Florence Harding – Wild Child

Young Florence Harding

In 1920, when Warren G. Harding was running for President of the United States, he had secrets to hide, many secrets; and they all had female names. In fact, one of his mistresses is the only person, that we know of, to successfully blackmail a presidential nominee. But, he wasn’t the only one with a past that they wanted to keep hidden. His wife Florence had a few indiscretions of her own.

Florence Kling Harding was supposed to be a boy, at least in the mind of her father. When Amos Kling and his wife, Louisa, were expecting their first child, he told everyone around town in Marion, Ohio, that the child would be a boy. Aside from just wanting a boy, Amos owned a successful hardware store which required much of his time; a son could work along side him and eventually take over the business. So on August 15, 1860 when Florence Mabel, Flossie, was born, although Amos resented the fact that she wasn’t a boy, he had a practical solution. He would raise her as if she were a boy.

From the time Flossie could walk, Amos took her with him to the store. It became an environment that she would always be comfortable in, the sights, smells, sounds, and the company of men. As she grew, Amos trained her in the running of the store and his other businesses as they came about. By the time Flossie was a teenager, Amos had expanded into banking, real estate, and land/tenant management. He had also become a very wealthy man.

Florence with her horse Billy in Marion, OH

Florence with her horse Billy in Marion, OH

Florence’s education was extensive, including subjects not always studied by women such as math, rhetoric, logic, Greek, and Latin. She was also very active physically, running and playing with the neighborhood boys. Her favorite outdoor activity was horseback riding. Many of her Marian neighbors commented that she was the best horsewoman they had ever seen. (I suspect she was better than many of the men as well.)

All of this continued in spite of the fact that Florence had two younger brothers. Amos never switched his training to the boys. He was a tyrant in the home and it seems that Louisa and the two boys were more submissive, and thus less like Amos in personality than Florence. She was just as competitive and driven as he was and perhaps that’s why he seemed to favor her, but as is the case with many strong-willed children of overbearing parents, there came a time when Florence rebelled against Amos’ demands.

Florence also showed a talent for music. She spent hours practicing the piano, one time for eight hours, until her fingers bled. Music for the sake of art didn’t mean anything to Amos, but he was a firm believer that a woman should be able to provide for herself if necessary. For this reason, he allowed Florence to enroll at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, so that she would have a means to support herself by giving piano lessons. Her ambition, however, was to become a concert pianist.

Amos Kling

Amos Kling

Cincinnati was the country’s center of culture in the west and it opened up a new world to Florence. A world that she reveled in, a world with new people and experiences, but more importantly, a world of independence. After only a year, Amos called Florence home. Whether it was to take care of things at home while her mother was ill, as he said, or because he wanted to reign in his newly liberated daughter, I don’t know. But whatever the reason, he released a tiger that he couldn’t put back in the cage.

Amos tried to impose his own standards on Florence once again and their arguments were long and loud, sometimes lasting all night and heard in the street outside their home. More than once he locked her out of the house when she didn’t return before curfew. Sometimes she crawled into the window of her best friend Carrie Phillips, but other times who knows. Amos particularly disliked the fact that she was *gasp* hanging around the new roller rink in town.

Roller skating was a new fad that was sweeping the country. It gave young men and women a chance to socialize and listen to music, and if a few proprieties were breached well, you had to keep your balance, right? In fact the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1885 passed on a minister’s warning that roller skating rinks “corrupt the morals of all who associate with them.” As might be expected, it wasn’t long before Florence became interested in a young man, Henry De Wolfe, Pete to his friends. Amos was livid, which of course made Pete that much more attractive.

Couple roller skatingFor young women who feel trapped at home, there is one way of escape which has often been used, although it can sometimes have dire consequences. Florence had never expressed a desire to marry or have children and a family like her mother. She had been greatly inspired by Clara Baur, the unmarried founder of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music who was a proponent of careers for women. But at the end of 1879, she found herself in trouble. Trouble that could provide a way out of her father’s house.

Kathleen Lawler, Florence’s long-time assistant said that Florence became pregnant to get away from Amos. Florence herself didn’t admit it, but in her diary early in 1880, she makes a cryptic statement: “Vice often comes in at the door of necessity, not at the door of inclination.”

Pete was fun-loving and handsome, and he drank to excess. Just a year older than Florence, they grew up across the street from each other. Pete’s father, Simon, was one of the few men in town who wasn’t afraid of Amos Kling and there was no love lost between the two, so when Pete and Florence took up with each other people held their breath waiting for the explosion which was sure to occur. Neither family approved, but Simon was a different kind of man than Amos and when Pete told him that he had gotten Florence pregnant, Simon told him to take her up to “Columbus, and get married as soon as possible.” So in March 1880, Florence and Pete eloped to Columbus to get married. But, they didn’t.

Carl Anthony, Florence’s biographer, states in his book that there is no record of a marriage between a Kling and a DeWolfe for 10 years before or after 1880 in Franklin County (Columbus), Marion County, or in Crawford County, where they soon set up housekeeping. Florence may or may not have wanted it that way, but Amos had to believe that they were married to prevent him trying to force her back home. And it worked. Not only did Amos leave Florence to her “marriage”, he cut her off and refused to talk to her.

Life with Pete was difficult. They tried to run a roller skating rink, but failed, and Pete didn’t adjust well to the responsibility of a family. He would be gone for days at a time and finally, before their son Marshall was two years old, he deserted them. Florence had no choice except to return to Marion. A friend’s father was kind enough to allow her to stay at their house as she began to teach piano lessons, until she finally was able to raise enough to get a small apartment of her own.

Kling home in Marion, Ohio

Kling home in Marion, Ohio

Even though Florence’s marriage was from all appearances a common law marriage, she did finally get a divorce from Pete in 1886. At that time there was some communication between Amos and Florence and he offered to provide for Marshall. The conditions were that Marshall would live in the Kling home and take the Kling name. Florence agreed.

Amos may have hated losing control of Florence, and hated the choices she made, but he had given her the tools to make them. She was now on her own, independent, free of responsibility for anyone but herself, and she set out to start over. She also set her sights on the dashing young publisher of The Marion Star, Warren G. Harding.

Young Warren Harding

Warren Harding

Resources
First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Betty Caroli
Florence Harding: The First Lady, The Jazz Age, and the Death of America’s Most Scandalous President by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Presidential Wives: An Anecdotal History by Paul F. Boller Jr.
The Library Company of Philadelphia: “Roller Skating Fun

Posted in First Ladies, Scandalous Women | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Sultanate of Women

Mihrimah Sultan

Mihrimah Sultan

During the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a period of about 130 years when the Ottoman Empire was ruled or greatly influenced by the women of the harem. This period is called the Sultanate of Women and the reasons for their influence were the same as in many other countries of the time. The Emperors were either minors, incompetent to rule, or simply had great respect for their mothers as in the case of Suleiman the Magnificent and his mother Ayşe Hafsa Sultan.

Ayşe Hafsa Sultan (c. 1479 – 1534), was the consort of Selim I and mother of Suleiman the Magnificent. From 1513 to 1520, Hafsa Sultan resided with her son Suleiman in Manisa (now in western Turkey) while he was the administrator of the area. She is responsible for the building of a mosque, primary school, college, and a hospice in Manisa where there is a monument honoring her. She also initiated the “Mesir Festival” which is still in practice today. After Suleiman came to power in 1520, she was one of the most powerful people in the empire. Pietro Bragadin, the Venetian ambassador to Suleiman’s court, noted that he saw “a very beautiful woman of 48, for whom the Sultan bears great reverence and love.”

Reconstructed scene of a Vâlide Sultân and her attendants in her apartments at Topkapı Palace

Reconstructed scene of a Vâlide Sultân and her attendants in her apartments at Topkapı Palace

Ayşe Hafsa Sultan was the first woman honored with the title Valide Sultan. The Valide Sultan was the title given to the mother of the Sultan. The title Haseki Sultan was given to the mother of a prince. The Valide Sultan had the most powerful position in the royal harem followed by the Haseki Sultan of the heir apparent. However, it was always possible for the Haseki Sultan to lose favor and her position in the harem, such as when Hürrem Sultan was given favor over Mahidevran Sultan.

Hürrem Sultan (c. 1500 – 1558) was born Alexandra Anastasia Lisowska, or Roxelana, in the town of Rohatyn in what was then the Kingdom of Poland and is now in western Ukraine. The area was often subject to raiding by Crimean Tatars, and during one raid Roxelana was taken captive and sold as a slave. Taken to Istanbul, she was selected for Suleiman’s harem.  Hürrem caught the attention of Suleiman, and encountered the jealousy of Mahidevran Sultan, one of his favorites and the mother of the heir apparent Mustafa. One day Mahidevran beat Hürrem badly and was banished to a provincal town with her son.

As the new favorite, Hürrem asked to be instructed in Islam. Suleiman approved this and when she said she wished to convert he was happy. After her conversion however, she told him that she couldn’t sleep with a man who wasn’t her husband. After a time, he agreed and made her his wife. Suleiman obviously favored her a great deal to do this, but he eventually went a step further and freed her so that she became his actual legal wife. This was rare and gave Hürrem great influence.

Hürrem Sultan

Hürrem Sultan

Hürrem gave birth to five of Suleiman’s children, including the future Selim II. At least two letters Hürrem wrote to the King of Poland survived and some historians believe that she influenced Suleiman to curb Tartar slave-raiding in her homeland. Active in charitable works, she established a soup kitchen, a mosque, two Koranic schools, and a women’s hospital. She has inspired novels, paintings, and musical works, including Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 63.

Another of Hürrem’s children, Mihrimah Sultan (1522 – 1578) followed in her mother’s footsteps (pictured at the top of the post). At the age of 17, Mihrimah was married to Rüstem Pasha the Grand Vizier under her father. The marriage appears to have been an unhappy one and Mihrimah continued the practice of traveling with her father throughout his empire. It is even written in Persian literature that she went into the Battle of Gizah with him on an Arabian stallion named Batal.

Mihrimah had considerable resources. She was a patron of the arts and promised to build 400 galleys at her own expense for her father in a campaign against Malta. When her father died, she lent 50,000 gold sovereigns to her brother Selim. Her power wasn’t just in gold, however. By the time Selim II came to power, his mother had died, so Mihrimah took on the role of Valide Sultan for him. In addition to encouraging her father to launch the campaign against Malta, there is also evidence that, like her mother, she wrote letters in a diplomatic capacity to Sigismund II, the King of Poland.

Mihrimah Mosque in Edirnekapı, İstanbul, Turkey. Photo: Josep Renalias (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Mihrimah Mosque in Edirnekapı, İstanbul, Turkey. Photo: Josep Renalias (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

One meaning of her name, Mehr-î-Mâh, is “Sun and Moon.” There is a lovely legend about Mihrimah. Two mosques bear her name in the area of Istanbul, Mihrimah Mosque and Iskele Mosque. Both were built by Mimar Sinan, Selim’s chief architect and an admirer of his daughter. It is said that he fell in love with her and built the second of the two mosques, Mihrimah Mosque in Edirnekapi, at his own expense without palace approval. The legend says that if you stand with a clear view of both mosques on the Spring Equinox (March 21, also her birthday), you will see that as the sun sets behind the minaret of the mosque in Edirnekapi, the moon will rise between the two minarets of the larger mosque.

Kösem Sultan (1589 – 1651) was the orphaned daughter of a priest on the island of Tinos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Her given name was Anastasia, and it is unsure how she got to Constantinople, but at the age of 15 she was a slave in the royal harem.

Kösem Sultan, from an engraving of her capture by the Knights of Malta during a naval battle.

Kösem Sultan, from an engraving of her capture by the Knights of Malta during a naval battle.

Kösem Sultan endured very tumultuous times during her life. She was the second wife of Ahmed I who came to power when he was only 13. Ahmed broke with the tradition of fratricide and instead sent his brother Mustafa to the old palace at Bayezit with his grandmother Safiye Sultan. This set the stage for several coups following his death at the age of 27.

Mustafa came to power when Ahmed died, but was displaced by a coup which put Osman II, the son of Ahmed’s first wife, in power. Osman was assassinated by the Janissaries, giving Mustafa a second chance, but Mustafa was mentally unstable and unable to rule. This led to his deposition by Kösem Sultan’s son Murad IV.

Murad was only 11 when his reign began and Kösem was appointed Valide Sultan and the official regent for her son. From 1623 to 1632, she ruled the empire, attending meetings of the cabinet (Divan) from behind the curtain. She continued this even after Murad reached his majority in 1632. During the time that Kösem ruled there were many problems, invasions, revolts, and rebellions. The Janissaries even stormed the palace and killed the Grand Vizier in 1631. Murad decided to exert his power and hopefully avoid the fate of Osman. This he did, but he died of natural causes in 1640.

On his death bed, Murad ordered the execution of his mentally unstable brother, Ibrahim, but the command was not carried out and Ibrahim became the Sultan. He was unofficially called Ibrahim the Deranged because of his mental condition and largely stayed out of politics at first leaving rule of the Empire again in the hands of Kösem. He was deposed and eventually strangled in Constantinople in 1648.

Murad IV

Murad IV

Ibrahim_I

Ibrahim I

 

Kösem’s sons who ruled with her as regent.

 

 

 

Mehmed IV whose mother Turhan Hatice protected his position from Kösem Sultan

Mehmed IV whose mother Turhan Hatice protected his position from Kösem Sultan

When Ibrahim was deposed, Kösem presented her grandson Mehmed IV to the Divan as emperor, basically declaring herself regent again. Mehmed was only six years old and it was his mother Turhan Hatice who was Kösem’s undoing. Turhan Hatice should have been named Valide Sultan as the new Sultan’s mother, but Kösem took over. A power struggle ensued. Kösem planned to dethrone Mehmed and replace him with another grandson, possibly one with a less ambitious mother, but her plan was unsuccessful. Instead, she was assassinated leaving the regency in the hands of another powerful woman, Turhan Hatice, who happened to have been a slave captured by Crimean Tartars and sold into the harem.

Although  the Empire did not flourish under Kösem’s rule, she was mourned for 3 days. She was remembered for her charity work and for the fact that she freed her slaves after 3 years of service.

Resources
The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire by Leslie Peirce
The Private World of Ottoman Women by Godfrey Goodwin

Posted in Queens and Rulers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Three Women Painters of the Dutch Golden Age

Vase of Tulips, Rose, and Other Flowers with Insects  Maria van Ossterwijck, 1670

Vase of Tulips, Rose, and Other Flowers with Insects
Maria van Oosterwijck, 1670

The Dutch Golden Age, roughly the seventeenth century, was a time when many aspects of Dutch life and culture were the most acclaimed in the world. Art was one of those areas, particularly painting. Some aspects of Dutch painting during this time were similar to Baroque art in other parts of Europe, but the Dutch were leaders in the areas of still-life, genre painting, and portraiture. Some of the most well-known painters during this time were Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, but there were three women who were significant, well-known and popular during their time: Judith Jans Leyster (1609 – 1660), Maria van Oosterwijck (1630 – 1693), and Rachel Ruysch (1664 – 1750).

Judith Jans Leyster
Judith Leyster was primarily a painter of genre works. She painted a few portraits and only one known still-life. She was born in Haarlem on July 28, 1609, the eighth child of Jan Willemsz Leyster a local brewer. Details of her training are unknown, but she became a student of Frans Pietersz de Grebber at some point. He ran a respected workshop in Haarlem in the 1620s. Judith was also accomplished enough in her teens to be included in a book by Samuel Ampzing, originally written in 1621.

Judith Leyster self-portrait, 1630 National Gallery of Art, USA

Judith Leyster self-portrait, 1630
National Gallery of Art, USA

Because Leyster was not a member of an artistic family, she became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke so that she could run her own workshop where she took on apprentices. She was the second woman registered through the Guild, the first was Sara van Baalbergen in 1631. Other women were working out of family workshops, but Judith and Sara needed to be members of the Guild in order to sign works and take on apprentices. Within two years, Leyster had three male apprentices.

A Game of Tric Trac  Judith Leyster, 1630

A Game of Tric Trac
Judith Leyster, 1630

Most of Leyster’s work dates from 1629 – 1635, before she had children. She married Jan Miense Molenaer, another artist, in 1636 and they had five children, although only 2 survived to adulthood. The number of works generally attributed to her range from a dozen to 35. Only two are dated after 1635, an illustration in a book about tulips and a portrait from 1643. She was largely forgotten until 1893 when the Louvre purchased a painting that they thought was by Frans Hals, only to find out it was painted by Leyster.

The Proposition Judith Leyster, 1631

The Proposition
Judith Leyster, 1631

Maria van Oosterwijck
Maria van Oosterwijck was a Dutch painter specializing in flowers with rich details. She was born on August 20, 1630 in Nootdorp, and  was a student of Jan Davidsz de Heem. Working in Delft, Utrecht, and later Amsterdam, Maria never married. She taught her servant, Geertgen Wyntges, to mix her paints. Wyntges later became a painter in her own right.

Maria van Oosterwijck, 1671 by Wallerant Vaillant

Maria van Oosterwijck, 1671
by Wallerant Vaillant

Oosterwijck was popular with European royalty including the King of Poland who acquired three of her pieces, Emperor Leopold, Louis XIV of France, and William III of England. In spite of her popularity, she was denied membership in the painters’ guild because she was a woman. She died on November 12, 1693 at the home of Jacobus van Assendelft, her nephew.

Flowers in a terracotta vase Maria van Oosterwijck, 1675

Flowers in a terracotta vase
Maria van Oosterwijck, 1675

Rachel Ruysch
Rachel Ruysch was born in 1664 to Frederik Ruysch and Maria Post. Frederik was a professor in Amsterdam and became famous as an anatomist and botanist. Maria was the daughter of Pieter Post a painter. The connections of both of Rachel’s parents meant that there were often people in the house to inspire Rachel. She helped her father decorate his specimens with flowers and lace and eventually began to paint them.

Portrait of Rachel Ruysch by Godfried Schalcken

Portrait of Rachel Ruysch by Godfried Schalcken

At fifteen, Rachel was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, a pupil of Marseus van Schrieck. The family was very well-connected in the art world. In addition to her grandfather, Rachel, and two of her sisters married painters or dealers in art. Rachel married the portrait painter Juriaen Pool in 1693. Together they had 10 children.

Still-Life with Bouquet of Flowers and Plums Rachel Ruysch , 1704  Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Still-Life with Bouquet of Flowers and Plums
Rachel Ruysch , 1704
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Motherhood did not keep Rachel from painting however. In 1699, she became the first female offered membership in the Confrerie Pictura and a few years later was invited to paint for the court in Düsseldorf as a painter for Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine. She worked from her home and took occasional trips to court. Rachel lived a long life and her dated works show she painted from the age of 15 into her 80s. She died on August 12, 1750 at the age of 86.

Flowers on a stone slab Rachel Ruysch around 1700

Flowers on a stone slab
Rachel Ruysch around 1700

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Clara Lemlich – A Lifetime of Organizing

Clara Lemlich in 1910

Clara Lemlich in 1910

I first heard of Clara Lemlich on the American Experience special “Triangle Fire” about the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911.  Prior to the fire, in the fall of 1909, garment workers in New York City went out on  a massive strike referred to as the Uprising of 20.000.  Clara Lemlich’s words prompted the final decision to strike.

Clara Lemlich was born in Gorodok, Ukraine on March 28, 1886. Her family was Jewish and primarily spoke Yiddish, but against her parent’s wishes Clara learned to read Russian and devoured as many books as she could get. She did sewing and wrote letters for illiterate neighbors in order to raise money for books. It was during this time that a neighbor introduced her to revolutionary literature and she became a socialist.

In 1903, after the Russian Orthodox celebration of Easter, a riot began against the Jews in Kishinev the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire (now the capital of Moldova.) The pogrom continued without intervention of the police or military until the third day resulting in approximately 50 deaths, 600 wounded, and 700 houses and businesses looted and destroyed. After this pogrom and a second one in 1905, tens of thousands of Jews left the Russian Empire for the west. The Lemlich family was among them.

The pogram in 1903 captured the attention of the world. Theodore Roosevelt telling the tsar to stop oppressing the Jews.

The pogram in 1903 captured the attention of the world. Theodore Roosevelt telling the tsar to stop oppressing the Jews.

Clara immigrated with her family in 1903 to New York City and quickly found work in the garment industry. The conditions in the factories were terrible with low pay, long hours, lack of advancement, and often humiliating treatment from supervisors. The introduction of the sewing machine, rather than making the work easier, served to increase the required output for each day. Workers were often subcontracted and paid even less than those hired directly. Lemlich along with others rebelled against these conditions and joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. She quickly became a leader, organizing strikes and even returning to the picket line after being injured.

On November 22, 1909, a mass meeting was held at Cooper Union to rally support for striking workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company and the Leiserson Company. (Clara had been arrested 17 times while picketing outside the Leiserson factory, been beaten, and left bloody on the sidewalk with broken ribs in September.) Leaders in the labor movement and socialist movement spoke for a couple of hours and Clara grew impatient. Finally, she asked to be heard and was raised to the platform. I’ve read a couple of different versions of what Clara said that night. It could be because she spoke in Yiddish and the differences are in the translation, but basically she said that she was tired of talk. She had listened patiently to generalities, but they were there to make a decision, so she moved that they make the decision to strike. The crowd responded and voted for a general strike beginning the next day. Approximately 20,000 workers went out on strike the next day. It lasted until February 10, 1910, with union contracts at most shops. Sadly, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory held out and refused to make changes or allow the Union into their shop. Then on March 25, 1911, it became the site of a fire that took the lives of 146 people, mostly women and girls.

The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders didn't reach to the floors where the workers were trapped.

The fire department arrived quickly, but their ladders didn’t reach to the floors where the workers were trapped.

After the Uprising, Lemlich was blacklisted from the garment industry and at odds with the more conservative leadership in the Union. She then took up the cause of women’s suffrage. She believed that suffrage was necessary to improve working women’s lives. Everyone around them in the workplace, the bosses, foremen, inspectors, and owners, were almost all men and they had a vote, but the working women had no vote. The primary suffrage organization, The National American Woman Suffrage Association, was oriented toward middle and upper class women, so she founded the Wage Earners League as a working woman’s alternative. The Wage Earners League, an alternative to the NAWSA was however, dependent on non-working class women for support. It soon passed out of existence and Clara continued her work for suffrage through the Women’s Trade Union League.

Her life took a different direction when Clara married Joe Shavelson in 1913. They moved to a working-class neighborhood and eventually to Brighten Beach. Clara had 3 children, Irving Charles Velson, Martha Shavelson Schaffer and Rita Shavelson Margules and didn’t return to work full-time for the next 30 years. She didn’t give up organizing however. While she devoted herself to raising her family she joined with other Jewish housewives to protest high prices and fight evictions through rent strikes. With Kate Gitlow, she organized the United Council of Working Class Housewives for this purpose and to raise money for relief for strikers.

Striking Garment Workers

Striking Garment Workers

During this time Clara had become a member of the Communist Party, from which she launched the United Council of Working Class Women. This organization was very successful for a time with over 50 branches in NYC and branches in Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Detroit. Although the Council recruited among Communist Party members, it didn’t identify with the Party or press members to join. It eventually was renamed the Progressive Women’s Councils which prompted the Party to withdraw support. Nevertheless in the early 1950s, the PWC was forced to shut down because of Communist Party affiliations.

Clara finally retired from garment work in 1954 and had to fight to get a pension. Over the following years, she was involved in various activities through the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs, which she helped to found. She protested nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, and campaigned for ratification of the UN Convention on Genocide and Civil Rights reform.

After her second husband, Abe Goldman, died in 1967, Clara moved to California to be near her children. She moved into the Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles, and even there she organized. She convinced the management to join with the United Farm Worker’s boycott of grapes and lettuce, and organized the workers at the Home. I think it’s safe to say that Clara Lemlich agitated and organized as long as she was physically able. She died on July 25, 1982 at the age of 96

Clara Lemlich 2

Resources
“One Woman Who Changed the Rules”, Dwyer, Jim (March 22, 2011) New York Times  (From this article you can click through to see a series of articles published about the Triangle Fire.)
Clara Lemlich” – Wikipedia
The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire – Cornell University website
“Remembering the Waistmakers General Strike, 1909″ (pdf)
The Labor Wars by Sidney Lens
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Posted in Activists, Suffrage and Women's Rights | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Nellie Taft, Eliza Scidmore, and Japanese Cherry Trees

386px-Washington_C_D.C._Tidal_Basin_cherry_treesHelen Herron Taft, Nellie, was the most well-traveled First Lady that the United States had seen when she entered the White House with her husband President William Howard Taft in 1909. She had seen more of the world than most Presidents much less First Ladies. So after settling in to the routines at the White House and hosting her first few events, Nellie was bored. For so many years, her husband and his career had been her purpose and now that her ultimate goal had been achieved, she needed a project.

Nellie had heard of plans to beautify the city during the time she was a Cabinet wife. She loved the idea and decided to look for a place that she could develop. She had in mind something like Luneta Park in Manila, her favorite place in the Philippines. Luneta Park was a large open space with two bandstands at opposite ends of the park overlooking the bay. Concerts were held there and it was frequented by people of all races and classes. She wanted to do something similar for the people of Washington, so at the beginning of April she went driving alone and found the perfect place along the Tidal Basin with a “road” leading to it that people had begun to race their cars on. She imagined the “Speedway” as it was called lined with beautiful Japanese Cherry trees leading down to the bandstand.

The original idea of planting cherry trees in the nation’s capitol belongs to Eliza Scidmore, an author whose brother, George Hawthorne Scidmore, was a diplomat in the Far East. Her brother’s career allowed Eliza the opportunity to travel that many women didn’t have during the 19th century. She published numerous books based on her travels and joined the National Geographic Society in 1890. She became a regular correspondent and later the Society’s first female trustee.

Eliza_Ruhamah_Scidmore

Eliza Scidmore

On Eliza’s return from the Far East in 1885, she proposed the idea of the cherry trees to Washington officials, but there was little interest at the time. Her proposal was to the US Army Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds. After the first rejection, she continued to propose the idea to each new Superintendent over the next 24 years.

Around 1906, another person became interested in the trees. Dr. David Fairchild, an official at the US Department of Agriculture, imported close to 100 trees to plant on his property to test their hardiness for the region. They did very well and in 1908 he gave trees to each District of Columbia school to plant for Arbor Day. During his speech he expressed a wish that the Tidal Basin could be transformed into a “Field of Cherries.”

Eliza Scidmore was in the audience that day and decided to try to raise the money herself to plant the trees. Either as a courtesy, or because she knew a First Lady could get things done, she sent a note to Nellie Taft to tell her about her plans for a field of cherry trees. This was just what Nellie was looking for and she quickly responded.

April 7, 1909

Thank you very much for your suggestion about the cherry trees. I have taken the matter up and am promised the trees, but I thought perhaps it would be best to make an avenue of them, extending down to the turn in the road, as the other part is still too rough to do any planting. Of course, they could not reflect in the water, but the effect would be very lovely of the long avenue. Let me know what you think about this.

Sincerely yours,
Helen H. Taft

First Lady Helen Taft

First Lady Helen Taft

Never shy about taking charge, Nellie took it upon herself. As soon as the First Lady made the request, the Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds, Colonel Spencer Cosby, initiated the purchase of the first Japanese Cherry trees. Around the same time, Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a Japanese chemist, was visiting Washington with the Japanese consul, Mr. Midzuno. The good doctor asked if Nellie would accept a gift of another 2000 trees, given in the name of the City of Tokyo and she accepted them.

Unfortunately, the 95 trees ordered by the Superintendent of Grounds turned out to be the wrong variety, but the worst blow was to come. The next January when the 2000 trees arrived from Japan it was discovered that they were diseased. Infested with insects and nematodes, they had to be burned to protect American growers.

Because of the nature of the gift, President Taft had to give approval for the destruction of the trees and the State Department expressed regret to the Japanese Ambassador. They understood the problem, in fact the mayor of Tokyo, Mr. Yukio Ozaki, suggested that another gift be sent. The Tokyo City Counsel approved the donation of 3020 more trees and the scions to be grafted were taken from the famous collection along the bank of the Arakawa River in Adachi Ward, a suburb of Tokyo.

The Mayor of Tokyo Mr. Yukio Ozaki and his wife Viscountess Chinda

The Mayor of Tokyo Mr. Yukio Ozaki and his wife

After grafting and preparing the trees, on March 27, 1912, Washington DC’s first Cherry Tree celebration was held when First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted two cherry trees on the banks of the Tidal Basin. These original trees still stand with a plaque located near by to commemorate the occasion.

Over the next seven years the Cherry trees were planted around the Tidal Basin and in East Potomac Park. Over the next two decades, the first official Cherry Blossom Festival was held, a pageant was started, and they came to symbolize something important to the citizens of Washington. In 1938, a group of women chained themselves to some of the trees to prevent their destruction for the building of the Jefferson Memorial. A compromise was reached and the trees were moved and more were planted to frame the memorial.

Cherry Blossom Grove on the National Mall

Cherry Blossom Grove on the National Mall

The trees have continued to connect the Japanese and American people. During WWII, a few were vandalized and the trees were referred to as Oriental Cherry trees instead of Japanese Cherry trees. But after the war Japan’s trees needed help. The trees along the bank of the Arakawa River in Adachi Ward, where the Washington stock originally came from, were badly damaged during the war. The city of Washington DC was able to give new stock to the city of Tokyo to replace the very trees from which they had come.

In 1965, there was another First Lady who would be known for her beautification projects. The Japanese Government gave another gift of 3,800 trees and Lady Bird Johnson with Mrs. Ryuji Takeuchi, wife of Japan’s Ambassador, reenacted the original planting ceremony of 1912.

Lady Bird Johnson planting a cherry tree in 1965

Lady Bird Johnson planting a cherry tree in 1965

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is held for two weeks each year beginning on the last Saturday of March.

Resources
Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
History of the Cherry Trees

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