Author Archives: Meg G.

About Meg G.

I am a PhD candidate studying US History. I am interested in gender, children, and religious history in the 19th-century US. I love running. I have a pretty cool husband and family.

Happy 2nd Birthday to Fun with History

Hey history lovers!

Today in 2009, Fun with History was launched! Since then the blog has had over 18,000 hits, added a couple new bloggers, and has written about a whole lotta history, I am so excited to be hitting 2 years!

Here’s to at least two more years!


Disunion, the New York Times, and Lee’s Difficult Decision

Every now and again the media does something right. Shocking, I know. But have you been paying attention to the New York Times Disunion Series? Since the beginning of the year, the NYT has been publishing opinion pieces interpreting events and people of the Civil War. Of course, they are doing this because this year marks 150 years since the war between the states (but about slavery, yes I said it) began. And if there’s something that everyone (Republican, Democrat, Independent) in our nation loves to do, it’s remember a war. And Americans love the Civil War. It seems to me that the reasons for this love is unending: the end of slavery, states rights, Southern pride, the new military technology of the war, brother versus brother… and it just keeps going.

Anyway, the NYT series is an interesting one because it encompasses all of these ideas. Each article takes on an issue, event, or person. The authors make arguments and the pieces often conflict with each other. Many of the articles are also written not by journalists but Civil War historians. And not the pop ones like Doris Kearns Goodwin (Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln) but ones like Stephanie McCurry (Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South) or Ethan J. Kytle (Strike the First Blow: Romantic Liberalism and the Struggle Against Slavery in the United States, 1850 -1865). I love the Disunion Series because it demonstrates what’s exciting and interesting about history. It’s not about memorizing the dates and battle names of the War, but about picking apart the war, making interpretations, expressing arguments, and having a discussion. Fun with History’s new blogger expressed this type of sentiment about making and reading history in his recent post “Made Everyday.”

From NYT article, "The General in His Study" Courtesy of Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial Mary Custis Lee

I haven’t read nearly enough of the articles in the series but the ones I have read are interesting, fresh, and illuminating. Today’s piece, “The General in His Study” takes up the oft-argued point that Robert E. Lee struggled between his loyalty to union and his loyalty to his beloved Virginia. Of course, we know he sided with Virginia and served as a great military leader for the Confederacy until 1865. Elizabeth Brown Pryor (Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee through His Private Letters) presents a letter by Lee’s eldest daughter Mary Custis Lee (pictured above) that describes the difficult decision her father made. (The online version of this article includes a scan of this letter!) Lee worried about what his family would think of his decision to take up arms against the Union, apologizing “I suppose you will all think I have done very wrong.” What Brown introduces here isn’t that Lee made a difficult decision, but just how painful, how personal, and how un-inevitable it really was. History is never destiny, any number of realities can change the course, and Brown demonstrates this powerfully in her discussion of Lee.

It’s just this type of discussion and carefully writing of a historical figure’s decision that makes me love this series. In a moment when we remember the Civil War through endless reenactments and Charleston’s disturbing secession ball, the Disunion Series provides a serious and thoughtful discussion of America’s War.

Update: Just found out, you can also follow this series on Twitter: @nytcivilwar

A Reconstruction Compromise

In 1876, Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes campaigned against the Democrat nominee Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden won the popular vote, and the candidates disputes the electoral college results (185 in favor of Tilden, 165 for Hayes and 20 disputes & uncounted votes from South Carolina, Louisiana, and you guessed it, Florida). Sound familiar (Bush/Gore 2000 anyone?). In such circumstances, the Constitution directs that the President of the Senate, with the Senate and House of Representatives present, will open the electoral certificates and count the votes.

Republicans claimed that this meant that the Senate President counted the votes alone with the rest of Congress acting as mere witnesses. Since the Senate President was a Republican, Democrats protested this conclusion. The Democrats wanted to only vote the contested votes by Congress, not the President. With the Democratic majority in the House, this meant they could through out just one votes and give Tilden the victory.

On January 29, 1877 Congress formed a Electoral Committee made up by five members from each house of Congress and the five members of the Supreme Court. This was meant to avoid the potential threat to the Constitution made arguing over its interpretation. The Commission

Why did the Commission sway in Hayes favor? The Compromise of 1877, the end of Reconstruction. While Tilden came from New York, his political party typically represented the Southern states, those who had lost the Civil War in 1865 and had felt repressed by Reconstruction in the intervening twelve years. In the House, the majority of Democrats came from Southern states and they wanted to end Reconstruction. (Reconstruction will have to be a topic for a post on another day). The Republicans, who had generally supported Reconstruction, offered to withdraw the federal troops from the South if the Democrats supported Hayes. Removing the troops essentially equated the end of Reconstruction, at least symbolically.


My Research…

A little while back, I had a new post asking you what you wanted to see here on the blog. (Want to see something? Read about something? Comment here.) One of the comments I received was asking me to share what I am currently working on, researching, and now writing.

Well, I feel like should start with the big picture and then I’ll share the project I’m currently buried in. For me, narrowing down my focus for graduate school was the most difficult task. As an undergrad, all those years ago, I loved multiple periods of US history. But I’ve finally found my love in nineteenth-century US. I focus on gender and religion during that period. And I love what I study, I find both the development and reinforcement (and challenging of) gender roles and religions during this period fascinating. I also find that they work extremely well together. Women tended to outnumber men in Christian churches, and while this space tended to reinforce the male-dominated hierarchy, it also provided a safe space for women to act as leaders and pioneers. I also find them the most exciting topics to teach because early students to history tend to overlook the importance of both women and religion in American history.

In my current research, and really what I’ve been studying off and on for the past five years, I study Mormon women in the nineteenth century. This began with the thesis I wrote while pursuing my Masters degree. That thesis looked at how polygamy and missionary work intersected in the late nineteenth century, using the Hawaiian mission field as a case study. Now I have shifted to looking more specifically women in the Mormon benevolent organization, the Relief Society (also known as the Female Relief Society). I am looking at the period in the organization’s history before incorporated into the Church. I have been working on this specific project for just under a year. I consider the Relief Society in the same vein other historians have looked at other benevolent organizations of this period (Mary Ryan, Nancy Hewitt, Lori Ginzberg, Anne Boylan). I have my argument, but I’ll save that until after I have submitted the thesis and the thesis committee and approved it. So this might be a “to be continued” post…

At this point I both love and hate my project. I love the information I found and I love the research work. But I hate that place after writing first and second drafts of the paper. Now I’m working on my fourth draft, reading through again trying to fix the problem spots (there are many!) and make all the sections come together to form a whole. Oh the art of writing! Do you have any tips for writing that helps you construct your papers, essays, articles, or even books?  Trust me, I could use the suggestions!!

And I want to know what you are currently researching! It could be a scholarly project or such a random search on the internet trying to understand something. It may be historical or not. Share your interests, your process, and what you plan to do with what you find here!

Another Blog Recommendation: Blog Divided

I just keep stumbling upon new great history-geared blogs, and how can I not share them with you. This blog, Blog Divided, is “for anyone teaching or studying the House Divided Era, 1840-1880.”

Well, I know lots of students and amateur historians (as well as professional ones) love to study, talk, and argue about the Civil War and the years leading up to and following it. Based on my initial skimming of the blog, this one seems to do the trick. Plus it has some great links as well. It’s based on an interesting project at Dickinson College.

The blog officially describes itself as the following:

This blog community is designed for teachers and students who are interested in nineteenth-century American history, especially the period before, during and after the Civil War.  This sectional era in American history, roughly 1840 to 1880, is the current focus of the House Divided Project at Dickinson College, an interdisciplinary effort that aims to help make this turbulent and complicated story more accessible within the nation’s classrooms.  We are at the beginning of a multi-year effort to build innovative web-based resources and to host intensive K-12 teacher training workshops on various topics from the period, especially in connection with a series of pivotal anniversaries –such as Abraham Lincoln’s Bicentennial (2009) or the 150th anniversary of the  Civil War (2011-2015).  We hope members of this community will join us in identifying breaking news, the latest scholarship, cool web sites, evocative field trips, useful lesson plans, powerful primary sources, rich images and any other important developments related to the period.  We also hope this space might provide a forum for posing questions, exchanging views and for debating interpretations.  Though we call it “Blog Divided,” however, we don’t really expect this virtual space to re-fight the Civil War.  Instead, we hope that all the members of the community are united in their passion for trying to explore and understand the issues and events that divided an earlier generation of Americans and quite nearly destroyed the republic.

I just added it to my blog roll. Let me know what you think of the blog!

A Blog Dedicated to Women’s Suffrage

Hey all! I just stumbled upon a new blog (thanks to the H-Net list serv) and as a historian specifically interested in women I had to share this with all the Fun with History readers.

Votes for Women appears to be the blog for Suffrage Campaign Wagon website. This website is dedicated to recalling the history of the “Spirit of 1776″ wagon used by Edna Buckman Kearns in her efforts toward suffrage in New York state. From their website:

It was donated by I.S. Remson, a Brooklyn carriage maker, to the New York State Woman Suffrage Association in 1913. The presentation to the state organization made big news at the time, including an article in the New York Times. Part of the attention given to the old wagon stemmed from the belief that it had been built by a revolutionary patriot on Long Island in 1776. This was part of its appeal when it traveled from town to town on Long Island and when it was featured in New York City suffrage parades. The legend about the wagon’s origins no doubt was responsible for the fact that the wagon was preserved and it has survived to the present day. Other horse-drawn suffrage wagons were used on trips and in suffrage organizing, but most –if not all– reverted to other uses after their missions were fulfilled. Only in the past decade has it become known for certain that the “Spirit of 1776” was built later, perhaps after 1820, and not in 1776 as the wagon donor company, I.S. Remson believed. The wagon is important as a symbol of grassroots campaign organizing of the period. The suffrage campaign wagon is in the permanent collection of the New York State Museum in Albany, New York.

The blog is filled with brief posts about moments in the suffrage movement’s history. I’ve included in my blogroll listed to the right. I recommend taking a gander and taking a quick tour of women in history.

Vowell Writes Fun History!

I read a lot, and I mean a lot, of history books! I love the traditional, academic, published-by-an-academic-press, written-by-a-PhD history book. But I often recommend the lighter fair for those who aren’t pursuing a degree in history or are looking for a way to get excited about history. One of my favorite authors of these types of books is Sarah Vowell. I often recommend her book on the Puritans as an entryway into those often stereotyped fuddy-duddies. While The Wordy Shipmates adds nothing new to the scholarship of Puritans, Vowell’s tongue-in-cheek writing style that includes a comparison of seventeenth-century pamphlet wars to contemporary cable pundit wars makes the Puritans an approachable group.

I am eagerly anticipating Vowell’s newest work, Unfamiliar Fishes, that is due out March 22, 2011. On the anniversary of the US Maine‘s explosion that signaled the beginning of the Spanish-American war and arguably American imperialism and having recently been doing some reading on American imperialism, namely Paul Kramer’s underwhelming The Blood of Government, I look forward to the Vowell treatment on the topic. This morning I read an excerpt from her new book and she didn’t disappoint. You too can take a sneak peek here.  In this snippet from her new book, Vowell brings her reader into the Hawaiian culture that has been influenced by its invaders by beginning with a description her Hawaiian plate lunch. Immediately  I got it, I’ve often wondering why mayonnaise-drowned macaroni salad always accompanied my Hawaiian meals. And as soon as I read the Vowell’s connection between her lunch and turn-of-the-century American imperialism, I was in… and immediately saddened that I still had over a month to wait for the rest of the book!

What I love most about Vowell’s writing style is that no only does she provide a fun way to approach history but she also brings her reader along with her on her adventure of discovering such history. Vowell does this best in one of my all time favorite book’s Assassination Vacation (although I highly recommend the audio version). If this book doesn’t at least get you interested in visiting public history sites, well I just don’t know what will! No post about Vowell’s books would be complete with a shout out to my friend Mike who introduced me to Assassination Vacation years ago (Mike is also a wonderful chef and author of the blog Kitchen Coach).

So for those of you looking for more fun ways to learn about history or for history teachers trying desperately to get your students to get as excited as you do about American history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s books. And if you’re like me, you’ll be eagerly counting down until March 22 to get your next Vowell fix.


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