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December 17

Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
who is solely responsible for its content.
This document has been taken from emailed versions
of Women of Achievement. The complete episode
will be published here in the future.

Excerpt from Blanche Wiesen Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt

Deborah Sampson


QUOTES by June Sochen and Ellen Taaffee Zwilich.

Blanche Wiesen Cook on Eleanor Roosevelt

The following is an excerpt from Blanche Wiesen Cook's marvelous biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first biography of ER that treats her like a real, human being :

"...the work and vision of an entire feminist community - a circle of intimate friends connected to Eleanor Roosevelt - seemed to be trivialized and ignored. It was in fact an historical outrage, born of closed archives, court biography, misogynist interpretation, misinformation.
      "As in the case of the women of Bloomsbury, ER's British contemporaries, the work and the words were in the hands of sons and surrogate sons who rarely sought to address or even recognize the complex relationships of very complex lives. They tended to praise the fathers, condemn the mothers, and misunderstand the others. It would be easy to blame the sons and surrogate sons for the failure of our historical record, but that would be only partly accurate. ER, as much as Virginia Woolf or Vita Sackville-West, played a role in which we were allowed to know. Marriages hid romances; romances were discreet and buried in archives; archives were until recently closed. Although ER kept much of the historian record, the private details of her life with others and with FDR were entirely obscured in three volumes of memoir and several autobiographical essays. With certain excepts, such as FDR's momentous affair with Lucy Mercer, ER's appointed heirs follow her lead: if a subject appears in her books, in appeared in theirs...
      "Without her essential vision, the forcefulness of her political activism, and the details of her intimate life, Eleanor Roosevelt has been lost in an historian lie. Above all we have been denied access to the core subject so intriguing to students of life, that place where sex and power converge...
      "The issue of sex and power is assumed to be central to the lives of great men. When looking at the lives of great women, we continue to divide the world into saints and sinners, and we make assumptions based on race and class, even looks. White, Protestant, aristocratic, and 'unattractive' women are not supposed to flourish in the political arena, and are not presumed to have sex or independently passionate interests. Regarding these women, all questions concerning that wondrous crossroad of sex and power have been traditional disallowed.
      "We have tended to constrict the range of historian inquiry about women, failing even to ask life's most elemental questions. We have been encouraged to disregard the essential mysteries of a woman's life: What is energy and where does it come from? How do we channel energy - to write, to organize, to love? How do we acquire courage, develop vision, sustain power, create style? What is the connection between chronic undiagnosed illness, depression, suicide, and the refusal to acknowledge the fullness of a woman's capacities, her right to love and to lead?
      "Until recently, historians and literary analysts have preferred to see our great women writers and activists as asexual spinsters, odd gentlewomen who sublimated their lust in their various good works. But as we consider their true natures, we see that it was frequently their ability to express love and passion - and to surround themselves with like-minded women and men who offered support, strength, and emotional armor - that enabled them to achieve all that they did achieve. That fact is that our culture has sought to deny the truths and complexities about women's passion because it is one of the great keys to women's power.

      "Now nothing shatters the myth of the angel in the house, the fragrant spirit in the garden, so fundamentally as the appearance of the independently passionate woman, who chooses her mate, her partner, her lovers, for reasons of her own, and according to the needs and wants of her own chemistry. The myths of Victorian prudery and purity have been history's most dependable means of social control. Class-bound and gender-related, obscured by privets and closets and vanishing documents, establishment lust has followed the dictates of establishment culture; traditionally for men only."
            -- Blanche Wiesen Cook in Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume One 1884-1933, New York: Viking Press. 1992. (p. 11-12)

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Deborah Sampson

      Born 12-17-1760, Deborah Sampson. On 05-20-1782, DS enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment in the American Revolutionary War disguised as a man named Robert Shurtlieff. She took a musket ball out of her own thigh rather than allow army surgeons to discover she was a woman. She was also wounded in the head and the foot, once by a saber in a skirmish near Tarrytown, New York.
      DS had enlisted once before as a Timothy Thayer but may have only done so as a lark to get the enlistment money.
      She was discharged 10-23-1783, after her true sex was revealed to her surprised commanders and fellow soldiers in a letter from a family she had stayed with while recovering from a fever. Her honorable service was formally noted, as well as the acknowledgement of her sex, in official army records.
      She worked as a farmhand for a time as a man but in 1784 shifted to skirts, married, and had three children.
      She was awarded a full pension from Congress in September of 1818. Her husband requested a full pension after her death 04-29-1827, which he claimed was caused by her war wounds.
      A monument to Deborah Sampson stands in her home town of Sharon, Mass.

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B. 12-17-1706, Gabrielle-Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil Chatelet, Marquise du, French mathematician and physicist.

B. 12-17-1734, Maria I of Portugal, ruled 1777-1816 and brought peace and prosperity to the country. Napoleon's invasion in 1806 forced the royal family to flee.

B. 12-17-1760, Deborah Sampson, fought in the Revolutionary War under the name of Robert Shurtleff, wounded she cared for herself rather than risk exposure. Received full veterans pension. Wrote of her experiences in The Female Review (1797).

B. 12-17-1878, Grace Abbott, U.S. social worker and public administrator. Worked for the rights of children when harsh child labor conditions were considered normal by society.

B. 12-17-1881, Bess Streeter Aldrich, widowed, started writing and working as the sole supporter of her children. Book editor of the Christian Herald. Authored A Lantern in Her Hand (1928), a bestseller for years. AKA Margaret Dean Stephens.

B. 12-17-1901, Janet G. Travell, first woman physician to hold the post of personal physician to the President of the United States (John F. Kennedy). JGT was a specialist in the study and treatment of musculoskeletal pain. She was firm believer in rocking chairs as mild muscular exercisers and believed that every person should choose their particular chair to fit their bodies. JGT acted as a design consultant for a number of companies.

B. 12-17-1905 or 1908, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, New Zealand author and noted teacher who introduced mutual response teaching methods. Best known for her first novel Spinster (1958).

B. 12-17-1930, Jacqueline Fontyn, Belgian composer winner of the Grand Prix de Rome for composition (1959) as well as numerous other awards. Her works were played extensively in Europe.

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      "Among my particular concerns... is the similar treatment that WASMs (white, Anglo-Saxon males) gave to all human beings other than themselves, as well as to the environment. There are more similarities than differences between the white male attitude toward women, Indians, black slaves, forest, and wildlife than historians have realized. [My book] though largely concerned with women's lives and thoughts, also includes material about these other less privileged humans and about the preyed-upon environment. The intention is to point out the multiple examples of WASMs consistency of attitude and behavior throughout the American past."
            -- from the preface of Herstory, A Record of American Woman's Past, by June Sochen of Northeastern Illinois University. Sherman Oaks California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. 1974 & 1981. ISBN 0-88284-115-7.

      "There's no reason on earth why women can't write music. If so-called serious music has been the province of western white males, this tells you more about politics and society than it tells you about the nature of music."
            -- Ellen Taaffee Zwilich, first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the first woman to obtain a doctorate from Julliard.

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