The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright gets a rave review in the Maine Sunday Telegram

tmcoewcoverThe Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright gets a rave review in this morning’s Maine Sunday Telegram (the Sunday edition of the Portland Press Herald, FYI):

Ann M. Little’s telling of Esther Wheelwright’s story illuminates issues of class, status and gender through the 18th century and across continents.

In her intriguing new biography, “The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright,” Ann M. Little asks a rhetocial question: Why would the portrait of this Ursuline nun be there in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection “amid this collection of prominent Puritans and wealthy merchants, in the company of men she would have disagreed with on nearly every issue, great or small?”

“And yet, there she is,” writes Little, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, “the pink face floating in the glowing white wimple, wearing that determined look.”

For the past year, I’ve wondered if my choice to put her portrait on the cover was the right one.  My initial rationale was, “hey, biographies of the so-called “Founding Fathers” always feature one of their many oil portraits on the cover–my argument here is that Esther Wheelwright is worthy of the same treatment, so of course!”  On the other hand:  what do Anglophone Americans think when they see a nun on the cover of a book?  They probably don’t see “Important Early American,” but rather “representative of subculture” or even “flashback to Catholic school thirty, forty, or fifty years ago!”

This review by William David Barry ratifies my decision to put the portrait on the cover and to write about it on the first few pages.  (Nevertheless, I still wonder:  I just found out yesterday that the book’s Library of Congress call number is in the BX section, with other biographies of famous Catholic religious people.  The portrait of the nun right on the cover probably overdetermined this, but I had wondered if my book would be in the F1-100 section (New England History) or the F1000s (early Quebec).  I never thought I’d have a book in the religious history section, but I understand. Continue reading

The prince’s body and the body politic, 2016

Henry VII and Henry VIII at left, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour, at right. Copy of the Holbein's Whitehall Mural, ca. 1667

Henry VIII and Henry VII on the left, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the right. Copy of Hans Holbein’s Whitehall Mural, ca. 1667

(Deep background:  This post recalls some of my earlier arguments about the dynastic nature of American politics, about which Americans are mostly in denial, at least when the dynasties involve male pols only.  American politics became even more royalist in the first half of the twentieth century, when the U.S. emerged as a major international player.  They’ve become even more royalist in the succeeding 70 years since World War II, in the years that the U.S. became a “superpower” and then the global hegemon.)

Queen Elizabeth I, 1592, by Marcus Gheeraerts

Queen Elizabeth I, 1592, by Marcus Gheeraerts

Hillary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia last week.  It’s an entirely treatable condition suffered by more than one recent pol on the campaign trail, but looking at the media coverage of this ridiculous non-story, you’d think that she was Henry VIII on his death bed without a male heir.  And that’s the American press coverage–it’s almost as though reporters on the 2016 campaign trail are unaware that the health of the nation is not entirely dependent on the health and heartiness of our Dear Leaders. Continue reading

Predictions

eyerollThis election year reminds me of something a friend of mine told me a few years ago.  When she went to see a new play with some friends, no one in her party knew much about it so she wrote down her prediction as to what the play would be about, and hid it away for revealing afterward.  After the play she showed them her prediction:  “Everyone hates women, including women.”  She was right, of course.

I wish that she could be wrong, at least once.  Here’s my prediction, three months before election day.  I’m publishing it here so you can remind yourselves of my wisdom (or stupidity!) months and years later.  Here goes: Continue reading

Three lessons on women’s leadership from inside an Ursuline convent

Esther Wheelwright, c.1763 (oil on canvas)

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

Women and leadership: more fresh entries in “Run Like a Girl” series at Nursing Clio

Margaret Chase Smith

Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME) during her presidential run, 1964

I’ve fallen behind! Remember a few weeks back when I directed your attention to Nursing Clio’s important new series on women who have run for president of the United States, Run Like a Girl? There are two more entries I haven’t posted about!

If you recall, the first in the series featured (naturally!) the first woman ever to run for president, Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927), who ran in 1872.  Last week, Sarah Handley-Cousins wrote about Belva Lockwood (1830-1917), a badass single mother and attorney who was one of the first women to argue before the Supreme Court.  She became the National Equal Rights Party’s nominee in 1884 and again in 1888.

This week, Run like a Girl moves into the twentieth century with Laura M. Ansley’s discussion of the political career of Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995.)  A working-class girl from Skowhegan, Maine, Smith was the daughter of the town barber and a waitress from a French-Canadian family.  Only a high school graduate, she is exemplary of most American women in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century who came to hold prominent public offices:  she ran for her late husband’s office and won in 1940, and then went on to run for the senate in 1948 (and win), and for president in 1964 (but lost!)   Continue reading

History Made

Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, PA, July 28, 2016

Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, PA, July 28, 2016

Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president last night.  To quote Joe Biden from 2010, “this is a big f^cking deal.”

All through this campaign–and as some of you may recall, throughout the 2008 campaign season too–I’ve been disgusted by the irrational hatred that people direct towards Clinton and her supporters in the face of the facts and her obvious qualifications for the presidency, from both the left and the right. (But let’s face it: it’s 90% coming from Republicans and other conservatives, with only a token amount from fellow Democrats, liberals, or leftists, who proved themselves to be as impotent as still-anesthetized neutered kittens this week in Philadelphia.) Continue reading

Generation and gender in “hating” Hillary Clinton

Go read and consider Michelle Goldberg’s analysis of “The Hillary Haters” at Slate.  The nut:

Few people dislike Hillary Clinton for being too moralistic anymore. In trying to understand the seemingly eternal phenomenon of Hillary hatred, I’ve spoken to people all around America who revile her. I’ve interviewed Trump supporters, conventional conservatives, Bernie Sanders fans, and even a few people who reluctantly voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary but who nevertheless say they can’t stand her. Most of them described a venal cynic. Strikingly, the reasons people commonly give for hating Clinton now are almost the exact opposite of the reasons people gave for hating her in the 1990s. Back then, she was a self-righteous ideologue; now she’s a corrupt tool of the establishment. Back then, she was too rigid; now she’s too flexible. Recently, Morning Consult polled people who don’t like Clinton about the reasons for their distaste. Eighty-four percent agreed with the statement “She changes her positions when it’s politically convenient.” Eighty-two percent consider her “corrupt.” Motives for loathing Clinton have evolved. But the loathing itself has remained constant.

I wonder: what is the through line in all of this ressentiment?  Continue reading