Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Kingdom of Navarre

Navarre from beginning to end wielded a significant amount of power, especially for its size and relative lack of natural resources. Caught between France and Spain, located in a strategic point in the Pyrenees mountains, it's no surprise that Navarre's powerful neighbors eventually gobbled it up, leaving the only remnants of Navarre in regional toponyms. However, in the seven centuries between its inception and it's ultimate absorption into larger kingdoms, Navarre managed to be one of the most progressive of the medieval kingdoms, practicing religious tolerance and allowing women to inherit the throne, making it one of the best places to be a woman or non-Christian in medieval Europe.

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Navarre, 1000
Navarre was blessed by location. A mountainous kingdom, it controlled the only pass through the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. It controlled several pilgrim routes and served at various times in its history as a buffer state between Gascony/England/France and Castille/Aragon/Leon.¹ Because of this, alliances with Navarre were very attractive, especially given that Navarre wasn't the type to go quietly into the night.

Navarre began ethnically Basque. There's quite a bit of debate as to where the first Basques came from, but by the 700s when Navarre first started out as the Kingdom of Pamplona, the region was comprised of Basques, Moors, and Basque-Moors, the results of Basque-Moor intermarriage and conversion to Islam after the Basque kings agreed to subordination under the Caliphates. As French influence grew in the 1200s the human landscape of Navarre began to include more Francophonic characteristics. French became a co-language with Navarro-Aragonese (Occitan).

It is difficult to piece together the story of Navarre. Much of what we know about Navarre today comes from the stories of its rulers. Unlike other countries of the time, there isn't a good record about daily life for peasants or nobles. However, there are really good records of who Navarre fought, which was more or less everyone around them. To get even a general idea of Navarrese history, you have to go deep into the history of its royal families. Such depth would require a several hundred-page-long book, and we don't have that sort of time. So, to sum it up:

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Navarrese flag
Navarre was wrested from the Cordoba Caliphate in 824 by Inigo Arista, founder of the House of Iniguez. Navarre was, initially, named "The Kingdom of Pamplona", and in fact didn't come to be known as Navarre until the mid-1100s. The Kingdom of Pamplona was, unsurprisingly, located around the now Spanish city of Pamplona and extended into modern French territory. Inigo and his two successors spent their lives fighting against the Cordoba Caliphate, who were the major power in the region. Though they were briefly forced into vassalage to the Cordobas, Navarre ultimately remained an independent kingdom.

The House of Jimenez oversaw Navarre's most successful military expansions, reaching its greatest size under the aptly named Alfonso the Battler. He gained control of most of Castile and Leon through marriage to Urraca of Leon. Unfortunately, he and Urraca couldn't stand each other, and he lost his new territories in the divorce.

Jimenez also oversaw Navarre's vassalage to the Holy See, usually known as the Vatican. Unlike it's vassalage to Cordoba, or later to Aragon and France, this was voluntary. For most of Navarre's existence as a country, it was a profoundly Catholic nation, participating in two crusades, and swearing fealty to at least three popes.

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Alfonso the Battler and groupies
Despite this decidedly pro-Catholic stance, Jimenez Navarre, and Navarre for the rest of its inception, was remarkably protective of its Jews, welcoming in Jews that had been expelled from other countries, and allowing them to participate in their own governance.

Navarre passed into French control in 1234, and though it maintained nominal independence, it was, essentially, the red-headed stepchild of France, governed by a series of oppressive French governors. Still, this era saw the codification of law and the rise of a middle class. Two houses ruled during this era of French domination: the House of Blois² and the House of Capet. Several of the rulers of this era never even stepped foot in Navarre. Each of these houses produced one queen regnant--Joan I and Joan II.

With the death of Joan I, Navarre passed to her daughter Joan II, who straddled the House of Capet, and the House of Evreux. Joan II was queen regnant in her own right. Navarre has no adherent of Salic Law. However, her husband, Phillip,  got his knickers in a twist. Having been denied the throne of France, he was irritated that his wife got to rule a country but he didn't. After extensive lobbying, both Joan and Philip were crowned as co-rulers.

This new House of Evreux oversaw some of the most turbulent and progressive times of Navarrese history. The monarchs after Joan II and Philip were the first in more than a century to actually have been born in Navarre. The Navarrese monarchs of the time had significant holdings in France, which saw expansion and deflation, depending on the day. Protections were put in place to protect Navarrese Muslims, and a Supreme Court was established.

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Jeanne III, also known as Jean d'Albret
Unfortunately, the death of Navarre's third Queen Regnant--Blanche I--in 1441 spelled the beginning of the end for Navarre. The throne was grabbed by Blanche's Aragonese Trastamara husband instead of her son, sparking a civil war that weakened the country. The House of Trastamara saw only two monarchs, and the succeeding House of Foix saw only two as well before Upper Navarre (Navarre on the Spanish side) was conquered by Aragon.

With only Lower Navarre (the French side) left, Navarre was ruled by the House of d'Albret, a two-ruler house that boasted Navarre's most impressive Queen Regnant--Jeanne III.

Jeanne was a Renaissance princess, and she was swept up in the Reformation. Like Henry VIII, she had her country converted to Protestantism (though with less bloodshed). She also threw her weight behind the French Huguenots, who were a constant thorn in the side of the Catholic French monarchs. Her constant warring with France, and the concessions she was forced into, saw Lower Navarre absorbed into France for good on her death.

The Middle Ages saw a large amount of small states rise and fall, especially on the turbulent Iberian Peninsula. Many of them are more or less forgotten today. We remember Navarre because of its longevity, its political power, and its progressive (for the time) stance on human rights.

Navarre lasted as an independent entity in some form from its inception in 824 until the absorption of Lower Navarre into France in 1620. It saw nine royal houses and 38 individual monarchs. Several periods of this time included vassalage to the Cordoba Caliphate, Aragon, France, or the Holy See. Despite this, Navarre maintained a separate identity, still remaining distinctly Navarrese.

Navarrese royal crest
Navarre's political power was backed both by impressive political skills and by a fearsome fighting force. Navarrese royalty intermarried with royals from Castile, Leon, Aragon, the Cordoba Caliphate, France, and England. Notorious fourteenth-century monarch, Charles the Bad, was especially wily, playing France and England off each other to expand his territory. Jeanne d'Albret, the last truly Navarrese ruler of Navarre, skillfully negotiated with Catherine de Medici to maintain Navarrese sovereignty and freedom of religion.

Words were backed up with a strong arm. From its very inception, Navarre had been a state with a strong military. In the years of the House of Iniguez and the House of Jimenez, it was constantly at war with the Muslim forces that occupied the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula or with its neighbor, Aragon. After its first vassalage to France, Navarre became a sort of mercenary farm, used by French-Navarrese monarchs to pad out their French army and to advance their interest militarily in the Iberian peninsula and the south of France. After the reign of Charles the Bad, the most notorious Navarrese warmonger, Navarrese mercenaries become popular all over the continent.

Navarre was an incredible country--progressive for a medieval state, incredibly powerful, and long-lived. While it has been more or less forgotten today, it left a large mark on history and was instrumental in making modern European nations what they are today.


¹It is worth mentioning that Spain and France as modern states did not exist for much of Navarre's history but were instead split up into a series of smaller states continually at war with each other.
²Or the house of champagne, depending on how you want to split things.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg


Sources
Pamplona. Navarre. History of Early Christian Kingdoms

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Damn, Girl-Madam C.J. Walker, Millionaire, Beauty Guru, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a wildly successful business woman who overcame the Reconstruction Era limitations put on African Americans to become the first female millionaire. Part businesswoman, part philanthropist, part activist, Madam Walker and her company gave education and well-paying jobs to thousands of African American women, and left a legacy of education and self-sufficiency that still survives today.

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Sarah Breedlove
Sarah was born in December of 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the same plantation her parents and elder siblings had been enslaved on. Sarah was the first of her family to be born free and grew up against the shaky and uncertain background of the post-Civil War South. Her parents, though technically free, were unable to leave the plantation because of a lack of funds and the "Black Codes", laws that restricted the movements of African Americans. They and their children kept working in the cotton fields, and Sarah was put to work helping them at a young age.

Though Sarah's mother, Minerva Breedlove, would have liked for her daughter to attend school, African Americans of the era were still not alloted all the rights of white Americans. Schools were segregated, and black schools were frequently burned, and teachers harrassed or killed. Furthermore, in 1873, the year Sarah would have started first grade, the Louisiana state legislature refused to fund public schools, and the schools in Sarah's parish, as well as many others, shuttered. Because of this, Sarah was unable to get a formal education, a problem Sarah would attempt to remedy throughout most of her life.

An unfortunate fact of Sarah's life is that she was never very lucky. This bad luck started off in 1873 when Minerva died. Sarah's father, Owen Breedlove, remarried, but he passed in 1875 when Sarah was only seven. The exact natures of their deaths are unknown, but it is supposed that they, along with many others, were carried off by the cholera or yellow fever epidemics that swept the South. The Breedloves died leaving six children orphans.

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Delta, Louisiana
It was difficult to find work in Delta, and so the family, one by one, left for Vicksburg, Mississippi, not far from where Sarah and her younger brother, Solomon, were living with their elder sister, Louvenia, and her husband, Jesse. Sarah's older brothers, unable to find work, gradually headed west to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Sarah at the mercy of her brother in law. Jesse was a violent and abusive man who resented Sarah, and to escape him, Sarah married Moses McWilliams. She was only fourteen.

Sarah was notoriously tight-lipped about her past, and not much is known about her marriage with Moses. From Sarah's telling of it, it was a strictly pragmatic move on her part, born out of a desire for her own home rather than true love. Regardless, they had one child together, Lelia, who would be more or less the center of Sarah's life until her death.

Bad luck struck again, and in 1888, Moses died. Like with Sarah's parents, the cause of death has been lost to time, though the popular legend is that he was among the 95 victims of lynching in Mississippi that year. This claim is more or less refuted by A'lelia Bundles, Sarah's great-great-granddaughter, citing evidence that these claims originated from people who didn't know Moses, long after Sarah's death. There are other claims that Moses died in a work accident, but if there was any official documentation in the matter, it has been lost to history. Irregardless, he left Sarah a widow with a two year old child to support.

Sarah had been working as a laundress in Vicksburg, and she and Moses had been just barely scraping by. With the loss of Moses's income, there was no way Sarah could survive in Vicksburg, and there was no chance for improvement in Mississippi, so Sarah went to St. Louis to join her brothers.

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A'lelia would go on to become a major
figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexander, James, and Solomon Breedlove were all working as barbers when Sarah and Lelia joined them in 1889. At the time being a barber was a prestigious profession for an African American man, and Sarah's brothers enjoyed reasonable prosperity. Through familial association, Sarah was undoubtedly able to learn things that would greatly assist her in the haircare business later.

Finding a job was difficult, especially as a single mother. The only work Sarah was able to find was as a live-in-maid to a wealthy white family, a job that would not allow her to keep Lelia with her. Though it undoubtedly broke her heart, Sarah put Lelia in an orphanage, on the arrangement that Lelia would not be put up for adoption, and worked tirelessly for about a year until she had enough saved up to start her own business as a laundress. Lelia rejoined her, and she was able to send her daughter to school.

In 1894, Sarah married again, this time to John Davis, a ne'er-do-well who had a drinking problem and a bit of fluff on the side. Almost immediately, their marriage soured as Davis was brazenly unfaithful, and refused to work. He was brought up before the courts several times, which undoubtedly humiliated Sarah, who worked tirelessly to create a good reputation for herself and her daughter.

Not much is known about this second marriage, because, as with so much of the unsavory bits of Sarah's past, she attempted to have all mentions of it expunged. However, it is very telling that pair had to move several times, and in 1899, Lelia attended school only 23 times, despite the fact that she had attended school almost religiously the year before and would do the same after. By 1903, the pair had separated for good, and Sarah had begun seeing Mr. Charles Joseph Walker, an ad man and reporter for the local black newspapers.

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1904 World's Fair
In 1900, Sarah had, with the help of her church friends, started attending night classes. Sarah was ambitious, she wanted to move up in the world, and, having rubbed elbows with the middle class in church attendance, she was determined to become a respectable and affluent person in her own right. She just wasn't sure how to go about it.

Sarah attended the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, and there she attended meetings and lectures given by some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Their talk of civil rights and their determination to end lynching inspired Sarah, but she was very intimidated by them, due to her lack of wealth and appearance.

Like many women of the era, Sarah was going bald. Poor nutrition and lack of access to clean water for washing had led to a scalp infection, which had caused her hair to break off and caused her to develop bald spots. Sarah tried a multitude of remedies, and in 1903, Sarah found a solution, Annie Pope Turnbo's Miracle Hair Grower. Not only did this ointment help Sarah regrow her hair, but she also began to work as a door-to-door saleswoman for the company.

In 1905, Sarah moved again, this time to Denver. Lelia was at boarding school in Tennessee, and it was growing ever more difficult to make a living as a Turnbo Saleswoman in St. Louis. The market was oversaturated with Turbo products, and there was no real path to advancement for Sarah. However, rumors were that Denver was hell on the hair. So once again she packed her bags, and arrived in Denver with $1.50 in her pocket and a bag of hair products to sell.

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Annie Pope Turnbo would rebrand many times,
but her products eventually became known
under the name Poro.
Luckily, Sarah had family in Denver. Her sister-in-law and three nieces lived in the booming mine town, and Sarah was able to rely on her for support while she found her feet. Sarah found work as a cook in a boarding house and made friends with the local pharmacist, Edmund Scholtz.

Pharmacists at the time were just as much mad scientist as pill counters, and Scholtz helped Sarah analyze the ingredients of her Turnbo hair products so that Sarah could add and take away from the creams and create her business. Sarah likely took him up on the offer, and in 1905, she rented a small attic she used as a laboratory, mixing up hair remedies to try on herself and her nieces.

Sarah would later claim that the idea and recipes for her products would come to her in a dream, but this can be easily dismissed as self-aggrandizing nonsense and was about par for the course in Sarah's attempt to sugarcoat her past. Without the contributions of Edmund Scholtz and Annie Turnbo, Sarah would never have gotten anywhere.

She continued to sell Turnbo hair products, as well as other soaps and cures made up by local companies. By 1905, Sarah had saved up enough to quit her cooking job, and she set up a hair salon, giving hair treatments and selling products first Ms. Turnbo's, then her own. Though she still took in washing two days a week, she began to make money off her own business.

Sarah had still been seeing Charles Walker, though, given the distance, their relationship was likely more "off again" than "on again". However, in late 1905, he joined Sarah in Denver, and they were married on January 4, 1906.
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Sarah's first product line included three products. The
'Wonderful Hair Grower' was one of them.

Charles was a businessman as well, and he joined ship. Though their relationship would end up as tumultuous as Sarah's previous relationship, he made two major contributions to Sarah's business. He suggested that she add a mail-order element to her business model, and he suggested that she rebrand her products as "Mrs. C.J. Walker". Sarah took these ideas and ran with them. She hired her daughter and nieces to run the mail-order arm of her company and branded her products under the name "Madam C.J. Walker", a name invoking all the refinement of a French salon.

Though she was selling well in Denver, Sarah wanted to expand. Against her husband's protests, she left Lelia in charge of the mail-order side of business and went on a sales and lecture tour of the Rocky Mountain and Southern states to gain brand recognition, promote her "Walker Method" of grooming, and increase sales. She began to advertise in prominent black newspapers, taking the extraordinary leap of using pictures of herself for her before and after shots in advertisements. This lent her extra credibility because then, as now, advertisers would often use pictures of two completely different people in their before and after pictures.

Her business was growing to an almost unmanageable point, so Sarah decided to move from Denver which, while a good city, was not the bustling trade hub Sarah needed. In 1907, Sarah moved her company to Pittsburgh, a major transport hub that would drastically reduce Sarah's shipping costs. Sarah opened up a factory and started making her products on a wider scale.

Most importantly, while in Pittsburgh Sarah opened up the Lelia College of Beauty Culture to train the thousands of "hair culturists" that sold her products. In this school, Sarah not only taught sales strategies but also taught how to give hair treatments and how to dress hair. Her goal for her hair culturists was that they would not only sell products, but also sell the women they served on a lifestyle of cleanliness and style. Sarah firmly believed that being clean and well-groomed was as much a secret to success as hard work, and she wanted to spread her secret to as many of her sisters as she could.

Sarah was a devout woman, and her faith informed her business practices. The churches she belonged to stressed charitable action, and Sarah believed that it was her duty to not only do charity but to also raise her employees up with her and give them the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families. Sarah's school gave African-American women the skills they needed to start their own businesses and paid well enough that the children of her employees were able to attend school, something still rare for the era.
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After shuttering in 1981, Sarah's manufacturing plant became
the 'Madam Walker Theatre'

Throughout her career, Sarah employed more than 10,000 black women, and their average pay was between $15 and $40 a week, about $430--$1,148 in 2019 currency. She extended this pay level to not only her skilled saleswomen but to her less skilled factory workers as well. Sarah was known for being a good and generous employer throughout her life.

Pittsburgh was never the intended final resting place of Sarah's business, and in 1910, she moved to Indianapolis where she incorporated. Indianapolis was, at the time, the crossroads of America, and contained a thriving black business community. She opened another factory there, as well as another beauty school, and started to rake in the cash.

The year of her move to Indianapolis Sarah "divorced"¹ Walker. He had never been content being her subordinate, and had been unfaithful to Sarah. He attempted several times to counterfeit her products but was never successful. Though she was no longer technically "Mrs. C.J. Walker", Sarah kept the name because it was inextricably mixed up with her brand.

Sarah stopped personally overseeing her company in 1913, leaving operations to be managed by Lelia. She turned her attention to philanthropy, giving generous sums to the YMCA, retirement homes, convalescent homes, and orphanages. She sponsored at least six students at the Tuskegee Institute and provided scholarships for several black women to attend schools of higher learning. She made charitable giving a part of her company culture and encouraged her employees to get involved in charity. Upon her death, Sarah willed two thirds of her net worth to charity, including giving the NAACP the $5,000 ($143,622 in 2019 currency) they would need to stay afloat during the Great Depression.

Not content to remain a philanthropist, Sarah took up activism as well. Sarah had had strong political opinions since her encounters at the 1904 world fair not a decade before. As a prosperous woman, Sarah felt she finally had something to bring to the table. She joined the NAACP, and helped organize the "Silent Protest" of 1917. She encouraged her employees to get involved on a local level.

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The Villa Lewaro, in Harlem. Sarah took the name for her
home from the name of her daughter, Lelia Walker Robinson
Interestingly, Sarah clashed with the most influential civil rights leader of the time--Booker T. Washington. Sarah's usage and promotion of the hot comb--an early hair straightener--caused Washington to accuse her of attempting to whitewash black women. This combined with the perceived frivolity of the beauty industry caused Washington to dismiss Sarah as a business leader, despite the fact that she frequently sought his approval. However, as Sarah grew more influential and inspiration in black business circles he grudgingly gave her his respect.

Sarah moved to New York in 1914 with the intention to rest. A life of struggle and stress had left Sarah with hypertension and nephritis. Sarah's version of "rest" wasn't very restful, however, and she continued her activism and philanthropy. In May of 1919, she died of kidney disease.

If we're talking about people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, Sarah Breedlove Walker is foremost among them. Where so many people who claim to be "self-made" have come from incredibly privileged backgrounds, Sarah started with nothing and through hard work and determination, she pulled herself out of poverty to create a company that would not only give her daughter a better life, but would also create a better life for her thousands of employees, and their children. Sarah's determination to lift up her community has left an immeasurable impact on the African American community



¹We put "divorced" in air quotes, because when Sarah went to divorce Charles, she discovered that she had never gotten around to divorcing John Davis, which meant Sarah had been living as a bigamist for four years.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


Sources
On Her Own Ground: the Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker by A'lelia Bundles
Madam C.J. Walker: Inventor, Entrepreneur, Millionaire by Mary N. Olounye
Madam C.J. Walker-Biography
Madam C.J.Walker-Official Website
Madam C.J. Walker-National Women's History Museum
Madam C.J. Walker-Encyclopedia Britannica
Madam C.J. Walker's Philanthropy
Madam C.J. Walker-Archbridge Institute
Madam C.J. Walker-The History Chicks
Currency Conversion

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Al Capone Buys My Booze-St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Prohibition

We've spoken before about St. Pierre and Miquelon, the tiny speck of France in the middle of Canada. Known today mostly for its status as a geographical oddity, from 1924-1933, it was a bustling center of trade and the safest harbor for rum runners in the world.

1919 saw the passing of the Volstead Act, which prohibited alcohol in the United States. 1900-1914 saw the passing of prohibition acts in every Canadian Province, and in 1915, Newfoundland, not yet part of Canada, held a referendum that prohibited alcohol as well. This was, as one might imagine, wildly unpopular, especially in the United States. Because of this, "rum runners" started smuggling alcohol into the US, mainly from the Bahamas.

Rum running, especially from the Bahamas, was dangerous. Being caught by the authorities could end in the confiscation of your cargo and being thrown in prison. It was highly lucrative as well, and could result in a weekly profit of tens of thousands of dollars.

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Bill 'the Real' McCoy
One of these rumrunners was Bill "The Real" McCoy. He was one of the first and most successful rumrunners, and it was he who first started rum running off St. Pierre and Miquelon.

It was the early 1920s, and Bill McCoy was having a bad month. One of his two ships had been captured by the US Coast Guard and the other, the Tomoka, was in need of repairs. He had docked in Halifax, but the authorities there weren't about to let him fix his law-skirting vessel unless he dumped his cargo, and McCoy wasn't having that. He was angrily pacing around a hotel lobby when he had the luck to run into a Monsieur Folquet.

Monsieur Folquet was a native of St. Pierre and Miquelon, and not only could he get McCoy's ship fixed, he could also help McCoy expand his business. Unlike their neighbors, St. Pierre and Miquelon, being part of France, was not a "dry" country, and they also hadn't signed the Liquor Treaty of 1924, a joint agreement signed by Canada and the United Kingdom to not allow exports of alcohol to the United States. Importing and exporting alcohol to and from St. Pierre and Miquelon was perfectly legal.

Additionally, St. Pierre and Miquelon would be able to get a wider variety of alcohol than the Bahamas. While Canada was a dry country, Canadian distilleries were still cranking out the goods. Distilling was legal, but selling to a country where Prohibition was the law, including Canada, was not. To export their goods, Canadian distillers had to pay a significant bond certifying that they were not selling to a dry country. To get this bond back, they had to have a valid landing certificate, stamped and signed by a "wet" harbor. This was massively expensive in the Bahamas, which had a significant alcohol import tax. St. Pierre and Miquelon, however, did not have the same hefty taxes as Nassau, and was significantly closer.

McCoy jumped at the chance to partner with Folquet, and before long, they had a thriving, semi-legal rum running business on St. Pierre and Miquelon. The islands experienced an economic boom as more revenue than had ever been seen before rolled into the island. The main industry of the islands had previously been fishing, but with the lucrative import and export business going, most of the fishermen left their boats to work in warehouses, wrapping and re-packing bottles of alcohol for shipping.

One would think that the French government would object to the smuggling that used their overseas territory as a home base, but, on the contrary, they encouraged it. The only legal hurdle McCoy had faced to using St. Pierre and Miquelon as a booze hub had been the laws prohibiting the importation of foreign sugar, molasses, and alcohol to French colonies. A petition to the French government from Folquet saw this law struck from the books. French inspectors who came to the islands reported that the islands needed the rum running trade to prevent financial collapse, and so Paris did nothing and allowed St. Pierre and Miquelon to do its dirty business.
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Modern St. Pierre

For nearly ten years St. Pierre and Miquelon was the epicenter of the bootlegging business. They played host to rum runners and gangsters, and, most notoriously, Al Capone.¹ Capone visited the islands to see where the booze that was making him rich came from. He, reportedly, had the islanders scared stiff. When he joked about robbing the local bank, the police were discreetly called. If Capone noticed the islanders uneasiness, he didn't take offense. When one islander nervously complimented his hat, Capone gave him the hat. That hat is in one of the local museums to this day.

Unfortunately, all good (or bad) things must come to an end, and when the Volstead act was repealed in 1933, the island's economy collapsed almost overnight. There was no longer any need for a middle man, as Canadian companies could ship directly to America. Though discreet rum running operations continued into the mid-1990s, rum running on St. Pierre and Miquelon is, essentially, a dead business.



¹Maybe. Some historians argue that the tale you are about to read is nothing more than island lore.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


Sources
Rumrunners: the Smugglers from St. Pierre and Miquelon and the Burin Peninsula from Prohibition to the Present Day by J. P. Andrieux
St Pierre and Miquelon: the Original Gangster's Paradise
This Tiny French Archipelago Became America's Alcohol Warehouse During Prohibition

Friday, March 1, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary Walker, Civil War Surgeon

Dr. Mary Walker was a remarkable woman. She was one of the first female doctors in the United States, and served as an army surgeon on the front lines during the Civil War. A dedicated reformer, Mary advocated for universal suffrage, abolition, dress reform, and temperance. She organized a relief system for the wives of wounded soldiers, and wrote two books. She remains, to this day, the only woman to have won the Medal of Honor.

Image result for mary walkerMary was born in Oswego New York on November 26, 1832 to the unusual Alvah and Vesta Walker. (Alvah is the father.) Mary was the youngest of seven children--six girls and one boy. Mary's parents were eccentric for the times. They believed in sharing the work equally, and Alvah could often be found doing household chores. They allowed their daughters to dress however they liked, not forcing them into the restraining corsets and long skirts of the time, which both rightfully believed squished a girl's internal organs. To cap off the unusual Walker family, their home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Alvah had an interest in medicine, and a sizeable library of medical texts. Alvah and Vesta encouraged Mary to read as many of the medical books as she liked. Both of the Walkers were big believers in education, with Vesta being a school teacher. All of their children were educated through primary school, and all of the daughters went into teaching at one point in their lives.

Mary worked briefly as a teacher, and in 1855 she entered and graduated Syracuse Medical School. Her course at Syracuse was only 39 weeks--three semesters of thirteen weeks each, which seems an almost irresponsible amount of training to give a doctor today, but was standard for the time. Mary chose Syracuse because it admitted women, and because it was known for its non-quackery. In an era where bloodletting and leeches were still common practices, Syracuse focused on more homeopathic remedies, and modern innovations.

After graduation she married her classmate Albert Miller in an unusual ceremony where the bride wore pants, struck the 'obey' clause from her vows, and refused to take her husband's last name. Mary and Albert set up a practice together, and seemed to have been quite successful, with Mary treating the women and children, and Albert the men. Mary began to write about dress reform, and to present medical evidence in favor of this at important conferences. However, in 1859 this all ground to a halt when Mary discovered that Albert had been cheating on her. Mary tossed Albert out, and travelled to Iowa, where it was easier for women to obtain a divorce. Though it took several years, Mary eventually divorced Albert, and began life anew.

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Mary, wearing her controversial bloomers
costume.
After the First Battle of Bull Run,  Mary decided to join the Union Army Medical Corp. She had nothing tying her down--Albert was long gone, her solo practice was a bust, and she had no children. Mary believed that she had a lot to offer as an army surgeon, so she went to Washington DC to ask for a commision.

Unfortunately, the Union Army wasn't accepting female surgeons, or female anything really. Frustrated, Mary decided not to let a lack of pay stop her from doing what she wanted. She instead started volunteering as a nurse at the Patent Office Hospital, working under Dr. J.N. Green. Sources differ about what happened at this point. Some sources say that Dr. Green desperately need an assistant surgeon, and Mary filled that role. Others say that she did basically everything but surgery--dressing wounds, running errands, and entertaining patients. Whatever she did, Mary impressed Dr. Green so much that he recommend that she be given a commission.

This recommendation was, of course, ignored, and Mary briefly went back to medical school in order to boost her credentials. She graduated from Hygeia Therapeutic College, and started volunteering in hospitals up and down Virginia.

Mary was very outspoken about her opinions on how the war should be run. She published editorials suggesting that, in order to boost flagging enlistment numbers, former criminals could be enlisted, and even offered to serve as their surgeon. This gained the attention of war secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, who was definitely not going to create a regiment of former felons, and definitely didn't appreciate a lady having ideas. He gave Mary a posting, if not a commission or salary, to serve as an assistant surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Regiment in Tennessee.

This was on the front lines, and there Mary faced a bit of difficulty. Wandering around a battlefield in skirts and petticoats was a terrible idea, and Mary had never been fond of dressing in typical Antebellum clothing anyways. In fact, she had been arrested several times for dressing like a man, and was frequently harassed for wearing a bloomer costume. On the front lines, Mary abandoned all pretense of dressing like a woman, instead donning a uniform, and making herself a green sash that denoted her as a member of the medical corp.

Mary caused a bit of trouble with the 52nd with her, then, unconventional medical practices. An opponent of amputation, Mary felt that surgeons often rushed the decision to amputate, and that most wounds would be better treated by homeopathic remedies (like bandages and medicines) then amputation. When the male surgeons wouldn't listen to her, she talked directly to the patients, urging them to refuse amputation.

Image result for mary walker
In her later years, Mary almost
exclusively wore men's clothing.
Unsurprisingly, Mary faced a great deal of misogyny with the Ohio 52nd. Though her commanding officer, George H. Thomas, didn't care that she was female, the male surgeons cared very much. They didn't believe that she was capable of performing her duties as a surgeon, and even arranged a medical 'review' for her skills, which they then failed her on. Despite this, Mary refused to resign, and her commanding officer did not dismiss her. When the other surgeons refused to give her patients, Mary turned to treating civilians.

Deep in Rebel territory, Mary was treating the wives and children of Confederate soldiers, many of whom were in hiding from the Union army. She is reputed to have taken supplies from Union stores in order to treat the unfortunates displaced by the war. It was during this time in 1864 that she was captured by the Confederacy.

Now, there is some debate as to why Mary was captured. Some sources claim that it was because she was wearing men's clothing while being a Union soldiers, but other sources, including US Government Agencies, claim that it was because she was spying for the Union. In 1865 a federal judge put on the record that Mary had been a spy for General Sherman's army. Despite this record, there's some debate over whether or not Mary was up to espionage. However, this historian would like to posit that, while treating Confederate civilians, Mary would have several excellent opportunities for intelligence gathering.

After being captured, Mary was sent to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond. Castle Thunder was nicknamed 'the Southern Bastille', and not without reason. While in prison, Mary was treated abysmally. She was given only moldy bread and maggot ridden rice. She contracted bronchitis, lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and had to deal with fleas and bedbugs. Her eyesight was permanently damaged by the gas burning lamps in the prison. She would remain at Castle Thunder for four months.

After being released Mary was celebrated far and wide for her heroics in war, even meeting President Lincoln. Edwin Stanton still denied her request for a commission, but she was given $432.26 in backpay, and was officially put on the US Army payroll. She was dispatched first to a women's military prison, then to an orphanage. When the Civil War ended in 1865 Mary was discharged from the army.

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Mary's habit of wearing a top hat did not endear
her to the rest of the suffragettes.
Even after being discharged, Mary continued to lobby for a commision. President Andrew Johnson was in favor of this promotion, but military officials refused to give Mary a commision, fearing that if they gave one woman a commision, all the women would want commissions. Instead, President Johnson gave Mary the Congressional Medal of Honor, making her the only woman to this day to be awarded the honor.

After being discharged, Mary took up work as an activist and reformer. She had some experience with this, having run a relief society for the mother's of wounded soldiers during her time at the Patent Office Hospital. Unaccompanied women who had come to see their wounded sons or husbands were rarely able to find lodging, and Mary organized a society that arranged places for those women to stay. She also, on several occasions, went over enemy lines to retrieve wounded sons or husbands for distraught women.

Upon realizing that the many nurses who had served during the war had received no pay during the war, or pension after, Mary took up their cause, and by 1872 had browbeat Congress into giving the nurses a pension of $20 a month, despite the fact that she herself would not be successful in getting a pension for another two years.

Mary was also active in the suffrage movement, specifically in the area of dress reform. She was arrested several times before and after the war for wearing men's clothing, and was quite proud of the fact. She gave lectures about the negative health effects of constrictive clothing. Because of this she was quite controversial, and other suffragettes didn't want her associated with the cause.

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Mary's Medal of Honor
Mary also took up her pen, publishing two books, Hit in 1871, and Unmasked: or the Science of Immorality in 1878. Both books argue for equality in a marriage, and for temperance and universal suffrage, but it is in Unmasked where Mary really hits hard. In a book as bitingly relevant today as it was when it was written, Mary puts forth the theory that if women could control their sexual urges, men could too. She argues that marriage should be a contract between social equals, and that just because a couple was married didn't mean they were allowed to rape each other.

In 1874, Mary was finally given a pension of $8.50 a month. However, in 1917, her Medal of Honor was rescinded in an act of congress that took medals away from 911 individuals. The reasoning behind this was that the Medal of Honor could only be earned if the wearer had served in combat, which Mary hadn't. Continuing to wear the medal was a misdemeanor, but when a soldier came for her medal, Mary told him that he could take it over her dead body. She wore her award every day until her death.

In 1880 Alvah Walker passed, leaving Mary his farm. Mary spent the rest of her life there, traveling between New York and Washington DC, lecturing and agitating for change. In 1919 she had a fall on the steps of the US Capitol, and died shortly after.

After her death, her family crusaded tirelessly to have her Medal of Honor restored. In 1977, they were successful, and Mary's medal was officially restored to her by President Jimmy Carter. Today, it is on display in the Pentagon.


Sources
Amazing Women of the Civil War: Fascinating True Stories of Women Who Made a Difference by Webb Garrison
Women of the Blue and Grey by Marianne Monson
Mary Walker-National Parks Service
Meet Dr. Mary Walker--the Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Walker and the Medal of Honor
Mary Walker-Biography
Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker: Doctor American Civil War Women