Category Archives: Women in History

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Episode 016 The History of Women Seeking the White House – Convention Edition!


subscribe-buttonThis week, as the Democratic National Convention prepares to make history by nominating a woman for the presidency, In The Past Lane takes a close look at women who have sought the nation’s highest office. Here’s the lineup:
1) First, I bring you a short segment on a curious voting controversy that few people have ever heard of.
2) Next, I speak with historian Ellen Fitzpatrick about her terrific new book, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency.
3) Finally, I speak with William Hazelgrove, author of a forthcoming book, Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson. Wait, does that mean the United States already had a woman president? Listen and learn!

Ellen Fitzpatrick - The Highest Glass CeilingFurther Reading

Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed; Expanded 40th Anniversary Edition 40th Edition (2010)

Ellen Fitzpatrick, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency (Harvard University Press, 2016)

William Hazelgrove, Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson (forthcoming, Regnery History, October 2016)

Myra MacPherson, The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age (2014)

Hazelgrove - Madam President cover copyPatricia L. Schmidt, Margaret Chase Smith: Beyond Convention (1996)

Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith (1999)

Gloria Steinem, The Woman Who Ran For President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull (1995)

Barbara Winslow, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change (2013)

Dinesh Sharma, “America’s Exceptional Lack of a Female President,” The New Republic, May 12, 2016

Pew Research Survey – Despite progress, U.S. still lags many nations in women leaders

Music

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, River Meditation (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

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Episode 013 Why We Pledge Allegiance, Betsy Ross, & More

This week, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Flag Day, we take a look at several intriguing flag-related stories. Here’s the lineup:

  1. Why Do We Pledge Allegiance? Here’s the little-known stosubscribe-buttonry behind this revered American ritual and the fears that inspired it. Did you know the Pledge was written by a socialist? Or that it’s wording has been changed twice? Or that the original salute was dropped during World War II because it too closely resembled the fascist salute of Nazi Germany?
  2. Next, I interview Kimberly Staub, the Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. She’ll tell us how Betsy Ross was “discovered” as the woman who made the first American flag in the 1890s – more than a century after the flag was created. And she’ll explain to us how the museum has changed it’s focus over the past decade to tell a larger story of colonial women in the late-18th century.
  3. Finally, I drop some fun and interesting flag-related facts on you. Do the flag’s colors red, white, and blue officially symbolize anything like courage or sacrifice? Listen and learn, people.
The original flag salute as described by Francis Bellamy. Because it bore an unwanted resemblance to salutes used in fascist Italy and Germany, it was replaced with the hand over the heart.

The original flag salute as described by Francis Bellamy. Because it bore an unwanted resemblance to salutes used in fascist Italy and Germany, it was replaced with the hand over the heart.

Episode 013 notes and credits

Recommended Reading

Charles Weisgerber's 1893 painting of Betsy Ross presenting the American flag to George Washington and Robert Morris. This painting played a major role in popularizing the Betsy Ross story/myth.

Charles Weisgerber’s 1893 painting of Betsy Ross presenting the American flag to George Washington and Robert Morris. This painting played a major role in popularizing the Betsy Ross story/myth.

Jeff Gammage, “Flag Day loses importance but lives on in Philadelphia,” Philadelphia Enquirer, June 14, 2008.

Jeffrey Owen Jones, “Meet the Man Who Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance,” Smithsonian Magazine (November 2003)

Marc Leepson, “Five myths about the American flag,” Washington Post, June 12, 2011

Kelli Marshall, “The Strange History Behind The Pledge Of Allegiance,” Talking Points Memo (September 15, 2015)

Marla Miller's biography of Betsy Ross inspired the Betsy Ross House to rethink the way it presented the BR story.

Marla Miller’s biography of Betsy Ross inspired the Betsy Ross House to rethink the way it presented the BR story.

Marla R. Miller, Betsy Ross and the Making of America
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “How Betsy Ross Became Famous: Oral Tradition, Nationalism, and the Invention of History,” Common-Place (October 2007).

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, “Acoustic Meditation” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

 

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Tubman on the New $20 Bill – Move Over Jackson

[Note: a version of this piece originally ran in the Huffington Post on April 23, 2016; You can also hear this and related pieces in Episode 010 of my podcast, In The Past Lane]

ITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)The recent announcement by the United States Treasury Department that Harriet Tubman, escaped slave and abolitionist, would replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill has garnered a lot of attention. Tubman will not only be the first African American to appear on U.S. currency, she also will be the first woman to do so in more than a century (Martha Washington and Pocahontas made cameos in the late-19th century). Meanwhile, Jackson will be demoted to the backside of the $20. Predictably, conservatives and traditionalists filled the Twittersphere and other forms of social media with outrage against what they see as the latest affront by the forces of so-called “political correctness.”

While this response is understandable – people often see change as a form of loss – it’s also misguided.  One of the central insights gained from the study of history is that, Nothing has always been. Nothing. Everything that we think of as traditional, has a point of origin that is probably not as far back in time as you think. For example, when did the United States decide it needed a massive peacetime military – you know, two million soldiers and 500 ships? The year was 1950 – less than 70 years ago. Before 1950, Americans agreed that a republic ought to have a small peacetime military. Then the Cold War happened and we changed our mind. There are countless other examples, but you get the point.

So how does this apply to the new $20 bill? First, we didn’t even have federal paper money until 1862 – that’s 74 years AFTER the ratification of the US Constitution. And second, in the coming years, many, many faces appeared on that paper money. Before Jackson, President Grover Cleveland’s face appeared on the $20 bill. Jackson bumped him in 1928 – a mere 88 years ago.  Let’s face it: the look of US paper money has changed many, many times and it wasn’t designed by God or George Washington.

President Grover Cleveland graced the front of the $20 bill until he was displaced by Andrew Jackson in 1928.

President Grover Cleveland graced the front of the $20 bill until he was displaced by Andrew Jackson in 1928.

But the negative reaction to the new $20 bill also reflects more than mere nostalgia. It indicates a shallow understanding of the purpose of civic symbols. Choosing names for public schools, establishing holidays, and building monuments to people or events are ways a society proclaims and affirms certain values. The selection of particular people to adorn U.S. currency performs a similar function. It says, in so many words, these people and what they stood for and what they did are worthy of our admiration. Their examples from the past should inspire us as we go about living our present and building our future.

Jackson was known popularly as "Old Hickory" and enjoyed a reputation as a defender of the "common man."

Jackson was known popularly as “Old Hickory” and enjoyed a reputation as a defender of the “common man.”

This understanding explains the decision to demote Andrew Jackson from his place of honor on the $20 bill. Simply put, American values have changed a lot since his presidency (1829-1837) and since his placement on the $20 bill in 1928. In his day and for decades thereafter, Jackson was hailed as a man who expanded American democracy and defended the rights of the “common man” against the predations of the rich and politically connected.

These are very important accomplishments and this aspect of Jackson’s reputation is largely accurate. But it’s also incomplete.  It obscures the fact that in Jackson’s understanding, democracy and equal rights only applied to white men. And it ignores the fact that Jackson advanced the cause of white men by promoting the expansion of slavery. Key to this policy was the opening of vast stretches of the American southeast to whites for cotton cultivation by enslaved labor. Jackson achieved this goal by forcibly expelling – in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court – tens of thousands of Native Americans from their homelands in the American southeast. Their deadly march to Oklahoma killed thousands and became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Jackson's expulsion of Native Americans from the US southeast became known as the "Trail of Tears" because thousands dies on the forced march to Oklahoma.

Jackson’s expulsion of Native Americans from the US southeast became known as the “Trail of Tears” because thousands dies on the forced march to Oklahoma.

These disturbing facts regarding Jackson’s presidency are not politically correct; they are simply correct and worthy of our attention. Jackson’s heroic status in the nineteenth century reflected the values of an antebellum America that was committed to territorial expansion and slavery. Similarly, the placement of Jackson on the $20 bill likewise reflected the values of a 1920s America that was dedicated to upholding a Jim Crow system of segregation and racial oppression.

A lot of history has unfolded since 1928 and with it has come an expansive notion of American citizenship that includes women, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. This transformation has been accompanied by an increased willingness to confront the darker chapters of American history like slavery and Japanese internment.

In light of this development, the choice of Harriet Tubman to replace Jackson is a laudable one. Symbolically, as a woman, an African American, and a former slave, Tubman stands for the Americans left out of Jackson’s vaunted “common man” constituency.

This 1850s woodcut image of Harriet Tubman depicts her as a defiant radical willing to break the law to end slavery.

This 1850s woodcut image of Harriet Tubman depicts her as a defiant radical willing to break the law to end slavery.

What’s more, Tubman embodied an essential and often undervalued American tradition of civil disobedience. Every chapter in the unfolding story of American freedom, democracy, and justice has been written by people who were willing to defy unjust laws, despite the attendant risks to their lives, reputations, and property. Tubman escaped slavery and then willingly risked her life innumerable times by returning to the South to guide others to freedom in the North along the Underground Railroad. Like later activists fighting for labor rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights (just to name a few), she broke laws to expose their unjust character and gain their repeal. What could be more American than that?

Placing Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill reflects an broadened notion of what sort of Americans and what kinds of actions are worthy of our collective admiration and commemoration. It’s no mere coincidence that this has occurred at a time when public sentiment has demanded the removal of pro-Confederate symbols from the public square. And this fact should caution us against reading too much into the new $20 bill. Symbols are important. But they are not ends in themselves. The best ones call to our attention what we value and why.

In 2016 the United States is beset by serious problems concerning poverty, inequality, and racism. Harriet Tubman’s arrival on the $20 bill will not solve these problems. Its purpose is to stand as a vivid and powerful symbol of freedom, equality, and inclusion. It’s up to us citizens to make use of it.

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Episode 010 Harriet Tubman on the Twenty & More


subscribe-buttonThis week at the In The Past Lane history podcast, we take up some timely questions: Who was Harriet Tubman and why did the U.S. Treasury Dept. choose her as the first woman to appear on the $20 bill? And why has President Andrew Jackson been demoted to the backside of the bill? Along the way, we’ll speak with the historian who literally wrote the book on Harriet Tubman, historian Catherine Clinton. We’ll also check in with historian Stephanie Yuhl in our History Skinny segment where we discuss history that’s made headlines. So put the top down and join us for another informative and fun journey In The Past Lane.

Episode 010 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of Harriet Tubman, Andrew Jackson, and the Underground Railroad

harriet-tubman-road-freedom-clintonCatherine Clinton, “The Long Journey from the Age of Jackson to Harriet Tubman on the Twenty” History News Network
http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/162628

Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004)

Catherine Clinton’s website: http://www.catherineclinton.com/

Feminista Jones, “Keep Harriet Tubman – and all women – off the $20 bill,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2015

Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (Norton, 2015)

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

 

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Episode 009 Taxes and Tax Revolts in US History and More

This week at In The Past Lane, in honor (if that’s the right word) of Tax Day,  we take a close look at the history of the fraught relationship between Americans and their taxes.  This episode features three segments:
1) an interview with historian William Hogeland about his terrific book on one of the biggest tax revolts in US history, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. 2) the story of a one-man, one-day tax revolt by Henry David Thoreau that — eventually — exerted a tremendous influence on social justice struggles around the world, including women’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans in the US. 3) a fun grab bag of things related to the history of taxes in US history, including – wait for it – a reason to be thankful for taxes … seriously …
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Episode 009 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of taxes and tax revolts

hogeland-book-cover-2Charles Adams, Those Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America (1998).

William Hogeland, The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty (2010)

Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (1986)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Other Writings, William Rossi, Ed. (2008)

Some History Podcasts to Check Out

Ben Frankin’s World with Liz Covart
http://www.benfranklinsworld.com/

Past Present with Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Petrzela, and Neil Young
http://www.pastpresentpodcast.com/

Slate’s History of Slavery with Rebecca Onion
http://www.slate.com/articles/slate_plus/history_of_slavery.html

The Way of Improvement Leads Home with John Fea
http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/

BackStory with the American History Guys
http://backstoryradio.org/

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

The Womb, “I Hope That It Hurts” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, “Acoustic Meditation” (Free Music Archive)