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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.

Next Tuesday Evening

I promised Jean Yglesias of the League of Women Voters that I would publicize an event the league is sponsoring on Tuesday, September 27. Titled “What’s Going On? Voter Behavior in the 2016 Election,” it will feature Dr. Edwin Benton of USF’s political science department. Among the more intriguing questions to be addressed:

How people acquire party identification

Why people vote against their own self-interests

The rise of voting choices based on opinion vs. fact

USF’s Dr. Susan Macmanus spoke on similar topics at the Athena Society’s September meeting, showing a lot of new data on changed trends, most of them rather alarming. We are no longer the state where Social Security is the big issue: instead, almost half of Florida’s voters are under 35. These young people understandably remain young in their understanding of recent history. Especially since the rise of STEM and “workforce development,” most young people are ignorant of important subjects such as world history and economics. They are learning geometry instead of geography and are graduating without any knowledge of civics and government. So please talk to your children and grandchildren about this election, which is shaping up as the most important of our lifetimes.

I especially urge my African-American friends to bring young voters to this forum. It will be at 1515 North Nebraska in the Robert Saunders Library, – which gives you a chance to educate them on NAACP hero Bob Saunders. I can tell you for sure that if Bob and Helen Saunders still were alive, they would be beating the bushes for National Voter Registration Day, which is September 27, the day of the event. It’s from 6:00 to 7:30, is free, and will offer light refreshments. The Saunders and many other people, both black and white, risked their lives to register to vote. It’s the least we can do.

Being Ashamed of Brilliant Daughters

I also promised last week to write more this week about the American Association of University Women. It began in 1881 and initially called itself the Association of Collegiate Alumnae. That Latin usage reflected members’ pride in being one of the very few women who had graduated from college. In that era, most people never had met such a freakish person as a woman who wanted to earn a “bachelor’s” or “master’s” degree. When Emily Balch, later the second American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, wanted to go to college in her youth, her Harvard professor father sent her from their Massachusetts home to Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania because, she wrote, “he didn’t want to be embarrassed by having a daughter at college.”

We rarely use Latin terms anymore (a good thing because it and other languages limit women with usages built into the language), so I suppose I should explain that “alumnae” is the feminine form of “alumni,” the usage for men back then and for everyone now. But before we had “alumnae,” many self-educated women worked to create that opportunity. They organized themselves as the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873. This was less than a decade after the Civil War, when practical needs finally had made it permissible for women to travel without male escort and to organize for war needs, especially hospital creation. That women were ardent about creating opportunity for themselves was clear when some 400 attended the first AAW meeting. It eventually would merge with the Association of Collegiate Alumnae to create today’s AAUW.

Among the AAW’s founders were author and activist Julia Ward Howe; the Reverend Antoinette Brown Blackwell, who was the nation’s first ordained minister of a mainstream church; and Maria Mitchell, the first woman in the world to discover a comet. That was in 1847, when she was a 29-year-old librarian with no formal education. (Just as a reminder, this was entirely gender-based; Mitchell’s brothers went to Harvard, which by then was over 200 years old.) She used a telescope on the roof of a bank, and among the AAW’s first goals was to buy her better equipment. She was the only woman on the initial faculty of all-female Vassar College, founded in 1865. Its all-male trustees hired her to teach astronomy – but also refused to allow students to go outside after dark. Go figure.

The AAW soon gained a sufficiently stellar reputation that major newspapers covered its annual meetings and the serious papers delivered there. Perhaps the most innovative during the 1880s was “The Position, Occupation, and Culture of Indian Women” by Susette La Flesche, a spokesperson for the Omaha tribe. This was a time, remember, prior to formalization of academic fields such as sociology or anthropology. And a time when wars against natives still were going on in the West. It took courage for the AAW to invite a speaker who advocated for those then viewed as “terrorists.”

Other AAW leaders were Dr. Susan Dimock, who earned her 1871 medical degree with high honors at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, as well as Lucretia Crocker and Abby May, who were elected to the Boston school board in 1873. May was a relative of Louisa May Alcott, and Alcott, too, was a feminist who supported AAW. Much of its work was funded by Boston philanthropist Ednah Cheney, who also endowed educational projects for freed slaves – almost all of them conducted by white women from the North. So for more than a century, the AAUW has worked for educational equality, and it continues that effort especially with scholarships for young women. I was pleased to accept the Ribbon of Honor from the local chapter last week, and I encourage you to send a check for their scholarship fund. Address it to 11107 North 21st Street; 33612.

Florida Book Festival, St. Augustine, and Henry Flagler

The white women who taught at Freedman schools for former slaves is another thing I’d like to research further. I’ve done a fair amount, but there is more to be known, especially here in Florida. Many years ago, while working on a book on a different topic at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, I was distracted by letters written by teacher Anna Kidder, who started a school in Ocala after the Civil War ended. Local whites were hostile to her, and segregation extended even to water. Citing progress in clean water, she said, “I know of one colored well and two white ones that have been dug since Emancipation.” I had to think a bit before I realized that she wasn’t talking about Rainbow Springs or the actual color of water.

I bring this up because she was one of many women I cited last weekend, when I spoke at the Florida Book Festival in St. Augustine on They Dared to Dream: A History of Women in Florida. The festival was held at historic Flagler College, but it was not especially well promoted, and because I was in the last time slot and competing with the FSU game, I was delighted that the session turned out to have standing room only. It was evidence again that there is a big market for women’s history. If only publishers understood that…

But I was happy to have an audience that understood the year 1565 and the fact that, yes, St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city. We Floridians should do so much more to publicize that! I could say a lot about St. Augustine and the Spanish and African women who were there from its beginning, but I’m going to zero in on the church where we paid $10 to park. It is magnificent, the most majestic building in a city full of them. Like much of St. Augustine, including the buildings that now are Flagler College, it was built by railroad and land developer Henry Flagler – from his fortune that was heavily subsidized by the federal government. He endowed the Episcopal cathedral in memory of his deceased daughter and her stillborn child.

He didn’t do so well by the daughter’s mother and certainly not by her stepmother. Mary Flagler had saved Henry from bankruptcy early in their marriage, when he lost $50,000 investing in a Civil War salt mine; he got his second start with money from her family. Soon after her 1881 death, he married Ida Alice Shrouds, who had nursed her in the Flaglers’ New York home. Because Ida Alice was just six years older than Henry’s daughter and especially because she had been a workingwoman until they wed, his associates were open about their rejection of the new Mrs. Flagler. The ostracism caused her emotional health to deteriorate, and because state laws gave husbands great power in assessing the mental condition of their wives, he had her permanently committed to a New York sanitarium. He never once visited.

By 1901, he wanted a divorce to wed Mary Lily Kenan of North Carolina, who was about half his age and from a wealthy background – although he would spend many millions more on her than on his first two wives. Inconveniently, proven adultery was the only grounds for divorce in both New York and Florida. Because Flagler could not plausibly claim that his institutionalized wife was guilty of adultery, he needed to manipulate the law. He adopted Florida as his legal residence, and the legislature obliged, amending the divorce code for his personal desire. The adjustment was repealed four years after its passage: credible historians conclude “he was the only person ever to take advantage of the law” and that he spent at least $20,000 lobbying for it. Thus the glorious church causes me mixed feelings.


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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