Few mothers as a group have seen more Mother’s Day celebrations than my own mother and her immediate ancestors. My mom turned 90 last September 5, an amazing milestone. Her mom, Mary Franklin Lagree, of hardy Churubusco farm stock (as they all were), lived to 96. Mary’s mom, Julia Toohey Franklin, was 93. And Mom’s paternal grandmother, Matilda Lagree, was 92.
Those four women collectively saw close to 300 Mothers Day celebrations. For good measure, I could include my mom’s Aunt Alice Silver (her father’s sister), who died in 2007 at 103, and was still active. » Continue Reading.
In Lowell, Massachusetts in 1922, while working in a private home, Mrs. Mary Johnson was badly injured in a fall. At the age of 82, with few resources at her disposal, neither Mary nor her husband, Peter, could care for themselves. During the next two years, the couple was housed in three different poorhouses, living at Fitchburg and Tewksbury before moving to the Worcester City Farm. At Fitchburg, Mrs. Johnson had begun telling stories about her secret war past, and at Worcester, folks began to take her seriously.
According to Mary, she had served honorably in two branches of military service, most notably a stint during the Civil War. Combat was reserved for men only, but Mary openly shared the details, insisting her story was true.
Before I continue, understand that there is at present no clear, crisp ending to this story, at least not to my satisfaction, but it’s a remarkable story nonetheless. Mary’s tale has been noted in very few sources, including some books that butchered the facts while only citing snippets. But as I discovered, it’s a mystery well worth a look.
When an 85-year-old poorhouse inmate begins telling stories, it would be easy to shrug it off as the ramblings of early dementia, especially when a woman declares that she was a Union soldier in the Civil War.
But Mary Johnson’s stories had a ring of truth. Her caretakers realized that if she had in fact served, a pension might remove the Johnson’s from their position as wards of the state. When the Worcester Chapter of the American Red Cross was notified, they sent Eleanor Vashon, executive secretary, to interview Mary. That meeting temporarily conferred celebrity status on Mrs. Johnson when the media picked up the story.
As Mary told it, she was born Mary Murphy in Plattsburgh, New York in 1840. Having lost both parents by the time she was eight, Murphy was adopted by the Benjamin Hill family. During the next decade, they lived in more than a dozen places in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts, where they finally settled.
She recalled living in Westminster in what Mary referred to as the General Mills Nelson house (actually the home of native General Nelson Miles). They also lived near the old stone mill in Fitchburg (to confirm, there was one), where she and stepbrother Thomas Hill worked, learning how to create chair seats.
The war soon changed everything, but having lost her original family, Mary clung to what had given her comfort and a sense of belonging: “Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Tom enlisted in the army. He went to Camp Groton, Ayer, which is now known as Camp Devens.
“My home life was unbearable and lonely with Tom gone, for I loved him devotedly, as though he were my own brother. I followed him to Camp Groton. I started my journey at midnight, and got as far as Whalom Marshes, now Whalom Park [an amusement park], where I was picked up by a group of men who were traveling in a barge to Camp Groton.
“The men rolled me in coats and blankets and got me into camp. I asked to see Col. Davis or Lieut. Pratt, but this was refused. I was then taken at my request to my brother, Tom. After a while, Tom and his companions agreed to enlist me as a man and keep the secret.
“… I was taken to New York, my hair was clipped, and I was given a uniform and enlisted as Saul Hill, 18 years old, of Co. B 53rd Massachusetts Regiment. I went to Missouri and served during the remainder of the war, about a year and a half. I was given $110 when I enlisted and $110 when I was discharged. I remember Capt. Corey well.” [Captain Jonas Corey.]
She also gave details on the Battle of Antietam and others she participated in, and showed powder marks and a scar on her fingers, courtesy of a bullet wound.
Through existing records, some of that information should have been verifiable. Mary also claimed to have enlisted in the navy at Key West (shortly after her army discharge) and served for nearly six more years.
At one point, she described landing at Montreal, and an encounter with a woman who said she was Queen Victoria. (Victoria never visited Canada, but her son, Prince Arthur, was there at the time.) Shortly thereafter, she left the navy and spent time at a convent in Quebec.
To research this story, I took the position of trying to disprove Mary’s claims. I knew she didn’t meet the queen, but I had to concede that the person she mentioned could have claimed to be the queen. From my perspective, though, that part of her story remained in the untrue category.
The same “prove or disprove” mission was undertaken by Eleanor Vashon after interviewing Mary in 1924. Several parties were involved: a pension attorney; the Massachusetts adjutant general; the Daughters of Veterans; the Convent of St. Rock, Quebec; the Canadian Red Cross; the Tewksbury Hospital; and acquaintances of Mary with whom she had shared the unusual story of her life.
The Red Cross managed to confirm that Thomas Hill indeed served in the Massachusetts 53rd, but found no record of a Saul Hill in the same outfit. They did find a Joseph Saul, and considering Mary’s age and her earlier jumbling of General Nelson Miles as Mills Nelson, the similarity was noted as a possible link.
In February 1925, an unusual signing ceremony was held at the Worcester City Farm. After being sworn in, Mary’s signature was applied to a letter describing her military service. It was sent to Washington, and a reply wasn’t long in coming. Federal researchers confirmed that several records of Joseph H. Saul supported Mary’s story.
An official pension application was the next step, after which the government would research her story fully and make a determination.
Existing records indicate that several applications were made (which is not unusual), but it appears that her request was ultimately denied. None of the applications contains a certificate number, which would normally appear if a pension was granted.
Those results confused me. Finding what you need in various archives is not always easy. I did manage to locate the names of Thomas Hill and Joseph H. Saul in the 53rd. Among the multiple enlistment dates are November 25, 1862 for Thomas and 9 December 1862 for Saul (Mary), which matches the story of Mary following Thomas when he joined the army. Both parties shared the same discharge information as well: “Mustered out on 2 Sep 1863 at Camp Stevens, Groton, MA.”
Census records were spotty, but the 1900 listing of Peter Johnson, Mary Johnson (his wife), and Benjamin Hill (noted as Peter’s father-in-law) in the same household confirmed her link to the Hill family and further supported her story. I was becoming a believer.
Among the pension applications was one with the heading, “Mary Hill Johnson, alias Joseph H. Saul,” and another with, “Joseph H. Saul, alias Mary Hill Johnson.” Neither contained a certificate number, which indicates no pension was granted.
Digging further produced another document, a full record of Joseph H. Saul’s service―including his death in 1912 at a veterans’ facility. The basis for Mary’s claim was that no records of Saul existed after his military service because he was, in fact, Mary Hill Johnson. So now, Joseph H. Saul’s detailed death record quashed every bit of that claim.
Or so I thought. Persistence left me stunned at the next discovery, days later: a second Joseph H. Saul had enlisted at the same place (Gardner, Massachusetts), and with the same birth entry (“abt 1844”). But this second Joseph H. Saul enlisted in November 1864, two years after the first Saul. Further jumbling the picture: it appears that the records for both Sauls are mixed on the official listing under “Military History” from the veterans’ home where he died.
All things considered, it looks like Mary was being truthful. It seems a bit much to believe that an 85-year-old woman, with no access to public records, could have concocted a story with such accuracy in the details and so much supporting evidence.
It is documented that others have pulled it off in the past, and it looks like Mary Hill Johnson of Plattsburgh is part of an exclusive club. But I’ll keep digging for more evidence.
Photos―Above, Mary Hill Johnson; Below, Civil War Pension card with entry “Joseph H. Saul, alias Mary Hill Johnson.”
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
In 1835, in the small community of Brownville, a few miles west of Watertown, was born a young girl who would one day impact the lives of countless thousands. Nancy “Nettie” Fowler, the daughter of store owners Melzar and Clarissa (Spicer) Fowler, was the victim of tragic circumstances at an early age. In the year of Nettie’s birth, Melzar’s brother convinced him to move 13 miles northwest to Depauville, where trade was considerably more active at the time.
While on a business trip to Watertown, Melzar’s team of difficult horses caused problems for a hotel hostler, who found it too dangerous to enter the stall to feed them. When Fowler himself tried, one of the horses reared and struck him in the head with its hoof.
The family was summoned, and three days later, Melzar died from his injuries. Nettie was less than a year old (her brother, Eldridge, was two). Clarissa ran the family business while raising two small children, but seven years later, she died as well.
Nettie was raised in the home of her grandmother and uncle in Clayton, on the St. Lawrence River. The household’s strong Christian bent would have a lasting effect on her future.
Uncle Eldridge Merick’s lifestyle—daily toil, active community support, and deep involvement in (Methodist) church activities—influenced Nettie’s own life choices. In an era when women were generally expected to be homemakers, Merick’s prosperity provided other opportunities for his niece.
Following local schooling, and beginning in her teen years, Nettie attended Falley Seminary in Fulton, Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, New York. She was active in the missionary society and taught for a year at the little school she once attended in Clayton.
Hard work, luck, and serendipity guide most lives, and so it was with Nettie Fowler. The world of high finance seemed the unlikeliest of possible components of her humble life, but on a trip to Chicago, she made the acquaintance of a man by the name of McCormick.
He was a strong Presbyterian, while she was a Methodist, and at 49, he was more than twice her age (23). Despite those differences, the two hit it off. Within six months, she began attending his church, and in January 1858, a year after they met, Nettie Fowler married Cyrus McCormick.
Yes, THAT Cyrus McCormick. The one who, as we learned in grade school, was the inventor of a machine that changed the world (the mechanical reaper). His business had made him a very wealthy man.
Both were considered very strong-willed, but disagreements and difficulties aside, young Nettie became her husband’s silent business partner. Together, they forged forward in industry and shared many philanthropic efforts aimed at churches, schools, and youth.
In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed the McCormick Harvesting Machine plant. While Cyrus was discouraged, Nettie insisted they rebuild and took the lead in the resurgence of the company. Seven years later, Cyrus’ health issues left Nettie running the business, which she did for six years. He died in 1884, leaving a will that provided for division of the company at the end of five years, and specified various philanthropic work as well. The estate value was estimated at $5 million (equal to $118 million in 2011).
Eventually, Cyrus, Jr., officially took over the company, but Nettie remained deeply involved financially and in business decisions. She also expanded her own charitable work on behalf of the poor while providing financial support to several organizations with the same mission. Nettie’s childhood influences of “giving back” were coming to bear in a very positive way.
The McCormick business remained successful, but competition, particularly from Deering Harvester Company, began to make solid inroads. By the turn of the century, a merger between rivals was in the works.
One of Nettie’s sons, Harold, had (in 1895) married Edith Rockefeller, daughter of John D., the world’s richest man. When the decision was made to merge McCormick and Deering (and a few smaller companies) into a new entity called International Harvester, the family connection to the Rockefellers was used to ensure that the McCormicks remained in control.
On paper, they were the directors, but in reality, the entire business was owned and operated by J. P. Morgan, who had provided backing of $120 million ($3.1 billion in 2011) to finance the deal and direct the company’s future. That high dollar assessment seemed to vastly overvalue the new conglomerate, but Morgan knew well the path he intended to take.
The McCormicks were mere figureheads while J. P. ran the show. In no time at all, he managed to sully the McCormick name by incorporating the shady practices he and Rockefeller (and many others) had used to control most of the nation’s important industries.
The Morgan and Rockefeller banks, which provided monthly funding for payroll and other necessities to so many businesses, informed several farm implement companies that funding was no longer available. They faced sudden financial ruin—or they could sell to Morgan. They sold.
For those who resisted, the next step was denying the use of Morgan and Rockefeller-owned railroads for transporting the farmers’ products. The two men, of course, controlled most of the major transportation routes.
How successful were those tactics? They had already made J. D. Rockefeller the wealthiest man in American history, and had done much for Morgan as well. Two years after the harvester merger, with the competition removed, the prices of farm machinery more than doubled.
Such monopolistic practices (like the Rockefeller oil business) led to a stranglehold on commerce. Trustbusters battled against the financial titans for years, and the monopolies were finally forced by the government to dismantle.
After years of complaints from farming states, the feds finally took action in court against Morgan’s International Harvester Company. In 1912, control of business operations was returned to the board of directors (the McCormicks).
Eventually, the Supreme Court forced the breakup of the company due to Morgan’s monopolistic and illegal practices. In a remarkable turnaround, Cyrus McCormick’s business was restored, eventually regaining its good name and returning to the philanthropic efforts of the past.
By the time of his death in 1884, Cyrus had given away $550,000 ($10–15 million in 2011), a mere drop in the bucket compared to what wife Nettie donated as the company grew in value over the years. Her focus on philanthropy surged in 1890, and by the time of her death in 1923, Nettie McCormick had given away more than $8 million ($125–200 million in 2011). She supported private schools and institutions, plus missions and churches.
Beginning in 1887, McCormick donations had funded several buildings of Tusculum College in Tennessee, where Nettie was deeply involved in teacher selection, expansion of the curriculum, and many other aspects of college life. In her honor, every year since 1913, the school holds Nettie Fowler McCormick Service Day, during which faculty and students join in all sorts of charitable works and improvement of the school grounds.
She was fortunate to have married a very wealthy man, but in life, you play the hand you’re dealt. Many people in similar circumstances have done little to help others, and she could have settled comfortably into the ranks of the idle rich.
Yet, from the time she was in her early twenties, Nettie worked on behalf of the underprivileged, supported women’s rights, handled a major corporation, financed schools and theological institutes, and forged her own path.
On top of that, the great majority of her philanthropy was done anonymously, as evidenced by Nettie’s obituary, which cited donations to six institutions when, in fact, the record later revealed she had supported forty-six. Her estate was valued at $15 million ($192 million in 2011).
In her final will and testament, $1 million ($13 million in 2011) was designated for certain charities. The remainder was divided among the McCormick children with the understanding that they would be likewise generous in giving.
In 1954, when Nettie’s daughter, Anita, died, her holdings were value at $35 million ($284 million in 2011). Of that total, she donated $20 million ($162 million in 2011) to various charities. Mom would surely have been proud.
Photos: Above, Nancy Maria “Nettie” McCormick; Middle, McCormick Hall on the Tusculum College campus; Below, Nettie McCormick (Mathew Brady, 1862).
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
A while back I asked why it matters whether women are represented in science? I was interested to know if we care about whether a variety of communities show up in fields, professions and pastimes, why do we care? Is it simply a matter of increasing the number of loyalists to our mission, or does it come from an openness to change the very system that stands resolute like Uncle Sam declaring “I want you!” » Continue Reading.
During the opening ceremony of the new Scaroon Manor Campground and Day Use Area on Schroon Lake, State Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward told a short story. Standing at a podium under a newly built pavilion on the sweeping grounds of the former resort turned DEC Campground, Sayward told a small crowd that when she was young, she “couldn’t afford to come here.” Once, she said, on a school field trip she had come to the Scaroon Manor resort by bus for the day and was amazed by what she saw. » Continue Reading.
Two days of Happy Hour indulgence began with the first bar we encountered as we walked from our hotel down Main Street in Lake Placid. Somewhat amused by the bobsled parked on the sidewalk, we entered Zig Zags without hesitation.
As we approached the bar in Zig Zags Pub, Kim commented that there were no women in the bar. The bar itself was fairly full, but she was correct in her observation. The bartender approached, and Pam, once again, couldn’t resist. Sometimes she has no filter between thinking and speaking. “Do you serve women?” she asked him, a fleeting deadpan look on her face, then she flashed her ‘I just can’t help myself’ smile. He came right back with something like, “When they’re available. On a plate,” etc. Ice broken and raucous greetings ensued… A pool table waited in the center of the room and Pam’s competitive streak was kept in check due only to our time constraints. Darts (traditional and electronic), foosball and a few video games are placed around the room. An area near the entrance is occupied by several pub tables looking out onto Main Street. ZigZags is named for curves 13 and 14 on the bobsled run, and numerous posters, photos, signs and memorabilia support predominant theme.
We ordered our drinks and soon launched into describing our purpose. Conversations started to fly, left, right, up, down, zigzagging, about Zig Zags. Suggestions about where else we needed to go came from other patrons. We were introduced to Rob Kane, the owner of The Great Adirondack Brewing Company, who gave us the bartender’s name there. That would be our next stop, but we had work to do here. We met Lisa Randall from The Cottage Bar and Restaurant on Mirror Lake. A few women had slipped in unnoticed. Our bartender and owner of Zig Zags, Brett, was kept busy by his patrons and with exchanging insults with the regulars at the end of the bar. Lisa helped Pam with questions about Zigzags, then continued by answering questions about The Cottage. We promised her that The Cottage was on our list for the next day.
While Pam conducted interviews, Kim snapped some photos of the bar, declined a marriage proposal (being already spoken for), and made some new friends, including Wayne, Adirondack Guide and owner of Middle Earth Expeditions whitewater rafting adventures, and Tony, who offered to take us to some “real” bars not on the map. We’d have to get there by four-wheeler or snowmobile, and it all sounded just a bit sketchy. Ladies, Wayne claims that “If you’re looking for a man, come here,” listing his qualifications as hardworking, can hunt deer, build a log cabin and skin a bear.
Zig Zags, the only true “bar” in Lake Placid, is open daily throughout the year from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. Lisa claims the best time to visit is between 10 p.m. and 12 a.m., but we know otherwise – anytime is a good time. They have been in business for 10 years, have Happy Hour Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m. with varying specials daily, and feature live music on Friday and Saturday nights. With plenty of draft and bottled beers and a standard liquor selection, Zig Zags has a come-as-you-are, I am what I am, laid back and fun personality. We talked to almost everyone in the bar, who seemed both accustomed to and tolerant of tourists, which is not always the case. The impression was one of a locals’ hangout that likes to have company.
Regretfully, we left Zig Zags, hopeful that our subsequent stops would be as rewarding. In the coming weeks we’ll review several of the bars on the Lake Placid leg of the summer tour. Next week we review the second bar on our Lake Placid tour, the Great Adirondack Brewery. Workaholics that we are, we’ll be continuing the summer tour in Old Forge this weekend. Suggestions are encouraged! Cheers and bottoms up!
Kim and Pam Ladd’s book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, is currently in the research stage. Together they visit pubs, bars and taverns with the goal of selecting the top 46 bars in the Adirondack Park. They regularly report their findings here at the Almanack and at their own blog.
In Adirondack history, like in most other parts of America, war heroes abound. Traditionally, they are men who have lost limbs, men who risked their lives to save others, and men who fought valiantly against incredible odds. Some died, while others survived, but for the most part, they shared one common thread: they were all men. But in my own humble estimation, one of the North Country’s greatest of all war heroes was a woman.
Florence Church Bullard, the female in question, was “from” two places. Known for most of her life as a Glens Falls girl, she was born in January 1880 in New Sweden, a small settlement in the Town of Ausable. By the time she was 20, Florence had become a schoolteacher in Glens Falls, where she boarded with several other teachers. Seeking something more from life, she enrolled in St. Mary’s Hospital, a training facility of the Mayo Brothers in Rochester, Minnesota. After graduating, she worked as a private nurse for several years.
In December 1916, four months before the United States entered World War I, Florence left for the battlefields of Europe. As a Red Cross nurse, she served with the American Ambulance Corps at the hospital in Neuilly, France, caring for injured French soldiers. They often numbered in the thousands after major battles.
On April 6, 1917, the United States officially entered the war, but the first American troops didn’t arrive in Europe until the end of June. Florence had considered the possibility of returning home by fall of that year because of potential attacks on the home front by Germany or Mexico (yes, the threat was real).
But with the US joining the fray in Europe, Florence decided she could best serve the cause by tending to American foot soldiers, just as she had cared for French troops since her arrival.
Until the Americans landed, she continued serving in the French hospital and began writing a series of letters to family and friends in Glens Falls and Ausable. Those missives provide a first-hand look at the war that took place a century ago.
The US had strongly resisted involvement in the conflict, but when Congress voted to declare war, Florence described the immediate reaction in Europe. Her comments offer insight on America’s role as an emerging world power and how we were viewed by others back then.
“I have never known anything so inspiring as Paris has been since the news came that America had joined the Allies. Almost every building in Paris is flying the American flag. Never shall I forget last Saturday evening. I was invited to go to the opera … that great opera house had not an empty seat. It was filled with Russians, Belgians, British, and French, with a few Americans scattered here and there. Three-quarters of the huge audience was in uniform.
“Just before the curtain went up for the second act, the wonderful orchestra burst out into the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ In a flash, those thousands were on their feet as if they were one person. One could have heard a pin drop except for the music. The music was played perfectly and with such feeling. Afterwards, the applause was so tremendous that our national anthem was repeated.
“The tears sprang to my eyes and my heart seemed to be right in my throat. It seemed as if I must call right out to everyone, ‘I’m an American and that was my national anthem!’ I have never witnessed such a demonstration of patriotism in my life. The officers of every allied nation clad in their brilliant uniforms stood in deference to our country.”
The work she had done thus far received strong support from the folks back home. In a letter to her sister in Ausable, Florence wrote, “Try to know how much gratitude and appreciation I feel to you and all the people of Glens Falls who have given so generously of their time and money. It was such fun to help the committee open the boxes and to realize that the contents had all been arranged and made by people that I know personally.
“The committee remarked upon the splendid boxes with hinged covers and the manner in which they were packed. When the covers were lifted, the things looked as if they might have been packed in the next room and the last article just fitted into the box. I was just a little proud to have them see how things are done in Glens Falls. Again, my gratitude, which is so hard to express.”
Florence’s credentials as a Mayo nurse, her outstanding work ethic, and connections to some important doctors helped ease her transition into the American war machine. The French, understandably, were loathe to see her go, so highly valued was her service.
In a letter to Maude, her older sister, Florence expressed excitement at establishing the first triage unit for American troops at the front. They were expected to treat 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers every 24 hours. Upon evaluation, some would be patched up and moved on; some would be operated on immediately; and others would be cared for until they were well enough to be moved to safer surroundings.
Florence’s sensitive, caring nature was evident when she told of the very first young American to die in her care. “He was such a boy, and he told me much about himself. He said that when the war broke out, he wanted to enlist. But he was young, and his mother begged him not to, so he ran away. And here he was, wounded and suffering, and he knew he must die.
“All the time, that boy was crying for his mother … he was grieving over her. And so I did what I could to take her place. And during the hours of his delirium, he sometimes thought I was his mother, and for the moment, he was content.
“Every morning, that lad had to be taken to the operating room to have the fluid drawn from off his lungs because of the hemorrhage. When finally that last day the doctor came, he knew the boy’s time was short and he could not live, so he said he would not operate. But the boy begged so hard, he said it relieved him so, that we took him in.
“And then those great, confident eyes looked into mine and he said, ‘You won’t leave me mother, will you?’ And I said, ‘No, my son.’ But before that simple operation could be completed, that young life had passed out. And I am not ashamed to tell you that as I cut a curl of hair to send to his mother, my tears fell on that young boy’s face-—not for him, but for his mother.”
Working tirelessly dressing wounds and assisting the surgeons, Bullard displayed great capability and leadership. She was offered the position of hospital superintendent if she chose to leave the front. It was a tremendous opportunity, but one that Florence Bullard turned down. Rather than supervise and oversee, she preferred to provide care directly to those in need.
Photos:Above, Florence Church Bullard, nurse, hero; Middle, WW I Red Cross poster; Below, WW I soldier wounded in France.
Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Her name was Hypatia and she lived, taught and published in Alexandria at the Platonist school from approximately AD 370 – 415. If the practice of western philosophy (φιλοσοφία) as we know it is from the Greek philo meaning lover and sophia meaning wisdom, then Hypatia might have been Sophia herself. One of her contemporaries wrote, “There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time.”
I had Hypatia on my mind this past weekend as I prepared for a Young Women and Girls in Science event sponsored by SUNY ESF’s Northern Forest Institute. I was asked to talk about the intersection of science and the humanities and more specifically, why the study of science is incomplete without the study of philosophy. Not least among the reasons why, is that the western scientific tradition comes from the western philosophical tradition and before knowledge splintered into specializations and narrow silos of information, there was unbounded curiosity and conversation. This style of conversation became the dialectic or discussion model that some of us are trying to move back towards as a method of inquiry, interdisciplinary learning and teaching. So I thought I’d begin to introduce young women and girls who might be thinking about a career in the sciences, to this question of why scientists should care what philosophers think. It seemed that the best way to do this would be by talking about a philosopher who happens to be a woman and who is as often cited as a mathematician and an astronomer as for her progressive attitudes on sex, or what currently falls within the realm of identity politics. So if taking on the question of what philosophy could possibly have to do with science wasn’t enough, I’d planned to head straight towards what identity politics has to do with science.
Talking with young women and girls about why philosophy matters to science made me think about why women and girls matter to science. In other words, why should we care that women and girls enter into the sciences? Why, for that matter, should we care that any particular group is represented in any public/professional area? In the case of science the answer is somewhat heretical (and I’m mindful here that Hypatia met her unspeakable demise for such acts…). Science is not objective; in its entirety it is not the pure and objective pursuit of extracting truth from the physical world.
As the philosopher Cornel West puts it truth “is a way of life, as opposed to a set of propositions that correspond to a set of things in the world.” Well, that’s all well and good for the humanities but science isn’t subject to the complicated dynamics of culture, perspective, subjectivity and the human condition generally – or is it? As philosopher and scientist Hypatia cautioned “Men will fight for superstition as quickly as for the living truth — even more so, since a superstition is intangible, you can’t get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view, and so is changeable.”
The scientific method is bookended by the philosophical method. Empirical data collection doesn’t emerge in a vacuum but first a mind (not exhumed from, but as one part of the sensual human condition) has to be drawn to an inquiry, has to draw the parameters of that inquiry based on the desire to discover one thing or another about the physical world. These elements of drawing towards and of desire have no relationship to the type of objectivity that science is premised upon. (I’ll leave politics and capitalism as drivers of science for another post…) Even the most basic scientific discovery has to be interpreted, given meaning and brought about in language and often through metaphor.
All of which brings us again into the philosophical domain including ethics, emphasis, coercion, manipulation, bias and on and on. Every discipline including science, which in contrast with West’s earlier assertion, understands truth and fact as discoverable aspects of the world through its method, is a discipline brought about in the context of the human condition and the human condition is the concern of philosophers.
I understand truth to be something that is emergent and as the philosopher Richard Rorty suggested, it is created in the swamp of the human condition or in the lifework of a people rather than discovered whole in an objective state. Moreover, as soon as we begin pointing out truth with certainty and locating it within particular disciplinary or societal boundaries, then we invoke a universal style of truth that can’t be extracted from dynamics of power and ultimately (at least ultimately as history shows us) hegemony.
Philosophy (or at least some of its more recent work) has become about recognizing the amorphous nature of nature and navigating it for – as a conservation biologist colleague of mine so beautifully states, for “meaning and purpose” rather than mining it for truth and certainty. This leaves us on very unstable ground wherein all of these issues (including scientific issues) seem endlessly unstable. It is not, I believe, a matter of firming up that ground but rather of entering the landscape differently, recognizing that stability is (as Foucault would say) a chimera and the only truth that we can hope to achieve is subject to culture, identity and perspective.
If these ideas are useful at all I hope it is because they bring us closer to answering the question of why philosophy and women matter a great deal to science and why science as our most exacting tool of understanding the physical world, should be important to all of us. I hope it also seeds the ground for more conversation around these topics …
Portrait of Hypatia by Elbert Hubbard, 1908
Marianne is a philosopher living, writing and teaching in the Adirondacks.
A new discipline will be on the program in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi; an event that has been struggling for years to be included. Women’s Ski Jumping will finally be allowed in the Winter Olympic Games. On Wednesday, the IOC announced that it would add the event after previously ruling that the discipline had too few elite competitors to justify an Olympic berth. Another concern voiced was whether the physical demand of ski jumping was appropriate for female athletes, despite inclusion of women in traditionally male dominated sports like hockey, boxing, and wrestling. Before last year’s games in Vancouver, an appeal was brought to court on behalf of women ski jumpers against the organizers of the Games, VANOC. They claimed that not allowing women to ski jump in the Olympics was a form of gender discrimination in government activities. While a Canadian judge agreed that it was discriminatory and VANOC was subject to the same laws, it can’t change the events. The IOC is the authority on the events in the Olympics, and isn’t bound by Canadian law. Therefore, women were not allowed to ski jump in Vancouver. But it looks like they will be flying through the air in Sochi.
Still, some concessions were made; women are still unable to participate in team events, on the large hill in Olympic events, or in Nordic Combined. The President of the Women’s Ski Jumping Foundation would like to see those privileges extended to female athletes too. “Now that we can jump, that should be something that should follow,” she said to the New York Times.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is offering one of its very popular “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman” workshops June 24 through 26, 2011, at the Silver Bay YMCA on Lake George, Warren County.
Becoming an Outdoors-Woman is a program that offers weekend-long, outdoor skills workshops for women ages 18 or older, and is designed primarily for women with little or no experience with outdoor activities. Nearly 40 different classes will be offered at the Silver Bay workshop. These include canoeing, fishing, fly fishing, kayaking, shotgun shooting, GPS, map and compass, backpack camping, turkey hunting, day hiking, wilderness first aid, survival skills, archery, bowhunting, camp stove cooking, reading wildlife sign, muzzleloading, and fish and game cooking. Women can even earn a Hunter or Trapper Safety Education certificate. The early registration fee ranges from $270 to $290, which includes seven meals, two nights lodging, instruction in four classes, program materials and use of equipment.
Workshop information and registration materials are available on the DEC website. Information is also available by calling DEC at 518-402-8862 or writing to “Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.
March 2011 marks the centennial celebration of International Women’s Day. Although women have long been dedicated and progressive history makers, their actions were slow to receive international attention. Adirondack Museum Educator Jessica Rubin will offer a presentation entitled “Women and the Conservation Movement” as part of the museum’s popular Cabin Fever Sunday series on Sunday, March 27, 2011. Rubin will discuss the role of women and female-centered organizations in the early conservation movement, excellent examples of historic female activism. Groups such as the National Federation of Women’s Clubs and individuals like journalist Kate Field and botanist Lucy Bishop Millington will be highlighted in the presentation to illustrate the unique ways women interacted with and advocated for the American wilderness at a time when most were confined to the “private sphere.”
Rubin will show that women were instrumental in the creation of state and federal conservation legislation and protections long before they had the right to vote. From the Adirondacks to California women were outspoken players in the national conservation crusade.
Held in the museum’s auditorium, the program will begin promptly at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sundays are offered at no charge to museum members or children of elementary school age and younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00. Refreshments will be served. For additional information, please call the Education Department at (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit the museum’s website.
Jessica Rubin holds a B.A. in Politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and will receive a M.A. in Public History from SUNY Albany in the spring of 2011. She joined the staff of the Adirondack Museum in 2008. She previously taught at the Conserve School, a college-preparatory school with an environmental and outdoor focus in northern Wisconsin. Her love for and interest in the environment was greatly influenced by four summers of work in Yosemite National Park.
Photo: Photo by female photographer Katherine Elizabeth McClellan, 1898. Collection of Adirondack Museum.
Adworkshop, Lake Placid’s employee-owned digital marketing agency, announced this week that it is now a certified Women-Owned Business Enterprise through New York State’s Division of Minority and Women Business Development (MWBE). Adworkshop, established by Adele and Tom Connors more than three decades ago, is now listed in the Directory of Certified Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises, which is used by agencies and contractors statewide.
The MWBE certification, which is awarded by the Empire State Development Agency of New York, was given to the tourism marketing agency at the end of December. A majority percentage of the company ESOP shares are now owned by the 16 female employees of Adworkshop and Inphorm. The MWBE program is designed to encourages equality in economic opportunities for women and minorities by seeking to eliminate barriers that may stand in the way of pursuing state contracts. Adworkshop and Inphorm join the more than 6,000 certified women and minority-owned businesses located throughout New York State.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo outlined goals for MWBE’s in his State of the State Address Jan. 5, 2011:
“Of the 1.9 million business entities operating in New York State, more than 50 percent are owned by women or minorities. The vast majority of these companies are small businesses and a critical driver of the New York State economy. To ensure that MWBE’s have the opportunity to earn their fair share of the State’s business, Governor Cuomo directed State agencies to double the current MWBE participation goal from 10 to 20 percent and ease bonding restrictions that they will face and expand the Owner-Controlled Insurance Program model to expand opportunities for small businesses.”
Rita Poirier Chaisson was born in 1914 on Canada’s Gaspe Penninsula. In 1924, her father Paul Poirier, a lumberjack, moved the family to the North Country where logging jobs were more abundant. Her mother agreed to leave Canada with reluctance. The Poirier family spoke French, no English, and she was convinced that New Yorkers “just talk Indian over there.”
The family kept a farm near Tupper Lake, with as many as 85 cows. Rita planted potatoes and turnips, and helped with the haying. She and her siblings attended a local school, where she was two years older than most of her classmates. Although she picked up English quickly, her French accent made integration difficult. She left school at the age of 14, and worked as a live-in maid, cooking and cleaning for local families for three dollars a week. She used her earnings to purchase clothes by mail order for her sisters, mother, and herself. » Continue Reading.
A portrait of Inez Milholland hanging over a mantelpiece in the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington DC will be restored if a committee established in March is able to raise $4,000.
Milholland’s name is known today primarily by historians of the crusade to win for women the right to vote.
That crusade acquired crucial public attention on March 4, 1913, the day Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated for his first term. Women from every state gathered in the capital and staged a great parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Leading the parade on a white charger was Inez Milholland, then 25 years old.
She was, literally and figuratively, a figurehead of the nascent women’s rights movement. » Continue Reading.
Three years ago I wrote a diatribe on the trend toward racier Halloween costumes. That post, “Naughty Nurses and the Cult of Halloween Sex,” has been a popular one, mainly because of the penchant for folks to search the internet for “Naughty Nurses.” What they find when they land there, however, is not exactly what they were looking for. Here’s a sample: According to the Center for Nursing Advocacy the naughty nurse is a cultural phenomenon that sexualizes one of America’s most important professions: Linking sexual images so closely to the profession of nursing–to even the fantasy idea that working nurses are sexually available to patients–reinforces long-standing stereotypes. Those stereotypes continue to discourage practicing and potential nurses, foster sexual violence in the workplace, and contribute to a general atmosphere of disrespect. Desexualizing the nursing image is a key part of building the strength the profession needs to overcome the current shortage, which threatens lives worldwide, and to meet the challenges of 21st Century health care.
Most people today probably don’t think the average nurse goes to work in lingerie, looking for sex. But the relentless fusing of lingerie with nurses’ work uniforms in popular media images, and the frequent exposure of sexy “nurses'” bodies in these images, still associates the profession with sex in the public mind… Other people may simply see nurses as looking to meet a physician–even an already married one–to take them away from the dead end job of nursing, a horrific stereotype that was actually expressed in late 2004 by Dr. Phil McGraw on his popular television show.
Since it’s Halloween week, I thought it might be worth another look.
The Adirondack Almanack's contributors include veteran local writers, historians, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the Adirondack region. The Almanack is the online news journal of Adirondack Explorer. Both are nonprofits supported by contributors, readers, and advertisers, and devoted to exploring, protecting, and unifying the Adirondack Park.
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