Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Trial of Margaret Douglass

From American State Trials:
"A Southern lady (Margaret Douglass) living with a daughter in Norfolk, Virginia sixty-six years ago (1853) and being greatly interested in the religious and moral instruction of colored children and finding that the Sunday school where they were allowed to attend was not sufficient, invited them to come to her house, where in a back room upstairs she and her daughter taught them to read and write.

She knew that it was against the law to teach slaves, and so she was careful to take none in her school but free colored children.

One day a couple of city constables entered with a warrant and marched the two teachers and the children to the Mayor's office, where she was charged with teaching them to read, contrary to law. She explained that none of the children were slaves and that she had no idea that a child could not be taught to read simply because it was black.

But the Mayor told her that this was the law, but as she had acted in good faith he would dismiss the case.

But the Grand Jury heard of it and indicted her.

At the next term of court she was tried for a violation of the Virginia code which provided that ... every assemblage of negroes for instruction in reading and writing ... was unlawful, and if a white person assembled with negroes to instruct them to read and write, he should be fined and imprisoned.

She refused the services of a lawyer and defended herself, and though she called several witnesses to show that the same thing had been done for years in the Sunday schools in the city, the jury convicted her, but placed the penalty at a fine of only one dollar.

But this was overruled by the judge:

"The Court is not called on to vindicate the policy of the law in question, for so long as it remains upon the statute book, and unrepealed, public and private justice and morality require that it should be respected and sustained.

There are persons, I believe, in our community, opposed to the policy of the law in question.

They profess to believe that universal intellectual culture is necessary to religious instruction and education, and that such culture is suitable to a state of slavery; and there can be no misapprehension as to your opinions on this subject, judging from the indiscreet freedom with which you spoke of your regard for the colored race in general.

Such opinions in the present state of our society I regard as manifestly mischievous.

... I exceedingly regret, that in being called on for the first time to act under the law in question, it becomes my duty to impose the required punishment upon a female, apparently of fair and respectable standing in the community.

The only mitigating circumstance in your case, if in truth there be any, according to my best reason and understanding of it, is that to which I have just referred, namely, you being a female.

Under the circumstances of this case, if you were of a different sex, I should regard the full punishment of six months' imprisonment as eminently just and proper.... As an example to all others in like cases disposed to offend, and in vindication of the policy and justness of our laws, which every individual should be taught to respect, the judgment of the Court is, in addition to the proper fine and costs, that you be imprisoned for the period of one month in the jail of this city.""

So there ya go, a trial with a side of sexism accompanying the main course of racism.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Girl's Two Paths

Here is another interesting historical document. Again with a feminist theme. Or anti-feminist. Also anti-romance.
Mamas don't let your babies grow up to read Sappho.
Who actually wrote poems, not a novel.

Unless they mean this....
They probably meant this.  (It was first published in 1888.)

Yet again, romance will lead you down the path to perdition. (sigh)

Going back to our two paths - I like how Virtue doesn't Flirt.  How does Virtue get a man's attention then?  Did men back then just wander door-to-door, searching for virtuous women like Diogenes with his lamp?

And apparently that baby arrived by stork. (No "murmuring how delicious it is"! Bad woman!)

By the way, this warning to women was also distributed with a white character. I suppose we should be happy the people behind it were equal-opportunity party-poopers.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tech Support Barbie

I worked tech support once. Briefly.

Nobody dressed like that.

And that perfect hair is gone after the first customer call.  :)

By the way, although I like the message that a girl can be smart and pretty at the same time, I do object to that old glasses = intelligence coding.

Yes, this is a real Barbie doll. I got the pic from the BBC. If you can't trust them, whom can you trust?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Woman To Woman

This is an interesting historical document - it's using Sisterhood to forward the abolitionist cause.  Not surprising in the North, since abolition was taken up by many churches and church work was one of the few acceptable public spheres in which women could participate. And, of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin was written by a woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe.
However, there is research coming out now that this broadsheet might have played well to the white female audience of the South, too.

Seems as long as you were female, The Man was keeping you down, regardless of color.

I've listed some books you might be interested in below.

I also want to read Gary Gallagher's book on how Hollywood has shaped our perceptions of the Civil War. Because, maybe it's just me, but I think of images from Gone With The Wind before I think of those black & white photos of the war dead. (Which on the one hand is a good thing, because those photographs are very gruesome.)

So there ya go.  Some things to think about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lizzie Borden Not Guilty - Her Period Did It

This is the bedroom where Lizzie Borden allegedly took a hatchet to her step-mother.

(And you can actually stay here in this room - the house is a bed & breakfast now.)

I've long known about the infamous axe murder of her parents and the fact that Lizzie was generally thought to have done it even though she was acquitted at trial.

Someone was certainly after them, as they had suffered from suspicious food poisoning. And Lizzie had bought poison at the drugstore.

So why a hatchet?

Well, according to The History of Murder and A Private Disgrace, Lizzie's father had recently chopped off the heads of her pet pigeons with a hatchet. (Makes ya wonder what was going on in that house - what a sick, cruel thing for a father to do.)  And she may have been thinking about that when she had a petit mal epileptic seizure. These are also known as absence seizures. Basically, the person suffering from the seizure can walk and talk and function but isn't conscious of their actions. Such seizures can happen during one's menstruation.

And it is a recorded fact that Lizzie Borden was menstruating on the day her parents were killed.

This was mentioned in Flow, that Lizzie committed the murders during - and due to - her period, and I was like, what? Seriously?

So I looked it up in The History of Murder and, sure enough, there it is. No wonder men are so afraid of a female with access to nuclear weapons. It's not just the PMS you have to worry about. It's the period during the period itself, as well. So that's, what, two weeks each month where women could be indiscriminately violent. As opposed to men....

Anyway, this theory was first put forth by Victoria Lincoln in A Private Disgrace, which I have yet to read. The theory about Lizzie and her period, that is, not the theory about man-fear. Obviously. Just checking that you were still reading attentively.  ;)

On top of the pigeon massacre, there were also some financial dealings with which Lizzie took issue. So money was a motive as well. And then the menstruation-instigated seizure caused her to act out her feelings.

It's an interesting solution to the crime.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Romantic Times Faery Ball 2010

This is the logo for the 2010 Faery Ball which will be held at the Romantic Times Convention in Columbus Ohio at the Hyatt Regency (350 North High St.) on Thursday April 29 at 8pm.

It's a costume dinner/dance ball, and the theme is the Elements - Earth, Fire, Water, Air.
I'm going as a Water sprite. :)
Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Tenth Doctor Cover Yumminess

This is SUCH a sexy cover!  I want this as a poster.  Over my bed.  :)  And so far the book is fantastic, too!  Trevor B has really captured the Tenth Doctor - I can totally visualize this as an episode.

I also like how he is handling the Daleks. And the other characters are very well drawn and sympathetic.  And there was a Blake's 7 reference.  So I'm a happy camper.

I really liked Judgement of the Judoon, too.  Loved how Colin B gave three dimensions to the Judoon commander.  Fun read - and this one had a Tintin reference.

I'm also working on The Slitheen Excursion. This one has a bunch of in-jokes for Classics majors. If you know your Greek mythology, your Heroic Age, or even your Mary Renault, you'll get more out of this.  :)

Oh, and just in case you thought I was joking - there really are posters of Ten.  Just not of this particular artwork.  :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wuthering About HeathKitty

funny pictures of cats with captionsI saw a new-to-me version of Wuthering Heights on Netflix last night and now I'm wondering if I should watch it or not.

You see, I don't like Wuthering Heights.
Love Jane Eyre.
Really don't like Wuthering Heights. Yes, I get that Heathcliff is a classic romantic doomed hero.

But Cathy married another man!

So, instead of being HeathKitty, he should have moved on. Why did he even like her to begin with? She was mean to him, selfish and annoying.

And she married another man!

How's that going to work in the afterlife? Remember, there's that thing about how Cathy and Heathcliff are ghosts together at the end--but what's-his-name is going to be there, too, right? I mean, they're buried all in a row. Are they going to have a threesome?

But I've seen several of the other adaptations - including the Timothy Dalton (yum!) version, so I should probably watch this other one just to complete the set.

What do y'all think? Are there some Wuthering Heights fans out there who disagree with my assessment?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Trial for Bastardy - 1808

Place: New York City
Time: August 1808

On Trial: Alexander Whistelo, "a black coachman"

The Story:
"Adam-colored" Lucy Williams and her black lover Alexander Whistelo had a child together, a child whom Whistelo accepted as his own until his friends (possibly named Iago?) "put it into his head that it was not his." He then refused to maintain the child, and Lucy was forced to go to the Alms-House for support.

The Alms-House objected to the community being made to support a child when the mother could name its father, and thus went after the father via the court system to make him, basically, pay child support.

Lucy swore she had always remained faithful to Alexander, so why was there confusion over the child's parentage?

Because the child was "unusually fair" with light, straight hair.

Evidence at trial centered on whether such a child could have a black father.  If it weren't for the level of obnoxiousness and bigotry, I suppose one might feel sorry for the medical "experts" called to testify, as they clearly hadn't a clue. For example:

Dr. Kissam: Black persons are almost white at their birth, but change soon after; the change is generally complete, and their true color decided in about eight or nine months; within the year it is complete.

But that wasn't all of the trial testimony - much of it revolved around Lucy's supposed sex life. Consequently, the men - doctors and lawyers - behaved like schoolboys and indulged in quite a bit of levity:

ProsecutionThe woman's testimony in one view was meritorious—it went to discharge the community from the burden of supporting a bastard child, and to oblige the true father to maintain it.

Defense (in reply): It is said her evidence was meritorious, and for the good of the community, charitable, and for the good of the Almshouse. I never before heard of such pious and patriotic fornication.

There are many different layers to this trial. One is the construction of race. Another is how illegitimacy, sex, and charity were viewed in America during the Federalist period.

And on the women's history front, we have here surfacing of a bit of ancient and troublesome, but commonly-held, folk belief - that a woman cannot get pregnant if she doesn't enjoy or consent to the sex. Yes, at one time it was considered proof that rape had not been committed if the woman became pregnant from the attack.

Hence this exchange:
Defense Attorney:  Had you not a white man in bed with you?

Lucy Williams: I had a scuffle with one once ... such a person had been in bed with me; he had turned the black man out with a pistol, and taken his place. We had a connexion but I am sure we had made no young one, for we [fought] all the while.

Lucy is certain the child is Alexander's because 1) she loves him, and 2) she fought the rapist. Therefore it simply can't be his.

This bit of personal tragedy isn't seen by the men in court, who apparently believe even being raped at gun-point is good for a laugh:

Defense Attorney: As it appears, the black man could not have got the child because it is white, nor the white man because of the fighting, it would be good to see whether the pistol-barrel could have got it?

The doctor of whom he asked the jocular question rejoins that he doesn't indulge in kinky pistol sex:
Sir James Jay, MD: Then, sir, you must inquire elsewhere, touching that matter. I have found the old practice good enough for me, and have made no experiments in the way you allude to.

In his summation, the defense attorney again dwells on the rape:
If a white man can say to a black one, get out of that bed, you black devil, till I do this thing—by division of labor, trade will be advanced—you must do your part of the duty and I mine—I will get the child and you shall father it—there will be in this manner employment for us both. Can that, may it please your Honors, be the law?

And in response to the prosecution's criticism of his experts:
What do they know, he says, more than other men? But that is not all, he goes farther and levels a shaft at your Honors on the bench, and says you have as much experience in such matters as any doctors or any persons whatsoever. Some gentlemen have a happy knack at saying anything. If I had even suspected any of your Honors of any such experience, or at all to have dipped into such matters, even from curiosity, I never should have ventured to hint at it.

The defense's tactics were successful. Despite the word of the mother traditionally being legally sufficient, the Court decided Lucy could not prove her case and Alexander was discharged from all responsibility.

It is worth pointing out again that Alexander had accepted the child as his originally.  Perhaps this trial really should have been about the so-called friends who broke up that little family.

They were true bastards.