Let’s talk about the time Ida Tarbell moved to Paris to write a catty biography about a beheaded French intellectual.Read More »
We don’t know much about limnologist and Amazon traveler Harriet Bell Merrill, but what we do know is very much at risk of an impending Error 404 error.
Merrill was one of the first limnologists in the country, and possibly the first female limnologist to be hired by an American university (the University of Wisconsin). She was an expert in tiny, algae-eating lake crustaceans known as Cladocera, and she went above and beyond the call of duty by traveling twice to South America to conduct fieldwork (1902-1903 and 1907-1909). Unfortunately, she died as her career was peaking, and for the next 75 years, she was almost entirely forgotten by her field. But in the 1990s, her grandniece brought her out of total obscurity by publishing a biography, and the University of Illinois stepped up to preserve her papers.
Why do we care? Well, Merrill kept remarkably detailed journals and wrote A LOT of letters to her friends, not only about her scientific work, but also vivid descriptions of Brazil and about the cultures she encountered during her fieldwork. She brought back South American items for Wisconsin museums, and some of her travel stories were published in a local newspaper. Her solo journeys were all the more unique because she was in ill-health for the better part of her adult life.
Why do we travel? What are we missing that we hope to find so far from home? Margaret Fuller, the first female American journalist to work as a foreign correspondent, has some thoughts on the matter.
Fuller wrote from England and Italy for The New York Tribune from 1846 to 1850, when she died with her family in a shipwreck on her way back to the States. This partial poem is from Summer on the Lakes, an earlier, hard-to-classify work about her time exploring the Great Lakes, then considered the American frontier:Read More »
Sometimes we don’t get to choose the journeys we take. Or even have time to pack.
Elizabeth Bisland Whetmore was drafted into service by The Cosmopolitan to compete with Nellie Bly’s 1889 stunt to travel around the world in under 80 days for the New York World. (Bly completed the journey in 72 days; then-Bisland took 76.)
Even a quick skim of Bisland Whetmore’s book about her trip, In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around the World, makes it clear that her heart wasn’t in it. She’d never before traveled abroad, and much of her account is fixated on complaining about her (lack of) luggage, recounting inane logistics of the journey, and commenting on her un-photogenic traveling companions.
I mean, seriously, she opens the book with a detailed description of the morning she found out about the trip, complete with a reference to her bowel movement. I shit you not:Read More »
Kicking off the blog with a shout-out to a relevant Kickstarter campaign. Here’s the gist: Some folks are trying to raise cash to make a documentary about Dorothy Thompson, an American journalist who was one of the leading media voices against the rise of the Nazis. She was the first Western journalist to interview Adolf Hitler — and the first reporter expelled from Germany by his personal order.
After the war, Thompson faced enormous criticism for speaking out against the formation of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. Whatever your opinion about Israel, Thompson offered an early warning about the the instability of the region based on her extensive knowledge of European politics. And compared to today’s inflammatory media discourse, Thompson’s comments were pretty tame.
Thompson’s career encompassed much than a single political statement. She published eighteen books and article collections, many of which were rooted deeply in her American patriotism and in her Christian faith.
Anyway. Watch the video. And in the name of freedom, support the Kickstarter. Because as Dorothy once said: “It is not the fact of liberty but the way in which liberty is exercised that ultimately determines whether liberty itself survives.”
It started simply enough. In 2013, I was sitting in a lonely office in a lonely wing of the engineering building on the University of Wisconsin campus. At the time, I was a science writer, on the hunt for a historical factoid about materials science to insert into a department newsletter.
I stumbled across the name of the first female graduate of the program: Emily Hahn. She received her degree in 1926, but the college’s website offered nothing more. I mentioned Hahn to my boss, who shrugged and said, “I don’t think she became an engineer.” I didn’t include her in the newsletter.
But I didn’t forget her, and eventually, I started to Google her. And it didn’t take long to realize that “Mickey” Hahn was way more interesting than we gave her credit for.
After a brief stint as a mining engineer, she became a writer and world traveler, ultimately producing more than 50 books. She traveled to the Belgian Congo alone in her mid-20s, and she spent eight years in Japan-occupied China during WWII.
I was … stunned. I’d majored in journalism at the University of Wisconsin, and I’d never, not once, heard the name of this prolific alum. How was that possible?Read More »