Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Women Who Dare #5

An incredible woman: Starting in October 1943, Marianne Cohen smuggled groups of youngsters to Switzerland until she was arrested in May 1944,  with a group of 28 children. The Jewish members of the underground planned to rescue her but she refused, lest her escape result in tragic consequences for the children.:

Marianne Cohen

An incredible woman

Starting in October 1943, Marianne Cohen smuggled groups of youngsters 
to Switzerland until she was arrested in May 1944, with a group of 28 children.
 The Jewish members of the underground planned to rescue her but she refused,
 lest her escape result in tragic consequences for the children.

In 1943, Marianne Cohn, an accountant born in Berlin, was sent by the Zionist movement MJS (Mouvement de la Jeunesse Sioniste) to replace
Mila Racine after the latter’s arrest. Cohn was already 
active in producing forged passports for the underground
 MJS, nicknamed “physical education.” 
She smuggled many groups of youngsters to Switzerland until she, too,
 was arrested on May 31, 1944, together with a group of twenty-eight
 children ranging in age from four to fifteen. All of them were sent to Annemasse.
 The Jewish members of the underground prepared 
a plan to rescue her but she refused, lest her escape 
result in tragic consequences for the children. 
The members of the underground sent a message to the Gestapo,
 threatening to kill them if the detainees were harmed. 
Though the children were rescued, Marianne Cohn 
was kidnapped by members of the special services 
from Lyon on July 3, 1944, severely tortured and
 murdered in Ville la Grand, near Annemasse.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Women who Dare #4

Alexandra David-Neel

 A Mystic in Tibet - Alexandra David-Neel

Mystic, anarchist  and traveller, Louise Eugenie Alexandrine Marie David was born in Paris on the 24th of October 1868. The atmosphere at home during her childhood was, by all accounts fairly austere and her parents strict. As a child her favourite books were the science fiction fantasies of Jules Verne, and, perhaps as a form of rebelliousness against her severe upbringing, she promised herself one day to outdo the heroes of these stories. One of the first indications of this sense of freedom and adventure was her running away at the age of five, just before the family left to move to Brussels. Only after a widespread search was she caught and marched to the police station by a gendarme, whom she scratched for his trouble.

By the age of fifteen Alexandra had already begun to study and had also obtained her first occult reading matter, an English journal produced by the Society of the Supreme Gnosis, sent to her by a woman called Elisabeth Morgan. 
That summer her family spent the holidays in Ostend, but Alexandra wanted something more interesting and walked into Holland and crossed over to England. In London she found Mrs. Morgan, who immediately persuaded her to return home.  In 1885, when she was seventeen, Alexandra again left home, this time travelling alone by train from Brussels to Switzerland. She then hiked alone over the Saint-Gotthard Pass through the Alps to the Italian lakes. Her distraught mother had to travel to the shores of Lake Maggiore and retrieve her by then penniless daughter.

London & the Theosophical Society

The following year she entered the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, and three years later won first prize for her soprano voice. In 1888 she went to study in London, and stayed cheaply and securely at the Society of Supreme Gnosis. Here, Elisabeth Morgan introduced her to Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, whose esoteric ideas had a significant influence on Alexandra. Alexandra returned to Brussels the next year to carry on her studies of music and voice. In her early twenties she studied at the Sorbonne and became a political radical, keeping a pistol and ammunition in her Paris room. In 1891, when she was twenty-three, disguised as a man, she joined a Paris cult led by Sri Ananda Saraswati, who used hashish to obtain visions.   

That same year an inheritance from her godmother enabled her to travel for more than a year through Ceylon and India. Fascinated by the mystery and magic of India and the eerie melodies of Tibetan music Alexandra knew she would return again one day. At Adyar, near Madras, she joined the Theosophists under Annie Besant, and studied Sanskrit with them. 

At the holy city of Benares, on the Ganges, she studied yoga with the great Swami Bhaskarananda (of Varanasi), who lived the whole year in a rose garden. She was fascinated by India and the Tibetan music she heard there, but was forced to return to Brussels when she ran out of money.
In 1899, Alexandra composed an anarchist treatise with a preface by the French geographer and anarchist Élisée Reclus (1820-1905). Publishers were, however, too terrified to publish the book, though her friend Jean Haustont printed copies himself and it was eventually translated into five languages. From 1894 to 1900 she lived as an aspiring actress/singer, but by 1900 her career was going nowhere and she accepted a job with the municipal opera in Tunis. Here she met Philip Neel, a thirty-nine-year-old bachelor who worked as a railway engineer. They married on 4th August, 1904, and took a villa at La Goulette next to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Sanskrit Studies in India

In 1911 she undertook her second voyage to India, and arrived at Pondicherry - all that remained of French India - where the police kept an eye on her due to her extremist tendencies. By 1912 Alexandra was living in Calcutta,  where on one occasion, annoyed by the behaviour of fakirs, she lay down on a bed of nails, and explained to a passing British tourist that she needed a rest and was lucky to find a bed. She also took part in Tantric rites, on one occasion the ritual of the so-called 'five forbidden substances': meat, fish, grain, wine, and sexual union.

She was progressing quickly with her Sanskrit studies, and was so noted a figure at holy Benares as to be honoured by the College of Sanskrit  there with an honorary doctorate of philosophy, a first for a European woman. 

When she arrived in the small Himalayan state of Sikkim, in 1912, she immediately felt at home, and increased her knowledge of Buddhism by visiting all the important monasteries there. She also met Prince Sidkeong of Sikkim. It was here that she became the first European woman to meet the Dalai Lama, at the time in exile. He told her to learn the Tibetan language. She made great progress in this and met the Gomchen (great hermit) of the monastery of Lachen. He was an impressive figure wearing a five-sided crown, a rosary necklace of 108 pieces of human skull, an apron carved of human bone, and a magic dagger. During the next two years Alexandra met with the hermit and learnt the art of telepathy from him. She also attempted 'tumo' breathing, the Tibetan art of generating body heat to keep warm in freezing conditions.

Two years later she met a young man called Aphur Yongden, and a friendship which was to last a lifetime developed between them; he eventually became her adopted son. They both moved to a cave hermitage in almost 4000 metres up in the mountains of northern Sikkim, close to the border with Tibet, which it was forbidden to cross into. The solitude in this desolate cave was exactly what a hermitage should include but would definitely not have any of the amenities of life in civilization. They would have to fend for themselves finding food and safety in a land that was not only dangerous but also forbidden. Their ultimate goal was to enter the famed holy city of Lhasa, but Tibet was rarely visited by Europeans at that time, let alone European women. Nevertheless Alexandra and Yongden did so twice, the result being expulsion from Sikkim in 1916.

Because of the war it was impossible to return to Europe, so they travelled to Japan. In a letter to her husband at the time Alexandra confessed her feelings for the Himalayas and Tibet -'Truthfully, I am "homesick" for a land that is not mine. I am haunted by the steppes, the solitude, the everlasting snow and the great blue sky "up there"! The difficult hours, the hunger, the cold, the wind slashing my face, leaving me with enormous, bloody, swollen lips.

At Kum Bum David Neel apparently managed to create a 'tulpa', a psychic phantom produced by intense concentration of thought and the repetition of relevant mystical rites over a period of months. She created a stout, phantom monk, whose form gradually became less ghost like and more life like. Before long the phantasm was accompanying her on her travels and behaving almost like a normal human being. However, he gradually began to change from a fat, jolly monk into a leaner more sinister character, and started to escape from her control. The tulpa was seen by others in her travelling party, proving it to have an objective existence outside of Alexandra's own mind, but, to avoid serious problems with her creation, Alexandra decided to 'dissolve' it. But this proved extremely difficult as the phantom clung desperately on to his life; she only succeeded in getting rid of him after six months of hard mental concentration.

The Strange Journey to Lhasa

Soon after this, in February 1921, Alexandra and Yongden left all their belongings and, disguised as beggars, set off on their journey to forbidden Tibet, and the holy city of Lhasa. The journey was to last an epic three years, and the details are recounted in Alexandra's book My Journey to Lhasa, first published in English in 1927. The route, as the crow flies, was 3,900 miles, but Alexandra's expedition was a different matter. She was twice intercepted and often had to change her plans.

At one stage, in early 1923, she went as far north as the Gobi Desert, from where she returned via Kanchow and Lanchow, south through China, and westwards into southern Tibet. Altogether her journey covered around 8,000 miles on horse, sedan chair and foot. Along the way bandits were a menace, as were tigers and leopards.

On the journey they met a strange phenomenon known as a 'lung-gom' runner. First seen as a distant moving black spot, this rapidly changed into a man running towards them at an incredible speed. Alexandra was warned not to stop the speeding lama or it would kill him. When she looked closely at him she could see that he his expression was extremely relaxed and staring fixedly at an imaginary far away object. His steps were as regular as a pendulum, though he didn't seem to run but progressed by great leaps like a bouncing rubber ball. He held a magic dagger in his right hand which he seemed to be using as a staff, though it was high off the ground. Apparently, such runners would carry on this amazing feat for days without stopping for food or water. Alexandra was told that years of meditation were required before undertaking this feat.

In February 1924, Alexandra and Yongden eventually arrived unobtrusively in the territory of Lhasa, where they remained for two months visiting the holy city and the surrounding monasteries. While at Lhasa Alexandra would go down to the river every morning to wash, something unusual enough to be noticed and reported to the governor of the city. Since the couple were in Tibet illegally this could have resulted in serious trouble, but luckily the governor did not act immediately on the tip and Alexandra and Yongden were long gone when the alarm was raised.

Alexandra returned home to France in 1925, and was a huge success in Paris. After separating from Philip she settled in Digne, Provence, in 1928, and built 'Samten-Dzong', which she called her 'fortress of meditation'. She published many books about her travels from here and also went on lecture tours throughout Europe.
In 1937, at the age of 70, Alexandra set off for China, accompanied by Yongden, via the Trans-Siberian railway. Unfortunately they arrived there during the violent war with Japan, when famine and disease were rife, though she wrote and studied despite the conditions and went on to India in 1946.

She returned to France and settled once again at Digne. In 1955 Yongden, 30 years younger than Alexandra, died whilst staying at Samten-Dzong. Alexandra worked constantly and had her passport renewed at the age of 100, much to the surprise of the officials at the passport office. She was awarded a gold medal by the Geographical society of Paris and in 1969 was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. In addition, in Tibet, she was granted the rank of lama. She died on 8th September, 1969.

On the 28th February 1973, the ashes of Alexandra David-Neel, the first western woman to enter Tibet, along with those of her adopted son, Lama Yongden, were scattered over the waters of the Ganges at the holy city of Benares. On 15 October, 1982, and from May 21 to 26, 1986, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) paid her tribute by coming to Digne to visit her house. Samten-Dzong now contains a museum and is the head office of The Alexandra David-Neel Cultural Centre. Visitors to the museum can see Alexandra’s arm chair, cane, a necklace of gold coins from Prince Sidkeong of Sikkim, and meditation beads from the Gomchen of Lachen.

David-Neel’s 30 or so books about Eastern religion, philosophy, and her exotic and eventful travels have been a major influence on a number of writers. These include English philosopher and writer Alan Wilson Watts (1915 ?  1973) and modern radical thinkers like beat writers Jack Kerouac (1922 ? 1969) and Allen Ginsberg (1926 ? 1997). In fact Ginsberg credited Alexandra David-Neel with converting him to Buddhism.

Sources and Further Reading

Foster, Barbara and Michael. The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel. New York, The Overlook Press, 1998.David-Neel, Alexandra.  Magic and Mystery in Tibet. New York, Dover Publications Inc.,1971 (1932).Gordon, S.  The Paranormal. An Illustrated Encyclopedia. London, Headline, 1992, pp 162-3.Copyright 2003 / 2007 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.  

Be Blessed

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Women Who Dare #3

Ellen Swallow Richards

A plaque under the entrance arch of Vassar’s Blodgett Hall reads:
Ellen Swallow Richards
Class of 1870
Pioneer in the Study of Family Life
Founder of Home Economics
A tablet is placed on the building
Dedicated to the field of work
Called by her Euthenics

“Euthenics” now rings oddly in Blodgett Hall, home to the study of economics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, religion, and education. In fact most people who pass through Blodgett do not know what euthenics is, often confusing it with eugenics. Its creator, Ellen Swallow Richards, defined euthenics as the study of “the betterment of living conditions through conscious endeavor, for the purpose of securing efficient human beings.” Such high aspirations were characteristic of Richards, advocate of public health, founder of ecology, champion of women’s education in the sciences and the first professional female chemist in the nation.

Ellen Swallow Richards was born and raised on a farm in Dunstable, Massachusetts, in 1842. Having received no formal education until she was 16, she entered Vassar College at 26 as a third year student. While at Vassar, she was influenced by Charles Farrar, professor of chemistry, who insisted on the application of science on everyday household situations. Richards also came under the guidance of Maria Mitchell, professor of astronomy and activist for the advancement of women’s work in science. Mitchell saw in the diligent and bright Richards great potential for scientific innovation.

Graduating from Vassar in 1870, Richards went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to continue her work in chemistry. Her entrance to MIT was not easy; many institutions turned her down on the basis of her sex, and MIT declined all women applicants except for Richards, accepting her as a special student to ascertain women’s ability in the sciences. Richards was successful at MIT, becoming the nation’s preeminent water scientist even before her graduation. Yet, writing to a friend in 1872, she was aware of her precarious position in the patriarchal field of science and education:

I hope that I am winning a way which others will keep open. Perhaps the fact that I am not a radical, and that I do not scorn womanly duties, but deem it a privilege to clean up and supervise the room and sew things, etc., is winning me stronger allies than anything else… I am useful in a general way, and they can’t say study spoils me for anything else.

Richards received her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from MIT in 1873. Vassar conferred on Richards a Masters in Arts upon her graduation from MIT, and her admiring MIT laboratory-mates bestowed upon her a third “degree,” in the form of an A.O.M: Artium Omnium Magistra. ("Mistress of All the Arts") The head of the chemistry laboratory, Professor Nichols, offered Richards a position as a lab assistant after her graduation, which she accepted. Richards accepted a wedding proposal from Robert Hallowell Richards, a professor of mining at MIT, in this laboratory. They married in 1875 and settled in a house in the Boston suburb of Jamaica Plains, which became a laboratory for their theories in home efficiency. In 1876, MIT opened a new laboratory for women, of which Richards became an instructor, and then head instructor in 1884. She held this position at the laboratory, which she dedicated to the study of “sanitary chemistry”, until her death in 1911.

A friend said of Richards: “…she was a woman of a few words, but she had a transfiguring touch; and her rare intellectual quality—her power of dropping a few words and transporting you to a larger world—was supplemented by a personality which commanded affection and allegiance in a remarkable degree.” The lab became a site for important scientific advancements, such as the first scientific study of water pollution and the establishment of “normal chlorine” for water quality. Richard’s work in water, air, and minerals led to the development of a study she christened Oekology, which later came to be called ecology.

Ellen Swallow Richards's lab at MIT

Richards's greatest achievement was her founding of the home economics movement, where she was able to synthesize many of her scientific and moral interests. Lucy M. Salmon, professor of history at Vassar—herself a renowned innovator—observed: “Mrs. Richards was among the very first to realize that the home affords an opportunity for scientific investigation and she became our first great pioneer home missionary… She discovered rich veins of interest where others had seen only prosaic humdrum duties, menial service, and uninspired, uninspiring household direction.” Bringing science into the home, Richards hoped to “attain the best physical, mental, and moral development” for the family, which she believed was the basic unit of civilization. To spread the cause of home economics, Richards organized the Lake Placid Conference in Home Economics, which met yearly from 1899 to 1908. The Home Economics Association was created in 1908, with Richards as its first president.

As active outside her laboratory as she was in it, Richards served as a chemist at the Manufacturer’s Mutual Fire Insurance Company, published 17 books on home economics and sanitation—including the first health-food cookbook published in the nation—and involved herself in many public health issues, bringing reformed hygiene policies to Boston schools, organizing the first school lunch programs, and introducing inexpensive and nutritional cooking to Boston’s immigrant communities through "The New England Kitchen." Richards also prepared three exhibitions on home economics for world fairs.

Elected an Alumna Trustee at Vassar in 1894, Richards effectively advised the trustees on the issue of sewage disposal. Following her guidance, the college decided to construct an irrigation plant instead of building a costly sewage canal from the college to the Hudson River. As trustee, Richards also helped build foundations for the study of home economics and the sciences at Vassar. In 1916, the Alumnae of Vassar established a memorial fund in her honor to secure lecturers of distinction on euthenics. In 1924, with the combined efforts of one of Richards’s former students, Vassar trustee Minnie Cumnock Blodgett, chemist Annie L. McLeod, and Vassar President Henry Noble McCracken, the college’s educational experiment with euthenics began. Members of the department included advisors of chemistry, physiology, psychology, personnel research, and mental hygiene. Although euthenics never became popular as a curricular option with students and faculty, the Summer Institute of Euthenics, set up at the same time, was quite successful, becoming the center for studies in families, child psychology, child nutrition, and methods of education. Benjamin Spock and Margaret Mead were part of its faculty. Environmental aspects of the Institute (which Richards had stressed in the study of euthenics) were gradually discarded, and the Institute itself ceased operation in the 1950’s.

Richards was a lifelong advocate of women’s education and professional opportunities. She gave a lecture at Vassar in 1889 entitled “The Education and Occupations of the Twentieth Century Woman.” In 1911, the year she died, she addressed her fellow alumnae: “We have won our standing, an acknowledged place. Now that we have influence how shall we use it? Woman’s outlook will be different ten years from now. Is she still to be behind in the race? Or from her new standpoint shall she lead? The question is not woman, but ability and women.”

extracted from Vassar Encyclopedia at https://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/alumni/ellen-swallow-richards.html

Be Blessed

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Women who Dare #2

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron; 10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was an English mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. As a result, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer.

Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate child of the poet George Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke ("Annabella"), Lady Wentworth.  All Byron's other children were born out of wedlock to other women. Byron separated from his wife a month after Ada was born and left England forever four months later, eventually dying of disease in the Greek War of Independence when Ada was eight years old. Her mother remained bitter towards Lord Byron and promoted Ada's interest in mathematics and logic in an effort to prevent her from developing what she saw as the insanity seen in her father, but Ada remained interested in him despite this (and was, upon her eventual death, buried next to him at her request). Often ill, she spent most of her childhood sick. Ada married William Lord King in 1835. King was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838, and she became Lady Lovelace.

Her educational and social exploits brought her into contact with scientists such as Andrew Crosse, Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday and the author Charles Dickens, in which she used to further her education. Ada described her approach as "poetical science" and herself as an "Analyst (& Metaphysician)"

As a teenager, her mathematical talents led her to an ongoing working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, also known as 'the father of computers', and in particular, Babbage's work on the Analytical Engine. Lovelace first met him in June 1833, through their mutual friend, and her private tutor, Mary Somerville. Between 1842 and 1843, Ada translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with an elaborate set of notes, simply called Notes. These notes contain what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Lovelace's notes are important in the early history of computers. She also developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching, while many others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities. Her mind-set of "poetical science" led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine (as shown in her notes) examining how individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool.

She died of uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of 36.

Byron expected his baby to be a "glorious boy" and was disappointed when his wife gave birth to a girl. Augusta was named after Byron's half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and was called "Ada" by Byron himself
On 16 January 1816 Annabella, at Byron's behest, left for her parents' home  taking one-month-old Ada with her. Although English law at the time gave fathers full custody of their children in cases of separation, Byron made no attempt to claim his parental right but did request that his sister keep him informed of Ada's welfare On 21 April Byron signed the Deed of Separation, although very reluctantly, and left England for good a few days later. Aside from an acrimonious separation, Annabella continually made allegations about Byron's immoral behaviour throughout her life.
This set of events made Ada famous in Victorian society. Byron did not have a relationship with his daughter, and never saw her again. He died in 1824 when she was eight years old. Her mother was the only significant parental figure in her life. Ada was not shown the family portrait of her father (covered in green shroud) until her twentieth birthday.] Her mother became Baroness Wentworth in her own right in 1856.
Annabella did not have a close relationship with the young Ada, and often left her in the care of her own mother Judith, Hon. Lady Milbanke, who doted on her grandchild. However, because of societal attitudes of the time—which favoured the husband in any separation, with the welfare of any child acting as mitigation—Annabella had to present herself as a loving mother to the rest of society. This included writing anxious letters to Lady Milbanke about Ada's welfare, with a cover note saying to retain the letters in case she had to use them to show maternal concern. In one letter to Lady Milbanke, she referred to Ada as "it": "I talk to it for your satisfaction, not my own, and shall be very glad when you have it under your own." In her teenage years, several of her mother's close friends watched Ada for any sign of moral deviation. Ada dubbed these observers the "Furies", and later complained they exaggerated and invented stories about her
Ada was often ill, beginning in early childhood. At the age of eight, she experienced headaches that obscured her vision.In June 1829, she was paralysed after a bout of measles. She was subjected to continuous bed rest for nearly a year, which may have extended her period of disability. By 1831, she was able to walk with crutches. Despite being ill Ada developed her mathematical and technological skills. At age 12 this future "Lady Fairy", as Charles Babbage affectionately called her, decided she wanted to fly. Ada went about the project methodically, thoughtfully, with imagination and passion. Her first step in February 1828, was to construct wings. She investigated different material and sizes. She considered various materials for the wings: paper, oilsilk, wires and feathers. She examined the anatomy of birds to determine the right proportion between the wings and the body. She decided to write a book Flyology illustrating, with plates, some of her findings. She decided what equipment she would need, for example, a compass, to "cut across the country by the most direct road", so that she could surmount mountains, rivers and valleys. Her final step was to integrate steam with the "art of flying"

                              - extracted from Wikipedia

Be Blessed

Friday, March 18, 2016

Woman Soul Part 2

VIII Courage
Higher Mysteries of Mary Tarot Deck

And then I truly entered the Underworld. This was not my intent. My intent was to take a sabbatical, spend my days exploring journalling and some other crafts that I played with and to meditate often and work in my garden. But that was not part of Her plan for me.

My journey down the rabbit hole led me to a guru in the Siddha lineage.  It was a mutual
recognition at first sight.  After this crucial meeting and experience that lasted only three years 
I understood the question :  did I look for the Divine or did the Divine come looking for me?

Through periodic visits back and forth and through online training, I discovered that
the incredible force within myself, the wild woman and the compassionate inner mother,
is Kundalini Ma, the serpent like Light energy which is the Triple Goddess, the creator,
the nurturer and the destroyer.  I immersed myself into Bhakty yoga and entered the Light.
I was turned inside out;  dealth with increasingly powerful visions and prophetic dreams
and truly came to understand and know myself and witnessed my personal self melting like
butter in the sun. I became a master of shaktypat, my healing abilities
and other esp opened up even more and I started training women to uncover the
fiery mother and to allow her to bring great healing through the white and right hand path of Tantra.

However, betrayal struck when I discovered that my beloved guru's feet of clay
consisted of greed for power, sex and money and my true initiation started after this realisation.
A difficult path of untying and rescuing myself on many levels from him and his organisation
started whilst at the same time having to be impervious to him spreading rumours about
my character -  the usual pattern experienced by many on similar paths.

As I was catapulted out into the dark world of no longer having any valid belief system,
I finally surrendered completely to the Great Mystery, to the psychic and emotional
pain and to the mind's torture of not having any answers and no structures to hold only.
And this was my saving grace!

Slowly through the dark weeks and months from when I realised that I have all my life
been devoted to false idols and to the tremendous realisation 
that I finally had given my soul away to one who calls himself guru, 
could the last vestiges of my already cracked personality
shatter into nothingness.

And the world stopped.

And I was born.

IX The Lady with the Lamp
Higher Mysteries of Mary Tarot Deck

Be  Blessed

Women Who Dare #1

They Called Her Moses


Some likened her to Joan of Arc for her charisma and simple faith. She had dreams and visions, and extraordinary things happened to her. She led a charmed life through incredible dangers.

John Brown called her “General”; Frederick Douglass felt humble in her presence; Queen Victoria honored her with an invitation to England and the gift of a silk shawl. The Quaker Thomas Garrett said of her, “If she had been a white woman, she would have been heralded as the greatest woman of her age.”   To her own people she was, simply, “Moses”, and their haunting spirituals—veiled messages – enlarged the metaphor to sing of Jordan and the Promised Land.

Harriet Ross Tubman was an illiterate slave born in the Bucktown district of Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She escaped to freedom, alone, in 1849. For the next 11 years she returned to the South 19 times to lead more than 300 slaves north across the Mason-Dixon Line and sometimes into Canada.


At the junction of Bucktown, Green Briar, and Bespitch Ferry Roads, 12 miles southeast of Cambridge, stands a quaint country store. Beside the dot on the map the word Bucktown appears. Bucktown is not really a town, but a farming district, and the store’s only patrons seem to be the great white roosters and gray guinea hens that huddle in its lee on a winter’s day.

Across the road, long ago, stood another store, once the scene of a terrible drama played out between slaves and master–perhaps not an uncommon scene for its age, but one which, unlike so many others, did not escape history. The heroine was a 16-year- old slave girl named Harriet, destined to become as a Moses to her people.

A marker placed by the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission stands in a field on Green Briar Road just a mile west of the store. Oral tradition has it that this is the site of the Brodess plantation where Harriet Tubman was born in 1820. Her parents, Benjamin and Harriet Green Ross, then slaves of Edward Brodess, were the grandchildren of Negroes who had come shackled from Africa in 1725. They were Ashanti, of the region by that name in what is now Central Ghana on the west coast of Africa.

It was a fall evening in 1835, and the slaves were cleaning up wheat and husking corn. Jim, the slave of a farmer named Barnett, seeing the chance for escape, ran to the Bucktown store. Harriet followed him. So did McCracken, the overseer. McCracken cornered Jim and demanded that Harriet help capture and tie up the runaway. Harriet refused. Instead, as Jim went out the door, she closed it and stood against it, blocking McCracken’s pursuit.

The enraged overseer picked up a 2-pound weight from the counter and hurled it at her, hitting her in the forehead. The blow nearly killed her, and disabled her for months. She was left with an ugly scar, and she was never afterwards free of a strange affliction that caused her to have sudden, unexpected sleeping seizures.

Harriet had reason enough to be bitter already. She had seen her sisters Linah and Sophy sold off the plantation just the year before. She herself was only seven when she was sent away from her family to care for a baby. “I was so little,” Harriet remembered, “that I had to sit on the floor and have the baby put in my lap, and that baby was always in my lap except when it was sleep or when its mother was feeding it.” She balked at working in the house, resented whippings, and became known as a sullen, insolent girl, good only for work in the fields. The idea of escaping took hold early.

Dr. Virgie Lake Camper, of Cambridge, a descendant of several slave families, recalls that her grandfather, Martin Lake, many times heard Harriet say that she planned to escape. But it was not until 1849, after five years of marriage to John Tubman, a free man, that she finally left.

For years she had hoarded her meager earnings from hiring out, and selling vegetables with the idea of buying her freedom, only to find that her value had increased far beyond her ability to pay.

John Tubman, whom Martin Lake characterized as a weak, timid man, had no interest in Harriet’s desire to be free. Ironically, it was through John Tubman that she learned that she already had a possible claim to freedom. A clause in the will of her mother’s former owner, had left Harriet’s mother to a Mary Pattison  “to serve her and her issue” until the slave should become 45. The phrase seemed to signify manumission (formal emancipation), but was not clearly enough worded to be interpreted as such in the courts of that day.  So Harriet’s mother and all her children remained slaves. The knowledge that the whole family could have been free but for a technicality, rankled most in Harriet, who had already suffered so many indignities and disappointments. Her bitterness and determination to escape intensified.

Then came rumors that Harriet and two of her brothers were to be sold to a cotton plantation in the deep South. At last, Harriet fled but, legend has it, not before stopping by a window of the house where her parents were working to sing: “I’m bound to leave you/Bound for Jordan’s other side.” With full knowledge of her meaning they went on working as if nothing had happened, while their daughter slipped away.

In the years before Edward Brodess had come of age, Harriet had served his administrator, Dr. Anthony C. Thompson, who hitched her to a plow and proudly showed her off to his friends as being strong as any man.  Now, she put this strength, as well as her knowledge of nature, to its best use. She followed the North Star and observed on which side of the trees the moss grew. With the guidance of an unknown Quaker woman in Dorchester County, she found her way to Philadelphia and freedom via the Underground Railroad. Once there, she did not turn her back on the past. Instead, she bent all her efforts toward rescuing those she had left behind.
“I was free and they should be free,” she said.  “I would make a home in the North and bring them there.”  In the decade that followed, Harriet returned to Dorchester County time and time again, swiftly and silently empting the county’s plantations of their slaves.

When the chanting of “Steal Away,” “Go Down Moses,” and “I Looked Over Jordan” went up among the slaves and continued for days, and spread from hut to hut, from house to house and from plantation to plantation, it was understood, but never said, that Harriet was on her way. Those who could were to steal away to the designated spot on the first of the month or at the new moon, and she would lead them away. She had no chariot, not could she part rivers, but she had her own two good legs and knowledge of the woods and the route, and of people who helped along the way. She would come in the night, gather up her charges and leave again quickly. It is said that she inspired the great spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – words indeed well suited for passing along the information that Harriet was making another swing through the South.

In her heart, Harriet carried the same kind of wrath that made Moses break the tablets. She carried a shotgun with her on her missions, and she would say to her charges, “If you don’t follow me when I go out, I’m going to kill you.  Go forward and live or turn back and die.” They always went. Along the Underground Railroad it was boasted that Harriet’s train never ran off the track and she never lost a passenger.

Echoing Patrick Henry’s denunciation of England’s rule in America, Harriet said of herself and for all her race: “There’s two things I’ve got a right to and these are death or liberty; one or the other I mean to have.  No one will take me back alive. I shall fight for my liberty and when the time is come for me to go, the Lord will let them kill me.” But by the grace of God and her own special genius, the time never came.

In 1857, with the financial backing of Senator William Henry Seward, she bought a farm in Auburn, New York, and settled her parents there. Later, Seward, as Secretary of State, petitioned Congress in vain in her behalf for compensation for her wartime services.

During the Civil War she served as spy, nurse, and liaison between the Union Army and freed slaves.  As a spy, she penetrated Confederate lines, leading raids that destroyed Confederate property and liberated slaves. As matron of the Colored Hospital at Fort Monroe, Virginia, she improved sanitary conditions, reorganized the kitchen, and expedited the flow of supplies.

After the war she returned to Auburn to establish a home for aged and needy blacks. She participated in the establishment of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, supported the temperance movement, and worked on behalf of women’s suffrage. Having given everything she owned to help her people, she died penniless in March, 1913, at the age of ninety-three, a free American, surrounded by people she had delivered from bondage and helped to a better life. Her death made headlines in newspapers around the world.

Harriet Tubman’s lifetime of courage reached beyond the slaves she helped. Dr. Virgie Camper’s grandfather, Martin Lake, inspired by Harriet’s success,  escaped on his own. Knowing the way himself, he did not wait for Harriet.

Lake made at least three attempts before he succeeded. Usually after a thwarted attempt, he would be whipped. Other slaves administered the whipping so that they would learn a lesson from it. After the whipping they were made to rub salt into the wounds. There were no hard feelings, Martin told his sons, because slaves were forced to do what they did.

“Now my granddaddy was a strong, big, sort of wicked man,” says Virgie Camper. “He wasn’t afraid. Daddy used to tell us how his father would walk at night and sleep during the daytime in culverts. A culvert under a bridge was the only safe place to be. Once, he hid up in a hollow tree. His pursuers trailed him to the foot of the tree with dogs and built a fire at the bottom to smoke him out. He didn’t say what he did so he wouldn’t sneeze, but he didn’t sneeze, and he stayed in there.” His pursuers eventually gave up and left.

During the Civil War Martin Lake served in the Union Army. Afterwards he returned to Bucktown and settled there.  He married Amanda Camper who, born in 1858, was many years younger than he. Their only son, Monroe Lake, was 12 years old when his father died. “So my daddy,” says Mrs. Camper, “hired out and took care of his mother and sisters.  He hired out to the Brodess family faithfully through a difficult period in their lives. “And as a result of that, the Brodesses gave them each a little piece of land. I think they gave each child an acre.” The land is on Green Briar Road, adjoining the land where Harriet Tubman was born.

Monroe, too, sank his roots deep into Bucktown. He worked the Brodess farm and surrounding land, buying up, whenever he could, land that Martin and Harriet had worked in slavery. When he died in 1975, he left a substantial amount of the Brodess plantation to his surviving sons.

Left on the land now are few traces of the human struggle that took place there in the last century. There are the Negro graves, separate from the white, many of them unmarked and forgotten; the faces of the living, with familial traces of those Pinders, Campers, Clashes, Jacksons, Lakes, and others who worked side by side with Harriet; there is the little church. And there is a tradition stronger than any trace left on the land.

On the third Sunday of every June, old residents of the Bucktown district gather at Bazel’s Methodist Episcopal Church for a service in memory of Harriet Tubman. It is one of the few times in the year that the old church is open now that the black population, with the exception of the Lake family, has moved away.

Addie Clash Travers, a retired businesswoman and civic leader, established Harriet Tubman Day in 1970, after being inspired by reading about Harriet’s heroism. Mrs. Travers, born in Bucktown in 1913, two months before Harriet died in Auburn, New York, is related to Harriet through the Rosses.