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Showing posts from June, 2014

The Countess, Clara Bow, and Women Boxers of the 1920s

I've long admired the Depression era reporting of Joseph Mitchell, as well as his later essays for the New Yorker.  The book to read, I suppose, is his Up in the Old Hotel.  I have been working my way through a late 1930s collection of pieces entitled My Ears Are Bent which collects his various- probably many unprinted- reports on Prohibition era NYC's underworld.

In a section on sports, Mitchell's clear admiration and affection for the plucky 1920s women boxers is matched only perhaps by his discussion of the performance pushed into burlesque as vaudeville audiences declined during the depression.

In an endearing profile he describes the 1930s career of The Countess, Jeanne Vina La Marr, the first woman in America licensed to fight in New Jersey in the mid1920s.  Unable to fight contests without a license in NYC, she instead did exhibition in the city, often fighting other women and men, usually in some vaguely legal connection with the burlesque shows and speakeasies.

Frederick Douglass and The Fugitive's Song

I was thinking about Frederick Douglass today.  I regularly teach his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) in my introductory US history, as do undoubtedly hundreds of other instructors, and as this summer school session passes the halfway point we will be reading it again next week.  Recently, I have been asked to review a new book about Douglass's trip to Ireland in 1845 when he met Irish independence leader Daniel O'Connell and began a two year long lecture series..  There was a great piece in the NYTimes several years back about the encounter, perhaps it was part of the Disunion series on the anniversary of the Civil War, here

There are a number of familiar images of Douglass in our nation's archives, many of which appear in textbooks, on book jackets to illustrate his writings or recent biographies and studies, but this image was quite new to me as I scrolled through the LOC's PPOC.  From the description:

"A sheet music cover …

Mary Armstrong of Houston, 91 Year old WPA Ex-Slave Interviewee, 1937.

From 1936 to 1938, in the midst of the Depression, the Works Progress Administration interviewed more than 2,000 ex-slaves.  Mary Armstrong is photographed here at 91 at the time of her interview in Houston.  In the interview she describes her teenage journey down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans, then onto Galveston and Houston after acquiring her freedom in the middle of the Civil War in 1863.  Separated from her mother, Armstrong located her mother in a "slave refugee camp" in Wharton County, Texas southwest of Houston where she remained until she married and returned to Houston.
Historian George Rawick edited a 41 volume edition of the interviews, but the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis has made available typed versions of his papers in their collection here, including the interview with Mary Armstrong. HERE
Project Gutenberg is digitizing the series as well, with the Texas volumes. HERE
The interview: 

MARY ARMSTRONG, 91, lives at 3326…