Sunday, April 25, 2010

Women Pioneers


While wandering the collection at the Brandywine River Museum, an inspiring discovery caught my eye. The above painting is called The Women in Business, which was painted in 1897 by Alice Barber Stephens. It was an illustration for a cover of The Ladies Home Journal in 1897 for a series called "The American Woman." Women in the late 19th Century were entering the work force in a number of roles (other than as servants) and this illustration is a social commentary on the lives of women at that time. It was acceptable in those days for women to be clerks, without male chaperones, in upper class departments stores like the old Wanamaker's in Philadelphia where women of leisure spent time. The customers could sit, but clerks were required to stand. She features a plainly-dressed little girl in the foreground who is a gopher for the store and is contrasted with a privileged, well-dressed little girl in the background. There were no child labor laws in this country until 1938. Sometimes women in jobs of that era were required to be unmarried or subjected to other controlling laws. The dictates of society required lots of rules to control those women, or who knows what could happen.

Alice Barber Stephens (1858-1932) was a trail blazer in her time in history. Born a Quaker in New Jersey, she was a full time student at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art). She became proficient at engraving, an important skill in the days before photo-mechanical reproduction.  In 1876, she enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she studied under Thomas Eakins. She even began a class where women could learn to draw the human form from nude models. 1879 - Female Life Class:


Many of the works of this fascinating artist can be viewed at the Library of Congress, American Memory location. It is easy to see her uniquely female view of society and the role of women in it. She focuses on domestic subjects such as a women giving piano lessons, or children, and husbands,
or women gardening. In 1918, she painted Somebody has to raise everything you eat, do your share:

She also illustrated books written by other women of her time period such as The Mayor's Wife, by Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935). It is a wonderful story that can be read online. She was another impressive woman pioneer.


Having grown up in the middle of the 20th Century, following World War II, it was very apparent to me that women were getting the message to give back the jobs gained during the war so men could take those jobs to support families. Many women didn't drive automobiles, or work outside the home. They moved from their father's home to their husband's home. Even during the Fifties and Sixties, car loans were to be co-signed by males and a woman signing an apartment lease was a rare occurrence. I remember in 1966, I went to a grocery store along with my fiance to buy some things for my mother. I was student teaching at a school nearby and ran into a teacher from that school. She grilled me on who he was, where he lived and why were we in a grocery store buying groceries because I might be living with him "in sin" as the underlying implication. It was none of her business, but I wanted my college degree, so I couldn't tell her that. When I look at the circumstances of women today compared to a hundred years ago (or even fifty years ago), we've come a long way thanks to the efforts of women pioneers like Alice Barber Stephens and Anna Katharine Green. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Labor Day

As much as I enjoy remembering him at this age, this young man is a happy husband, and the devoted father of my two young grandchildren. He just turned 35 and his father and I are very proud of his accomplishments. We admire his values, strong work ethic and his ability to make wise decisions. He finished his education and has a successful career of ten years. He even finds time to call his 91 year-old grandmother. We couldn't ask any more of our very busy son. To watch his children climbing over him and greeting him after his day at work is as much reward as we could ask. Ya done good kid! Many, many, many more Happy Birthdays and we won't complain if there are more grandchildren! It was wise of him to marry a Super Mom.

I also celebrate his birthdays because I was there too.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Endotherms and Ectotherms

As spring is upon us and temperatures fluctuate wildly, it is amazing to witness the various fashion approaches to the season. When the temperature in the morning begins at 42 degrees, even though the high is forecast to hit the upper sixties, we see those brave souls (endotherms)  who spend their day as though we were in the middle of July. The flip flops, pool shoes, and sandals barely cover the pink toes and the goosebumps. Sleeveless or short sleeve tops can be seen in the middle of a crowd of leather jackets. Some folks are wearing wool slacks while others wear Bermuda shorts.

I attended an event on an evening when temperatures were in the forties after a day in the mid fifties. Granted the day before, we experienced temperatures in the upper eighties range. On the evening in the forties, I was shivering even though I had worn a lined all-season coat with a hood because we had to walk in a cold breeze for a half mile to reach the site of the event. Some people heading to the same event were dressed as though it was the previous day with 85 degree weather--shorts, and sleeveless.

If a teenager wants to make a fashion statement and ignore the cold temperatures, whatever floats their boat. However when I see parents dressed for cold weather with a small child wearing summer clothing, that is very disturbing. It makes me want to find a coat for the child. I like the philosophy that if Mom needs a sweater, the child should also wear a sweater. 

I exercise so my metabolism isn't nonexistent, but when the weather is cold, so am I. I must be a reptile (ectotherm) because I depend on outside sources for most of my body temperature. I've been called a lot of things in my life, but snake or reptile might be accurate. We have thermostat wars at my house.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mary, Mary

As I was having fun puttering in my garden with the birds singing and the bugs biting, ringing in my head was the old English nursery rhyme: "Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?"  At the time, it seemed innocent enough and left me with a warm feeling of springtime nostalgia from my childhood and working in the garden with my family. 

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, 
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row. 


Adult curiosity got the better of me because I have researched enough nursery rhymes to know their true meanings have nothing to do with the obvious and some are downright gruesome. This is one of them. If your stomach can handle it, check it out: 

Mary refers to Bloody Mary, Queen of Scots and we all know what happened to her. The garden is actually a reference to a graveyard. Silver bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture. Children don't know that and my grandchildren just enjoy the rhyming sounds minus the mayhem. Maybe next gardening day, I will sing Springtime in the Rockies.