Dr. Mary Walker Wore Pants, Fought for Vote in 1800s

In February 1870, while visiting New Orleans on a speaking tour, the activist and medical doctor Mary Edwards Walker was assaulted and arrested by a police officer. As he twisted her arm and dragged her away, the irate cop hissed something to the effect of “Have you ever had sex with a man?”

He asked this because Walker was wearing what had become her standard uniform: men’s trousers under a knee length skirt and a top hat. Such progressive fashions were just one of the many ways Dr. Walker fought patriarchy circa the late-eighteenth-to-early twentieth centuries, and this was just one of the many situations in which Walker’s non-conformity inspired invective. But this manhandling by an angry man didn’t dissuade her then, nor would it in the decades that followed.

Walker, who was born in this day in 1832, had faced down such sneers for years, ever since she began wearing men’s trousers in her youth. Her parents, progressive Christians who taught Mary and her six siblings to always question authority, encouraged this rebellion. They didn’t subscribe to gender norms — her father did the “woman’s” work at their family farm in Oswego, New York — and believed that women’s wear was not just oppressive, but unhygienic.

Mary took these lessons to heart, and for the rest of her years she argued against corsets, long skirts and all other prescribed women’s wear that hindered their movement, physically and metaphorically. Wearing pants showed patriarchal America she wouldn’t be held down. She even wore pants at her 1855 wedding to Albert Miller, an event at which she refused to include the word “obey” in her vows. As she would say later, “[Men] are not our protectors. If you were, who would there be to protect us from?”

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Vicious.

“Vicious” is being used voraciously this week. Donald Trump and his allies are using the word to describe the investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s lawyer Michael R. Bromrich and others are describing Trump’s attacks on Ford in the same way.

Though we most often associate “vicious” with wild animals, it comes from the Latin lexeme “vitiosus”, meaning “depraved” or “wicked.” In essence, both Trump and his nemeses are calling the other wicked, a reality that cuts to the wick of the problem of bitter, seemingly intractable partisanship that’s blanketed America: it’s a fight for the very soul of Americas, a fight for the very definition of  right and wrong in America. It really should be no contest, but, alas, too many people have been beguiled by the Trumpeteer.

Brett Kavanaugh’s Drinking Problem

Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony last week made me want to wretch. And it wasn’t just for his grotesque display of white male rage at — the gall! — having to explain himself. Nor was it Kavanaugh’s “One of my closest friends to this day is a woman who was sexually abused” remark, though that was something truly repulsive. What really irked me, as a recovering alcoholic, was Kavanaugh’s repeated implications that his successes preclude a potential drinking problem. In the Supreme Court nominee’s mind, someone like him — a Yale graduate, a golden man-child, a former football player — could never have a drinking problem. Kavanaugh never said this outright, but this odious misconception wafted through the subtext like a stale beer.

I caught the first real whiff during Kavanaugh’s tense exchange with Senator Mazie Hirono, after the Democrat from Hawaii asked Kavanaugh if he’d been a heavy drinker in college. Kavanaugh, floundering and seething at this suggestion, deflected: “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country. I had no connections there. I got there by busting my tail in college.” While Kavanaugh’s entire defense that day was built around his triumphs, here he was using his CV more pointedly: to nullify any implication of a drinking problem. In Kavanaugh’s eyes, academic and professional success not only negate any responsibility for alleged alcohol abuse — he made up for it in gold stars —, but the very possibility of alcohol abuse in the first place.

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HBD: Yosemite National Park

“Yosemite Valley, California, 1865,” Library of Congress

Happy Birthday, Yosemite! It was on 128 years ago today that the California Valley was designated a national park, a development spurred in large part thanks to Carleton Watkins’ incredible snapshots of the park, like the circa 1865 images above and below.* He was kind of like the John James Audubon of landscape.

Reprinted from coast to coast, Watkins’ exposed  increasingly industrialized, urbanized Americans to nature’s bounty, convincing them and political leaders alike that our land deserves protection from ravenous, capitalistic development. If only contemporary politicians saw things the same way.

You can read all about Watkins’ impact on saving Yosemite  in Tyler Green’s upcoming book, Watkins: Making the American West.

(*This development also helped precipitate the collapse of the racist, socialist Kaweah Colony.)

“Yosemite’s Domes, 1865,” Library of Congress

 

“Cathedral Rock, 1865,” Library of Congress