Wednesday Feb. 15, 2017

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First Snow

Like a child, the earth’s going to sleep,
or so the story goes.

But I’m not tired, it says.
And the mother says, You may not be tired but I’m tired—

You can see it in her face, everyone can.
So the snow has to fall, sleep has to come.
Because the mother’s sick to death of her life
and needs silence.

“First Snow” by Louise Glück from Poems: 1962-2012. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. Reprinted by permission.  (buy now)

The battleship USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor on this date in 1898. The Maine was stationed in Havana to show support for Cuba’s independence movement, and to protect U.S. business interests on the island. Even though Spain had agreed to grant Cuba some autonomy, relations between the United States and Spain were strained. The Maine was sitting quietly in the harbor when the massive explosion ripped through her at 9:40 p.m. Two hundred and sixty crewmembers were killed.

Even though the Spanish ambassador declared unequivocally that Spain had had nothing to do with the explosion, the American public was outraged. The newspapers didn’t help; they ran sensational headlines like “Spanish Treachery!” and “Destruction of the War Ship Maine Was the Work of an Enemy!” William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal offered a $50,000 reward for “the detection of the Perpetrator of the Maine Outrage.” In March, the U.S. Navy conducted a hasty investigation and determined that a mine had caused the explosion; there was no proof that it was a Spanish mine, but no proof was needed. Congress issued a declaration of war against Spain in April, one day after Spain had declared war on the United States.

The Spanish-American War was short-lived. Spain sued for peace in July. Three hundred American troops were killed in battle, and 4,000 of them died of tropical diseases. With its defeat, Spain lost the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States, and Cuba gained its independence.

We still aren’t sure what caused the explosion that sank the Maine. In 1976, experts determined that a fire in the ship’s coal bunker was the probable cause. But in 1998, National Geographic investigators found some evidence to suggest that perhaps it had been a mine after all, since the battleship’s hull was dented inward.

It’s the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, a pioneer in the women’s suffrage movement. It’s because of her actions, along with other women in the suffragist movement, that women have the right to speak in public, serve on committees, keep their wages and guardianship of their children, and vote. She was also an ardent advocate for equal pay for equal work. She said: “I do not demand equal pay for any women save those who do equal work in value. Scorn to be coddled by your employers; make them understand that you are in their service as workers, not as women.” She was the longtime president of the National Women’s Suffrage Association and campaigned throughout her life for a woman’s right to vote.

Susan Brownell Anthony was born in Adams, Massachusetts (1820). Her father was a liberal Quaker and cotton manufacturer. The Anthony farm often served as a meeting place for the abolitionist movement, and later in her life, Anthony became great friends with abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Anthony taught at a Quaker boarding school in Philadelphia for a time, where she earned $1.52 per week and began thinking about the great wrongs women were suffering in life because they were not afforded the same treatment as men. She began speaking in public about equal rights for women. And when she was denied the right to speak at a temperance conference because she was female, she and her good friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the New York Women’s State Temperance Society (1852).

Anthony and Stanton were inseparable until the day Stanton died. Wherever Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her husband lived, they always set aside a room for Susan B. Anthony. Anthony never married, and while Stanton worked on Anthony’s speeches, Anthony watched her children.

Stanton’s husband once said, “Susan stirred the pudding, Elizabeth stirred up Susan, and then Susan stirs up the world.” Anthony, Stanton, Parker Pillsbury, and George Francis Train started a women’s newspaper in New York City called The Revolutionist. The paper’s motto was, “Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.”

Susan B. Anthony gave hundreds of lectures every year. Many times, her speeches were shut down by mobs throwing rotten eggs. Benches were broken, knives and pistols displayed. She once gave a speech from the top of a billiard table. And when her train was snowbound, she survived on crackers and dried fish for several days. She was arrested for attempting to vote In Rochester, New York, and during her trial, the New York Times noted dryly, “It was conceded that the defendant was, on the 5th of November, 1872, a woman.” The jury, which held no women because women weren’t allowed to serve on juries, was instructed by the judge to find Anthony guilty without discussion, which they did. The judge set a fine, but Anthony vowed to never pay it, and she never did.

Susan B. Anthony was asked so often why she never married that she always had three answers at the ready. One was, “It always happened that the men I wanted were those I could not get, and those who wanted me I wouldn’t have.” Another was, “I never found the man who was necessary to my happiness. I was very well as I was.” And the third was, “I never felt I could give up my life of freedom to become a man’s housekeeper. When I was young, if a girl married poor, she became a housekeeper and a drudge. If she married wealth she became a pet and a doll. Just think, had I married at twenty, I would have been a drudge or a doll for fifty-nine years. Think of it!”

The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, 14 years after Susan B. Anthony’s death. It prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex. Susan B. Anthony once lamented, “To think I have had more than 60 years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel.”

On November 2, of that same year, more than 8 million women across the U.S. voted in elections for the first time. It took more than 60 years for the remaining 12 states to ratify the 19th Amendment; Mississippi dragged its feet until 1984.

It's the birthday of American composer and pianist Harold Arlen, born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo (1905), the son of a musician. In the mid-1920s he met lyricist Ted Koehler; together they collaborated on such tunes as "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and "I've Got the World on A String." Among his many Broadway and Hollywood songs are "It's Only A Paper Moon," "That Old Black Magic," and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

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