Fanny Kemble

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good – Thomas J. Watson

I never heard of Fanny Kemble until I recently read a devotion, The Unlikely in Our Daily Bread which mentions her work as an Abolitionist.  She was a British actress in the 19th century who married Pierce Butler, an American fan.  Fanny didn’t know that he was soon to inherit two plantations.  Had she known, most probably she would not have married him.  Little did she know that she would soon be fighting her own civil war.

Fanny Kemble was born in England in 1809 into a prominent family of actors.  Although she was very accomplished in her acting, it was not her true love.  Writing was her passion and throughout her she would write plays, journals, poetry, letters and memoirs.  Her most famous authorship would be that of Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation which many consider to be the closest, most detailed account of the harsh conditions of plantation slavery.

Fanny was a strong, spirited woman with no formal training in acting but she managed to captivate audiences.  She had what were considered to be masculine traits: she was independent, physically strong and highly intelligent.  She was talented, spoke French fluently and was accomplished in music.  She embraced life and enjoyed exercise, specifically riding.  To her the best way to was to break “my neck off the back of my horse at a full gallop on a fine day”.  This reminds me of my former boss whose wish was to die being mauled to death by a polar bear.  Whatever happened to wanting to die peacefully in one’s sleep?

Fanny met her future husband Pierce when she and her father went on a two-year theatre tour in America.  It wasn’t her desire to experience life in America but she did it to please her father.  She was well received by the Americans and captured the ardent attention of Pierce Butler, a man born into wealthy and prominent family from Philadelphia.  His grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran Major Pierce Butler.  Major Butler was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause.  He owned two plantations in Georgia, one was on St. Simon’s Island where sea-island cotton was grown and the other was on Butler Island where rice was grown.  One day, his grandson would inherit this mass fortune, making history as one of the largest slaveholders in the nation.

Pierce, infatuated with Fanny, followed her while she toured and she fell in love with this charming and attentive man.  She married him as a way of escaping life in the theatre which was beset with her family’s unstable financial future.  She was marrying into wealth but didn’t find out what the source of that wealth was until after they got married.

It was a marriage that was doomed from the beginning.  She believed that he would always be devoted to her and he believed that he could control her.  And their differences on slavery did not help matters.  He thought he could get her to see the benefits of the institution while she thought she could get him to free his slaves.  When she tried to publish an antislavery treatise she had written, Pierce forbade her to do so.  After he and his brother John inherited the Georgia plantations, Fanny wanted to see the plantation and begged but Pierce to take her with him but he refused.  Then in December of 1838 he took her and their two daughters and their Irish nurse to Butler Island.  Nothing could have prepared Fanny for  what she witnessed at this place.  Inspite of the beautiful surroundings, she could not escape the ugly presence of slavery.  She said, “I should like the wild savage loneliness of the far away existence extremely if it were not for the one small item of the slavery.”

Fanny and Pierce clashed over their views of slavery and their marriage began to deteriorate.  In 1845 Fanny left Pierce and children and returned to England where she resumed her stage career.  Pierce sued for divorce, claiming that she had “willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845”.  Three years later, on April 7, 1848, he filed for divorce.  Fanny returned to America to defend herself against his charges and after a long and painful court battle, the divorce was granted a year later with Pierce having full custody of the girls.  Fanny was allowed to spend two months very summer with them and receive $1500 yearly in alimony.

While Fanny was able to support herself in the U.S. and Europe with her Shakespearean readings, Pierce fell into financial ruin, gambling away his fortune.  He ended up in huge debt which led to the selling of the mansion in Philadelphia and the liquidation of other properties.  Unfortunately, this was not enough so the trustees turned their focus on the property in Georgia where the slaves were.  This led to the largest single sale of human beings in United States history and the event known as “the weeping time” as slaves were separated from their families.

After the war Pierce and his daughter Frances returned to Butler Island where he arranged for former slaves to work for him as sharecroppers.  He later contracted malaria and died.  Fanny moved to Philadelphia where she continued to perform dramatic readings.  She travelled and published her journals.  On January 15, 1893, Fanny died peacefully in London.

Notes to Women want to acknowledge this woman who spoke out against an institution and practice which violated the rights of people based on their race.  Moved with compassion and a sense of decency, Fanny set out to reform the plantations.  She set up a hostel and nursery for those in need and paid the slaves who personally tended to her.  She improved the hygiene of the slave children by rewarding cleanliness with small prizes.   Her critics saw her efforts at reform as foolish and sided with her husband but we applaud Fanny for the stance she took against slavery and her resolve to do what she could to help the slaves and for raising awareness through her firsthand observations.  If you are interested in reading about her experiences, you can read them in her diary here.

In Fanny’s eyes, acquiring wealth from the forced labor and enslavement of others is unconscionable. She was convinced that slavery was wrong and inhumane and refused to be silenced on the matter.  She stuck to her convictions and today, her journal continues to be a primary source of education on the reality of slavery.

[On disagreeing with her husband about his slave-holding:] I cannot give my conscience into the keeping of another human being or submit the actions dictated by my conscience to their will.

I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution.

In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live.

I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man.

The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace – the handcuff, the last – the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives – the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart – these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave’s experience.

A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants…. The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.

Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen-the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will-are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.

When marriage is what it ought to be, it is indeed the very happiest condition of existence.

4fank45m

Sources:  PBS, Pabook Libraries, New Georgia Encyclopedia; Brainy Quotes; AZ Quotes; Stand Up Quotes

Illiteracy Among Women in Asia

I can’t imagine not being able to read.  It’s my one of favourite past-times.  When I was a child, you could always find me with my face buried in a book.  My love for reading gave birth to my love for writing.

Reading and writing are basic rights which we are entitled to.  Imagine not being able to write your name or read warning labels in order to protect your child. Yet, sadly for over 250 million women in Asia illiteracy is a reality.

It is said that when a girl or a woman is not educated it impacts her but the entire family.  Illiterate women face more hardships and are not aware of their rights.  Literacy is low among women because in most families the boys are sent to schools instead of the girls.   It is believed that educating the girls would be a waste of time because they aren’t going to earning members of their families and they would be leaving home any way when they get married. Poverty, accessibility to the schools and lack of female teachers are also factors in the low literacy rate among women and girls.

Education is exactly what females in India need in order to break the cycle of poverty.  Find out what Gospel for Asia is doing to help by women and girls through their Literacy Program at this link: http://www.gfa.org/women/literacy/.

 

Sources:  Maps of India; Gospel for Asia

Agatha Christie

I have watched her characters Miss Jane Marple, an astute spinster whose sharp eyes miss nothing and the meticulous, funny mustached Hercule Poirot come to life on the screen and today I thought that it would be fun to find out a little bit about Agatha Christie. 

She came from a well-to-do family and was taught at home by a governess and tutors.  She never attended school and she became adept at creating games to keep herself occupied at a very young age.  A shy child, unable to adequately express her feelings, she first turned to music as a means of expression and, later in life, to writing.  I can relate to this.  I am more comfortable expressing myself through writing.

In 1914, at the age of 24, she married Archie Christie, a World War I fighter pilot. While he was off at war, she worked as a nurse. It was while working in a hospital during the war that Christie first came up with the idea of writing a detective novel. Although it was completed in a year, it wasn’t published until 1920, five years later.

Two years later, Archie asked Agatha for a divorce.  He had fallen in love with another woman.  What a blow that must have been for her.  This happened in the wake of her mother’s recent death.  Perhaps she was unable to cope with these two major upsets in her life, Agatha disappeared causing an uproar in all of England as everyone wondered what had become of the mystery writer.  Her disappearance was a mystery in itself until three weeks later when the police found her in a small hotel, apparently suffering from memory loss.  Thereafter, it was never again mentioned or elaborated upon by Christie (http://christie.mysterynet.com/).

In 1930, Agatha found happiness again with an archaeologist, Max Mallowan.  She met him on a trip to Mesopotamia.  Christie’s travels with Mallowan contributed background to several of her novels set in the Middle East. 

I always wondered what it would be like for Poirot and Miss Marple to team up on a mystery or two but Agatha had a very good reason for not permitting this to happen.  “Hercule Poirot, a complete egoist, would not like being taught his business or having suggestions made to him by an elderly spinster lady.”  I found it amusing that Agatha found Poirot insufferable while she was fond of Miss Marple.  Still, as insufferable as Poirot was, he was popular.  The public liked him so Agatha had to resist the temptation to kill him off.

Agatha had her fans and she had her critics.  Others have accused her of anti-semetism and of stereotyping.  Christie often characterised the “foreigners” in such a way as to make the reader understand and sympathise with them; this is particularly true of her Jewish characters, who are seldom actually criminals.  I noticed that in a few Poirot episodes, that the guilty party referred to him as a “foreigner” with much distaste. 

Still, Agatha Christie Agatha Christie was revered as a master of suspense, plotting, and characterisation by most of her contemporaries (Wikipedia).  And she has created two of the greatest fictional characters of all time and has swept us into the exciting twists and turns of great mystery plots.

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Agatha Christie

The Benefits of Education

I am so thankful that I was born and raised in a country where education was easily accessible.  My gender was not a factor in the quality of education I received as it is, unfortunately in some countries.  I learned History, Geography, Social Studies, French and I loved English.  My interest in writing began when I was in school. 

I read a post today about the benefits of education.  On a recent visit to the UAE, Penny Low, Singapore’s People Action Party member, explained how women can become productive members of the society through “education, empowerment and enhancement” that will benefit the community at large.

She said it is the realisation that what one makes of circumstances and situation that makes life fulfilling, especially changes for the betterment of all, specifically the marginalised.

Low then explained what social innovation is and how women can contribute to the social cause to strengthen the community and the civil society. 

Low said that women can only contribute to the social cause when they are open to their surrounding and observe what is going around them, adding that there is a rise of a global concern for “green and ecologically-friendly” lifestyle. 

Low used Florence Nightingale, a celebrated English nurse, to demonstrate how her nursing care during the 1850s Crimean War evolved into the nursing profession today.  I can think of another example–Eva Smith. 

Eva Smith was a community outreach worker and counsellor who knew and understood people in despair, particularly youth. She was a woman of action, determination and persistence.

In 1987, she helped to found the North York Emergency Home for Youth. Her work and advocacy resulted in the construction of our first shelter, Eva’s Place, which was named in her honour. Eva Smith’s mission was to use her skills and her knowledge of how the social services system works to help people find solutions to their problems (http://evasinitiatives.com/who.php). 

“Each one of us has potentials inside,” Low said, pointing out that with social innovation comes the responsibility to propagate the three “D’s” namely education, empowerment and enhancement.  She urged women to use their potential.  “People work for a living and live for a cause. Woman or man, find your cause, and live it to the fullest.” (http://gulftoday.ae/portal/1cb93e89-b52a-444a-80d0-0b3cdb88fbe3.aspx).

There is the old adage that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste”.  I urge the women to educate themselves, find interests, passions, causes, keeping in mind that they are building themselves up to be pillars of strength and inspiration for their communities.  Take Eva’s initiative and use your skills and knowledge to make a difference.

Writer and Philanthropist

My mother’s favorite novelist is Catherine Cookson.  After I read a few of her books and watched movies based on them I became a fan too.  Her characters seemed so real and no wonder–her books were inspired by her deprived youth in North East deEngland, the setting for her novels.

Catherine’s story is as intriguing as the stories she wrote.  She was the illegitimate child of an alcoholic named Kate Fawcett, she grew up thinking her unmarried mother was her sister, as she was raised by her grandparents, Rose and John McMullen.   She married Tom Cookson, a teacher.  Tragically, she suffered four miscarriages and had a mental breakdown.  It took her ten years to recover.  She also suffered from a rare vascular disease, telangiectasia, which causes bleeding from the nose, fingers and stomach and results in anemia.

Catherine took up writing as a form of therapy to tackle her depression, and joined Hastings Writers’ Group. Her first novel, Kate Hannigan, was published in 1950.  She became the United Kingdom’s most widely read novelist, with sales topping 100 million, while retaining a relatively low profile in the world of celebrity writers.  She remained the most borrowed author from public libraries in the UK for 17 years, only losing the title in 2002, four years after her death.

Thanks to her craft Catherine became a multi-millionnaire.  She supported  causes in North East England and medical research in areas that were close to her heart.  She also donated more than £1 million for research into a cure for the illness that afflicted her (Wikipedia). 

With affluence Catherine concentrated on philanthropic activities to support the less fortunate. Catherine Cookson created a trust at the University of Newcastle with a committed amount of £ 800,000. The self titled Trust is dedicated towards the progress and research in the field of medical sciences and provides medical support to the underprivileged. Besides this Catherine Cookson also contributed £20,000 for the Hatton Gallery of the University and £32,000 for it’s library (http://www.catherinecookson.net/).

Despite the challenges and tragedies in her life, Catherine Cookson reached out to help others by using the money she made from the sales of her books. The plight of the less fortunate and the underprivileged moved her to do something to make life easier for them. 

Writing helped Catherine to get through her dark hours.  It is my hope and prayer that if you are going through something, that you will find the help you need to cope.

Community Worker

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.  But it happened in those days that she became sick and died (Acts 9:36, 37).  We don’t know much about this woman except that she was from a place called Joppa, she was a disciple and she made the tunics and garments for the widows in her community and she died from an illness. 

The widows mourned her death because of her kindness and generosity toward them.  They showed Peter the tunics and garments she had made for them.  No doubt they rejoiced when Peter brought her back to life.

Dorcas is a great example of someone who used her talent to bless others.  She was good at making garments and she dedicated her time doing just that.  In a sense she was serving her community by providing these things for the widows.

What are your talents?  Are you a great cook?  Do you love writing?  What about singing?  One of my co-workers likes to knit.  She has knitted beautiful baby blankets for other co-workers and me.  She makes dresses.  She also loves to cook.  These are gifts that she has used to bless others.  If English is your favorite topic, you should consider tutoring someone who is not good at it.  If reading is your thing, think about visiting a nursing home and reading to the patients.  If you are a person who loves to cook, think about having a bake sale and donating the money to a charity. 

If you like helping people, there are many charities looking for volunteers.  You can enter a mentorship program.  If you like planting, you can help out at a shelter.  If you are great at baby-sitting, why not volunteer to look after the kids at a women’s shelter? You can be a part of the shelter’s Homework Club.  The possibilities are endless.

Think of how you can use your talent or hobby to help others.  Let Dorcus be your inspiration!