July 31, 2012
The last time London hosted the Olympics, the scarred city hadn’t yet recovered from the ravages of World War II. In 1948, after a 12-year hiatus from the Games, the sporting world hadn’t recovered, either. Neither Germany nor Japan were invited, and the Soviet Union declined to participate, Stalin believing that sports had no place in communism.
London built no new facilities or stadiums for what were called the “Austerity Games.” Male athletes stayed in Royal Air Force barracks, while women were housed in college dormitories. All were told to bring their own towels. With postwar rationing still in effect, there were immediate complaints about the British food. A Korean weightlifter lost 14 pounds while in England, and the Jamaicans were extremely displeased and “kicking about the poorly seasoned foods.” Rumors of food poisoning ran rampant, as numerous athletes suffered debilitating stomach pains, but British public relations officers ascribed the incidents to “nervousness,” noting that doctors had detected “nothing more than a mild digestive disorder.” Still, English athletes chose to consume unrationed whale meat, and American reporters who arrived in advance hoped Uncle Sam might send enough steaks, eggs, butter and ham for everyone.
A 57-year-old gymnastics official from Czechoslovakia became the first Olympic political defection when she refused to return to her Communist bloc nation following the Games. There was a row when the International Swimming Federation declared that athletes from Northern Ireland could compete only for Great Britain, and the Irish withdrew from the swimming and diving competition in protest. (They’d already lodged a protest when officials declared that the state be designated “Eire” rather than Ireland, as the team had wished.) As it turned out, Eire would win just one medal at the Games, when 69-year-old Letitia Hamilton picked up a bronze medal for her painting of the Meath Hunt Point-to-Point Races in the Olympic art competition.
Still, the London Games managed to set an Olympic attendance record, and an unlikely Olympic star emerged. Fanny Blankers-Koen of Holland, 6 feet tall and 30 years old, was a “shy, towering, drably domesticated” straw-blonde mother of a 7-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter who talked of how she liked cooking and housekeeping. She also won four gold medals in track and field and became “as well known to Olympic patrons as King George of England.” Nicknamed the “Flying Housewife,” Blankers-Koen achieved this feat while pregnant with her third child.
Born Francina Elsje Koen on April 26, 1918, in Lage Vuursche, a village in the Dutch province of Utrecht, she demonstrated remarkable athletic abilities as a young child and ultimately settled on track and field after her swim coach advised her that the Netherlands was already loaded with talent in the pools. At 17 years old, Koen began competing in track events and set a national record in the 800-meter run; a year later she qualified in the trials for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in both the high jump and the 4 x 100 relay. She attended the Games, and although she did not medal in her events, she did manage to meet and get an autograph from her hero, the African-American track star Jesse Owens, whose record four gold medals she would later match in London. The meeting was, she would later say, her most treasured Olympic memory.
Fanny was just coming into her prime as a runner when she married her coach, Jan Blankers, in 1940. She’d won European titles and set multiple world records in the 80-meter hurdles, high jump and long jump. But because of the war, the Olympics were canceled that year and again in 1944. Still, she qualified to return to the Olympics, leaving her children behind in Amsterdam. “I got very many bad letters,” she recalled, “people writing that I must stay home with my children.”
The British team manager, Jack Crump, took one look at Blankers-Koen and said she was “too old to make the grade.” Few knew it at the time, but she was already three months pregnant and training only twice a week in the summer leading up to competition.
The Games began on July 28 under a sweltering heat wave, when King George VI opened the ceremonies at Wembley Stadium before more than 80,000 people. The athletes entered the stadium, nation by nation, and toward the end of the pageant, the American team, dressed in blue coats, white hats, white slacks and striped neckties, received a tremendous and prolonged ovation for their efforts during the war. It was a moment that, one American reporter said, “provided one of the greatest thrills this reporter has had in newspaper work.”
Blankers-Koen got off to a strong start in the 100-meter sprint, blowing away the field to capture her first gold medal, but despite being favored in her next event, the 80-meter hurdles, she was slow out of the blocks, bumped a hurdle and barely held on in a photo finish to win her second gold. Feeling the pressure, she burst into tears after one of her heats in the 200-meter event, complained of homesickness, and told her husband that she wanted to withdraw.
In addition to hyping Blankers-Koen as the “Flying Housewife,” newspaper coverage of her exploits reflected the sexism of the time in other ways. One reporter wrote that she ran “like she was chasing the kids out of the pantry.” Another observed that she “fled through her trial heats as though racing to the kitchen to rescue a batch of burning biscuits.”
Her husband patiently talked to her about continuing, and Blankers-Koen reconsidered, regrouped, then set an Olympic record in the 200 meters on her way to winning her third gold medal of the Games. In her final event, she was to run the anchor leg in the 4 x 100 relay, but the Dutch team was panicked to learn, shortly before the finals, that Blankers-Koen was nowhere to be found. A shopping trip had delayed her arrival at the stadium. She finally made her way down to the muddy track in her bright orange shorts, and by the time she’d received the baton, the Dutch were in fourth place, well behind. But she came roaring toward the finish line, closed a four-meter gap and caught the lead runner to win the gold.
Despite eclipsing Babe Didrikson’s three Olympic medals at the Los Angeles Games in 1932—a performance that vaulted the American athlete into superstardom—Blankers-Koen is mostly forgotten today. As the world record holder in both the high jump and long jump at the time, it’s possible she could have added two more gold medals in 1948, but Olympic rules allowed participation in only three individual events, and the Dutchwoman chose to run rather than jump. When she returned to her country, she received not millions of dollars worth of endorsement contracts, but a new bicycle.
In 1972, she attended the Munich Games and met Jesse Owens once again. “I still have your autograph,” she told her hero. “I’m Fanny Blankers-Koen.”
“You don’t have to tell me who you are,” Owens replied. “I know everything about you.”
In 1999, she was voted female athlete of the 20th century by the International Association of Athletics Federations (Carl Lewis was voted the best male athlete). And yet Blankers-Koen was surprised. “You mean it is me who has won?” she asked. Yet despite her modesty and demure giggle, her biographer Kees Kooman portrays her as a deeply competitive athlete. Fanny Blankers-Koen died in 2004 at the age of 85.
In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games, Transport for London created a commemorative “Olympic Legends Underground Map,” but among the more than 300 athletes listed, Fanny Blankers-Koen’s name was nowhere to be found. The agency has since acknowledged the “mistake” and promised to add her name on future printings.
Articles: “Eyes of World on Olympics,” Los Angeles Sentinel, July 29, 1948. “Seldom Seen London Sun Fells Many, Wilts Others” Washington Post, July 30, 1948. “No Food Poisoning Among Olympic Stars,” Hartford Courant, August 8 1948. “Holland’s Fanny Would Have Won 5 Titles With Help From Olympic Schedule-Makers,” Washington Post, August 8, 1948. “Dutch Woman Wind Third Olympic Title,” Chicago Tribune, August 7, 1948. “Athletics: Mums on the run: Radcliff can still rule world despite pregnant pause,” by Simon Turnbull, The Independent, October 21 2007. In 1948, “London Olympics provided different challenges,” by Bob Ryan, Boston Globe, July 27, 2012. “Fanny Blankers-Koen,” The Observer, February 3, 2002. “The 1948 London Olympics,” by Janie Hampton, August 15, 2011, http://www.totalpolitics.com/history/203762/the-1948-london-olympics.thtml
Books: Kees Kooman, Fanny Blankers-Koen: De huisvrouw die kon vliegen, De Boekenmakers, 2012.
July 23, 2012
Few creatures have struck more terror into more hearts for longer than the basilisk, a monster feared for centuries throughout Europe and North Africa. Like many ancient marvels, it was a bizarre hybrid: a crested snake that hatched from an egg laid by a rooster and incubated by a toad.
The basilisk of legend was rare but decidedly deadly; it was widely believed to wither landscapes with its breath and kill with a glare. The example above comes from a German bestiary dating to the medieval period, but the earliest description was given hundreds of years earlier by Pliny the Elder, who described the monster in his pioneering Natural History (79 A.D.). The 37 volumes of this masterpiece were completed shortly before their author was suffocated by the sulphurous fumes of Vesuvius while investigating the eruption that consumed Pompeii. According to the Roman savant, it was a small animal, “not more than 12 fingers in length,” but astoundingly deadly. “He does not impel his body, like other serpents, by a multiplied flexion,” Pliny added, “but advances loftily and upright.” It was a description that accorded with the then-popular notion of the basilisk as the king of serpents; according to the same mythology, it also “kills the shrubs, not only by contact but by breathing on them,” and splits rocks, “such power of evil is there in him.” The basilisk was thought to be native to Libya, and the Romans believed that the Sahara had been fertile land until an infestation of basilisks turned it into a desert.
July 17, 2012
The telegram arrived in New York from Promontory Summit, Utah, at 3:05 p.m. on May 10, 1869, announcing one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the century:
The last rail is laid; the last spike driven; the Pacific Railroad is completed. The point of junction is 1086 miles west of the Missouri river and 690 miles east of Sacramento City.
The telegram was signed, “Leland Stanford, Central Pacific Railroad. T. P. Durant, Sidney Dillon, John Duff, Union Pacific Railroad,” and trumpeted news of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. After more than six years of backbreaking labor, east officially met west with the driving of a ceremonial golden spike. In City Hall Park in Manhattan, the announcement was greeted with the firing of 100 guns. Bells were rung across the country, from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Business was suspended in Chicago as people rushed to the streets, celebrating to the sounding of steam whistles and cannons booming.
Back in Utah, railroad officials and politicians posed for pictures aboard locomotives, shaking hands and breaking bottles of champagne on the engines as Chinese laborers from the West and Irish, German and Italian laborers from the East were budged from view.
Not long after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act of 1862, railroad financier George Francis Train proclaimed, “The great Pacific Railway is commenced.… Immigration will soon pour into these valleys. Ten millions of emigrants will settle in this golden land in twenty years.… This is the grandest enterprise under God!” Yet while Train may have envisioned all the glory and the possibilities of linking the East and the West coasts by “a strong band of iron,” he could not imagine the full and tragic impact of the Transcontinental Railroad, nor the speed at which it changed the shape of the American West. For in its wake, the lives of countless Native Americans were destroyed, and tens of millions of buffalo, which had roamed freely upon the Great Plains since the last ice age 10,000 years ago, were nearly driven to extinction in a massive slaughter made possible by the railroad.
Following the Civil War, after deadly European diseases and hundreds of wars with the white man had already wiped out untold numbers of Native Americans, the U.S. government had ratified nearly 400 treaties with the Plains Indians. But as the Gold Rush, the pressures of Manifest Destiny, and land grants for railroad construction led to greater expansion in the West, the majority of these treaties were broken. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s first postwar command (Military Division of the Mississippi) covered the territory west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains, and his top priority was to protect the construction of the railroads. In 1867, he wrote to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, “we are not going to let thieving, ragged Indians check and stop the progress” of the railroads. Outraged by the Battle of the Hundred Slain, where Lakota and Cheyenne warriors ambushed a troop of the U.S. Cavalry in Wyoming, scalping and mutilating the bodies of all 81 soldiers and officers, Sherman told Grant the year before, “we must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children.” When Grant assumed the presidency in 1869, he appointed Sherman Commanding General of the Army, and Sherman was responsible for U.S. engagement in the Indian Wars. On the ground in the West, Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan, assuming Sherman’s command, took to his task much as he had done in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, when he ordered the “scorched earth” tactics that presaged Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Early on, Sheridan bemoaned a lack of troops: “No other nation in the world would have attempted reduction of these wild tribes and occupation of their country with less than 60,000 to 70,000 men, while the whole force employed and scattered over the enormous region…never numbered more than 14,000 men. The consequence was that every engagement was a forlorn hope.”
The Army’s troops were well equipped for fighting against conventional enemies, but the guerrilla tactics of the Plains tribes confounded them at every turn. As the railways expanded, they allowed the rapid transport of troops and supplies to areas where battles were being waged. Sheridan was soon able to mount the kind of offensive he desired. In the Winter Campaign of 1868-69 against Cheyenne encampments, Sheridan set about destroying the Indians’ food, shelter and livestock with overwhelming force, leaving women and children at the mercy of the Army and Indian warriors little choice but to surrender or risk starvation. In one such surprise raid at dawn during a November snowstorm in Indian Territory, Sheridan ordered the nearly 700 men of the Seventh Cavalry, commanded by George Armstrong Custer, to “destroy [Indian] villages and ponies, to kill or hang all warriors, and to bring back all women and children.” Custer’s men charged into a Cheyenne village on the Washita River, cutting down the Indians as they fled from lodges. Women and children were taken as hostages as part of Custer’s strategy to use them as human shields, but Cavalry scouts reported seeing women and children pursued and killed “without mercy” in what became known as the Washita Massacre. Custer later reported more than 100 Indian deaths, including that of Chief Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, shot in the back as they attempted to ride away on a pony. Cheyenne estimates of Indian deaths in the raid were about half of Custer’s total, and the Cheyenne did manage to kill 21 Cavalry troops while defending the attack. “If a village is attacked and women and children killed,” Sheridan once remarked, “the responsibility is not with the soldiers but with the people whose crimes necessitated the attack.”
The Transcontinental Railroad made Sheridan’s strategy of “total war” much more effective. In the mid-19th century, it was estimated that 30 milion to 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. In massive and majestic herds, they rumbled by the hundreds of thousands, creating the sound that earned them the nickname “Thunder of the Plains.” The bison’s lifespan of 25 years, rapid reproduction and resiliency in their environment enabled the species to flourish, as Native Americans were careful not to overhunt, and even men like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to hunt the bison to feed thousands of rail laborers for years, could not make much of a dent in the buffalo population. In mid-century, trappers who had depleted the beaver populations of the Midwest began trading in buffalo robes and tongues; an estimated 200,000 buffalo were killed annually. Then the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad accelerated the decimation of the species.
Massive hunting parties began to arrive in the West by train, with thousands of men packing .50 caliber rifles, and leaving a trail of buffalo carnage in their wake. Unlike the Native Americans or Buffalo Bill, who killed for food, clothing and shelter, the hunters from the East killed mostly for sport. Native Americans looked on with horror as landscapes and prairies were littered with rotting buffalo carcasses. The railroads began to advertise excursions for “hunting by rail,” where trains encountered massive herds alongside or crossing the tracks. Hundreds of men aboard the trains climbed to the roofs and took aim, or fired from their windows, leaving countless 1,500-pound animals where they died.
Harper’s Weekly described these hunting excursions:
Nearly every railroad train which leaves or arrives at Fort Hays on the Kansas Pacific Railroad has its race with these herds of buffalo; and a most interesting and exciting scene is the result. The train is “slowed” to a rate of speed about equal to that of the herd; the passengers get out fire-arms which are provided for the defense of the train against the Indians, and open from the windows and platforms of the cars a fire that resembles a brisk skirmish. Frequently a young bull will turn at bay for a moment. His exhibition of courage is generally his death-warrant, for the whole fire of the train is turned upon him, either killing him or some member of the herd in his immediate vicinity.
Hunters began killing buffalo by the hundreds of thousands in the winter months. One hunter, Orlando Brown brought down nearly 6,000 buffalo by himself and lost hearing in one ear from the constant firing of his .50 caliber rifle. The Texas legislature, sensing the buffalo were in danger of being wiped out, proposed a bill to protect the species. General Sheridan opposed it, stating, ”These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. And it is a well known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle.”
The devastation of the buffalo population signaled the end of the Indian Wars, and Native Americans were pushed into reservations. In 1869, the Comanche chief Tosawi was reported to have told Sheridan, “Me Tosawi. Me good Indian,” and Sheridan allegedly replied, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.” The phrase was later misquoted, with Sheridan supposedly stating, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Sheridan denied he had ever said such a thing.
By the end of the 19th century, only 300 buffalo were left in the wild. Congress finally took action, outlawing the killing of any birds or animals in Yellowstone National Park, where the only surviving buffalo herd could be protected. Conservationists established more wildlife preserves, and the species slowly rebounded. Today, there are more than 200,000 bison in North America.
Sheridan acknowledged the role of the railroad in changing the face of the American West, and in his Annual Report of the General of the U.S. Army in 1878, he acknowledged that the Native Americans were scuttled to reservations with no compensation beyond the promise of religious instruction and basic supplies of food and clothing—promises, he wrote, which were never fulfilled.
“We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their mode of living, their habits of life, introduced disease and decay among them, and it was for this and against this they made war. Could any one expect less? Then, why wonder at Indian difficulties?”
Books: Annual Report of the General of the U.S. Army to the Secretary of War, The Year 1878, Washington Government Printing Office, 1878. Robert G. Angevine, The Railroad and the State: War, Politics and Technology in Nineteenth-Century America, Stanford University Press 2004. John D. McDermott, A Guide to the Indian Wars of the West, University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Ballard C. Campbell, Disasters, Accidents, and Crises in American History: A Reference Guide to the Nation’s Most Catastrophic Events, Facts on File, Inc., 2008. Bobby Bridger, Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull: Inventing the Wild West, University of Texas Press, 2002. Paul Andrew Hutton, Phil Sheridan & His Army, University of Nebraska Press 1985. A People and a Nation: A History of the United States Since 1865, Vol. 2, Wadsworth, 2010.
Articles: “Transcontinental Railroad,” American Experience, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/tcrr-intro/ ”Buffalo Hunting: Shooting Buffalo From the Trains of the Kansas Pacific Railroad,” Harper’s Weekly, December 14, 1867. : “Black Kettle,” New Perspectives on the West, PBS: The West, http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/blackkettle.htm ”Old West Legends: Buffalo Hunters,” Legends of America, http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-buffalohunters.html “Completion of the Pacific Railroad,” Hartford Courant, May 11, 1869.
July 10, 2012
At the end of the 19thcentury, William Butler Yeats was a given a bedroom at Lissadell House, the majestic estate of Sir Henry Gore-Booth on the shores of Drumcliff Bay, not far from Yeats’ birthplace in Sligo County. For two years, Yeats stayed in the house amid the enchanted landscape of Ireland’s West Coast, the guest of a “very pleasant, kindly, inflammable family.” But it was clear that Yeats, who was entering his 30s, was also enchanted by the beauty of the Gore-Booth sisters, Constance and Eva. Decades later he would write:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
In 1887, Constance and Eva Gore-Booth were presented at the court of Queen Victoria, with Constance, 19 at the time and older than Eva by two years, described by some in Victorian England as “the new Irish beauty.” Moving in the aristocratic circle of the Protestant Ascendancy, under which Ireland was dominated politically and economically by great landowners like their father, the Gore-Booth sisters were seemingly destined to live lives replete with the comforts and privileges of the landed class. But both women eventually broke from their background, rejected their wealth and dedicated their lives to confrontation and the cause of the poor.
Less than two decades after she sat at Lissadell for a portrait by Yeats, Constance would be sitting in a Dublin jail cell, listening to the volleys of firing squads as she awaited her own execution for her involvement in the Easter Rising. And Eva, the “gazelle” in Yeats’ poem, would become an acclaimed poet herself, as well as a prominent voice for women’s suffrage and the leading figure in an attempt to get her sister a reprieve.
Born in London in 1868 but raised in the Irish wilderness, Constance Gore-Booth had captured the attentions of Yeats, her Sligo neighbor, at a young age. Something of a timid horseman himself, Yeats “respected and admired” the girl who was on her way to becoming known as one of the best horsewomen in all of Ireland—unmatched, it was said, at riding to hounds. She was, according to Yeats, often in trouble around the estate for “some tomboyish feat or reckless riding.”
The sisters also gained a deep appreciation for art while living at Lissadell. The noted Irish portraitist Sarah Purser, also a guest, was inspired to do an iconic painting of the Gore-Booth girls in the woods around the estate. While Constance took after her father, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, an Arctic explorer and avid hunter in Africa, both girls clearly reflected another facet of his character. Sir Henry was reported to have suspended the collection of rents and made sure his tenants had food during 1879-80 famine, and his daughters were brought up with genuine concern for the poor.
Neither Constance nor Eva was interested in marrying within their class. Instead, Constance traveled to London in 1892 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, then to Paris, where she continued to paint and study at Académie Julian. She claimed she was “married to art” and wore a ring to show it, smoked cigarettes, made a range of friends and earned the nickname “Velo” for riding her bicycle to the studio each day. When a Parisian girl teased about her about her funny-sounding English, Constance marched her to a faucet and held her head under running water.
By 1893, the Gore-Booth sisters had begun to occupy themselves with the cause of women’s suffrage—stirrings that did not sit well with Sir Henry and Lady Gore-Booth. Constance became the president of a suffrage committee and made a rousing speech in Drumcliff, noting that the number of women who signed petitions had been dramatically increasing over recent years. One man heckled, “If my wife went to vote she might never come back!”
“She must think very little of you, then,” Constance shot back to a crowd cheering in delight.
Eva became an accomplished poet and one of Yeats’ circle, and fell in love with the English suffragist and pacifist Esther Roper. The two women would spend the rest of their lives together, working on social issues ranging from workers’ rights to capital punishment.
Constance, too, would pursue a political life. Back in Paris, after her family had given up on the prospects of her ever marrying, she met Count Casimir Markievicz, a Polish artist from a wealthy family. They married and had a daughter, Maeve, in 1901, but they left her at Lissadell to be raised by her grandparents while they moved to Dublin to pursue their art.
By 1908, Constance had turned to the movement for Irish independence from British rule. She joined Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party, as well as the Daughters of Ireland—a revolutionary women’s movement—and teamed up with Eva to oppose the election of Winston Churchill to the British parliament. As the nationalist cause gained momentum, Constance founded the Warriors of Ireland (Fianna Éireann), which trained teenagers in the use of firearms. Speaking at a rally of 30,000 people opposed to King George V’s visit to Ireland in 1911, Countess Constance experienced her first arrest, after she helped stone the likeness of the King and Queen and tried to burn the British flag.
She took out loans and sold her jewelry to feed the poor and started a soup kitchen for children, around the same time she joined the Irish Citizen Army, led by James Connolly, the socialist and Irish republican leader. In 1913, her husband left Ireland to live in Ukraine—separate from Constance but not estranged, as the two would correspond for the remainder of her life.
In April 1916, Irish republicans staged an insurrection; Constance was appointed staff lieutenant, second in command at St. Stephen’s Green, the park in central Dublin. With her troops responsible for barricading the park, fighting flared after Connolly shot a policeman who had tried to prevent him from entering City Hall. Rumor had Constance shooting a British army sniper in the head, but she was never charged in such a death. Pinned down by British fire at St. Stephen’s Green, she pulled her troops back to the Royal College of Surgeons, where they held out for nearly a week before surrendering.
Taken to Kilmainham jail, Constance Markievicz was isolated from her comrades and court-martialed for “causing disaffection among the civilian population of His Majesty”; she was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison because of her sex.
A few days later, she heard a volley from a firing squad at dawn and was informed that her mentor, James Connolly, had been executed.
“Why don’t they let me die with my friends?” she asked.
Transferred to a prison in England, she was sentenced to hard labor and fed limited rations. Eva Gore-Booth, a highly skilled activist, saw her sister’s failing health, lobbied for more humane treatment of prisoners, and in 1917 helped to get her sister included in an amnesty for participants in the Easter Rising.
Constance returned to Ireland a hero and was practically carried by a welcoming crowd to Liberty Hall in Dublin, where she declared herself back in politics. As Sinn Fein’s new leader, Eamon de Valera saw Constance Markievicz elected to the 24-member executive council. But in 1918, she was back in jail after the British arrested Sinn Fein’s leaders for working against the conscription of troops for World War I, yet she managed, from prison, to become the first woman elected to the British House of Commons.
Then she announced that she would refuse to take her seat, in accordance with Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy. After all, she declared, she was “imprisoned by the foreign enemy.” She was then elected to the Dáil Éireann, the parliament established by unilateral declaration in the drive for Irish independence. After the drive secured freedom for 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, she was re-elected to the Dáil—but then jailed in 1923, during the Irish Civil War, which was fought over the degree of independence Ireland had achieved. In prison Constance organized a hunger strike with nearly 100 female prisoners and was released a month later.
Constance remained in touch with Eva and even managed to reunite with Casimir in London. He was said to have been shocked by the sight on his bride, now in her mid-50s, gaunt from the hardships of incarceration. Eva, frail from cancer, died in June of 1926. Constance, heartbroken, did not attend the funeral. “I simply cannot face the family,” she said.
Re-elected in the Irish General Election along with de Valera in June of 1927, Constance, too, was quite ill, possibly with tuberculosis. She was hospitalized the next month in a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital. Casimir arrived, with roses, for a deathbed visit that Constance would describe as the happiest day of her life. She’d been long estranged from her daughter, and there would be no reunion before Constance died, on July 15.
De Valera spoke at her funeral and carried her coffin; thousands lined the streets to see the procession. And though she is remembered fondly in Ireland, both politically and with a bust at St. Stephen’s Green, the words of her old friend Yeats were less than kind. In “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz,” the poet famously observed, “The innocent and the beautiful/have no enemy but time” and continued:
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams—
Some vague Utopia—and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Books: Anne M. Haverty, Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary, New York University Press, 1988. Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Articles: Constance Marcievicz (nee Gore-Booth) and the Easter Rising, Sligo Heritage, http://www.sligoheritage.com/archmark2.htm
Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland, Lissadel Online, http://www.lissadellhouse.com/index.html A St. Pat’s Toast: The Rebel Countess, by Aphra Behn, Daily Kos, March 17, 2007, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/03/17/312918/-A-St-Pat-s-Toast-The-Rebel-Countess#comments Constance Georgine Gore Booth, Countess Markievicz, The Lissadell Estate, http://www.constancemarkievicz.ie/home.php Constance Markievicz: The Countess of Irish Freedom, The Wild Geese Today, http://www.thewildgeese.com/pages/ireland.html#Part1
July 5, 2012
At the age of 14, Ida Tarbell witnessed the Cleveland Massacre, in which dozens of small oil producers in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, including her father, were faced with a daunting choice that seemed to come out of nowhere: sell their businesses to the shrewd, confident 32 year-old John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and his newly incorporated Standard Oil Company, or attempt to compete and face ruin. She didn’t understand it at the time, not all of it, anyway, but she would never forget the wretched effects of “the oil war” of 1872, which enabled Rockefeller to leave Cleveland owning 85 percent of the city’s oil refineries.
Tarbell was, in effect, a young woman betrayed, not by a straying lover but by Standard Oil’s secret deals with the major railroads—a collusive scheme that allowed the company to crush not only her father’s business, but all of its competitors. Almost 30 years later, Tarbell would redefine investigative journalism with a 19-part series in McClure’s magazine, a masterpiece of journalism and an unrelenting indictment that brought down one of history’s greatest tycoons and effectively broke up Standard Oil’s monopoly. By dint of what she termed “steady, painstaking work,” Tarbell unearthed damaging internal documents, supported by interviews with employees, lawyers and—with the help of Mark Twain—candid conversations with Standard Oil’s most powerful senior executive at the time, Henry H. Rogers, which sealed the company’s fate.
She became one of the most influential muckrakers of the Gilded Age, helping to usher in that age of political, economic and industrial reform known as the Progressive Era. “They had never played fair,” Tarbell wrote of Standard Oil, “and that ruined their greatness for me.”