I just returned from a wonderful trip "up north" to talk about Julia Wilbur, Harriet Jacobs, Civil War Alexandria and Washington, and the relevance of all these topics to life today. All told, almost 900 miles on my trusty Honda CRV. Here are a few things that I did and learned.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Since I was "passing through" Philadelphia (sort of), I couldn't resist a stop at the HSP, where I have wanted to see the originals of diaries written by George Parry. Parry was a veterinarian, one of the very few trained at the time, who joined the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry in 1863. A possible future project, although he was a terse diary-keeper.
I spent my afternoon poring over the diaries. Since I arrived about 30 minutes before it opened, I got to check out the Library Store next store--the library founded by Benjamin Franklin.
Oakwood Friends School
Oakwood Friends has been on my wish list to visit for a long time. The school in Poughkeepsie is the legacy school of Nine Partners, which Julia Wilbur attended in 1829. In fact, a year or so ago, I came upon a drawing she made of the school in 1829 and wrote a blog post about it. A student who took an interest in the school's archives found the original of the drawing and a copybook that Julia used.
I arrived around 9 pm to spend the night, then speak to the students the next day.
We gathered in the meeting room. All was quiet at 9:44--at 9:45, everyone streamed in and took his or her assigned seat on long benches. The session began with a moment of silence. I then spoke about their most worthy "alum." Who knows? Maybe someday, someone will give a talk about one of the students in the group to a future generation of Oakwood students.
Central Connecticut State University
The idea for this trip began at CCSU, with my friend and colleague Mary Collins. Mary is a writing professor who lived in Alexandria for about a decade. She brought me in to speak to students in her class, Writing on Social Issues, and I built the rest of the trip around this invitation.
Instead of a presentation, we talked about how history can shed light on issues today, including about race and gender. I was Example A of how a writer can become immersed in a topic enough to write about it without previously being an "expert." The students have a full semester ahead of them (it began last week), and I hope I helped get them off on a good path.
The next day, I spoke to a women's history class taught by Heather Prescott, with a look at Harriet Jacobs and Julia Wilbur. The semester class officially takes off from 1865, but the two women defined roles that rolled into Reconstruction and beyond.
In both classes, great questions from the students.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
Harriet Beecher Stowe, famous for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin and influencing public opinion about slavery, lived in the area of Hartford called Nook Farm. In recent years, the Stowe Center, as it is called, has gone beyond tours that focus on the history of the house and of Stowe, to a broader consideration of social justice and related issues. I was honored to give an Author's Talk to an audience of Stowe center regulars and first-timers.
Public Library of New London
I am from New London, so, of course, I wanted to find a way to get down there. Madhu Gupta, one of the librarians, offered to host a talk on the only day I had available, Friday at noon, though warned me not to expect too many attendees. But an article in The Day, the area newspaper, brought out a good crowd, including several people with whom I went to elementary and high school! That was great.
Afterwards, I had time to walk around downtown (including the men's store that my grandfather and father owned, alas boarded up and being gutted), the beaches on Long Island Sound, my old house, and the like. I wish downtown New London could revive, but seeing my old haunts brought back those sharp memories, good and bad. I lived in the same house until I left New London for parts beyond.
Museum of the City of New York
I played tourist here--staying in Hastings-on-Hudson, then going into the city to eat lunch at a Caribbean restaurant named Sisters and visit the museum on 105th Street across from Central Park. But there is a Julia Wilbur connection to the city, so we can call it a busman's holiday (not for my tax returns, for the record).
Pendle Hill Quaker Retreat Center
A dose of reality, but so it goes. At my last scheduled stop, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, attendance was...nonexistent. Julia Wilbur would have been disappointed and moved on, and so will I.
Thanks to my hosts, the students and faculty at Oakwood Friends and CCSU, the folks in the audience, and everyone else I met along the way. It was a great adventure.