Canada Day, July 4th and other celebrations.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

On the day  I write this, it is Canada Day, once known as Dominion Day, when traditionally Canadians celebrate the formation of their nation.  There apparently is a debate going on in that great country about this celebration as citizens wrestle with issues in their past such as the treatment of the First People of the region.  As some Canadians look at their history, they question celebrating a past and point to wrong-doings and the long term consequences for the people, the environment, the country.

This same debate percolates in the United States as we approach July 4th.

Celebrating freedom?

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Whose freedom? Slavery was to exist for more than another eighty years after the Declaration of Independence was issued, and the long term impact of that inequality still survives today.  Women were legally chattel until after slaves were freed. And women still lack economic and social equality with their maie counterparts. What about Native Americans?  Deprived of their homes, at times their children, their culture, their resources, they too often exist only as pale shadows of the vibrant people who lived here in the years before Columbus. What about other groups such as the LGBTQ community who still feel less than free? Looking through the lens of injustice and inequality, our past looks dark, and unworthy of being celebrated.

As we approach the 4th of July in the US, we need to be reminded our country, all countries, are works in progress. We are not finished yet.  We still have dreams to make reality.

It seems to me that we currently view our pasts in terms of extremes–all good or all bad. The truth is we are mixtures of both. Nations were founded, settled, or emerged from the actions of people, people who by definition were flawed and some of those flaws worked their ways into the fabric of the nation.

Yet to focus only on the flaws diminishes the positives, the productive-but  to see only the good and ignore the problems is just as wrong.

Example of Kintsugi

The world has not yet created a perfect country. Even Utopian societies created at various times in history have eventually failed.  Pieces of our nations have failed. We can weep and wail, or we can work to put those pieces back together.  Our repairs can be slipshod and easily fall apart, but we can practice the Japanese technique of Kintsugi.  In Kintsugi shattered pieces of pottery are put back together using gold. Not only is the piece made strong and whole, but it is remarkably beautiful.

So when we have days like Canada Day, July 4th, Cape Verde Independence Day or whatever day a country celebrates, we can celebrate our accomplishments while acknowledging we are works in progress.

We have not realized the dream for all people. We cannot erase the past.  We accept what was and work to ensure we remedy injustices.

Will it be easy? No

Will it happen overnight? In your dreams…. but you can dream and work for it to happen.

Lemonade Lucy: Sweet or Sour?

Lucy Webb Hayes Image in the Library of Congress

Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, is too often remember only as the teetotaling White House hostess who banned all alcohol from being served in the presidential mansion. Others portrayed her as almost saintly, the model of modern womanhood concerned only with the betterment of humankind. However, Lucy Hayes was much more than these caricatures.

Lucy Webb was born in Ohio in 1833 and was only two when her father died.  Her parents were active abolitionists. In fact, her father contracted the cholera that caused his death after going to Kentucky to free slaves he had inherited. Not only did her family support the abolition of slavery, but as good Methodists, they supported the temperance movement.

When she was thirteen, Lucy’s family moved to Delaware, Ohio so her two older brothers could attend Ohio Wesleyan. Lucy’s intelligence so impressed the professors that she was invited to sit in on classes at this all-male institution. Eventually she attended Cincinnati Wesleyan College for Females where she graduated at age eighteen.

Rutherford Hayes and Lucy Webb Hayes on their wedding day.

About the time of her graduation, she met a young attorney, Rutherford B. Hayes.  After two years of courtship, the couple married in late 1852.  The bride was twenty-one.  The groom was thirty.  The couple eventually had eight children, five of whom reached adulthood.

Lucy’s opposition to the institution of slavery influenced her husband who began to defend runaway slaves who had crossed from Kentucky into Ohio. In many ways their values were aligned, although Lucy was a stronger supporter of women’s rights than her husband ever was, but her support was limited. Because of his opposition to slavery, Hayes was an early member of the newly formed Republican party. He and his wife actively campaigned in 1856 for Charles Fremont, the Republican Presidential candidate.  Lucy believed Jesse Benton Fremont would have made a wonderful White House hostess.

Both Lucy and Rutherford believed the abolition of slavery could be occur without going to war, but once the Civil War broke out, both supported the Union cause.  Lucy was heard to say that had she been at Fort Sumter, she would have refused to surrender.

Rutherford volunteered for military service and was appointed to the 23rd Ohio Volunteers as a Major.  Ultimately, he rose to the rank of Major-General. As often as she could, Lucy joined her husband on his campaigns and even worked with her brother, a doctor, in caring for sick and injured soldiers. She also spent time cooking for her husband’s troops, sewing, and helping them in anyway she could earning her the nickname ‘Mother of the Regiment.’

In 1864, without campaigning and while still on the battle field, Rutherford Hayes was elected to the House of Representatives and then reelected in 1866.  He did not actually take his seat until after the war was over in 1865. While he served in DC, Lucy spent time there and in Ohio with their children.  Often found in the visitor’s gallery, Lucy was well-informed on the political and social issues of the day and became her husband’s confidant and unofficial advisor.

At first impressed by Andrew Johnson, she eventually sided with the more radical Republicans in opposition to Johnson’s reconstruction policies.  On one trip to the south with her husband and a congressional delegation, she attempted to explain the importance of ‘Negro Suffrage’ to southern women.  Her arguments fell on deaf ears.

In 1868, the couple returned to Ohio where Hayes was installed as the Governor of Ohio.  Lucy then publicly and actively began her work for the welfare of children and veterans.  She set up a home for children orphaned by the Civil War.  Although funded with private monies, the orphanage was run by the state.  Her concerns about ‘institutions’ expanded to include working for improvements in facilities set up for the deaf and the blind.

Official White House Portrait

Lucy Hayes continued to support these causes after her husband was elected to the White House.  The election of 1876 marred by charges of voter suppression, ballot tampering, disputed electors was only resolved on March 2nd 1877, two days before the new President was to take office. No inaugural ball was held, the normal festivities had been curtailed.  The Hayes were escorted into Washington with a group of special agents protecting them—the first such use of the Secret Service.

Lucy stood by her husband’s side as he took the oath of office on March 4, 1877.  What the public did not know was Hayes had actually been sworn in two days before on March 2nd in a private ceremony held in the Red Room of the White House. Lucy was to stand by her husband’s side throughout his one term in office.

Hayes had idealistic dreams of bringing the country together, emphasizing the importance of the Constitution in history.  He pulled federal troops out of the south believing the promises of the southern states that they would no infringe of the rights of the newly freed slaves. This ushered in the era of Jim Crow.  He did institute sound money policies which made business and industry stronger; he was an opponent of ‘greenbacks,’ paper money issued by the government with nothing to back the currency. In his attempt to reach his goals, he managed to make almost every political faction in the country angry.

As First Lady (and she was the first or one of the first women to be given that title, historians are divided on the issue), she continued to work for the causes close to her heart—the welfare of children and those unable to care for themselves.  She visited schools for the deaf and blind.  She established scholarships for African-American children to attend schools and was interested in programs to help Native American children. Education was a priority for her.  Lucy Hayes was the first wife of a president to graduate from college.

Too often she is remembered only as Lemonade Lucy, the woman who kept alcohol out of the White House and held hymn sings on Sunday night.  This is a very distorted picture of Lucy Hayes.  True, there was only one dinner where alcohol was served and that was when the Grand-Duke Alexis came to dinner.  The decision about beer, wine and hard liquor was not made by Lucy, but by her husband who sought to placate the avid temperance wing of the Republican Party.  He made the decision. She took the blame.  The couple did hold Sunday evening hymn sings for family and friends, but she also hosted many musical evenings, often inviting people of color to perform at those events.

Lucy’s long-lasting contributions to the White House include the introduction of the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.  She ordered a set of china for the mansion to be decorated with the flora and fauna of the United States.  A portrait of Martha Washington was commissioned to hang opposite that of George Washington.  Lucy, in fact, ordered that an Ohio artist paint the portraits of all the presidents who were not yet represented in the White House collection.  As First Lady, she was present at the dedication of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History in New York city.  One final cause Lucy Hayes took up was advocating for the completion of the Washington Monument.

It was also under her tenure as First Lady that bathrooms with running water were installed in the White House. However, money needed for refurbishing the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave was denied by Congress. Lucy disguised holes in the carpet by moving furniture and scoured the attics for useable furniture to replace pieces that had broken over the years.

At home with one of her dogs

Often pressured by various groups to be their spokesperson or advocate, Lucy avoided siding with any specific group. She traveled throughout the United States including a seventy-one day cross-country tour in 1880 where she went down into a silver mine, visited the new University of Southern California, and toured Yosemite.

Hayes had promised when running for election in 1876 that he would only serve one term. Even if he wanted to change his mind, the Republican Party refused to renominate him. Lucy and her husband returned to Ohio in 1881 where she continued to advocate for causes she felt strongly about—children, education, improving conditions for former slaves.

In 1889 at the age of 57, Lucy Webb Hayes died after suffering a stroke.  She was surrounded by her beloved family, her gardens, and her animals. While she was First Lady, the White House was home to a mockingbird, two dogs, a goat, and what may have been the country’s first Siamese cat.  In many ways she was a transition between the First Lady’s role of just being a hostess to being political activist. She was a loving wife and mother.

While she was First Lady, Lucy Hayes was considered to be a model for other women to follow. She was aware of that responsibility and did her best to put her values into practice. She was so much more than the sobriquet of Lemonade Lucy.

Words Matter

Words Matter

Just like Eliza Doolittle I am sick of words—sick of how people misuse them to prove a political point—and how something simple can get blown out of proportion because of word choice.

When I taught, I often put my hand on a student’s shoulder and then described the action with different verbs. Did I slap the shoulder, punch the shoulder, hit the shoulder, tap the shoulder, touch the shoulder?  If the verb used was hit, could the hit on the shoulder explode into a punch, or was the shoulder pummeled or beaten up? How, I asked my students, could the incident be recounted at home over the dinner table?

Words matter.

In school you might have learned about the Boston Massacre and had visions of bodies of “innocent” colonists covering the ground. Did they mention that only five men died?

 If you ever heard about the Battle of Wounded Knee, did anyone tell you that on that early morning in 1890 when most of the Lakota men had been disarmed, Army forces killed perhaps as many as 300 Lakota—200 of whom were women and children.  In the history books, it is a battle that the Native Americans lost.

Which of these events was a massacre?

Words matter.

In this time of frustration in our society, we need to think carefully about the words we write, post, repost, or tweet, and the connotation of those words.  Is the word or phrase emotionally charged?  For example, should what is happening in cities and towns across the country be called riots or protests? Which is the best description of the events we are experiencing? I will not deny, I cannot deny, that there has been looting and violence, but that does not seem to be the bulk of what is happening. Are there thugs and lowlifes among the protestors? Well, are there thugs and lowlifes serving in government jobs?

Words matter.

Why am I up on my soapbox? I am giving serious consideration to defriending someone I like on Facebook because of words. Because the posts, she chooses to post or repost are filled with words and phrases which intentionally or accidentally are designed to inflame rather soothe. And words matter.

I am not perfect. There were times in my classroom when I made a flip comment and chose words that were not appropriate.  I can apologize, but I spoke as the teacher, and the damage was done. The relationship with a student and a family was stressed, strained, and perhaps severed forever. I have no defense for my misuse of words. I can only hope that if I were in a crisis situation, I would be more careful, more cautious, more thoughtful about my word choice.  In truth I have done that as I have written this.

No two people see the world in the exact same way. Accept that your view of the world might not be the experience of another person or another group.  We need to stop assuming that if we are right that those who disagree are wrong. Maybe instead of spewing so many words, more of us need to listen—really listen and hear what is being said.

And think about the words we use, because words matter.

Lillian Erickson Riggs–Member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame–Who Knew?

riggsVisually and hearing impaired, Lillian Erickson Riggs once said, “Everybody think’s I’m crazy to carry on. But I don’t want to give up my riding. When I’m in a saddle, I feel like I’m living again. I’m in no hurry to part company with my cattle. Cows are so easy to keep happy.”

Lillian Erickson was born in 1888 in Arizona. When she was 5 months old, her parents, Swedish immigrants, homesteaded land in Bonita Canyon. Eventually that property became known as Faraway Ranch. The eldest of three children, Lillian went to a local school which only went through 8th grade. To complete her education, her parents sent her to Galesburg, Illinois to finish high school. As a high school graduate, she returned to Arizona to teach school for five years. In 1911, she returned to Galesburg where she attended Knox College for two years. In 1913, she returned to in Arizona to teach school. She was already having trouble with her hearing.

Lillian’s father, Neil, served as the first forest ranger in the area and in 1917, his job in the forest service led him to leave the ranch. Lillian’s father and mother left the running of the ranch to Lillian and her siblings. Her younger sister Hildegard turned Faraway Ranch into guest ranch and Lillian joined her sister in the endeavor. The operation was such a success that they purchased additional land.

In 1920, Hildegard married, moved away leaving Lillian to run the ranch. Lillian, now in her 30s, began ‘seeing’ a school classmate and neighbor, Ed Riggs. In 1922, she moved to Los Angles to pursue a writing career. By the following year, she returned to Arizona, Faraway Ranch and married Ed. The couple were married for more than 25 years.

Their efforts and passion for thechirica region caused the area to be designated as Chiricahau National Monument. Faraway Ranch was the only lodging in the area where visitors could stay while exploring the park. Lillian and Ed used the term guest ranch rather than dude ranch, and continued to operate a cattle ranch was well as catering to tourists. They also grew many of their own fruits and vegetables.

The tales Lillian told of growing up in the west fascinated guests, and both Lillian and Ed helped visitors explore the unique landscape of the National Monument. They created some of the trails, but Ed oversaw the work of the CCC during the Depression when barracks and more trails were constructed. By 1942 Lillian after years of vision problems was totally blind. After Ed’s death, she continued to run the 7000 acres ranch intermittently, hosting visitors to Chiricahua, and riding the range. Not only did she ride horses, she handled the cattle and supervised the day to day operations of the ranch.

At the at 82, she had to stop—age had slowed her down. Having no family member willing to take on the ranch and knowing it had to be modernized to suit the requirements of modern tourists, she approached Holiday Inn to see if they would be interested in buying or using some of her land. They declined.chiri

Despite her wish to die at home and be buried in her wedding dress, Lillian was moved into a nursing home in 1972 where she lived until her death in 1977. Two years later, the National Park Service acquired the ranch which was totally surrounded at this point by National Park land.





Who Knew–Lillie Hitchcock Coit

Born in 1843, she smoked cigars, drank bourbon, wore trousers, gambled, and was an avid hunter. She also frequented the court of Napoleon III in Paris and traveled extensively in Europe and even visited with a Maharajah in India. Raised in post-gold rush San Francisco, she became the mascot of one of the volunteer fire departments riding along with the engine company during parades and going to their banquets. When she died in 1929, Lillie Hancock Coit left one-third of her vast fortune to beautify San Francisco, the city she loved. A monument to firefighters and Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill resulted from that bequest.

Lillie Hancock was born in West Point, New York. Her father was an army doctor who later went to serve in the Mexican War where he saved the life of Jefferson Davis. After the war, her father was transferred to the newly acquired territory of California where he became the medical director of the west coast. Lillie and her mother joined her father in 1851. Lillie’s love affair with Engine Company number 5 began when she was rescued from a burning building shortly after she arrived in California. Reportedly when she was about 15, she raced to help the pull the engine to the top of Telegraph Hill winning the love and devotion of the volunteer firemen. By that time, her father had set up his private practice and accumulated a fortune.

On the eve of the Civil War, Lillie and her mother traveled to Europe where they spent three years. The young Lillie made a positive impression in the courts of Europe and was highly sought after as a dance partner at various balls. Upon her return to San Francisco in 1863, she was recognized as belle of the city. Her family had money, and she had a European polish. In October of that year, she was made an honorary member of Knickerbocker 5, her favorite volunteer fire department.

In 1868 Lillie Hitchcock married Benjamin Howard Coit, a caller on the Stock Exchange who in those hectic days earned $1000 a month (more than $20,000 today). Lillie’s parents had opposed their marriage although the groom’s father was a friend of the Hitchcock family. The couple had no children and separated in 1880. Mark Twain commented on their marital situation and hinted that Mr. Coit was less than faithful. As a wife, Lillie’s behavior pushed against society’s norms and at times shocked polite society.

Lillie made her home in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, but also owned property in Napa Valley that she called Larkmead. Originally, the land had been purchased by her parents to use as a retreat for Lillie when her behavior grew too scandalous for San Francisco. It became a gathering place for artists and intellectuals encouraged by Lillie. Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife visited there in 1880. She spent a great deal of time at Larkmead and a great deal of money on landscaping the property. She planted a vineyard and in 1876 produced ‘Lillie’ a white wine.

In 1885 Lillie’s father died and shortly thereafter, her estranged husband also passed away. In her father’s will, she was to receive $250 a month as long as her husband was alive. Once her husband died, she would inherited half a million dollars from her father’s estate in addition to a quarter of a million from her husband.

Now in her 40s, Lillie made no attempt to hide her outrageous behavior. Dressing like a man, gambling, visiting unsavory waterfront dives, even being the only woman camping with a group of men caused people to talk. In 1903, a distant relative burst into her hotel room and attempted to kill her. The businessman with her stepped in and took the bullet meant for her. Soon thereafter, Lillie left for Europe where she traveled for many years.

Eventually Lillie Hitchcock Coit returned to San Francisco where she died in 1929 leaving one-third of her estate to the city of San Francisco for beautification.

While we know some very interesting information about Lillie Hitchcock Coit, there is much we don’t know. The only book I can find about her life is a children’s book focusing on her relationship to firefighters. I hope that someone takes up the challenge of telling her story—if only in fictional form.