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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.

I'm Back


At least briefly, as long as I can force my brain to coordinate with my fingers.  I want to thank the many of who called, e-mailed, and sent cards and flowers during this difficult time.  Everything is greatly appreciated, and I hope that sometime soon, I shall be able to send personal thanks.  I especially want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to La Gaceta for keeping me on the payroll during the six weeks that I didn't write.

I went into Tampa General on February 24 for surgery to remove to rebuild a collapsing spine, including the removal of bone spurs that were causing pain.  (No, I don't believe that Donald Trump ever had real bone spurs!)  Because of complications, I was there over a month.  First, my right foot was semi-paralyzed when I woke up from the surgery, so it was back to the OR to fix that.  Then the incision on my back didn't stop bleeding, and another OR trip was necessary.

That probably was the worst part of the experience, as the mechanism on my back that collected the excretion was very uncomfortable.  Someone should invent a hospital bed that allows a patient to sleep on her stomach, ala a chiropractor's table.  Just send me ten percent of the patent royalties for the idea, ok?


I finally moved to TGH's rehabilitation unit, where physical therapists did a good job of restoring feeling in my foot, and I came home just before Easter.  My sweet daughter spent another week with me before returning to her home.  She had visited the hospital every day (only one visitor for two hours is allowed during COVID), and she ordered all the equipment in the world to help me adjust to home.  She also advocated for me with countless medical people, and I don't know what I would have done without her.  Now that she is gone, I owe deep gratitude to my neighbor, Lissa Fuller, who brings the mail and checks on me every evening.  She is a person who really lives her Christian faith.


Someone from a home health care company also comes every day to renew the "picc-line" that runs under my skin and delivers a constant dose of antibodies.  It is scheduled to be removed on April 29, but I don't know when I will be able to rid myself of the rigid brace that I have to wear every waking hour.  I also complicated things by spilling scalding hot tea on my thigh, resulting in a painful, blistering burn.


Yet I can feel myself getting stronger every day.  Although I still have to use a (wheeled) walker, that is primarily to keep me from falling, and I expect -- and certainly hope -- that I'll be back to normal soon. Thanks for your offers to visit, but because I can't get the COVID vaccine until I'm off the antibiotics, I have to remain isolated.  No alcohol, either, and my fondest wish is for a gin-and-tonic!  But enough of that.




Before I went into the hospital, I took a stab at cleaning out some of the massive amount of paper that has accumulated during the 48 years that Hubby and have lived in this house.   Among the things I found was a letter from a Massachusetts man who was writing a book on Martha Coffin Wright.  She was one of the five women who planned the 1848 gathering in Seneca Falls, New York, which was the first call for women's rights. 


I was, of course, aware of her, and even more aware of her sister, Lucretia Mott, a well-known Quaker preacher and anti-slavery leader.  Mott met a young Elizabeth Cady Stanton in London at the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, and they vowed to create an organization for women's rights when they returned to the US.  Because of domestic duties, however, eight years passed before that happened.  Stanton lived in Seneca Falls, and Mott went from her Philadelphia home to visit to her sister Martha, who lived nearby.  At the time she helped plan this historic event, Martha was deep into pregnancy.  All three of these women had at least six children.


The re-discovered letter asked what I knew about her brief life here in Tampa -- which was nothing – and the whole thing slipped away from me. When I saw the letter, I belated ordered the book (published by the University of Massachusetts in 2004) and was surprised and pleased to see to myself listed in its bibliography.  I also was surprised and pleased to discover that, with the possible exception of Lucy Stone, I think that I like Martha C. Wright more than any other pioneer feminist. 


I've often told audiences that her sister, Lucretia Mott, was my favorite feminist of all time, but I've revised that opinion.   Based on Martha's voluminous writing, I now think Lucretia retained too much Quaker religiosity:  once, for instance, she "gifted" Martha with a white handkerchief when Martha sported a red one.  (And no, I don't think I would have liked either Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton on a personal basis:  both were too unwilling to share power and especially too jealous of Lucy Stone, whose activism predated theirs and whose sacrifices were even greater.)


But I didn't mean to get into all that.  Instead, I want to tell you about Martha Wright's brief life as Martha Pelham and about her Florida connections.




Her first husband, Peter Pelham, came from an educated family; his grandfather even served as a mentor to famed painter John Singleton Copley.  Although they had immigrated from England, Peter's father even resigned his officer's commission in the British military to support the American Revolution.  The family settled in Maysville, Kentucky in the late 18th century, where they built a large plantation on the Ohio River.  It included slaves, something that would be a factor in future family relationships. 


Peter became a professional soldier and was wounded in the War of 1812.  He never fully recovered and was seeking medical help in Philadelphia when he fell in love with Martha Coffin, whose widowed mother ran the boarding house where he stayed.  He read voluminously and, although he was twice as old as she, Martha borrowed his books and returned his affection.  After two years of proving their commitment, her family allowed them to wed -- despite Quaker objections to soldiers.  Martha was formally "read out of meeting."


Peter had been assigned to St. Augustine soon after the US acquired Florida from Spain in 1821, and in 1824, he was granted the right to be the "sutler," or storekeeper, at the newly founded Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay.  The ship on which the newlyweds sailed ran aground off the coast, however; its passengers waited two weeks to be rescued, and the Pelhams lost the supplies they had intended to sell. 


The town of Tampa did not yet exist, and Fort Brooke had only a few officers' wives.  No letters from this time were preserved, but years later, Martha wrote:  "The "winters were delightful, but the annoyance of swarms of fleas and mosquitoes all the year round and cockroaches in your chambers and in your food…made it anything but pleasant."


She soon found herself pregnant, and the couple agreed that she should return to Philadelphia for a safe delivery.  Marianne Pelham was born there, and when Peter could manage it, he joined his new family.  They had barely resettled at Fort Brooke, however, when Peter went to Pensacola on business and died there on July 10, 1826.  Martha was nineteen years old with a new baby, alone in a strange land.



I'm exhausted.  This effort took me long portions of three days, and I have to save the rest of the story until next week.  But I'm alive and except for the painful burn, getting better.  My best to you all.



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