Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Midnight Ride of Sybil Ludington, American Revolutionary

Sybil Ludington and her "Midnight Ride" (26 April 1777)

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
 Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, 
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five: 
Hardly a man is now alive 
 Who remembers that famous day and year.

Well, I don't know who Longfellow was thinking about here--everybody hears about Paul Revere and his damn midnight ride. 

Anna Hyatt Huntington's sculpture of
Sybil Ludington, on her midnight ride,
Carmel, New York
(photo by Anthony22)
But not too many people hear about the ride of Sybil Ludington--at the age of sixteen, she undertook a dangerous ride to alert her father’s militia forces of the approach of the British.

On the night of 26 April 1777, during a terrible rainstorm, she road forty miles, from Putnam County, New York, to Danbury, Connecticut. (Revere, by the way, was forty years old and didn't complete his ride--he was captured by the British.)

Born on 5 April 1761, Sybil Ludington was the daughter of Abigail Knowles and Henry Ludington, the eldest of their twelve children.

Henry Ludington was both a farmer and the owner of a grist mill. Ludington began his military service in 1755, at the age of sixteen, when he enlisted in the Second Connecticut Regiment. He fought for the British against the French in the so-called French and Indian War, part of the larger European conflict known as the Seven Years' War. Ludington served from 1755 until 1760. In recognition of his distinguished service, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the British Colonial Army. Ludington resigned in protest after the Stamp Act (1765), but rejoined in 1773 when he was commissioned as a captain.

But at the outbreak of the Revolution, rather than continue as a British officer, Ludington joined the Continental Army and took command of a volunteer infantry regiment. On 26 April 1777, Ludington learned of Governor William Tryon's planned attack on Danbury, Connecticut--this was where supplies and munitions for the Patriot army were being stored. 

And now attention turns to Sybil Ludington. Accounts differ about why she made the ride--according to family legend, she volunteered to make the trip, though it may be that she rode at her father's direction. 

In any case, Sybil made the journey, setting off after nine p.m. and riding through the night. Despite the dangers, she carried her father's order for muster, spreading the word to the militiamen to rally at her father's farm. By daybreak, most of the men had gathered. 

The British nevertheless managed to burn Danbury and destroy the Continental Army's supplies. Ludington's men were late for the series of skirmishes that became known as the battle of Ridgefield, arriving "short of ammunition" and "outnumbered by the British three to one," but they nevertheless were able to "harass the British" with their "scattering sharpshooter fire from behind trees and fences and stone walls," and the British retreated to their ships." 

Whether her father's troops won the battle or not, Sybil Ludington's ride achieved its purpose. In a history written by a member of Henry Ludington's family, Sybil and her sister Rebecca are also credited with having aided her father in his espionage work, established under the direction of General George Washington, whom Henry Ludington came to serve as an aide-de-camp. The two girls were "privy" to the "doings" of one of their father's spies; they "had a code of signals, by means of which they frequently admitted him in secrecy and safety to the house, where he was fed and lodged."

And when their father's activities raised hostilities in their neighbors, the two girls also took action:
These children would sit for hours, armed with heavy muskets, at the upper windows, behind casks on the piazza, or in a neighboring cornfield, watching for the approach of suspicious or openly hostile characters and ready to give their father warning.
While her actions in defending her father's spies and her father himself may be part of a family historian's fanciful collection of stories, and while some details of Sybil's ride may have been fancifully embroidered in later retellings (I've left out the fluff here), the fact of her ride is not in doubt.

After the war, Sybil Ludington married Edward Ogden, variously described as a lawyer (Encyclopedia Britannica!!!), a farmer, or an innkeeper. (Then again, sometimes he's named as "Edmund" Ogden--for what it's worth, the family historian identifies Ogden as a lawyer, but says he's named Henry!)

Sybil Ludington Ogden's headstone,
Maple Ave. Cemetery,
Patterson, New York
(note the spelling of her name,
"Sibbell" and "Edmond"
as her husband's name)
Now Sybil Ogden, she moved to Catskill, where she had one son, named Henry (the family historian may be confusing Sybil's husband's name with her son's). She died on 26 February 1839, aged seventy-seven. 

There are no known references to Sybil Ludington Ogden's ride before 1880, when Martha Lamb, a New York historian, included it in her History of the City of New York

I know I'm always bitching about the Encyclopedia Britannica's refusal to include women, but as noted above, there is an entry for Sybil Ludington

A profile of Sybil Ludington Ogden is also provided by the town of Patterson, New York, as part of ts "Historic Patterson" website.

Although Sybil Ludington Ogden's application for a Revolutionary War pension was denied--the reason given was that there was insufficient proof of her marriage to Edward Ogden, who had served in the Continental Army--she was honored by a U.S. postage stamp in 1975. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Travels of Egeria

Egeria the Pilgrim (a post for Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019)

One of the earliest surviving texts attributed to a woman writer, the Itinerarium Egeriae (The Travels of Egeria) preserves the account of a female traveler in the Holy land. 

A page from the Codex Aretinus manuscript,
containing Egeria's Itinerarium
(photo posted by Flavio Barbiero)
Although not much is known about the traveler herself, a woman named Egeria, most scholars seem to agree that she started her pilgrimage in northwest Spain, likely Galicia--though there is some disagreement here, with others suggesting she was from southern France.

The date of her travels is also uncertain. Egeria probably made her journey between the years 381 and 384, and since she arrived in Jerusalem in time to celebrate Easter, I have chosen to post about her today. 

Her extant writing takes the form of an extended letter addressed to her sorores--"sisters"--a word that has led some readers to conclude that Egeria was a nun, but there is now a general sense that Egeria was probably a wealthy lay woman addressing herself to a group of women who shared her faith. 

As it has survived, The Travels of Egeria is a fragmentary text, missing its beginning and end. (The missing opening of Egeria's account of her travels might have told us more about the writer.)

The part of Egeria's text that survives is found in a manuscript copied between the ninth and twelfth centuries, now known as the Codex Aretinus. This fragmentary account of Egeria's Itinerarium was rediscovered and identified at the end of the nineteenth century. Two new fragments were identified in 2007, these dating to a copy made about the year 900.

But there are references to Egeria's work made in the centuries after she traveled, showing something of the transmission of her text among Christian readers. Egeria is praised by Valerio of Bierzo, a seventh-century monk from Galicia. A glossary from the eighth or ninth century quotes from her Itinerarium. And the twelfth-century Benedictine monk Peter the Deacon, librarian of the abbey of Montecassino, also refers to Egeria--Montecassino is where the the Codex Aretinus was copied. 

What survives of Egeria's letter is in two parts. The text begins mid-sentence, with Egeria already in Jerusalem (the journey from her home to the Holy Land is missing). In this first part of her "travels," she writes about her extended stay in Jerusalem, from which she takes a number of shorter journeys.

From Jerusalem, Egeria travels to Mount Sinai and on to Mount Horeb, then to a garden where she sees the burning bush mentioned by Moses; to the "city of Arabia," which is "in the land of Goshen"; to the Jordan Valley; to sites in Mesopotamia, after crossing the Euphrates; to Edessa, Antioch, the shrine of St. Thecla, "a three-day journey from Tarsus," and then to Constantinople. As she travels, she writes about those who serve as guides and interpreters, especially monks, and she relates each place she visits to biblical accounts of the sites. 

The shrine of St. Thecla,
photo by Cobija
The second part of Egeria's letter describes the "daily offices"--the "order of service (operatio) day by day in the holy places" of the city of Jerusalem--followed by a recital of the special church festivals as they are celebrated, including Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. (Interestingly, the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, now 25 December, is not yet mentioned among the festivals of the church year.)

Between 2000-2006, The Egeria Project was established online. The site is still accessible, but it seems not to have fulfilled its goals. Like Egeria's original text, it is incomplete.*

Scholars have repeatedly attempted to map Egeria's various travels--the difficulties in doing so are outlined by Cristina Corsi, in her "Topographical issues in the Itinerarium Egeriae: An Essay on the Modalities of Travel in the Fourth Century AD." The essay contains a great deal of fascinating information.

For the text of the surviving Egeria fragments, The Pilgrimage of Egeria is available here.

One of many proposed itineraries of Egeria
(posted by Nicoletta De Matthaeis,
who has an excellent blog post on Egeria,
in Spanish) 

*Update, 13 February 2024: The Egeria Project seems to have disappeared online, but I’ve linked above to the last scan of the site made by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, 29 September 2023.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud: An "Imagination of No Common Order"

Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud, poet (born 17 April 1812)

In the preface to Wayside Flowers: A Collection of Poems by "Mrs. M. St. Leon Loud," editor Park Benjamin describes the volume's intended readers as those who "love tenderness and purity of thought, joined to simplicity and grace of expression." 

Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud,
frontispiece from Wayside Flowers, 1851
The poems are "like those 'wildlings of nature,' from which they borrow their title" (by the way, Benjamin has created the title). They are "the spontaneous productions of a fertile soil," "the free growth of an unartificial mind." They represent "nature's growth," not "exotics." And thus are better than "cultivated efforts."

Oh, dear. No work at all, then, right? The poems just happen????? Without intention, work, craft, effort?

In his last months of life, Edgar Allen Poe happily accepted the "relatively lucrative opportunity" to edit Wayside Flowers--he writes to a correspondent that he is on his way to Philadelphia to edit the work of the "poetess," whose wealthy husband had hired him. Poe writes, "[t]he whole labor will not occupy me 3 days." (Poe had been offered $100 by Marguerite Loud's husband--Poe had earned only $166 the entire year before.)*

Oh, dear. On the website of the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore, Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud is identified as a "minor American poet."

Aside from this rather disparaging information--and from Benjamin's preface in the volume of poetry, Wayside Flowers--not all that much is known about Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud. No Wikipedia entry, for example!!!

Marguerite St. Leon Barstow was born in Wysox, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Seth T. Barstow and his wife, Clarissa Woodruff. According to Benjamin, both parents were from New England, and Marguerite's father was a successful physician. 

In his preface to Wayside Flowers, Benjamin also indicates that Marguerite St. Leon's education was an informal one--her mother was her teacher, her parents both loved poetry, and the home had an "ample library

Her date of birth has been variously given. She died in Kenyon, Minnesota, and her gravestone indicates that she was born on 17 April 1812, but there are questions about this date, principally the fact that some sources indicate she was married in 1824--which would make her only twelve years old at the time of her marriage. Thus other dates for her birth are suggested--even a date of "ca. 17 April 1800" (see the University of Virginia's Collective Biographies of Women database)!

But the preface to her volume of poetry specifically addresses the date of her marriage as well as explaining the source of the confusion--Marguerite St. Leon Barstow was married in 1834, not 1824, an erroneous date that appeared in Caroline May's 1848 The American Female Poets.**

Title page of the 1851 Wayside Flowers
So there's no need for anyone to twist themselves into pretzels or question the date of birth on her headstone. Marguerite Barstow was born in 1812, and she married in 1834. Her husband, John Loud, was a successful piano manufacturer in Philadelphia. The couple had three daughters: Caroline, was born in 1834, Clara in 1837, and Darwina in 1842. 

Edgar Allen Poe died before he could travel to Philadelphia to edit Wayside Flowers. The book was finally published in 1851, and it did not sell well. Of the 550 copies that were printed, 360 copies were returned, unsold, to the Louds.

In his discussion of Poe's intention to edit Wayside Flowers and Poe's death, Matthew Pearl notes that "according to electronic library database Oasis, only fourteen original copies of the book are held by American libraries."

Which may account for the fact that Loud's elegy, "The Stranger's Doom," one of the earliest poems that seems to be about Poe's death, has "attracted little critical attention."

But, thankfully, you don't have to search out one of the few print copies of Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud's Wayside Flowers. It is now readily available online (this link takes you to a copy made available by the HathiTrust Digital Library).

Poe himself seemed to think well of Marguerite Loud as a poet. Of her he wrote in 1841:
Mrs. M. ST. LEON LOUD is one of the finest poets of this country; possessing, we think, more of the true divine afflatus than any of her female contemporaries. She has, in especial, imagination of no common order, and unlike many of her sex whom we could mention, is not content to dwell in decencies forever. 
While she can, upon occasion, compose the ordinary metrical sing-song with all the decorous proprieties in which are in fashion, she yet ventures very frequently into a more ethereal region. We refer our readers to, a truly beautiful little poem entitled the “Dream of the Lonely Isle,” lately published in this Magazine. 
Mrs. Loud’s MS. is exceedingly clear, neat and forcible, with just sufficient effeminacy and no more.
Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud died on 4 November 1889. She was seventy-seven years old. 

Detail from headstone of
Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud
(photo by Dave Vangsness,
posted at Find a Grave)

*The link here is to a .pdf version of Matthew Pearl's "A Poe Death Dossier: Discoveries and Queries in the Death of Edgar Allen Poe"--using the search function, you will locate all the references to Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud.

**The link here is to the edition of 1854, which reprints the 1824 date in its biographical note for "Marguerite St. Leon Loud."

Update, 22 April 2022: I am deeply grateful for a wealth of material sent to me by a descendant of Marguerite St. Leon Barstow, her third great granddaughter. 

The detail Marguerite's descendant provides has allowed me to correct the name of Marguerite's youngest daughter, Darwina. One of the sources I consulted when writing my original post had given the name as "Davina," and I hadn't noticed it correctly spelled elsewhere. 

Darwina, as it turns out, is a family name. On the origin of this name, Marguerite's third great granddaughter writes that Seth Barstow, Marguerite's father, had named his first son (b. 1809) after the English physician and philosopher Erasmus Darwin. But this boy died when he was very young, just a week after the birth of Marguerite St. Leon in 1812, and so Seth Barstow named his next-born child, a daughter, "Darwina" (b. 1815). In 1841, Marguerite St. Leon named her youngest daughter Darwina. (One of Marguerite's brothers, in turn, named two of his daughters after his sisters, a younger Marguerite St. Leon, born in 1837, and a younger Darwina, born in 1843.)

Marguerite's own "seemingly exotic name" is also explained by her descendant, who writes that "Marguerite St. Leon" was a character in philosopher William Godwin's 1799 novel, St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century. (Godwin was the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft and the father of Mary Shelley.)

Darwina Francis Loud, Marguerite's daughter, is herself a writer, though not a poet (or at least not a published poet). In the midst of the Civil War, she headed south in 1864, engaged in the work of educating black soldiers, recognizing that, in this endeavor, she is "a pioneer." In the summer of 1865, when she was twenty-four years old, Darwina Loud was sent to what she describes as "the lonely camp of a regiment of black soldiers" in the "swamps and woods of Mississipipi." Upon her arrival at Midway Station in August 1865, she decides "to commence a little journal of daily events as they transpire." She continues to record her experiences through September, her "last night in Midway," when she is filled with uncertainty. 

"These ten feet of canvas walls shut in all the home I can call mine in all this beautiful great world, so full of happy homes and loving, generous hearts," she writes. "I wonder why I can't creep into some of them and find rest & shelter." The future is unclear: 
I went down to the branch school house this evening to take a farewell look at the spot where some few pleasant hours were spent. As I looked up into the green glimmering depths of the great oak, I thought of the future--where and how is it all to end?--What has the coming year in store for me?
Despite her feelings of despair (". . . I want something. I don't know what--I think it must be Christ I want. Oh, when shall I find him?"), Darwina closes out her diary with a long narrative "gleaned from the experience of one who for a year shared the interests and the adventures of the 52nd U.S. Colored Infantry." It is something of a summary of the history of the founding of the country, reflecting on the roles of both Christopher Columbus and George Washington--it is a history that requires "a close discrimination . . . between the glowing fancies of traditions and the matter of fact realities of truth."

Whatever doubts this remarkable young woman felt as she faced the future in September 1865, her life soon changed once again, and she found the the home she had thought she might not find. Not long after she packed up her tent in Mississippi, on 22 October 1865, she married Edward Henry Burton in Illinois. Genealogical data posted on FamilySearch shows that the couple had at least seven children (including a daughter, named after Darwina's mother, Marguerite St. Leon). Darwina Loud Burton died in Hallett, Oklahoma, on 21 January 1897.

I have been given the very great gift of a typescript of Darwina F. Loud Barstow's diary sent to me by her third great granddaughter, but an edition by Margie Bearss and Rebecca Drake, published as Darwina's Diary: A View of Champion Hill--1865, is available. You can order it directly (click here), or you can find a used copy from Amazon (click here). 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Back to the Future, Part 14: More Good News for Women--We're Still Missing!!

Back to the Future, Part 14: Women and Wikipedia

I rarely refer to Wikipedia in my posts. It's not that I'm a research snob (well, okay, I'm a research snob), it's just that I hope to include information in these entries on women that wouldn't necessarily appear at the top of the page after a quick Google search. 

Logo of WikiProject Women in Red
But here's the thing, which should surprise no one: women are vastly under-represented in Wikipedia. Despite many efforts to redress the balance, the "pages" of Wikipedia are heavily skewed toward men--male historical figures, artists, writers, musicians, politicians, athletes, even goddamn video game characters. Etc., etc. Ad nauseam. 

And now a bit of happy news about just how bad it is. 

According to an April 2019 report released by Wikimedia, of the 1,618,509 biographies in the English Wikipedia, only 287,852 of them are biographies of women!!! Just 17.79%!! (This is reported by WikiProject Women in Red.)*

This number--17.9%--is up from 15%, reported in 2014. Yay????

A similar number is reported by Le project les sans pagEs: "en octobre 2018, Wikipédia en français compte 547 599 biographies d'hommes, contre 94 021 de femmes, soit seulement 17,3%" (in October, French Wikipedia includes 547,599 biographies of men, compared to 94,021 of women, only 17.3 percent).

Logo of Le project les sans pagEs

Why the disparity? A recent story in the New York Times suggests that it's not because women don't care. Rather there are continued barriers to women writers and editors--Wikipedia is a place of "relentless harassment" for women. According to a report by the Wikimedia Foundation, the Foundation itself is "seriously concerned about the idea that cisgender women and transgender editors could be repelled from Wikipedia by online abuse."

It's not only the online abuse: there is a "systemic bias in policies," "implicit bias within the [Wikipedia] community," and "poor community health"--which includes, in addition to harassment, a lack of support for "gender equity work" and a "lack of diversity in leadership."

Banner posted by Wotancito,
Spanish "Women Love Wiki" project
("making women invisible in history is also violence")

I've filled this blog with complaints about women written out of history, women written out of the literature, women written out of art, the lack of public monuments for women's achievements, and, especially, the terrible treatment of women by "reliable" sources like the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. I'm always bitching about something, I guess . . .

Update, 16 April 2019, afternoon: And, then, there's this--
The man charged with throwing a 5-year-old boy off a third-floor balcony at the Mall of America told police he was angry at being rejected by women at the Minnesota mall and was "looking for someone to kill" when he went there last week, according to a criminal complaint Monday.
But, hey, he wasn't murdering his wife, his girlfriend, or his own child . . .

Update, 19 July 2019: For Jessica Wade's efforts to write women into Wikipedia, see Maya Salam's New York Times column, "Most Wikipedia Profiles Are of Men. This Scientist Is Changing That" (click here).

Update, 11 April 2020: For a profile of Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, the co-founder of Women in Red, see Rachael Allen's "Wikipedia Is a World Built by and for Men--Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight Is Changing That," published as part of The Lily in The Washington Post (click here).

*Update, 13 February 2024: The figures quoted on the Women in Red Project have recently been updated—as of 5 February 2024, a whole 19.74% of Wikipedia’s biography’s are about women. Woohoo!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Back to the Future, Part 13: Men Killing Women, New and Improved!

Back to the Future, Part 13: More Intimate Partner Violence! What a Surprise!

First, I hate the anodyne phrase "intimate partner violence." Because we wouldn't want to offend anyone's tender sensibilities by saying "men slaughtering wives, girlfriends, and children," now would we?

"Domestic Violence" is better than "Intimate Partner Violence--
but does it say enough?

And second, such acts of domestic terrorism (a phrase I first heard Gloria Steinem use to describe men killing women several years ago) are so commonplace that they are frequently overlooked in the media. For example, today the Huffington Post reports on the deadly slaughter of his wife and two daughters by a Phoenix man. (He also killed a family friend while he was murdering his family.) The death of his oldest daughter was particularly gruesome--instead of shooting her, as he had his wife and five-year-old daughter, he clubbed the seven-year-old to death. (Police found the youngest daughter, three, hiding under a bed.)

While this horrific murder merited an article in today's Huffington Post, the story did not appear in The New York Times, but a quick Google search shows that it was reported in the Washington Post two days ago, and on NBC, ABC, and CNN. 

But what did appear in today's New York Times was this story: "Murders by Intimate Partners Are on the Rise, Study Shows."

Yup. Rather than less frequently, horrific slaughter like the one in Phoenix is happening MORE frequently: "Homicides by intimate partners are increasing, driven primarily by gun violence after almost four decades of decline." 

Just a few facts: "The number of victims rose to 2,237 in 2017, a 19 percent increase from the 1,875 killed in 2014." Yes, men are killed too, but the "majority of the victims in 2017 were women, a total of 1,527." 

And, "gun-related domestic killings increased by 26 percent from 2010 to 2017. . . . In 2017, 926 of the 1,527 women murdered by partners were killed with guns. In 2014, it was 752 of 1,321 women."

The Times article refers to the finds of Emma E. Fridel and James Alan Fox, "Gender Differences in Patterns and Trends in U.S. Homicide, 1976–2017" (in Violence and Gender 6 [March 2019]).

Interestingly, it was the Huffington Post that first reported on this new study. And adds these gems to what appears in the Times story: "Domestic violence groups often repeat the statistic that three women a day are killed by domestic violence. But according to Fox’s most recent data, it is four."

And: "Nearly half of all women who are murdered die at the hands of their partners. Only 5 percent of men suffer the same fate."

And: "Every 16 hours, according to one estimate, a woman is fatally shot by her boyfriend, husband or ex."

The House of Representatives recently voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which had expired in February of this year.

Reauthorization of the act is opposed by the NRA. 

The Senate has yet to act.

Here's my modest proposal.

For more in the "Back to the Future" series of blog posts, click on the label, below. The label "domestic terrorism" will take you to more posts on men killing women.