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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.

The Last of a Long Era

That’s Barbara Bush. She probably was the last of the “stand behind your man” type of first lady and the last of political matriarchs who ruled with imperceptible velvet gloves. As I think she was the last, I’m going to predict that from now on a woman who wants a political life simply will openly avow that. She no longer has to marry, bear sons, and live vicariously -- something that was the case for most of human history.

This is true across party lines. Think Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy: The daughter of a popular Boston mayor, she had the innate ability for her own political career except for being born female. Instead, she lived her aspirations through her husband and sons, sometimes to the detriment of her daughters and daughters-in-law. But I think she already is the last of Democratic matriarchs, as Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama had no such mothers. And they chose wives who were much more their own person and much less shadows of their husbands.

I trust that Republicans will emulate Democrats and no longer will offer robotic first ladies such as Pat Nixon and Mamie Eisenhower. They were not analogous, however, to the manipulative Nancy Reagan, who worked hard behind the scenes for her role as cheerleader-in-chief, definitely to the detriment of her children and stepchildren. Betty Ford, the Republican first lady between Nixon and Reagan, was in the White House only briefly, but had long Washington experience of permanent second-place status -- and took refuge in the bottle.

And Our South Florida Loudmouth

I bring up the subject of first ladies and especially alcoholism because of Roger Stone’s public pronouncement that Barbara Bush was “a mean-spirited, vindictive drunk…a bad person.” You may remember Roger Stone: He cut his Republican Party teeth in 1972 as a dirty trickster in CREEP, the puerile acronym for the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Richard Nixon. Unlike other men in that scandal-plagued administration – which poor Pat simply slept through – Roger Stone never went to prison, but he should have. His unsavory career still is with us, as he breathes the South Florida air near Mar-A-Lago.

In an interview with Fox News’ Alex Jones, Stone declared: “Barbara Bush drank so much booze, that if they cremated her…, her body would burn for three days.” I’m in no position to judge his veracity, but he certainly is in a better position than I to know, having had entrée to the highest levels of Republican society. Of course, like Betty Ford, there are good reasons why women who live vicariously want to drink. Ford, however, acknowledged her alcoholism and sought treatment. Any addiction that Bush may have had was not comparably severe -- but she was uncommonly candid for a woman in Roger Stone’s world, and a misogynist such as he may have confused a dominant female voice with drunkenness.

In any case, it is noteworthy that neither Stone nor his sometimes-boss, Donald Trump, were included in the well-planned Houston funeral. Trump, indeed, had the bad taste to play golf while the Clintons and the Obamas sat in the presidential pew. It was decent of the Bushes to invite them – and also decent of them to attend. Hillary and Michelle forgave Barbara for such anti-feminist comments as her 1984 description of Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro: Bush used faux demure language to say of her husband’s opponent, “I don’t want to say the word, but it rhymes with ‘rich.’”

So I’m glad that era of female behavior is coming to an end. Let’s have no more cattiness hidden under pretentious etiquette, and let’s instead teach our girls to become women who can be open and honest about their ambitions. As he watched the funeral, Hubby pointed out a camera angle from the rear of the church that showed virtually all white or bald heads. There will be other similar-looking people in the future, of course, but they will have lived in a much-changed world – because feminists made it so.

In the Less-Than-Ivory Tower

where I write for a so-called living, I’m contemplating another book. I had called it quits after my last, Women in the Literary Landscape, which came out in March. But with my buddies in the Women’s National Book Association, I’m thinking of doing another for 2020 and the centennial of women’s right to vote. Anyone want to invest in it and the WNBA? You could net a profit, and certainly it would be a good thing for any grant makers out there to do. I abhor the business end of publishing, though, and love the research, so I’ve begun that.

Which leads to the following thoughts on guns and regulations. I pointed out a while back that colonial governments passed laws forbidding the sales of guns to Native Americans, and long after we were a nation, it was a severe violation of law in many states to give an African American access to guns. I also wrote about the invention of cars and how, a century ago, my 12-year-old aunt routinely drove sans any license for herself or for the car. It didn’t take long, however, for people to agree that governments had the authority to regulate this complicated subject, including tests for drivers and dedicated taxes for vehicles. Yet gun regulation – much less tests or licenses or taxes – remains a taboo topic for many spineless politicos.

What I’ve been thinking about, though, is a different analogy. Most of us were educated by conservative teachers who never told us the realities of life in the past, especially the routine abuse of alcohol. We nonetheless probably were taught about “the triangle trade,” wherein New England ships took trinkets to the west coast of Africa and bartered for slaves kidnapped inland by other Africans. They took these prisoners to across the Atlantic to Caribbean ports and sold them to plantation owners, many of whom grew sugar cane that is the basis of liquors, especially rum. The ships then went north, and American refineries turned sugars into liquid cheer, and everyone drank.

The Late Demon Rum

Ale and beer were a standard part of diet, even for children, and records indicate a staggering amount of liquor consumption. In 1784, for example, 24 Connecticut pastors gathered for an ordination ceremony and drank “3 bitters, 15 boles [bowls] of punch, 11 bottles of wine, 5 mug flips, 3 boles toddy, 3 boles smash.” In 1829, the 1,900 residents of Dudley, Massachusetts, managed to down some 30,000 gallons of rum. In the South, it was customary to start the day with mint-flavored whiskey.

Crying babies regularly were hushed with sweetened liquor, and alcohol in its various forms was the most common medicine throughout the nineteenth century. The inclusion of liquor in military rations made it clear that the government considered it a daily need. The result was that large numbers of Americans, women as well as men, were addicted. As the nation’s manners became more refined, women often hid their alcohol consumption in “elixirs” or “tonics” – and many needed repeated doses to through the day.

Alcoholism among men was less hidden, but far more serious for families, because laws gave almost no recognition of women’s civil rights, especially those of married women. In virtually all states, men had legal control over the inheritance and even the income of their wives. A woman thus had no recourse if a drunken husband beat her, took her earnings, and gambled it away. Divorce was almost impossible, and moreover, fathers invariably had custody of their children. Indeed, a man even could grant the guardianship of children in his will to someone other than their mother.

Therefore it was not surprising that the issue of alcohol was inextricably tied to women’s rights. Sagacious women, especially in the West, resisted this and tried to separate the two, but mostly because of clergymen and businessmen who wanted sober employees, the early “temperance” movement soon became the “prohibition” movement. Their first success was in Maine in 1851, where an all-male electorate banned the manufacture or sale of alcohol anywhere in the state. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) came later, in 1874 in Ohio. It was considered a radical organization of women challenging the longtime prerogatives of men -- but in just a little more than a decade, the WCTU reached Tampa.

Newly arrived Italian and Spanish immigrants viewed liquor, especially wine, as part of daily routine – but the white men who ran the town saw this habit as un-American. No Tampa woman – white, black, or immigrant – claimed the right to vote, not even unmarried women who paid property taxes, yet at the behest of clergymen and businessmen: “The women went to work early, pinning ‘dry’ badges on the coats of prohibition voters… Prepared to brave any indignity, the ladies served cool drinks and a bountiful free dinner.” They lost the election by a mere twenty-five votes – with ballots from immigrant wards overwhelming opposed, while men from other areas split their votes. Thus liquor remained unregulated in our town, which had begun in 1824 with drunken soldiers at Fort Brooke.

Slowly, however, American thinking became more subtle, and the national Prohibition that was adopted before most women could vote was repealed in 1933, after all women could vote and after Democrats retook the White House and Congress. During the entire fight, however, from Maine’s 1851 law onwards, no one questioned that government had a right to regulate and even ban alcohol. Tobacco saw the same long process: first no regulation at all, but eventual bans on advertising and on sales to minors. Guns and ammunition will follow. We can and should adopt laws to prevent misuse, and we should punish illegal purveyors of death.


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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