My Book Signing At Mitchell’s Book Corner

JNLFBookSign at MBC

Well, after not showing my face on Main Street for the Daffodil parade since I was probably a child, I will be there – well, indoors at least.

I am pleased to announce that Mitchell’s Book Corner has asked me to do a book signing on Saturday, April 25th from 10-11AM for my book Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island: How Island Women from the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Centuries Lived a Life Contrary to Other American Women. Being an alum of Mitchell’s (or a “book nymph” as a few of us referred to ourselves under the “Book Goddess” Mimi Beman), makes it extra special for me having assisted numerous island and world famous authors with their book signings. Working at Mitchell’s was my first fulltime, year-round job when I graduated from college. And it was a great learning experience. Mimi hired me based on my “connection” to the Mitchell family –having worked, by that time, at the Maria Mitchell Association for about a decade (I started volunteering at the Mitchell House about 1986 or so). It did add to the confusion – I once answered the phone at MBC by saying, “Mitchell House.” Thankfully, it was Mimi on the line – can you believe? A little dismayed but then she started to laugh heartily.

So stop by and say hello and support your local independent bookstore!


Time Capsule

Lib sheathing

We continue to move forward with the work on the exterior of the MMA Science Library – soon to become the EcologyLab/Classroom and a state-of-the-art natural science collections storage facility – and planning for the interior. The roofer was back to complete some minor work on the original roof tiles from the 1930s and the carpenter is now getting ready to work on the gutters and downspouts. The engineer was here to assess the drainage around the building – we seem to collect a lot of water as we are at the bottom of the slight incline on Vestal Street. The plan is to find better ways to get water away from the building.

The carpenter also worked on re-shingling a small area on the south side of the building where water had been leaking from a gutter – now repaired – and that was also heavily shaded by some hedge that has now been removed to allow that area to breathe. Happily, the only rotted part was the shingles which were doing their job. Once the shingles were stripped away, the original circa 1830 sheathing boards were revealed as you see here. A time capsule in a way because these boards are part of the original William Mitchell schoolhouse. In 1919, the MMA was given the building by a Mitchell family member. The building was picked up, rotated, and put on a new foundation to serve as the MMA Science Library. Some minor alterations were made as the building had sat vacant for a few years but it was moved intact to where you see it today.

Lib sheathing 2

I like to think that William Mitchell may have run his hands over these sheathing boards as he thought about the new school he was going to open. In Nantucket fashion however, when he taught in this building it was on Howard Street. Once he no longer owned it, it sort of followed him – coming to live on Vestal Street around the late 1830s or so. Later it became the West Introductory School – a public school.

The other interesting point to make is the holes in the sheathing boards. You don’t see many holes do you? That means that the shingles currently on it are likely only the second ones put on! And the only ones to be put on with tar paper! Now that is really exciting.


The Power of Memory

Little things are at play in my mind. I do not have a photographic memory but I have perhaps something similar with voice and smell and experience that holds onto the littlest things. I remember conversations with exact detail, sounds, smells, and what someone was wearing during some event or other. Unfortunately, such a memory can be a little frustrating and overwhelming, especially when someone says, “I never said that,” because I remember with clear detail what a person said or did. My niece also has such a memory. She brings things up from when she was very little or reminds someone that they actually said this, not that. To top it off, she is only eight years old! Such a memory can also be a painful because people who are no longer with us and activities you participated in with them are so fresh in your mind.

I was probably only 3 or so but I remember visiting my great-grandmother (Mama Minnie) with my father. I remember her opening the garage door – they had an automatic opener very avant-garde in the 1970s – and seeing her standing on the stoop inside. I remember the long bench in her kitchen and the gentle swooshing noise as she moved with her walker slightly dragging one of her braced legs – she had Paget’s Disease. I remember her dark living room with sofas encrusted in plastic – protection from wear and tear! I remember my other great grandmother – Other Nana – and sitting at her feet playing with the laces on her shoes as my parents and Nana worked in the basement. I was not allowed down there so I sat with Other Nana, eating gum drops out of the cow candy dish and watching “The Osmond Show.” I was less than three years old, maybe two at the most – my brother had not yet been born.

Sometimes a smell will overpower me, as if a person from my past is right there. My Nana’s perfume for instance. Or a place. At 12, I remember sitting under the Mitchell House grape arbor listening to Elizabeth Yager speak of the Mitchell family. She knew so much detail that I always thought of her being related to them. She wasn’t – but she did know cousins of Maria’s. She was probably in her 80s as she sat there on the bench talking to me. I sat on the flagstone. I remember her visor and her neat housedress in light blue and her Ked sneakers with tennis socks.

The more I remember these people the more they continue to live. I am a firm believer in that. That is why at the Mitchell House, when someone is on a tour with us, it’s more like storytelling in a way. Recounting events in the lives of the Mitchells, their own stories or words about their daily life. Bringing it to life so that we not only learn about the past, but also the people who shaped our present. Retelling the stories of Maria’s cousins and nieces and nephews – stories I learned from those who knew them (like Elizabeth) – it’s not a direct connection but it’s closer than you find in most museums. It’s unique and makes their stories my own and their stories yours as well.


Hot Off the Press: The Daring Daughters of Nantucket Island


I posted this a few months ago. I post it again as a way to say thank you to Mitchell’s Book Corner (MBC) for featuring my book in its advertisement in the March 26 edition of the Inquirer and Mirror. As a MBC alum, I think I burst a button – between the ad and having my book on the front table at MBC – thank you!

Well, I finally did it. After many, many requests and at the urging of many, I published a small book. It took me a little longer than I hoped but I have managed to take my master’s thesis and put it into something I hope will start a better conversation concerning Nantucket women and give them more credit then, “they had to do it.” As the curator of the Mitchell House, Archives and Special Collections, it’s pretty obvious what I am up to my ears in besides historic preservation, collections care, and outreach; I also eat, sleep, and breathe Nantucket history – women, Quakers, architecture, the history of the MMA, you name it, I am constantly reading, researching, and learning about it. Do I know everything? No – I learn something new every single day. But, in my travels with Nantucket women – thus far – I have come to some new conclusions and this became the basis of my master’s thesis and thus this small book I have created. I feel that I am bringing something new to the table and I hope this helps to open the discussion. I have a lot more research and writing to do – I have only barely scratched the surface here – but I felt it was time to get that conversation going.

Books are available at several places on island, including at the MMA Gift Shops, and by contacting me. A portion of the proceeds will go to a restricted fund for the Mitchell House for conservation purposes.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

March 16, 1885. In February, 1831, I counted seconds for father, who observed the annular eclipse at Nantucket. I was twelve and a half years old. In 1885, fifty-four years later, I counted seconds for a class of students at Vassar; it was the same eclipse, but the sun was only about half-covered. Both days were perfectly clear and cold.

In the 1850s, this eclipse observation was “documented” post-eclipse by Herminia B. Dassel, an artist who had come to the island to paint Abram Quary, the last male Wampanoag on the island. One of the portraits is at the Atheneum, the other at the Nantucket Historical Association. The interesting thing about the Mitchell eclipse double portrait is that it is not Maria posed with her father but instead the youngest Mitchell sister, Kate (Eliza Katherine). Maria refused to sit for the portrait. The artist would take many liberties in her interpretation of the event, the equipment, and Kate’s appearance (she looks like her eighteen year old self, not twelve year old Maria, and is not dressed as a Quaker would be). William Mitchell and the artist were finally able to convince Maria to sit for a portrait. You will find this portrait on our website, the more recognized one of her peering through a telescope and dressed as a Quaker. Maria would become close to the artist, becoming the godmother of the artist’s daughter. Dassel would also paint a portrait of William Mitchell. We have a photograph of the portrait but sadly the portrait was lost within the family.


It’s Women’s History Month – Learn Something New About The Women Who Shaped Our Island Home! Grace Brown Gardner, 1880 – 1973

Grace Brown Gardner.  Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Grace Brown Gardner. Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Grace Brown Gardner, educated in Nantucket public schools, earned a bachelor’s degree in botany from Cornell University and a master’s degree from Brown University. She taught first in the ’Sconset School, and then in New Bedford, in Fall River, and at Framingham Normal School before returning to the island in 1942 after approximately forty years of teaching. She was an active member and trustee of the Maria Mitchell Association, the Nantucket Atheneum, and the Nantucket Historical Association.

Grace Brown Gardner is renowned for her compilation of scrapbooks chronicling island life, history, and people – a lifelong occupation that began in her father’s newspaper office – and for her love of the island’s natural history. Today, the fifty-two scrapbooks are an important resource for anyone doing Nantucket research; they are housed in the Nantucket Historical Association’s Research Library. Other of her books and some ephemera are located at the Maria Mitchell Association’s Archives and Special Collections. Natural science specimens that she collected for the MMA reside in the MMA’s natural science collections.

She lived in her family home at 33 Milk Street – once known as the Big Shop – and the building that played host to the second anti-slavery meeting on Nantucket.


March Is Women’s History Month

Suffrage Statue

And as I stated a few posts ago, every month and everyday should be Women’s History Month.

One way to honor the women who have made our world what it is – and the young girls and women who are following in their footsteps – is to learn something new about a woman in history from your community, your family, or who has contributed nationally or internationally – from big to small contributions – every contribution means something.

And here is another thing to think about when contemplating the role of women in our society – did you know, that of all the monuments on the National Mall in Washington, DC, none has been built exclusively to honor women in our history? The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) has been striving to change that for many years. In December, their bill to form a commission was signed into law – meaning now they can fund, staff, and aid a commission to determine the feasibility of such a museum (it’s a long and tedious process). In the past, such commissions for monuments and museums on the Mall were government funded but this time – and from now on (guess they figured the ones to be the first to fund it privately would be women because WE CAN DO IT!) – it has to all come from private monies. There is one spot left on the Mall for one more museum. In the words of the NWHM, being on the Mall would mean mainstreaming women’s history. Mitchell House is a charter member of the NWHM. This is the same group that raised the funds to bring the sculpture you see here out of the Capitol basement (Yes, the founding mothers of women’s rights were relegated to the basement) and into the Rotunda. Lucretia Coffin Mott – a native Nantucketer, Quaker, and distant cousin of Maria’s – Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are featured in this sculpture.

This is a group well-worth the support of all of us. It’s high time our government and all of us, “remembered the ladies.”


Women’s Suffrage and Lady Gaga

Image courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Image courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

I have posted this during Women’s History Month before but because it is March and again Women’s History Month, I think it’s worth repeating. It’s clever and helps to tell an important story in women’s history while giving it a bit of a 21st century twist. It comes via the National Women’s History Project.


Maria Mitchell In Her Own Words

Maria Mitchell, ca. 1865

Feb 4 {1871}

My dear Sally,

Anne Maria wants thee to give or lend her that cameo pin. She thinks that she would like to wear it. I have been to Phil{Adelphia} again, and to Baltimore and really enjoyed it. I found in Baltimore some very nice schools. I met the family of Ephraim Gardner at one of my lectures.

Of course I have made some money, but I have charged too little. So, now, just as I have no applications, I have raised my price. It is a very easy thing to do, as for an audience of 250 I do not need to raise my voice at all.

I feel very independent at Vassar because I find that even at the rate II have charged in lecturing, it pays better, a great deal than Vassar. Of course it is not a desirable business. I stood for the first time in Baltimore and found it just as easy.

Anne Maria (or Annie Maria as her family called her) was the only child of William Forster Mitchell and his wife Charlotte Dow Mitchell. She was, of course, named for two of her aunts. The cameo Maria refers to in this letter to her eldest sister is a cameo Maria acquired in Italy on her 1858 trip. She purchased it for her mother. This cameo has descended through the Mitchell family – Annie Maria’s line – and is still in the family. It was loaned to me for an exhibition I created on Maria and Nantucket women in 2007. Obviously, Sally did loan – or in this case did give –it to Annie Maria.

No matter where Maria went, she met someone from Nantucket – the same story continues today for Nantucketers – even halfway across the world. What I find interesting is her discussion of increasing her fees for lectures – Maria was never paid an equal amount to that of the male professors at Vassar during her tenure and it was a constant source of battles for her. But obviously, the lecture circuit helped to pay the bills.


In Celebration of Black History Month

The steamship ISLAND HOME. Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

The steamship ISLAND HOME. Photograph courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Frankly, every month (read day) should be Black History Month and every month (read day, again) should be Women’s History Month. In my travels through island history, and particularly island women’s history, I have never ceased to be amazed by the remarkable people who have called Nantucket home. Maria Mitchell would want you to know about each and every person – likely saying they did more than she. One woman who has fallen through the cracks is Hannah Cook Boston. Many are familiar with the name Absalom Boston. Among many of Boston’s accomplishments, he was the well-known black captain of the all-black-crewed whaleship Industry, as well as a successful businessman, abolitionist, and one of the founders of the African Meetinghouse and School. Twice widowed, Boston married Hannah Cook in 1827 a woman with whom I would like you to be familiar. Born in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in 1795, Hannah Cook Boston instantly became a mother to Absalom’s three children. Hannah was an equal partner in her marriage, just as all Nantucket women were. She became the mother of five children, helped with the creation and running of the African Meetinghouse, and supported her husband in his work with desegregation of the island schools. When Absalom died in 1855, he left Hannah a sizable estate. However, over a short time, the estate dwindled to almost nothing because of the economic downturn on the island due to many things, including the Great Fire of 1846, the demise of whaling, and the Gold Rush, which lured so many away from Nantucket.

Faced with having to find a means to support herself, Hannah looked for work outside the home. Unlike many other black island women however, Hannah did not become a domestic servant. Instead, she went to sea – following in the footsteps of her own family and her husband – by becoming the stewardess on the steamship Island Home, the first female steamship stewardess in fact. She was not serving a family, but working for the Nantucket Steamboat Company – taking care of its female passengers in the Ladies Cabin. Hannah passed away in 1857 after only a short time serving on board the steamer, but her taking this position encouraged other island women to follow suit, for several others were later employed as stewardesses on Nantucket steamships.

Now here is another thing, Maria Mitchell traveled on board the Island Home in 1857. She likely knew Hannah already but even more exciting to me is that Hannah likely was the stewardess during Maria Mitchell’s trip – the beginning of Maria’s trip to the southern United States and later Europe as a young lady’s chaperone. Now, how interesting is that?!