for the soul is dead that slumbers

“did you make it?” my friend texted.

i was sitting in my car, seats still full with boxes leftover from my recent move. there was a paper on my lap with the numbers of different campgrounds in the area. i’d called down the list. every single plot was occupied.

“yeah,” i typed. the cold, black letters conveyed none of my anxiety, said nothing of the pit in my stomach. “i made it.”



i used to think i was a traveler, that i was bold enough, savvy enough, to get myself anywhere in the world no matter what. i took my first solo trip when i was eighteen. i used my first official paycheck to settle the plane tickets. the change in my pocket and human kindness covered the rest. i spent my time in free museums, farmers’ markets, public squares, and cemeteries. it certainly wasn’t sustainable, but, for a week, i remember thinking: this is living.

since then i’ve crossed oceans.

it never occurred to me that the borders of my home would one day grow to be insurmountable. strolling through dresden or sipping a pint in galway, the thought never crossed my mind that i would fall into a stationary life. i had no children to worry over, no lover to abandon. my family, whenever i told them i was leaving, said, “go! live!”

but somehow i stopped anyway.

being stuck is different than standing still.



“welcome to michigan,” the robot on my phone intoned as i passed a small, blue sign proclaiming some invisible line had been crossed. i smiled. come what may. this was my rubicon.

only a few days before my trip, the thought of driving my fourteen-year-old car eight hours to a place i barely even knew existed was as invigorating as it was intimidating. i’d already decided i wanted to spend my birthday in the woods, but i could have settled for an ordinary run through a park. until i merged onto the turnpike headed west, i wasn’t certain i would follow through.

“this is irresponsible,” said my brain. “it won’t be worth it. you have too much to do at home. you’re being reckless.”

i turned up the radio and rolled the windows down.

i don’t care.



love at first sight. that’s how i’d describe my crush in sixth grade, being served a waffle for breakfast, and walking up to lake michigan at sunset.

perhaps the struggle is what made the lake so memorable. the long stretch of unfamiliar road, the disappointment of not securing a campsite, the unexpected two mile trek over sand, the fear of being alone in the dark. when i crested the last hill and was greeted by silence save the gentle wash of water, my heart surged with happiness. i sat down in the sand, cracked open my journal, and i wrote.

i may never be this happy again.

i remained on the beach for an hour, enjoying the dramatic splashes of color as they spread across the sky. pinks melted into oranges and slowly turned to purple as the night rolled in. i hiked back to my car in the dark, without a flashlight. i did not want to blind myself to the full experience of the woods at night. my senses flared. every sound made me flinch. i was alive.



there are very few advantages to sleeping in the backseat of a sedan. the air is stale. your muscles stiffen. you wake up more exhausted than before. still, insomnia has its benefits.

the night i turned twenty-seven was a sleepless one. if i managed to get comfortable, my slumber was derailed by fear that a park ranger would discover me. as soon as i breathed easy, my back would demand a new position. driven to madness by this cycle, i stepped out for some fresh air.

it was two in the morning. the moon, which only hours before had washed out all the constellations, had set below the horizon. as i looked up into the sky, it seemed all the secrets of the universe were laid bare to me. i held my breath. even the sounds of my lungs working seemed too loud.

in the dark, my bare feet found the wooden planks of the dock near where i’d parked my car for the night. it was a long, narrow dock that went almost to the middle of the small, still lake. the water, which had been crystal blue when i’d arrived, was now a dark abyss, dotted with stars, seemingly without end.

i laid down on the dock, the milky way both above and below me, and felt my spirit dissolve.



i was in sleeping bear dunes national park for two and a half days, but it was exactly where i needed to be. i hiked miles over sandy, unending dunes. i chased majestic eagles and tiny piping plovers. i saw rainbows and wildflowers. i was kissed by the sun and reborn in the sparkling, clear waters of the lake.

i am twenty seven.

i am a traveler.

i do not sit still.


feminism is not your bandwagon (or: ads that make me cry also make me uncomfortable)

Growing up, I was in love with advertising. No cable meant that, oftentimes, the best thing on TV were the commercials. Sunday mornings and sick days spent on the couch were prime times for catching up on the world of consumerism. I’d spend entire mornings watching infomercials, imagining what life would be like if my family had a blender that could blend roof shingles, or a special pan that doubled as a panini press. Pretty much everything I know about classic rock has come from the ten-second clips of concerts they’d play on those hour-long ads for CD box sets. While most kids were memorizing Pokemon stats and *NSYNC lyrics, I was memorizing prescription drug names and fast food jingles.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of evenings spent with my little brother after school, flipping channels to get to the commercial breaks. We’d make a game of it. Sometimes we’d play The Price is Right, trying to guess the number and price of payment installments for an item, or the value of the special gift that you’d get if you’d call in the next 12 hours. We’d keep a running tally of who could name each brand before the logo or tagline appeared on the screen. We were pretty good at it, too. We were like little Tai Fraisers, singing along to the Mentos commercial in Clueless. We knew that Lunesta moth like we knew the Cialis bathtubs.

I stopped watching commercials for fun when I moved out of my parents house. I haven’t owned a television since, and most online streaming services have either eliminated advertising or offer an option to skip them after a mere few seconds. When I do turn on a TV, I barely register the ads. I’m usually vaguely shocked when I discover that what I knew as a fibromyalgia treatment is now used as an asthma drug, but otherwise I’m more focused on where my show left off. Still, every once in a while, a commercial will cross my path that completely diverts my attention. These are usually posted by a friend on social media or mixed in with movie trailers before the feature film. More often than not, they’re pushing some form of “female empowerment.”


#LikeAGirl by Always

Recently, I was sitting alone in a dark theater, waiting with a greasy bag of popcorn for the previews to start so I could see Moana. The lights dimmed, the “silence your cell phones” message faded to black, and then it happened. The ad opened with a flood of daylight and the pounding of pink sneakers on pavement. As the camera zoomed out, it captured women putting their bodies to work, running up and down streets, jumping rope, punching stuff. The constant beat of footsteps set the rhythm for a female voice, reciting a poem of strength. The overall message, “I am woman; hear me roar,” was impossible to miss.

By the end of the 60-second spot, my mascara was already running.

Campaign for Real Beauty

Real Beauty by Dove

This was not the first time an advertisement had made me cry, nor would it be the last. Dove, with their commercials featuring women feeling confident in their bodies, has brought me to tears for over a decade. Those Pampers commercials about motherhood around the world are worse than onions, and the Like A Girl campaign by Always just plain squeezes my heart to the point of bursting. A few years ago, Pantene released an ad in Korea about perceived female bossiness that required at least a dozen tissues. The list is infinite.

Besides making me snot all over my shirt sleeves, all of these commercials lit a fire in my belly. They made me want to stand up, and cry out, and put my foot down, and… and… and… and… and what?

Buy stuff?

That’s when I realized that commercials that make me cry also make me uncomfortable.

Never underestimate the power of woman, says another ad. But that power was, and is, underestimated in America. Or, rather, it is only estimated in terms that can be manipulated at the point of purchase

– Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

I came across this quote yesterday as I was finishing a chapter in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique on the role of advertising in pushing young women towards suburban housewifery. The chapter, called “The Sexual Sell,” features numerous interviews with advertising consultants about the process of identifying the struggles and afflictions of American women, and how they spun brands as panaceas for the “problem that has no name.”

Ironically, advertisers seemed generally to recognize that women’s emptiness had to do with the boredom and meaningless of housework; yet, instead of imagining a world where a woman could be more than a wife and mother, they concocted a narrative in which housewife was the most honorable, most creative role a woman need ever fill. This new cleaning product makes mom a scientist, picking new wallpaper makes her an artist, working a fancy, electric appliance makes her an engineer… The more glamour that was attached to a housewife’s role, the more hollow women felt at home…and the emptier a woman felt, the more likely she was to buy silverware or baking mix or a new sofa to satisfy the innate human need to create.

(As an added layer, the ads were also spun to capitalize on a woman’s guilt, making the product about the good of the family, so that women need not feel selfish for buying a thing to fill the void…)


A Man’s a Boss, A Woman is Bossy by Pantene

As I finished the chapter, I began thinking about all those advertisements that have made me cry. We’ve certainly come a long way from the 1950s, but is advertising a different game? What are these companies saying when they tell me to stop apologizing, when they tell me to love the skin I’m in? Is the message about my confidence or selling a product? Has feminism finally won over advertising? Or has advertising hijacked the female empowerment bandwagon as a way to, again, make consumerism a point of superficial prestige in a society that has, in many ways, moved beyond the feminine mystique of an earlier age?

If I want to love my body, will buying a certain brand of soap make that easier, or will it simply fill a fleeting role in sating my psyche? Once the soap is gone, will I have changed, or will I need to buy more to prove that I am as empowered and body positive as I want myself to be?

Do these commercials solve anything or are they a part of the problem?


Always a Bridesmaid by Listerine

I don’t know the answers to these questions. For every Miki Agrawal there is also a Janet Champ. All I know for sure is that advertisements are, at the most basic, atomic level, about pushing a product. Shinier hair alone won’t change the discrimination women face at work. Buying stuff isn’t the only way to feel empowered or to show yourself love. But I also know that advertisements are powerful vehicles of societal messages, and it’s likely a good shift that so many companies are chasing down the bandwagon. So, I suppose I’ll just have to go on crying with a critical eye when tampons tell me to love my period and sneakers tell me I’m a goddess.

I suppose I can live with that.

get yourself back // five years later

so before you start talkin’ ’bout the wonders of the world again
the taj mahal, the great wall, the places that i’ve never been
take a little drive, take a little trip to heaven
and wonder for a while if it’s paradise or [oberlin]

– josh ritter, cumberland

i struggle to take pictures when i’m in the company of other people. i think it stems from a deep-seated worry that my eagerness to capture a moment will stand out awkwardly against the chill atmosphere of a group hang, that the people i’m with will somehow take offense in my desire to preserve the candidness of the soft light of evening on their cheeks… in the end, i either wimp out completely, or snap a photo so quickly the result is a blurry mess.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that if i’m going to remember anything about my five year college reunion, i’m going to have to step up my descriptive writing skills. as such, i apologize in advance for the length of this post, and for the poor quality of the few images that will accompany it. i will do my best to limit myself, but make no promises.  my senior thesis, after all, was pushing 100 pages…


i combined all of the giant, dark-haired, smartphone power goddesses into one woman called “hot rebecca.”

– leslie knope

the weeks leading up to the reunion were fraught with restless anxiety. it began, on a very basic level, with a fear of seeing a handful of individuals, all of them, embarrassingly, male. i didn’t want to see the wives i’d imagined for them, or be reminded of their happy lives without me. i wasn’t convinced i’d have the energy to look perfect, speak graciously, and not fart in their presence. i was deeply afraid of the possibility that they had moved on easily, without the tears and heartache that would make our dalliance memorable. i was terrified of being forgotten.

ironically, those feelings soon evolved into a desperate hope that i could forget. oberlin college was a place of astounding intellectual discovery for me, but it was also the center of life-altering pain. a close friend of mine died in the middle of my freshman year, and the depression that followed made me mean. i was slow to make friends, and i was difficult and demanding towards those few i had. i often felt isolated and abandoned. by the end of my senior year, the control i exercised over my body (a control i could not exercise in my personal relationships) had turned into the beginnings of body dysmorphia. the two people i kissed that year both left me heartbroken, and shortly after graduation, i had my first non-consensual experience.


i hate this picture. i posted it before reunion weekend because it so perfectly illustrated my feelings towards going back to oberlin and remembering college. it was taken during senior year finals on the porch of keep co-op. i look happy because i had slept in a boy’s room the night before and had just slayed a five mile run in ninety degree weather. both of those memories have since turned sour and can derail any positive developments if they catch me off guard. i have moved on…but only just.

i love oberlin. i go back all the time, and i talk about it nonstop. but i love it as a place i lived, not as a place i went to college. i’ve left behind a lot of the hurt i felt (and caused) as a student, and i have reclaimed the spaces i love in my consciousness through hard work and with the help of supportive friends. my biggest fear about the reunion, it turns out, was not running into old flames and their imaginary new lovers. my biggest fear was exactly what everyone was returning to do. my biggest fear was to remember.


i arrived in oberlin on friday around 11am full of trepidation. i was already in a bad mood, because some aggressive jersey driver had cut me off on rt. 20 for no reason. i was going 80 mph. there was no one else on the road. i followed that car, seething, all the way to alumni registration.

i hadn’t even opened my event folder when my friend dashed out of slow train and pulled me inside. he had been living in oberlin the entire year, and sitting with him, chatting about our day-to-day lives was comfortingly normal. the only difference i noticed from the countless other times i’d visited the town were the amount of people in line and the number of vaguely familiar faces, glancing furtively around the room in search of old friends to hug.

i, too, was looking around but chose not to greet the acquaintances i noticed. i saw no need to catch their eyes, and, oddly, i felt no guilt about this. the energy wasn’t right. i saw no benefit to forcing what little conversation could come from friendships long since passed into the mist. i was comfortable where i was. why change that? i wondered briefly if this meant i was getting wiser or lazier and came to no conclusion.


“i’m trying my best to step back and let people feel nostalgic without being a total dick.”

– me, at the feve

i’ll preface my next statement with the fact that i visit the feve a lot, and for good reason. it is a special place. i’ve shared a lot of happy memories there since graduation, and anticipation of a good night does make me smile like a nerd when i walk up the stairs.

still, i could not achieve the same starry-eyed wonder at being there that my friends were feeling. there’s a real difference between the magic of knowing a place so well the bartenders recognize you on the street and the magic of passing through the door into a place you haven’t seen for five years. i couldn’t help but feel my experience at that moment was somehow missing everyone else’s mark. there was some happiness there i just couldn’t access, and old anxieties tickled at the edge of my brain. i took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that difference does not signify inferiority.

it was a reminder i needed the remainder of the night, as dinner at the feve dissolved into drinks at the sco, oberlin’s student union dance hall. as a student, sweatily grinding against total strangers late at night was, frankly, the last thing i wanted. i was consistently in bed by 11pm, and awake by 7am. there was no room for sticky floors covered in beer and bass lines resonating in my rib cage. i barely spent fifteen minutes there as an undergrad, but there i was…five years later…nervously biting my lip at the fringe of a crowd way more enthusiastic than me.

quite unexpectedly, i was not left alone to meekly bob my head on the periphery. countless people found me isolating myself and pulled me into the fray. it didn’t matter that i dance to pop music like a peacock spider entrancing a mate. it didn’t matter that all the words i was shout-singing were wrong. i had no idea people would be as eager to see me as i was nervous to see them. i felt included in ways that i rarely did in school.

“what’s that in your bag?” one of my friends asked as i tried to keep my heavy purse from bouncing too much.

“oh, i don’t actually know,” i said, peeking inside. “i thought i took everything out.”

laughing, i reached inside and pulled out betty friedan’s the feminine mystique.

of course.

only in oberlin…



i learned a lot about being tolerant of other peoples’ feelings over the course of the weekend. the nostalgic excitement my friends were feeling had somehow transformed into nostalgic exhaustion overnight, while i was curled up next to my cat in cleveland. i drove into oberlin prepared for more of the day before, but was met with lots of overwhelmed people who texted that they needed space, or who weren’t ready for a one-on-one conversation with someone they hadn’t seen in five years.

i took a beat and tried not to be offended. these were more feelings i couldn’t quite access. oberlin was like a second home to me. i even wrote a blog post about how the town was the closest thing i’d had to a serious relationship. i’d had five years to come to terms with the emotions certain corners had the power to conjure. most of the friends i longed to see only had this one weekend. that’s no easy feat.

instead of forcing people to come out and play with me, i found meet-ups that sprung up organically. running into old friends in line at the co-op picnic, sunny walks in the arb, joint trips to the free store, bowling at the best lanes in the whole wide world…these things happened as i was just wandering aimlessly, which i am wont to do in oberlin. i was never alone for long.



one regret i felt deep in my bones was my inability to share what i consider my singular accomplishment with everyone i loved. our class sponsored an ignite session, where we could share short presentations about what we’ve been up to since graduation, but i thought it was lame. for a brief moment, i considered trolling the session with a five minute performance art piece of me sobbing violently into a pizza while i projected images of old flings stolen from their facebook pages. but that was a joke that never grew wings.

i was so focused on how i could thumb my nose at people who cared about things that i overlooked all the things i cared about and actually wanted to share. thankfully, the project i loved the most was already in the program. the oberlin heritage center was gracious enough to run the women’s history tour i had written during my americorps service. they had even credited me in the schedule booklet as the author of the tour, which made my heart swell with pride.

that said, for various reasons, only one friend was able to attend one of my tours during the weekend. it was early in the morning. it was raining. it was too overwhelming. grad students want to have fun, they don’t want to be lectured. it all made sense, but i still felt anonymous, invisible, and sad. as i sat alone on a bench later, i tried to hold on to the positives. the oberlin heritage center, an organization that had taught me so much about local history, respects my work as a historian. that one friend that showed up unexpectedly made me feel special. i got to meet a woman who had inaugurated the women’s studies program at oberlin, and she said my tour was wonderful.

all good things.

but, if i could do it over again, i would have done an ignite presentation or an open mic night. if there’s anything i love, it’s being recognized.



despite being the grinch when it came to nostalgia, there were a few moments that i, too, got swept up in the memories. the first wave of bittersweet emotion came when i experienced the stellar customer service of the current student union information desk attendants. i was cutting through wilder to get somewhere else, when one of the deskers looked up and smiled warmly at me.

i don’t know what it was about that particular moment, but what i did next defies my misanthropic nature. i walked over to the desk and struck up a conversation. before i knew it, i was regaling them with stories from my time as a wilder employee. i showed them pictures of us playing connect four, ravishing leftover pizzas, and hosting tea parties with little finger sandwiches. after a while, they invited me behind the desk, and we clicked through pictures on the computer (still the same old mac desktop from 2012) until we got to my senior year.

everything was still there.

as we flipped back from the most recent pics, i was struck by how constant the wilder family has been. the close friendships i formed there aren’t unique. students now are forming those same tight bonds with their co-workers. i realized as they took my picture for their @wilderdesk instragram account that wilder is such a magical place, not because of the physical building, but because of the people our boss, tom reid, welcomes into the family.

(and, speaking of tom reid, he let me peek into the bookkeeping room, that beloved, claustrophobic closet full of metal safes where i spent a majority of mornings in college pretending i was a pirate as i organized bank deposits. i’m not ashamed to admit that i teared up.)

Screenshot (12)

the second wave of nostalgia came in mudd library, in my special little corner where i would often retire for a study break or a peaceful moment alone. tucked away, against a nondescript wall in the library commons, is a file cabinet full of boxes of microflim, which contain entire editions of the oberlin review and the oberlin news tribune, beginning in the 1890s.

i learned how to work the machines early on in my college career, as the study of oberlin’s local history became my main motivation for not transferring to a different school. the familiar, warm glow of the screen and the hum of the motor were often my companions on friday nights before walking to my shift at the college observatory. mostly, it was an aesthetics thing. if i saw an advertisement or a front page that i liked, i would print it off and hang it in my dorm. occasionally, i impressed a professor by using articles in my research projects.

i still maintain those machines are some of the best kept secrets at oberlin.

i hadn’t visited the library for over three years when i sat down at the machine on saturday, but i found that loading the roll was part of my muscle memory as much as the dance steps i learned in elementary school. i was alone at that moment, but i was so inexplicably happy as the scans appeared on the screen. i showed my print-out to almost every familiar face i passed as i walked to my next destination, but no one seemed particularly impressed by my mastery of an outdated technology.

kids these days, i suppose…

the third nostalgic moment occurred in the bowling alley, but i have already waxed poetic over the importance of the lanes on my mental health and how much i love bowling at oberlin, so i will spare you (get it?) more of the same. however, i should say this: i am never more confident and at home than i am at college lanes. there’s no room for anger or sadness there. it’s just you, the pins, and some excellent student-selected tunes. i am so grateful i had friends who were willing to relive the lanes with me twice over the weekend.


i once got drunk on wine with a guy in this old, rarely-used women’s locker room while waiting for a bowling lane to open up, and this remains one of my favorite memories


it has now been almost a week since the first day of the reunion weekend, and i’ve only just now found the time and energy to think extensively about the experience. if you would have asked me last thursday if i was excited to go back to oberlin, i would have given you a really long, round-about answer about anxiety and introvertedness. today, i’ll tell you simply that i’m glad i went.

there were moments of loneliness and places of discomfort. there were periods of disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. but…overall, i felt good. my friendship was reciprocated in surprising ways. i was not only seeking; i was also sought after. i did not see everyone, and i made out with no one, but i realized how much i’ve grown since i was a student.

so, thank you to all the people who came and hung out with me (but especially to all those old hook-ups who didn’t). thank you to the staff of the college and the student workers who spent the weekend helping us old losers reminisce. thank you to the employees of the bars and restaurants who kept us fed and watered.

in spite of myself, i had a good time.


The Wooing of Lucy Stone

Now Harry, I have been all my life alone. I have planned and executed, without counsel, and without control. I have shared thought, and feeling, and life, with myself alone. I have made a path for my feet which I know is very useful…and it seems to me, I cannot risk it by any change… I have lived alone, happily and well, and can still do it… My life has never seemed to me, a baffled one, only in hours that now and then come, when my love-life is consciously unshared. But such hours are only as the drop to the ocean.

– Lucy Stone to Henry Blackwell, 1854

The first time I used an online dating site was in high school. In one of the cruelest teenaged acts I would commit, I created a fake profile so that I could join a few of my peers in mocking a young teacher behind his back. He was 24; we were 16. We thought we were so clever, revealing the latent desperation in his swagger. We thought he was such a dweeb. We did not yet recognize the crystal ball of his profile for what it was.

It was almost a decade before I would log onto OkCupid again. I had just moved to Cleveland. I was sitting alone in the dark, absently clicking through pictures on Facebook, looking for a me that didn’t exist–perfect hair, decade-appropriate outfit, cool background. For the benefit of virtual strangers, I spun half-truths like an expert. “I’m great at being silly and tripping over air,” I typed. “I love Game of Thrones,” and, “Everything goes better with beer.” To the casual browser, I appeared charmingly vacuous. Harmless. I got a lot of messages. Most of them just said, “Hey.”



Three years, two platforms, and some choice unsolicited pics later, I have finally lost my mind. It happened a few days ago, after I had a surprisingly sustained conversation with a man about his new tank top. “What color is it?” I asked. “Green,” he replied. A few minutes later, he sent me a picture, mostly of his flexed arms, with just enough of the shirt visible that vanity could be denied. “Yup,” I responded, obstinately refusing to acknowledge the elephant biceps in the room. “That’s definitely green.”

And then I threw my phone to the foot of my bed and silently screamed for ten whole minutes.


I often turn to history to help contextualize the present–“a sister’s hand may wrest a female pen”–but I had never before thought to apply such a panacea to my love life. After all, what could a Victorian lady have to say about the ennui of modern dating culture? As it turns out, I have more to learn from my historical heroes than how to weather politics. Enter: Loving Warriors: Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853-1893.

Screenshot (11)

When Lucy Stone met Henry Blackwell, she was 31 and building a solid career of speaking for abolition and women’s rights. In an Antebellum twist on an unfortunately persistent trope in every woman’s life, her critics anxiously awaited the day when “a wedding kiss” would “shut up the mouth of Lucy Stone.” She had been skeptical of husbands since she was a teenager, and marriage was the last thing on her mind when she entered a hardware shop in Cincinnati, Ohio, looking for supplies.

Henry Blackwell was 24 years old at the time, a businessman like his brothers, but desperately seeking to reconcile his desire to leave a financial legacy with his reform-minded soul. He had five sisters, most famously Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. He was immediately smitten with Lucy Stone, and seeing her speak a few years later in New York solidified his affection. “I decidedly prefer her to any lady I have ever met,” he wrote to his brother, “always excepting the Bloomer dress which I dont like practically, tho theoretically I believe in it with my whole soul.”

stan Lucy_Stone_in_bloomers

Bloomers, a radical (though much maligned) sartorial choice

He immediately started writing to her, with her consent, about every aspect of his daily life. He opened most letters with a description of his surroundings, coolly segued into a discussion of civil rights, and then closed with an apology for writing so much to such a busy person. Her responses, though less prolific, followed a similar pattern. He carried her letters with him when he traveled until they practically disintegrated in his hands. Lucy, while “generally thankful for pen & ink,” admitted that she hated them in her current separation from Henry.

Their strong personalities shine in their letters. Lucy–strong-willed and frank–kept her missives short and to the point. Very rarely do her lines stray towards poetry or romance, and her love caused her to hold him, perhaps, to a higher standard than most. “With much love,” she closed one [adoringly] chastising letter, “and the hope that, as we know that we are not perfect, we must strive to become so.”

For his part, he was so full of passion, humor, and eloquence that no amount of paper could possibly contain it all. This dearth of space did not hinder his pen. He simply turned the paper from portrait to landscape and wrote over what he had already written. It is incredibly annoying, and I am unbelievably grateful to the tortured grad student that transcribed this madness:


Fig. 1: A Researcher’s Hell

But I digress. Very early on, Henry Blackwell began describing to Lucy Stone his idea of marriage, in the hopes that she someday might amend her revulsion towards the practice, if not for his sake, then for her own.

My idea of the relation involves no sacrifice of individuality but its perfection–no limitation of the career of one, or both but its extension. I would not have my wife drudge…while I found nothing to do but dig ditches. I would not even consent that my wife should stay at home to rock the baby when she ought to be off addressing a meeting… Perfect equality in this relationship…I would have–but it should be the equality of Progress, of Development, not of Decay. If both parties cannot study more, think more, feel more, talk more & work more than they could alone, I will remain an old bachelor & adopt a Newfoundland dog or a terrier as an object of affection.

– Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, 1853

Knowing that she felt more comfortable conversing in person, he made every effort to meet her on her speaking tours. Their first “date” occurred after he discovered she would be passing through Niagara Falls to attend a women’s rights convention in Cleveland–a manageable trip from his home in Cincinnati. Eagerly, he penned her a request to meet her in Niagara and then accompany her to the convention. Her response was painfully lukewarm, but Henry still raced to Niagara and had the time of his life, even speaking publicly on women’s rights for the first time.

I…am very willing that you should be there too… I think you know me well enough to put the right construction upon my consent to meet you at Niagara. I am glad of the friendship of the good whether they be men or women… But believe me Mr. Henry Blackwell when I say, (and Heaven is my witness that I mean what I say) that, in the circumstances I have not the remotest desire of assuming any other relations than those I now sustain. I would incur my own heavy censure, if by fault of mine, you did not understand this.

– Lucy Stone to Henry Blackwell, 1853

Though we may never know what passed between them in Cleveland, the tone of their letters shifted almost immediately from friendly to intimate. She wrote very little of “Mr. Blackwell” to her mother, but she began addressing him as “Harry” in their personal correspondence. As for Henry Blackwell, one need only look to his reminiscence of the event one year later. “I was with you at Cleveland,” he wrote. “I stood with you in the dark cool night overlooking the Lake–with Charles Burleigh & Antoinette–your hand in mind & the great roar of the waves coming up & the winds sweeping over us–& Charles quoting poetry–while I was living it.”


At this point, I was screaming into the book for Lucy to just accept him already because my heart couldn’t take it anymore! But, of course, she didn’t. As their attraction grew more obvious, Lucy grew more distant. She even went so far as to claim that she “instinctively recoil[ed]” from the thought of marrying him. The fear of losing the happy life she had built for herself seemed too great to overcome. It’s heartbreaking the abuse he took in pursuit of her affection, but nothing she wrote could deter him.

I know that the argument is not necessarily that you should marry me. That is again another question. You say you do not love me enough to do so. Then I say–wait until you do. But do not resolve beforehand against marrying me. See me & think of me & give me a fair chance of being loved by you. You cannot love by your simple will any more than you can see. But you can let yourself love or prevent yourself from loving just as you can open, or shut your eyes. Dear Lucy, love me if you can. I will endeavor to give you no cause ever to regret having ever done so…

– Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, 1854

It took two years of constant correspondence before Lucy Stone finally consented to marry Henry Blackwell. Excitedly, he wrote her asking if they might set the date his 30th birthday, but also expressed his wish to defer to her on every point in planning their upcoming nuptials. “I do not want you to fetter yourself one particle for my sake,” he wrote, fearing she might get cold feet. “I do not want you to forgo one sentiment of independence, nor one attribute of personality.” He knew what pain it brought her, even without reading the wedding invitation Lucy sent to Antoinette Brown to “help in so cruel an operation as putting Lucy Stone to death.”


Dear Lucy–we know each other & we know that we are one. It was not for nothing that my heart leaped towards you & yearned for you when I first saw you in our store six years ago…but dear Lucy I am not at all anxious that you shd promise to love, honor & cherish me, for I know your heart. I have no preference for any particular form, or place. My home is in you–my marriage is already solemnised.

– Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, 1855

As for the ceremony, it was a small affair on May 1, 1855, undertaken in protest against “such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess.” Henry Blackwell married his true love; her identity remained in tact. When they retired to their room (an event she feared almost as much as the wedding itself), Henry slipped quietly into bed without waking her.

Throughout their lives, he proved true to his lofty sentiments. The first time Lucy wished to attend a conference as a married woman, she asked for his permission. He said he could not give it, and advised her to ask Lucy Stone instead. “I cannot get him to govern me!” she wrote Susan B. Anthony, happily. Together they raised one daughter, Alice, who grew to be just as strong-willed as her mother. They lived happily for almost forty years, separated only by Lucy’s death in 1893.


Draft of their marriage protest, 1855 (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University)

So…what? When I look at my love life up to this point, I cannot help but feel discouraged. Yet, I have begun to find hope in darker moments. Superficiality breeds superficiality. If I’m done appealing to boys who only want a girl to ooh and ahh over their work at the gym, then I need to let my feminist flag fly. No more the meek woman who lets a man call her a communist for thinking health care is a universal right. No more the bland statue who spends more time taking selfies for boys than discussing sexism and white privilege. If a man doesn’t love me for my brain and my passion, then that man doesn’t love me at all. I’m sick of changing myself, diluting myself, for the fleeting gratification of simply anyone telling me I’m attractive.

Someday, I will meet my Henry Blackwell, my perfect person who will find themselves as enriched by my light as I am by theirs, someone who can be patient despite my reluctance, whom I will love (as Lucy did) with “the capacity of 20 women.” Until then, don’t look for me on Tinder. You won’t catch me preening over flirty chats. I’ll be in the library, nose buried in a book, reassembling my dignity.


1889, a concept album, pt. 2

here it is, folks. just in time to miss the grammys, i bring you the final installment of a project i never anticipated finishing. i’d like to thank taylor swift, for naming her album after a date, and, thus, rendering it so open for historical parody. i would also like to thank the special friends who have encouraged this since the beginning, when it was only the seed of a joke about an idea i secretly hoped would flourish. and i’d like to thank you, dear readers, for putting up with this madness. i promise it will all be over soon.



when i left you last, ida b. wells was shake-shake-shaking off a whole load of racism and sexism to become one of the leading voices of the early civil rights movement. we pick up now with a look back at how the very lynch mobs wells disparaged were born in a cauldron of civil war, emancipation, and reconstruction.

track 8 – bad blood, ft. [not] kendrick lamar

it was not immediately apparent that i would have to change any of the lyrics to fit the regional strife of post-reconstruction america. for all intents and purposes, i could have left the words alone, and they still would have spoken for the times. however! that was not in the spirit of this project, so you will happily notice that i altered a thing or two. i tried my best to preserve kendrick lamar’s rhythm, but i am not a rapper. forgive me. i may have flown too close to the sun.


baby, now we got bad blood
our union used to be mad love
so take a look at what you’ve done
cos, baby, now we got bad blood

now we got problems
and civil war didn’t solve them
you made a really deep cut
and, baby, now we got bad blood

we can’t take it back, look where we’re at
land of the free, we were to be, remember that?
we moved ahead progressively; you held us back
we went to war, brought out the corps, fought what we deplore
we don’t hate you, but we have to critique and berate you
the hearts of the freedmen used their votes to replace you
it’ll take time to erase you
racism beware, hate breeds that disrepair
moving on, you should have let love clear the air

oh, it’s so sad to think about the good times
you and i

baby, now we got bad blood
our union used to be mad love
so take a look at what you’ve done
cos, baby, now we got bad blood

now we got problems
reconstruction won’t solve them
you made a really deep cut
and, baby, now we got bad blood

remember when you tried to keep your slaves?
remember when you thought you’d misbehave?
don’t you remember?
you thought that I would need ya, give in to pressure, remember?
oh, no we fought for freedom
it was a season of battle wounds, battle scars, cannon balls, bruised, stabbed in the back
brimstone fire jumping through
still in the end we won the battlefield
and you gotta live with the bad blood now

oh, it’s so sad to think about the good times
you and i

baby, now we got bad blood
our union used to be mad love
so take a look at what you’ve done
cos, baby, now we got bad blood

now we got problems
and we still haven’t solved them
you made a really deep cut
and, baby, now we got bad blood

track 9 – wildest dreams

when i decided on the subject of this track, i’ll be honest, i barely knew nellie bly’s story. i knew she traveled around the world in 1889, and i thought that expedition mindset would go well with the random safari setting of the music video. what i learned about nellie bly: she was a journalist who was sick of writing about fashion and “ladies” things, so she took on incredible stories. she reported on a dictator in mexico. she got herself institutionalized so she could report on mistreatment of mental patients from the inside. she traveled around the world alone in 72 days. talk about wildest dreams. i’m gonna guess she lived hers.


i said: i’ll get out of this town
head into the city
where a story can be found
i thought: heaven can’t help me now
i’m just a newswoman
but this is gonna take me down
it’s so cold, this place is like hell
food’s so bad, and it’s dark in my cell
i can see the end as it begins
my one condition is…

say you’ll remember me
as a brave reporter, and a truth crusader, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

i said: i want to travel on my own
i’ll go around the world, and do it all alone
pulitzer gave me the green light: nellie, you’re amazing
and this is getting good now
i’ll ride trains and send telegraphs
readers can follow me on their maps
and when i reach the final home stretch
that record’s mine at last

say you’ll remember me
in a sensible dress, sailing in the sunset, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

ten days in a mad house
i never had one doubt
got it done
and when i left blackwell
my written memoirs helped raise funds

told me to write fashion
that wasn’t my passion
burn it down
just cos i’m a lady
i shouldn’t have to
dream of gowns

say you’ll remember me
as a brave reporter, and a truth crusader, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

say you’ll remember me
in a sensible dress, sailing in the sunset, hey
red lips and rosy cheeks
take me seriously le, and watch me achieve all my wildest dreams (ah ah ah)
wildest dreams (ah ah ah)

track 10 – how you [save] the girl

jane addams founded hull house in 1889 with her buddy ellen gates starr. this was an era of the “new woman” that addams and starr hoped to promote. the idea was that, as we so proudly state today, “the future is female.” a better, more empathetic society was going to come on the wings of women, and the best way to do that was through solidarity. hull house promoted growth in the community by housing educated women and putting them to work, by supporting working class women and immigrants, and by providing classes and childcare.


stand there like a ghost
shaking from the rain, rain
i’ll open up the door
and say, are you insane, -ane?

say it’s been a long six months
and you were exploited and worked until you broke down

and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the girl

and then I’ll say
we’ll help you turn worse into better
learn a new skill, show them you’re clever
child care, we’ll tackle this together
push for reforms, it’s now or never

and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the girl, girl, oh
and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the world, world

you know we have civic duties
we could go far if we could just speak
tell them that we hadn’t lost our minds
when we started up a house that would serve womankind

and that’s how it works
that’s how i’ll save the world

and now you say
playgrounds, housing, what could be better?
peace and kindness unto one another
we worked hard, to pull it all together
hull house always strives to empower

and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the girl, girl, oh
and that’s how it works
it’s how i’ll save the world, world, yeah

track 13 – clean

in the late 19th century, richard henry pratt coined the phrase “kill the indian…and save the man.” pratt was the founder of the carlisle school in pennsylvania, which strove to assimilate native people into white american culture. children were taken from their families on reservations and brought to boarding schools where their hair was cut and their clothes were exchanged for western fashions. they were forbidden to speak their native language, and when they were returned to their families, they no longer belonged. activist zitkala-sa (red bird) was a souix woman who was educated in an indian school in the late 1880s and used her english education to promote native rights. 


the drought was the very worst
when the mem’ries that i had of home, they died of thirst
it was months and months of loneliness
my culture has become like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

hung my head as I lost the war
and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

rain came pouring down as i was crying
because they cut off my hair
and by morning gone was any trace of home
they said i was finally clean

there was nothing left to do
when they threw me into the dust that covered my whole room
and said to speak my language was taboo
english words carry away all the legends i knew

the silence filled my lungs, i fought so hard but no one rescued me

books were my escape when i was drowning
reading helped me learn to breathe
and by morning, i knew i could rise above
pratt can’t kill the red bird in me

stories were my rope when i was sinking
writing helped me connect the dots
and by morning, i knew i could rise above
pratt can’t kill the red bird in me


when i began this project, i had no idea that 1889 was such an action-packed year. where i expected a dearth of subject matter, i found i had too many ideas to feasibly put on paper. even now, i wonder about the tracks i neglected to parody. could i do something on andrew carnegie’s gospel of wealth? what about huckleberry finn? perhaps, this is not the final installment, after all…

all i know is that i am exhausted, but i learned some really cool stuff, and i hope you did, too. thanks for listening–errr….reading.

10 Articles for Tense Times

Today was complicated. What began as a march for women in the capitol of the United States turned into a worldwide show of solidarity. Judging by pictures, hundreds of thousands–probably even millions–of people walked for justice, their heads, fists, and handmade signs held high. I was not one of those millions of women. I was one of the other [probably] millions of women with a weird work schedule that includes Saturdays. Despite having spent the last eight years studying and teaching women’s history and devoting my life to growing as a feminist, I was that boring, invisible person in my office. And I’m being such a John Adams about the whole thing.

(Nerd alert: in 1807, Adams wrote a scathing review of Mercy Warren’s history of the American Revolution, mostly because he wasn’t included. “I ought to have been considered as a figure on the stage,” he whined. “Call it the figure of a doorkeeper, a livery servant, a dancer, a singer, or a harlequin, if you will; but I ought not to have been shoved off the theater and kept behind a screen…” In other words: the lack of me legitimizes the entire operation; screw you.)

What blossomed across the globe is truly a beautiful thing, and it should be celebrated. But I wasn’t a part of it, so every single atom in my body is pushing me to disparage it. I will be honest. The ugly, green monster in my head wants to call it performative, glib, and empty. This is a lie, and saying such things does not make me feel any better. Who even am I? What kind of feminist tears down the productive compassion and empathy of millions of other feminists?

A bad one…

Or maybe just a jealous one.

Forgive me.

Like I said: today was complicated.

I know I can be better.

The purpose of this post is to find my own productive way to reach out to other women by focusing on what I can do, rather than griping about what I couldn’t. So, I’m sharing some stories from history that inspire me. These ten articles for tense times are presented in the form of links to Wikipedia articles and brief summaries to pique your interest. Read one, or none, or all–it’s up to you. I only hope this can serve as an olive branch, extended in apology for my absence and with the hope that I, too, can be a part of the many, the visible, and empowered.

Deborah Sampson Gannett was the first woman to take a bullet for the United States. Sampson joined the Continental Army under the name Robert Shirtliffe, and served for about a year and a half before an illness revealed her gender. She was honorably discharged in 1783. Later, she turned her experience into an autobiography and a speaking tour, revealing how she had kept her secret, and even that, to her embarrassment, she had unintentionally seduced a young woman! Petitioning Congress with the help of Paul Revere, she became the first woman to be awarded a U.S. army pension.


New Jersey Gazette, January 20, 1784

Mercy Otis Warren, the daughter, sister, wife, and friend of Revolutionary patriots, was was a foremost patriot herself. Her writing career began as private letters to her friends and confidants, but quickly developed into the public expression of her politics. She wrote satirical poems and lampooning dramas, and her discerning eye was well trained for documenting history. In some of the most badass advice of the 18th century, Warren told a young woman: “My dear, it may be necessary for you to seem inferior, but you need not be so.” She had no time for the haters. When John Adams claimed her presumption in writing history made him “blush,” she shot back: “As you seem to be in a blushing mood,…I advise you to add one more item, and blush for yourself.” In other words: screw you.


Lucy Stone, aka my hero, muse, and overall queen of the earth, graduated from Oberlin College in 1847. She attend the college in the hopes of becoming an orator. Oberlin frowned on this career choice, so she spent her time there blatantly breaking all the rules. She didn’t wear a bonnet in church. She started a secret debate women’s debate club in the woods. She fought for equal pay for female student teachers. When her soon-to-be best friend and kindred spirit, Antoinette Brown, was just starting at Oberlin, a college Trustee warned her against Lucy Stone, who he said was “a bright girl, but eccentric, and far too talkative on the subject of women’s rights.” After graduation, she was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. She was a founding member of the American Women’s Suffrage League, refused to pay her taxes, and famously kept her name after marrying fellow feminist Henry Blackwell.


Ain’t I A Woman? is the commonly-used name of a speech given by Sojourner Truth, a former slave, at the 1851 Akron Women’s Rights Convention. It was an early call in uniting the disparate threads of abolition and women’s suffrage into an unstoppable tornado of human progress. (This, as you well know, has not been easily achieved.) There were two recorded versions of the speech–one by a man and well-known abolitionist, who published the speech in the Anti-Slavery Bugle. It is written in plain English, and does not include the famously repeated question. The second transcription was published during the Civil War, by Frances Dana Gage. This version distorts Truth’s famously well-spoken English into a Southern dialect and includes commentary on the reactions of the crowd. Gage’s version is the one most often referenced by historians and “quotographers,” but we may never discover a pure, unadultered copy of Truth’s words.


Nellie Bly‘s real name was Elizabeth Cochran[e] Seaman. She is best known as a pioneering American journalist, who would do anything–even put her life on the line–to get at a good story. At the beginning of her career, her editors expected her to write about fashion, which she disdained. So, at 21, she traveled to Mexico on her own to become a foreign correspondent. She was deported back to the U.S. after criticizing Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, and moved to New York for more daring investigations. In 1887, she famously had herself committed into an insane asylum so that she could expose the poor treatment of the female patients. She traveled around the world (literally), started charities, and even patented special milk containers. It may, at this point, be easier just to list the things she didn’t do: go skydiving, use the Internet. There. That was easy.


Hull House was founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and her college friend (and lover) Ellen Gates Starr in a run down Chicago neighborhood on the west side. This was the age of the so-called “New Woman,” who sought to weave the role of her mother seamlessly into the tapestry of a new and exciting world. The compassion, care, and empathy inherent to Addams’ notions of womanhood were intrinsic to the mission of Hull House. Her philosophy forged new civic responsibilities for women, and deepened the bond of sisterhood between educated and working-class women in the community. Addams was also an outspoken advocate for peace, even during World War I, making her the target of the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover even went so far as to characterize her as “the most dangerous woman in America.” Talk about radical!


Ida B. Wells is just amazing. She was a teacher turned activist, who wouldn’t stand for the injustices of the world. As a teacher, she experienced the double burden of racism and sexism–paid less than men and also less than white women.  She was proud of her femininity and called men “weak, deceitful creatures.” She was proud of her race, and, when she was asked to leave a ladies train car on account of her skin, she had to be forcibly removed by the conductor and two other men. When her friends were murdered in the streets on the basis of hearsay, Wells refused to be silent, instead becoming a prominent voice in the crusade to end lynch mobs. She was also an outspoken suffragette who was not afraid to call white women out when they tried to relegate her to a lesser role. Truly, it is hard to imagine a woman with more energy and fire than Ida B. Wells.

kate beaton ida b wells.jpg

Selection from “Ida B. Wells” by Kate Beaton

The New York Shirtwaist Strike began in November 1909 and lasted roughly until February 1910. It is also known as the “Uprising of the 20,000” because that’s how many women walked off the job. Most of the strikers were Jewish immigrants in the garment industry, already poverty-stricken, but willing to give up bread for the promise of a better tomorrow. They were beaten, arrested, and sentenced to hard labor. They starved and froze on the streets while facing ridicule, but they never gave up, eventually winning better wages, hours, and working conditions. The movement serves as an example of the necessity of intersectionality in feminism, resting at the crux of working-class socialism and women’s suffrage.


Zitkala-Sa, known also as Gertrude Simmons Bonin, was a Native American author and activist. When she was eight years old, missionaries took her from her home and placed her in a boarding school in Indiana, the purpose of which was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” In her striking piece, Diaries of an Indian Girl, Zitkala-Sa writes about the heart-wrenching experience of having her heritage and culture–her entire sense of belonging–literally torn from her body. She loved to read and play the violin and continued her education into college. Her writing career focused on both Native American culture and politics.


Black feminism is a movement that arose in the late 20th century and established the concept of intersectionality. All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men but Some of Us are Brave is the title of a 1982 black feminist anthology, emphasizing the singular position of black women as both intrinsic to and, yet, ignored by modern civil rights movements. The idea, that womanhood and race belong, not to a single experience, but to a multitude of unique individual experiences that inform and reinforce each other, has expanded over generations. Scholars like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Kimberle Williams Crenshaw have been important pioneers in this movement.


To conclude, dear ones, I say…to those who marched and those who could not…thank you. Thank you for putting up with me, for being my friends. Thank you for refusing to remain silent, today and all the days you raise your voice. Thank you for being kind and simply for existing in this often difficult world. You are like a lighthouse in a storm, and you will bring us safely home.

Screenshot (9).png

1889, a concept album, pt. 1

(author’s note: compiling the work presented here has been a labor of love, in which the labor often overpowered the love. it is the author’s sincerest hope that this work be met favorably by its audience as a snippet of a life long past [or so we believe]. for the reader’s convenience, the author has provided links to the original musical numbers)


track 1 – welcome to new york


the inaugural track opens optimistically, with all the crescendo of a sunrise in G major, as our heroine finds herself newly awash in buzz of new york city. like many young, ambitious folks from the midwest, she has moved to the city to escape the “fret, fret and work” of a rural existence. a new life beckons…

welcome to new york
horace greeley’s seething
welcome to new york welcome to new york
welcome to new york
you just had to move east
welcome to new york welcome to new york

she is filled with hope as she places her scant possessions around her small room in the boarding house, tucking her farm girl heart safely in a drawer. a new dance hall has just opened down the street, where there lurk more eligible young bachelors than exist in her entire county back home. only, it’s not the rhythm of the band that makes the new soundtrack of her life, but the clicktey-clack of hundreds of sewing machines in close quarters as she dreams of a job in a department store.

welcome to new york
here’s your sewing machine
welcome to new york welcome to new york
welcome to new york
nothing here’s for free
welcome to new york welcome to new york

city life is an adventure she’s never experienced before. independence fills her veins like the heat of a new love. for a brief moment, she wonders if she has become a character in a hamlin garland story. would her parents, with their “true rural minds,” recognize her now? how quickly would her own hands reacclimate to the mud and hay? she realizes now the fortune of her escape to the city. she is a new woman, and there isn’t anything (anything, anything) she would change…

track 2 – blank space


the eerie, dripping beats that introduce this track lead the inquisitive listener straight into the halls of women’s suffrage. the modest home of an aging spinster sets the stage, as young women file through the door, white sashes draped neatly over their shoulders. a newcomer hesitates at the approach, when, suddenly, a hunched figure appears before her, dressed in a pair of old-fashioned bloomers. a wrinkled hand extends…

nice to meet you, i’m susan
i could show you incredible things
marching to demand our rights
saw you there and i thought
“oh, my god, look at that girl!
she looks like she’ll change the world!”
suffrage now! wanna join?

the newcomer steps inside the house and is astounded by the women that surround her. they are nothing like the papers say–ugly, barren, nasty women–rose gardens full of thorns. they speak with an assuredness and clarity she was never taught in college. the flourish of passion marks their words with a sense of urgency. they have exchanged the cherry lips and big bouquets of false femininity for pure enlightenment.

raised voices, coats and signs
we won’t tolerate this tyranny
ain’t it funny, rumors fly
they say we’ve embraced insanity

but if that’s all they’ve got
i’m sure i’ll see my first ballot
grab those pamphlets and my hand
we can make the bad guys good if we take a stand

quickly, our newcomer is inducted into the movement and learns the faces of true bravery and perseverance. state by state, the other women are hopeful, they will have their victories. despite the curse of defeat and the threat of arrest, they are confident: small actions make great ripples…

sure, this could take forever
you may lose your good name
you can tell us when it’s over
if the vote was worth the pain
got a long list of opponents
they’ll tell you we’re insane
’cause you know we ride bicycles
and we fight for change

boys listen to your woes like it’s torture, the more experienced crusaders repeat time and time again. it is no longer enough to rely on men to vote for women, like that ever worked in the first place. (they point to congress banning abolitionist women’s petitions, decades before the younger women were born.) this struggle has lasted through generations of beaten wives and broken widows. it is up to the next generation to fulfill this country’s promise of no taxation without representation.

’cause we’re old and we need you
you’ll take up our banner

it will leave you breathless
and full of new vigor
got a long list of opponents
they’ll tell you we’re insane
but hist’ry’s got a blank space, baby,
and you’ll write your name.

track 3 – style

Camille Clifford.jpg

the sounds of a calm beach float delicately towards the consciousness as a young woman dreams peacefully of a recent vacation on the coast. the drifting quiet of the water is slowly replaced by an urgent drumming beat, as she awakens from her reverie with a start.

i open my wardrobe and start to cry
long skirts
won’t help me ride out on my bicycle
harper’s bazaar, oh, help me keep up with these changing fashion tides (fashion tides)

she flips through the magazine with increased anxiety. everything she owns is suddenly wrong–even her fluffy bangs have been replaced by hairstyles so loose and free. in the dramatic montage that follows, our heroine proceeds to ready herself to step out with her beaux, who, unbeknownst to her, is anxiously reshaping is mustache.

he’s like an outdoors sportsman modern Don Juan
and i’ve got that big hair, big hat thing goin’ on
and when we both step outside, everyone will agree
we’ve entered the gay nineties
we’ve entered the gay nineties

he’s got that cropped hair, mustache, four-in-hand tie
and i’ve got those big sleeves, corset hips that don’t lie
and when we both step outside, everyone will agree
we’ve entered the gay nineties
we’ve entered the gay nineties

the pair walk arm in arm as he escorts her straight home after the dance. however, the music suggests that her dark mood hasn’t dissipated, and he asks if something is weighing on her mind. she drops his arm and looks away. she does not speak until…

so it goes
my hem’s been raised; my skirts don’t graze the road
walks me home
lights are on; i notice his waistcoat
i say: i heard, oh, that you’ve been out and about with some gibson girl (some gibson girl)
he says: what you’ve heard is true, but, hon, that gibson girl is you
and i said: well, we all change our clothes with the times

and with that clarification, the chorus of the tune returns to lift the mood. it’s hard to imagine such fashionable love ever going out of style.

track 6 – shake it off

IBW_u chicago porrait_183994

Ida B. Wells (courtesy of University of Chicago Library)

a bright, bouncy beat soars through the final track on the first half of this musical journey through an era. don’t let the tune fool you. as ida b. wells boldly takes the stage, she assumes a strong stance with her hands on her hips and her feet planted squarely on the floor. her eyes burn bright as she sings truth…

my pigment is my “shame”
so i can’t ride this train

that’s what people say (mhm)
that’s what people say
my articles are wrong
so i can’t keep my job
at least that’s what people say (mhm)
that’s what people say

these are no lies. having been forcibly removed from a train car and fired for speaking her mind, ida b. wells may well have shrunk back into the safety of silence, but there is no time for a listener to contemplate this potential life, as ida sings on…

but i keep writing
can’t stop, won’t stop fighting

it’s like i’ve got this fire in my mind
saying, ida, you do what’s right

as she so eloquently puts it, no matter what she does, the racists will hate (hate, hate, hate, hate). the women on the suffrage line will continue to play (play, play, play, play) around the issues facing their colored sisters. weak men only fake (fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, fake) a communion of ideals, but ida’s stronger than all that.

i never miss a beat,
investigating on the street
people can’t seem to see (oh no)
what they don’t want to see
i’m crusading on my own
this movement’s only gonna grow
and that’s what they don’t know (oh no)
that’s what they don’t know

her friends are murdered on the street by an angry mob. her safety is continually threatened. with nerves of steel, she confronts the storm with power and grace.

cause the racists gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
and the women gonna play, play, play, play, play
baby, i’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
i shake it off, i shake it off
weak men are gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
but this storm is gonna break, break, break, break, break
baby, i’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
i shake it off, i shake it off

(author’s note: thank you for indulging this odd obsession. with luck, the next installation of this exhausting project will include a mystical melody about nellie bly’s global trek, a little ditty about andrew carnegie, and a musical tribute to jane addams. stay tuned!)