Monthly Archives: May 2011

Women & Spirit Exhibit Tells a Grand Story

The congenial staffer at the Dubuque Tourist Center dismissed the “Women & Spirit” exhibit as a “Catholic” thing.  Though he was an absolute delight, he was a bit off on this one.  The exhibit did feature women religious in the US but it was definitely not a “Catholic” thing.  It is a story of the strong women who led the charge for health care, education, particularly education of women, , care of the poor and children in need.

The exhibit in Dubuque is extraordinary because of its focus on the work of women religious along the upper Mississippi.  Minnesotans have known the influence of the Sisters in many ways – St. Catherine University being perhaps the most visible with the network of health care providers as part of and the result of that enterprise.

Though history suggests that the exhibit should be coming to the Twin Cities there was a lack of local support.  Still, Minnesota religious have had a major hand in compiling and articulating the story.  Karen Kennelly, CSJ has been an intellectual force in exploring the depths of the elusive research .  The archives of the Sisters of St. Joseph and other Minnesota religious communities have been tapped for precious stories.  The stories of other women religious in Minnesota are embodied here – the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Franciscans of Little Falls and Rochester,  the famed Benedictines of St. Joseph,  Minnesota and many other communities of women religious can be seen in the panels and videos that represent a powerful story.

The exhibit in Dubuque closes May 22 when it moves on to the West Coast.  It has already visited Ellis Island and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.  The web presence, Women&Spirit,  is well worth exploring – not just to learn about the Sisters but to know more about the impact of strong women on our institutions and our communities.


Mother’s Day Reflections

Sure, it’s a Hallmark Holiday – even the founder of Mother’s Day came out against the celebration because of its over-commercialization.  Still, ask just about any Mom and you’ll find a soft spot for her special day.  Not the gifts but the moment in the sun.

Mother’s Day actually started as an initiative of the women’s peace groups in the 1860’s and 70’s.  Ann Jarvis of West Virginia established a committee to focus on “Mother’s Friendship Day” and the challenge “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.”  Julia Ward Howe took up the cause when she led a Mother’s Day anti-war observance in 1872 in New York.  Howe stuck with the Mother’s Day bandwagon for ten years in Boston.

In years to follow Mother’s Day observances emerged in other communities and was picked up by the temperance movement.  Interesting to note, the first public call for “a national day to honor our mothers” came in 1904 from the President of the Fraternal Order of Eagles.

Enter another male supporter, John Wannamaker, of the famed Philadelphia department store.  Wannamaker, working with Anna Jarvis, daughter of the originator of the idea, saw the possibilities.  The drive to establish Mother’s Day as a national holiday was on.  The holiday was declared officially by West Virginia in 1910 and the rest of the states soon thereafter.  On May 8, 1914 President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor those mothers who sons had died in war

Though speaking against something as sacred as Mother’s Day is treading on dangerous ground, Anna Jarvis herself spoke out against the commercialization of the day and lamented that the prevalence of greeting cards was a way for offspring to avoid writing a personal note….No protests have been forthcoming from the greeting card or florist industries.

Once again, the U.S. Census Bureau has risen to the occasion by digging into their wealth of newly-minted data based on the 2010 Census.  Who knew there were nearly 90,000 employees engaged in the floral industry.  California is the leader exporter of cut flowers with flower production of $269 million.  Meanwhile, nearly 12,000 employees work in the 107 greeting card publishing establishments and 14,000 cosmetics, beauty supply and perfume stores serve the nation (though I have read that cosmetics are not the best choice of gift – the gift suggests need for improvement on that front.

As for moms the Census Bureau overflows with data. Lots of working moms (57%), 5.1 million stay-at-home moms, a growing number of single moms (1.5 million), 4 million new moms ages 15-44,  and 75,000 child care centers employing 884,235 – and more numbers than any non-statistician could absorb in a lifetime.

If your Mom is into data you will find a prodigious supply – with commentary – on the Census Bureau website.  Don’t laugh, access to good data collected, organized and made accessible by the government makes a serious difference in our economy, schools, planning and development at every level.  Some of us get into that stuff!

Thoreau returns to Minnesota – Join him for a Grand Excursion

Henry David Thoreau is returning to Minnesota in June 2011.  Yes, returning….He was here just 150 years ago when he traveled to Minnesota with his young friend Horace Mann, a fellow naturalist and son of the renowned education reformer.  In poor health, Thoreau thought that a trip to “the West” would be good for his health while giving him an opportunity to study the flora, fauna and Indians of the vanishing frontier; Thoreau, it seems,  was fascinated and impressed by the Indians of the region.

Thoreau and Mann spent two weeks in transit to the West, traveling by rail and by steam, finally arriving by riverboat in St. Paul.  After a nine mile stage coach trip to St. Anthony they settled at the Tremont House.

In an extensive report of Thoreau’s Minnesota visit Richard Smith writes that “Thoreau and Mann would stay in the Twin City area for nearly a month, exploring not only the prairie and forest of the mid-west but also its libraries!  In Minneapolis Thoreau met the State Geologist, Dr. Charles L. Andrews, and they spent many hours together, Thoreau read local and regional histories as well as the Wisconsin and Minnesota State Agricultural Reports.”

Most notable among Thoreau’s explorations was a Grand Pleasure Excursion on the Minnesota to visit the Sioux Agency on the Minnesota River near Redwood.  Smith reports that “The local steamboat line had yearly trips up the Minnesota River in order for tourists to witness the annual payment of Government annuities to the Sioux Nation.  By luck Thoreau and Mann were in town at just the right time for this yearly adventure”

Thoreau described his Great Excursion in detail, fascinated by the Indians, the plains and the buffalo and sympathetic to the plight of the Indians who he described as “quite dissatisfied with the white man’s treatment of them” with “reason to be so.” Young Horace man wrote a detailed description of the excursion his mother.  John T. Flanagan wrote about the excursion;  his notes and Mann’s letter are on the web.

Though the ostensible intent of the trip was to cure Thoreau’s symptoms of consumption, the result was a botanical and self-fulfillment success it was a health failure.  Thoreau and Mann returned to Massachusetts with their memories and their specimens, but a very ill traveler.  Thoreau continued to fail and died in 1862.

This spring, 150 years later, historians and Thoreau lovers are re-creating much of Thoreau’s visit over the weeks to come.  A visit to the website is an essential step to understanding the background and to keeping up with details of the current events.  Just a few highlights;

Saturday, June 18, is the anchor program.  “A Grand Pleasure Excursion on the Minnesota River”.  This re-creation of Thoreau’s excursion offers a living history cruise on the Jonathan Padelford riverboat, complete with a personal visit from Thoreau himself.  Tickets for the grand excursion are just $25, available from the Bloomington Historical Society.

On June 16 Corinne H. Smith presents “A Transcendental Travelogue: When Henry Thoreau Steamed up the Minnesota River” at the New Ulm Public Library.  Smith will repeat the “Transcendental Travelogue at the Stoughton (WI)  Public Library and the Nature Center at Tekawitha Woods Forest Preserve near St. Charles IL

There’s much more to explore on the web which includes among other treasures a map where virtual travelers can track the routes that Thoreau and Mann followed as they traveled East to West, then West to East by a very different route.

A interesting local complement to the Thoreau celebration is an exhibit at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony.  Thomas A. Potter, president of the Thoreau Society, along with board member Gayle S. Moore, will present a photo exhibit and roundtable discussion of Thoreau’s work.  The exhibit opens Thursday, June 9 and will run through July 30.  On Saturday June 10 Potter will lead a roundtable discussion of Thoreau’s essay Walking.  On that same day Moore will offer a photo workshop for children.  Sunday, June 11, Potter will discuss Thoreau and Birds.

The story of Thoreau’s visit to Minnesota, though not well known, is well chronicled by  a circle of Thoreau scholars and readers.  The stories are rich and accessible via the website.   Using technology that might have baffled – and aggravated — Thoreau, the scholars are sharing the stories and the research via Twitter and Facebook.  It’s a grand story worthy of a revisit well-supported by the commitment of Minnesota and national Thoreau scholars and the many readers who enjoy his prodigious legacy of works.  All of the details are on the very fine website maintained by the Thoreau Society.

The Many Faces of May Day

May Day is a day with many meanings – to children distribute May baskets to their neighbors.  Workers in many countries celebrate May 1 as International Labour Day.  It’s also Law Day in the U.S., this year honoring John Adams, the nation’s first lawyer-president.

And in Minneapolis May 1 marks the day on which In the Heart of the Beast bursts forth with a monumental parade followed by a magnificent festival of music, art, great food and a chance to crawl out of the winter doldrums.  The festival goes on till sunset – though it’s hard to tell when the sun sets when there is no sun….Still, it’s not too late!

Spring forth – it’s May and Spring must be  just around the corner!

Belated awareness of the Stonewall Uprising

Do you ever feel as if you missed out on one entire chapter of life as it is happening around you?  That’s how I’m feeling about the Stonewall Uprising.  Knowing that my knowledge base was minimal I made a point last week to watch the PBS American Experience documentary – the story has been on my mind ever since.  In June 1969 I was alive, awake, in touch with many gay friends and gay students at the college where I was working in DC.  How did I miss that whole story?  And why has it taken me forty plus year to even try learn more about Stonewall and its place in our collective history?

It’s too late to go back, but I go forth with a new recognition of the import of that pivotal moment in American history.  Even more, I have a deeper understanding of what had gone before.  In my cocoon I simply did not understand the limits, insults, pain of gays in this country.  I was wrapped up in advocacy for civil and voting rights, seemingly oblivious to the parallel pain of the gay community in which I was living and working every day.

The Stonewall Uprising documentary, 90 minutes in length, opens a door.  PBS offers some supplementary reading and other resources. Needless to say, there are countless accounts of the occasion and the reality that led to that momentous confrontation.  There have been other documentaries, personal stories, dramatic presentations and more.  I’m wondering now if Stonewall has made the history textbooks….

This community offers rich resources that preserve the record.   For decades the Quatrefoil Library has collected stories of the pre-Stonewall era and reflections on the impact of the resistance of the gay community to police intrusion.  The Jean-Nicholas Tretter Collection  at the University of Minnesota Andersen Library is a treasure trove of GLBT history.

Clearly, I have much to learn.  Painful as our nation’s history may be, it is at our peril that we go blindfolded into the future, as I have clearly done for far too long.

Open Government Doesn’t Just Happen

Since my recent week in Washington DC I have been more than ever aware of transparency issues as they unfold at the national level.  And I have found myself musing with admiration about the real work of those who labor relentlessly and outside the public eye to tweak the gears that open the system.

There are those who maintain that the Obama administration is not living up to the promise of transparency.  And there are those who think Rome was built in a day.  I saw progress midst massive technological and political change.  As a citizen advocate without portfolio I am often overwhelmed – though undaunted – by the acronym-laced dialog and reporting from the political pros.

One of the most citizen-friendly activities in which I participated in DC was the webcast sponsored by Open the Government and the Center for American Progress.  That superb program was enlightening, even entertaining, and definitely accessible to the public at large.  It’s available online to anyone who wants a quick review of what’s happening in the access arena – with a chance to meet some of the key players including White House staff,  representatives of the press and good government groups.  Check it out.

There are legions of committed, informed and ardent advocates for access at work every day on Capitol Hill, in the bureaucracies and in countless committees, task forces and interest groups.  Most of their work is widely accessible through the mix of social networks.  While it is clearly impossible to track all that’s happening, my advice is to keep on eye on some of the key players, e.g. Open the Government, OMB Watch, American Library Association Washington Office, Society of Professional Journalists, and, even more important, to stay in touch with the  arm of your own professional or good government organization that commits time and energy to open government issues.

From my citizen perspective these bold interactions offer hope.  Access to information creates a mighty thirst for more access to more and better information – and a profound appreciation of good information at the moment of need or interest.

Still, there is a gap – a chasm – to be breached.  Investigative journalists crave access.  Their insatiable public depends on their access and on them.  What happens when the ranks of the journalists diminish and the owners of the mighty channels of communication fail to meet their monetary demands.

Since my Sunshine Week in DC I have had the chance to participate in a dynamic conference at MIT sponsored by Journalism That Matters (JTM).  That conference brought together librarians and journalists in what must have been the first-ever open discussion of joint purposes, issues and possibilities.  It was a great complement to the DC experience — More about that in another most.