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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Genius and Gender

Most people who read “In Context” care about history, so I want to tell you about an exceptionally interesting event that soon will occur in Lakeland. The Florida Conference of Historians meets on the beautiful campus of Florida Southern College during the weekend of February 13-15. The fifty-page agenda is almost astonishingly ambitious, with presenters from as far away as Canada, Panama, and even a princess from Saudi Arabia. Topics range from international to local, with speakers including graduate students, faculty, and independent scholars. Among the great diversity of sessions you might like to attend:

• Florida’s French Settlers in a European Context

• The Relationship between the United States and Cuba

• Sacrifices and their Significance in Pre-Islamic Arab Religion

• Sports Personalities and Breaking the Color Barrier in Comics

• Eastern Airlines: Deregulation, Labor Wars, and Bankruptcy

• Beating Back the Mob: One Florida Sheriff’s Fight against Racial Vigilantism

• Bolsheviks in Bavaria: Soviet Republics in Central Europe, 1919

• From Wasteland to Wonderland: An Environmental History of Southwest Florida

• The Law as a Facilitator of Violence Against Women

• Chanel Number 5: A Historical Interpretation of a Cultural Staple

Tampans especially will be interested in USF archivist Andy Huse’s presentation on “Out of Bounds in Tampa: Jook Joints and the Anti-VD Campaign During World War II.” Kimberly Wilmot Voss is from the University of Central Florida, but she will address “The Gasparilla Cookbook: Tampa’s Well-Behaved Women Making a Difference.”

All of these sessions are free. The only charge will be $35 to attend the Saturday night dinner featuring Dr. Jane Landers of Vanderbilt University. In addition to being a very nice person, she has done a lifetime of original research on America’s first free black community, which was on an island off of St. Augustine. Tours of the Lakeland campus, which features many buildings by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, also will be available. If you haven’t discovered this gem in our backyard, you surely should go.

The conference president is Dr. James Michael (Mike) Denham. He not only runs the Lawton Chiles Center for Florida History, but also sponsors an annual public lecture series. Hubby and I have gone to them, and both of us have spoken repeatedly to Lakeland audiences. Each time we go, we think the event will attract three drunks and a nun, and each time we are pleasantly surprised. A hundred people will turn up, many of them with interesting questions and comments and all of them friendly and polite. I recommend Lakeland. For this conference, see http://www.floridaconferenceofhistorians.org/2015-fch-program.html

* * *

I was listening to NPR while unpacking one of the 72 boxes that were in storage while we remodeled, and my ears picked up at the words “genius” and “gender.” Princeton University professor Sara-Jane Leslie was commenting on her recent article in Science Magazine, which addressed “why some academic disciplines have large gender gaps while others do not.” She and her colleagues focus on whether academic success is due to diligent work or to the innate spark of brain power that we define as genius – and, importantly, whether “genius” is more often attributed to males.

“Much of the public discourse,” Dr. Leslie says, “is focused on women’s representation in natural science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines; however, gender representation across disciplines is quite complex, with women being well represented at the PhD level in some STEM disciplines, but underrepresented in some social science/humanities disciplines. For instance, women earn approximately 50% of PhDs in molecular biology and neuroscience, but fewer than 35% of PhDs in economics and philosophy, even though the former are STEM disciplines and the latter are social science/humanities disciplines.”

Her video (http://www.princeton.edu/~sjleslie/gendergaps.html) offers other revelations from the on-going study. I found most striking the fact that these innovative researchers looked at search engines and discovered that for every 25 parents who google “is my son a genius?,” just 10 type “is my daughter a genius?” That’s more than twice as many for boys as for girls, and such expectations make a huge difference in a child’s life.

I was sufficiently inspired by the mention of philosophy that I ran to my computer and sent a message – and was delighted when Dr. Leslie quickly responded. I wanted to tell her about the only book Hubby and I have written that never has been published. We call it Sheer Genius: America’s Female Philosophers, 1648-1948. It focuses on women who would have been termed “philosophers” had they been men. The clearest example, we think, is Mary Calkins. The introduction to this would-be book says:

“Working when psychology was separating from philosophy, Dr. Calkins was sufficiently respected by her peers that she was elected president of both the American Psychological Association and the American Philosophical Association. William James and John Dewey are the only other people who achieved that acme – and everyone recognizes the names of Dewey and James. Why is that not the case for Calkins? The only possible explanation, it seems, is that her first name was Mary. The chroniclers of learning dismissed her pioneering contributions to both fields because of their bias, not because of her ability.”

* * *

Of the two-dozen or so women included in Sheer Genius, I think the one I most admire is Hannah Adams. Born in 1755, she never ventured far from her birthplace of Medford, Massachusetts. Nearby Harvard was more than a century old by then, but Adams lived her entire life and died prior to the admission of any woman to any college anywhere in the world. She was educated only in local elementary schools, and all of her other encyclopedic knowledge came from her own voracious appetite for learning.

Her mother died when she was twelve; her father soon remarried and had a total of nine children. Teenage Hannah often could be found in Boston bookstores, reading what she could not afford to buy. Male college students who boarded in the Adams home taught her Latin and Greek, and as her intellectual reputation spread, several local men invited her to use their personal libraries. Among them was distant cousin and eventual president John Adams. I suspect that Abigail Adams had something to do with the offer attributed to John.

Hannah Adams was just 23 when she began what became her major work, a survey of religious ideas. Her motivation was disgust with the bias of a book by British clergyman Thomas Broughton. Its title, An Historical Dictionary of All Religions from the Creation of the World to the Present, purported to be a factual summary, but instead criticized any ideas other than his own strict Calvinism.

In 1778, as the American Revolution swirled around her, Adams began to read everything she could obtain on religion; her work was published in 1784, a year after the war officially ended. Its title was An Alphabetical Compendium of the Various Sects Which Have Appeared from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Present Day. She was not yet 30 years old, but both British and American readers responded enthusiastically enough that she could pay her debts and go on to other projects. The compendium, however, was her lifework. It was reissued several times, with varying titles and the addition of pre-Christian religions.

Organized alphabetically, the 1817 edition had an amazing 59 entries in the As alone. Adams began with ABRAHAMITES, a sect of the Middle Ages, and went on to this objective definition of the ABYSSIAN CHURCH, which began in the seventh century: “They disown the pope’s supremacy, and transubstantiation... Like the Roman catholics, they offer their devotions and prayers to the saints, and believe in a state of purgatory... They use different forms of baptism; and keep both Saturday and Sunday as sabbaths. They are circumcised, and abstain from swine’s flesh.”

She continued with thousands of definitions of religious ideas. Some even included internal divisions: within “atheist,” for example, she said: “Plato distinguishes three kinds of Atheists. 1. Those who deny the existence of the gods absolutely. 2. Those who deny their interference in human affairs. 3. Those who admit both, but conceive them indifferent to human crimes...”

Nor did she accent the accepted creed over the less familiar. At a time when no nation nor any American state granted full civil rights to Jews, she wrote a definition of “Jews” that is about ten times as long as the more well-known “Christians.” The group of religious ideas that today is covered under the term “Islam” was known then by various spellings of its founder, Mohammed. Adams’ definition for this was much longer than for either Christianity or Judaism.

She expended such a great amount of research and thought to her compendium that even the Zs contained a half-dozen definitions. The last was: “ZUINGLIANS, a branch of protestants; so called from Ulric Zuinglius, a divine of Switzerland…in 1501. He differed from [Martin] Luther in supposing only a figurative presence of the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist... He was also for removing out of the churches many things which Luther was disposed to treat with toleration.., such as images, altars, wax-tapers, and other ceremonies.”

Hannah Adams did all of this research without leaving Boston, much less access to telegraph, typewriter, or computer. She did it without a college education. And more than that, she innately understood and employed scientific method and cultural relativism long before those terms existed. Now that is sheer genius!

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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