Ann Seton Chase by Linda Harris Sittig

In the small town where I grew up, there was a unique rite of passage for preteens. Once you reached your twelfth birthday, and had a letter from a parent, you were allowed entrance into the hallowed halls of the town’s public library.

Prior to that momentous occasion children were limited to choosing and checking out books from the children’s library, housed in the lower level of the town’s municipal building.

The public library occupied the upper floor of the municipal building, which loomed on the horizon like an ancient sanctuary. Four massive white columns stood as stately sentinels to the entrance of the red brick multistory edifice. One had to walk up a spacious set of white stairs to get to the front portal. Not that I, however, had ever traversed those steps because the door to the children’s library had its own set of descending steps.

I remember  looking up at the windows of the town library, probably feeling elated that I would finally be allowed upstairs with the ‘real books’. No longer would I be relegated to Lad, A Dog or Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. This day would be my big chance to see what the grown-ups read.

Inside, the adult library was large compared to the cozy space I had been accustomed to downstairs with its child-friendly bookcases and furniture. Trying to look like I belonged, I held my head up high and marched right over to the check-out desk, holding my mother’s letter as proof that I could now enter the ranks of adult bibliophiles.

A short while later with my newly inked library card in hand, I sauntered around the stacks and glanced at the books. To my surprise there was not one author I recognized.  Undaunted, I slipped over to the fiction section and perused the titles there. Again, no success.

So I tried a new tactic. I moseyed over near the circulation desk where a pushcart filled with  newly returned books was poised, waiting for a librarian to re-shelve the contents. I spied a title that looked intriguing, called The Turquoise.

To this day I am not exactly sure what made me pick it up, but it must have been karma.

I thumbed through the first few pages and saw that the story took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the 1800’s, a place and time that promised to be exotic reading compared to my non-eventful suburban childhood. The author was Anya Seton, but I had never heard of her. Regardless, I took the book to the check-out counter and handed it along with my library card to the librarian.

She flipped through the novel and then with penetrating librarian-eyes asked, “Does your mother know this is the book you’re checking out?”

This threw me into in a quandary. It was my first experience ‘upstairs’ and I wanted that book, even more so now because of the librarian’s admonishment. So I lied. I told her my mother had agreed I could check out any book I wanted. With pursed lips, she stamped the date card, and told me I had two weeks before it was due back.

Bursting out into the brilliant late afternoon sunshine I held that book as if it was a treasure. Little did I know it would change my life.

With The Turquoise, author Anya Seton introduced me to the genre of Historical Fiction, and my reading habits would never be the same again.

I did not simply read the book, I devoured it. Yes, it was adult in nature, the love story of a strong young woman who married for security, but always loved another man. Love story aside, it was also the tale of beguiling New Mexico and fashionable New York City in the century before I was born. I drank in the geographic details as if they were an elixir.

In time I would go on to read every book Anya Seton (Ann Seton Chase) wrote; as her research combined with travel brought an authenticity to her settings. Through the language and lives of her characters I learned about Anglo-Saxon England, Tudor England, Medieval England, Colonial America, the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, and the strong women around whom she penned each story.

While some girls read magazines in their spare time, I found myself reading historical novels. As a college freshman I eagerly became a history major and years later started to travel, always to places where some historic event had occurred. Several destinations were the settings I had read about in Anya Seton’s novels.

Born in New York City in 1904, Anya Seton (Ann Seton Chase) was the child of two authors; her father was a nature writer and her mother composed travel articles. Anya’s first successfully published book came out through Houghton Mifflin when she was 37; later she went on to write a dozen novels. Although The Turquoise did not win any awards or bring her acclaim, it still remains my favorite.

Who knew that a book read by a skinny little girl would one day propel her to become a writer of historical fiction herself? I was that little girl and my debut series, “Threads of Courage”, centers on strong young women from the past who overcome monumental obstacles in order to carve out a life where integrity triumphs over injustice.

The first book in the series, Cut From Strong Cloth, is available from Freedom Forge Press and Amazon.

Thank you, Anya Seton; books really do change lives.

If you are new to this blog, then please sign up as a follower on the right side bar. Thank you for believing in strong women.

~ Linda ~

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Elisabeth Oesterlein by Linda Harris Sittig

 

Education was always a priority in our family. My father pursued a B.S. in Accounting from New York University because as a World War II Veteran he could attend under the G.I. Bill. After graduating from high school, my mother enrolled herself in the Katherine Gibbs School of Philadelphia. By the time I was sixteen, my parents sat me down and told me I would go on for a higher education. It was simply a given, although there were geographic and financial stipulations. I chose Grove City College in western Pennsylvania and honestly never gave a thought to the fact that American women didn’t always have the privilege of being admitted to a college or university.

For that opportunity we need to look back to a small rural area in North Carolina and the day that Elisabeth Oesterlein arrived in town.

A small village had been settled by the Moravians, a Protestant society sometimes referred to as the Brethrens. Their group migrated from Pennsylvania in the mid 1700s to the wild frontier of North Carolina, where they established the settlement of Salem—now a part of the modern town of Winston-Salem. What set the Moravians apart from most other groups of their time was their belief that women should have a comparable education with men.

In 1770 Elisabeth Oesterlein wanted to go help the Moravians in Salem, but there was a slight obstacle. Elisabeth lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 500 miles away. She rounded up a group of  Single Sisters, and together the sixteen females walked their way from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, often sleeping in barns, or out under the stars.

Elisabeth was seventeen years old.

She arrived in Salem at a time when the Moravians were working to establish a school for young girls, and Elisabeth was the perfect candidate to become the first teacher. In April of 1772 Elisabeth rang the bell for opening day of school, housed temporarily inside the Congregation Meeting House. Three girls were enrolled. The school had originally been intended for Moravian daughters but Salem had grown into a trading center with non-Moravians  coming into town for shopping and supplies. As fame about the school spread, other families wanted their daughters to apply for an education as well.

By 1786 the school was running smoothly. During that year there were now thirty-three Single Sisters working in Salem. They lived together in a large house built specifically for their needs, and became a small communal unit of their own. Elisabeth was a vital part of that unit.

In 1802 the school became designated as a boarding school where young females of various religions could be educated in both academic and practical pursuits. Within three years a brand new red brick building was constructed and while Elisabeth and the other teachers were completely capable of offering instruction, the elders of the church wanted a man to become the principal of the school. A minister from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was hired.

He did not walk the 500 miles.

As the school progressed, more girls arrived. By 1826 the first Native American girl was enrolled, a member of the Cherokee tribe.

For the price of twenty tuition dollars, girls would receive instruction in reading, arithmetic, writing, history, geography, and German. For an additional sum they could also receive training in music. While only families with financial means could afford to send their daughters to Salem, the school continued to thrive even in tough economic times.

During the 1860s when the Civil War tore the nation apart, the Salem School did not shut down their classes as many other Southern institutions did. Instead, the teachers continued to instruct their female students with the belief that an educated woman would make for a better contributing member of society.

By 1866 the school was now called the Salem Female Academy and by 1890 it conferred its first college degrees to seven women. This institution dedicated to educating females was by then already 118 years old.

Today, Salem College is acknowledged as the oldest women’s school in the United States. Each year one graduating senior is presented with the Oesterlein Award given in memory of Elisabeth Oesterlein who devoted her life to insuring that women could receive an equal education to that of men.

Remember that my parents put a geographic limit on my choice of college? It was my mother’s belief that only schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line could offer a decent college education for young women. Obviously she did not know of Salem’s reputation. I did receive my college degree and I salute Elisabeth Oesterlein who paved the way for me.

Thanks to Dr. Cort Johns of the Netherlands for pointing out another strong woman.

If you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, please do so on the right sidebar. Strong Women in History is now in its fourth year and I am only 4 followers away from hitting the 500 mark:)

 

 

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Happy Anniversary Strong Women in History!

This April marks when Strong Women in History moves into its fourth consecutive year of paying tribute monthly to a variety of extraordinary women who accomplished amazing feats in their lifetime. Every woman I choose to highlight should have become famous, but remained without the accolades she deserved.

In celebration of the success of this blog, now being followed in 51 countries, my publisher is offering a Kindle sale for the novel, Cut From Strong Cloth. The research I did for that novel and the woman who inspired the book, Ellen Canavan, also led me to create this blog.

The Kindle sale is one week only! Ending at midnight April 6th. Here is the link for purchasing the 5 star reviewed story at only $1.99. http://www.amzn.com/1940553024.

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Mary Harris Jones by Linda Harris Sittig

~No, I am not related to Mary Harris Jones, just in awe of her.

Born in County Cork, Ireland in 1837 to a tenant farmer and his wife, Mary Harris moved with her family to Toronto, Canada, and then to Michigan while still a child.

In her twenties, she relocated to Chicago and then Memphis, Tennessee where she met and married George Jones. Jones was a member of the National Union of Iron Moulders and introduced her to the concept of an organized group of laborers who fought for improved job benefits. While her husband worked with the iron moulders, Mary Harris Jones worked as a seamstress in a dress shop, and took care of their four small children.

Tragedy struck in 1867 during one of America’s epidemics of yellow fever. Within the span of weeks she lost her husband and all four of their children to the disease. Devastated, she left Memphis and returned to Chicago where she persevered in establishing a small dressmaking business that catered to women of means.

When the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out over three square miles of downtown, it also took her shop, her belongings, and all her savings. Almost destitute and completely alone once again at the age of thirty-four, Mary Harris Jones sought out a group where she thought she might find some kindred spirits—the Knights of Labor.

Established in 1869, The Knights of Labor started in Philadelphia with a few garment workers and soon grew to a membership of 28,000. Their main goal was to petition for a 8 hour work day (instead of 10-12) and the elimination of exploiting child labor.

Mary Harris Jones believed in those same goals, and also believed she could convince other workers to join the organization. By 1886 however, the Knights of Labor had slowly dissolved due to internal politics. Four years later, a new group—the United Mine Workers— would emerge as a fledgling union and Mary Harris Jones would be ready to assist them in  their efforts.

Committed to using her skills as a charismatic speaker, she spoke out tirelessly to miners–encouraging them to lobby for better working conditions. She especially wanted to see an end to child labor where children as young as 8 were already committed to a life of drudgery in mines and mills alike. By 1892 she worked her way up in the United Mine Workers Union by being a dynamic organizer and educator for the workers.

Standing at only 5 feet tall and always dressed matronly in black with lace at the collar and wrists, she would slightly adjust her black hat decorated with lavender ribbons, smooth her hair, and then march out on stage.  Her performances were riveting. A passionate speaker whose energy could whip a crowd into action, she truly believed in the cause of helping the downtrodden and the underrepresented. Arrested more than once and jailed on multiple occasions, she went right back to campaigning for miners’ rights as soon as she was released, and soon earned the nickname of ‘Mother Jones’.

As if her persona on stage was not enough, in 1903 she led 100 children on a march from the teeming textile mills of Philadelphia all the way to Oyster Bay, New York, the hometown of President Theodore Roosevelt. The children carried placards which read, “We want to go to School!” Although the President did not meet with her, the crusade of marching children garnered the amount of publicity she had hoped for.

From the late 19th century onward, strikes among the nation’s coal mines led to unprecedented violence with miners always caught in the middle between the union and the coal companies. Mary Harris Jones was always there, on the forefront, urging the miners not to back down, but to fight for their rights.

At the age of 87, she took up the cause for working women as well. In one of her last public acts, she went to Chicago to strike alongside the female dressmakers who had been black-listed because of the discrimination grievances they had brought to light.

No records exist about her exact birth date, but it is believed that she died at the age of 93. The facts do stand that she died in November of 1930, already having voiced her desire to be buried with the miners from the 1898 riots in Virden, Illinois.

Child labor was abolished eight years after her death by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he signed the Fair Labor Act in 1938. To this day, the United Mine Workers Union still campaigns for the safety rights of American miners, honoring the over 100,000 American coal miners who died in work related accidents in the 20th century alone.

****

I paid tribute to another strong woman, Ellen Canavan, in my new novel Cut From Strong Cloth, which has garnered outstanding five-star ratings on Amazon. I would be delighted if you choose to read Ellen’s story. It  may be ordered at www.amzn.com/1940553024.

And as always, if you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, you may do so over on the right side bar. Over 435 readers have already subscribed, and they come from 51 different countries! My goal is 500 subscribed readers in 2015!

~ Linda ~

 

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Marjorie E. Doremus by Linda Harris Sittig

Little is known about the background of Marjorie E. Doremus, of Glen Rock, New Jersey. She never married, spent her entire professional career teaching third grade, and taught while sitting behind her desk.

But, if you ask any of her former students, many of whom are now senior citizens, they all say, “Of course I remember Miss Doremus.”

Why?

Because Marjorie E. Doremus was crippled, just like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like him, she also wore formidable leg braces painfully strapped to each leg and propelled herself forward by the use of two canes. Unlike FDR, she never tried to hide her disability.

She had a commanding presence, and took total control over her classes of 20 pupils. Pity was a word none of her students knew and certainly never felt toward her. Instead, she instilled in them admiration and affection.

Her teaching career began at Richard E. Byrd School after WWII and continued until her retirement many decades later. The school was, and is, a lovely old two-story brick building with a central foyer and large windows in every room. Back in the 1950s when the American Disabilities Act was only a future dream, Marjorie Doremus learned how to compensate for her lack of mobility and became a vibrant teacher in spite of her paralysis.

She seemed to have two passions: one was for every child in her class to become a self-sufficient reader, and two was to instill in every student the foundation of compassion and self-esteem.

Because of her disability everyone in the class was selected at one time or another to help with a physical task she was incapable of completing on her own. For example, when the afternoon grew New-Jersey-humid-crazy, she would choose two students to go over and pick up this incredibly long stick with a hook on the end, almost like a harpoon, and reach the hook into the cavity of the window sash and push up, thereby raising the massive window to allow any breeze to enter.

Or, if there was an assembly, one lucky child would be asked to be her escort and accompany her down the hallway. Since everyone walked home for lunch (no cafeteria), she would dismiss her students from the classroom door, and no one ever dared run down the hallway and thereby disgrace her.

Marjorie Doremus wanted to instill a love for reading in each of her students. We had a small library at the school, but Miss Doremus got it into her head that each of us should have our own town library card. The village library was another beautiful old brick building, up the main road about a half mile from the school. We did not have school buses, and most of the families only owned one car that the father usually drove to work. Therefore, the only way she could transport all of us to the town library was to walk.

On a robin-egg blue sky morning we all assembled in the hall and several volunteer moms arrived to walk with us. Miss Doremus had to be pushed in a wheel chair, but along with us she trekked the sidewalks of the main road, across two railroad tracks, and right up to the library’s front door.

The adult section was upstairs and the children’s section was down in what must have been a basement. How they maneuvered her into the basement I do not have a clue, but I do remember that she sat right at the checkout counter and watched as each of us signed up for our first public library card.

There is another memory of Miss Doremus, but it was my parents’ memory—not mine. Two months into the school year Miss Doremus called our home, expressing a concern about my difficulty with learning to read. My parents had assumed my education was progressing normally because neither the first grade nor the second grade teacher had indicated any serious problem. Miss Doremus went on to say that she had moved my desk up to the front row near her, which seemed to help my concentration, but when we met in small groups I struggled to sound out words.  She had two suggestions: one was that she was sending home flash cards of words for me to memorize.  Two was that my parents needed to take me for a specialized hearing test and she gave the name of a doctor.

I remember none of this. What I do remember is that I went to a nice doctor who explained that something called my adenoids were completely diseased and causing me to have a mild hearing loss. He explained that he would need to take them and my tonsils as well; but not to worry because at the hospital I would be allowed to eat all the vanilla ice cream I wanted, after the operation.

Here is what else I remember. When I came to after the ether wore off, my father was sitting on the edge of my hospital bed holding a book. It was a Nancy Drew book, one Miss Doremus had recommended my parents give me as a gift. Staunch advocates of the public library system, my parents usually borrowed books instead of buying them. That book became the first one I was ever to own.

I regained my hearing, grew up, and went on to become a lifelong reader, author, and educator—all because of one teacher who saw a child that needed her attention.

That fact that Miss Doremus was disabled, never even entered the equation.

**

I paid tribute to another strong woman, Ellen Canavan, in my new novel Cut From Strong Cloth, which has garnered all five-star ratings on Amazon.  See for yourself at www.amzn.com/1940553024. I would be honored if you choose to read Ellen’s story.

And as always, if you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, you may do so over on the right side bar. Over 425 readers have subscribed, and they come from 51 different countries!

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Molly Craig Kelly and Doris Pilkington Garimara by Linda Harris Sittig

On Christmas Eve I watched my almost 4 year–old granddaughter add a few extra cookies to the plate set out for Santa. When I asked her why, she replied, “Because Mrs. Claus works hard too.”

I was amazed that in her innocence she had already considered that strong women deserve their own recognition. I am happy to report that over 400 other like-minded people now subscribe to this blog:)

Welcome 2015! For January I am paying tribute to a mother-daughter team, Molly Craig Kelly and Doris Pilkington Garimara.

In order to appreciate their story, you need to be aware of some twentieth century Australian history.

Both Molly and Doris were Aboriginal women who were born in the mid-northern part of Western Australia. Here the land occupies one-third of the continent and is peppered with desert and tenuous living conditions. The laws that would forever change Molly’s and Doris’ life however, were enacted by the government on the complete opposite side of the continent, in the south-eastern state of Victoria.

Starting in 1871, the Aboriginal Protection Act allowed state agents to remove Aboriginal children from their families. Government officials, often aided by Christian missionaries and local police forces, were permitted and encouraged to take Aboriginal children from their homes and place them in state-run institutions where the children could learn a working trade. Most of the children taken were light skinned girls, in the belief that perhaps they would eventually help to breed out the Aboriginal strain of population. Hardly any of the children were ever returned to their families.

This practice continued legally for 100 years, and the children became known as ‘the stolen generations’.

In 1931 fourteen-year old Molly Craig asked her mother once again about her father. She was told that he had been an English fence inspector who worked on the Rabbit Fence. Then her mother pointed to the section of the fence that ran near their village. She explained to Molly that the fence was built to keep rabbits out of the Western territory, and that it ran from the northern edge of the country all the way to the southern ocean.

Several weeks later Molly and two girls from her family were kidnapped by a government agent. They were taken to a relocation settlement 1,000 miles from their home where they met other relocated children and learned the truth–that they were expected to live in this settlement from now on. Anyone caught trying to leave would be severely punished. Being the oldest of the trio Molly perhaps realized that the longer they stayed, the harder it would be to escape.

The next day in a bold move, Molly took the two girls with her while supposedly emptying slop buckets. Instead, the three of them took off running through the woods. Molly’s goal was to find the Rabbit Fence, figuring it would eventually lead them home.

The girls left with only the clothes on their backs and no food at all. During the night a powerful storm lashed the earth with torrents of rain and washed away the girls’ muddy footprints. It was a rare piece of luck.

With only their knowledge of nature as a navigation tool, the girls walked in the direction of north. The trek became more difficult with each passing day as the girls traversed the untamed wilderness. They foraged for food; sometimes resorting to stealing from farms and other times being given mutton sandwiches by kind and generous strangers. No one asked them where they were going, and the girls were reluctant to carry on conversations with outsiders. Weeks went by. Their clothes were torn, their bodies scratched by brambles and bitten by insects, and they lost a considerable amount of weight. But once they found the Rabbit Fence, it became their lifeline.

Almost two-thirds of the way home, the older cousin gave up. She turned herself in to the nearest government station in the hopes that they would return her to her mother. No one ever saw her again.

On and on Molly pushed, sometimes carrying the younger child. They were terrified of being caught, even as they battled the effects of malnutrition and constant hunger. Against all odds, they stumbled into their village nine weeks after leaving the relocation center; having walked the entire 1,000 miles. Their families were overjoyed.

Molly’s story did not end there, nor did it have a happy ending.  Molly did manage to elude recapture and continued to live near the village, eventually marrying and having two daughters of her own, Annabelle and Doris. When the girls were toddlers, both were abducted and ‘relocated’. They were told that their mother had abandoned them. Decades later Doris and her mother Molly were reunited; but Annabelle did not want to see the mother she believed had deserted her. They never met face to face again.

It was not until Doris was in her forties did she hear the full account of her mother’s amazing 1,000 mile journey.  In tribute to her mother’s bravery and also as a way of bringing the stolen generations their recognition, Doris wrote a book, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, which was later made into a movie.

One result of the book and movie was a world-wide recognition of the travesty done to Australia’s Aboriginal families throughout the twentieth century. The policy of taking Aboriginal children for relocation was supposedly stopped in the 1970s, although the law of Aboriginal Relocation was not repealed until the 1990s. The official statement was that the policy had been aimed at saving Aboriginal children from a life of poverty and ignorance.  Hmm. Those same children were the ones trained to become domestic servants in the homes of the well-to-do white Australians. The general estimated figure of the stolen generations is approximately 100,000 Aboriginal children.

In 2008 the Australian government issued a formal apology ‘for the laws of successive parliaments that inflicted profound grief, suffering, and loss on fellow Australians’. Because of Doris Pilkington Garimara’s book, and the movie, Australians began to talk about the uncomfortable topic of the stolen generations and what could be done in present time to improve the education and living standards for aboriginal people..

Both Molly Craig Kelly and her daughter Doris Pilkington Carimara are now deceased. But by their actions they proved that strong women continue to have a profound effect on subsequent generations.

They each deserved extra cookies on the plate.

Thank you to Sandra Pantall who alerted me to these two strong women.

You can sign up on the right sidebar to become a regular follower of this blog, and also catch me on Twitter @LHsittig or on my webpage: www.lindasittig.com.

Thank you to each person who has read my novel, Cut From Strong Cloth and posted a review on Amazon. If you are reading the book now, please make a New Year’s Resolution that you will post a star rating and a short review www.amzn.com/1940553024. Reviews help sales:)

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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