Saturday, September 20, 2014

BIRTH | Sep 20–Upton Sinclair, One of Inez's Passionate Fans

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)
This day in 1878 was born Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. in Baltimore, Maryland. He entered City College of New York at 14, paying the tuition himself because his alcoholic father did not earn enough to send him to college, or indeed to support his family.

Sinclair earned money by writing for stories for newspapers and magazines. At 17, he did so well he had his own apartment, and shared his income with his parents.

Sinclair married three times. After his first marriage, to Meta Fuller in 1902, the money he earned was not enough to support his family. A well-off uncle financed his first novel which he self-published when he was 21. But his sense of unfairness at the disparity between his parents' great poverty and his uncle's wealth led him to become a member of the Socialist Party.

A Socialist journal commissioned him to write about immigrants working in the Chicago meatpacking district, and Macmillan gave him an advance for the book. Sinclair moved to the stockyards district, and for seven weeks took notes that led to his book, The Jungle. It was serialized in the journal, but Macmillan wouldn't print it unless Sinclair toned it down. Instead, Sinclair showed it to four other publishers who, alas, echoed Macmillan's sentiments. Sinclair steamed ahead with another self-publishing plan and started taking pre-print orders. His sales were good and Doubleday stepped in to publish the book if someone would verify Sinclair's story. Doubleday's lawyer went to Chicago and verified the unsanitary conditions, and the book was published in 1906, to huge praise.

However, Sinclair had intended to expose maltreatment of meatpacking workers, but readers latched on to the more selfish issue of unsanitary food preparation. President Teddy Roosevelt praised the book and the upshot was the Pure Food and Drugs Act. In the wake of the book's success, Sinclair went on to publish 90 more books.

Upton Sinclair met Inez Milholland at the Intercollegiate Socialist Society in 1910, as described in the book on Sinclair by Lauren Coodley. He fell passionately in love with Inez and remembered their conversation many years later. He was still married to his first wife Meta, but they were having trial separations. Inez said she could not be involved with another married man because one was enough. 

Sinclair and his first wife were divorced in 1911. His letters to Inez Milholland (at the Schlesinger Library, Harvard University ) show that he was looking to Inez for intellectual rapport that he did not have with Meta - or with either of his two subsequent wives.

In 1913, Inez married Eugen Boissevain. Sinclair married his second wife, Mary Craig, and they were together a long time, until 1961. His third and last wife was Mary Elizabeth Hard Willis, with whom he was married from 1961 until 1967. He died the following year.

He also very nearly won the governorship of California after his publication of a time-travel-to-the-future booklet titled "I, Governor of California And How I Ended Poverty". His plan to end poverty met with support and he headed the California Democratic Party's ticket. Despite his known socialist leanings, his candidacy (in the depths of the Depression) was competitive...  but in the end he lost to the Republican candidate in 1934. Not at a loss for words whatever the outcome, he published a follow-up booklet: "I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

ASHOKA | Morgan Dixon and National GirlTrek

Trekking for Health - Morgan Dixon 
At the Ashoka Support Network dinner yesterday, I spoke with Morgan Dixon, the newest of the Ashoka Fellows. She has a compelling story, and a plan for a national GirlTrek event on October 16.

I see a lot of similarities between Morgan and her predecessor activist 100 years ago, Inez Milholland:
  • Morgan is smart. She says she was the first in her class to graduate from college. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Southern California and then went on to get a Master of Education Policy and Leadership at Seton Hall. 
  • Morgan is a street organizer. Inspired by her sister and other members of her family. She says she is also inspired by Ella Baker and Septima Poinsette Clark, both of whom worked on civil rights issues with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP.
  • Morgan is a leader. She founded GirlTrek with her sister in Teaneck, N.J., and previously served as director of leadership development for one of the largest charter school networks in the country, Achievement First. Before Achievement First, Morgan directed the development and start-up of six public schools in NYC for St. Hope and the Urban Assembly, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 
  • Morgan is a communicator. She began her career with Teach For America as a high school history teacher in Atlanta, GA, and later as a school administrator in Newark, NJ. Morgan was awarded Teach For America's 2012 Social Innovation Award.  
  • She is a popular speaker. She was recognized by the Awesome Foundation as a leader to watch. She recently addressed students at Yale and Princeton and opened the 2012 summit for the National Outdoor Leadership School.
She told me that she started GirlTrek two years ago because she was heartbroken that so many black women die of preventable diseases. She says that four out of five African American women are overweight and half of them are obese. Yet 70 percent of them are the breadwinners in the family. (I haven't checked any of these numbers, but they sound right.)

Morgan is trying to draw attention to the need for a change in diet and need for exercise through walks for black women's health. GirlTrek supports African American women and girls' living healthier lives by walking.

 GirlTrek, based in Washington, D.C. supports more than 15,000 walkers and is operated with the help of 300 volunteers and 145,000 supporters. GirlTrek aims to mobilize one million supporters to lead a "walking revolution for better health" in high-need communities across America. GirlTrek's health movement relies on telling stories, providing active role models, organizing in the street, partnering with other organizations and just making the case to the media.

Morgan will keep them all moving by example and exhortation.


Morgan exemplifies the front edge of the woman's movement that dates itself back to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, and got itself renewed energy in the 1913 march sponsored by the National Woman's Party in Washington, which Inez Milholland led on horseback.

I was at the centennial march last year and have already commented that it was composed 95 percent of Deltas,  from all over the country. The Delta Sigma Theta sorority had just been founded at Howard University in 1913 is the activist sorority that Inez championed to be part of the Washington march.