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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

QIU JIN (1875?—1907) Chinese Feminist

In Biography, Chinese history, Feminists, women on November 18, 2010 at 5:11 PM

Qiu Jin

When she was young, Qiu Jin fantasized about becoming an heroic figure in China.  She studied female historical personalities and aspired to emulate them in her own way.  Unfortunately, the Chinese society that Qiu Jin was born into conflicted with her ideals about women.  But Qiu would not let her spirit, her ambitions or her feet be bound, which ultimately cost her her life.

Being raised in a wealthy family gave Qiu an opportunity to be educated, and while her parents expected her to fulfill her destiny as a woman by becoming a wife and mother, they allowed her some leeway to express her individuality by doing things like sword fighting and riding horses.  

STUCK IN TRADITION                 When she was 19, Qiu’s father arranged for her to marry Wang Tingjun, the son of a wealthy merchant, who was much older.  She acquiesced and the couple had a son and a daughter.  Wang thought he was marrying a traditional girl, and he expected Qiu to behave as one, but Qiu couldn’t stand the confines of the relationship.  The children brought her little comfort, and she felt lonely and depressed.   

Qiu found her emotional outlet through writing poetry.  After she married, the themes of her verses shifted from nature, women’s activities and historical heroines to expressing loneliness and deep disappointment in her marriage.  She missed her birth family and wrote longingly about the past.

In 1898 the Boxer Rebellion broke out gainst the occupation of foreigners and spread of Christianity in China.  Two years later, The Boxers, also known as the Righteous and Harmonious Society Movement, attacked the foreign embassies in Peking.  This reignited in Qiu the ambition to serve her country and do something great.  Being bound in a conventional marriage was an obstacle to her following her passion, but not a deterrent. 

FOLLOWING HER PASSION       When she was 28, Qiu left her family behind to go to Japan to study.  She started wearing pants like men in the West and openly advocated for more rights for women.  She established a newspaper and used her writing as a platform to denounce foot binding and other practices that subjugated women and to support overthrowing the Chinese government. 

When Qiu returned to China in 1906, she started a feminist newspaper called Chinese Women which encouraged women to train for work in various professions to become financially independent.  The following year she became the principle of the Shaoxing Datong Sports Teachers School.  On the surface, it was a school for elementary school physical education teachers, but it was actually a place to train military leaders for the revolution.  Qiu and her cousin, Hsu His-lin, worked together to unify the various secret revolutionary groups to effectively overthrow the Manchu government.

In July 6, 1907, Hsu was betrayed by a traitor among his fellow rebels.  During interrogation he confessed his affiliation and was executed.  About a week later Qiu was also arrested, but she denied any involvement in the rebellion.  The authorities found incriminating documents, however, and she was immediately beheaded.

Six months after her death, two of Qiu’s friends arranged for a proper burial.  Qiu’s memorial service turned into a public protest.  The government had not become any more sympathetic to Qiu, and within a year, her tomb was razed.  Qiu’s two caring friends ended up being wanted by the government for their association with her.

QUESTION:  What was the most helpful or honorable thing you’ve ever done for a friend?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources:

 

http://pagerankstudio.com/Blog/2010/07/all-about-qiu-jin-biography-life-facts-information-pictures-timeline-childhood/

http://www.shaoxing.gov.cn/en/0307/10350.htm

Ashby, Ruth and Ohrn, Deborah Gore, editors, Herstory: Women Who Changed the World.  New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1995.  Qiu Jin profile by Lynn Reese.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/late_imperial_china/v025/25.2ying.html

DR. WILLIAM MINOR (1834 -1920) Insane Doctor Who Contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary

In American History, Biography, Doctors, Mental health, U.S. Army, Writers on November 8, 2010 at 8:48 PM

William Minor

William Minor had a split personality.  He was a doctor whose hobbies included playing flute and painting.  His contribution to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary was immeasurable.  But internally he suffered from paranoia, which determined the course of his adult life.

Minor’s parents were Americans descended from early settlers in New England, but in 1834 they went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) as missionaries, representing a Scottish Presbyterian group called Covenanters.  His mother died when he was three, and his father remarried another young missionary woman.  The mission school gave Minor and his siblings an excellent education, and he had the opportunity to learn several languages.

When Minor was 13, he started having “lascivious thoughts” toward the exotic native girls.  He never acted on his impulses, but it was so difficult for him to reconcile these urges with his religious upbringing that he was plagued with guilt.  His parents sent him back to the United States and the responsibility of his uncle, Alfred, in New Haven, Connecticut.

SERVING HIS COUNTRY                          Minor graduated from Yale Medical School in 1863.  With the Civil War going strong, he joined the Union Army as a surgeon and served at the Knight Hospital in New Haven.  He didn’t like the isolation of the hospital and requested to be sent to battle.  Eventually he got his wish and was sent to Northern Virginia where he first encountered the filth of a field hospital and excruciating pain of soldiers suffering from gangrene.  His friends described him as a sensitive man who loved to paint, play the flute and read books, and the battlefield was not an easy place for a man with such artistic sensibilities.

Through a supposed change in orders, in May 1864 Minor ended up in Orange County, Virginia, the site of the Battle of the Wilderness.  In addition to the extreme casualties of battle, desertion was a huge problem.  More than 5,000 soldiers were deserting each month, depleting the ranks of the army.  The punishment for deserters was painful humiliation through branding the letter D on his hip or cheek.  It fell to Dr. Minor to inflict the punishment on one young soldier who ran away during battle.  Minor took the hot iron out of the coals and reluctantly seared the face of the errant young man.  Minor was so affected by that experience that he believed the soldier would somehow seek him out to exact revenge.

Minor was transferred to the L’Overture Hospital in Alexandria where he distinguished himself and received a promotion to assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army.  He moved to Governor’s Island, New York where he treated cholera patients.  It was here that Minor began to exhibit signs of paranoia and promiscuous behavior.  He started carrying a Colt .38 and spent every night with prostitutes which resulted in his contracting venereal disease.  On one occasion he made a failed attempt to cure himself injecting white Rhine wine into his urethra.

Minor became engaged to a young woman from New York.  Since none of his friends ever met her, it was assumed that she was some kind of entertainer.  Ironically, it was her mother who pressured her daughter to call off the engagement, which she did, leaving Minor bitter.  His resentment intensified when the Army relocated him away from the temptations of the city to Fort Barrancas, Florida, an obvious demotion.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT                      In 1868 Minor was diagnosed as “delusional” and was considered a suicide and homicide risk.  He was willingly admitted to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C. (known as St. Elizabeth’s Hospital) and officially retired from the U.S. Army.

In 1871, Minor was released, and he visited friends and family before boarding a ship to London, hoping that a change of scenery would cure him.  He settled in Lambeth, an area in south London that afforded him “easy access to easy women.”  Minor’s paranoia followed him across the pond.  He believed people were breaking into his room while he slept.  One freezing cold winter night before dawn, Minor shot and killed George Merrett who was on his way to work.  Minor thought Merrett was an intruder, but later admitted he shot the wrong man.  During the trial, the full scope of Minor’s mental illness came out, and he was committed to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Broadmoor.

Minor’s life at Broadmoor was very comfortable.  His status as a surgeon was respected, and he was given two adjacent rooms, one for sleeping and one for him to paint, play the flute and read.  Because of his pension from the U.S. Army, Minor was allowed to buy steak, wine, brandy, newspapers and antiquarian books for his collection.  He hired other inmates to perform chores for him.  By day he enjoyed the freedom to stroll around the grounds and do what he wanted to, but at night, his delusions persisted.  Even though he blocked the door with furniture, he believed that intruders poisoned or abused him and defaced his books.

Minor felt truly sorry for his crime, and after almost ten years of institutionalization he asked permission to pay some restitution to Merrett’s widow, Eliza.  She agreed to accept some money from her husband’s killer, and she visited Minor at Broadmoor.  In fact, the two got on well enough that for a while she made monthly visits, delivering to the inmate books she bought on his behalf.

A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY                       In one of these bundles of books, Minor saw a notice from the editor, James Murray, asking for volunteers to help create the first Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  Volunteers collected words from their reading to be included in the dictionary and submitted them with quotes from the books illustrating their meaning.  This was the perfect occupation for an intelligent, educated bibliophile with lots of time on his hands, and it provided for him a connection to the outside world.

The doctor set about this task with voracious energy, meticulously copying words and quotations from volumes of books.  He started working in tandem with the editor in Oxford, writing him to find out which letter he was working on and then searching through his papers to send him words starting with that letter. Minor and Murray corresponded regularly, and the first time Murray visited Minor at Broadmoor, he was shocked to discover that Minor was an inmate and not a staff doctor.  The editor and the volunteer met together many times over the years and developed a friendship based on a mutual love of reading and words.  Occasionally Minor would offer a story about his nighttime tribulations, bringing Murray into understanding of his mental state. 

Over the course of 20 years, Minor made an incomparable contribution to the writing of the OED.  Murray called his efforts “enormous,” acknowledging that within a two year period, Minor supplied at least 12,000 quotations.

After 30 years in Broadmoor, Minor had been there longer than any other patient.  His nightly torments, during which claimed to have uncontrollable sexual relations with thousands of women, never abated.  He saw himself as a vile sinner in the eyes of God.

On December 3, 1902, when Minor was 68 years old, he wrote a note asking for the Medical Officer.  One of the perks Minor enjoyed was to have a pen knife, and he had used it in an act of penance to cut off his penis.

Two years after his self mutilation, Minor became increasingly sicker.  He was 76 years old when he was given permission to return to America to live out his last days.  His brother, Alfred, went to England to escort him on the journey.  Murray and his wife went to Broadmoor to say goodbye in person, and to give Minor six unpublished volumes of the OED to take with him. 

Dr. Minor returned to the Government Hospital for the insane in Washington, D.C.  During the nine years he lived there he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, a term that only came into usage in 1912.  In 1919, Minor’s nephew successfully petitioned to have his uncle moved to a hospital for the elderly insane in Hartford, Connecticut called The Retreat.  Less than a year later, Minor died of pneumonia in his sleep.

QUESTION:  What is your favorite word?  Why?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Winchester, Simon, The Professor and the Madman, A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.

http://www.berkshirerecordoffice.org.uk/documents/William_Chester_Minor.pdf

HETTY GREEN (1834 – 1916) Miserly First Female Tycoon

In American History, Biography, Feminists, Guiness Book of Records, Millionaires, Victorian Women on November 3, 2010 at 8:11 PM

Hetty Green and Dewey

Henrietta Howland Robinson learned everything she needed to know about financial matters from her grandfather and father.  She took to heart her dad’s advice to “never owe anyone anything, not even a kindness,” which didn’t endear her to very many people.  But when cities and banks are turning to you for a bail out, it doesn’t really matter what other people think.

Green was born into a Quaker family from New Bedford, Massachusetts.  She was the only heir to a fortune made from whaling.  Her mom was sick a lot, so Green lived with her grandparents for most of her childhood.  Her grandfather’s eyes were bad, so she read the financial news to him, and by the time she was fifteen years old, she knew more about stocks and bonds than most men in the business.  She opened her first savings account when she was eight, depositing the $1.50 she received for a weekly allowance in it.  Her first business responsibility was to keep strict accounting of personal and household expenses, a practice that served her well in the future.

Green’s formal education was spotty.  She was sent to a Quaker girls’ school on Cape Cod at eleven years old, where she learned frugality.  Whatever the students didn’t eat at the previous meal, they had to eat at the next.  The school directors impressed upon the privileged students that if the rich girls didn’t learn how to economize there wouldn’t be any money left to educate the poor girls.  At 16 she attended the Friends’ Academy in New Bedford for a year, but she missed the spring semester because she got sick.  To learn the social graces, she went to finishing school in Boston for a little while.  Green was considered attractive and enjoyed going to balls and parties.  One season her dad gave her $1200 for clothes.  Green spent $200 and put the rest in savings. 

In 1861 Green moved with her father to New York.  It was there that she met Edward Henry Green of Bellows Falls, Vermont, an occasional business associate of her dad.  Six months later they were engaged.  Edward was 14 years older than Green, an easy going Episcopalian who enjoyed the finer things in life.  He had his own wealth, and the only thing Edward and Green had in common was a love for money.  Green was 30 years old when they married in 1867, and shortly after the wedding the couple moved to London.

When her father died, Green inherited five million dollars which generated several thousand dollars a week in interest.  She invested in U.S. bonds, railroad bonds, and real estate.  The largest amount of money she made in one day was $200,000.

During the post-Civil War railroad expansion, railroad bonds flooded the market causing three banks to fail in 1872.  During the following year over 11,000 companies went bankrupt and the New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days.  In this environment, the Greens wanted to be closer to their investments, so they returned to the States settling in Edward’s hometown in Vermont.  They brought with them a son, Edward Howland Robinson Green (known as Ned), and a daughter, Hetty Sylvia Ann Howland Green, who went by Sylvia.

MAKING MONEY, NOT FRIENDS                    Green didn’t fit in too well with her husband’s people.  She butted heads with Mary, the housekeeper, claiming that she was wasteful, and she did all the grocery shopping herself, buying broken cookies because they were cheaper and returning the berry boxes for a five cent refund.  At the reception for her mother-in-law’s funeral, Green served the guests with chipped every-day glasses, not the fine crystal.  This made Edward furious, and he smashed a glass before marching out of the room.

Stories circulated around Bellows Falls about Green’s stinginess, and she supported her reputation with her behavior.  One time she was missing a two cent stamp, thinking she lost it in her carriage during an outing.  Late that night she woke up the groom and insisted that he thoroughly search the coach. When that proved unfruitful, she made him return to the hotel where she spent the afternoon and search the lawn, also to no avail.  After the man had gone back to sleep, Green woke him up again to say that she found the stamp in her pocket where she had put it.

Another time, Green went into a shop and started touching the merchandise with her filthy hands.  She admitted to the distressed shopkeeper that she had been pulling old nails out of a piece of burned wood to reuse.  She was often criticized for her dowdy appearance and even scrimped on laundry.  When Green took her skirts to the cleaners, she insisted they just wash the hems since they were the only part that got dirty.   

For Green, every decision was based on a monetary consideration.  When her son, Ned, hurt his knee jumping onto a sled, Green allegedly dressed them both up in ragged clothing and took him to the free clinic. 

HOLDING THE PURSE STRINGS                        Green’s parsimony put her in a position to have an amazing amount of leverage.  In 1884, her fortune equaled over $500,000 in cash and more than $26 million in bonds, mortgages and other securities which she held in the vaults of John J. Cisco and Son, a well known Wall Street bank.  Edward also had his in assets at Cisco, although Green insisted that they keep their fortunes separate. 

Railroad bonds took a dive and some of Cisco and Son’s biggest investors defaulted, including Mr. Cisco and Edward Green.  Cisco continued to give Edward credit for investments because Edward intimated to the bank that he could use his wife’s money as collateral.  All he accomplished was to increase his debt, and Edward became Cisco’s biggest debtor while Green was their biggest depositor.  Green’s refusal to cover her husband’s debt led to the collapse of Cisco and Son. 

Green tried to move her assets to another bank, but Lewis May, the new assignee to Cisco, engaged her in a standoff that eventually wore here down.  She finally agreed to pay over $422,000 to cover Edward’s debts.  Then, she took her securities to Chemical National Bank.  Every day Green went to work at Chemical National to manage her portfolio, arriving at 7:00 each morning.  She brought dry oatmeal for lunch, adding water and heating it on the radiator.  She wore a black veil over her hat to obscure her identity as she walked around Wall Street.  People said she looked like a witch, and she was nicknamed The Witch of Wall Street.

The Cisco debacle was effectively the end of the Green’s marriage, although she and Edward never divorced.  Green took the kids and moved from Bellows Falls to Brooklyn, New York and later to Hoboken, New Jersey, renting from month to month to avoid paying property taxes.  In Hoboken, the nameplate next to Green’s doorbell read “C. Dewey,” her beloved dog, to maintain her anonymity.  Her five-room apartment cost $23 a month.  On the mantle Green displayed a bouquet of roses made from dyed chicken feathers because it was cheaper and lasted longer than a bouquet of real ones.

Green’s fortune continued to grow, and she became the go-to person for loans.  In 1898, the city of New York was broke, so Green loaned the city $1 million at only 2% interest, and another $1.5 million in 1901.  Green kept the city afloat again in 1907 by giving $1.1 million in exchange for short-term revenue bonds at 5.5%.  In 1900 Tucson, Arizona needed new water and sewer systems, so Green bought the entire $110,000 bond issue.  In 1911 Green loaned $325,000 to the Roman Catholic Church of St. Ignatius Loyola at 4.5%. 

Her children were a big part of Green’s life.  Ned was groomed to take over Green’s fortune.  He moved to Texas and became the president of Texas Midland Railroad Company.  He lived with Mabel Harlow, a former prostitute that he referred to as his “housekeeper.”  In 1910 at Green’s request, he dutifully returned to New York, with Mabel, and formed the Westminster Company to directly oversee Green’s fortune.

Sylvia was a shy girl, and she stayed by her mother’s side until she met Matthew Astor Wilkes. They were married in secret to avoid publicity, and Wilkes was paid $5,000 to sign a prenuptial agreement giving him no claim to Sylvia’s inheritance.

Edward and Green maintained affection for each other.  At the end of his life, he moved to be close to her, and she nursed him during his final days.  He was 81 years old when he died, and his estate was worth a mere $24,000. 

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU                      When Green was 78 years old she started preparing for her passing.  She was baptized in the Episcopal Church so she could be buried next to Edward in an Episcopal cemetery.  On April 17, 1916, Green had a stroke that left her partially paralyzed on the left side.  After several more minor strokes, Green died on July 3 at 81 years old.  Ned arranged for her body to be transported in his private railroad car from New York to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a luxury Green would never have approved of.  She was buried next to Edward, and her tombstone reads: “Hetty H. R. Green.  His Wife.”

There was no inventory of Green’s assets, but her estate was valued at between $100 million and $200 million dollars.  In her will she gave everything to her two children.  The Guinness Book of World Records awarded her the distinction of being the world’s “greatest miser.”

QUESTION:  How much money do you think you need to be rich?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Slack, Charles, Hetty, The Genius And Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2004.

http://www.archive.org/stream/nationalmagazine22brayrich#page/629/mode/1up