Scidmore Book Titles at 1893 World’s Fair

March 2, 2012 /
Women's Library at Chicago World's Fair

Women’s History Month begins this week. The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress kicked things off things with a presentation March 2 on a new scholarly work, Right Here I See My Own Books. The book  describes the woman’s library of 8,000 titles assembled for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 (officially the Columbian Exposition). I seemed to recall from my research that Eliza Scidmore reported from the fair. Revisiting my notes, I found an article she wrote for the Aug. 19 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.   It made me wonder whether she had books in the woman’s library.…

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Cherry Tree Art at Library of Congress

February 9, 2012 /
Helen Hyde woodcut cherry blossoms

With the 100th anniversary of Washington’s first cherry trees only six weeks away, on March 27, special exhibits and programs on sakura (cherry blossoms) are cropping up all over town. In late March, the Library of Congress will open an exhibition of 54 prints and art works from its collections depicting different scenes of cherry trees. The selections include watercolor drawings, Japanese woodblock prints, book illustrations, photographs, posters, postcards and editorial cartoons. I’ve posted a few gorgeous samples.     I find the woodblock prints especially beautiful. The artistic technique — with soft, rich coloring and stylized figures and landscapes — seems well suited…

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How to Be a Successful Biographer

January 22, 2012 /
Panelists at 2012 Jaipur Literary Festival

What does it take to be a successful writer of biographies? The question discussed at a literary festival this weekend in Jaipur, India, caught my attention. As a first-time biographer, I need to know the answer. There’s no formula for how to go about it, so am I on the right track? Paul Beckett of The Wall Street Journal discussed the process with several authors. The panelists included biographers of such noted figures as Gandhi, Stalin, Obama and the Burmese protest leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Books: ‘You Need a Schoolhouse’

December 15, 2011 /
You Need a Schoolhouse book

I’m heading up to Capitol Hill this evening for a presentation by Stephanie Deutsch, who’s launching her book on the so-called Rosenwald schools. The book, You Need a Schoolhouse, describes the unlikely partnership between educator and black leader Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck. The two men collaborated in efforts that led to the building of some 5,000 schoolhouses for African-American children across the South over a 20-year period, from 1912 to 1932. It’s always interesting to learn about how people came to the subjects they write about. Stephanie says her book grew initially from…

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Video: Scidmore’s Historic 1883 Trip to Glacier Bay

December 14, 2011 /
Steamer "Idaho" in Juneau, 1887

Of all I’ve learned about Eliza Scidmore so far, nothing has excited my imagination so much as her pioneering Alaska travel. She went for the first time in the summer of 1883, in a journey that became historic, as I show in the video below.     Scidmore, then 26, was working at the time as a newspaper correspondent in Washington. She and her colleagues — among the first female reporters in the nation’s capital — covered Gilded Age society in Washington. Scidmore already had several years of experience in journalism. She had broken into reporting at the 1876 Philadelphia…

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Washington’s New “It” Girl: Eliza Scidmore

November 29, 2011 /

Ah, if only I’d stumbled on Eliza Scidmore‘s story sooner I might have a book coming off the presses in time for the centennial of Washington’s first Japanese cherry trees next spring. Talk about the perfect book-signing opportunity! When I began research on Scidmore not long ago, it didn’t hit me at first that the major anniversary was imminent. The first trees from Japan were planted in Washington’s Potomac Park on March 27, 1912. A lot had already been written about the cherry trees, and I was focused mainly on Scidmore. Once I realized the significance of the historic date,…

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Meet Eliza Scidmore’s Cousin

November 12, 2011 /
Jennie and Dan Scidmore

The day I received a package in the mail from Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, is when I finally knew that writing a book on Eliza Scidmore might be possible. The package contained a master’s thesis I’d requested through an interlibrary loan, “Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore: More Than a Footnote in History” (2000). I tracked it down when I was starting my book and enrolled in a graduate class on research techniques at George Mason University. The author is Dan Sidmore, Eliza Scidmore’s distant cousin. That document was like the Rosetta Stone — a key that began to unlock many of…

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Library of Congress Hosts Women’s History Forum

November 3, 2011 /
Great Hall at Library of Congress

Today is the first Thursday of the month. That calls for packing my lunch so I can join the Women’s History Discussion Group at the Library of Congress. We all crowd into a small conference room and sit around sharing ideas about research avenues for our various projects. Some of the tips are things that could take newbie authors and library outsiders, like me, years to figure out on their own. The three moderators — Janice Ruth (Manuscript Division), Barbara Natanson (Prints and Photographs Division) and Kristi Conkle (Humanities and Social Sciences Division) — bring a huge amount of knowledge…

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Books: 4 Great Reads By or About Women

October 24, 2011 /
Daughters of the Union book

I love literature, and as an English major I’ve read a lot of fiction over the years. But these days it seems I read mostly nonfiction. Just finished dipping into an academic book I picked up in the Library of Congress’s gift shop, titled Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War, by Nina Silber (2005). The book caught my eye because the mother of Eliza Scidmore ministered to soldiers in Madison, Wisconsin, and also in Washington, where she moved with young Eliza and her brother early in the Civil War. The book includes references to a community…

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Washington-Area Classes for Book Writers

October 20, 2011 /
Writer's Center logo

Writing is never easy, and the long-haul process of writing a book — especially if it’s your first — can feel overwhelming at times. When I started thinking about a book on Eliza Scidmore, I decided to do what I’ve always done when there’s something I’m not sure I can easily figure out on my own: take a class. Fortunately, the Washington area has an abundance of great literary resources. Here’s my shout-out to a few people I’m grateful to for their help as I try my wings in a new genre. Kyoko Mori‘s grad course at George Mason University on…

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