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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.

Things in the Really Up North

The last two columns you (hopefully) read were written before I left for northern Minnesota. With the exception of delayed flights and lost luggage, it was a wonderful respite from Florida in July.  The days were sunny, but neither excessively hot nor humid, and the two brief rainfalls came quietly at night.  I never used the bug spray that my daughter bought for me at the Mall of America, despite the common belief that the mosquito is Minnesota's state bird.


Re rain:  you may remember that the Midwest had lots of it during the spring, and I feared rising grocery prices because planting was so late.  It will be okay:  crops caught up quickly; fields are verdant; and there will be plenty of the corn and grains that are basic to our food chain.  The relatively few cattle allowed outdoors these days (including the herd at my great-nephew's farm) look sleek, so there should be no shortage of beef.  Dairy cattle, hogs, and poultry almost never leave their barns in modern farming -- something that motivates my great-niece, a California PR person with clients devoted to a meatless future.  Needless to say, we don't talk about this in our "Minnesota nice" family.


Wikipedia defines "Minnesota nice" as "polite friendliness, an aversion to open confrontation, a tendency to understatement…and self-deprecation." Minnesotans really are nice.  Children laugh and play, but rarely whine.  Very few drivers cut into traffic or change lanes without a signal.  Not only is there only no road rage, but also the Minneapolis airport is distinctly quieter and less chaotic than those I encountered in flight changes at Louisville and Chicago's Midway.  A few strident anti-choice billboards were all I saw of political strife. 


Education is valued, and the state – with a population about a third of that of Florida – has more than 200 institutions of higher education.  The University of Minnesota has graduated many of the nation's high-tech innovators, while the Mayo Clinic in Rochester still sets the national standard in medicine.  St. Olaf College in Northfield, with five big choirs, is recognized throughout the world for liturgical music.  The Scandinavian and German immigrants who built the state in the 19th century seem to welcome Hmong, Somalian, and Ethiopian refugees of the 20st century, even electing Ilhan Omar to the US House.  Senator Amy Klobucher's culture would be an excellent model for us all, and certainly a welcome change from the bullying New Yorker we have now.


Mostly, people respect nature and the environment.  Solar panels and windmills that look like moving sculpture dot the land.  Their ten thousand lakes are filled with fish, and no one is trying to drain them for more development.  Next to agriculture, their biggest "industry" may be having fun, including lots of recreation based on snow and ice.  My goddaughter's beautiful new home – which she and her husband literally built themselves – is on a big lake, yet no one ran motorboats at loud volumes, and I saw no jet skis.  Everyone slows for loons and ducks on the water, and even in Minneapolis, wild turkeys can be seen grazing on road medians.  I love Florida, but there are times…


Mary Gibbs:  Early Environmentalist


You may recall that I published a four-volume history of American women by state – each state plus DC and Puerto Rico, from prehistory to present, a total of 1626 pages.  That came out in 2004, and I'm still tired.  But I've always wanted to take it apart and encourage state departments of education to use it with history classes.  That probably never will happen, but if you want to lead the effort, I'd appreciate it.


The Minnesota chapter has seventeen relatively long bios of prominent women, but I never knew of Mary Gibbs until this trip to the state of my birth.  Museum curators are getting better and better at including women, and Itasca State Park – the headwaters of the Mississippi River – did a good job of telling us about Mary Gibbs, a pioneer of preservation.  The park was established in 1891, earlier than most, but because of opposition from loggers who wanted to cut its trees, the bill to create Itasca passed by just one vote. 


Its second superintendent was J.P. Gibbs, whose daughter Mary worked closely with him.  He died in 1903, perhaps worn out by continual battle with timber barons.  Mary inherited his job, and at age 24, became the first female park superintendent in the nation.  Although young, she stood up to the powerful lumbermen.  When they built an illegally high dam that was causing flooding, she ignored their rifles and courageously warned them twice.  They laughed her off, but she returned with the sheriff and a warrant ordering them to open the dam's sluice and lower the water. 


An armed lumberman declared that he would shoot anyone who tried to touch the dam's controls, but Mary Gibbs famously swore that she would touch the levers and he would not shoot her.  With a few supporters, she climbed to the top of the levee and opened the dam's gates.  Released from their barrier, flood waters rushed to the Mississippi.  For a while, that is.  Until lumber lobbyists in St. Paul lined up their political forces. 


They sued, and although the state attorney general supported Gibbs, the courts delayed; the governor soon dismissed her; and downed trees again clogged the waterways.  The governor had made his fortune in the riverboat business, often hauling logs, and he did the conventional thing of protecting the interests of his business buddies.  It's clear today that most trees around the source of the mighty Mississippi are not virgin forest, not the ancient redwoods of California, but instead are second or even third growth.  Despite Teddy Roosevelt's promotion of conservationism in the same era, it would be a long time before anyone listened to similarly thoughtful words from a passionate young woman.


Republicans and Women


I'm behind on political news, but I did see that Alabama Congresswoman Martha Roby, a Republican, announced that she won't run again.  It's not because she's old:  she won a Birmingham City Council seat in 2003, just two years after her law school graduation, and moved on to the US House in the 2010 election.  Although she didn't explain it quite this candidly, her retirement is because she is fed up with her party's all-male leadership and their demands that she toe the line.  Unless Republicans manage to recruit and nominate another woman in her place, this will reduce their numbers in the US House from an already pitiful thirteen to just twelve women.  That's compared with 89 Democratic women. 


Roby was not Alabama's first congresswoman, as she shared that distinction with Teresa Sewall, also elected in 2010.  Sewall has not announced a retirement, nor does anyone expect that.  An African American with degrees from Princeton, Harvard, and Oxford, Sewall is the only Democrat in the state's seven-member congressional delegation.  The number of blacks in Alabama should justify at least two seats that could be expected to vote Democratic, but districts were gerrymandered.  Drawn to divide any concentration of blacks and keep whites in power, some district maps look like four-pointed stars joined by a slim middle.


With Martha Roby's retirement, I expect that six of Alabama's seven seats will be held by white, male, Republicans – in the so-called House of Representatives.  Martin Luther King, who was thrown into solitary confinement because he led a civil rights march in Birmingham, must be rolling in his grave.  That was on Good Friday, 1963, and one would hope that by 2019, there would be more justice for both blacks and women.


By comparison, Florida does much better.  Nine of our 27 House members are women – and all of them are Democrats.  Despite what you hear about Florida being a conservative state, when you add the five Democratic men, 13 – or very nearly half -- of our delegation are Democrats.  Moreover, no Republican woman has won a congressional election since 2010, when Sandy Adams – supported by Alaska's Sarah Palin – defeated the Democratic incumbent, Suzanne Kosmas. 


Republicans, however, replaced their sole woman with a (white) man at the next election, and no serious Republican woman has emerged as a candidate during the following decade.  It says something profound about the nature of the two parties.  One welcomes women; the other doesn't.  And these are facts, objective statistical measurements that are not open to argument.  Don't try.



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