Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas), at the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
Modern and mostly secular folks probably wouldn’t think that religious people might teach us something about politics and leadership. But there are important lessons about leadership found in my study of a seventeenth- and eighteenth-century religious order over the course of 150 years or so. After all, Catholic women religious have been electing their leadership democratically for centuries before secular men thought elections might be a good idea for civil society.
These women ran triennial elections for their superior, her assistant, dépositaire (treasurer), scrutaine (overseer of elections), novice mistress, and other lesser offices. Some Ursulines in my book even engaged in early ratf^(king operations. It’s true!
I reveal all of the details in my soon-to-be released new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, but just with you, dear readers, I’ll share some of the interesting parallels I found to the challenges facing North American women politicians even today. Mother Esther (1696-1780) served in most of the elected offices in the Ursuline convent before being elected superior three times in the 1760s, a time of political, religious, and economic crisis in the wake of the British conquest of Quebec in 1759. Her leadership and entrepreneurial financial management of the order through the 1760s permitted the order’s school and novitiate not only to survive in this uncertain decade, but to expand and thrive before Catholics were guaranteed the right to practice their religion by the Quebec Act of 1774.
How did she do it? Continue reading
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
I know that a lot of you political junkie-nerds are like me, watching too much of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this week and spending way too much time online reading what everyone else watching the RNC in Cleveland has to say about it. (What can I say? Presidential election years, from the primaries through election day, are my World Cup/Superbowl/World Series.)
Did you catch nutty Ben Carson’s speech last night, placing Hillary Clinton in a direct line from Saul Alinsky to Lucifer? Yes, that Lucifer, aka Her Lord Satan, known as the beast! Or crazy Chris Christie, apparently channeling Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in criminalizing his political opponents, leading the RNC delegates in chants of “guilty!” and “lock her up!” But accusing charismatic women who seek political office of criminal or even demonic influence is nothing new in American history, as Lauren MacIvor Thompson argues in her fabulous mini-biography of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president–in 1872!
The first election in U.S. history was, of course, in 1788, but it would be over eight decades before a woman could plausibly gather enough public recognition to actually make a real run at the Presidency. This “first in history” belongs to none other than Victoria Claflin Woodhull Martin (1838-1927). If you think Hillary is a controversial figure, trust me, she’s got nothing on Woodhull, who was first and foremost a newspaper editor, public speaker, and women’s rights reformer, but also a Spiritualist with three husbands, two children (one of whom was disabled), and a proponent of Free Love and Socialism. Despite her lack of formal education, she became one of the Gilded Age’s most forceful influences on social reform and women’s rights. It’s also true that her cunning and drive to succeed often resulted in a whole lot of lying, seduction, and outright charlatanism.
Regularly called a harlot and “Mrs. Satan” on the daily by her opponents, she also earned the wrath of her fellow suffragists who thought she was a detriment to their respectable cause. In fact, Susan B. Anthony hated Woodhull so much, she literally turned out the lights on her as Woodhull tried to address a meeting of the National Woman Suffrage Association.
We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!
Click away from this blog immediately and go read Suki Kim’s angry and disturbing article “The Reluctant Memoirist” about the marketing and reception of her book Without You There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. It’s a fascinating exploration about the intersection of journalism, marketing, race, and sex.
Some of you may remember hearing about her book, which recounts her daring and adventurous mission to penetrate and report on North Korea by working as an ESL teacher at an evangelical Christian university that catered to the DPRK’s elite young men. In her article for The New Republic, where she serves as a contributing editor, she recounts the potential danger she faced in the service of reporting on the world’s most locked-down and closed off dictatorship, or “virtual prison state,” as Kim calls it: Continue reading
From a Candidate of Very Little Brains
Bernie Sanders is officially cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. After a number of his supporters in Nevada behaved very aggressively at the Democratic convention in that state over the weekend, throwing chairs, screaming at party leaders, and leaving vile and harassing voice mails for party officials, he says this today:
The Democratic Party has a choice. It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change – people who are willing to take on Wall Street, corporate greed and a fossil fuel industry which is destroying this planet. Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.
Sweet baby Jesus, please let public restrooms all become inclusive/family restrooms already. They’ve been a problem for many of us (if not most of us, at least once in a while) for years, including folks in the non-transgender majority. John D. Sutter argues that sexed bathrooms are relics that should be abolished as racially-exclusive public restrooms were fifty years ago. I agree entirely, especially because there’s such a simple solution right before us!
When I was a first-time mother back in the early 2000s, the “family restroom” was fairly new on the scene, and I thought they were lifesavers. (Maybe they were there all along, and I just didn’t have occasion to seek them out beforehand?) Changing a baby in most public restrooms isn’t too difficult–I thought the family restrooms were even more useful when the children become toilet-trainee toddlers and little kids, because that’s when the extra space and time for everyone to go came in very handy. Continue reading
UPDATED BELOW, Sunday afternoon.
Who do college and university faculty work for? Do we work for our students? Do we work for the administrators at our institutions? If we work at public universities, do we work for the taxpayers of our states? Do we work for our colleagues? Who has a right to demand work from us?
The reason I’m asking is that last week ended for me in a faculty meeting yesterday afternoon that was billed as “important” by our department chair, because we were going to learn all about some new software that would “make it easy” to generate our CVs and our annual reports. (I bet some of you know where this is going.) Continue reading
Considering that we know that the more competent a woman is perceived, the less liked she is, should we really be surprised that a lot of Americans think Hillary Clinton is “dishonest?” I’m not. It’s better for a woman running for president to be seen as competent and unlikable rather than incompetent and likable.
Who’s voting to make Hillary Clinton his or her daughter, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, the Virgin Mary, Pope of Rome, or Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church? I think she’s running for president. I’m not sure people’s suspicions about her honesty will make a difference. Do we want someone to be honest in her dealings with Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, or Mitch McConnell? Or do we want her to execute multiple mindfracks while playing twelve-dimensional chess in order to pursue the best interests of the United States?
(Have these people never watched House of Cards, in either of its 1980s or 2010s versions, or even the goody-goo-goo West Wing, sacre bleu?) Continue reading