Sexual humiliation in American women’s political history: the longue durée

On my way to and from work lately, I’ve been listening to the original cast album of Hamilton, which is of course as catchy and terrific as everyone says it is.  (Trust me:  it’s worth even more than the hype, and I bow to no one in trashing the so-called Founding Fathers, although I do have one misgiving which I describe below.)

It’s especially interesting to listen to alongside the news about the current presidential campaign.  In particular, I’m thinking about the middle part of the album, which  features several songs about Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and its exposure, as well as the revelation of his extortion by Reynolds’s husband.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton illustrates the partisanship at play in this political and sexual scandal by showing Hamilton essentially accused of corruption by Thomas Jefferson (the new Vice President under John Adams in 1797), and his fellow Democratic-Republican allies James Madison and Senator Aaron Burr, who had recently defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in the New York Senate race.

This is pretty rich, considering that Jefferson and Burr had their own extramarital sexual affairs–Jefferson’s longstanding liaison with Sally Hemings, whom he owned; and Burr’s relationship with his wife Theodosia, which began long before she was widowed in the Revolution.  Confronted with the prospect of political ruin, Hamilton published his own pamphlet admitting to sexual incontinence but defending his honor as a steward of the public trust, saying that he paid the blackmail with his own money. Continue reading

“The great life-long mistake”: young marriage in the United States


University of North Carolina Press, 2016

Friends, today I give you a guest post from Nicholas L. Syrett, my BFF and neighboring historian in Northern Colorado.  His second book is out now–American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States.  (That’s the cover on the left, featuring a striking photo of “Peaches” and “Daddy,” a.k.a. Frances Heenan Browning and Edward West Browning.  They were among the biggest tabloid sensations of the 1920s–she was 15, he 51. when they married in 1926.)  Here below, Nick gives us some of the deep history behind anti-child marriage activism in the U.S., and concludes with some thoughts about a 70-year old presidential candidate this year who as he gets older, marries women who are younger and younger.  What does age asymmetry in marriage say about gender roles in our era?

When most Americans hear the phrase “child marriage” they probably think about it happening elsewhere: India, Africa, the Middle East. The practice is indeed widespread in other parts of the world but thousands of legal minors marry in the United States every year as well. Every single state allows teenagers below the age of 18 to marry with some combination of parental or judicial consent. In some states the minimum marriageable age goes as low as 12.

All of this should concern us. But as I discovered in researching my new book, American Child Bride, these have been longstanding concerns of feminists in the United States. Continue reading

Richard (Rick) Beeman, 1942-2016

Richard (Rick) Beeman

Richard (Rick) Beeman

My friend Wayne Bodle, another alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania Department of History, wrote to me yesterday with some remembrances of an emeritus Professor, Richard Beeman, who died Monday of complications from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.) He has agreed to let me share them with you, and we both invite any of you who knew Rick to share your memories too–whether you are “Old Pennsters” (as Richard Dunn calls us) or not.

Here are Wayne’s memories of Rick, which go back almost as far as Rick’s “freshman year” as a professor in 1968– Continue reading

I have no hot takes.

Historians for the most part believe that knowledge about the past which helps explain and contextualize a present-day problem is a good thing.  The stories we tell are not always (or even very frequently) soothing, but somehow in telling stories that feature historical information over the longue durée we feel like we can get a handle on the problem before us.  I don’t feel that way today, and it’s disorienting.

I have no hot takes.  I have no opinions or ideas worth sharing.  Every time I’ve thought about writing a blog post this week, another fresh hell is being reported, making anything I meant to write about a previous nightmare seem irrelevant.  While a major theme on this blog is the racialized and gendered violence that underlays the United States in both its past and its present, and gun violence in particular, I have nothing new to add to that observation today. And while I’m a bigger fan of continuity than change as an explanatory framework for understanding history, I would like to see a heck of a lot of change just about now.  For all of us. Continue reading

“I am an investigative journalist, please take me seriously.”

We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!

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

“Pocahontas”: an insult, or an inspiring diplomat and politician?

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

I’ve been meaning to write for weeks about Donald Trump’s nickname for Elizabeth Warren.  As a historian who has written a few books that include some Algonquian (Eastern woodlands Indian) history, and a lot of women’s history, it’s been on my mind.

But first, a little background:  last month, Trump started calling her Pocahontas, intending to smear her for once checking a box on an employment form claiming Native American ancestry:  Continue reading