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

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

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.


Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe

This post comes from Gina G. Bennett, a fourth year doctoral student of Transatlantic History at The University of Texas at Arlington. Her dissertation, under the direction of Dr. Kenyon Zimmer, will focus on the influence of women and the degree to which they participated as migrators, producers, labourers, and investors for The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies in the transatlantic world in the early modern era. She holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in History from Texas A & M – Commerce.  Follow her on WordPress: or Twitter: @GinaGBennett

Gina G. Bennet (The University of Texas at Arlington)

Like many readers of the Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe blog, we each are occasionally called to step beyond conferences, lecture halls, and speak outside academia. Often these events take place at a museum or civic building and often include a meal.  People of two sorts are in attendance, the ones choosing to attend and the extra…

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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.)


I choose today…

This blog sat in my “to be published” box for a few days until I chose today to hit sent, making it public for all to see.  I needed time to run this past my editors, my wonderful adult children and spouse. They all agreed that “no potential job would look at you badly for posting” it.  Here’s hoping that my youngest was right.  What follows are my thoughts on a very personal issue.

Please bear with me as I do my best to keep this brief, but it is time for me to say that I have a perspective on the issue of sexual assault both in and out of the work place. At the age of thirteen, I was a victim of sexual abuse that lasted for several months. When I was a very young adult my supervising manager for a local restaurant where I worked pulled me into a closet and assaulted me at the company Christmas party. Lucky for me, a person looking for supplies opened the closet door and stopped the assault before it rose to a higher degree of violence. I have no hard evidence in the form of letters, cards, or DNA results to validate either of these two accounts. Nor do I know the party affiliations of the offenders. Such details have no bearing on the issue at hand.

I was raised with an understanding that I should be vigilant about my personal safety. In this atmosphere, it was made very clear to me that any girl/woman was a potential target of sexual violence, so much so that I believed that it was not a matter of IF such violence would occur but more a matter of WHEN. This normalized my impressions of sexual violence, especially as it related to women as a collective group. My view of the world was that at some point in time almost every woman would become a victim, and only the luck of the draw determined which women could emerge unscathed. I was not one of the lucky ones.

Sexual assaults were further normalized when friends, co-workers, and others in my close circle shared their own stories of abuse. Consequently, my abuse was indirectly exacerbated by the legions of sexual assaulters that abused those that I loved and cared about. These abstract wrongdoers functioned much like a multi-level web of victimizers that reinforced this message that sexual violence was to be tolerated in silence, simply because these victims unwittingly propagated and modeled the silent suffering of others, including me. When moving into adulthood, I was very careful when choosing whom to reveal any secret piece of the ugly, unsolicited, and illegal encroachments into my childhood and teen years. I did this primarily because I believed that coming out and proclaiming the actions of the abusers would somehow make me a complicit and willing participant to those actions. I also believed it would bring shame on my family because I lacked the strength to bear my burden in silence unlike other women I knew who seemed to possess superhuman abilities that otherwise failed to develop in me. I saw no advantage in coming forward to report my abuses, since every path available seemed to offer more pain and shame.

Until today I have never publicly made any issue about this very private pain. I do not seek any acknowledgment for outliving these experiences. I come forward with a strong belief that it is time, given the current culture that seems ripe for correction, to answer anyone who might question why women currently bringing accusations of sexual misconduct from years, long past, did not come forward the moments after the sexual violence occurred. I am a middle-aged woman, yet my maturity does not minimize the fear in coming forward when admitting that I was a victim of sexual violence; the consequences of which still resonate within me. Thankfully, the discomfort is lessened since I have come to recognize that only in coming forward will the damage caused by the normalization of sexual violence be addressed and disarmed, whether in the workplace or beyond. Each person must answer for himself or herself where to draw their own line in the sand.

For me, it is today. I choose today, to admit that I was a victim of sexual violence. I will hold my public officials accountable and will thoughtfully weigh and consider all claims of sexual impropriety brought against any publicly elected official who is charged to protect, enforce, or establish local, state, or federal policy, regardless of party affiliations and will consider the evidence when I vote. I will always promote an environment of safety in the workplace and I will report all workplace sexual misconduct for further investigation. I realize that not all people are victims, nor are all claims authentic. But I know the critical role that advocates play in arriving at the truth for those lives have been marked by sexual violence. I consider myself an advocate. I know that when I am silent I am no longer an advocate for the truth that seeks to address sexual violence. I realize that in the past my silence could be misunderstood as blindness to sexual violence. I refuse to be a willing participant in the normalization of sexual violence ever again. My silence ends today.

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…



A week of data and history…

I find that every day I am handling more and more data connected to my dissertation.  And while all of these historical “golden tickets” are very exciting, managing the Excel spread sheets and social networks that connect the various historical breadcrumbs is becoming an increasing challenge.  The geographic expanse of Scotland, Africa, Central and North America necessitates that I throw a wide net across the Atlantic.  (Oh, and let’s include a touch or two of Spain in the mix, just for good measure.)

So this week I will challenge myself to download and learn Gephi so I can better track my migration networks. (Yep, and it is especially wise to do this while planning, prepping, and cooking for Thanksgiving week, right?! What was I thinking?)  I am looking forward to learning a new program to add to my tool box.  In a few months maybe it will become as much second nature as Zotero is for me now.

Here’s what they have to say about their product:  (Please note that I am NOT endorsing the company in any way, just passing along the information on it.)

“The goal is to help data analysts to make hypothesis, intuitively discover patterns, isolate structure singularities or faults during data sourcing. It is a complementary tool to traditional statistics, as visual thinking with interactive interfaces…”

Yes, something to help visual learners deal with statistics…so far, I’m all in!

I have included a link to their video below for any peers who are interested.  I would love to hear from anyone who uses this or other systems in their own research.“>Gephi video link

So we will see…maybe the next time I check in I will have some of my own data to share with the wider blogosphere!

Here’s hoping!

Watch this spot for future updates on my progress…


The Path To Here…

Genealogy flier

This morning while working on my research for a current project dealing with Dahomey (Benin), Sierra Leone, and Scotland, I am reminded that my first introduction to history came from the oral histories of my family.  But it also brings to mind that I was sometimes a reluctant participant to history.  Adults in the family swapped stories and their ramblings often interfered with my childhood desires to pop firecrackers or water ski at lake. I dozed off only to wake up and find the stories continued, much like the background noise of cicadas on a summer night.

In spite of my childhood boredom, these narratives shaped a space in me that has germinated into a constant curiosity of history.  I could not imagine then that these struggles to keep my childhood eyes open would result in my pursuit of a Ph.D. in transatlantic history.  Yet, here I am, two years into the program, applying some of the same methods to the study of early modern societies. In addition to teaching several sections of U.S. History, these early connections also led me instruct a community class on genealogy research while completing my Master’s thesis (see flyer image above).  Once a week for a few months I helped others develop tools that expanded their own family histories. I personally benefited from this exchange when it allowed me to recharged by history batteries and experience the vicarious thrill when others broke down genealogy “brick walls.”

It is funny the paths that lead to academia…