It’s been over a century (101 years to be exact) since Miriam Josefsohn of Blue Thread fame attended her last class at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland. A lot has changed at the school since then, especially the extra-curricular activities. I’m sure that Miriam would have liked to join the Politics without Borders Club, and the SciFi/Fantasy Club, and the Human Rights Club. I suppose if her friend Florrie Steinbacher were still enrolled with her, the two might have considered SMA Cruisers. Here’s a photo of the 2011 team. Can you imagine them racing along the Willamette River in dragon boats?
In 1912, dragon boats were as unheard of as an SMA activity as the Harry Potter Club. But humans have been racing long-boat canoes for at least 2,000 years. Dragon boat racing gained international attention in the 1970s, and may one day have a place of its own at the Olympics. If you want to follow the sport, check out the International Dragon Boat Federation and its June 1, 2013, Paddle for the Planet. Portland held races in June, too, as part of the Rose Festival. Surely Miriam and Florrie would have gone to the Rose Festival back in 1912. Would they have wanted to race in dragon boats? I wonder.
I was on vacation on May 23rd, ten time zones away from home. I had no idea that the United Nations, after years of discussing and planning, had declared May 23, 2013, as the first-ever International Day to End Obstetric Fistula. Countries around the globe participated. Yes!
Here are the basics about a condition that has pretty much disappeared in the United States, but plagues many impoverished women and teen-age girls in poorer countries. A fistula is essentially an abnormal passageway between two organs in a person’s body or between an organ and the surface of a body. An obstetrical fistula can happen during a very long and difficult childbirth. Tissue in the birth canal is so damaged that it dies, leaving a hole between the canal and the bladder or rectum. This condition results in permanent incontinence of urine, or feces, or both. Often the baby dies as well. Most of the women and girls are shunned by their families or communities because of their foul smell and inability to bear more children.
Not a pleasant topic to talk about, true. But for an estimated two million to three million women and girls on our planet, this condition is something they live with. The television documentary “A Walk to Beautiful” tells the story of five women in rural Ethiopia who trek hundreds of miles to the hospital in where doctors repair obstetrical fistulas. Read more at The Fistula Foundation. You can link to other organizations that support women and girls at the Blue ThreadPursuing Justice page. May 23 has come and gone this year, but every day is a good day to help.
Horse racing was in the news this past weekend, when Palace Malice, who finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby, beat out favorites and won the Belmont Stakes. Almost exactly a century ago, suffragist Emily Wilding Davison attended Epsom Derby, the most prestigious race in Great Britain. Toward the end of the race, she stepped in front of the horse owned by King George V. In an instant, she was trampled by the horse and died of her injuries four days later on June 8, 1913.
What was Emily Davison doing? A member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), she was an ardent support of a woman’s right to vote. She had been imprisoned several time for violent protests. At Epsom Derby, she appears to have tried to put a suffrage banner on the bridle of the moving horse. Some say Davison had intended to sacrifice her life. Others say she had meant only to disrupt the race and then visit her sister in France. No one knows for sure.
Davison’s funeral included a procession through London streets accompanied by a sea of suffragists dressed in white. Her gravestone includes the WSPU’s motto: “Deeds not words.” Five years later, relatively wealthy women over age 30 got the right to vote. In 1928, voting was granted to all female citizens over 21.
As Miriam’s story opens in the fall of 1912, women in Portland were engaged in a determined campaign to get the right to vote. Blue Thread starts out in late September, when war was about to erupt half a world away.
The First Balkan War officially started on October 8, 1912. By then, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro had formed the Balkan League to force Turkey to give up control of nearly all of its territory in Europe. The Ottoman Turks had captured Constantinople in 1453, renaming the city Istanbul. Over the next two hundred years, the Ottomans had expanded their empire to include large territories in Asia, Europe, and the northern coast of Africa. The Ottomans referred to the Balkan territories that they controlled as Rumelia, meaning the land of the Romans. But empires, whether they are Roman or Ottoman, don’t last forever.
The tiny kingdom on Montenegro was the first to declare war against the Ottomans. The other three nations of the Balkan League soon followed. After fierce fighting, the First Balkan war officially ended on May 30, 1913. Much of Rumelia was ceded to the Balkan League. The peace treaty created the new state of Albania. Bulgaria was dissatisfied with the treaty terms and attacked former league members Greece and Serbia, thus starting the Second Balkan War. The situation in the Balkans continued to deteriorate, eventually leading to World War I (1914-1918).
The United States entered World War I in 1917, after Germany declared submarine warfare against all commercial ships supplying Great Britain. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, voted against entering the war. She was a representative from Montana, elected at a time when some women in the United States still didn’t have the right to vote. Of course, as you know from Blue Thread, the women of Oregon did.
A couple of years back, Patricia Zanger was selling hats in Bonnet, her shop nine floors below my apartment, while I was writing Blue Thread. We were both working on revisions. I was polishing the story of Miriam and her involvement with the Osborne sisters, two milliners from Chicago who rented a tiny hat shop in northwest Portland in 1912. Downstairs in her real live shop, Patricia was taking a bolder step. Eager to provide her customers with hats they liked, Patrica decided to make her own.
Unlike the Osborne sisters, Patricia does not use toxic dyes in her hats. She buys the best materials and imports ribbon from France. She hails from New York City, not Chicago, and has owned shops for about 20 years. It takes several days to steam, shape, and stitch a hat, and then to add the finishing touches. Like the Osbornes, Patricia will sell you a ready made hat or personalize one.
The hats at Bonnet would even appeal to Miriam, a no-frills gal who thought that the hats in fashion in 1912 looked ridiculous. She preferred a simple ribbon to keep her hair out of the way. And she tolerated the elegant hats that Florrie Steinbacher wore because you forgive best friends their foibles. At the start of my story, Miriam misses Florrie fiercely.
Florrie. How odd. Florrie is such a minor character in the story, but here she has crept into this post about Patricia and her handmade hats. For some strange reason, Florrie Steinbacher is on my mind.
“Your mama wishes for an outing to Washington Park in the Oldsmobile. I will indulge her until a quarter before two, when I go to the Club.” Papa grumbled about muddy roads and every-man-for-himself intersections, but Mama prevailed. I had no say in the matter.
[Blue Thread, Chapter 3]
What would Julius Josefsohn’s prized Oldsmobile have been like? Chances are, it would have looked like this beautifully-restored 1910 Limited model. Most cars at the time had convertible tops; many had four doors. On the other hand, Julius might have preferred a black car; he might have thought this light-colored, pin-striped color scheme too ostentatious for his old-world tastes.
Oldsmobile is one of the oldest American brands. The Olds Motor Works was founded by Ransom E. Olds in Lansing, Michigan, in 1897. In 1901, Olds’ company was the first high-volume manufacturer of gasoline-powered cars: it built 425 of them. There were 725 Limiteds produced; the retail price was about $4600, which was more than the cost of a simple three-bedroom house. It’s easy to see why Julius didn’t like getting mud on his car!
Oldsmobile became a part of the growing General Motors Company in 1908. Oldsmobiles were last produced in 2004. Here’s an Aurora sedan from about 2001, one of the last years.
In its 107-year history, Oldsmobile produced 35.2 million cars.
And now, for your listening (and maybe singing) pleasure, here’s a 1909 recording of “In My Merry Oldsmobile” sung by Billy Murray (1877-1954), one of the most popular recording stars of the early 20th century. The song dates from 1905 and would have been popular in Miriam’s 1912 Portland. It’s worth including the lyrics here, so you can sing along. The song is flirtatious, but the sex is between the lines.
Young Johnny Steele has an Oldsmobile and he loves a dear little girl
She is the queen of his gas machine, she has his heart in a whirl
Now when they go for a spin, you know, she tries to learn the auto, so
He lets her steer, while he gets her ear, and whispers soft and low…
Come away with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile
Down the road of life we’ll fly, automobubbling, you and I
To the church we’ll swiftly steal, then our wedding bells will peal
You can go as far as you like with me, in my merry Oldsmobile.
They love to “spark” in the dark old park, as they go flying along
She says she knows why the motor goes: the “sparker” is awfully strong
Each day they “spoon” to the engine’s tune; their honeymoon will happen soon
He’ll win Lucille with his Oldsmobile and then he’ll fondly croon…
I love what they got away with in these old songs! On the other hand, in 1912, a proper lady’s ankles were not to be seen in public. I think old-fashioned Julius would’ve found these lyrics to be absolutely scandalous, unfit for the ears of his 16-year-old daughter. And certainly Lillian’s outing to Portland’s beautiful Washington Park (perhaps 30 minutes from the Josefsohn residence) was not the kind referred to in the song!
She hasn’t said a word to you, has she? I mean about being away for a few weeks and pretending to blog just as if she were at home. Well, if Ruth Tenzer Feldman thinks she can get away with that, she has another think coming!
And think she will, when I take over this blog later on this summer, as soon as I figure out how. My parents will be livid, but what else is new? If I had done everything they wanted, I never would have started a new life on the edge of San Francisco Bay. I never would have welcomed my beloved Mim at the Oakland train station back in 1912 and witnessed what happened to her over the years. I never would have seen the vote for justice card that Mim printed.
When I take over Ruth’s blog, I’ll show you Mim’s card, which Ruth never did, did she? There’s a veritable mountain of narrative bits that she has no intention of putting on the page. I should know. I live in Ruth’s brain. I haunt her dreams.
Stick with me. Mum’s the word for now. I’ll be back. Soon.
Alfred Wegener liked to puzzle out problems, and one of them was how the world’s continents came to be. South America and Africa looked like two puzzle pieces that should have fit together once. Back in 1912, while our fictional Miriam Josefsohn was campaigning for woman suffrage, Wegener proposed the theory of continental drift. A hundred years later, most of us see the sense in his explanations. But when Wegener first spoke about his hypothesis, few geologists took him seriously. Wegener’s specially was meteorology, not geology. His ideas about a supercontinent that split apart seemed unbelievable.
Wegener taught at the University of Marburg in Germany, and he published his research findings in German. During World War I (1914-1918), when the United States and much of Europe was at war with Germany, Wegner’s book was largely ignored.
Wegener didn’t give up. By the 1920s, more scientists began to take him seriously. Not many, though. Wegener was determined to convince them that his hypothesis was correct. In 1930, he went to Greenland to collect data. Wegener, age 50, never returned. Friends found his body buried in the snow. Apparently Wegener’s guide, Rasmus Villumsen (on the right in this photo), buried Wegener and died soon afterward.
The hypothesis of continental drift survived—just barely at first. Now it fits well with our understanding of our planet’s interior and tectonic plates. Had Miriam lived in Portland today, she would certainly be aware of earthquakes from the Cascadia (Juan de Fuca) plate.
The actor we know as Charlie Chaplin (Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin) is probably most famous for his image of a man with a small mustache and a derby hat. That was not the Chaplin who appeared in “A Busy Day,” the silent film that Keystone Studios released on May 7, 1914. Growing up impoverished in Britain, Chaplin was just starting his career as an actor in the United States. “A Busy Day” is one of his lesser known films, and with good reason!
The opening scene in the movie notes that Chaplin plays the role of “the militant suffragette.” Chaplin in drag is at a parade in the United States, and he makes a fool of him (her) self. At this time in 1914, Sylvia Pankhurst and the real “militant suffragettes” (they embraced the once-derogatory name) were fighting for women’s rights. Pankhurst’s group was known at the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS). They campaigned for universal suffrage, founded a Montessori school for young children, and set up a free health clinic. The ELFS also opposed Britain’s entry into World War I.
Here’s an image of Charlie Chaplin in “A Busy Day.” And here’s a link to see the entire silent film (it’s only a few minutes long).
Did Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) look like Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960)? Here’s a photo of Pankhurst from 1909. You decide.
I don’t think that there’s a definitive answer about the origins of the maypole, although the tradition of dancing around a maypole seems to have been with us since forever. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Miriam Josefsohn and her friends danced around a maypole in 1912, although the earliest photograph I’ve seen from Portland comes from a few years later. It shows children dancing around a maypole in front of the Kennedy School in 1916.
The celebration continues, thanks to the Maypole Dancers from the Laurelhurst School. Here’s a recent snapshot of them performing in front of the Kennedy school (now a McMenamin’s hotel and restaurant). See them dance today!
May Day has been around for 2,250 years. At least. Way back when, the Romans celebrated the coming of spring with a festival honoring Flora, the goddess of flowers. In northern Europe some people celebrated April 30-May 1 with bonfires, and treated the time as a gathering of witches six months after All Hallows’ Eve. For others, May 1 was the official start of summer, a time to send the cattle into the summer pastures and to perform rites to insure a good crop. Perhaps Miriam celebrated May Day the way these young ladies did in Maryland in 1906. Happy May Day!