Monthly Archives: February 2016

Archives reveal untold stories of African American Women Religious


As I was deciding among the many ideas waiting to be explored during the waning days of African American history month I happened upon AOTUS (, the blog posted by David Ferriero, Archivist of the U.S. In his recent Black History Month post Ferreiro wrote about a number of “hidden treasures”, archives that reveal the narrative of African Americans; included on his brief list was the following

The Oblate Sisters of Providence is the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. It was the work of a French-born Sulpician priest and four women, who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore in the late 18th century. The order founded the oldest continuously operating school for black Catholic children in the United States and is still educating children in Baltimore. A grant from the NHPRC helped the Oblate Sisters process and make available the historical photograph and scrapbook collection of approximately 16,000 photographs dating from the 1850s to 2003, including this touching image of orphans under their care.

A quick search revealed that the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) – which coincidentally comes under the federal authority of the Archivist — had recently awarded a grant of $25,830 to the Oblate Sisters of Providence for an Historic Photograph Project. The goal of the project was “to process and make available the historical photograph and scrapbook collection” of the Sisters. The inventory had identified approximately 16,000 photographs dating from the 1850’s to 2003. A bit more probing disclosed a remarkable bit of the history of African Americans and of women religious in the U.S.

Though the Oblate Sisters of Providence was the first successful order of Roman Catholic Sisters of African descent, there was an earlier community. An earlier community, the Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, later known as the Sisters of Loretto, formed in Kentucky in 1812 with the encouragement of a Belgian priest, Father Charles Nericnkx. When the priest died that early community dissolved.

A short time later, in 1829, Jacques Hector Nicholas Joubert de la Muraille, took a similar approach to proselytizing. Born in France, Joubert worked in Haiti before the Revolution; he escaped to the U.S., specifically to Baltimore, where he became a Sulpician priest. Assigned to serve French speaking Haitian Catholics at St. Mary’s chapel he grew concerned with his young parishioners’ problems learning to read the Catechism. His thoughts turned to founding a school – while his circle expanded to include two women of African descent who were already running a small school.

The two women who evinced an interest in consecrating their lives to God were soon joined by two other young women with a similar commitment. And thus was formed the nucleus of the nation’s first religious order for Black women. Eventually, the four novices took their vows and the first order of women religious of African descent was officially founded in 1829; the superior of the community was Elizabeth Lange, a native of Cuba.  On October 2, 1831 Pope Gregory XVI blessed the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

The Sisters opened a small school for Haitian children where French was the spoken language and the essential tool for learning the tenets of their Catholic faith. In time the school grew, eventually leading to the founding of The Baltimore School for Colored Girls in 1828. Renamed St. Frances Academy the school remains as the oldest continuously operating school for African American Catholic children in the United States. As the school continued to grow, the Sisters bought more property and built a new chapel.  This chapel was significant as the first chapel open to African American Catholics living in Baltimore.

Things went well until the early 1840’s when the community faced a number of problems, including the death of their original supporter, Father Joubert, in 1843. Because the primary work of the Joubert’s order, the Sulpicians, had always been the education of men, the community decided to no longer minister to the Oblates. The school languished, as did the Oblate community. The Oblates asked permission from the Bishop to beg on the streets to support their community. One of the original founders, Mother Theresa Duchemen, left the community to move to Michigan where she eventually helped found the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The times were difficult for the fledgling community. For some time, the Oblates worked at a church served by the Redemptorists where their attention shifted to serving the city’s growing German community. It was at this juncture that a second priest, Father Thaddeus Anwander, helped the community restore a degree of financial stabaility. Anwander eventually came to be known as the second founder of the Oblates.

The struggling community next came under the directorship of the Jesuits; for the first time they began missions outside of Baltimore, including missions in Philadelphia and New Orleans. Then, in 1871, the Sisters faced yet another change when the Josephite Fathers and Brothers assumed directorship. The mission of the Josephites was to administer to African American Catholics; in this era the Oblates expanded, adding additional schools and orphanages.

In the early 1900’s the Oblates, no longer under the directorship of the Josephites, grew and adjusted to changing needs. By the 1950 there were over 300 Oblate Sisters of Providence teaching and otherwise meeting the needs of African American children. They opened foreign missions, the first of which in Havana was followed by seven Cuban missions; all were closed in the early 1960’s with the regime of Fidel Castro.

Today the approximately 80 Oblate Sisters continue to operate their southwest Baltimore motherhouse known as Our Lady of Mount Providence. The site has housed several missions over the years including Mt. Providence Junior College (1963-1966), administrative offices, and the archives of the community. Today the Oblates serve missions in Baltimore, Miami, Buffalo, NY as well as cities in Costa Rica.

For much more information, including the photographic archives, visit the Archives of the Oblate Sisters of Providence Library, 701 Gun Road, Baltimore, MD 21227, 401-242 8500,



Fair Use Week 2016 Highlights Student Rights, Visual Arts Best Practices, Digital Age Challenges

Truth to tell, I have a love/hate relationship with fair use. On the one hand I know how absolutely essential the principle of fair use is, how fair use undergirds our access to ideas, information, the arts, the products of creative minds that make our world a better place. On the other hand, the legalistic intricacies of fair use, and the complexity of applying the principle in the digital age, are far beyond my capacity to comprehend.

Still, each year I pause, if briefly, to acknowledge Fair Use Week which I note year has morphed into Fair Use Fair Dealing Week, a nod to our neighbors to the North with whom the free flow of information is a priority. Happy Fair Use Fair Dealing Week, February 22-27.

Celebration of the week – and the doctrine — got off to a late-but-good start when I came across this highly effective infographic, aimed at but certainly not limited to college students. 2016.

The chart helped me realize in concrete terms just how dependent we are on the doctrine of fair use as what one writer calls the “safety valve” of US copyright law.

What caught my attention next was a fascinating new spin on the doctrine of fair use, the focus on fair use in the arts. As a resident of Northeast Minneapolis I tend to notice major developments that relate access to the arts; this study opened my eyes to a major digital age issue facing artists and their public.

The College Art Association has just released a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts. ( ) The Code is the result of a two-year process which leaders honestly reveal followed a period “beset by problems put in motion by one simple axiom: when in doubt, as permission.” Researchers concluded that reluctance to risk legal action – and the time to secure permission – have severely clogged the creative process. As a result, researchers wrote,

We are keeping ourselves from doing the work we love in the way we know it should be done, because we were not sure when legally we should get permission, when we did not have to, and what our risk really us….

It sometimes took years to get permissions for illustrations for a monograph – or even a journal article. Graduate students had taken to selecting thesis topics based on ease of permissions. Editors were frustrated by balking processes and the occasional blank space where permissions do not work out. Museum professionals had stories upon stories of exhibitions gone awry or delayed interminably for permissions. Artists were hesitating to experiment with digital art forms or make recombinant art. They sometimes told their students to create anything they liked…until they wanted to exhibit it.

Attention to best practices within the visual arts has the side benefit of expanding an holistic view of the doctrine of fair use itself.   Fair Use deliberation is influenced to considerable extent by legal and political pressure that can afford to move with speed and force to set the rules in a technological environment undergoing rapid and legal precedent-setting change.

The good news is that there are accessible resources and authorities: With apologies for late notice, there is a high-powered videoconference tomorrow, February 23, sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries; the conference features library, publisher and author perspectives on the doctrine. (My guess is that it will be posted for later viewing.) Or visit for additional background and resources. The Library Journal InfoDocket posts up-to-the-minute developments, events and news. (




Minnesotan named among women leaders in public service and government

Some months ago I noted in passing that the theme for Women’s History Month, March 2016, is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.”   Immediately I thought of the scores of Minnesota women in public service who deserve heaps of praise and thanks, not just during Women’s History Month but every day in every way. I mentally checked off elected officials, office workers, fire fighters, academics, health care professionals, teachers, clerks, judges, librarians, police officers and countless other women who work with honor and energy to serve the public good. These women form a huge percentage of government workers who wage Minnesota’s never-ending struggle to “form a more perfect union.”

With fondness, my thoughts traveled back to an earlier time when Governor Rudy Perpich intentionally and strategically led a relentless effort to put the “action” in affirmative action.

In this reflective – and appreciative — mood I perused the list of this year’s Women’s History Month honorees, an august selection of exceptional women from throughout the country. In 2016 the honor, conferred by the National Women’s History Project, celebrates women who have devoted their lives to public service and government.

First on that list (which admittedly was alphabetical) is Sister Mary Madonna Ashton, CSJ of St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1983 Governor Perpich – and Sister Mary Madonna – made headlines when the Governor appointed her as the first woman and first non-physician to serve as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.

As was his practice, Governor Perpich placed his confidence in a strong and proven candidate. Sister Mary Madonna had served as President and CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis for twenty years (1962 to 1982.)  Her tenure as Commissioner of Health extended from 1983 to 1991, by which time she had established a solid record. Her gender and MSW (as opposed to MD) degrees were no longer the high points of the laudatory remarks by which she was introduced to health care administrators and young people entering the fields of health care and public service.

Sponsors of the national honoree designation underscore just a sampling of the challenges Sister Mary Madonna encountered in her role as Commissioner of Health. She is praised for “successfully addressing smoking cessation and AIDS prevention.” Underscoring her efforts to stop widespread smoking and ready access to tobacco, the selectors write: “Sister Ashton helped pass landmark legislation outlawing smoking in public places and on public property. Testifying for days against the tobacco industry, her success on behalf of the state of Minnesota started a nationwide movement.” (Remember that this was “back in the 80’s”)

Sister Mary Madonna Ashton joins a company of remarkable women who have committed their work lives to public service and government. These women, some living, others deceased, are being honored in 2016 for their unstinting efforts “to form a more perfect union.” The 2016 honorees are these:

Nadine Smith, (1965–present) LGBT civil rights activist and Executive Director of Equality Florida.

Dorothy C. Stratton (1899-2006) WWII Director of the SPARS (Coast Guard women’s reserve) and Executive Director of the Girl Scouts of America.

Bernice Sandler (1928-present) Women’s rights activist, known as the “Godmother of Title IX”

Karen Narasaki (1958-present) Civil and human rights leader, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Nancy Grace Roman (1925-present) Created a space astronomy program at NASA, known as the “Mother of Hubble”

Judy Hart (1941-present) National Park Founding Superintendent of Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park and Women’s Rights National Historical Park.

Isabel Gonzalez (1882-1971) Champion of Puerto Ricans securing American citizenship.

Sonia Pressman Fuentes (1928-present) National Organization for Women co-founder and first woman attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission General Council’s Office.

Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) WWII Director of the Women’s Army Corps and first Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Barbara Mikulski (1937-present) Senator from Maryland and longest serving woman in the U.S. Congress.

Betty Mae Tiger Jumper (1923-2001). First woman Chief of the Seminole Tribe and presidential advisor.

Inez Milholland Boissevain (1886-1916) Women’s Suffrage leader and martyr.

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates (1914-1999) Civil Rights organizer and leader of the Little Rock school integration.

Ella Tambussi Grasso (1919-1981) Governor of Connecticut, first woman U.S. governor elected in her own right.

Suzan Shown Harjo (1945-present) Native American public policy advocate and journalist.

More information about Womens History Month  at




Taking Time to Think about Thinking


Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge;

it is thinking that makes what we read ours. John Locke

As an unreconstructed information access advocate I should be in a state of digital euphoria. Still, in a world overflowing with “materials of knowledge” I continue to rail incessantly about the need to teach the skills of information literary, agonize abut media monopolies, fret about the demise of investigative journalism, stress about the lack of transparency in trade deals, food safety, national security and Wall Street machinations. I rant about who sets the research agenda, how metrics are manipulated, what and who doesn’t show up in infographics. Just now I’m deeply immersed in the energy that surrounds the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act

As I reflect on all mental spinning of wheels, I have come to appreciate the limits of my thoughts – the ruminations are all about the “materials of knowledge.”   More and more I feel the need to trace the information chain from source to destination, to give more thought to the receiver of the message, the one who will ultimately act on whatever gushes forth from the hydrant of metrics, polls, charts, editorials, unfiltered- and uninformed – opinions (Campaign season does this to me.) What – and how — are we voters thinking as we endure the incessant puffery and promises?

The words of John Locke, written more than three centuries ago, focus my thoughts. Today our lives and minds are saturated with “the materials of knowledge” created, processed and delivered to our ears and eyes through channels beyond the imagination of Locke and his contemporaries. What has not changed is the truth that, even in this digital age, “it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” We should perhaps give more thought to thinking.

By force of habit, I searched the term “thinking”- the results flooded my mind with obscure facts about metacognition, discernment, and the physiological processing of turning materials of knowledge into thoughts – mechanics beyond my ken and, for that matter, my interest.   So I decided to review my own thoughts on thinking. Thus, I presume to share these personal, unapologetically unscientific musings on what it takes to “make what we read ours.”

  • A frequently overlooked yet fundamental element of clear thinking is a healthy dose of self awareness, matched with the confidence to test the ideas and information of others against our own informed values. We need be truly appreciate that we own the right to an informed opinion. We are not empty vessels thirsting for information and ideas splashed our way by untested sources.
  • To some extent, the basics of self-awareness and confidence rest on a sturdy and ever-expanding structure of 21st Century skills. This starts with elementary skills of manipulating the mechanics of information. And this level of access depends to a great extent on economic factors, geographic limits, physical and mental ability and training. Contrary to popular belief the Internet and social media are neither universally accessible nor omniscient – much less impartial.
  • Too often we acquire only the limited skill to “read” what spews forth on demand; we do not learn the skill or nurture the habit of validating the “materials of knowledge” that are so readily accessible. The challenge to think assumes the skill to critically assess the motives of the source and thus the role of the receiver: Are we thoughtful people concerned with our own or the public good – or are we simply targeted consumers of products or services or pawns to a political pitch. In fact we cannot be tabula rasa “readers” of the “materials of knowledge” brilliantly packaged in formats designed to fool rather than inform – we need to think about it….
  • Open discourse with other sentient beings can often clarify, strengthen, and amplify our thinking. Sharing thoughts with others offers the challenge to sift, sort, compare, weigh, and illuminate information and ideas. True collaborative thinking is not so much an exchange of like opinions and ignorance as an honest willingness to listen to – and counter as appropriate – the thoughts of others.
  • In truth, Locke does not disparage the reading of (or listening to) books as a viable source of the “materials of knowledge.” Think history, analysis, biography, stories that illuminate the thoughts and challenges, the wisdom and foibles of humankind. Though bookstores and libraries tout the latest hot item rushed to press by an Insider, take time to browse, then drink deep of the literary stream.
  • Most important, perhaps, thinking takes time – time to digest diverse materials of knowledge, to make the materials our own. Thinking demands the commitment of precious time to learn, to exchange, to verify, to ponder, to challenge, sometimes to re-consider. Though the product of clear thinking may be neither visible nor measurable, human beings are designed not just to process the materials of knowledge but also to make all that information and all those ideas our own.

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason

why so few engage in it.Henry Ford


Where have all the snowbirds gone?

Where have all the old folks gone? Long time traveling. Where have all the old folks gone? Long time away.

Where have all the old folks gone? They headed southward everyone. Oh, when will they ever return? Oh, when will they ever return?

Where have all the golfers gone? Long time traveling. Where have all the golfers gone? Long time away.

Where have all the golfers gone? Gone for caddies every one. Oh will they ever return? Oh, when will they ever return?

Where have all the bridge players gone? Long time traveling. Where have all the bridge players gone? Long time away.

Where have all the bridge players gone? Gone for grand slams, everyone. Oh when will they ever win? Oh, when will they ever win?

Where have all the snowbirds gone? Long time traveling.   Where have all the snowbirds gone? Long time away.

Where have all the snowbirds gone? They headed southward everyone. Oh, when will they ever return? Oh, when will they ever return?



Hungry for a good read? Try Eat My Words

Printed books usually outlive bookstores and the publishers who brought them out. They sit around, demanding nothing, for decades. That’s one of their nicest qualities – their brute persistence. Nicholson Baker

And that’s why we have independent used bookstores.

For the past few months the Eat My Words Bookstore has provided the literary setting for Voices of Northeast, a weekly series of video interviews with bookish folk who enliven the literary arts community of Northeast Minneapolis. The novelists, booksellers, teachers, poets, publishers, storytellers and other interviewees on Voices are seated comfortably in the “parlor” in the back of the bookshop where they are framed by books, books and more books…… Curious viewers are now inquiring about the welcoming set itself!   Glad you asked –Eat My Words is a feast to be shared.

For viewers and visitors alike Eat My Words offers a literary banquet, set in the midst of Northeast’s vibrant arts neighborhood. The cozy shop teases the literary palate with irresistible, sometimes sadly neglected, occasionally weird volumes. The shelves teem with books, pre-owned, even pre-read, at least pre-thumbed. The books exude some irresistible power that absorbs the mind and time of the casual browser who may have dropped in for a snack but finds himself pulling up to the table for the feast of printed words.

Proprietor Scott VanKoughnett plays host to the feast of tomes, many of which once graced his private collection of used, rare and antique books representative of every taste, time and facet of the Dewey Decimal System. The overloaded shelves are conveniently searchable while overstuffed chairs offer the browser a chance to sample in comfort.

Acknowledging that shoppers do not live by good reads alone, VanKoughnett, who has also been known to practice law in the area, offers a tempting banquet of bookish events. There are readings, often collaborative readings, on specific themes, special occasions, signings with visiting authors, and when the Muse drops alights.

And then there are the “Food for Thought” idea forums, what Van Koughnett has dubbed “backwords book clubs.” Instead of everyone reading the same book, participants respond to the same topic “through whatever media that resonate with them.” It’s not the tired “book of the month” or the tasty “fruit of the month” but the “topic of the month.” The get-togethers (aka salons) meet on the first Friday evening of the month, each focused on a word theme – March 4 the theme is “Solitude” – April 1 it’s Spirit. ” On May 6 the theme is “Dream” which will get you through till June 3 when it’s “Pride”. All free and open, of course. (”

Learn more about the Voices interviews in an earlier blog post. To appreciate the gourmet treat that Eat My Words offers, you gotta take time to visit. It’s at 1228 2nd Street NE, corner of 12th and 2nd Streetss, just a few steps from the iconic Grainbelt Brewery, near Marshall and Broadway in artsy Northeast Minneapolis.

To view an extended Voices of Northeast discussion with Scott, click here: 651 243 1756 or