An Anniversary and a New Focus—Savitribai Phule

2022 is the tenth anniversary of this blog. It is hard to believe that I’ve written almost 300 posts—287 to be exact. I hope to hit 300 this year. As I wrote in my first post in February 2012, I started this blog to share my ideas about the connections I have found with the men and women who went before us. From the beginning I have concentrated on women because their lives and ideas have often been neglected.  

As I look back over my posts, I see many familiar names spanning a wide history. I’ve written about Hatshepsut, the Egyptian “female pharaoh” who was born about 1485 BC and about Greta Thunberg who was born in 2003. That’s quite a range of time, but I’ve not ranged as widely in geography. Most of the women in my posts lived either in the United States or Europe. This year I am going to cast a wider net and include more women who lived in Asia, Africa, and other places on our globe. Even though I have travelled widely and visited countries around the world, I know far less than I should about their histories and peoples. This year I’ll try to broaden my vision.

Savitribai Phule is an important figure in the history of India. Born on January 3, 1831, in Maharashtra province, she is remembered now and honored as the country’s first female teacher. Her family belonged to the Mali caste, whose members traditionally grow flowers, spices, and other crops. Although Savitribai’s family was prosperous, they did not consider it appropriate to educate women, so she was illiterate when she married Jyotirao Phule. Her husband was a reformer and a strong believer in education. One of his first projects was to teach his young wife to read.

Phule Savitribai and Jyotirao

Savitribai studied with her husband and soon realized that education was the key for improving the lives of all women, especially those of the lower castes. With her husband’s support, Savitribai attended a teacher-training institute and later the two of them set up a school for girls. Soon they were running four schools for—the first schools for girls in India that were run by Indians. When they started to enroll girls from the lower castes—at that time called untouchables—however, both Savitribai and Jyotirao encountered strong opposition from many Brahmins and other higher caste Indians.

 Opponents to women’s education told Jyotirao that he would die young because he had allowed his wife to be educated. They claimed that educated women might use their skill to write letters to men outside of the family. Some protesters did not stop at making predictions. They also followed Savitribai as she walked back and forth to school and threw rotten fruit and dung at her to frighten her away from teaching. But the young couple was not deterred. They persisted in keeping their schools open and eventually they had 150 or more girls enrolled.

 Savitribai and her husband worked all of their lives to make life better for people born into the lower castes, and especially women. They introduced the name “dalit” instead of “untouchable” and helped people to enjoy the benefits of education and enjoy a more satisfying life. They campaigned against child marriage and called for better treatment for widows.

Even in the midst of her busy life, Savitribai found time to write and publish several volumes of poetry. After Jyotirao’s death, Savitribai continued his work with the help of their adopted son. When the bubonic plague struck India in 1897, she and her son set up a clinic to help victims of the plague. Savitribai died while doing this work.

Today Savitribai’s birthday on January 3, is celebrated as Balika Din in the province of Maharashtra, especially in girls’ schools. In 1998 she was honored by being the first Indian woman to appear on a postage stamp.

English language information about Savitribai and Jyotirao Phule is not widely available in American libraries, but there are a number of videos about this extraordinary couple posted on YouTube. Most of the films are produced in India and narrated in Hindi, but some have English subtitles. One that I enjoyed very much is Episode 45 of Bharat Ek Khoj entitled Savitribai

Savitribai Phule is remembered in India, but her life and work deserve to be known throughout the world.   

Three Women to Remember from 2021 Books

2021 has been a difficult year, and most of us will be glad to see it gone. We started the year with the happy news that vaccines against Covid 19 had become available, but after a tumultuous twelve months, we are still struggling to overcome hostile variants of the virus.

One of the few good things that could be said about the year is that for those of us who spent much of our time at home, it offered an opportunity to catch up on our reading. As I recall the books I have read this year, I am especially grateful for the ones that introduced me to women who have lived through some of the most fascinating periods in history.

Here are brief introductions to three women whose stories have most captivated me during 2021.

Briseis and Achilles

Briseis, a Trojan woman who lived during the tumultuous years of the Trojan War, tells her story in Pat Barker’s book, The Silence of the Girls. Briseis was a Trojan woman who was captured by the Greeks and given as a slave to Achilles. Briseis narrates the story and describes the difficult adjustment she makes to her suddenly diminished status. She paints a convincing picture of life in a camp of soldiers during a nine-year war that has stalled. The soldiers are tormented not only by the fighting, but also by a plague, which kills many of them. Briseis is an unforgettable woman and her story continues in the second book of Barker’s trilogy, The Trojan Women. We will have to wait a little longer for the final volume of the trilogy, which is promised, but not yet scheduled.

Anna Dostoevskaya

Moving forward in time, I found an unexpected woman—a woman I had never heard of—who played an important part in world literature by marrying the Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky. In his biography, The Gambler Wife: A True Story of Love, Risk, and the Woman Who Saved Dostoyevsky, Andrew D. Kaufman tells the story of Anna Grigoryevna Dostoevskaya. Born in 1846 to a middle-class family she became a stenographer and was hired by Dostoyevsky during a period when he was struggling to complete his novel The Gambler. The two fell in love and married. Despite his many gifts, Dostoyevsky’s ability to write was threatened by his gambling habit. As his business manager, editor and sometime publisher, Anna was able to guide his career and help him to become a major literary figure in Russia and in much of the world. After Dostoyevsky’s death Anna continued to publish and publicize his books. She worked tirelessly to keep his books in print and available to readers in Russia and all of Europe. I wonder whether his fame would have been as great and his genius so well-remembered if he had not had Anna to keep his name alive for the almost half century she lived after his death.

Another woman who made a lasting impact on me during this year was Fiona Hill author of There is Nothing for You Here. Hill grew up in the North of England, an area caught in economic depression because of the closure of the coal mines. Mining had been the major employment option for most people in the community, including Fiona Hill’s parents. With the disappearance of mining, Hill’s parents encouraged their children to get an education and move away from the North. Even with the encouragement of her family, it was not easy for Fiona Hill to take advantage of the educational opportunities available. Eventually, however, she attended university, moved to the United States, and became a public figure when she testified at the Congressional hearings on Trump’s impeachment.

Fiona Hill

Hill’s wide-ranging experience gives her insight into the educational systems not only in England but in the United States and in Russia. Her book is not so much a personal story, but a more general account of the barriers that keep working-class children from developing their skills and using their talents to become important participants in their communities. While leaders sign proclamations and declare goals, Fiona Hill reminds us that it is individuals who will have to learn to live in the new world that is coming. There Is Nothing for You Here points the way to changes our governments could make to prepare young people for that world.

Happy Reading for a Happy 2022!      

The Climate Is Changing and So Must We—Fiona Hill’s vision

At the Glasgow Climate Conference this past week, world leaders signed an agreement to cut back on the use of coal and other fossil fuels. Mining, manufacturing and even farming have been revolutionized over the past fifty years and more mines and factories will close as a result of these international agreements. Jobs that used to be central to every modern economy are disappearing. We know that jobs must change, the question is, how can we help people to change so that they can find security in the new economy.

Few people have been able to observe the effects of changing economies on the lives of everyday people as closely as Fiona Hill, the author of There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century.

Fiona Hill

Hill was born in 1965 and grew up in County Durham in Northern England in a community that had been devastated by the closure of coal mines during the decades following the second World War. Although Hill’s family had been miners for generations, both her father and mother were hospital workers during most of the years when they were raising their children. The title of Hill’s book, There Is Nothing for You Here, comes from the advice given to Fiona and her sister as their parents realized that education was the key to moving ahead in the modern world.

During the 1980s when Hill was growing up, education was easier to obtain in England than in the United States or in many other countries. Government support enabled children to move from local council (public) schools to university. Publicly funded stipends meant that poverty was not an insurmountable obstacle for many students, but Hill clearly shows the obstacles that stood in the way of young people who wanted to move ahead. Expenses that were ignored by the government, such as the insufficient supply of books in local libraries and schools, the cost of transportation to cities where scholarship tests were available, and the prejudice shown against students who did not fit into the middle-class mold of most university applicants made entry into the university system very difficult. Hill describes her interview for entry into Oxford as one of the worst experiences of her life.

Despite all the difficulties of moving ahead, Hill managed to acquire a university education at St. Andrew’s where she found mentors who helped her find opportunities for further study. Later, she was able to attend Harvard and earn a PhD. She also spent time in Russia where she could observe the results of the post-cold war economic turmoil on the lives of Russian students. This varied background has given her a wide range of experience about the ways in which different countries are meeting the challenges brought by changing economies.

When Hill moved to the United States, eventually becoming an American citizen, and marrying an American, she observed many similarities between the way working class families coped with change in the two countries. The American Midwest, where her husband grew up, faced the loss of manufacturing jobs just as County Durham had. Towns in the Rust Belt of the Midwest were experiencing the same difficult adjustments as towns in the UK, except that class differences in America are complicated by racial differences which also affect people’s education and job training.

There Is Nothing for You Here is a dense book, filled with the stories of various individuals who are adjusting to a new world. Hill became an expert in National Security and relations with Russia and worked in the White House during the early years of the Trump Administration. She became well known after she gave testimony during Trump’s First Impeachment Trial where the focus was on relations between the United States and Russia. Now she has given us a broader picture of growing up in a changing world. Her book raises questions about how countries can help individuals find a path to changing their lives.

While leaders sign proclamations and declare goals, Fiona Hill reminds us that it is individuals who will bear the brunt of fitting into the new world. There Is Nothing for You Here points the way to some of the changes that are needed.     

Maria Montessori–a Teacher for the World

During these waning weeks of summer, thousands of children are returning to school. Many parents struggle with questions about how the distance learning experience of last year has affected them. Will the re-entry into school go well? This is a good time to remember the words of Maria Montessori who wrote: One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.

Who was Maria Montessori? She was a woman who influenced early education throughout the world. But her path to education and to becoming the founder of a worldwide network of schools was an unexpected one.

Doctor Maria Montessori

Born in 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy, Montessori entered a technical school as a teenager, intending to become an engineer. After graduating from that program, she decided that she would prefer to be a physician and entered medical school in Rome. Both of these careers were unlikely choices for a woman in Italy at that time, but Montessori never seemed to consider the more usual female path of giving up her career to become a wife and mother.

Medical school was difficult for her because she was a woman and was therefore not allowed to view a naked body in the same room as male students. She had to do her studies in the laboratory by herself after other students had left. During medical school, Montessori specialized in the treatment of children with physical and mental disabilities that made it difficult for them to benefit from conventional education. After she completed her degree, she continued to work with these children and to study treatments available.

Maria Montessori’s only child, a son, was born two years after she graduated from medical school. If she and her partner had married, she would have had to resign from her professional work, so the two of them agreed to remain unmarried but to be faithful to each other. Unfortunately, her partner was pressured into marriage by his family, so Montessori was left with the full responsibility of raising their son. She was forced to allow the child to be raised by other people and was not in contact with him until he became an adolescent. In later life he worked with her in setting up her schools and promoting her educational ideas.

As Montessori studied children and how they learned, she came to realize that methods devised to teach children with mental disabilities would be beneficial to all children. She devised teaching materials and set up learning environments so that children could work on their own and learn from one another. Montessori also continued lecturing and writing and her work became well-known in Europe and beyond. Many of her suggestions are couched as “rules” for adults working with children:

Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.

The greatest sign of success for a teacher… is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.

Although not many children across the world attend Montessori schools, the ideas and practices that Maria Montessori pioneered have affected education for many of us.

Forgotten Women–Elizabeth Peabody

This past week the New York Times launched a series paying tribute to fifteen notable women who did not get obituaries in the newspaper when they died. Each week in this new section, called “Overlooked”, the Times will add the stories of women who deserved, but were not given, an obituary when they died.

What a great idea! I thought when I read the announcement. I decided I would go back and take a look at some of the women I’ve written about on my blog to see whether they fit into the “Overlooked” category. One of the first people I thought of was Elizabeth Peabody, a celebrity during much of the 19th century, who has long been forgotten

Elizabeth Fry visiting Newgate Prison
Bookstore discussions

despite her achievements in education and publishing. As it turns out, she did get an obit in the New York Times, when she died in 1894, although she was treated more as an eccentric old woman than as the respected educator that she was. I think she deserves a better send off than that.

We have no picture of Elizabeth Peabody as a young woman, although she was well-known in Boston. As her biographer, Megan Marshall, explains, Elizabeth’s portrait was painted in 1828 by Chester Harding, a well-known portrait artist in Boston. Elizabeth was 24 years old at the time and teaching at a school she had started for girls. Instead of being pleased by the portrait, her parents were scandalized. Women of that time did not have pictures of themselves mounted on walls and displayed to others. Unlike men, women were supposed to live lives that were private and hidden from everyone except their families. Despite the prevailing customs, however, Elizabeth was destined to become a well-known figure in Boston and elsewhere during her long life. The portrait, incidentally, was destroyed years later in a warehouse fire so the only existing pictures show Elizabeth as an elderly woman.

Elizabeth was one of three Peabody sisters—the other two were Mary, who married

portrait of Elizabeth Peabody
Elizabeth Peabody

 

Horace Mann, and Sophia, who became the wife of Nathaniel Hawthorne. All three were born in the early 1800s and lived through most of that eventful century, but Elizabeth had the most lasting influence and left a legacy that is still with us.

In 1838 Elizabeth opened a small circulating library and bookstore in the family home. She knew Ralph Waldo Emerson and many of his friends who were interested in expanding the intellectual horizons of Americans. They were eager to learn about the new ideas being talked about in Europe and Elizabeth’s bookstore offered them a chance to read and discuss European journals and new books. Not only that, Elizabeth also opened a small publishing operation and published several articles and books written by members of the group including several of Nathanial Hawthorne’s early stories.

Elizabeth Peabody’s small bookstore in West Street was the place where the new Transcendental Club held meetings. Margaret Fuller offered her “Conversations” in the bookstore for the wives and friends of the Emerson circle. Elizabeth’s bookstore appears in my mystery story A Death in Utopia as a place where the Charlotte Edgerton and her friend Daniel Gallagher can follow up ideas for solving a mysterious death.

Running a bookstore and being a publisher were not Elizabeth Peabody’s only occupations. She studied European educational theories and opened the first kindergarten in America. Her most lasting legacy remains the revolution in teaching young children which grew out of the kindergarten movement. She deserves more than the meager obituary written for her when she died in 1894.  Megan Marshall’s biography The Peabody Sisters; Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism  gives a good start on learning about Elizabeth and her accomplished sisters.

Can you follow your dream too far?

A new school year is beginning all across America and children are pouring into their classrooms to start, or continue, their journey toward knowledge and a good life. One of the standard pieces of advice given in schools is “You can be anything you want to be.”

Hillary Clinton has set a new goal now that she is running for president and has a good chance of winning. She posted on Twitter To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want—even president.

The trouble with telling children they can do anything is that it’s just not true. Strangely enough, we have a popular movie out this month with an example of the limitation of

Florence-Foster-Jenkins
Florence Foster Jenkins

dreams. Florence Foster Jenkins chronicles the story of a woman whose dream was to be a concert singer. Because she was wealthy, she was able to achieve her desire to give concerts. But no one would say that she had achieved her dream of being a great singer. One of the attractions that brought audiences to hear her is that she simply could not sing and many people found pleasure in watching her fall short.

Jenkins was lucky to have been able to cushion the failure of her achievement because she had money, love, and friends. Many other people discover that they have to move on to new dreams. The boy who dreams of becoming a major league pitcher, discovers his throwing arm will never get him beyond the tryouts. That’s when the real test of the dream occurs. Some people sink into bitterness making their lives, and the lives of their families and friends, dismal. Others use their athletic prowess to become great gym teachers and coaches. And a dream of making your high school team the state champions is not a bad one to follow.

Most people’s lives take many twists and turns. You start out with one dream, switch to another, and move on sometimes to find far more success and happiness than you had expected. Sergei Diaghilev, the world famous producer and founder of the Ballets Russes, was a man with many dreams. Born in 1872, he grew up under the czarist regime in Russia. When he was a teenager, his father went bankrupt, so Sergei had to help support his family. His first love was music and he dreamed of being a composer. He studied composition, but was told by his teacher (the famous composer Rimsky-Korsakov) that he lacked the talent to compose music.

Unlike Florence Jenkins, Diaghilev decided to give up his first dream and to pursue his interest in the arts and dance. He started a magazine to publish Russian writers and later

Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev

founded the innovative dance company the Ballet Russes. With the ballet company, Diaghilev toured France and other European countries. He worked with famous artists, including Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie and Claude Debussy to produce unforgettable ballets, using modern music and modern artistic sets. His innovations revolutionized the dance world. He seemed to have a hand in all of the artistic ferment of 1920s Europe. If you want to read a good biography, you can’t do better than try Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen.

The trouble with telling children they can become “anything they want to be” is that, when they don’t reach that goal, it seems as though they fail. But no one is a failure because she, or he, doesn’t become President. In fact, it is a mathematical impossibility for every child to become President, or for every child to win a gold medal at the Olympics. So why do we tell them they can all reach these impossible dreams?

Perhaps we should be honest with children. Instead of telling them “you can achieve anything” we should tell them the truth: “you can dream and build a good life if you are willing to stay flexible and let your dreams change and grow.” Perhaps we ought to encourage them not to have one dream, but to have a bouquet of dreams. If one dream wilts and dies, another will take its place. Happiness is usually found not by holding onto one unchanging dream for a lifetime, but by being open to new dreams and new hopes and being willing to work to reach them.bouquet-of-flowers-drawing

 

 

.

What will you have for lunch?

In the New York Times recently, Bettina Elias Siegel reports on the state of school lunches in France as shown in Michael Moore’s new documentary film Where to Invade Next. To many of us who have watched children’s reactions to food over the years, it is surprising to learn that in a village in Normandy, French school children Juliet Corsonare served “scallops, lamb skewers and a cheese course” for lunch. That sounds like a gourmet’s dream, but of course if this meal were served in an American school there would have to be many other options—what about the vegetarian children? or the ones who are allergic to fish? Or cheese? Most American children have learned to be picky and opinionated about food before they even start school. Siegel (and the film) contrast the French school with a typical American high school where the students choose pizza, French fries, and other unhealthy meals for lunch, washed down with sugary soft drinks.

Siegel makes many good points in her article pointing out that Americans are unwilling to support the infrastructure that would allow children to be given healthy, locally-sourced food for their school lunches. Americans have opted out of paying any but the lowest taxes possible to support children’s needs, in the expectation that competition among corporations will somehow provide the best options for school meals. Are we really surprised that this hasn’t worked? Instead of an array of healthy foods, most school districts yield to the economic necessity of presenting children with the cheap, highly-processed foods they have learned to enjoy. Perhaps the time has come when we should teach our children to prepare their own school lunches. They might surprise us.

Over the years, a number of reformers have tried to help Americans learn how to cook healthier, inexpensive food to feed their families. Back in 1883, when America was suffering through one of its worst depressions and many people were unemployed, a woman named Juliet Corson decided she could help people cope with poor wages by teaching them to cook. Born in 1841, Juliet leaned to cope with poverty when her stepmother kicked her out of the house and told her to earn her own living. Juliet became a librarian at the Working Woman’s Library and found out how difficult it was to feed a family on small wages. She started giving cooking lessons to women and then to children in New York City and soon began writing books about cooking and household management.

Her most successful book was called, believe it or not—Fifteen-Cent Dinners for Workingmen’s Families—and she gave away an edition of 50,000 copies; it was even reprinted in a daily newspaper. The menus suggested were wholesome with easily available ingredients. The book suggested meals such as rice and milk for breakfast and corned beef and cabbage for dinner. It included tips for choosing meat and vegetables at the market. Many Juliet_15 cent dinnersreaders were delighted with the worked and thanked Corson profusely, but, as always, not everyone was pleased. Some union leaders objected to its distribution on the grounds that if the bosses thought workers could feed their families so cheaply, there was no need to raise wages. It seems as though you can’t win when you give advice about what people should eat.

Juliet Corson had a successful career as a writer and lecturer and she started the New York Cooking School, one of the first successful cooking schools in the country. Although she charged her middle-class students for their lessons, she always provided free lessons to those who could not afford to pay. She was a pioneer introducing the teaching of cooking into the public schools in America and Canada. Nonetheless, she died in poverty at the age of 57 in 1897, and the teaching of choosing food and cooking has almost disappeared from American schools. Perhaps it is time to revive the idea.

 

Elizabeth Peabody–inspiring woman publisher

We have become so used to seeing local bookstores disappear from our neighborhoods that is is difficult to remember how important these stores used to be. From the early days shortly after the American Revolution up until the end of the twentieth century many

19th century bookstore. Picture by Francis Bedford
19th century bookstore. Picture by Francis Bedford
bookstores were meeting places and informal universities where people discussed politics and social issues as well as literature. And some of the most important bookstores have been run by women including Elizabeth Peabody.

We have no picture of Elizabeth Peabody as a young woman, although she was well-known in Boston. As her biographer, Megan Marshall, explains, Elizabeth’s portrait was painted in 1828 by Chester Harding, a well-known portrait artist in Boston. Elizabeth was 24 years old at the time and teaching at a school she had started for girls. Instead of being pleased by the portrait, her parents were scandalized. Women of that time did not have pictures of themselves hung on walls and displayed to others.portrait of Elizabeth Peabody Unlike men, women were supposed to live lives that were private and hidden from everyone except their families. Despite the prevailing customs, however, Elizabeth was destined to become a well-known and beloved figure in Boston and elsewhere during her long life. The portrait, incidentally, was destroyed years later in a warehouse fire so the only existing pictures show Elizabeth as an elderly woman.

Elizabeth was one of three Peabody sisters—the other two were Mary, who married Horace Mann, and Sophia, who became the wife of Nathanial Hawthorne. All three were born in the early 1800s and lived through most of that eventful century, but Elizabeth had the most lasting influence and left a legacy that is still with us.

But to return to the bookstore…in 1839 Elizabeth opened a small circulating library and bookstore in the family home. She knew Ralph Waldo Emerson and many of his friends who were interested in expanding the intellectual horizons for Americans. They were eager to learn about the new ideas being talked about in Europe and Elizabeth’s bookstore offered them a chance to read and discuss European journals and new books. Not only that, Elizabeth also opened a small publishing operation and published several articles and books written by members of the group including several of Nathanial Hawthorne’s early stories. She was probably the first woman publisher in the United States.

Elizabeth Peabody’s small bookstore in West Street was the place where the new Transcendental Club held meetings. Margaret Fuller offered her “Conversations” in the bookstore for the wives and friends of the Emerson circle. Elizabeth’s bookstore appears in my mystery story A Death in Utopia as a place where the Charlotte Edgerton and her friend Daniel Gallagher can follow up ideas for solving a mysterious death.

Running a bookstore and being a publisher were not Elizabeth Peabody’s only occupations. Later in life she opened the first kindergarten in America and her most lasting legacy remains the revolution in teaching young children which grew out of the kindergarten movement. Megan Marshall’s biography The Peabody Sisters; Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism gives a good start on learning about Elizabeth and her accomplished sisters.

African Dorcas Society—an early PTA?

Trouble is brewing in California over the inequities inherent in having schools subsidized by Parent Teacher Associations which buy iPads, musical instruments and books for school libraries. Sometimes these parent groups pay for music and art teachers to supplement the regular classes. According to an NPR story I heard on the radio last week, some California schools receive an average parent donation of $1000 per pupil each year. Naturally school districts where families cannot contribute money for these extras cannot offer their students equal opportunities. Is it fair in a democracy for wealthier parents to be able to provide extra funding for their own children but not for others? That is a question taxpayers should be asking themselves, but it is certainly not a new one.

Back in the pre-Civil War days when education for Free Blacks was just starting in the Northern States, a group of women in New York City formed the African Dorcas Society. Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, and the Black population in the city increased dramatically.engraving of African Free School Leaders of the Black community, and some white leaders, recognized that the children of these newcomers would need education. Several schools had been established for this purpose, but many families did not send their children to school. The reasons were easy to understand. Not only was children’s labor valuable to the parents, many of whom were struggling, but often the children did not have warm clothing and shoes that would make it possible for them to get to school in bad weather.

The African Dorcas Society was organized by Black women and was one of the first societies in which women met independently and planned their work without the supervision of men. The women divided themselves into sewing circles to make, mend and alter clothing for poor children. They also solicited contributions from well-wishers. For several years the group flourished and supplied clothing to enable children to attend schools. Unfortunately there were many New Yorkers who did not believe that former slaves could or should be educated and there was opposition to the Society’s work as well as the schools themselves.

We all know what happened in the decades that followed, leading up to full emancipation for all American slaves and to the slow establishment of education for all Americans. The struggle still continues to ensure that all children are given the resources necessary for them to attend schools and to take full advantages of education. But during this Black History Month, we should pay special tribute to the multitude of anonymous men and women who worked to make education available to all the children in their community. It’s been a long, hard struggle and it is not over yet. Equal education for all is one of the ideals we have to struggle for every month year after year.

You can read more about how the Black community fought for education and equality during the early 19th century in Leslie M. Alexander’s detailed history African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861. It’s a fascinating account of forgotten history.

Prof. Lee Lorch, a long-lasting light in a dark world

Almost twenty years ago, in 1994, I made my first trip to Cuba as an adult. I had visited as a child with my family during Lee Lorchthe days of close U.S.-Cuban ties, but after Fidel Castro’s successful revolution, it was difficult for Americans to travel there. The 1994 trip was to a conference of the International Federation of Library Associations so participants came from all over the world. The trip was an eye-opener for all of us as it gave us a chance to see for ourselves what Cuba was really like. For me a special bonus was getting to know Lee Lorch, a most unusual academic and activist who has had an impact on people and events in several different societies.

Lee contacted me through mutual friends to see whether I would join an effort to send secondhand computers to Cuba. Having seen the shortage of technology in the schools and libraries in Cuba, I was glad to participate. As time went on I discovered that helping Cuba was only a small part of Lee Lorch’s efforts to improve the world. As a mathematician at York University he taught students and wrote scholarly papers, but being a scholar wasn’t enough for him. He had spent many years fighting racism in the United States and every time I met him there were new revelations about events he had participated in. He fought to open an apartment complex in New York City to African-Americans; he and his wife escorted students into the newly-desegregated Little Rock High School during the turmoil of school desegregation. He lost teaching jobs and had to move from one university to another as his notoriety grew.

In 1959, Lee and his family moved to Canada when he took a position at the University of Alberta. Later he moved to York University in Toronto. After all the turmoil of his life in the U.S. he found friends and a new life in Canada, and he never gave up fighting for justice. One of his interests was to encourage women mathematicians who were routinely discouraged from entering the field and often treated unfairly if they persisted.

People today find it almost inconceivable that even in the 20th century academics openly discriminated against non-white people and women. Until you read the story of someone like Vivienne Malone Mayes, it is hard to imagine the determination needed for women, and especially African American women, to be accepted in science and mathematics. Lee Lorch was among the pioneers in encouraging women to enter the field and in supporting their efforts for advancement.

I know I am late in finding out about this, but it made me very happy to learn that last year Professor Lee Lorch received a distinguished scholar award from CAUT—Canada’s organized voice of academic scholars. At the age of 97, he has participated in many struggles for justice and fair treatment for all people. He is a credit to the universe, and I hope the honors continue to flow during these crowning years of his long life.