horse carrying two women and a child came galloping into town. People rushed to meet them and tend to their needs. Molly ordered a cabin for the young boy and his mother, to be charged on her bill. When they offered her lodgings in the hotel, she refused. She wanted occupation of Cabin Number One. The cabin reserved for the Madam of the town. A young Irishman, Phil O’Rourke, helped her down from her horse and asked her name. When she said Molly Burdan, he laughed out loud and said, “Well now, fur the life o’ me. I’d never o’ thought of it. Molly b’Damn!” The name stuck.

Molly built a successful business in Murray and was beloved by the townspeople. Her restless spirit had finally been calmed. She was good to her “girls” and provided a comfortable home for them. She fed anyone who was hungry and offered shelter to the homeless. She would often hike up the mountain in her fine clothes to tend to a sick prospector. And, she even attended Protestant church services.

One of Molly’s creative means of making money in the prosperous mining town was to have her “big cleanup bath,” when the cleanup of the mines was due. She would set up a tub in the back of her establishment, fill it with water, and encourage the miners to dig into their pockets and cover the bottom of the tub with gold. When it was sufficiently covered, she’d strip down and sink into the water. For the right price, she’d even allow one of them to scrub her back.

Witty, risqué and sometimes ribald, Molly was also a person who cared deeply for others. In 1886 a stranger walked into Murray with a raging fever and immediately died. He was carrying small pox and had exposed the entire town. It’s wasn’t long before people became ill and many died. The healthy townspeople retreated to their houses, afraid of the disease. This wouldn’t do for Molly.  She called a town meeting and rallied the healthy to help the sick. She and her girls worked tirelessly to tend the ill miners and their families. She rarely took the time to eat or change her clothes during the weeks that small pox raged through Murray.

Eventually, the disease dissipated, but Molly was forever changed. In the coming months she weakened, lost weight and was besieged with a perpetual cough. Soon she was bedridden and the good women of Murray came together and took turns watching at her bedside and taking care of their generous friend, round the clock. She was finally diagnosed with consumption and died on January 7, 1888.

On that day, the townspeople of Murray retreated to their homes. Curtains were drawn and the saloons were closed. Work ceased. The Protestant ministers made arrangements for her funeral and thousands from the area attended to say farewell to the good-hearted prostitute who had brought life and love to their town. To this day, the people of Murray and the surrounding area, celebrate their long lost friend with the Annual Molly b’Damn Gold Rush Days event. Her spirit will live in their hearts forever.

Resource: Soiled Doves, Prostitution In The Early West, Anne Seagraves

Photograph: silentowl: Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the …Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the 19th century.amayodruid.blogspot.com