Saturday, February 28, 2009


Muriel and I, along with Lisa Greenleaf, our Apprentice Shop bookdesigner/illustrator participated in the judging of the 2009 Massachusetts School Library Association's bookmark contest for kids K - 12 on Thursday. The winners can be viewed here. The theme this year is "School Libraries: Learning for Life."

It was a lovely afternoon spent with school librarians and children's writers and illustrators. The children's artwork was fun, colorful, and quite imaginative. The winners and the honorable mentions will be honored on April 2 at Legislative Day being held at the State House in Boston.

The lucky winners will receive bookstore gift certificates, an enlargement of their bookmark, a tour of the MA State House, and more! Congratulations to all!

Division I winner.
This was done by a first grader!


Friday, February 27, 2009

Poetry Friday: Robert Frost's Hillside Thaw

The NOAA weather report this morning said it may be 50 degrees outside this afternoon, and my back pasture is still covered with snow and ice -- which leads me to my old Robert Frost volume and this poem:

Robert Frost - A Hillside Thaw

To think to know the country and not know
The hillside on the day the sun lets go
Ten million silver lizards out of snow!
As often as I've seen it done before
I can't pretend to tell the way it's done.
It looks as if some magic of the sun
Lifted the rug that bred them on the floor
And the light breaking on them made them run.

But if I though to stop the wet stampede,
And caught one silver lizard by the tail,
And put my foot on one without avail,
And threw myself wet-elbowed and wet-kneed
In front of twenty others' wriggling speed,--
In the confusion of them all aglitter,
And birds that joined in the excited fun
By doubling and redoubling song and twitter,
I have no doubt I'd end by holding none.

It takes the moon for this. The sun's a wizard
By all I tell; but so's the moon a witch.
From the high west she makes a gentle cast
And suddenly, without a jerk or twitch,
She has her spell on every single lizard.
I fancied when I looked at six o'clock
The swarm still ran and scuttled just as fast.
The moon was waiting for her chill effect.
I looked at nine: the swarm was turned to rock
In every lifelike posture of the swarm,
Transfixed on mountain slopes almost erect.
Across each other and side by side they lay.
The spell that so could hold them as they were
Was wrought through trees without a breath of storm
To make a leaf, if there had been one, stir.
It was the moon's: she held them until day,
One lizard at the end of every ray.
The thought of my attempting such a stay!

Thaw by Yelena Salakhova, 2006
see more wonderful paintings from this artist and others on the Art and Faith blog:

Moon on snow is free clipart from

Poetrt Friday is hosted this week at

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Women of Wednesday: Helen Woodruff Smith. Or, Research Rapture Demonstration

Fishing stories always include tales of the “one that got away.” In our research we catch glimpses of stories that get away – interesting tidbits about women for whom there isn’t really enough information to build a whole profile, or who didn’t make the cut for the book we’re working on, because there are already “too many suffragists” or “too many authors” and the list had to be trimmed . . . .or because the lady in question is just not a suitable subject for a book for fourth-grade classrooms.

To wit – Helen Woodruff Smith, who made my original list of New Hampshire women as the founder of the first bird sanctuary in the United States. Here’s the tantalizing glimpse, courtesy of a WPA book New Hampshire: A Guide to the Granite State, which I happen to own but which you can read on Google Books (just go to Google and click the "More" drop-down arrow at the top):

Left from Meriden about 0.5m on a dirt road to the Helen Woodruff Smith Sanctuary, the first of its kind in the country, and established in 1910 by Mr. Baynes on an abandoned farm that had been bought by Helen Woodruff Smith, who financed the project at first. The sanctuary comprises about 32 acres of sloping pasture and meadow land sheltered by deep woods. It was improved by the landscape architect and ornithologist, Frederick H. Kennard. Paths lead through the woods, bird houses of every type hang from trees, and drinking pools are numerous among the ferns. Bird baths are placed at intervals, one a boulder weighing 5 tons, another of bronze and sculptured by Annetta (Mrs. Louis) Saint-Gaudens in commemoration of the bird masque, “Sanctuary,” first performed here in 1913. The masque was written by Percy MacKaye and the cast included the Misses Eleanor and Margaret Wilson, daughters of President Woodrow Wilson, Miss Juliet Barrett Rublee, the artists Joseph Lindon Smith, the poet Witter Bynner, MacKaye and Baynes.”

Right in that one paragraph there are more than enough rabbit trails to keep me happily distracted all day long.

First I need to know if this bird sanctuary still exists? Indeed it does—and I learn from the Plainfield Historical Society that “The stone pillars and original sign were designed by Maxfield Parrish.”
And in 2006 someone waymarked this cool birdhouse there. Must put this on my to do list for the summer!

Have you read about Waymarking, by the way? It sounds like a lot of fun. . . .

Then there is the “masque” in which the daughters of the President acted. What’s a “masque”? I wonder? I thought it was a dance. This turns out to be a challenge, Wikipedia assures me that it’s a theatrical form of the middle ages but it’s clear that it was pretty popular in community theatre in the opening decades of the twentieth century. This particular masque was something of an environmental propaganda piece, apparently .

If you want to, you can read the full text of the play at Internet Archive . Type in "Sanctuary" and "Bird Masque."

And thanks to the new policy at the New York Times, you can read a review of the performance at the Hotel Astor. Just search for "Helen Woodruff Smith" and it will come right up.

I learn from the Internet Archive copy of Bird Friends; a complete bird book for Americans that the Meriden Bird Club is (or was, the book is copyright 1916) the ”best known bird club in America”! Who knew??

I know a little bit about the sculpting Saint-Gaudenses. I’m thinking of looking up Fred Kennard and I’m intrigued that Mr. Baynes (full name Ernest Harold Baynes) apparently travelled the country urging the creation of bird sanctuaries, but I finally remember that it’s Helen Woodruff Smith I’m researching.

And only then do I learn that – she wasn’t from New Hampshire, she was from Stamford, Connecticut. And she wasn’t quite the role model you’d like to offer to young women of impressionable age!

According to the New York Times, she was sued for breach of contract (marriage) by a spurned chorus-line dancer. (This was only the third time that a woman had been the defendant in such a suit.) This was quite the celebrity trial: The Gary (Indiana) Evening Post describes her as “Dashing Millionaress.” The New York Times reported that “people fought for places in the small courtroom.” The plaintiff is described as a “black-garbed, sunken-cheeked youth” while "Miss Smith" is a “small, pink-cheeked woman, with a sharp, diminutive nose.” Reference is made to Helen's 14 year old son (Dickenson Schuyler) by her former husband, ex-Mayor Cummings of Stamford. (Also available from the New York Times archive are the details of her 1907 divorce decree.)

A quick scan of some genealogy websites reveals that Helen was born in December 1869 (so she was 33 when she took up with the 18-year-old) and died in 1954 (although several listings show her death at "about 1908," unlikely since she was in divorce court in 1911 - demonstrating the importance of double-checking facts!). Helen was the daughter of the late Commodore James Smith, who had been president of the New York Stock Exchange. (And he WAS from New Hampshire. How did he earn the title of Commodore, I wonder?) Her ex-husband Homer Cummings went on to marry three more times, and was Attorney General of the United States as well as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He wrote a memoir in 1939, that might be interesting. I bet I could find a copy on addall. Or maybe Google Books or Internet Archive has digitized it.

Oh wait, Helen. Her love letters to the young dancer were published in the newspapers during the lead-up to the trial, including this map of the "Sea of Matrimony," which would certainly seem to suggest all manner of domestic bliss:

The young man admitted being responsible for her divorce, and described sneaking in by the back door of her home while supposedly working as Helen’s secretary. There are detailed descriptions of various kinds of kisses that the two shared during their nine years of intimacy, (when did the New York Times become the Old Gray Lady? Clearly sometime after October 18, 1911!) The jury found in favor of the well-heeled Miss Smith, by the way, on the grounds that no where in the many letters did she actually promise to marry her young paramour. Geesh, no wonder she’s not in the New Hampshire book!

There’s more , but this will suffice to demonstrate the risks of Research Rapture (thank you Deborah Brodie for the description diagnosis), a recognized occupational hazard of non-fiction writers.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mentor Monday: Repeat as Necessary

I like playing solitaire on the computer. Partly this is because I seldom misplace my computer, while finding a complete deck of cards in my house can be a challenge. But the best thing about games on the computer is the “repeat game” option. In real solitaire you can’t re-deal the exact game you just lost, so you can’t go back and figure out whether a different choice at some point in the game might have yielded better results. The computer allows me to play the same game over and over until I either win or determine that this particular combination of cards just isn’t going to work. I can also use the “undo” option to back up through the game, choose a different option at a particular point, and explore the result.

Computer solitaire provides an instructive model for our writing. We sometimes become so caught up in our created work that we feel as though, like real life, it cannot be changed. But our work (even if we are writing non-fiction) is in fact revisable, and nearly always can be improved by rewriting. We can “repeat last game” over and over, trying different approaches, different transitions, different connections until we find the strongest, most vivid language and most effective presentation possible. As with card games, the computer makes re-writing simpler, although generations of writers managed with pen and ink and scissors and paste.

Perhaps recalling painful days of junior high school, some writers profess to hate the revision process. Most professional writers, however, love it. The initial anguish of trying to capture thoughts and corral characters is over. The essential thread of the story is set. Revision (literally “seeing again”) is a time for weighing words and polishing phrases. The writer can focus on pacing and rhythm, balance and structure, voice and theme. Sometimes a thought mentioned in passing in the first draft catches our attention, demanding development. Sometimes a line, lovingly embellished in the heat of creation, appears cloying or out of place. Whole scenes, arguments, even whole characters may turn out to be superfluous, while in other places you may discover a backstory that needs revealing.

Two factors are essential for effective re-writing: time and feedback. Here the analogy with computer solitaire breaks down.

The replay option in the game only works if you use it immediately. Re-writing, in contrast, demands a time-lapse. It is almost impossible to do more than surface editing on a piece you’ve just completed. For a short piece, at least ignore it overnight. For longer works, even if you revise as you go (revise the last chapter before starting on the next), plan to let the first completed draft age for a while before re-reading it.

A time lapse will also enable you to involve the second factor, feedback. Have a critique group, a writing buddy or at least a reasonably objective spouse read your piece and tell you, honestly, what works and what doesn’t.

Real writers are re-writers.
Even God did a second draft!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Poetry Friday--A Teacher's Prayer

One night as I lay almost sleeping, I heard a voice, softly peeping.
I saw my wife devoutly praying. This is the prayer I heard her saying:

Oh, Lord, let it snow.
Let it drift and let it blow.
In the morning, no real fuss,
Just enough to stop the bus.
Enough to make the County say:

"There will be no school today."
Let the radio report: "Snow’s deep!"
And I’ll roll over for more sleep.
Then later on, say maybe ten,
I’ll turn the radio on again.
Just in time to hear them say:
"It’s strange; the snow has gone away!"
And then I’ll know, You made it stop,
So I can go to the mall and shop.
Please, Lord, just hear my teacher’s plea,
And make it snow for the kids and me!

-- John Hillen

Today's Poetry Friday is being graciously hosted at thehollyandtheivy. Check it out!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Women of...Wednesday--Mary Dyer: Quaker Martyr

Mary Dyer represents a kind of single-minded passion that is at once frightening and admirable.

Little is known about her early life. She and husband, William Dyer, emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. Mary gave birth to seven children. All but one survived into adulthood.

The dead baby, whom Mary birthed in October 1637, presented powerful fodder for no less than the Colony's governor, John Winthrop.

Mary and William had formed a friendship with the Anne Hutchinson – an outspoken woman who infuriated the Puritan leadership with her ideas of racial and gender equality. Anne had plenty of followers. Of course, the Puritans felt threatened by all this free-thinking. They brought Hutchinson to trial for heresy. After a long trial, where Anne defended herself brilliantly, the Puritans banished her from the Colony forever.

Mary so believed in Anne and her ideas, she was the only one who joined the newly banished Anne as she exited the meetinghouse for the last time. It's likely Mary knew this would bring the wrath of the Puritans on her.

Winthrop wasted no time in digging up dirt on Mary Dyer. Rumor had it, the baby who'd been stillborn, had also been horribly deformed. Winthrop ordered the body exhumed, and then published a description of it:

“it was of ordinary bigness; it had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape’s; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp; two of them were above one inch long, the other two shorter; the eyes standing out, and the mouth also”

This was, of course, a total sham. Winthrop needed Mary gone. She and William followed Hutchinson and Roger Williams to Rhode Island after they were banished.

Mary lived in relative obscurity until she and William took a trip to England in 1652 where she became a Quaker. She returned to America at a time when the Puritans were rabidly persecuting Quakers. The punishments meted out by the Puritans were truly horrifying: ears cut off, tongues bored through with hot pokers, and death if the Quakers persisted in worshiping in the Colony.

Mary's story is one of passionate persistence. Knowing she risked death, she returned to Massachusetts again and again. She stood upon the gallows with a noose around her neck and watched as two of her fellow Quakers were hung. A last minute reprieve arranged by her husband was rejected by Mary, and she had to be physically removed.

Mary returned again, and was eventually hung by the Puritans. Her death eventually led to new religious tolerance in America.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mentor Monday--The Collectors

Peter the Great collected – among many other things – human teeth. With the sort of authority only the ruling class possesses, Peter felt free to pull the samples himself from anyone with appealing dentition.

The Dutch taxonomist, Willem Cornelis van Heurn, collected like a madman. Willem had a thing about moles, dogs, and pigs. Unfortunately, he didn't contribute much – if anything – in the way of new insights to the world of taxonomy, he just collected. The teeth and artful mole skins have been photographed by Rosamond Purcell in her book Finders Keepers: Eight Collectors.

Just like Mr. Great and Mr. van Heurn, nonfiction writers are collectors – of a sort.

The Smithsonian article where I found this information, is jammed into one of the seven folders I have for collecting interesting ideas. The folders contain twenty-seven old envelopes, twelve spiral notebooks (large, medium, small), one paper place mat from a seacoast restaurant and one from a local Chinese place. There are newspaper articles and magazines articles – too many for me to count right now.

I've been collecting these snips and jots for nearly three decades. In my collection: the history of bubblegum, peat moss, barber poles, blizzards, cochineal, wigs, stone-aged diets, the history of cleanliness, skyscrapers, ancient shoes, and a sweet little seawater-to-gold scam two scoundrels perpetrated on the town of Lubec, Maine back in the 19h century.

If you find yourself drawn to the larger ideas of history, science, mathematics, discovery and exploration, among other 'true' stories, nonfiction may be your calling. If you love quirky little side stories, you're probably a nonfiction writer, too.

The demand for nonfiction has always been big, and now it's even bigger. Schools expect children to read nonfiction at the earliest stages of their school careers. Publishers are looking for a way to target this market.

It's easy enough to start a collection of ideas. First, pay attention to the things and ideas you love. Use the bookmark tool on your browser. Clip magazine and newspaper articles. Pay attention to what you're listening to on National Public Radio or what you see on television documentaries. At the very least, these things are great conversational fodder for cocktail parties. The caveat, of course, is that a few people will secretly think of you as a geek. Not that that's a bad thing . . .

The body of your collection can reveal a lot about your interests. Are you a specialist like Willem van Heurn? You are if you find the majority of your collection focuses on one particular aspect of the world – like outer space. There's a place for you in the world of children's writing. Publishers are looking for people who can write reliably on topics that interest kids – like space. Publishers like experts. Become the expert!

You may be a generalist like Peter the Great. There's plenty of room for the writer who can find the interesting and arcane – and can write with authority on many topics.

Don't rely on your memory to store these ideas. Write them down, cut them out, file them away. You may not write about it until your mind has had some time to process it, which may take years. Thankfully, this usually happens in the far reaches of the brain while we're going about our business. You may not have the skill level yet to tackle some ideas you've collected. If you're paying attention, you'll likely know when you're ready to tackle a project.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Poetry Friday: On the Day after Lincoln's Birthday...

O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise -- for you the flag is flung --for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths --for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won:
Exult , O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

This week's roundup is being hosted by Big A, Little A

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Women of… Wednesday: Marita Bonner

What an exciting period the Harlem Renaissance must have been. I don’t mean in a Roaring Twenties/flappers/talking movies kind of way. I mean intellectually.

Marita Bonner, a Boston-area woman, represents the reach the Harlem Renaissance had throughout the country and the world. She was only two generations removed from slavery and in that short amount of time was able to participate in the birth of a new genre.

Although she was the granddaughter of a slave, Marita’s life was not one of want. She grew up in a blue-collar household and was expected to study more than just the 3 R’s. By the time she entered Radcliffe College, Marita also was fluent in German and an award winning pianist.

Attending one of the Seven Sisters schools might seem the natural progression for a woman of Marita’s talents but her choice of schools may have had more to do with convenience. The Civil Rights movement was more than 40 years off. Marita and other African American students were not allowed to live on campus. So, every day she commuted.

At Radcliffe she was accepted into Professor Charles Copeland’s writing class. The acceptance was an honor. The Professor took only 16 talented students at a time. Evidently, he recognized Marita’s gift.

After college, Marita found a teaching job near Washington, D.C. There her writing was further nurtured by the literary salon hosted by poet Georgia Douglass Johnson and others.

In 1926 she published one of her most famous pieces: “On Being Young—A Woman—and Colored.” The essay expressed the double issues faced by all young black women of the period. They faced prejudice because of their skin color and their gender.

Marita’s contributions to the writings of the Harlem Renaissance period include many short stories and three plays. Eventually she married, moved to Chicago, and raised her family. She continued teaching but never published again.

She died tragically in an apartment fire in 1971. Her daughter, Joyce, later found two unpublished stories her mother had written. She arranged to have all her mother’s work—including the two new stories published in one volume.

Marita’s stories are filled with people waiting for change. Many of the plots occur on an imaginary street called Frye Street. In this neighborhood, people of all races and nationalities lived together peacefully. Did Marita know she was predicting America’s future?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mentor Monday: Talkin’ ‘Bout Dialect

I have to confess that one of the problems I have as a reader is that I’m a writer. I tend to approach every new book as if it were a manuscript I’m supposed to critique. As a result, it often takes me longer to get into a story because instead of getting lost in the action, I start to mentally edit words and phrases.

This issue occurred again recently when I read Christopher Paul Curtis’ Elijah of Buxton. It is the fictional story of the first free-born child in a Canadian village inhabited by slaves who had escaped from America.

I’ve enjoyed Curtis’ work before particularly Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons go to Birmingham. I looked forward to being propelled into the 19th century. I didn’t get propelled at all. Instead, I had to squeeze through that literary wall called dialect.

Using dialect in your stories is a tricky thing. You want to use enough so that the reader gets a sense of the period, or the character, or the part of the world in which the story takes place. Too little dialect provides no help. Too much dialect becomes a distraction—especially for the child reader. Some writers prefer not to use dialect at all and instead work more strongly on setting and characterization.

Veda Boyd Jones, in a June 2005 article for The Children’s Writer entitled “Cut the Chit Chat” said, “Don’t use dialect, which makes reading hard for kids. Don’t even drop those final g’s. For instance: Jackson said in his slow southern drawl, ‘Ah’m goin’ fishin’ with him.’ That is much harder to read than ‘I’m going fishing with him.’ You can use colloquialisms in speech patterns to show how a character speaks. If Jackson hails from Texas, he’d say ‘I’m fixing to go fishing with him.’”

But colloquialisms can cause problems, too. What if your reader doesn’t understand the words your character uses? While I read Elijah of Buxton I spent so much time wondering if kids knew what certain words meant, that I got taken out of the story:

Pa said, “Hold up, Zeph, they were supposed to be up in Chatham, that means they gunn come from the north. ‘Sides you shouldn’t be out there without no gun, someone with a firearm should go with you.”

“…but hearing ‘em singing all by theirselves like that, they might as well’ve been haints or ghosts singing.”

“…I’m-a-need you not to rile her and n’em girls up none by crying and carrying on…”

An adult will have no problems with these words but I’m not sure the same will be true for kids. I believe they’ll lose momentum as they try to figure out why ‘gun’ is sometimes spelled with one ‘n’ and sometimes spelled with two. An then, when the young readers figure out that “they gunn” is the expression for “they’re going to” they will have been taken out of the action long enough to have to re-read sections. How long will they be willing to do so before they give up?

Elijah of Buxton is a terrific story and Curtis covers a subject not usually presented in children’s literature. The text I read was called a Literature Circle Edition because it included discussion questions at the end of the book. I wish Curtis—or his editor—would have included a glossary as well. It might have helped some children navigate through words like “haint” for “haunt” and other unfamiliar terms and spellings.

If you decide to use dialect or colloquialisms, be spare. Try to find other ways to bring your reader into your character’s life. Use setting. Describe clothing, buildings, vehicles or furniture. Sometimes characterization will contribute. A person living in the 1700s will act differently than a person living in the 1900s. If you must use dialect, be sure the context provides clues. Keep your reader comfortably in the action.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Poetry Friday--Wabi Sabi--Say What?

Wabi sabi is a concept or a philosophy that comes to us from Japan. It is also the name of a picture book by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young. The term wabi sabi is explained by Reibstein as
a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious....

Wabi Sabi, the book (Little, Brown, 2008), is the story of a little cat whose name is Wabi Sabi. At the beginning, a visitor asks the meaning of the cat's name. The cat, who had never thought about her name having a meaning, seeks an answer for herself. She asks the animals around her--a cat and a dog. Both provide Wabi Sabi with portions of a answer that she does not understand, so she leaves her familiar surroundings to go in search of the answer.

In her travels both the cat, and the reader, come to a gradual realization of the meaning of Wabi Sabi.

The book is in haibun form, that is, it is a prose description of a travel adventure accented with haiku. Author's notes at the end explain haiku, haibun, and the history of wabi sabi. Scattered throughout the book are haiku written in Japanese characters. The poems, by the haiku masters Basho and Shiki, are translated into English at the end.

With all its parts, Wabi Sabi is quite a complex book despite its being about simplicity!

I think it is well done, except that all the haiku by Reibstein are in the 5-7-5 syllable format taught in elementary school. I've been reading English language haiku for a number of years, and find that it is mostly written in less than 17 syllables. I'm a great proponent of using only as many words as is needed to get to the "essence" of the moment, not to inflate the essence to make it fit into a 5-7-5 format.

I had the good fortune to speak with the editor of Sabi Wabi recently, and I told her how I was disappointed that all the poems are in the 5-7-5 form. She told me that the author had submitted the poems in their essential form and that she had requested that they be rewritten to conform to the way they are taught in school. Aaaaah!

Learning that made me feel better about the author, but it also made me feel that we're doing a disservice to our kids by teaching them form is of the upmost importance! It may be true in teaching the sonnet or pantoum, but it goes against what I think is the very nature of haiku. Ah, well! I was happy to note that the traditional Japanese haiku throughout Wabi Sabi were translated into non-5-7-5 English poems at the end.

The mixed media illustrations by Ed Young complement the text, and I found the spread with "the damp autumn leaves" particularly pleasing.

Overall, I declare Wabi Sabi a success! And I look forward to the publication of more haiku books for kids.

Here's a haiku of mine that was inspired by a little cat who mostly tolerates my presence in her house:
a squeal!
the cat finally
catches her tail

Go to Wild Rose Reader for today's Poetry Friday Round-Up.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Women of...Wednesday--NH Legislators!

Photo by stgermh

Today, I'm not going to write about one of the women I've profiled for the Women of... series, instead, I'm going to tell you about the ladies of New Hampshire's Senate and House of Representatives (a.k.a New Hampshire's General Court).

In the election of 2008, women became the majority in the New Hampshire Senate where they hold 13 out of 24 seats. Not only that, the President of the Senate is a woman, as is the Speaker of the House! This makes New Hampshire the only state in the country where women lead both legislative chambers!

Percentage-wise, New Hampshire does not lead the states with women legislators, but it is pretty darn close. Colorado is first at 39%, New Hampshire is second with 37.7%. Keep in mind, though, that Colorado's legislative has 100 members, whereas New Hampshire has 424!

The first New Hampshire women legislators (two of them) were elected in November of 1920. This was shortly after women were given the vote as a result of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution on August 20th of that year.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Jessie Doe and Dr. Mary Louise Rolfe Farnum won the 1920 election with write-in votes since the 19th Amendment was passed after the closing date to file to run! Let me repeat that--they won as write-ins! By 1924, more than a dozen women ran and won seats in the legislature. Today we have 147 women in the New Hampshire House of Representatives!

Moving forward 60+ years we see Jeanne Shaheen being elected New Hampshire's first woman in the U.S. Senate on November 4, 2008. (Jeanne Shaheen had earlier made history by becoming the state's first woman governor.) It's taken a little time to get our women on the national stage, but we're making progress!

Onward and upward, Ladies!


NEWS: Bonnie Newman, will be appointed as NH's second woman U.S. Senator when Governor Lynch announces his replacement for Judd Gregg.

Update: Today, 2/12, Judd Gregg declined the position of Secretary of Commerce and will remain in the Senate thereby negating Lynch's appointment.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mentor Monday--Research Tip

This was titled, "Mrs. John Jacob Rogers at Veterans Bureau, 11/18/25."

I love doing research! Sometimes, though, I hit a snag when looking for a particular person or thing in newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So here's my tip: be aware of the customs and language of the era you are researching. For instance, I was looking for items on the woman legislator, Edith Nourse Rogers. I found a few, but when I started looking with the term, "Mrs. John Jacob Rogers," the hits doubled. Edith Rogers lived from 1881 through 1960. During that time, women were often referred to by their husbands' names prefixed with the title, Mrs.

You and I may rail at the injustice of a woman's name being omitted, but it was the way things were done! (Hey, don't get me started!)

Another time I was looking for photos of American children during World War II. I put in the search term "children" and got some, but I knew there had to be more. In my reading I found that kids were often referred to as "youngsters," so I started using the search term "youngster" and bingo!

Titled, "Dance frock of taffeta." When was the last time, if ever, you called a dress a frock?

So how do you find the terms you need?

  • Use a thesaurus! Even better, find an older edition. I have one that's about 40 years old. I found it at a book sale and some of the synonyms included in it are not found in my contemporary thesaurus.

  • Read a small town newspaper from the era. Find a copy online or at a library on microform and read it through. You'll get a feel for the common language being used.

  • Here's a tough assignment--watch old movies! Or, look for some of the PBS American Experience programs on DVD.

  • Go to your local public library and find a set of books that covers the decades. For example, there's an old Time-Life series called "This Fabulous Century," which I've seen on many libraries' shelves. It contains newspaper clippings, photos, advertisements, etc.

    A few years back Writer's Digest Books put out a "Writer's Guide to Everyday Life" series specifically for writers. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition Through World War II by Marc McCutcheon is one.

  • All this extra work will pay off in your writing, as well as your research!