Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Benefits of a Land Acknowledgment


Last week's blog explained what a Land Acknowledgement is and offered some reasons why a person might consider preparing a Land Acknowledgement himself, whether for a public reading or simply for exploring certain issues.  This week I will share some things I learned by taking the challenge of how drafting a personal Land Acknowledgement might be beneficial to me.

I begin with this map showing the reservations in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri.  I was unaware of the number of reservations and of the tribes involved.  Some reservations were negotiated by treaty while others were imposed.  I had no idea of the numbers of reservations in Eastern Kansas.

As well as learning a bit about reservations in Kansas, I also learned that Kansas has a Native American Affairs Office opened in the summer of 2011 to serve as the Liaison for the Governor.  It is intended to ensure that Native American concerns and needs are addresses in state policy making decisions.  I was not aware of that, so it is another thing I learned in my research.

Do you know that Haskell opened as the United States Indian Industrial Training School, with the purpose of educating American Indians and Alaska Natives, focused on elementary grades, but soon expanding through high school, and by 1970 adding a junior college curriculum?  Today it is known as "Haskell Indian Nations University" with an average enrollment of over 1,000 culturally diverse students each semester.  In conjunction with the University of Kansas, Haskel students may complete M.A. degrees, joint M.A./J.D. degrees with KU Law, as well as other provisions for undergraduate minors, non-degree courses, and other admission opportunities. 

Not only KU, but also Kansas State University has a program in cooperation with the Kansas Association for Native American Education (KANAE) to provide guidance for teachers who might not otherwise be sensitive to actions hurtful or embarassing to Native American students. I enumerated some of those things in last week's blog.  Another program, through the college of Veterinarian Medicine at K-State, encourages Native, Indigenous, Tribal, and rural Kansas students to consider Veterinary medicine as a field of study.

Caw Indian Group

These are all things about which I became better informed because of my interest in what Land Acknowledgments might accomplish.  One of the things Land Acknowledgments are intended to do is share information with others, and through my blogs, perhaps I have done that.  Now, if you attend a meeting and the moderator begins the event with a Land Acknowledgment you will understand its purpose.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

What is a Land Acknowledgement?


Caw Family Portrait

Some of you reading this may have attended a meeting during which someone read a Land Acknowledgement.  Others of you may not be familiar with the term.  Some of you may have been confused by hearing a recitation without understanding its purpose.  This blog will attempt to explain.

The origin of Land Acknowledgements may be traced to Australia and Canada, although more recently the practice has come to the United States.  A simple description of a Land Acknowledgement is 'acknowledgement in a formal statement that an event is taking place on land originally inhabited by indigenous peoples.'  The acknowledgements are supported by some and criticized by others who see them as an excess of political correctness or just empty gestures.

My husband often accuses me of having sandy loam running through my veins.  In retirement we  returned to the farm where I was raised, and we rescued a house that was in serious disrepair from having been vacant for many years.  I have written in this blog about picking sandhill plums to make jelly, following the traditions of my grandmother, mother, and now of myself.  I have written about the old cottonwood trees that I have tried to continue at the farm by planting seedlings.  In fact, many blogs have been about history and traditions.  Now I have published a book about the early homesteaders--Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  There is little doubt about my own feeling of connection to the land and its history.

However, there were a different people who felt a connection to the land before my ancestors arrived.  I certainly understood the words of Mary Lyons of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, who wrote:  "When we talk about land, land is part of who we are.  It's a mixture of our blood, our past, our current, and our future.  We carry our ancestors in us, and they're around us.  As you all do."  Her words touched me, because I feel that connection to the land and my own ancestors, a connection that I fear is waning among many young people.

But, why would someone like me have any reason to write a Land Acknowledgement?  I certainly do not feel personal guilt for the fact that my great-grandfather took advantage of President Lincoln's effort to settle the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase by allowing Union Soldiers a year's credit for each year of military service in the Civil War toward the five years necessary to secure a homestead.  Might I have any reason to compose a Land Acknowledgment?  While I am not proud of the horrible abuses of indigenous people as they were driven from their land and too often killed for the land they claimed, I did not personally do any of that.  Where is my responsibility? 

Here are some explanations for a Land Acknowledgement that I found online:

To learn the history of the land my ancestors settled, the specific indigenous people that were displaced, and the manner of their displacement.

To understand the emotional reality of the manner of displacement of specific indigenous people, such as treaties (both honored and ignored) and removal of children from their families to attend 'Indian Schools,'

To be more sensitive to offensive things like dressing up for Halloween as an Indian, school mascots, pretending to do Indian dances, using the 'tomahawk chop' at sports events, and teaching historic events inaccurately. 

To become aware of indigenous people in your area and what they are doing to perpetuate the history of their traditions to future generations.  

To learn about organizations in your area that are trying to help their people in a variety of ways and consider whether you might want to help.

Next week I will share some things I learned by following the suggestions I found. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Thanksgiving Wishes

What if today,
we were just grateful for everything.
Charlie Brown

  Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and joy!

Wishing all of you a Thanksgiving filled with miracles and gratitude.


Wednesday, November 9, 2022

What is Poetry?

Walt Whitman at desk

Recently, the editor of our local newspaper mentionedthat, "It would be fun to publish locally-written poetry in our paper...I would gladly publish such items, if mailed to me."  As an example from the Pratt Tribune of 1997, she shared Elm Trees, by Reva Obrecht McAnarney, a clever little verse referring back to the well-known poem "Trees," by Joyce Kilmer.  However, in McAnarney's poem it is not the beauty of trees that is described but rather "...A plant as stubborn as a tree.  The elm tree is the tree I mean, It often makes me want to scream..."  When I think of poetry, what comes to mind is the use of language in a beautiful way, often rhymed.  However, it was apparent that McAnarney was intentionally humorous.  If our newspaper editor was actually inviting poetry for publication in the newspaper, what is poetry?

The first definition that I found was "Prose = words in the best order; Poetry = the best words in the best order."  I didn't disagree with that, but it was a disappointing finition.  What I discovered was that the definition of Poetry is complicated.

The next thing I found was the suggestion that "the greatest poetry in the world is in the King James Bible."  However, according to there are 450 different translations of the Bible in English today.  Wikipedia suggests a list of ten, identifying the New Revised Standard Version as being broadly used, but with the English Standard Version emerging as a primary text.  The intention to make the text of the Bible more understandable for modern readers is understandable, but the beauty of the King James Bible is difficult to match and the reference to it as the world's greatest poetry is difficult to refute.

Edgar AIlan Poe

However, there are many examples of beautiful poetry, so I continued searching for a definition.  In a letter written in 1818, John Keats said, "I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by Singularity--it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Rembrance."  I like that explanation, but that seems to exclude many types of poems, so I kept looking.

I hated turning to poets long dead for a definition, but modern poets seem to have largely abandoned specific rules, leaving me to turn once more to the past.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge was taught that Poetry "had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science, and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes.  In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word."

One author, in trying to express the difference between prose and poetry, searched for two definitions of old age, one taken from the book "The Biological Time Bomb," and the other quoted from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.  It was a great example of the differences but omitted a specific explanation. 

Mary Oliver
I never found exactly what I was looking for, but poet Mary Oliver came the closest. "Everyone knows that Poets are born and not made in school.  This is true also of painters, sculptors, and musicians.  Something that is essential can't be taught; it can only be given or earned, or formulated in a manner too mysterious to be picked apart and redesigned for the next person."  She explains with this:  "The poem is an attitude, and a prayer; it sings on the page and it sings itself off the page; it lives through genius and  technique."  And in her closing words, "For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry." 

 So much for finding a definition.  All that I have found for certain is that there are many kinds, from Free Verse, rhymed and unrhymed, humorous, Epic, Ballad, Sonnet, Haiku, Cinquain, Accrostic, and many more.  If our local newspaaper editor was serious about publishing local poets, there just may be a closet poet, who has been quietly waiting for an invitation.  I'll be watching.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Forgotten People & Things

 Those of you who follow this blog are well acquainted with Isaac Werner, a once forgotten man whom many of you now know well, whether through reading "Prairie Bachelor" or by following this blog or by attending one of my book talks.  Except as a name on a genealogy chart, until I began my research, even his family had forgotten Isaac.  Perhaps his life would have remained unknown had he not kept a journal, and but for my curiosity about my own family, would anyone else have picked up his 480 page journal and discovered its priceless content?

I am intrigued by history.  As a new bride, I began the genealogy quest for both my own and my husband's family that has grown into three long shelves of research.  Now the question is, what to do with all of that research!  Last April we were in Wichita and my husband spotted a newspaper rack with a Sunday New York Times for sale.  He bought it for me, knowing it would keep me busy reading for several days.  He was wrong.  I am still reading some of the articles I clipped out of it, and one of those articles inspired this blog.

The book of an author named Maud Newton, "Ancestor Trouble, A Reckoning and a Reconciliation" was reviewed in the Times.  Her book was inspired by her own family, but, she admits it is only partially true.  Is it also true sometimes that as we prepare our own genealogy charts, what we put on paper is not always fully accurate.  Do the family secrets get into the genealogy chart, and should they?

I once gave a now long-deceased elderly person a blank book with the instruction, "Please write whatever memories you want to share."  The memories that person chose to share were angry, critical stories about other people.  Only a few pages were written, and nothing was about that person's life, although I'm sure a history that reached back into the 1800s could have provided a wealth of interesting information. For a long time I left that book on the shelf, unsure what to do with it.  After all, I had gifted the blank book with the instruction to share whatever history that person chose to share.    Eventually, I carefully tore those hateful pages out of the book.  Maybe some things ought to be forgotten.  

Sometimes it is objects that provide family history.  In my case, it was my Aunt Helen who gifted me a teacup and saucer that started my collection, perhaps because she had no idea what a girl too old for dolls and not old enough for anything a preteen might want I was transformed into a collector of teacups, continuing my collecting for decades.  I put notes in the cups to describe where I bought them or who gave them to me.  What would that collection reveal about me?  Since I don't really know why I continued this collection, why would anyone else know?

Author Maud Newton suggested that there is much to discover from the 'deeper the connections, deeper questions' of material objects once held close by her ancestors," but as my examples of family objects described in this blog show, sometimes those forgotten people and things leave behind more questions than answers.  Maud Newton used the term "ancestor hunger" to describe that quest.  The popularity of genealogy research is proof that many of us share that curiosity. 

I will close with a picture of one object that does connect me with the memory of my father's oldest sister.  Verna died at the age of 22, but the picture of her dresser set is dear to me.  She was a young teacher who died from consumption, probably contracted from one of her students.  If my only connection with her had been knowledge of her early death, my memory would be sadness.  Instead, her dresser set makes me think of a pretty young woman who must have sat at her dresser many times getting dressed for a party or some other happy occasion.  

Verna's Dresser Set

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Forgotten Vice President

Do you recognize the bust of this handsome man?  Hint:  He was a Vice President of the United States.  You still don't recognize him?  He was from Kansas.  Do you still need more clues?  He was a Republican and served as Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929, resigning that position to serve as Vice President.

Are you still having trouble?  He was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Kansas Legislature in 1906 (before Senators were elected directly) and then by popular vote one 6-year term from 1907-1913, and then most of 3 terms from 1915-1929 when he resigned to serve as Vice President to Herbert Hoover.

Surprisingly, many Americans today would be unable to identify this man, despite his successful political career.  Until President Biden chose Kamala Harris, he was the first & only Indian American Vice President.  Although he is a man of many achievements, few Americans know much about him.  During the celebrations of Vice-President Harris' election, I actually heard newspersons describing her as the first Native American Vice President.  No, that would be our own Kansan, Charles Curtis!

Not only is he little known Nationally, even many Kansans know little about him, and that is a shame, for he had a rich life.  From his mother he was 3/8th Native American--Kaw, Osage, and Potawatomi. His mother died when he was three years old, and from her he had learned to speak French and Kanza.  After her death, his father married briefly but then joined the Union Army and was captured and imprisoned.  

The influence of both sets of Native American Ancestors played a role in his development, both encouraging him not to remain on the reservation but rather to attend school in Topeka.  He studied for and was admitted to the bar in 1881 and served as Shawnee County Prosecuting Attorney in 1885.

Recognizing that the importance of this Native American Kansas Office Holder had been neglected, when Bob Dole became Senate Majority Leader he remembered his fellow Senate House Majority Leader by hanging a portrait of Curtis in his office.  In a speech in honor of the occasion, Senator Dole said, "Since he (Curtis) was the last majority leader from the state of Kansas, we thought it would be appropriate to hang his portrait in my office."  Adding, "I was elected majority leader on 60 years to the day after Charles Curtis got the job."  The artist of the 48" by 36" painting was identified as Elie Cristo Loveman, and the painting had been borrowed by Sen. Dole from the Kansas Historical Society, who had been given the painting by the estate of Curtis' sister.

Charles Curtis' home was once in an elite Topeka  neighborhood, although today the neighborhood has gone through various changes.  The house itself has also gone through various uses, including housing an insurance agency, a rooming house, and a historic home for touring.

Charles Curtis is a significant Kansan in his own right, but the role he played as a Native American reaching the next-to-the-highest office in the nation, just a heartbeat away from the presidency, should make us respect preserving and protecting his home in Topeka.

f.n.  Senator Dole stated at the hanging ceremony that little was known about the artist who painted the Curtis portrait.  In my research for this blog, I could find nothing more about the artist.  However, I did find an artist with a very similar name.  Elie Cristo-Loveanu, a Romanian by birth, who was an artist and teacher in New York City at the time of his death.  He lived  from July 27, 1893 to April 28, 1964.  Because of the close similarity of names and the lack of information about the painter, I am curious whether there might have been a confusion concerning the spelling of the name on the painting.  This deserves more research!


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Grand Army of the Republic


If your male ancestor came to Kansas in the late 19th Century, he was likely a Union Veteran.  Over half of the 30,000 eligible men in the young state of Kansas volunteered for the Union Army, one of the highest volunteer rates in the nation.  After the war, many from other states took advantage of the Homestead Act, which gave Union Veterans one year's credit toward the required five years necessary to prove up a homestead claim for each year of Union service.

Many of those Union Veterans joined the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic.  Founded in 1866, it was a nation-wide fraternal organization with over 500 posts registered in Kansas by the turn of the century, the combined number of members in Kansas totaling more than 20,000.

They promoted parades, patriotic education, and lobbied for veterans' pensions.  In our local communities we can see many GAR markers on the cemetery graves on Memorial Day.  As years passed, membership in the GAR declined, and the last Kansas GAR post disbanded in 1943.

Perhaps because the Civil War was fought in the South, the tradition of remembering the Civil War has remained stronger there.  Movies, like "Gone With the Wind," have depicted heroic soldiers in Gray.  The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in 2011 was far more celebrated in the South, with remembrances of all kinds, than in the North.

Yet, it was the North and the Union Army that preserved the United States of America.  Soldiers serve at the command of their officers, and in response to decisions made by the leaders who took them into war.  It is only natural that families honor their own soldiers for the role they were required by others to play.  But, it is important that we remember that Lincoln's Army saved the Union.

P.S.  I am teaching an Osher class on November 1st.  The title of my class is "Three Powerful Women of the Populist Movement," and the class is virtual, from 10 o'clock to 11:30.  I know that some of you have taken my classes in the past, and I hope to see some familiar and some new faces for this class.  With the background of  all the things that were happening in the late 1800s, I focus on three important women!  You can visit University of Kansas Osher classes to learn more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Making Reading a Habit


This is one of my favorite pastel portraits, done many years ago of two children who now have children of their own.  When I do children's portraits, I like to ask them to select a favorite toy, or in this case, a favorite book.

I thought of this portrait when I saw a recent headline in the newspaper:  Reading Scores Fell Sharply!  The reference was to scores during the pandemic which, acording to this article, found reading scores at their largest decrease in 30 years.  The article described students in 2022 as performing at a level last seen two decades ago.

We happen to live in a rural area in Kansas which is fortunate to have several wonderful libraries.  Respect for public libraries goes back several years in which successful families donated the money for public libraries that have continued to thrive.  I have written in this blog about several of those libraries, and right now, one of those small town libraries is building an addition!

How can that be, I thought?  I have seen the photographs of proud children in our community in the newspaper and on face book, holding a favorite book above a caption reading "1000 Books Before Kindergarten."  With so many libraries available, why wouldn't children staying at home during covid find the perfect opportunity to do lots of reading.

Of course, the 1000 Books includes books read to them.  Although 1000 books is a lot, early books for children do not take long to read.  A book a night means 365 a year, and at that rate more than 1000 can be read in three years.  I have gifted enough books to young children to know that they love getting a book.

Maybe with so many wonderful libraries with great Librarians and communities that support those libraries, I have taken them for granted.  In Macksville, Director Jody Suiter raised funds for 11 years for an addition to the city library and the community responded.  Brinda Ortiz, President of the Library Board, saw on a local TV channel, KAKE News, the opportunity to apply for a $500 grant awarded during the 10 o'clock news by a Law Firm in Wichita.  She sent in her nomination for the Macksville City Library.  What a thrill when they received the grant.

The Macksville Library was established in 1935, but the current library was donated by Irma Smith in 1958.  Her decision to purchase and donate the U.B. Church & School and relocate it in Macksville on a lot donated by  A.G. English provided not only a permanent home for the City Library but also the preservation of a historic building in the community.  The success of her gift is shown in the simple fact that it was outgrown. The new addition will provide new programing space, a restroom/storm shelter, a new children's area, and a meeting place for other activities in the communty.

I have personally benefitted from wonderful libraries in our community and have spoken at most of them in various programs.  A special "Bravo!" to not only Macksville, but also St. John, Pratt, and Stafford in particular, as well as other nearly public libraries.  I know that they found ways to continue making books available during covid.  I hope that helped local families avoid the drop in reading skills that some other places experienced.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Beast with English Roots

The Fearsome Gerry-mander
In the 18th Century, English politicians had devised the practice of manipulating voting districts to create what they called "rotten boroughs," containing only a few eligible voters.  The objective was to have few enough eligible voters to effectively pay off how they would vote, creating a  "buy/win" seat in Parliament.

Somehow, the dishonest voting practitioners must have slipped onto boats headed to the United States, because what we now know as gerrymandering began almost immediately in America.  The staff of The Boston Gazette created what they named The Gerry-mander to describe what began in Massachusetts.  Voting districts were manipulated into exaggerated shapes by the political party in power to all but insure an advantage of likely voters for that party's candidates in major districts.

The use of gerrymandering, as we now spell it, waxed and waned in various areas and at particular times, but it has never gone away.  After the Civil War, when Black men gained the right to vote, the practice became particularly dominant in the South.  In 1874 a southern state not only drew ridiculous shapes, but went even further to create the first non-contiguous voting district.  The extravagant  shapes had not been enough to rouse the attention of the U.S. House, but a non-contiguous voting district got their attention and they refused to seat any more members elected using that voting district pattern.  A few years later, the state tried again, with one winding district called a "boa constrictor" district. 

Tricks such as these discontinued but were replaced by threats of violence, poll taxes, and other voting suppression.  Once these states established districts that accomplished the voting patterns they wanted, they often maintained those voting districts for years.

Feeding a Beast may cause it to Turn on You--Beware!

Then, in the 1960s, along came the Earl Warren Supreme Court, which ruled that all state voting districts were required to have roughly the same populations.  In addition, after every 10-year census was taken, states had to adjust their districts so that each of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives represented close to the same number of people.

During the ups and downs of those years the Gerry-mander, was pronounced like Gary.  However, the pronunciation of his name gradually changed to Jerry, although he spelled it Gerrymander.  More significant than the change in the pronunciation of the name was an even more aggressive change in the Gerrymander's personality with the arrival of computer technology!  With the help of computers it became much easier to strategically draw maps to give particular advantages to individual parties.  As one political expert has said, "In some ways it's politicians picking their voters as opposed to voters picking their politicians."

But that isn't fair, you may be thinking.  Isn't there some control to keep the majority party from controlling election outcomes entirely.  You will be relieved to learn that there are some remedies.  Using the 2022 redistricting map for Kansas, three different maps were proposed--one by the Republicans, one by the Democrats, and one by a voter advocacy group.  The initial Legislature's recommended maps were vetoed by the Governor, and law suits were filed.  

This blog isn't about what redistricting maps were ultimately chosen or who did or didn't get the maps they wanted.  What it is about is that who we send to our state houses to take care of our particular state's business is important.  It is about who we elect to the benches of our courts.  It is about the importance of the work done by citizens and organizations willing to donate their time to pay attention to what is going on in state and national capitals and show up to peacefully bring their ideas and criticisms to produce something better. 

The Gerrymander beast is very seductive to those in power, but he has no particular loyalty to any one party forever.  History teaches that majorities can shift, and the power of the Gerrymander shifts with it.  Gerrymandering is not utilized by any one party.  It s an election strategy employed by both parties.  Neither is it limited to particular states.  Gerrymandering was challenged in Kansas last spring.  I did research for the blog about that time, but I delayed posting because I did not want it to appear I was stating a personal opinion.  

Ironically, by putting off posting, I am right in the middle of a Supreme Court case involving Alabama.  It is not my intention to focus on the Alabama case; however, you will likely be hearing news about that case in weeks to come.  The Alabama case is less about political parties and more about racial quotas.  Even so, it is that old Gerrymander Beast confronting the U.S. Supreme Court, and further threatening the Voting Rights Act. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Fun at the Kansas Book Festival

 The only bad thing about the Kansas Book Festival is that you can't be everywhere!  While books are the main reason for the festival, music and activities are also part of the fun.  Last year I was honored to be one of the recipients of a Kansas Notable Book award at the Festival.  This year I was invited back to the Festival as a speaker.

Our panel was moderated by well-known author and journalist, Max McCoy, who selected wonderful questions that allowed us to share important topics from our books.

My co-speaker was Steve Cox, from Pittsburg State University.  His book, When Sunflowers Bloomed Red, deals with socialism in Kansas during the late 1800s and early 1900s, so while Prairie Bachelor deals with populism, there were issues that overlapped to discuss.  A special surprise was the arrival of Steve's co-author, R. Alton Lee, although he preferred not to participate on our panel.  

What a wonderful audience we had.  There are at least four different program choices for each hour-long session, and attendees are free to go to whichever programs they wish, so you do not know until people begin arriving how many will be in attendance.  We had a full house, as you can see...about seventy people in the audience, which was exciting.  They were attentive, laughed at my jokes, and even asking a few questions.

Most were strangers to me, but I had a few special guests...people from FHSU, special life-long friends from Kansas City, a relative of Isaac Werner, and my wonderful husband.  (I never give the same talk twice, so at least he does not have to sit through the same thing over and over!)  

I also had one very special surprise.  It is the tradition at the Festival for the spouse of the Kansas Governor to present the Notable Book Awards, and last year First Gentleman of Kansas, Dr. Ted Daughety, presented me with my award.  I was very pleased that this year he made the effort to attend our session and even to drop by after the session ended to say "Hello."

Releasing a new book during Covid has been rather challenging, but I have so many people to thank for hosting and attending virtual talks, book club signings, and book talks.  At least two people have attended 3 or 4 talks, telling me that since I never repeat a talk they have enjoyed attending more than one.

My next book signing is at Watermark Books in Wichita, a wonderful independent book store.  It is located at 4701 E. Douglas in Wichita and my talk will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, October 13th.  The public is welcome, so if you live in Wichita or are nearby, I hope you might come.

Thank you for so many of you who have supported my talks, have bought my book, or have enjoyed reading it from your local library.  Now, people from coast to coast know who Isaac Werner is and what a significant role Kansas played in the late 1800s, championing things that our two primary political parties implemented, things we take for granted today that were ideas from the People's Party.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Dressing up

One recent winter, we were in town on a chilly, windy day.  As we turned into a parking space, we noticed a young woman, hunched over against the cold wind from the north.  I don't recall the rest of her attire, but one garment stuck in my memory.  She was wearing flannel pajama bottoms.  That was the first, but not the last time, I saw someone wearing pajama bottoms as public attire.  Since then, I have become accustomed to seeing young people wearing light-weight athletic shorts in chilly weather, bundled up in a warm jacket but practically blue-legged from the cold on their bare legs.  I'm pretty sure that in these cases, the people I have seen didn't dress in the dark and overlooked that they had forgotten to put on their jeans!

I'll admit, when I look back at some of the fashion choices in my past, they look pretty stupid.  Probably the most ridiculous fashion trend for women in my lifetime was the extreme padded shoulders that were popular for a while.  I had a few of those in my closet, nicely tailored suits and dresses made of beautiful fabrics that made the wearer look like she had borrowed the shoulder pads of a professional linebacker.

Beck Family Picnic in Macksville Park in Early 1900s

 As for the generation before me, this photograph of my father's siblings having a picnic in the Macksville Park is charming in an overdressed way.  The men had shed their jackets and my father had even removed his tie, but the women still had on their hats, from church I am guessing.  Sunday picnics were common in the pre-home air conditioner years, but if that really was a picnic, they were a little overdressed.

But, getting back to the streetwear of younger people today, I did a little research.  Apparently, the influence of T-shirts has played a huge role in the fashion trend called 'streetwear,' which also included jeans, baseball caps and sneakers, and the influence of skateboarding.  In other words, the casual sportswear being worn because it was appropriate to some activity was adopted by others, even if they had never played baseball or tried skateboarding.

Manufacturers caught on to the trends and in the 2000s companies began to develop streetwear styles.  That was not always appreciated.  "Influencers" often objected to manufacturers horning in on the trend, quoting Eric Brunetti, "Big business corporations have infiltrated streetwear and are currently in the process of rewriting its history to fit their financial narrative."  

One observer wrote, "Streetwear is a culture, not just Product."  As author Bobby Hundreds described it, "Design-wise, streetwear boils down to baseball caps, sneakers, hoodies, and most of all, tees."  Adding, "a culture, not just product." 

However, as I type this, the definition of Streetwear is almost certainly changing.  It differs from region to region and from city to city, changes as quickly as whatever is happening at that time.  Today,  "Streetwear is an art movement."

Lyn at the 2021Kansas Book Festival University Press of Kansas tent
So, as my closet begins to drift toward grays and blacks and neutrals and white, with lower heels on my shoes, it begins to dawn on me that "what's happening" in my life is also trending toward "casual comfortable pieces" that reflect "my culture."  I had no idea I was so trendy!

P.S.  This coming Saturday, September 24, 2022, I will be in Topeka for the Kansas Book Festival on the campus of  Washburn University in Topeka. It is a wonderful celebration of books and art, with authors, poets, and artists present, and outdoor music performances throughout the day.  Admission is free and open to the general public, with children's activities, entertainments, and food trucks.

Last year I attended to receive recognition as the author of Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement, a Kansas Notable Book for 2021.  This year I was invited back as a speaker with Moderator, Max McCoy and fellow author Steve Cox.  We will be discussing "Politics on the Prairie" in the Kansas Room of the Memorial Union, starting off the day at 10 a.m.  

Books will be available for purchase and authors will be signing.  If you already own Prairie Bachelor but would like to have it signed, bring your book and I will be glad to sign it.  There are wonderful speakers throughout the day, but our program is at 10 a.m. in the Memorial Union. 

To learn more you can visit   I hope to see at Washburn University in Topeka this coming Saturday, September 24, 2022! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

In the Days of Seamstresses

 When I posted about 'homemade dresses' in the past, several people commented that they too had mothers who made their dresses.  My mother was the 4-H sewing leader who taught many local girls how to sew.  One of those local girls stopped Mother on the street in Pratt years later to thank her for her training.  She thrilled Mother by describing the beautiful things she had made, remembering the lessons she had learned in those 4H classes.

This blog shares a particular gown mother made for me.  It began with a picture in Life Magazine, although I did not know that at the time.  The picture below, or one similar, was what inspired my mother.

Jackie Kennedy's Wedding dress

Look very closely at the details of the dress, particularly the circles on the skirt.  That is what Mother saw that inspired her. 

Jackie was young and glamorous, and John Kennedy's brother-in-law was a movie star.  Both Jack and Jackie fit in well with the glamorous movie stars of that era.  

A  Jackie Kennedy doll dressed in her wedding gown.

Jackie appeared on magazine covers, and when she traveled the photographers followed her.  Her fashion choices were admired and copied.  John Kennedy followed President Truman (1845-1953) and President Eisenhower (1953-1961), both older men with older wives during their Presidencies, and having a handsome, younger couple in the White House brought publicity unlike the press coverage of their predecessors.   
The author in her first prom dress.

All of which brings me to the explanation for this blog--how my first prom dress, designed and made by my mother, was inspired by the First Lady's wedding dress.  If you look very closely, you may see that my mother ruffled yards and yards of net, cut into narrow strips, stitched on one side to be ruffled, and then sewn round and round to imitate the circles on the skirt of Jackie's wedding dress. The dress was strapless, unlike Jackie's and there were no rows around the bottom of the dress, nor was the fabric of my dress expensive silk, but when I left for the prom I wore a Pauline Beck Original, inspired by the First Lady's wedding gown.  I think perhaps mother may have added her own designer's touch by putting a tiny silk flower in the center of each circle.  I don't recall that detail, but in the black & white photograph there seems to be some ornament in the center of the circles. 

Bravo! to all the seamstresses in the past.  Today the wonderful fabric shops and the abundant fabric choices in the big department stores have disappeared, (along with many of the old department stores themselves).  The very idea of making your own clothing has nearly disappeared.  But once, every creative seamstress could be a designer.   

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Is College Worth it?

[This blog was written before President Biden announced his plan to address oppressive debt from student loans.  I have chosen to post the blog I had prepared and add an addendum at the end of the blog to comment on the program announced by the President. ] 

 At the time I did the research for Prairie Bachelor, I knew that Isaac Werner was still attending school at the age of seventeen, similar to young people living in town at that time, but not necessarily what farm kids attending classes in one-room schools on the prairie received.  Even when they were quite young, farm students attending the country schools were generally in classes only about 4 months during the winter when they were not needed to help at the farm.  After Prairie Bachelor was published, I  learned that Isaac did attend college, although I am not aware of his receiving any degree.  What is obvious from Isaac's journal is that he never stopped reading and learning, and that his interests included a large range of topics. 

Many traditional things are being challenged in America today, and one of those things is the value of higher education after the completion of high school.  Part of that is the incredible expense of a college education today.  Certain degrees, such as Medicine and the Law, among others, require an investment in further education, but recently more people are challenging the necessity of a college degree for other career paths, often suggesting that a 2-year Community College degree is adequate.  Other critics point to the extravagant and  unnecessary expense of things having no connection with education that colleges now provide to attract students, like climbing walls and waterparks, which are driving up tuition unnecessarily.  

These critics suggest that trade schools and employers who offer assistance to employees to attend college part time are better choices.  In my own community, I know of examples of businesses started by young men fresh out of high school that have become highly successful.  Of course, virtual classes are also attracting students.  

When I first read the heading of an article, "College Is A Scam," I was startled; however, I decided to investigate.  The debt many students leave college owing is in many, perhaps most, cases ominous, but since that varies with scholarships, grants, awards, and parental assistance, I have chosen not to put a number on the particular amount other than to say for many graduates paying off their student loans will take years.  From 1989 to 2016, according to one survey, the cost of college increased almost eight times faster that wages.

Here are some things to consider:

1.  35% of all jobs require at least a Bachelor's Degree.  (Of course, that means that 65% do not.)

2.  Graduates have higher salary rates and lower unemployment rates, $1,305 to $781 weekly salary rates on average, and 3.2% to 6.8% unemployment rates, or in another study 2% to 5%.  

3.  Jobs requiring a Bachelor's Degree are more likely to provide health insurance of some type; and interestingly, those with a Bachelor's are more likely to have better health habits, in particular, 20% of High School Graduates smoke, 12% of those with Associate Degrees, and only 5% of those with a Bachelor's Degree.

Those counseling students regarding the benefits of college offered several reasons, although true, that seemed to me something most young high school graduates could achieve on their own, outside of college:  "A safe place to explore interests, test career paths, or take classes 'just for fun,' A place to "make connections," A way to acquire personal growth and practice responsibilities, and an opportunity to increase knowledge and expand world views.  While those things could be pursued without being in college, it would require self discipline without a professor's or counselor's guidance, but to do well, college itself requires self discipline.

I thought an interesting way to close would be with the names of some well known people who stopped with a Community College Degree:  Eileen Collins, NASA astronaut; Calvin Klein, fashion designer; and Tom Hanks, Oscar wining actor.

I do not agree with the title, "College Is A Scam," that first attracted my attention.  However, I do understand why other options might be worth considering.

[As I noted at the top of this blog, at the time I drafted the blog, President Biden had not declared the aid to students struggling with collage debt.  Certainly I was aware of that burdensome debt, and I knew several politicians had plans they were advocating to assist students with such debt.  I certainly understand the objections from students who paid their obligations with no government help.  I also understand those who may not have pursued their first career choice, finding instead an alternative career to avoid such debt.  After all, those who chose the expense of college did so fully aware of the debt they could incur.  College is very expensive, and universities have made it more so by competing with each other to make their school more enticing.  I think most of us agree with the problem.  It is the appropriate solution that remains in dispute.  President Biden's plan seems more concerned with helping graduates escape the debt than with addressing the obviously cost of higher education.  Without addressing that part of the problem, it does not seem to be an effective solution.  I do not typically express my opinion in my blogs, but rather than avoid commenting in this case and deleting the blog, I felt an addendum was appropriate.  I respect that readers of this blog may have a different perspective.]   


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Apology accepted vs. Apology Ignored

How many of us remember some variation in the voice of your mother saying, "Now, you be nice and apologize to Susie...or Johnny...or the family dog?  Which would be, hopefully, followed by your friend accepting the apology, or the dog wagging its tail, and all the hurt feelings mended.

Refusing to share!  Sincere apology needed!

A recent news item caught my attention and prompted this blog, which is not intended to take sides in the particular situation but rather just to be a comment on the issue of apologizing. In fact, --I am not even going to bring attention to the particular apology that caught my eye.  In the days since I started drafting this blog I have seen several examples of all kinds of apologies--good ones and bad ones, as well as gracious acceptances and hateful refusals, so I am sure you can find your own examples to consider!

When we were five years old and our mothers told us to apologize, we knew what we were expected to do.  "I'm sorry," we would say, doing our best to look contrite.  The recipient, as I recall, had a few possible responses.  Among them, the simple "OK," or the extremely gracious "That's all right.  You didn't mean it."

Times have changed.  Most of us are familiar with the non-apologetic apology: "I'm sorry you took it that way," casting the infraction on the person who was offended or hurt rather than acknowledging their own bad behavior.  Going even further is the denial:  "That's not what I said."  Or, the sharing of responsibility apology avoidance:  "I guess we both got a little carried away."

Has the very idea of an apology become obsolete?  I certainly hope not, but perhaps too many apologies are more interested in justifications and excuses.  For example, here are some pitfalls that defeat true apologies, if an apology is to be sincere.  

1. Don't get caught up in arguing 'who started it."  Even if you are tempted to point out the other person's contributions to the problem, settle instead on saying simply "I'm sorry for my part in this situation."

2.  A true apology does not include the word "but."

3.  An apology isn't going to accomplish much if the behavior for which you are trying to apologize is repeated time and again.

4.  Sometimes "I'm sorry" isn't enough and takes time to restore trust, but pouting and absolutely refusing to accept a sincere effort to repair the wrong can also be unfair.

Sharing the toys.  No apology needed!

I fear that the art of a sincere apology is dying. Admitting a mistake or poor judgement seems to become harder and harder for people today, and if we don't sincerely regret whatever it is we are apologizing for, nor intend to avoid the behavior in the future, maybe there really is no point in an apology.  When you were a child, did a simple "I'm sorry" make a real difference that allowed you to go back to playing happily together?

In more sophisticated language, didn't those simple words often repair the relationship?  Didn't they often work a reconciliation?  Didn't they help to restore some dignity and sense of justice to the child whose feelings were hurt and successfully mend the harm of whatever had happened?  But, didn't it really all come down to the sincerity of the apology? 

Maybe the advice our mothers taught us, to say we were sorry when we messed up, was pretty good advice.  .  


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Loss of a Hero


As I explained at the opening of my book, Prairie Bachelor, I wrote "for readers not terribly different from Isaac and his neighbors, ordinary Americans who care about our history."  The author who has greatly inspired me, David McCullough, passed away August 7, 2022.  His quote appears on page xxvi of my book:  "No harm's done to history by making it something someone would want to read." Academics do not own history, although one critic who reviewed my book seemed to think so, basing his primary criticism not on what I had written but rather on how he wished I had written in a more academic style.  There is nothing wrong with writing books for other academics, but if history is told only to scholars, how will other readers learn about our past?  David McCullough was my hero because he wrote history in a way that ordinary people wanted to read.

I am far from being unique as a fan.  His book Truman won the Pulitzer in 1992, and John Adams won the Pulitzer in 2001, both also familiar because they were made into television movies.  I won't even begin to list all of the other awards his books have won.  Probably many of you would recognize his voice as a narrator.  In 2006 President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

"To me," McCullough wrote, "history ought to be a source of pleasure.  It isn't just part of our civic responsibility.  To me its an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is."  One of his books holds the record for selling the most nonfiction books on the day of his book's release.   Fans couldn't wait to read it!  What a tribute to an author that is.

I own most of his books, although not all of them...yet.  One of the things I did this morning before I began writing this blog was to make a list of McCullough's books that I do not own, (only three, I believe), but I intend to remedy  that quickly. 


David McCullough quote

He entered Yale University in 1951, and one of his professors was Thornton Wilder, who apparently had a significant influence on him.  After McCullough had graduated with honor, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in English, he had various jobs related to his education, but he did not publish his first book, The Johnstown Flood, until 1968.  When his first book did well enough for him to consider a career as an author, he remembered the advice Professor Wilder had given him:  Find something you want to learn about, see if anyone has already done that, and if they haven't, write it yourself.   What wonderful advice.  

McCullough already knew that he loved the "endless fascination of doing the research and doing the writing," and I believe that shows in what he has written.  I too love discovering information, perhaps information that other writers have not found or did not choose to include it in their writing, and I too love sharing what I found.  I have written in other blogs about the delight of utilizing overlooked research sources and finding new information to include in my writing.  Perhaps I sense that fascination in McCullough and that is why I love his books.

I am grateful that there are still a few of McCullough's books I have not read.  It makes my sadness of his passing slightly less to know I still have books left to read.  Somehow, it also comforts me to learn that his wife Rosalee, whom he met when they were teenagers, shared nearly all of his life with him.  Rosalee died June 9, 2022, and David McCullough followed her in death on August 7, 2022.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Love Affairs with Automobiles

 Isaac Werner lived before the automobile, so his equivalent love affairs were with his horses, particularly with Dolly Vardin, the little gray mare he bought for $115 and named after a Charles Dickens character.  In order to pay for her and borrow enough to buy other things he would need, now having a horse, he recorded in his journal:  "I took loan at $350 at 10 percent and straight on my homestead for 5 years, interest due every six months."

Recently my husband Larry saw an article about a young woman, Gail Wise, who bought the first Mustang automobile sold in America.  She was fresh out of college, and from the picture, a cute young lady, and apparently the dealer was charmed by her, since he was not supposed to even show the car, let alone sell this car being introduced with a big publicity build-up that required keeping the design secret until the unveiling on the same day across the nation.  Ignoring the prohibition about showing or selling the car, the dealer sold Gail Wise her Skylight Blue Mustang Convertible on April 15, 1964 for $3,447.50.

She was not the only one to fall in love with the new Mustang.  Larry and I had taken his high school car off to college, and he had decided it was time to trade.  We were only a few months from college graduation, and the 'Man' of the house at 19...still a few weeks from 20...had decided we didn't need to wait until graduation for a new Mustang.  Debt free until then, Mrs. Fenwick was not pleased with her husband's decision, but when they traded his high school 1956 2-door Chevy, that they took to college for a brand new Tahoe Turquoise V-8 3-speed manual transmission Mustang, she loved it!  

Larry had negotiated the purchase  through our hometown businessmen, buying it from George Asher Ford in St. John and financing it from a Macksville Bank.  With Officer Training School ahead of him, and four years in the Airforce, he and the banker were confident that the loan would be repaid.

When we drove from Hays to St. John to get the car, we invited our close friends from college, Verlin and Betha, to ride down with us and return in our new car.  Larry recently  shared his memory of that day with Betha, which she remembered clearly, and she replied with her own family's love affairs with a series of Volkswagens through 2 generations.  Most of this blog is borrowed from Larry's memories and Betha's reply.  Thank you to both of them! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Career Advice in this Changing World

Where are we going?  Photo credit: Larry Fenwick

Last week's blog included advice for young people planning their future career in 1936, and I could not help thinking of that blog as I watched CBS Sunday Morning's program describing the technology that allows the face of an individual to be mapped in such a way that it can be superimposed on another person's image so seamlessly that it appears to be the original person.  The young man being interviewed was very excited about the potential uses for the technology, such as saving a businessman's time by allowing someone else to deliver his speech with the image of the businessman making it appear that he was speaking, or using the image of a dead actor to appear in a new film.  The newsman interviewing the technician allowed his own face to be mapped, and he was shocked to see himself delivering a message he had not delivered.  Think how 'handy' that would be for politicians too busy to deliver speeches themselves!  I understood the positive uses the young man being interviewed described, but I found the potential misuse of the technology terrifying!

Goblin State Park, Nature's Power

I also thought about the blog I had just posted.  It is hard enough to advise young people just entering college today about jobs that exist, but in our rapidly changing world how can advisors predict jobs that don't exist but probably will evolve even faster than we can imagine.  How quickly computers became essential, and smart phones have also changed our world.  Perhaps Covid hastened the acceptance of virtual communication once many of us were required to work at home.  I have given many in-person book talks since "Prairie Bachelor" was released, but I have also had my talks shared virtually, and many of my book talks can be watched on the internet.

Think about the advances in medicine allowing remote examinations and machines quickly integrated into common use.  Airlines are being challenged to find qualified plots, but perhaps business travel is becoming less necessary. Perhaps sooner than we can imagine, pilots may control planes from the ground, with on ground backup pilots to take over in an emergency.  Today people still prefer to play tennis on actual courts and golf on real, out-of-doors golf courses, but perhaps future generations will prefer to strap some kind of headset on and play tennis and golf virtually.  Maybe as the water rises in Venice, tourists will virtually sit in their living rooms to tour the canals, the experience custom designed for the stay-at-home tourist by a Virtual Reality Designer.

Ice storms, fires & floods--What is our future?

Only a few years ago, who would have predicted jobs for 3D-printing Technicians or Solar Energy and Wind Energy Technicians, yet those occupations are already here.  Will the time arrive when Genetic Engineering will allow us to custom-make our babies?  Will home schooling become more desirable with Personal Education Guides?

It is predicted that between 2020 and 2050 people living over the age of sixty will nearly double, and  the overall world's population of about 7.8 billion people in 2020 will increase to over 9.7 billion people by 2050.  This is the predicted world our current college freshmen are entering.  Good Luck to those High School Counselors and College Professors helping students choose careers for the future that awaits them.   

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Value of Advice

 It is obvious by now to those of you who follow my blog that I enjoy history.  Recently I was looking at a textbook titled "The Business of Life," published in 1936 for business students.  I thought it would be interesting to share some of the advice the authors' included.  They begin:  "Life is no round-trip ticket.  This journey, according to present-day reckoning, lasts about fifty-nine years for the average person."  I did a quick check for today's life expectancy in America and found that it is about 81-years for women and 77 for men.  Obviously, life expectancy has changed significantly.  I was curious to see how much the advice of the authors has changed, and I hope you enjoy what I found. 

The authors believed that the lack of a real purpose is the cause of many peoples' failures on the journey of life.  As an example, the authors' wrote, "At a railroad or bus station we do not ask for a ticket to 'somewhere,' but rather we should ask for a specific destination."  The authors explained that just as you should know where you want to go when you buy a ticket, you should also want to know your purpose when you begin your journey into adulthood. Today's kids are unlikely to be going off to college by railroad or bus, but, more importantly, how many of today's students actually know how to answer 'Exactly what career have you chosen for the rest of your life?' when they leave for college?  The authors' 1936 advice:  "The great secret of making the journey of life successfully lies in discovering at the start the main highway and then in staying on it," would sound ridiculous to most students leaving high school today, and even if they did adhere to a chosen career path, how many would adhere to that path for their entire lives?

Today there are professors with the specific purpose of advising students about the selection of a career path, and correspondingly, the classes  they should take for that career.  In 1936, apparently students were assumed to arrive at college knowing what they wanted to do with their lives, or otherwise, they   would be unlikely to enroll without a specific goal.  That is not the case today. 

Although some of the advice included in the book is relevant, much of it is obsolete.  The authors' recognized that time changes the appropriate advice for students, and we certainly recognize that  technology has created many unimagined options.  Years ago I thought a great high school graduation gift was a nice leather bound dictionary with the recipient's name stamped in gold on the lower corner of the dictionary.  Today I'm sure kids use the dictionary on their smart phones.  Once I realized that the dictionary idea was probably not appreciated, I came up with another idea--a really nice photo album with their name on it.  But, today photographs are probably on their smart phones, not displayed in an album.  Year by year things change, and many things become obsolete.  Sometimes it seems hard to keep up!

One suggestion in the 1936 book was looking to men (notice women were not included in their advice) you admire as potential role models, with their suggested examples being Lincoln, Lindberg, and Edison.  Lincoln remains a popular president, and respect for Edison's inventions continues, but the reputation of Lindbergh was sullied by his isolationist outspokenness during the lead-up to W.W. II.  Perhaps the biggest difference between the 1936 choices and current surveys for most admired is that women are now included.  Politics, entertainment, and sports tend to dominate polls today.  Are these men and women truly appropriate role models for this young generation?  Yes and no, probably.

During my search through the 1936 The Business of Life textbook, I was surprised to come across  the illustration above.  Expanding on the caption beneath the illustration the authors wrote, "No real sportsman would think of shooting a covey of birds without first flushing them, nor would he think of firing at a rabbit except when it was on the run."  The authors admitted that even in 1936 the common ethics of sportsmanship had deteriorated, until "today there is little sport left in this country."  What would the authors of their textbook think of the weapons used by hunters today, as well as access to ownership and other issues?

Reading the 1936 book was interesting, but I cannot imagine that the advice would hold the attention of today's students.  I did find one section titled "Qualities That Make For Character" interesting, and I thought it worth quoting.  "Perhaps the best trait of character that everyone may acquire is to do the very best he can at all times, regardless of the handicap under which he may have to labor.  This is all that we should expect of anyone.  Most of the following qualities are considered necessary, and all of them are important to good character:  courage, honesty, reliability, perseverance, industry, accuracy, self-control, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, and cooperation.  Other qualities, such as leadership, judgement, and thinking ability may be necessary for great success but not necessary for a good character ."

The young man who first owned this book, perhaps a nephew of my husband's grandmother, was a  teenager in 1936.  I don't know how the book made its way from Iowa to Kansas.  All I know is that it was among the things we sorted at the time of my mother-in-law's death.  How I would love to know what young Lloyd Clapp, whose name is written neatly in the front of the book, thought of his textbook and whether the faint underlining under "Qualities That Make for Character" were made by Lloyd.