Friday, October 30, 2015

INEZ | 5A. Movie "Suffragette" Issues Still With Us [2]

The new movie Suffragette is on view in New York City at the Bow Tie Cinema at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue. I saw it last night, based on last week's favorable review by A. O. Scott in The New York Times and a pitch from the good people behind the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial that I go see it.

Suffragette was released in Britain in October 2015 and has a limited release in the USA. It is showing this week in three Manhattan theaters. The movie depicts the Pankhurst suffragettes - activist women who turn at times to violence. The drama was directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan.

Maud Watts is the main character, played by Carey Mulligan. She is an appealing working girl, who works in a laundry where workplace conditions are dangerous and exhausting and the supervisor is a caricature of a slave-driving sexual predator. She seems on top of her job at the beginning of the movie, with no signs of fatigue in her eyes. The basic story line is her gradual awakening to the cause.

The cause is unequal rights in the British workplace and domestic life. The situation was similar in the United States. When Inez Milholland married my great-uncle, who was a Dutch citizen, she lost her right to practice law!

Maud Watts' husband is put under pressure by neighbors and the police and their common employer to keep his wife under control. Gradually she loses her husband, her home, her job and - the last tragic straw - her son, as her husband gives up their boy for adoption. In an emotion-rich scene, the adoptive mother says in a pathetic (or was it defiant?) apology - "We have a garden."

The story line drives home the idea that even in the civilized world of pre-war London (the movie is set in the year 1912) the suffragettes had good reason to object to their place in society and to demand political rights that they could only achieve by having first the vote.

Maud (i.e., Carey Mulligan) is the only thing that holds the movie together, however, and it is frustrating not to have a better sense of what is going on inside her head. Helena Bonham Carter shows potential as the educated link between the working-women cadre and the Pankhursts at the center, but the potential is never explored. Inez Milholland in New York was attacked by working-class women when she was released from jail within hours because the judge know her then-wealthy father, while they had to stay in jail overnight. This kind of distinction is barely shown, although it must have been understood by the filmmakers when they decided to focus on the working-class woman.

Meryl Streep as Mrs. Pankhurst is excellent as usual, but she is on only briefly, about five minutes. A '"cameo" appearance although she is to the movie what the prince of Denmark is to Hamlet. Her arrival is like a parting of the mist - we can understand what she is saying and we get a sense of what is going on in her head. I should note that the working class British-dialect accent in movie used by Maud and her friends may be easily understood among British audiences but I found it an annoying obstacle and I have been at school in England and Ireland for six full years and in the British Commonwealth for more than a decade.

The movie took a little over a year to produce. It is the first film in history to be shot in the Houses of Parliament with permission. Despite all this work, the movie has not been getting high marks in the USA - is generally not well reviewed, getting percentages in the 65-75 percent range.

It gets high marks for historical interest and purpose (showing connections with issues that are still with us today). Its mostly dark-and-misty atmosphere is excusable as  cunning way to save money in a historical movie (less to see, less to spend money on), and the theme is also a dark one. However, the linguistic barrier may be hard for American audiences.

The story of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) piques our interest, and the scene when her son is taken away is hard not to get angry and distressed about. But the arc of the story does not go far with her. For the most part we simply go round with her watching and learning to understand the aggression in the men and then the women around her. The true story of Emily Davison's walk in front of George V's horse at Epsom (movie clip here) is acted out realistically, although it is still not clear whether Davison's motivation was suicide or just to stop the race.

Bottom line, the movie tackles important material and the issues resonate on both sides of the Atlantic and in today's world. That's what A.O. Scott focuses on. But the movie itself is disappointing.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

WOODIN | Oct. 27–NYC Subway Opens (ACF cars)

The NY Herald reported 125,000 rode the subway
this day in 1904.
October 27, 2016 – This day in 1904 at 2:35 pm, NYC Mayor George McClellan took the controls to open up the subway system.

The first line was privately built by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) covering 9.1 miles with 28 stations from City Hall Grand Central Terminal, west along 42nd Street to Times Square, and then north to 145th Street and Broadway.

At 7 p.m. that evening, the subway opened to the public. The New York Herald reported that 125,000 people paid a nickel each to take their first ride. IRT service expanded to the Bronx in 1905, to Brooklyn in 1908 and to Queens in 1915.

Since 1968, the subway has been controlled by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA), which operates 26 lines and 468 stations and transports 4.5 million people every day to their workplaces and relatives and vendors and friends. The longest line is the 32-mile A Train, which runs by a block away from where I live in New York City, from the northern tip of Manhattan to the southeast corner of Queens.

While London's system was built first (1863) and Boston's was the first in the USA (1897), the NYC subway system quickly became the largest in the USA and is said to be the world's only rapid transit system that runs 24-7, 365 days a year, except for the PATH train from NYC to New Jersey and sections of Chicago's elevated system. On New Year's Eve, the NYC subway has been advertised as being free so that people don't drive.


The first all-steel subway cars were built for the New York City subway by American Car & Foundry at the former Jackson & Woodin Company plant in Berwick, Pa.  In 1904 the company was headed by Frederick Eaton of Berwick, who died in 1916 and was replaced by Will Woodin.

The construction of the subway was assisted by John E. Milholland, an anti-machine (anti-Platt) Roosevelt Republican who had a controlling interest in the Batcheller Company, which was renamed The Pneumatic Tube Company. It built pneumatic tubes in which to transport mail – an expanded version of the system in use in department stores and libraries. He leased the tubes to the Post Office. He became very wealthy and built 27 miles of tubes under Manhattan that he sold to a Boston buyer.

His daughter Inez was the first woman to go through the new East River tunnel, being built for the subway to Queens. She died tragically in 1916, the same year as Frederick Eaton.

So 1916 was a watershed year for two prominent Presbyterian Republicans, who must have known each other. 

  • Through the death of Fred Eaton, the year saw the promotion of Will Woodin to CEO, where he remained until 1933, when he became FDR's first Treasury Secretary. 
  • But it took away from John E. Milholland his daughter. John  Milholland attacked his would-be patron, Woodrow Wilson's Postmaster-General, for his racist workplace policies. When Wilson was reelected, Milholland's business more or less ended. He died in 1925, leaving to his widow and two surviving children a trunk full of valueless securities – and a lot of valuable land in Essex County, N.Y.

Monday, October 26, 2015

XEdna the Queen Bee of Ragged Island (Superseded)

Edna and Eugen - Anemone and The Rock.
Edna St. Vincent Millay and my great-uncle Eugen Boissevain were married in 1923.

Eugen's first wife Inez Milholland died tragically in 1916 and he threw himself into his business importing coffee from Java with his two Dutch brothers Robert and Jan.

It was a good time to buy and sell coffee from Java, and for a while the Boissevain brothers had special access. Eugen became a wealthy man in the postwar years and was able to retire soon after he married.

He wanted to look after Edna, who was constantly sick, and help her manage her literary affairs in a way that would capitalize on her fame and generate income for them both (which became important after 1929). She is said to have been the only female in the 20th century to have made a living from her poetry. (The other poet to have done the same was W. H. Auden. All the other poets had day jobs to put food on the table.)

They (or, more probably, Eugen) purchased the 600-acre property called Steepletop in Austerlitz, N.Y. the year they were married.

Ten years later, they purchased Ragged Island in Casco Bay, Maine. In a previous century it was called Cold Arse Island. My mother, Eugen's niece, had good information about Eugen's activities because Eugen's sister Olga, my Granny, was living with us in Washington, D.C. at the time.

Edna decided that she should be the Queen Bee of Ragged Island, the only female allowed. She told Eugen that he was not to invite any other woman, or allow any other woman, to come on the island. My mother told me that Eugen asked Edna:
"Even Norma?"
Norma was Edna's sister, younger by one year. She did not have Edna's talents, or even the talents of their younger sister Kathleen, but she envied Edna's fame and many friends. Kathleen, who had literary aspirations along Edna's lines, was four years younger than Edna and shared a portion of Edna's literary capability. She was also apparently was less of a clinging vine to Edna than Norma. It was about Kathleen that Edna wrote her famous letter to her mother Cora in which she said that if her sister wanted to publish a book of her poetry, she knew what she was getting in for. Kathleen was a grownup and could do as she damned pleased, she said, foolhardy though it might seem to her mother. Kathleen sadly died at 47 in 1943, seven years before her Edna. Her literary papers are available in four parts at the New York Public Library; in a word, she did not come close to Edna's success. Norma's triumph was to outlive them both.

Edna answered Eugen:
"Especially Norma!"
(My mother told me that Eugen was asked frequently to protect Edna from Norma's threatened visits to Steepletop. Norma surely resented Eugen's being the gatekeeper and on the maps of the Austerlitz "Millay Estate", which Norma occupied after Eugen died in 1949 and Edna in 1950, there is no mention of Eugen. The place where Eugen is buried, next to Edna, was labeled on the maps "The Millay Graves". I hope that the Millay Colony has rectified this erasure of the name of Edna's husband, caretaker and patron. In fairness to Norma, there were many others who resented Eugen. No less a person than Edmund Wilson, in his book on The Twenties, cannot conceal his astonishment that he would be rejected by Edna as spouse material in favor of Eugen, whom he describes as "a Dutch importer". I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Wilson when he was living in Cambridge, Mass. in the early 1960s with Mary McCarthy.)

Ragged Island today is not inhabited, at least year round. It provides habitat for many nesting seabirds, including the eider duck, black guillemot, greater black-backed gull, herring gull and osprey.

It was the subject of a well-regarded 1914 watercolor by John Marin in which the island and the water are juxtaposed in an innovative way that is described as creating "vertigo".

The island when purchased was described as occupying 85 acres. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant program in 2008 awarded a $323,000 Coastal Wetland grant to secure seabird-nesting protection of the 77-acre (310,000 square meters) natural area. So the island has eroded, or the area was measured differently the second time. With all the debris left by the birds, one would expect the island to grow, maybe?

John Felstiner wrote about Steepletop and Ragged Island in The American Poetry Review Vol. 36, No. 3 (May-June 2007), 45-48. "There, there where those black spruces crowd": To Steepletop and Ragged Island with Edna St. Vincent Millay.

My wife Alice and I would like to visit Ragged Island and other haunts of young Edna, and her mother and sisters.

Friday, October 2, 2015

BOISSEVAIN | Reunions–2016 Is #11 (Updated June 29, 2016)

The Boissevain Family Reunions seem to happen about every five years.
  • Reunion 6 was in Amsterdam in 1989.
  • Reunion 7 was in Boissevain, Manitoba, in 1992, organized by Tice Boissevain. I was there.
  • Reunion 8 was in Amsterdam in 2001. I was there.
  • Reunion 9 was in Amsterdam in 2006. I was there.
  • Reunion 10 was in Amsterdam in 2011. I was there.
  • Reunion 11 was in Amsterdam in 2016, organized by Aviva Boissevain. Here is the first notice that was sent. I was there along with about 140 others, including 40 from overseas.
Below is the first of the five pages of a newsletter that Aviva Boissevain prepared after Reunion 10. Email me and I will send or post the other four pages. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

BOISSEVAIN | Reunion 2016–Amsterdam, April 16-17 - First Notice

Boissevain Family Reunion, Amsterdam, April 16/17, 2016

First reunion notice 

Dear relatives!

Full of new energy, the Dutch Boissevain Foundation announces a family reunion in the Walloon Church in Amsterdam on Saturday afternoon April 16, 2016. For the real die hards, for instance the relatives from abroad, an extra program will be offered on Sunday April 17.

By this timely notice you can already save the date in your agenda and pass it on to your relatives that proba
bly don’t know yet about the event.

The organizers use this announcement also as a means to collect e-mail addresses of relatives. Herewith we ask you to mail the e-mail addresses of your closest family members (parents, brothers, sisters, kids) to, so we can also send these people our future monthly reunion notices. They will only be used for this purpose.

We take the opportunity of the organization of the reunion to implement some improvements in our Boissevain Foundation. Number 1 is the contact with our target group: the Boissevains and their adherents. We are going to stay in contact through various media, to begin with e-mail. So: for a successful organization of the family reunion and the future of our family foundation we like to receive as much e-mail addresses as possible. Thanks for your cooperation!

On November 1 new information will follow in our second reunion notice. 

Till then! Annemie, Aviva, Barbera en Charles Boissevain

Boissevain Familiereünie Amsterdam, 16/17 april 2016
Vol nieuwe energie laat de Boissevain-Stichting van zich horen met de organisatie van een familiereünie in de Walenkerk te Amsterdam op zaterdagmiddag 16 april 2016. Aan de echte liefhebbers, bijvoorbeeld de buitenlanders, wordt op zondag 17 april nog een extra gezamenlijk programma aangeboden.
Door deze tijdige aankondiging kun je de datum alvast in jouw agenda noteren en doorgeven aan familieleden, van wie je vermoedt dat ze dit nieuws nog niet weten.
De organisatoren gebruiken deze aankondiging ook als middel om e-mailadressen van familieleden te verzamelen. Hierbij vragen wij je om de adressen van jouw directe familieleden (ouders, broers, zussen, kinderen) toe te mailen aan, zodat wij ook hen onze komende maandelijkse reünieberichten kunnen sturen. Ze worden alleen voor dit doel gebruikt.
We grijpen de organisatie van de reünie aan om een aantal verbeteringen in onze Boissevain- Stichting aan te brengen. Nummer 1 daarbij is het contact met onze doelgroep: de Boissevains en hun aanhang. Dit contact gaan we onderhouden via diverse media, te beginnen met de bovengenoemde e-mails. Kortom: voor een succesvolle organisatie van de reünie en de toekomst van onze familiestichting ontvangen we graag zoveel mogelijk e-mailadressen. Dank voor jouw medewerking!page1image12344 page1image12504 page1image12664
Op 1 november volgt nieuwe informatie in ons tweede reüniebericht. Tot dan! Annemie, Aviva, Barbera en Charles Boissevain