Writing Women Back Into History #4

Writing Women Back into History --Special Program History Revisited - A Guide to Women's History DVDMarch is National Women’s History Month. My posts this month support the 2010 theme of the National Women’s History Project.


          I was a child who thought history classes were B-O-R-I-N-G.
          My taste in reading leaned toward biography but I did not connect those works with history. Biographies were interesting stories. I particularly enjoyed reading about women. One of earliest biographies I remember was Ann Petry’s 1955 book Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad.  I discovered an amazing person who made a difference in challenging times.
          One of the few school papers that survived many moves was my eighth grade book report on Rebel in Petticoats: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Winifred E. Wise. That same year, I received the one and only “D” of my entire school career, in the most boring of all classes: history.
      Two years later, Miss Marjorie Bates changed my attitude. She taught American History at Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana. No matter what event we conference logo studied, Miss Bates knew an intriguing sidelight. I see her in my mind’s eye, a plain and stout woman with short cropped hair, pausing in the midst of discussing the impact of some war to tell how the general’s horse got its name or what a bystander witnessed while hiding in the outhouse. She gave life to dusty history and I began to read with an eye for the intriguing tidbits of story in the events we studied. 
       Today, I read and research history. I write biography and historical fiction–mostly focused on women–and short stories often based on my own family history.
          Thank you, Miss Bates!

Writing Women Back Into History #3

Writing Women Back into History --Special Program History Revisited - A Guide to Women's History DVD

March is National Women’s History Month. My posts this month support the 2010 theme of the National Women’s History Project. 



The founding fathers of the United States followed English common law, which dictated that property a woman brought to a marriage or gained during the marriage belonged to her husband. The average woman simply married and accepted that her husband controlled their mutual property. If he died, she was entitled to a widow’s dower of one-third of his property for her lifetime. However, during his lifetime, the husband could squander her property and leave her with nothing.                   
          A few women refused to accept such risk.  Sarah Terry Coleman was such a woman.
          Sarah’s first husband died, leaving her with two children and custody of a small Kentucky farm that would become her son’s property when he came of age. A few years later, Sarah was courted by a neighbor, Robert Cochran. After a decent courtship, he proposed marriage.  Sarah loved this man but he had a well-known history of bad debts. She risked losing Robert by laying a condition in the way of accepting his proposal. She said he must sign, and file with the county court, a document relinquishing all rights to her existing property and to her future inheritance from her father’s estate. Robert must have loved her, and understood his own weakness in financial management, because he signed this early day form of prenuptial agreement. They were married two days later on November 5, 1833.
          Over the twenty-three years of their marriage, Robert proved Sarah’s  wisdom. He managed to lose a considerable amount of property to debts he could not pay, including: 150 acres of land (with a house and barn on it), 40 hogs, 18 head of cattle, 12 sheep, 8 horses, and one wagon. 
           Sarah’s place in history has, to this point, remained a family matter. She and Robert were my great-great grandparents.conference logo
In 1848 New York State enacted the first Married Women’s Property Act, which became a model for similar laws in most other states. The Act gave a married woman the right to retain separate ownership of any real and personal property she owned at the time of marriage. This included rents and profits from her property. Her husband no longer had the right to dispose of her property or pledge it as security for debts without her consent. The law further allowed her to receive property from someone other than her husband and hold it for her sole and separate use. 

Writing Women Back Into History #2

Writing Women Back into History --Special Program History Revisited - A Guide to Women's History DVDMarch is National Women’s History Month. My posts this month follow the 2010 theme of the National Women’s History Project. 


My first biography of the Colorado Ute Indian woman, Chipeta (1843-1924), grew out of a desire to know the woman I found “standing by her man.” That is how she seemed to be portrayed in Colorado history books and biographies of her husand, Chief Ouray. Researching a nineteenth century Native American woman was a challenge but the journey was worthwhile. Eight years later Chipeta: Queen of the Utes was released by Western Reflections Publishing.
          I thought Chipeta’s story was so important that I followed with a second biography for younger readers. Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker was published in 2008 by Filter Press.
          To discover Chipeta the woman, I dug into Indian Agent records in the National Archives, oral histories collected under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), unpublished manuscripts and old newspapers. What emerged was a picture of a strong intelligent partner who became Ouray’s most trusted advisor. They were a political team.
         Ouray was appointed by the United States government to be Head Chief of all the Ute bands in Colorado. He was not chosen by the Ute people. Many Ute warriors and chiefs hated him and a few attempted to kill him. Chipeta became Ouray’s eyes and ears, welcomed in camps where he could not go. She visited among the women and learned what their men thought about important issues. But she was more than a gatherer of intellengence; she formed opions and expressed them directly to Ouray.    
conference logo          The most telling example of her influence occurred after the 1879 Meeker Massacre. A group of Northern Utes killed their Indian Agent and employees of the agency–all white men. They also took white women and children as hostages. The white residents of Colorado were outraged and began to arm themselves for war. The Utes responsible for the massacre asked Ouray to gather warriors and join them in a last stand against the white people who had invaded traditional Ute lands.
          Ouray was ill with liver disease. His long efforts to maintain peace had been undone by the massacre. Dying honorably in battle appealed to him. Through a long night, Chipeta reasoned and pleaded until he sent out an order for all fighting to cease. Chipeta’s influence prevented a calamity that would have claimed hundreds of lives. After Ouray’s death she chose to go with their people to a reservation in Utah. She was recognized as a wise woman by the Utes and by many people of Colorado.

Writing Women Back Into History #1

Writing Women Back into History --Special Program History Revisited - A Guide to Women's History DVD
March is National Women’s History Month. My posts for the month follow the 2010 theme of the National Women’s History Project.


          Many female writers today are interested in giving women their place in history. Some do this by writing family histories for their children and grandchildren. Such works may include letters and recipes from great aunts and grandmothers, the most likely surviving documents in a woman’s own handwriting. Capturing the stories of family life in past generations is a wonderful legacy. 
          Women like author Jane Kirkpatrick offer their ancestor’s stories to a wider audience through books. In A Flickering Light, Jane weaves a compelling coming of age story based on the life and times of her grandmother, Jessie Ann Gaebele, a turn of the century Midwestern photographer. This work was named to Library Journal’s Best Books of 2009. The sequel, An Absence So Great, will be released March 16, 2010.
          Harriet Rochlin’s research into her Jewish roots in the Spanish, Mexican and American West became the illustrated social history Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West. Then she turned to fiction, exploring the lives of these pioneers through the eyes of a character called Frieda Levie in her Desert Dwellers Trilogy.
          In Harvey Girl, Sheila Wood Foard captures the unique world of adventuous young women who travelled far from home in the late 1800s and early 1900s to serve meals to passengers in the famous Harvey Houses along the routes of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
conference logoThe courageous female pilots of the World War II era Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) are the focus of Sarah Byrn Rickman’s work. Her biography Nancy Batson Crews: Alabama’s First Lady of Flight tells the story of an original member of the WAFS. These women “flew top-priority P-38, P-47, and P-51 high-performance aircraft from factory to staging areas and to and from maintenance and training sites” to support the war effort.
          For more authors publishing women’s stories, visit this list of writers in the organization Women Writing the West.

Trust but Verify

The Internet is a wonderful research tool that offers an amazing amount of information. However, not all of that information is accurate, even when found on websites of reputable organizations. Here are a couple of examples from my research. They remind me to check facts in multiple sources before using them in print.
          A Google search for “Chipeta” turned up a Colorado State University webpage about potatoes. The university’s agricultural research program develops new potato cultivars and a 1993 russet potato was named for “Chipeta.” That was a fun bit of trivia. However, the page noted, “Chipeta is featured on a stained-glass window in the state capitol building (in Denver).” A visit to the Colorado State Capitol Virtual Tour and the link to the Hall of Fame Stained Glass (Rotunda)  reveals that Chipeta’s husband, Ouray, is honored there. Further search locates Chipeta on the 1976 “Women’s Gold Tapestry” created for Colorado Centennial celebration.
          The webpage of the Meeker [Colorado] Chamber of Commerce reproduces “This Is What I Remember” from the Rio Blanco County Historical Society.  The last ten paragraphs of the article recall the 1879 rescue of three white women and two children after the Meeker Massacre. It reads in part, “When news of the massacre reached Los Pinos…Chipeta…rode alone on the long trip north to intercede for the white captives. This exploit brought her the plaudits of all America.” It was a popular tale that did not happen. She sent runners to find her husband and other chiefs and prepare for a council meeting. After 23 day in captivity the rescued women and children were brought to Chipeta’s home to recover. The facts in this case are more difficult to find but they exist in eye witness newspaper accounts and Congressional testimony.

Published in: on March 7, 2009 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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March Women’s History Month

          Did you know Chipeta is a Hall of Famer? She was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985 for the “courage and valor she demonstrated in her efforts to mediate between Native Americans and whites.” Click here to visit Chipeta’s page.
          It is a lovely honor but some of the information posted about her is questionable. Margaret Adams, wife of Ute Indian Agent Charles Adams, seems to be the source of “White Singing Bird” as the meaning of Chipeta’s name. Other sources say her name meant “Charitable One,” “The Jewel,” or “Spring of Clear Water.” One source says it came from the Spanish name Guadalupita. Yet another says it was a pet name used by Kit Carson for his own wife, Maria Josefa Jaramillo Carson. A cursory review of Ute language resources reveals no words for white, sing or bird that are at all similar to any parts of Chipeta. 
          Chipeta did accompany Ouray to the treaty negotiations at Conejos in 1863. However, her name does not appear in Indian Agent expense records for any of Ouray’s trips to Washington, DC until his final trip in 1880. Margaret Adams traveled with the 1872 Ute delegation to visit friends and relatives back East while the men conducted business.

Published in: on March 1, 2009 at 3:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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