Thursday, August 12, 2021

DEATH | Al[fred] Boissevain, January 5, 2016

The following is from The Almanac, January 2016. It is a weekly California newspaper published to about 15,000 readers in Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside. The paper was founded in 1965 by Hedy Boissevain, Jean Heflin and  Betty Fry. It was originally titled The Country Almanac. Embarcadero Publishing Compnay bought the Almanac in 1993.

Alfred 'Al' Boissevain, engineer and winemaker, dies at 92—Alfred "Al" Boissevain, whose late wife, Hedy Boissevain was a co-founder of The Almanac (Country Almanac), died January 5 in Bloomington, Indiana. He was 92.

Mr. Boissevain was born in Brooklyn and grew up on the Adirondack Poultry Farm, now the Meadowmont School of Music, in upstate New York. He attended Middlebury College, where he met his future wife, Hedvig "Hedy" Hogg. He graduated in 1945 and completed an additional degree at MIT in 1946.

Turning a lifelong passion for flight into a profession, he was employed as an aeronautical engineer at Chance-Vought in Connecticut before accepting a position with the National Space Administration (later NASA) at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

While at NASA he worked on many projects, including design work on the early supersonic test planes and the Mercury capsules for the early space missions, as well as early development of equipment and procedures used in the initial Mars landing.

At the end of his career, he was back to airplanes, working on designs for short take-off and landing aircraft for several years. Living in Portola Valley, he was active in the community, serving on the school board for several years. He was a member of Ladera Community Church and active in the construction of its present building.

After retiring from NASA in 1978, he and his wife established Vinehill, a vineyard specializing in chardonnay and viognier, in Georgetown, California. Mr. Boissevain became an award-winning winemaker, marketing his grapes to wineries within the El Dorado appellation, as well as to home winemakers.

Retiring a second time, 30 years later, he moved to Bloomington, where his daughter resides. He is survived by his children, Claire (Phillip Crooke) of Bloomington, Paul (Margaret) of Hancock, Mich., and Charles (Nancy) of Oakland; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Hedy, died in 1998.

Memorial contributions may be made to The Sycamore Land Trust, P.O. Box 7801, Bloomington IN 47407.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

VOTES FOR WOMEN | Turning Point Suffrage Memorial Open!

May 16, 2021—The Turning Point Suffrage Memorial was formally opened today. 

The  program was well thought out, was preceded and followed by well-executed videos, and the memorial itself was shown in an inspiring way.

I was personally pleased to see that the old feuds between the activists (Inez Milholland was proud to call herself a suffragette) of the National Woman's Party and the legislation-oriented suffragists in NAWSA were united in their support of the memorial.

Also, it was encouraging to see the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority properly represented. It was originally an offshoot of Alpha Sorority at Howard University. Its twenty-two members were allowed to join the suffrage march in 1913. A century later, the Deltas were the main participants!

Congratulations to Jane Barker and Pat Wirth for pulling this off.

Here's a YouTube video prepared for showing before and after the show.

Here is the Farifax County attractions listing:

Sunday, April 25, 2021

MARCONI | Jamesons and MacDonnells

Guglielmo Marconi
April 25, 2021—This day was born (in 1874) Guglielmo Marconi, in Bologna, Italy.  He has at least three connections to Inez Milholland, all of them via the Jamesons, the Irish whiskey family.

First, he was engaged to Inez for several months but his mother didn't like the idea. He was working on his ship-to-shore communications on a Cunard ship, as I recollect the Carpathia, and Inez was on her way to the Willard school in Berlin. She had to take some courses so she could qualify for entrace to Vassar, which at that time had specific rigorous requirements for admission. They were engaged after a shipboard romance, but it seems that Marconi's Irish mother, a member of the Jameson whiskey family, did not want to have an American whisk off with her son. He broke off the engagement on the basis that she was too young. They remained friends for the rest of her life.

Second, his Jameson mother was of crucial help to his company. He was interested in electricity and used the work of Heinrich Hertz to use electromagnetic or "radio" waves for communication. Marconi began building his own equipment and conducting experiments when he was twenty. In 1895, he moved his equipment outdoors and was able to transmit over a hill, at a distance of about a mile. Six years later, he sent and received a signal across the Atlantic Ocean. The two radio operators aboard the Titanic were Marconi employees, and the British Postmaster General said: "Those who have been saved, have been saved through one man, Mr. Marconi ... and his marvelous invention." Nikola Tesla was Marconi's chief competitor, in addition to the telegraph companies that relentlessly resisted Marconi's invention throughout his life. Tesla said he had been ready to transmit a signal over fifty miles in 1895, but a fire destroyed his work. Marconi's work was performed using seventeen components patented by Tesla, but Marconi's mother's connections with the Jameson whiskey empire helped him stay in business, as well as support from Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison. Tesla's patents were overturned in favor of Marconi's in 1904, and Marconi received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1911. However, in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tesla's original patent. Lots of injustice to go round. Inez Milholland's father, John E. Milholland, was actively soliciting business from the British Postmaster General (as well as the U.S. Postmaster General, but that is another story entirely). Mr. Milholland was seeking to build and lease a pneumatic tube system that would deliver mail within London int he same way it transmitted sales slips within department stores.

Third, Inez married another Jameson relative, Eugen Boissevain. Eugen's father was a young Dutch reporter covering the Irish Horse Show, a trade fair, when he got sick. He was brought to the Dalkey home of the MacDonnells ("Sorrento Cottage," because the view of Bray was like the view at Sorrento) and young Emily Heloise MacDonnell fell in love with the young man she was looking after. She moved with him to Amsterdam and never really picked up the Dutch language—she spoke English with her children and their English governess, Polly. Three of the Boissevains' eleven children moved to the United States (Olga Emily, Robert and Eugen Boissevain). A fourth of the eleven children, Jan, lived in the United States for a while, married an American actress (Charlotte Ives) and finally settled in the South of France on the Cap d'Antibes. I visited her in 1959. When Eugen first met Inez at the restaurant of the Holland House in New York City, he was working for Guglielmo Marconi's company.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

DU BOIS, W.E.B. | Birth, February 23

W. E. B. Du Bois
February 23, 2021—This day in 1868 was born W.E.B Du Bois, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He said he didn't really notice racial discrimination in his virtually all white town—only when people visited from out of town.

He studied at Fisk University in Nashville and then to Harvard, where he was the first Black to earn a Ph.D. 

He taught sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and he became known as a  serious sociologist when he showed that poverty and crime in black communities resulted from racial barriers in education and employment. 

Du Bois under Taft

Republican President Taft found the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to be a burden in the south. He announced in his inaugural address that he would not appoint any Black men to federal jobs, reversing Theodore Roosevelt's policy of supporting Lincoln’s progressive stand in the south. Taft's "Southern Policy" supported whites' protests and he removed most Black office holders in the South.

In 1909, Booker T. Washington argued for training Blacks for industrial work, with only a few seeking higher education. He believed that in due course black people would rise socially and economically. DuBois argued against him, demanding more proactive steps toward equality. Black people in both the North and South began their drift toward the Democratic party that exploded with Roosevelt’s election in 1932.

Du Bois lived at 409 Edgecombe Ave. apartment building, which has a history dating back to the Harlem Renaissance, reported WNYC. (The building has the oldest continuous sidewalk shed permit in the city, granted on April 27, 2006. The scaffolding went up to protect people from falling debris during a restoration project. But it stayed up after a lightning strike damaged that work and funds ran dry.)

The Founding of the NAACP

In 1905, Du Bois was a founder and general secretary of the Niagara Movement, an African American protest group of scholars and professionals. Du Bois founded and edited The Moon (1906) and The Horizon (1907-1910) as organs for the Niagara Movement.

In 1909, Du Bois was among the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The founding Treasurer was John E. Milholland, a newspaper publisher and editor whose elder daughter was Inez Milholland. Inez wrote a letter to Du Bois asking for space to write in his magazine and offering to serve as a "perpetual volunteer."

Du Bois identified as a socialist and belonged to the Socialist Party from 1910 to 1912.

The National Negro Committee was first located in John E. Milholland's Constitution League office at 500 Fifth Avenue. After Villard was persuaded to come aboard, the office was moved to space that he provided. The NAACP name was not established at the second annual meeting, on May 12, 1910. It expanded the Committee of Forty to 100, with a requirement that each of them give or raise $100. The Executive Committee was set at 30 members. The first Executive Committee created officers of the NAACP–with Walling as Chairman, Milholland as Treasurer and Villard as Disbursing Treasurer.

On June 28, 1910 six members attended an Executive Committee meeting. Milholland moved and Ovington seconded a motion to hire W. E. B. Du Bois as director of the Department of Publicity and research of the NAACP. Later in life, Du Bois remembers Ovington, Walling and Villard as the founders of the NAACP. But if Ovington was the engine that drove the creation of the NAACP, the fuel to run it was provided by Milholland. The multi-racial NAACP spelled the end of the Niagara Movement. Du Bois saw that an organization with some establishment (white) sponsors could generate more money to pay for staff, starting with himself. By the third and fourth meetings of the NAACP in Boston and Chicago in 1912, the NAACP was well established (Wedin, pp. 120-135).

Until May 18, 2008, the Wikipedia entry for the NAACP omitted Milholland from its description of the founders. The founding was scheduled for February 12, 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, and this is considered the founding date of the NAACP although it actually took place in May. 

On May 8, 2008, the entry read: "On May 30, 1909, the Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House, from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged, calling itself the National Negro Committee. Du Bois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. Also in attendance was African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, co-founder of the NAACP. 

At a second conference, on May 30, 1910, members formally called the organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and elected the first officers (as reported by Mary White Ovington): • National President, Moorfield Storey, Boston • Chairman of the Executive Committee, William English Walling • Treasurer, John E. Milholland (Lincoln Republican and Presbyterian from NYC and Lewis, NY) • Disbursing Treasurer, Oswald Garrison Villard • Executive Secretary, Frances Blascoer • Director of Publicity and Research, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois."

In 1910-34, DuBois edited the NAACP’s journal, The Crisis. In it, he directed constant, often bitter, invective at white Americans while providing information to Blacks. The magazine published many young Black writers. Racial protest after World War I focused on securing anti-lynching legislation. During this period the NAACP was the leading protest organization and Du Bois its leading figure. The Crisis had more than 100,000 readers.

Milholland's Costly Support of the NAACP

Omitting Milholland's name is unfair because he contributed significantly to the NAACP and it proved to be a costly project for him when Woodrow Wilson became president. Milholland became wealthy because he obtained contracts with the Taft Administration for new pneumatic tubes to deliver mail within Manhattan. (There are 27 miles of these tubes or small tunnels under the roads of Manhattan.) 

With his new wealth, Milholland devoted himself to a Presbyterian religion-inspired vision of a world in which wealth was more equally distributed and civil rights were widely respected. He worked first with Booker T. Washington but became impatient with Washington's gradualism. Following critiques of Washington by Du Bois in 1900-01, Milholland shifted his financial resources away from Washington and toward Du Bois.

Milholland's religion-fired activism on behalf of Blacks contributed to a rapid decline in his fortunes. Milholland, a Republican, attacked as a racist Woodrow Wilson's Postmaster-General–the same man with control over lucrative contracts that were the basis for with the Batcheller Company's prosperity. His gifts to, and statements on behalf of, the cause of civil rights had an immediately negative impact on his business. He and his family paid dearly for his support of civil rights. Investors and taxpayers also paid dearly—investors saw the value of Milholland's company decline, while taxpayers did not benefit from the efficiencies that the Post Office had intended to bring to intra-urban mail delivery.

The 1904 edition of Polk's directory shows the Batcheller Pneumatic Tube Company as a going concern with Milholland as President and B. C. Batcheller on the board. In 1905, the company had offices in New York City and Philadelphia as well as in London, Paris and Berlin. By the Poor's directory of 1917, John E. Milholland was replaced as President and was no longer on the Board.  Instead, Milholland was represented on the board by his son-in-law Eugen Boissevain (my mother's uncle).

Du Bois Resigns, 1934

Du Bois resigned after an ideological rift with the group. In 1935, he published Black Reconstruction, a Marxist interpretation of the post-Civil War era. At Atlanta University, where he later taught, he founded a review of race and culture called Phylon in 1940 and the same year published Dusk at Dawn, in which he examined his own career as a case study of race dynamics.

In 1934, Du Bois resigned from the NAACP board as well as from The Crisis because of his new advocacy of a Black nationalist strategy that ran in opposition to the NAACP’s commitment to integration. 

However, he returned to the NAACP as director of special research in 1944-1948. During this period, he was active in placing the grievances of Blacks before the United Nations, serving as a consultant to the UN founding convention in San Francisco in 1945 (my father was also there representing the U.S. Bureau of the Budget) and writing the famed “An Appeal to the World” published in 1947. He broke again with the NAACP permanently after a major disagreement. 

He joined the Communist Party in 1961 and moved to Ghana, where he became a naturalized citizen at the age of 95. He died in Ghana in 1963, the day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington. Du Bois had two children with his wife, Nina Gomer. 

The NAACP is still going strong, fighting racism and bridging cultural divides. It was headed by Cornell Brooks for a while. A predecessor of Brooks as an officer of the NAACP was the late former Chairman Julian Bond.

Sources: Carolyn Wedin, Inheritors of the Spirit: Mary White Ovington and the Founding of the NAACP (Wiley, 1998). Mary Ovington, Clare Coss John E. Milholland


Monday, February 22, 2021

MILLAY | Birth, February 22 (129 in 2021)

February 22, 2021 — Today is the 129th birthday of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her husband Eugen Jan Boissevain was married first to Inez Milholland and after she died in 1916, he made a success of his business and then in 1923 gave it up to marry Millay and serve as her impresario and often carer. Both Milholland and Millay were Vassar alumnae.

Millay is said to be the only English-speaking woman in the 20th century who made a living at writing and reading poetry. W. H. Auden, who attended Christ Church, Oxford, was the only man.

In honor of Millay's birthday, here is the text of Take Up the Song, produced in Rochester's GEVA Theater in 1998, on the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, a staged reading. An edited videotape of the play was completed in 2004, and the text is shown here. Both Milholland and Millay are characters in the play.

Link to reading of "What lips my lips have kissed" by Edna St. Vincent Millay —

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

MILLAY | Recuerdo (The Ferry Poem)


(This poem was shown on the New York City subway system for years, in its Poetry in Motion series...)


by Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold

We were very tired, we were very merry
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-
       covered head,
And bought a morning paper which neither of us
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and
and we gave her all our money but our subway fares.


Note: Millay's poems are now in the public domain. She died on October 19, 1950, 70 years ago, a year after her husband Eugen Boissevain died of cancer. Millay wrote: "I never did anything for you but survive you. But that was much." Here is a fine 2017 tribute to Millay on the 100th anniversary of her graduation from Vassar—

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

How the Death of Inez Milholland Sparked the Picketing that Changed Wilson's Mind and Led to the 19th Amendment

Dean C. C. Langdell

August 26, 2020—Today is the Centennial of the formal Ratification of the 19th Amendment, which made it the Constitutional right for every woman in the United States to vote in elections.

Inez Milholland was a lawyer who served as a key ally of Alice Paul in forming and advancing the National Woman's Party, the activist arm of the campaign for Votes for Women.

Milholland was admitted to the Harvard Law School in October 1909 by the law faculty, with only three dissenting votes. The story of that vote is told in a new book by Bruce A. Kimball and Daniel R. Coquilette, The Intellectual Sword: Harvard Law School, The Second Century (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020).

Ten years earlier, the Law School faculty voted, with only one dissenting vote, to support admitting women. The holdout was Christopher Columbus Langdell, who had retired as Dean in 1895 after a quarter-century in the position. He prepared a memorandum outlining eight reasons for not admitting women, and the Harvard Corporation, which was the entity that made the important decisions, followed his recommendation rather than that of the rest of the faculty, and voted against the idea.

In a three-page letter, Inez Milholland applied for admission to Dean James Barr Ames, who replaced Langdell in 1895. (Langdell died in 1906.) She had also sought entrance to a legal education at Oxford and Cambridge, to no avail. She had already achieved a substantial degree of notoriety as a Vassar student insurgent for women’s rights, having met Emmeline Pankhurst in London and having become a follower of the Pankhurst philosophy of disruptive action—she called herself a suffragette, a militant suffragist. The President of Vassar said to her father at graduation: “Wonderful girl, Inez. I’m glad she’s gone.”

The letter to Dean Ames was circulated to the Law School faculty with information about Milholland. Early in October 1909, the faculty voted to admit Milholland, with just three professors dissenting. She paid a visit a few days later to Henry Lee Higginson, a member of the Harvard Corporation, who wrote to Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell: “If we are to begin at all with women, we certainly can do no better than with this young lady.” However, Lowell decided that Harvard didn’t confer Harvard degrees on women, and a week after the faculty decision, the Harvard Corporation voted down the idea of allowing women to matriculate at the Law School.

Not until 1950 did the Harvard Law School admit its first female students.

Instead of going to the Harvard, Milholland attended NYU Law School in 1909-12. She helped workers in the garment industry strike in 1909 when she was in her freshman year at the Law School. In 1913 she led the Washington march for suffrage and in July married Eugen Boissevain. In 1916 she went with her sister Vida on a railway-based campaign in the western states and collapsed in Los Angeles, dying six weeks later. Her death galvanized the National Woman’s Party, which called on President Wilson in January 1917 and asked for him to support Votes for Women. He said, more or less, that (a) it was a state issue and (2) they would know that if they did their homework and appreciated  that Democrats couldn't afford to upset southern whites.

Hopping mad, the NWP initiated a picket of the White House. They were there Monday to Saturday every week. Eventually Wilson got tired of it and encouraged the DC police to end it. The “silent sentinels” from the NWP were arrested and taken to the Lorton prison/workshouse in Virginia. The arrested women went on a hunger strike and were force-fed. The painful experience was written out by Lucy Burns and her letter was released to the press. The ensuing bad publicity for Wilson induced him to  change his mind about supporting suffrage. It passed the House and the Senate. It then went to the states for ratification and the last required state, Tennessee, ratified the law on August 20, 1920. Six days later, i.e., this day one hundred years ago, the Amendment’s ratification was certified. Women had gained the formal right to vote nationally.