Historian of the Early Modern Era

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Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World.

How do we assess women’s agency as “voluntary” and “involuntary” travelers? Furthermore, how do we understand “travel writing” as a genre with respect to early modern women’s contributions? What archival questions emerge from a discussion of early modern women’s distinctive modes of travel and/or forms of writing? (Akhimie and Andrea, 3)

These are just some of the insights and questions that are answered in Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World. Using the hyperlink below, you can access my review of this work as it appears in Terrae Incognitae, the peer-reviewed academic journal for The Society of the History of Discoveries.

(2020). Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World. Terrae Incognitae.

Source: Travel and Travail: Early Modern Women, English Drama, and the Wider World.

Approaching Public Engagement: Sharing Early Modern Women in a ‘Plus One’ World

In September 2017 a short piece of my work was published by WorkandGender.wordpress.com as a foreshadowing of the conference papers being presented at the Invisible Hands: Reassessing the History of Work.

Approaching Public Engagement: Sharing Early Modern Women in a ‘Plus One’ World

I am reposting this blog from their page and am looking forward to presenting a portion of my dissertation in a paper titled, ‘Cartrages’, Cooking, and Cargo: Revealing Seventeeth-Century Women’s Work in Scotland’s Dream of Empire in Panama.


Celebrate Me Home…

Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place
It’s time I found myself,
Totally surrounded in your circles
Whoa, my friends
Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.    

Kenny Loggins & Bob James, 1977

“Celebrate Me Home” Kenny Loggins

(Yep, you can click above to hear the song.)

This song has always spoken to me so I thought I might try to express in words where my mind goes when the tune makes its way into my December days.  It is also a way for me to reveal the corner of my Christmas heart that is reserved for my childhood Christmas, a place that we can each revisit in our own way, whenever we choose. 

I am only one of two siblings. My brother and I were the first grandchildren of seventeen. And, while I can’t speak for my brother, I imagine that he and I both had a very strong sense that we were only one part of a much larger unit that made up my Mom’s huge family. Because of this I was lucky enough to experience Christmas with a wonderful collection of younger cousins that made up a family soup that sometimes was four or five generations deep. It was always so exciting to gather together and see new babies come into the family. Then I watched them grow into fresh-faced toddlers, picking up pecans in the front yard or seeing them open that Christmas stocking from VJ and Bear.

I confess my frustration as the family grew to such a degree that it required the designation of the “kids table.” Surely, my demotion led to me adopting an exaggerated bottom lip, my go-to way of expressing dissatisfaction with the change in the seating arrangements. This temporary protest didn’t last too long and never interfered with my ability to enjoy years of Christmas dinners that were punctuated by my great grandmothers pineapple pies, if we were lucky and they were able to make the drive in from out of town. It took some time, but I did finally make it back to the adult table. (Looking back from here, though, it’s clear that the kids table was just as cool.)

Perhaps my younger cousins have some of the same mental snapshots captured in their memory. In my mind’s eye I can revisit on command: the stereo credenza playing Christmas music from the upstairs hall and filtering downstairs providing a soundtrack for coordinated family photographs, dressing and eating breakfast BEFORE opening gifts, Christmas caroling with fingers only slightly toasted by hot wax from the candles we held, singing the Hallelujah Chorus as a family in the front music room, hospitals, and nursing homes, and decorating a table full of Christmas cookies with bowls of colorful icing. The front kitchen was heavy with homemade gifts given to my grandfather, know to the family as Bear, by his patient’s as a Christmas token or as payment for a late night house call when he treated a sick family member. Mistletoe hung from doorways. Rubber bands, slyly pulled from the many doorknobs throughout the house, led to ruckus shootouts with aunts and uncles. Gas heaters purred in the background and pressure cookers rocked and sputtered, both helping to warm the rooms overflowing with family. Babies bounced from doorways on their new springy, jumpy seats. Their laughter was interrupted by the occasional “Lawzy, close that door!” as the more mobile free-range cousins moved too quickly from the back yard to the front of the house, failing to shut the sliding glass door, letting in all the cold air.

And it wasn’t officially family time until one of the younger cousins had their feet baptized in Bear’s spittoon. This resulted in the victim bursting into red-faced squalls as tears of shame fell down their cheeks because of their unfortunate and grotesque misstep. Laughter quickly followed. But we didn’t do this to poke fun at them. We laughed because that brass spittoon had claimed its easy mark and, for once it wasn’t one of us. (Some of the less mindful kids, forgetting its position under the prime TV spot, got to experience it for the third or fourth time!) It was a right of passage, destined to happen to everyone at some point. The offended foot was quickly cleaned by VJ, after she punctuated the moment, raising her voice to say “Roy,” probably hoping her reprimand would finally put an end to this messy ritual.  It never did. But we did tap down the laughter a bit, or at least I did, out of respect for the authority she struggled to maintain over this riotous mass of humanity.

All of these things and more are ingrained in my mind and shaped what Christmas means to me. I have a wonderful family of my own now and we replicate many of these same traditions, minus the spittoon.  I look forward to the future with my own family and to possibility of watching Christmas through my adult children when someday they will become parents and we experience again the joy of the season through fresh eyes of the next generation.

My cousins, aunts, and uncles may not know how important that they are to me. So I send out this little Christmas moment to each of you so you know how much I think of you on this Christmas and every Christmas to come. You are always present and part of my holiday celebration. Memories of Christmas past and of you help to celebrate me home every year.  I love each and everyone of you.

Merry Christmas,



(P.S. These little Noel people lived on the Kemper family mantle in December and they are a treasure to me.)

Marriage, Life, and Suicide in the Gilded Age: Hattie Revealed

Written on the back of the palm-sized carte vista photograph, her words called out like pleas. Her fingers, arguably shaking, somehow managed to produce a scrolled message to her husband, George Nelson Bennett. She clung to the last remnants of her educated status with a penmanship, practiced and perfected throughout her forty-four years, writing:

“Oh, Nelson, Nelson. I cannot leave thee oh! oh! my soul – how I suffer He is punishing me for loving you so. Farewell my Darling. Walk lightly through the church yard for the sake of your dead Hattie, Oh Heaven, Oh! my soul! Oh! my Darling my darling. I would not wish thee sad. Heaven Hattie Noteknows, but do not forget me. May we meet in Heaven is my Prayer. Hattie Bennett.”

Hattie punctuated her last words with a bullet fired from a pistol in a Saint Louis hotel.

It was in 1894. Hattie left her home in Pierce City, Missouri under the pretense of attending a parade and dance in St. Louis. It was there in the rented room that Hattie lived the last few days of her life and ended with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Only weeks before she and her husband hosted an extravagant party replete with dancing and dining to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. Hattie Felix met George Bennett in Kansas after the Civil War. They moved to the small southeastern Missouri town where Hattie and her husband joined the Congregational Church and garnered memberships into in several women’s societies. She owned business properties in her own name. She accessorized her wardrobe with diamonds and set her table with silver and Haviland china while hosting guests in the home that she and George shared together. She embodied what some might call an envied economic and social status that many from the small railroad town might only dream of reaching.

It is difficult to understand why Hattie chose to mark the end her forty-four years of life in a hotel far from home or what sufferings preyed upon her. What events caused such a dramatic choice? Hattie was an active participant in a place and time in America’s history.   The topography and the lives lived by native-born as well as the migrators coming from the east were changing the midwestern landscape at lightning speed. Cartographers worked at a frantic pace, adding zipper-like hash marks to show the emergence of the railroad to their maps, publishing them in atlases in America and abroad. These iron-zippered markings alluded to the very real changes taking place on the land that ultimately displaced many long-standing communities for the sake of the new arrivers. Hattie’s life, too, was changing.  It began and ended in this transitional space where the “new spirits” of change shaped American life.[1]   Hattie, and women like her noticed the shifting of their own sexuality, marriage, money and civic power that were very different from their mothers and grandmothers.

IMG_9925Over the course of the next few months you can visit my blog where I will highlight a few of the many events of Hattie’s life. The casual nature of blogging allows me to take a divergent journey to explore the events influencing this Victorian woman and is separate from my dissertation study of Scottish women who migrated to places throughout the Atlantic. Hattie’s death, though tragic, is out-distanced by the interesting life details she leaves behind and is certainly worth the detour.

A disclaimer:  I became familiar with Hattie over the course of many years researching my husband’s family history. She revealed herself through various documents and I followed her trail. She is not my kin and is only remotely connected through marriage to my husband’s paternal line. Hattie and George had one son who never married and he left no children of his own. Hattie’s complex life and the people who, directly or indirectly, intersected with hers is a compelling tale and is one worth telling.  Sadly, she left behind no voice to tell her story. She was a woman struggling to understand the newly forged paths that were emerging during her lifetime.

I hope to reconstitute portions of her life over the course of my next few entries, sharing some of the details of her marriage to her husband George and the child they shared together, her suicide, curious will, and the repercussions of her death on those who loved her.

[1] Rebecca Edwards offers insight to the shifting roles of women in  New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Chasing mermaids down “maremaid” holes…

I know I said the next time that I checked back in that I would have information and updates on digital history tools.  But those of you who know me will not be surprised to know that I have a penchant for chasing rabbit holes when they present themselves, and sometimes these research detours result in some enchanting  finds.

This time it is the Penny London Post from 1747 that states:

We hear from the North that some days ago, a Sea Creature, known by the name of Maremaid, which has the Shape of a human Body from the Trunk, but below is wholly Fish, was carried some Miles up the Water of Devron.

Mind you, I wasn’t looking for mermaids, but sometimes they surface when least expected.

No, she just appeared like a reflection of a ripple on the water, existing just after an account that explained how several men escaped from Cannongate Tollbooth, and leaving very little behind to prove she was ever really there at all.  (In my mind ‘it’ is a ‘she,’ though the evidence does not expound on the gender of this mythical beauty.  If only we could call out to the past and ask for a bit more clarification. Ah, well, I suppose that is what makes research exciting.)

Hmm, maybe she led the men to freedom along a stream near Cannongate…

Now…how to pull myself out of the mermaid hole I find myself in…



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