Why would the Superintendent at Connemara, the home of American poet Carl Sandburg and his family ask the public to come to the barnyard to read to the goats? This National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina promotes this “Poet of the People” and his work.
Visitors to Connemara Farms can see dairy goats that are descended from Mrs. Sandburg’s famous herd. She raised three breeds of dairy goats; Saanen, Toggenburg, and Nubian. Each breed can be seen in the herd today.
Mrs. Sandburg owned and operated a premier goat dairy from 1935 to 1965. Here at Connemara the dairy became a Grade A operation, with milk being distributed to local dairies and sold in stores around the community.
I read to two Nubian kids. They were born this spring and were being weened from their mothers. The Superintendent told me they were fearful and a bit skittish. She kindly offered me her chair. Other than an easy raise of their heads from their grass-nibbling of tufts , they paid me little mind.
So not to startle them, I read softly, as if to children. One became nosy and came to sniff at me and the book. It was a short sojourn, and obviously I was not interesting.
It was a beautiful day in the mountains. A bit cloudy, but quite comfortable. I was quite taken with the peace in the barnyard, even to the rest of the herd who were safe behind the fence. For only a few minutes on that morning, I chose to savor a different agenda. There was no herding clock, only soft sounds of a day on a farm reading to the goats.
“Of the three breeds in the Mrs. Sandburg’s Chikaming herd, Nubians were the Sandburg family’s favorite breed. The Nubian breed is distinguished by long, drooping ears; a convex nose; and a variety of color patterns. The Nubian is a relatively large, proud, and graceful dairy goat of mixed Asian, African, and European origin, known for high quality, high butterfat, milk production. Mrs. Sandburg once wrote “Somehow their faces seem more expressive than those of any other breed. I find the Nubian nose and ears very picturesque”. Mrs. Sandburg and her family truly enjoyed the taste of the Nubian milk, which is high in butterfat. The Sandburg’s bought their first Nubian doe in 1936, the second breed of goats added to their herd. This breed was added as an experiment and Mrs. Sandburg was very impressed by the breed. By 1941, just 5 years after purchasing her first Nubian, she decided to keep equal numbers of Nubians and Toggenburgs in her herd. This breed gives lower quantities of milk than the Swiss breeds, but she felt that the good flavor of Nubian milk could help overcome public prejudice against goat milk. She considered four quarts of Nubian milk, with its higher butterfat content, equal to five quarts of milk from the Swiss breeds. The Nubian breed was less than 50 years old when Mrs. Sandburg added them to her herd, so adding them to the herd was a risk. By the time the herd was dispersed, they were a premier breed.” (from the Connemara Farm web site)
Carl Sandburg said, “Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.”
That was my experience at Connemara reading to the goats. I invite you to visit their barnyard.
Thoughts are rolling in my mind of week-long vacations at my grandmother’s farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, Mirror Lake Farm’s name came from a small lake, shaped like a looking glass, in the front cow pasture. We used to stand on the fence and watch the herd meander in the mornings to the field and in the afternoons back to the barn.
Each day was slow paced, and no one was in a hurry.
Daddy only had one week’s vacation for a lot of years, and we always went to Kentucky.
It was a week full of visits with relatives, a day trip to Calumet Farm in Lexington, and lazy days of doing nothing. Picnics under the trees in the front lawn were fun. A night at the county fair was exciting. We made daily walks to the milking barn, and I was never successful at the task of milking a cow. Looking back, I believe that swishing tail intimidated me.
Daddy would drive around the Lexington farm on the back roads until he found a field of horses. Then he would take a handful of apples and his knife and head for the fence. Critt and I were right behind him. Calling the horses to come over for a visit, he rewarded them with apple pieces. We loved patting them and feeding them.
Education was important to my grandmother Lulu. Before she married, she was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Lawrenceburg. She homeschooled her four children until they reached fourth grade. Through storytelling, she taught her grandchildren about their family history, as well as United States history.
This morning I read several articles about another Kentucky educator, Mrs. Cora W. Stewart. In 1911, she started moonlight schools in Rowan County. The goal was to “emancipate from illiteracy those enslaved in its bondage.” In the same classrooms their children attended during the day, their parents and other adults sat in the same seats and benches at night. Volunteer teachers led the classes. It was the moonlight that led them to these schools at night; hence the name.
“It was expected that the response would be slow, but more than 1,200 men and women from 18 to 86 years of age were enrolled the first evening,” said Stewart of the initial 50 schools in the program. “They came trooping over the hills and out of the hollows, some to add to the meager education received in the inadequate schools of their childhood, some to receive their first lessons in reading and writing.”
I can see those lamps flickering and bobbing in the dark as the new students walked to school. For some, only the moonlight opened those paths up. Their faces must have been intent on their mission of learning to read and write.
This movement gained momentum nationally and internationally. You might want to read more about this pioneer educator. Here are two books about this phenomenal and visionary teacher.
Cora Wilson Stewart: Crusader Against Illiteracy by Willie Nelms; Cora Wilson Stewart andKentucky’s Moonlight Schools by Yvonne Baldwin
As John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life: education is life itself.”
I salute those teachers who are preparing to go back to school and thank you for all you do to change lives, as well as our world. What a privilege you have!
It was a small house on Kanuga Road, and the dining room table took over that room. It was wide and long, and many chairs and stools always crowded around it. Sometimes there were several high chairs in the mix. Whether it was for Sunday dinner or only warm, pound cake and cold, sweet iced tea, it was the gathering place at Granny and Pop’s home.
Sitting around the dining room table at my great grandparents’ house in Hendersonville, North Carolina was a privilege I didn’t realize when I was young. What I remember now was the smiles and laughter as Granny encouraged various family members to tell their stories. Most would begin with “Do you remember….” She even included us children in this time by asking questions about school, church, or friends. I can remember her nods and sparkling blue eyes, as she listened to all of us. It was obvious that she loved stories, particularly family stories, and closely paid attention to the details.
Eudora Welty, a Southern storyteller said, “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” I believe this about myself and other children, even as we quietly continued to play.
Besides listening to the family stories, I vaguely remember Granny sharing stories, too. She shared about the boarders she took into their home at Laurel Cliff when my great-grandfather lost his money during the Great Depression. Many were summer boarders that visited year after year. Granny served three meals a day, plus afternoon tea. Her eight children talked about her hospitality to anyone who came to the door. Hobos were always served, just like her paying guests, and all enjoyed her Southern cooking.
Minnie Ethelene Hefner Justus (1877-1970) went to a small women’s college in Asheville and always set her crowded table with china and cloth napkins. Flowers from her yard spread their scents around from the center vase. A blessing of thankfulness began each meal, and woe be to any that did a taste test before the food was blessed. Boarding-house-reach was frowned on by all the adults, but especially Granny. Her eyes paid attention to all seated as her guests. Coffee and dessert completed each meal, and her baking skills were excellent with pies and cakes, as well as biscuits and cornbread.
If we were there close to Mother’s Day, there would be some of her pink peonies on the table. Usually she put them in a bowl or teapot, rather than a vase. Often petals would drop off on her linen tablecloth, but no one minded the disarray.That sweet scent is now in my back yard from her yard. They should be ready to cut and bring in next week, and I will savor their beauty. I am the fourth generation to enjoy them.
Though she wore her house dress and full apron at home, she dressed up for church. She and Pop attended a country church called Pleasant Hill. This white frame church had steep steps going up to the entrance. If you remember the song, “Church in the Wildwood,” that church was brown, but Pleasant Hill comes to my mind when I hear it. Someone always rang their church bell to call people to worship.
Granny owned a seal skin coat that she would let me try on and parade around the house, but it was furs that she chose for Sundays. She looks stern here, but that is the way they posed for snapshots back then. I only remember her with a smile.
There was always a myriad of minutiae that she shared that helped me to picture what she was reminiscing about. Granny painted pictures with her words, and oh, how I want to do the same, whether with my writing or telling stories around my own table.
As I weave facts and oral tradition in my writing about heroines of the American Revolution in South Carolina and other women who made a difference in our state, I have seen the importance of those stories passed down from one generation to another. They keep a family alive and connected to the past.
Whether it is with family or friends, strangers, or in the office, we should share our stories, because those stories are who we are.
As Rudyard Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” And we continue to read his stories of animals that talk to people or other animals, never blinking an eye.
So, yes, to continuing to collect stories and putting them to paper. Let’s all tell our stories over and over again.
March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day are here. In the South, March is certainly a fickle month, as to weather. As one of my favorite authors described it, “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” Charles Dickens
When I was in the sixth grade, we had snow every Wednesday for four weeks! Can you imagine? Daddy would take us to Shoresbrook Golf Course to sled and sled on those hills. That has been over 60 years ago, and those snowfalls have never occurred like that again.
Some famous people were born in this month, e.g. President Andrew Jackson, singer James Taylor, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Albert Einstein, and Dr. Seuss. Women’s History Month claims this month as its own, and daffodils are its flowers.
“Beware the Ides of March” is a familiar phrase to those who have read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. These were the Soothsayer’s words to Julius Caesar on his impending death in the play, and on March 15 in 54 BC, Caesar was assassinated.
Another dramatic event happened on this date in 1917. Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated his throne, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty.
Centuries apart, two rulers lost their thrones and places in history, one with a knife and another with a signature
On March 15, 1765, Andrew Jackson was born in the Waxhaws of South Carolina. For the first fifteen years of his life, he lived in this Scots-Irish community. His widowed mother, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, made sure that her three sons received a good education and religious training. She was a Patriot and believed in the American Revolution, and she modeled for her sons a life of determination to do the right thing, in spite of the odds. I wrote about her life in “Brave Elizabeth.”
March was my grandmother’s favorite month. She lived on a dairy farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and winter weather had its own staying-power there. The blooming daffodils in our yard were usually about three weeks ahead of hers. Lulu would call my mom with the definitive morning when her daffodils opened their sunny blossoms. Sometimes they were covered with snow, but Lulu was ecstatic to see those harbingers of spring.
I am pleased that my daffodils, transplanted from where I grew up, survived the cold nights from last week. Some are limping along and hardly raising their heads to the skies, but their cheerful, yellow stands out in the brown and dreary yard, a welcome sight.
Also, my sixth grade teacher had us memorize a poem to recite to the class every month. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” was her pick for March.
Yes, it is December, and Christmas lights are everywhere. As C. S. Lewis said, “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”
Whether in a church service or in a Sunday School class, many of us put on a blue shawl or a fake beard to act out the Christmas story. Sometimes parents and grands watched us with smiling faces.
In our town, at least one church transforms its parking lot into a live nativity telling the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It’s amazing how well the animals behave.
And most of us have at least one set of figures that we set up on a table during the holidays. My Fontanini set is my favorite. I have always had at least one for children to play with. One year, Scott added a dinosaur to the scene. And, yes, it stayed.
Have you ever wondered where this tradition began?
The year was 1223. The place was a cave in Grecio, Italy, a small mountainside village overlooking a beautiful valley. Inside the cave was a live ox, donkey, and manger surrounded by hay. This was the setting of the first nativity creche scene, created by a young monk, St. Francis of Assisi, for midnight Mass on Christmas. Francis was concerned about keeping Christ in Christmas, and he believed this live visual would make an impression.
Candles and torches, carried by the people, lit up the night, and they were greeted by Francis kneeling in front of the manger. When they celebrated the midnight Mass, they gazed on this scene of Jesus’ birth.
Yes, they had heard of the story of the nativity, but now they saw it for themselves. As Francis said, he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.”
During these Middle Ages, Catholic church services were held in Latin, and most of the common people could not understand this language. To help with presenting the stories in the Bible, the clergy acted out Bible stories like Adam and Eve or Noah. Of course, the visual demonstration made the unknown language come alive.
Over the next few centuries, the nativity tradition spread throughout Europe with varying artistic interpretations. It became particularly popular in Italy, with almost every Catholic church hosting one. Eventually the tradition evolved to have statues represent the nativity characters versus real people.
Churches had sets made of life size figures made of terra-cotta that were displayed all year. Then families wanted them for their homes, so artisans made the figures smaller and out of wood, clay, and wax.
Whatever the material or the number of figures included, the nativity scenes of today are all about remembering the “babe of Bethlehem,” just as St. Francis did so long ago.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
“One day a very wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country for the sole purpose of showing his son how it was to be poor. They spent a few days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.”
“After their return from the trip, the father asked his son how he liked the trip.
‘It was great, Dad,’ the son replied.
‘Did you see how poor people can be?’ the father asked.
‘Oh Yeah,’ said the son.”
“’So what did you learn from the trip?’ asked the father.
The son answered, ‘I saw that we have one dog, and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end.’”
“‘We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.’”
“‘We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them.’
The boy’s father was speechless.
Then his son added, ‘It showed me just how poor we really are.’”
This story puts what we own and what others own in perspective, doesn’t it?
Next week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a national and family holiday in our country. We will gather together for fun, food, and fellowship. But will we be thankful for what we have? Will we count our blessings? Name them one-by-one, as the hymn says.
“All across America, we gather this week with the people we love to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives,” said President George W. Bush.
Even publications remind us to give thanks.
November 15, 1815
“Harper’s Magazine,” 1874
“Saturday Evening Post,” 1959
I was telling a friend today about one of my best memories of spending the night with my grandparents in a two bedroom, one bath apartment on Wentworth Street in Charleston.
Nanna would fix pallets for Critt and me on the floor of the living room. There were several quilts to sleep on and sleep under and at least two pillows each. We would laugh and talk about our day. Whether it was at the park or playing at Folly Beach, it was always fun. Listening to the street noises, we finally closed our eyes. We thought it was wonderful to sleep on the floor, and we always looked forward to it.
When we said our prayers, we always said thank you for pallets.
“On Thanksgiving Day 1793, 75-year-old Samuel Lane was thankful for:
The Life & health of myself and family, and also of so many of my Children, grand Children and great grandchildren; also of my other Relations and friends & Neighbors, for Health peace and plenty amongst us.
for my Bible and Many other good and Useful Books, Civil & Religious Privileges, for the ordinances of the gospel; and for my Minister.
for my Land, House and Barn and other Buildings, & that they are preserv’d from fire & other accidents.
for my wearing Clothes to keep me warm, my Bed & Bedding to rest upon.
for my Cattle, Sheep & Swine & other Creatures, for my support.
for my Corn, Wheat, Rye Grass and Hay; Wool, flax, Cider, apples, Pumpkins, Potatoes, Cabbages, turnips, Carrots, Beets peaches and other fruits.
For my Clock and Watch to measure my passing time by Day and by Night,Wood, Water, Butter, Cheese, Milk, Pork, Beef, & fish, &c
for Tea, Sugar, Rum, Wine, Gin, Molasses, pepper, Spice & Money for to bye other Necessaries and to pay my Debts & Taxes &c.
for my Leather, Lamp oil & Candles, Husbandry Utensils, & other tools of every sort &c &c &c.”
We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, don’t we?
“Thanksgiving Day is a good day to recommit our energies to giving thanks and just giving.” —Amy Grant.
In 1682, William Penn landed on the land that became the “City of Brotherly love.” It was a city of religious tolerance. The first school in the colonies was established there in 1698, and in 1719 the city was the first to buy a fire engine. The first botanical garden, first library, and first hospital were built here in the 1700’s. It was a city that looked for ways to better itself.
This port city of Philadelphia soon became known for its broad, tree-shaded streets, substantial brick-and-stone houses, as it continued to grow. In 1787, the wharves on the Delaware River were crowded with ships, passengers, merchants, Indians, and laborers. All interested in the imports from Europe and the West Indies.
Market Street was crowded. Women and men shopped the stores, looking for luxury items. The bakeries were busy all day, because women bought fresh bread every day; the smells of fresh bread lured the customers in.
There were open-air markets on the street that opened 3 days a week where farmers brought in their wares from the farms. They sold fresh produce, dairy goods, poultry, fish, and meat.
Dry good stores sold coffee, sugar, and spices. Also available were sundry other items. From books and spyglasses, Windsor chairs, teas from China, shoes made locally, baskets, buckets, wine and horses.
Philadelphia was the leading publishing center in America; there were 10 newspapers published in the city.
Claypoole and Dunlap published the Pennsylvania Packet and were asked to publish the first copies of the Constitution. In 1784, the Pennsylvania Packet became the first successful daily newspaper published in the US. They also printed books, proclamations, posters, and political pamphlets. Their business served as an information center. Often people gathered there to bring and exchange news. During that time in our history, the printed word was the best way to communicate over long distances.
Philadelphia boasted 33 churches, a Philosophical Society, a public Library, a museum, a poorhouse, a model jail, a model hospital, and 662 street lamps.
Taverns, inns, and beer houses were scattered around the city; most of the beer houses were on the water front. The Blue Anchor was a popular fish house that opened in 1682. The City Tavern on Second Street was new; it could accommodate 60 men overnight on its third floor. It boasted club rooms, lodging rooms, two kitchens, a bar, and a coffee room. To encourage visits, they supplied the public rooms with magazines and newspapers.
The roles of unmarried women were clearly defined. They opened their homes as boarding houses or were a school mistress in their homes. Teaching positions were also available for them as tutors in Young Ladies Academies. Women also earned money by spinning, as hat makers, and as menders. Married women ran their households.
This was the city that hosted the framers of the Constitution.
Around 40,000 people lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787, as 55 delegates from twelve states gathered; Rhode Island wasn’t represented. They gathered in the same building, where many of them had signed the Declaration of Independence, worked hard on the Articles of Confederation, and now these learned men were back. As one historian noted, it was a “Convention of the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed.”
They were called framers, because this word defines their job. These men shaped, planned, and constructed a new document to govern a new country, the Constitution of the US.
The delegates all arrived and settled in boarding houses and taverns and then they went to work. Even at night, they didn’t talk about their thoughts and plans. When in the taverns or boarding houses, they were silent.
On the starting day of May 21, only eight state delegates were present, but soon others trickled in. The Convention was convened on Friday. George Washington was elected President, and the South Carolinian William Jackson was elected secretary. Elected that same day for the Committee on Rules were George Wythe from Virginia, Alexander Hamilton from New York, and Charles Pinckney from SC.
All were familiar with the two story building, the Pennsylvania State House, where they conducted their discussions and debates, because this was the same site where many of the same men wrote the Declaration of Independence eleven years earlier. This building of Georgian architecture boasted a bell tower and steeple that gave it the look of a church. That bell today is called the Liberty Bell.
It has often been remarked that in the journey of life, the young rely on energy to counteract the experience of the old. And vice versa. What makes this Constitutional Convention remarkable is that the delegates were both young and experienced. The average age of the delegates was 42 and four of the most influential delegates—Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, Gouverneur Morris, and James Madison—were in their thirties. Over half of the delegates graduated from College with nine from Princeton and six from British Universities. Even more significant was the continental political experience of the Framers: 8 signed the Declaration of Independence, 25 served in the Continental Congress, 15 helped draft the new State Constitutions between 1776 and 1780, 40 served in the Confederation Congress between 1783 and 1787, and 35 had law degrees.
George Nash has written a book about these men entitled Books and the Founding Fathers. I want to share some facts from his book.
To summarize Nash’s point: the Framers 1) read, 2) owned, 3) used, 4) created, and 5) donated books without being simply bookish or “denizens of an ivory tower.”
John Dickinson, the person whose legacy is his August observation at the Constitutional Convention that “we should let experience be our guide” because reason may mislead us, would, at university, “read for nearly eight hours a day, dined at four o’clock, and then retired early in the evening, all the while mingling his scrutiny of legal texts with such authors as Tacictus and Francis Bacon.” William Paterson, who introduced the New Jersey Plan in June at the Constitutional Convention, in large part because it was a practical alternative to the Virginia Plan, took his college entrance examinations in Latin and Greek, and entered Princeton “at the age of fourteen. For the next four years he immersed himself in ancient history and literature, as well as such English authors as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, and Pope.”
Benjamin Franklin’s personal library “contained 4,276 volumes at the time of his death in 1790.” George Washington’s library at his death in 1798 contained 900 volumes, “a figure all the more remarkable since he was much less a reader than many.”
Washington, in turn, “used” Joseph Addison’s Cato in drafting his Farewell Address. Jefferson “sent back books by the score” from Paris to Madison that, after three years of intense reading, the latter used to draft the Virginia Plan as a response to the history of failed confederacies.
The Papers of Madison constitute “52 volumes.” The Jefferson Papers are comprised of 75 hefty volumes.”
Finally, Franklin, Dickinson, Madison, and Jefferson were each “a faithful patron of libraries.” For example, Dickinson “donated more than 1,500 volumes to Dickinson College.”
They met behind closed doors and windows in sessions to hammer out our Constitution. Reporters and visitors were banned; these leaders wanted no outside influences. Guards were placed at the doors to keep sight-seers out. James Madison was the note keeper. (We know this because his wife Dolly sold his notes to the federal government in 1837 for $30,000 after his death.)
James Madison of Virginia was a quiet fellow, but you could always tell that his mind was working and sifting through ideas. He stayed at Mrs. House’s boarding house, and he kept a candle burning all night so he could get up at any time and write down thoughts as they came to him. He told her he’d always done that. He never slept but 3 or 4 hours anyway.
Mrs. House didn’t know whether to charge him extra for all the candles. She had other boarders from Virginia, including Governor Edmund Randolph.
These dedicated men worked six days a week from 10-3 with only a 10 day break. It was during this July 4 break that James Madison and a few others put together a rough draft.
Their work took place in the Committee of Assembly Chamber Around tables laden with candlesticks, books, paper, ink wells, quill pens, and clay pipes. The newspapers printed regular articles of encouragement. Ben Franklin livened up the proceedings by using his cane to trip various delegates.
The city street commissioners had gravel put down in front of the State House to muffle the sounds of carriages and horses so as not to disturb them. Philadelphia was proud of the history being made there. In those summer months debates, bitter arguments, and compromises were on the daily docket; it was a time of hot weather and even hotter emotions.
George Washington later wrote to his friend Lafayette, “It (the Constitution) appears to me, then, as little short of a miracle.”
The American Revolution had been over for four years, and the Articles of Confederation weren’t strong enough to hold the new states together. In 1786 Alexander Hamilton called for another convention to create a stronger government.
These men called it the Grand Convention or the Federal Convention. Today its name is the Constitutional Convention. Except for Rhode Island, all states were represented. George Washington was elected President.
George Washington’s presence made the convention a prestigious event. His arrival in Philadelphia was spectacular, and a spontaneous parade quickly formed. The general was riding in his fine little coach called a chariot, and he was met by the officers of the Revolution. All those officers were joined by the Philadelphia Light Horse Company, and they rode into the city all in uniform. The city church bells were rung; some cannons were fired, and most all of Philadelphia turned out along the way to applaud the general.
He was going to stay at Mrs. House’s Boarding House, but Robert and Mary Morris insisted he be their guest. It was one of the most elegant homes in the city. Washington just took time enough to get his things in, and then he set out to pay a call on his 81 year-old friend Benjamin Franklin.
One by one the delegates arrived and began their work.
Time moved slowly during those summer months, but the men continued their meetings.
Three plans for the Constitution were looked at, and a compromise finally reached for the institution of executive, legislative, and judicial arms of government. All states would have equal representation in the Senate, and the elected officials for the House would be based on population. Even on that last day, a change was made to lower the population number for representatives.
George Washington was the first to sign his name. As the delegates moved to sign the Constitution on September 17, it was Franklin, who on the last day of the Convention said of the rising sun chair that Washington had sat in at the front of the room for four months. “During the past four months of this convention, I have often looked at the painting. And I was never able to say if the picture showed a morning sun or an evening sun. But now, at last, I know I am happy to say it is a morning sun, the beginning of a new day.”
On the night of September 17, the delegates met for one last time together at the City Tavern on Second Street to celebrate the birthplace of America’s new Government.
It seems fitting that they chose this tavern in Philadelphia. Built in 1773, many had stayed there during the First Continental Congress. A few months earlier, Paul Revere had ridden up to the Tavern with the news of the closing of the port of Boston by the British.
These leading figures of the Revolutionary War would now go back to their home states and encourage them to ratify the Constitution of the United States of America.
As James Madison proclaimed, “The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.”
Historically, new governments come about because of war or chance. Madison’s words ring true today, as we continue to celebrate this living document.
The Framers of the American Constitution were visionaries. They designed our Constitution to endure. They sought not only to address the specific challenges facing our nation during their lifetimes, but to establish, broad foundational principles that would sustain and guide the new nation into an uncertain future, even in September, 2015.
As Samuel Adams, Harvard graduate and Sons of Liberty once said, “It does not take a majority to prevail…but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brush fires of freedom in the minds of men.”
Happy birthday to the Constitution of the United States of America!
In 1783, President George Washington remarked, “The citizens of this country are, from this period, as the actors on a most conspicuous theater, which seems to be peculiarly designed by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity.”
And with his background of leadership in the founding of our country, he knew the men that he had worked and fought with.
We have the privilege of celebrating the anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence this weekend. Twelve colonies had representatives who signed this document, and New York followed suit in August. It was after the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, in fact 442 days after these events in Massachusetts.
The signers were men of conviction who, by signing their names, put themselves, their families, and their land at major risk. Here are some facts that inspire me to remember them.
Eighteen of the signers were merchants or businessmen, 14 were farmers, and four were doctors. Forty-two signers had served in their colonial legislatures. Twenty-two were lawyers—although William Hooper of North Carolina was “disbarred” when he spoke out against the Crown–and nine were judges. Stephen Hopkins had been Governor of Rhode Island. Although two others had been clergy previously, John Witherspoon of New Jersey was the only active clergyman to attend–he wore his robes to the sessions. Almost all were Protestant Christians; Charles Carroll of Maryland was the only Roman Catholic signer.
Seven of the signers were educated at Harvard, four each at Yale and William & Mary, and three at Princeton. John Witherspoon was the president of Princeton, and George Wythe was a professor at William & Mary, where his students included the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.
Seventeen of the signers served in the military during the American Revolution. Thomas Nelson was a colonel in the Second Virginia Regiment and then commanded Virginia military forces at the Battle of Yorktown. William Whipple served with the New Hampshire militia and was one of the commanding officers in the decisive Saratoga campaign. Oliver Wolcott led the Connecticut regiments sent for the defense of New York and commanded a brigade of militia that took part in the defeat of General Burgoyne. Caesar Rodney was a Major General in the Delaware militia and John Hancock was the same in the Massachusetts militia.
Five of the signers were captured by the British during the war. Captains Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, and Arthur Middleton (South Carolina) were all captured at the Battle of Charleston in 1780; Colonel George Walton was wounded and captured at the Battle of Savannah. Richard Stockton of New Jersey never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists and died in 1781.
Colonel Thomas McKean of Delaware wrote John Adams that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy–compelled to remove my family five times in a few months, and at last fixed them in a little log house on the banks of the Susquehanna . . . and they were soon obliged to move again on account of the incursions of the Indians.” Abraham Clark of New Jersey had two of his sons captured by the British during the war. The son of John Witherspoon, a major in the New Jersey Brigade, was killed at the Battle of Germantown.
Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s New York home was destroyed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson (both of Virginia) lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort, but were never repaid.
Those fifty-six signers had no idea what the future would bring, but their conviction was firm. The last words of the Declaration of Independence are quite clear as to what they would sacrifice. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” But still they signed their names.
It sounds like it is time for a standing ovation of several minutes, doesn’t it?
Dr. Peter Marshall once said, “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” I believe those signers took the opportunity to do what was right.
With leaders like this that we call the Founding Fathers, we have the privilege to sing “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and many others.
And it is a day to party, to celebrate the birthday of the country we call home, the United States of America!
My family had a regular menu for July 4th, and mine is always similar. It was always cold watermelon, barbeque, baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, and peach cobbler. Sometimes achurn of homemade ice cream was added, just because.
You probably have your favorite day all planned, too, by spending time with family and friends.
Happy birthday, America! Happy Fourth of July to all of you!
Mary Vardrine McBee was the daughter of Silas and Mary Estelle McBee. Her father was a well-known layman of the Episcopal Church and the editor of “The Churchman.” He was elected Clerk of Court 3 times and invested in cotton mills and railroads.
Mary was named for her mother and grandfather Vardry Alexander McBee.
Her great grandfather was Vardry McBee, one of the founders of Greenville. In addition to a brickyard, quarry, and corn, grist and saw mills, McBee established a tannery to produce the leather needed for saddles and shoes. He also set up a Main Street store that sold saddles, bridles, harnesses and other leather goods, probably including boots and shoes.
When her mother died, Mary, her older sister Estelle, and younger brother Silas went to live with their aunt in Philadelphia. Her father married again, and the children returned to NC.
Mary’s boarding school was Fairmont School for Young Ladies in Monteagle, Tennessee. Since this college was not certified, Mary had to pass college entrance exams before being accepted to Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts.
According to her niece, Mary had been out of school for four years when she made applicationto take the college entrance examinations. For three long days, she wrote away and passed all except two exams.
In order to be admitted, she had to make up one of these two. Immediately, she sat down and took the algebra examination. She passed!
And so it was that on a cold, rainy Fall day in 1902, a joyful sub-Freshman, who had just passed her algebra entrance examination, picked up her heavy long skirts and hurried behind Dr. Brady, the Latin Professor, across the campus toward the administration building.
She fixed her eyes on Dr. Brady’s old-fashion high boots and saw water fly out in every direction with each step he took. It was in this atmosphere created by the sight of the stern old gentleman wading through the water that the idea, the dream of Ashley Hall was born.
Miss McBee was then, still, a very young lady, but despite this, she had the determination and strength of purpose to last her through four years of college until her dream was completed.
Mary then matriculated and graduated from Columbia University with a masters in history and education. But the dream of establishing a girls school in the South never left her. Speaking in Greenville to a Kiwanis Club in 1943, she said,” I went through college with this idea, and everything was connected to it.”
During the year of 1909, she went to Charleston with her idea of starting that school for young ladies. From her own experience, she realized that the South lacked a school which gave the necessary college requirements to Southern girls, and so, on a day in late September, in the year 1909, Ashley Hall began.
The Patrick Duncan House on Rutledge Avenue, owned by the C.O. Witte estate, was for sale, and Mary thought it very suitable, but its asking price was far higher than the $16,000 she could put together at the time.
McBee was pleasantly surprised when Charles Sloan, a neighbor of the Guerry’s and son-in-law to the late Mr. Witte, personally requested that she submit a bid for the house. The Witte family favored it becoming a girls’ school, since Mr. Witte had raised six daughters of his own and had thought the property a fit setting for just such an enterprise.
Eventually a deal was struck for $25,000 and Mary had her schoolhouse in downtown Charleston. After some consideration, she chose to name the new school Ashley Hall for the river that coursed to the west and because she felt the house was grand enough to be called a “hall.” She was 29.
Vardrine immediately faced four primary challenges: developing a comprehensive curriculum; employing faculty and staff; fitting out the Witte property for classes and boarders; and recruiting students.
The all-girls school was Mary’s brainchild, and Ashley Hall made her a pioneer in education. Her established motto for the school is Possunt Quae Volunt, or “Girls who have the will have the ability.”
Ashley Hall was the result of Mary’s will and ability. She passed it on to her students.
On October 4, 1909, the school opened. There were 14 boarders and 31 day students. The first enrolled day student was Josephine Pinckney, and the first enrolled boarder was Pauline Sanders.
These girls, this class of forty-five students, became the first members of a school which has grown and improved to become one of the outstanding college preparatory schools in the country.
The first year there were no graduates. But in 1911 three girls: Lucille Lebby, Katherine Paul, and Ethel Thrower, were the first graduates. Then in 1912, an industrious young student, Mary Howden, took the college entrance examinations, passed, and gained for Ashley Hall the prominence it needed to become a certified school. And so three years after its beginning Ashley Hall was well on its way to success.
Teachers were carefully chosen, and Mary herself taught the history classes. As one student remarked, “the teachers were an impressive group of intelligent, thoughtful, and well-educated ladies and gentlemen.”
More buildings had to be bought and renovated, as the student population grew.
For forty years, until her retirement, Mary McBee led by example. She envisioned a place of learning that would produce educated women who are independent, ethically responsible, and prepared to meet the challenges of society with confidence. And for 111 years this month, Ashley Hall has succeeded.
Outside of her roles as founder and head of Ashley Hall, Mary Vardrine McBee was an energetic community leader and social activist. She was instrumental in the creation and support of many valued organizations in the Charleston area. It was once said of her that “there was practically no cultural or civic movement in which she was not a part.”
Her many accomplishments would constitute an enviable resumé for anyone: that she was a single woman, barely past the turn of the century in an iconic southern city, placed her in the vanguard of women leadership across the nation.
Established the Charleston Symphony Orchestra in 1919
Served on the Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts of Charleston
First woman commissioner to serve on the Charleston County School Board
Helped organize Charleston’s first free Kindergarten program for underprivileged children
Founder of The Carolina Art Association and the Charleston Free Library
Served as vice president of the SC Suffrage Movement and was part of the League of Women Voters
Ashley Hall’s constellation of alumnae extends from confident and intelligent young women to a host of leaders in technology, business, publishing, politics, law and medicine. Among them are authors Madeleine L’Engle and Josephine Humphreys, first lady Barbara Bush and philanthropist Martha Rivers Ingram.
The hallmarks of its graduates are compassionate, intelligent, worldly, creative, collaborative, purposeful, and discerning.
With these qualities within themselves, their community, and the entire world, Ashley Hall girls know who they are and fearlessly pursue their dreams wholeheartedly.
This year the student body comprises 756 students from age 2-18. There are 73 teachers with a student/teacher ratio of 10/1. Twelve sports are offered and 14 AP courses. Music, art, and drama are required.
A full decade before she could vote herself, Mary McBee looked ahead and founded, not only a girls’ school, but also a legacy of education that continues today. 111 years later her dream is still alive and well.
Though the word suffragette usually applies to women working for the right to vote, Mary pushed the glass ceiling further by establishing a school to raise the whole world of women raised in the South, especially SC.
Mary Vardrine McBee was in the vanguard of women’s leadership in the 20th century, both in SC and across our nation.
Arcadia Publishing offers the book, “Ashley Hall,” by Illeana Strauch. It is full of photos and more information about Mary’s legacy.
Speaking before a Kiwanis Luncheon at the Francis Marion Hotel in 1943, McBee told the audience, “Ashley Hall began on the day I was admitted to Smith College. The school I attended – although a good one – did not have certification privileges and the courses were not laid out to make college entrance easy. After I was accepted and registered at Smith, I went to send a telegram to my father and along the way I decided I would one day return to the South and establish a school that would give the same privileges to Southern girls as Northern girls had. I went through college with this idea,” she said, “and everything was connected to it.”
Her dream became a reality in Charleston, South Carolina. Thank you, Miss McBee!
My grandmother, Lucile Hitt Collins, was a teacher, a homeschool teacher, a reporter, a farmer, and a lover of America and its history. She researched our family lines all the way back to Charlemagne and joined many lineage societies including the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Colonists, the Colonial Daughters of the Seventeenth Century, and the Magna Carta Dames and Barons.
One of the amazing things she shared with me was the stories of our family who lived during these times. At the drop of a hat, she had a story to share about someone who made a difference. Sometimes they were about the choices an ordinary person made. Other times they were about their actions. But they were all about heroes and heroines who stood tall.
“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” Thomas Paine
I was eighteen years old when I finally caught her vision for the American Revolution myself. Our parents took us to Williamsburg, Virginia. This was a side trip on our way to Washington, DC. I don’t remember a lot of details, but I do remember the sense of awe I had as we wandered the dirt streets. It was the first time that history came alive for me.
And it started with the film we watched in the Visitor’s Center.
I have always been a movie buff. I love the stories told in color on the big screen. There was something about that movie, “Williamsburg, the Story of a Patriot,” that brought reality to the stories Lulu had been sharing.
The other day, this movie was shared on Facebook, and I immediately reposted it on my Facebook author page. It not only brought back precious family memories, but also a new sense of why I write about our country’s beginnings. I wanted to share it with you.
Benjamin Rush declared, “Patriotism is as much a virtue as justice, and is as necessary for the support of societies as natural affection is for the support of families.”
I am thankful for all those men, women, and children who left the security of their homes to sail to America in the 17th century. They stepped out with courage and determination to make a better life for themselves and their families. From the time they arrived here, it was a struggle day in and day out to survive.
Then in the 18th century, they fought Great Britain to stay in America as free men, not buckling under England’s boot. Let’s continue to tell their stories and celebrate their lives.