What is history? By straight definition it is the study of past events, particularly in human affairs.
In the early 1960s, an English Historian named Edward Hallett Carr wrote a book titled What is History. It was a study of historiography (study of historical writing/the writing of history). The book discusses history, facts, the bias of historians, science, morality, individuals and society, and moral judgments in history. I find that so timely considering the craziness of revisionist history overtaking the US today.
Allow me to quote Cambridge University on his book (Cambridge University Press printed it originally in 1961):
…Historiography consists partly of the study of historians and partly of the study of historical method, the study of the study of history. Many eminent historians have turned their hand to it, reflecting on the nature of the work they undertake and its relationship both to the reader and to the past….. he chose as his theme the question ‘What is History?’ and sought to undermine the idea, then very much current, that historians enjoy a sort of objectivity and authority over the history they study. At one point he pictured the past as a long procession of people and events, twisting and turning so that different ages might look at each other with greater or lesser clarity. He warned, however, against the idea that the historian was in any sort of commanding position, like a general taking the salute; instead the historian is in the procession with everyone else, commenting on events as they appear from there, with no detachment from them nor, of course, any idea of what events might lie in the future.
Carr also discussed the influence that a society will play on forming the approach of the historian and the interpretation of historical facts. He wrote about how historians as individual people are also influenced by the society that surrounds them. He also wrote about the cause and effect of history, and that history is human progression. It’s fascinating, really. It makes you understand how and why certain historical events seem so different from generation to generation.
So let’s look at our history in the USA. We are a country born of immigrants, yet today we seem to have such issues with them. Truthfully, nothing new as every era in the U.S. has historically had issues with various ethnicities coming to the U.S. in search of their American dream, correct?
We as Americans have ugly wars in our past. It’s all part of our history. How we got here today, has it’s roots in our past. It’s how we learn and grow as a society.
Today we are a nation seething with anger and self-righteousness. People love one politician, and hate another. People love each other, and also hate each other. It is kind of part and parcel of the human condition, is it not?
We learn from history what we do not wish to repeat, correct? So why is it people do not get if we do not acknowledge and learn from our history we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes?
Our history is not pretty. No history is 100% pretty. Even fairy tales are not 100% pretty, so why is it people think they can change the history by removing statues? I get why people want to remove some statues – like Robert E. Lee. Even when some versions of history try to be gentle, there isn’t exactly much that is truly redemptive about him. But his personal history was interesting, and he seems to have been a contradiction of himself at times. (And no I am not a fan of his, that is merely an observation after doing a bit of reading on him when writing this post.)
At the center of the Robert E Lee and tearing down of statues debate is slavery. Trump asked if we were going to start removing George Washington things as well, and as a column in the Chicago Tribune asks, where do we as Americans draw the line?
Here is a snippet from the article by Eric Zorn:
It can be an interesting and difficult debate — think of Christopher Columbus, Henry Ford, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson and other historical figures whose great accomplishments are tainted by words or deeds that horrify those with modern sensibilities….It’s an easy distinction. Washington, Jefferson and other flawed founders built this country. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other rebels tried to tear it apart. Unlike Washington and Jefferson, they have no significant compensating virtues or accomplishments to counterbalance their treachery and justify the numerous honors and tributes bestowed on them as symbols of Southern “heritage.”…
This doesn’t mean, as one piously aggrieved reader wrote, that we must purge our personal libraries of accounts of the Civil War. It doesn’t mean we have to sanitize our museums, pave over our battlegrounds or write the Confederacy out of history textbooks. It doesn’t even mean that good ol’ boys and girls can’t put rebel-flag stickers on their cars or build shrines to losing generals on their property.
It means we all have to stop pretending. It means we have to acknowledge Robert E. Lee isn’t an anodyne mascot for sweet tea, stock car races and Faulkner novels, particularly for African Americans, whose continued bondage he fought for.
Ahh yes, but here in the Philadelphia area, we have to have what the media calls in situations at times “the Philadelphia connection.”
Enter Frank Rizzo.
So as I was researching, I stumbled accross this blog – I found it interesting (and timely), so let me share:
Saturday, December 09, 2006
One Tough Philly Cop, Frank L. Rizzo.
Rizzo was born in 1920 in the Italian-American neighborhood of South Philadelphia. In 1943, like his father before him, he joined the Philadelphia police force and rose to became Commissioner in 1966. Rizzo didn’t care much for the sixties. To him it was all about law and order and he had zero tolerance for those who acted otherwise….Other American cities burned, not Philadelphia. …The man was asymmetric in force and style. Look left at this photo. Check the nightstick from his sharkskin tux. This is Rizzo in 1969, Commissioner Rizzo. While attending a banquet he was informed on an impending riot. Still dressed in his tuxedo, he took charge. No delegating for Rizzo.
Rizzo went on to be mayor. He switched parties from a Democrat to a Republican was elected mayor in 1971 and 1975. No cultural ambiguity or political correctness from Frank…Rizzo lived a modest life and was never charged with anything.
Frank Rizzo died 16 July 1991. He is gone and so is a lot else of that era. America has always had flaws and so has her leaders. The cynical cadre on the left side will always make a cause of tearing down America and the tough patriotic men who created and slowly improved her…The Left has seized the agenda and will set the agenda once again. They know what they are about and their leaders stay true to their cause. The never deviate form staying the course. Conservatives have not done well because of misplaced loyalty to those that call themselves conservative and are not. Given that, which side do you think will win?
We are still having the conversation today between left and right, but that is not what we’re talking about today. We are discussing “what is history?”
Frank Rizzo was an Italian from South Philadelphia. He may have been many things, but a White Supremacist and slave owner wasn’t among them. That is inconvenient history to some, but it is the truth, isn’t it?
Helen Gym, on Philadelphia City Council seems to be one of the main proponents of Project Topple Frank, and who is she? I frankly, don’t follow Philadelphia city politics particularly closely and had never heard of her before this.
She is apparently the first Asian American woman to hold this position. She is Korean and was born in Seattle, raised in Ohio. Went to Penn as per what I see online, and after college worked as a teacher and as a reporter in Ohio. She is married and has kids and is a community activist. In 2009 she was active in a Federal Civil Rights case involving the horrible bullying of Asian students in South Philadelphia. (Click here for her subsequent testimony to the US Commission on Civil Rights.)
Here is her website – check it out HelenGym.com. She has done amazing things, but you know I just do not agree with her whole Rizzo thing.
People conveniently forget how the Italians and Irish were discriminated against in Philadelphia.
Rizzo was a big symbol to a lot of Philadelphians. Positive and negative. But that is kind of like the parallel to what is history isn’t it? The good and the bad? The pretty and the ugly? Are we going to sanitize every piece of history in this country? Can we? Should we?
Taking down Frank Rizzo’s statue is not going to do anything except create more of a divide than exists already in Philadelphia. He’s not Robert E. Lee. He wasn’t perfect, but he is part of our regional history – we can’t whitewash all of our history. The heated rhetoric on both sides does not help.
This country is exploding in ugliness. It makes me sad. I am not so naïve to think “why can’t we all get along” because it is at it’s core completely contrary to human nature.
I remember years ago, a local politician refusing to go to a historic site for a special occasion. They wouldn’t go because one of the owners (Quakers) owned slaves. It doesn’t matter that one of the more famous owners of the property freed said slaves and if memory serves, paid them wages.
And ironically, if you are a student of history, you will note that Quakers way back when before times changed, were slave owners .
But what we do need to do is to stop the hate, stop the violence. A country founded by immigrants is now so at war with itself. It’s like if we do not change course, we soon will be embroiled in a version of another civil war, or is it happening already?
No matter what our race, creed, or color we need to take back our cities and towns and crossroads from ugliness and violence. We have the knowledge and power to do it peacefully. But I just do not see taking down the statues of dead Philadelphia mayors as being helpful to that end.
History is a cruel mistress and we can’t undo certain aspects of it. We can only use what it teaches us to try to move forward more positively. We should not try to deny what happened or do a revisionist history on our history. We do need to stop pretending, acknowledge history’s dirty and horrible bits, along with the rest of it and move on.
We have to stop trying to tear each other down as well as catering to the agendas of politicians – not trying to be mean, but politicians without some sort of agenda are few and far between, aren’t they? We need to be the Americans our forefathers fought and died for, a nation of immigrants yearning for a better life and a desire to be free from tyranny. The thing about tyranny is it comes in many forms.
Some will like this post, and others will not. This is something I have been thinking about and I hope I have articulated in a way that provokes thoughtful conversation, not a litany of angry, threatening comments.
Please, be a part of the solution to stop the madness infecting this country, not feed it’s eternal fever. Use our history to make us better in the future.
I wonder, what will the history books say 25 years from now, 50 years from now, and 100 years from now about what is going on across this country right now? How will they recount the history we are presently living?
For further commentary on Rizzo-Statue-Gate:
Was Frank Rizzo racist, or a product of his time?
by David Gambacorta, Chris Brennan & Valerie Russ – Staff Writers
That Rizzo statue is history! (No, seriously…put it in a museum)
Updated: AUGUST 17, 2017 — 12:07 PM EDT by Will Bunch, STAFF COLUMNIST
Kenney says Art Commission will make the call on Rizzo statue
Updated: AUGUST 22, 2017 — 2:20 PM EDT
by Chris Brennan, STAFF WRITER
Frank Rizzo mural defaced in South Philly Updated: AUGUST 19, 2017 — 1:31 PM EDT
by William Bender, Staff Writer
Since then it has been locally featured in articles in both the Main Line Times and this past weekend in The Philadelphia Inquirer. It also won best foreign film at The Charleston Film Festival over the weekend. It airs this Friday, November 11 on PBS – at 7:30 PM on WHYY.
Tonight Minter Dial joined family, friends, and many others as we saw an advance screening of the companion documentary to his book at The Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Some of us also had the good fortune to spend some additional time with Minter beforehand at Xolo Tacos in Bryn Mawr. The opening photo was after he signed my copy of his beautiful book which I read cover to cover in one sitting.
It is a sad, beautiful, bittersweet tale of his own journey to learn about a grandfather he never knew and his grandfather’s tale.
His grandfather survived over 2 years in a Japanese internment camp in World War II but never made it home.
There are other stories within the stories including of his grandfather’s US Naval Academy ring (Class of 1932). I am not saying any more because I want people to buy the book AND watch the documentary on Friday.
We have had such a brutal campaign season and tonight was a welcome respite and a tangible reminder of what it is to be an American, and a reminder of what our members of the armed forces have fought and died for since the Revolutionary War.
At the Q and A after the film, Minter read an excerpt of a speech given by his great grandfather who was a United States Senator from South Carolina 1919 to 1925. Senator Nathaniel Barksdsle Dial’s last speech while a U.S. Senator was eerily timely today, in 2016. He spoke of how he was sick of the then political divisiveness he saw in his day. It was astounding.
Seeing this film tonight was the perfect reminder of who we should all want to be as Americans. In that vein, I am going to mention there is a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to get The Last Ring Home on PBS from coast to coast. If you are so inclined, there are a little over 10 days to raise the rest of the funds.
I know I have readers down in Washington DC and you have an opportunity to see The Last Ring Home tomorrow November 9th at noon at the U.S. Navy Memorial.
Ok off to see if we have a president yet.
Thanks for stopping by!
So I am a period drama junkie. 18th and 19th century are particular favorites. And first half of 20th century. Poldark, Downton Abbey, anything Jane Austen, Upstairs Downstairs, Duchess of Duke Street, Lillie and so on.
I had remembered hearing Amazon had picked up Julian Fellowes next series Doctor Thorne, This is four part television drama adaptation of the Anthony Trollope novel.
Anthony Trollope was a prolific writer. I think he produced over 80 works in his lifetime. Most were novels, but he wrote a couple of plays and also wrote a few biographies. He was born in 1815 and died in 1882. He wrote novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters. Doctor Thorne is really the story of oprhan Mary Thorne, penniless and with undisclosed parentage, who grows up under the guardianship of her uncle Doctor Thorne. She spends much of her growing up in the company of the Gresham family at Greshamsbury Park estate.
As the years progress, the past starts to impinge and the financial woes of the Gresham family threaten to tear relationships apart. We are introduced to the characters, the daughters of the seemingly elite Gresham Family are planning a wedding. Then we are introduced to the class structure of Victorian England in all it’s glory.
Mr. Fellowes adapted “Doctor Thorne” (which was directed by Niall MacCormick) from an 1858 novel by Anthony Trollope, the third in his Barchester series. Trollope remains largely unknown in America, which Mr. Fellowes notes regretfully. But “Doctor Thorne” will feel familiar to fans of Trollope’s more famous near-contemporary, Jane Austen. It’s about a smart, unmarriageable young woman and the various scenarios that could eventually render her marriageable.
Maybe that is why I like Trollope as a writer, because he in Austenesque. But it is a lovely mini-series with amazing photography, terrific acting, and costumes and settings to day dream about. If you have Amazon Prime you can watch it for free, and I also bet it is available on DVD.
Doctor Thorne got me thinking about the Main Line. I bet if Anthony Trollope were alive today and live in the Philadelphia area, he would have some fun with the “Main Line”.
After all, we have the Main Line of yesterday, and the more homogenized suburb meets urban sprawl it has become.
The Main Line historically was founded along the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Main Line”, it from downtown Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue, ending in Paoli. (Not Malvern. The Main Line ended at Paoli. Although if you remember the old mnemonic “Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies” there is that debate. But the Main Line never included Malvern for example – which is just fine in my humble opinion.) The history of the area which dates back to yes, the late 1600s, became more famous with the birth of the railroad line that bought privileged Philadelphia families. I ought to know, I am related to one of the servents, interestingly enough.
My great grandmother on my mother’s side, Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt family in Haverford. As a matter of fact, my late maternal grandfather John Francis Xavier Gallen and one of his brothers (Bill I think) learned how to ride a bicycle on Grays Lane from pieces they put together to form a bike that they found in Cassatt family stables or a barn or something.)
Alexander J. Cassatt
Born in 1839 in Pittsburgh, Cassatt was a leading civil engineer and railroad executive of his time. The son of a wealthy banker, he received much of his education in Europe prior to graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Known for being hardworking, arrogant, and somewhat reserved, Cassatt embodied the qualities of the Industrial Age, notably those of dignity, strength, and discipline. He was rather aristocratic in appearance and was a member of every prominent club, including the Farmer’s Club, a social organization of some of Philadelphia’s wealthiest men who met at one another’s estates to discuss livestock breeding and horticultural practices. An avid sportsman who was particularly fond of thoroughbred horses, Cassatt was the proprietor of a 600-acre farm in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. In addition to owning an art gallery, the man of ample resources enjoyed cricket, hunting, yachting, and coaching. Cassatt was one of the original officers of the Merion Cricket Club, located next to Haverford station on Montgomery Avenue. His sister was the famous painter, Mary Cassatt, and his wife was the niece of former president James Buchanan. Although Cassatt’s accomplishments are numerous, he is particularly known for having improved the operating conditions of the railroad, as well as having introduced the air brake and instigated the construction of Pennsylvania Station, one of the two principal rail terminals in New York. Having risen through the various ranks of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Cassatt was summoned from retirement to become the company’s seventh president. He died in office at the age of sixty-seven.
Built in 1872, Cassatt’s Haverford estate was called Cheswold. Hotchkin describes the house as being situated on a “large, verdant, undulating lawn” (141). Although it has since been demolished, the structure was constructed on forty acres of land acquired from Edmund Evans, a prominent Philadlphian who later became a close friend of Cassatt. The country residence was originally intended as a summer retreat for Cassatt and his family, but a fire destroyed the dwelling in 1935. Designed in a late Victorian-Gothic style, the house contained approximately thirty rooms. In her biography on Cassatt, Patricia Davis includes some description of the interior of the dwelling. She states the vast entrance hall was accented by walnut paneling and stained glass windows (43). Each of the seven bedrooms contained a marble fireplace, and the study was enhanced by a copper chandelier, in addition to wall and ceiling paneling in mahogany (43). There was a stable attached to the house, where Cassatt kept his horses, but the gatehouse is the only trace of the residence which remains today. Although certain historians have attributed the building’s design to Frank Furness and Allen Evans, recent research has disputed this claim. It is believed, however, that Furness was responsible for the alteration of Cassatt’s Philadelphia residence, which he purchased in the late 1880s.
Now the farm referred to is a good portion of the land bulldozed to create the development we know as Chesterbrook. Then it was known as Chesterbrook Farm.
The families and stories of the original Main Line inspired novels and movies (The Young Philadelphians, The Philadelphia Story, High Society, Kitty Foyle for example.)
Philadelphia Society was at one time no joke. Old Philadelphia families and the Social Register. What is the Social Register? Why a directory of names and addresses of prominent American families who are claimed to be from the social elite. Inclusion in the Social Register has historically been limited to members of polite society, members of the American upper class and The Establishment, and/or those of “old money” or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) families, within the Social Register cities. When I was a kid, my favorite part of the Social Register was the special summer volume that had the summer addresses – Maine, the Hamptons, Watch Hill, etc.
Oh no, I am not from a Social Register family. I am the pure product of Pennsylvania peasant stock and fine with that. But I went to private school, so I was around members of these storied families every day. Because I was at Shipley, doors opened. Living on the Main Line in the “right neighborhoods”, also opened doors. I did not understand it all then, truthfully I was somewhat oblivious. These were just the people I grew up around. Some were from these families and lived in huge and often drafty old houses and others were from more regular homes.
I will tell you quite honestly that it was moving to the Main Line that made me aware of racial and religious divides.
Back to the Social Register. And an interesting little true story. Once upon a time when I was in my early 20s I had a roommate whose family for the most part were Social Register. Only to her dismay, her rather liberal mama in a slightly hippy dippy moment chose to exit the Social Register. This old roomie, who would like to forget the long away and far away time of going to Downingtown High School spent a lot of time drafting letters for re-admission to the Social Register and throwing them away. Her pretensions were somewhat sad as well as amusing. I do not know if they ever let her back in and what it ultimately got her.
She still lives in a slightly fringe Main Line neighborhood undoubtedly to say she lives on the Main Line. She grew up in a beautiful part of Chester County. I do not, to this day, understand her need to run from that. I guess it did not meld well with the image she was crafting for herself.
When I was growing up you had these rites of passage. Dancing class. Things like Friday Evenings, Paoli Parties, JDA and SDA. There was one at Merion Cricket too I think, but I can’t remember the name – I seem to remember it was on Tuesdays. It was quite the mama coup to get your kids into these things. We went kicking and screaming in formal attire. Personally I developed an aversion to long formal plaid taffeta skirts and a woman named Mrs. Farber.
Mrs. Brent Harrison Farber. She was a dragon lady in Gold Lamé structured enough to be a suit of armor. And she had helmet hair that did.not.move. How we hated that woman. My childhood friend David can tell you of the fun we had through all of the years of Junior Dancing Assemblies and Senior Dancing Assemblies (JDA and SDA) stuffing stale pretzel bits through the grates of the Merion Tribute House where these things were held. I swear today you can still smell the pretzel bits in your imagination if you walk into the place.
One time Mrs. Farber dragged me into the kitchen of Merion Tribute on a Friday night to read me the riot act (“I will call your MOTHER young lady!’) She had arbitrarily decided on a dancing partner for me. He was at least six inches shorter than I at the time (I am only 5′ 6″ now so you can only imagine) and he was seriously miserable.
I did these things essentially because my mother wanted me to. Sometimes I enjoyed the things and sometimes I did not. A lot of the time I did not, if I am honest. I did not swim with the big fish in the true golden ponds of affluence. We lived in one of the “right neighborhoods” in the North Side of Haverford, but to the manor born I am not. So while for a lot of my friends all this pre-training for the land of Debutante Balls this stuff was expected and second nature, to me it was expected, yes, but I would question it in my head.
So when we as young ladies graduated from our Main Line Private Schools we did so in white dresses. I guess technically my graduation from Shipley was my first “white party”, wasn’t it. Then next was college and debutante balls.
I was in the cotillion of the Philadelphia Charity Ball. It started in 1881, so when our crew did the cotillion and some bowed it was the 100th anniversary. The event was in December, today it is in November.
I did not bow. Thank god. Bowing meant you were a full fledged debutante. Back way way way back girls making their debut into society meant they were ready to be married off. In our day it meant staying at the then Belluvue-Stratford and raising hell afterwards. One year a friend’s brother broke his ankle or something using the giant ashtrays that used to be by the elevator doors on the various room floors as hurdles.
I was a member of the cotillion. The sort of ladies in waiting for the actual debutantes. We dressed all in white, and had elbow length white kid gloves. Tom Crater from Nan Duskin personally helped my mother choose my dresses that year. I forget who the white one was designed by, but I had another dress from that time frame I loved that was Victor Costa. Back in the day, that man , Tom Crater, was the first and last word in Philadelphia fashion.
Leading up the Charity Ball there were events where we all met one and other. Something in the summer, I think at Ardrossan back then or some place in Chestnut Hill and then well, pre-ball rehearsals to teach us the cotillion dance. And Bobby Scott (Robert Montgomery Scott) called our names out as we were all introduced – cotillion members and debutantes alike.
Now I was not dating anyone at the time of my December 1981 cotillion appearance. That horrified my mother, as a matter of fact every time I was not dating someone and even when it was I often horrified her, but I digress. I chose as my cotillion partner a guy who I was friends with in college who was on the Young Men’s Committee.
No no no said my mother, so she chose me an escort. A guy older than myself but shorter. A member of the Mask and Wig at Penn. Nice guy, showed up with the requisite cotillion bouquet from Robertson’s but we had absolutely nothing in common, and nothing to talk about. Long story short is he showed up in the following year’s program book (1982) in a photo sitting by himself on a bench outside the ballroom of the Bellevue reading the 1981 program book. My mother was pissed off about that for easily 15 years. (“You. Embarassed. Me“)
So in that realm there were other far more exclusive debutante affairs, namely The Assemblies. The Assemblies started around 1848 and well you literally had to be born into certain families to even attend. I never went to The Assemblies ever because although I think they may have lightened up today, back in 1981 you couldn’t even attend the ball as a guest if you were not from the “list” of select families. (Read about the Assemblies circa 1986 here.) I was literally not eligible to attend. Which was fine, except I always heard it was a heck of a lot of fun including all their 200 year old rituals. It is one of the oldest social gatherings in this country.
If you want to read a tongue in cheek cliff notes outline of some of the society events and what not that made Philadelphia great, read the very tongue in cheek 2008 article from Philadelphia Magazine titled
So now that we were young ladies, we were expected as we grew older to do proper Philadelphia volunteer work. I was co-chair of the Young Friends of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I worked a few years on Opening Night (including co-chairing the young friends event during an Orchestra Strike year), and was briefly on the Main Line Delaware Committee.
Hence my disdain of Orchestra and Orchestra related events today. When you see how the Good Ship Lollipop is run and how the volunteers are treated, and how some of the volunteers themselves behave, you discover it’s a club you do not necessarily need ever again.
I briefly toyed with other events like Historic Landmarks Young Friends or something like that (I liked going to parties at the Physick House and Todd House). At the time that particular committee was run like a secret society meets mafia by a committee of special ladies who were nice to you as long as you were useful. The trademark of the head bitchy blonde at the time was she promised you a spot on the committee if you helped them out on their events first. Long story short is she totally used friends of mine and myself for silent auction items and then had the organization’s by-laws changed so she didn’t have to put us on the committee.
Hand to God, it happened. We were dumbfounded. There were quite a few of us who got amazing silent auction items for their event, go the wine donated and so on and so forth. And at the end of the day, she used us. And as chief mean girl, she got to do this and no one publicly said a word. Behind the scenes, polite murmurings of “how awful”, and “we are so sorry”.
We did a LOT of events back in the day. Ballet, Orchestra, Art Museum, Crafts Show and so on. Fair committees, garden party committees, antique show committees. We were on some committees together, and just attended events of other committees friends were on.
I pretty much stopped all of it after 9/11. That was the point that I was comfortable admitting I was done with a lot of those things that might have been for my mother, but were not truly for me long term. It all also seemed so frivolous and unimportant in the scheme of national current events at the time. That and the epiphany of the fact that the people on those committees would always need someone like me, more than I would ever need them.
I still did some things that I loved like volunteering for the Harriton Plantation Fair (the 26th fair is Saturday September 24th in Bryn Mawr and it is still lovely!) but dumped a lot of the rest of it. I was much happier and my checkbook was happy too. All those black tie and cocktail dresses were getting more and more expensive.
Along with the things you were supposed to “do” came the society pages and the society editors. I have touched on this before, in other posts. Until she died in 1986, for the 30 plus years prior, Ruth Seltzer was the first and last word as far as society editors. She wrote a column. It wasn’t all photos with captions, it was maybe a photo or two, but she wrote actual articles – a true column. She wrote about the charity and who was on the committee and what they wore and the guests. She would even tell you how the food was and what was served. It was a really big deal to make it into her column.
When Mrs. Seltzer died, the society editor of the Main Line Times, some say Carol Springer thought she would ascend to the seat of power in the world of society editors. She did not and grew increasingly bitter and was often unpleasant to deal with. She played the game of exclusives. If she was to cover your event, it was to be “exclusive”. She also would only take your photo if you were from the Main Line. So that meant way back when luminaries like Eugene Ormandy or Riccardo Muti would not be in society photos for the Main Line Times.
She died in 2011, so now I can tell an amusing story. Gaming the society editors when we were in our 20s and early 30s was like a sport. She was the one we gamed the most because the others were pretty nice at the time. In those days, the society editor asked you to be in a photo, you did not ask them. So Carol would invite us to gather for a photo (especially if she regularly photographed our parents) and we would grab our friends and the ones from Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Chester County, or wherever would magically be from the Main Line….since she would not photograph them otherwise.
We did this at event after event. After a while it was hard to have a straight face because some of our friends one week would say they lived in Wayne, and Wynnewood the following week, and Gladwyne after that. Only with her. A friend of mine and I also had a comical competition going on with a guy we knew at the time back then – to see which group of friends could end up in the society pages more than the other. That was a lot of fun because you were not supposed to pose for one editor after posing for another paper’s editor.
Carol would not speak to my mother or I for close to a decade because we appeared in the first society page Nancy Gould did for the new newspaper Main Line Life. It was very funny. She had this whole Queen Victoria we are not amused thing going on. And OMG she would make a face at you.
Now before the last society editor ascended to the role at the now defunct Suburban and Wayne Times there was a truly lovely lady named Helen Duffy who did it. She was so nice and she wrote columns as well as did photos. She died in 1998. I do not know anyone who remembers her less than fondly. She was just nice.
Today Society Editors are a dying breed. Sort of like actual society. The newspapers are kind of sort of seemingly doing away with space once reserved for the Society Pages – in the Main Line papers they used to have their own entire separate section weekly. Today the society photos are mostly in the magazines. I do not recognize most of the folks in the photos. There is one former society editor who has their own website and who covers things and sells photos, but I do not know if she can really be considered a society editor still since she is not attached to any media publication. She was pleasant years ago, and today is rather miserable. Pity, that. She was fun to chat with back in the day.
Now let’s talk about who considers themselves society these days. A mere decade ago they would be learning how to spell Gladwyne and wouldn’t be in society photos. But today people tell the society editors to take their photos instead of being invited.
I now look at coverage of events with horror. Not at who had what face life, boob job, or shot of Botox when but often at the self perceived sex symbols of it all. It’s like the TV show “What Not To Wear” lives on, with a new chapter entitled “women who should never, ever wear Lilly Pulitzer.”
Just because you can afford now to buy the dress, it doesn’t mean you should wear it, after all. I for example, am long past my Lilly wearing days and when I was my friends and I wore mostly vintage Lilly and Vested Gentress. Vested Gentress was unique to the Main Line and I thought the fabric patterns were whimsical and fun. (Read about the Vested Gentress in this 2014 blog post someone wrote) Now Vested Gentress lives on in the vintage worlds of Ebay and Etsy and I still love looking at the dresses and their patterns which still make me smile.
I have kind of gotten lost with my trip down memory lane. I guess where I was going when I started all of this comparing to Trollope or Austen was that there used to be rules that people followed. Now it is like the rules do not really exist or are liberally interpreted (queue events like Devon Horse Show and the Academy Ball.)
It used to be a big deal to garner an invitation to certain events. Now it is pretty much as long as your credit card can take the whack, anyone can go. People cluster in society photos without a clue as to what appropriate dress actually is. Then there are these organizations that host events. Membership fees required, like the ones some women join because they say they support and promote women. Do they? Or are they just an excuse to cocktail occasionally at lunchtime and pose for selfies? And who are these women? Are they captains of industry or just housewives with home based direct marketing types of businesses? Are these groups for women who didn’t join sororities or something?
Then there are the fringes of what once was society hanging on and holding court. They lecture the unsuspecting on manners and decorum. And who are they again? Emily Post?
That is why I think Anthony Trollope if he was writing today would be amused. It is almost like when he was writing and Victorian society in England was being challenged by the newer families who were industrialists and not so old families. You had the predictable characters much as you do today. You had types, much as you do today. You even had women who looked ridiculous in certain hats and outfits.
Should we file under the more things change, the more things stay the same? Sort of except I miss the truly beautiful ball gowns.
Way back when before the time of being a being a grown up and raising families we had a heck of a lot of fun at events. But I still think then it meant more than you were able to buy a ticket. And I think that is the way it should be in my view of the world.
Besides when you were in your teens and twenties it was really a lot of fun to annoy your mother. Not enough to make the who’s who of DUIs in the police briefs, just enough to tweak her.
Thanks for stopping by. Watch Doctor Thorne on Amazon Prime. You’ll like it.
OPENING DISCLAIMER: Zoya ( @hatsbyzoya on Instagram and Zoya Egan Millinery is her Facebook business page) has NOT asked me to write this post. When she sees it, it will be a surprise. Zoya is NOT compensating me for this post. There will NOT be free stuff in return. She deserves the accolades and is a small businesswoman, and well when possible, I like to support my friends. Especially when they are as talented as Zoya, which makes it a pleasure.
So back to it — One of the great things in my life are my super creative friends. Zoya Egan is no exception. Zoya is incredibly talented, smart, and just a genuinely wonderful gal. Now some have just discovered Zoya the past couple of years, and I have had the great privilege of knowing Zoya a few years longer.
She comes by her talent genetically, as her mother is a dressmaker of some renown in her native Russia.
What sets Zoya’s millinery apart from the herd of hat makers are several things:
A photo posted by Zoya Egan (@hatsbyzoya) on Aug 7, 2016 at 4:40pm PDT
Zoya’s creations are not for the thundering herd, and I am fine with that. I have other friends who have been in the millinery business in the past and there are a lot of people who call themselves artisan hat makers, but ask my friends who were such artisans and crafts people and they will tell you, not all are.
And don’t limit Zoya to her En Blanc/White Party expertise. Whatever the hat / head piece/ fascinator occasion is, check her out – Kentucky Derby events, Radnor Hunt, Devon Horse Show, Polo, weddings, ladies events, black and white tie – she can handle them all. Zoya specializes in designing beautiful, statement headpieces for any event using materials and embellishments of the highest quality.
A photo posted by Zoya Egan (@hatsbyzoya) on Aug 7, 2016 at 4:38pm PDT
A photo posted by Zoya Egan (@hatsbyzoya) on Aug 7, 2016 at 4:38pm PDT
A photo posted by Zoya Egan (@hatsbyzoya) on Aug 2, 2016 at 5:32pm PDT
This is what the ruin of Ebenezer A.M.E. church and graveyard looks like THIS week as in right now. You see, some of the East Whiteland Public Works folks went by this week to see if there was anything they could do to help those of us interested in saving this piece of history before it is too late. They were so nice to even consider doing this.
They asked how to get permission from the A.M.E. Church (national) to do this.
Good freaking question since the A.M.E. church elders are not overly communicative is a substantive way when you contact them.
Oh the irony that here they are all ready to celebrate their bicentennial in Philadelphia right after July 4th and this is how they value their history and pay tribute to their dead. What a bunch of holy hypocrites.
A.M.E. Church can you hear me now? People are willing to help and you still don’t seem to give a good god damn about these people buried here! Historically important yet everyday people.
What would Bishop Richard Allen who founded your church think? What would Bishop Richard Allen who founded your church do? Personally I think he would have come out himself to help clear the weeds. I also think he would be ashamed and disappointed in you for not being better stewards of history and of the departed.
Shame on you A.M.E. Church, shame on you .
I said in a prior post that someone asked me what it was that made me want to save the graves in the ruins of the Ebenezer AME on Bacton Hill Road in East Whiteland or what old timers in East Whiteland like to call “that old black church”. What first moved me was the grave you see above of Private Joshua Johnson(1846-1916) who was a member of Company K of the 45th of the United States Colored Troops in the Civil War.
Today is Memorial Day so I thought I would take the time to recognize Private Joshua Johnson and the other Civil War Colored Troop Soldier buried in this graveyard OWNED and ABANDONED by the A.M.E. Church. The head of the East Whiteland Historical Society told me recently that there is yet another soldier in this graveyard. (And did you know there is another abandoned graveyard of unknown denomination behind Queen Appliance in Frazer? That is more of an aside, just pointing its existence out.)
Anyway, I still can’t believe that the A.M.E. Church doesn’t give a damn about the Ebenezer A.M.E. but after YEARS of trying to get them to pay attention and discovering all of the OTHER people also ignored in years gone by, I pretty much think they don’t care about the familial history of their members or enough about the history of their churches. That makes me really sad. It also makes me wonder if I am just the wrong race and religion to be asking them about this? And if THAT is true (as has been implied by people I have spoken with) wow what a sorry state of affairs.
The A.M.E. Church is celebrating a remarkable milestone this summer in Philadelphia, their bicentennial. One would THINK or HOPE or WISH they would give a damn about the dead in the decrepit and disgraceful graveyard at Chester County’s Ebenezer A.M.E. on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer, Pa but alas, they don’t. They want to talk about their history and the struggles of their people but if they truly valued the contributions and suffering of their membership the past 200 years they would respect their dead and at least regularly tidy up this graveyard, right?
The following article appeared recently in an out of state newspaper:
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2016 3:01 am
By ANGELIQUE WALKER-SMITH
“Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me. And before I’d be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave. And go home to my Lord and be free.”
This post-Civil War African-American freedom song, often associated with the 20th century Civil Rights Movement in the United States, provides a helpful historical lens for understanding why elections have been important to African-American churches. For these churches, voting and other methods of engaging their public voices have been important in their quest in obtaining freedom from social and legal racism in the U.S., while relying on the biblical promise of a transcendent freedom in the afterlife.
Albert Raboteau at Princeton University points out the following concerning religious formation of African-American churches: “These Christians appropriated Christianity on their own terms despite what they were told or not told by their slave holders and U.S. law. African slaves experienced dissonance between their dignified African identities and the disempowering and undignified messaging of White colonizers and missionaries.”
This kind of social marginalization and oppression of people of African descent, and the acceptance of the biblical narrative of struggle, deliverance, hope and faith, have provoked and encouraged the faith of people of African descent. Such faith has informed their vision and mission to fight for a dignified and equitable quality of life as evidence of earthly freedom.
OK so maybe I am being terribly politically incorrect,but does anyone else see the pure hypocracy of a religious organization that can write things like the above and preach about the above and they can’t care for their dead in a relatively small old graveyard of land they own and probably pay no taxes on??
It’s Memorial Day and at a bare minimum they should respect those soldiers more!
So A.M.E. Church, I double dog dare you. Prove me and others wrong – take care of your dead in this graveyard. Surely if you can foot the bill for a Bicentennial Convention and celebration you can afford to clean up one small and very historic graveyard?