More Than Oprah

Many people are aware that Oprah Winfrey is the richest black woman in America, with a net worth of more than 2.8 billion dollars (which still doesn’t put her in the top 10 richest American women). She is, however, in the top 10 richest self-made billionaire American woman – and the only African-American woman to make the cut. But long before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove.

Success Started Early

Breedlove was America’s first self-made female millionaire. Born in 1867, she was an orphan by the age of 7, a domestic by the age of ten, and married her way out at 14. After several marriages that ended in widowhood or divorce, in 1905 Breedlove began her own line of beauty and hair care products for African American women (under the name Madame C.J. Walker), many of whom were going bald because of the harsh lye soaps of the era. The need was great, her products worked, and she went on to become an American philanthropist.

To a degree. Marjorie Joyner was one of her employees. Marjorie became the first African American woman to be issued a patent – for the first machine to permanently wave hair (no Toni kits back then!). However, she never saw a dime for her creation – the royalties and rights went to Madame C.J. Walker! Next time you go to a salon or use a home perm kit, remember to think of Marjorie Joyner.

When we think of African-American women in history, we seem to get stuck on Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and Coretta Scott King, but they are just the very tip of the iceberg.

The Long Hard Climb for Recognition

It’s been a slow, hard climb for African-American women. While Hattie McDaniel won a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for Gone With the Wind in 1939 (the first African American to do so), a Best Actress award didn’t come until Halle Berry won in 2001 for Monster’s Ball. That’s a long wait. While the first white woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was in 1909, the first African-American woman wasn’t until the great Toni Morrison won in 1993. Although actress Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame showed African-American women as educated members of space crews in 1966 (and gave television’s first interracial kiss), Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman astronaut, didn’t make it to space until 1992. To this day, African American women are disproportionately victims of more violent crimes than any other group of women – by more than double. While more African-American women are enrolled in college than any other group (9.7%), they make up only 8% of the workforce, and earn only 64¢ on the dollar compared to 78¢ for white women; 21% of African-American women live in poverty, compared to just 9% of white women. Only now, decades later, are we beginning to appreciate the remarkable contributions of African-American women in the fields of science and math, such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who helped launch NASA’s space program by doing the math in their heads.

Making Strides

While there is still so far to go in equalizing opportunities for minority women, the 21st century has shown remarkable gains, with not only Condoleeza Rice becoming National Security Advisor and then Secretary General under President Bush, but with Michelle Obama becoming the First Lady of the United States.  African-American women continue to enter politics, with record wins in 2018, including the first African-American women elected to Congress from Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. So grab a novel, a biography, a great DVD on the lives and achievements of African American women, and catch up on some of the great history you never learned about in school.

 

         

  

             

Presidential Books and Movies

Today’s blog post is by Bill Basel, Head of Adult Services.

The month of February includes Presidents’ Day – which honors two great U.S. presidents – Washington and Lincoln.

 

From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, CPL has loads of books, videos and downloadables about the men (and first ladies) in the White House who have influenced the U.S. for 230 years.  As you can imagine there is lots of material on all the head honchos from Saintly Abe and Father of Our Country George to the oft defiled James Buchanan (who dodged the slavery question as the Union was falling apart).

From POTUS to FLOTUS, we’ve got the best of and worst of, those who have made Pennsylvania Avenue their home in fiction, non-fiction and biography – in print, audio and video:

41 : A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush.

Becoming by Michele Obama.

The First Lady by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois.

First Ladies : Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women by Susan Swain and C-SPAN.

Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis (DVD and Blu-ray), based on the book Team of Rivals : the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Jackie starring Natalie Portman  (DVD and Blu-ray).

The Roosevelts : an Intimate History a film by Ken Burns (DVD).

Winter Project Idea: Researching Your Family Tree

Today’s blog post comes to us from Bill, head of Adult Services.

Have you ever thought about tracing your family history? Family members will likely have some of the answers to get that family tree started, but after that, where do you go to find out more?

 

 

CPL offers access within the library to two family history research resources – Ancestry Library Edition and American Ancestors. Discover your roots at the library!  Begin exploring by searching a surname.  It’s as easy as that.  Anyone can come to the library to search through databases that contain more than a billion names – some that reach as far back as the 1400s.  Ancestry Library Edition is the library equivalent to Ancestry.com.  American Ancestors is the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  Established in 1845, it features a wealth of data about New England and New York.

To get the most out of your experience, come prepared with a list of ancestors to research.  Make a list of the names of every direct ancestor you can think of.  Census data, birth, marriage, and death records, military records, Social Security death records, and immigration lists are all available for searching.  These records provide clues to the past – places where ancestors lived, names of relatives, birth or death dates – that lead to more information.

You may also find these websites helpful:

 Principles of Family History Research

Getting Started: Tips to Help You on Your Way

Unlocking the mystery to your own family history is a rewarding experience that challenges your research skills and results in answers that have personal meaning.  The pieces of your family puzzle can create a full picture of your family’s story.

 

Call the library’s Reference Department at 203-272-2245, ext. 4, with any questions.

Myth-ing Persons : Heroes of Myth and Legend

January began as one of the last months of year, not the first.  The start of the Roman calendar (and the astrological one) was March. Back then there were only ten months to the year, totaling 304 days. Between was a miasmic 66 monthless days of “winter.” According to legend, Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome (after Romulus himself), added January and February to codify that winter term (along with a catch-up month every other year of 22 days).

Was Numa a real figure? History leans toward yes, born around 753 BC. Both Plutarch and Livy (major Roman writers) wrote about him. He codified Roman laws and religion, so we know he actually lived, but like many legends, there are stories about him that are most likely fable.

Every culture has their grandiose heroes of myth and legend. Some we know are fantasy (Beowulf), while others we know are fact (Jesse James). Let’s look at some famous heroes that history can’t make up its mind about.

Mulan

Disney’s Mulan is based on a Chinese poem called The Ballad of Mulan. She is believed to have lived somewhere between 386 CE and 620 CE (if you’re not up on your history, Common Era has replaced the Anno Domini). She takes her aging father’s place in the army, and serves for twelve years without her fellow soldiers realizing she’s a woman. Depending on the source, her name might be Hua Mulan, Zhu Mulan, or Wei Mulan. Although she’s first mentioned by the 500’s, historians can’t decide if she’s real or just an interesting story.

 

 

 

 

John Henry

The steel-driving African American of song fame who managed to hammer more rock than the new-fangled steam drill before collapsing and dying was likely a real man. In the 1920’s, sociologist Guy Johnson tracked down not only people who claimed to have worked with John Henry, but one man who claimed to have seen the showdown. The front runner for the actual location is during the cutting of the Big Bend Tunnel in Talcott, West Virginia, around 1870, but no one has definitive proof.

 

 

 

 

William Tell

A folk hero of Switzerland, Tell was an expert bowman. When Switzerland fell under control of the Habsburgs, a magistrate put his hat on a pole and demanded all citizens bow before it, or be imprisoned. While in town with his son, Tell refused to bow, was arrested and sentenced to death – though, since he was such a marksman, the Magistrate would let him go if he could shoot an apple off his son’s head. Tell did so, was arrested anyway, escaped, and the people rose up in rebellion, in an act considered the founding of the Swiss Confederacy, around 1307. Some historians believe Tell is merely a new twist on an old Danish fable.

Robin Hood

     The story of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Prince John, King Richard, and the Band of Merrymen has been told for almost a thousand years. We know King Richard and Prince John are real (Richard took the throne in 1189), but there is debate about Robin Hood. Most likely a yeoman, not a noble, the name Robin was about as common as fleas, and the word Hood (sometimes Wood; the Old English were creative spellers) simply meant a man who made or wore hoods – more common then than hats. History’s been singing about him since the 1300’s, but his true identity isn’t known. If you can, check out the BBC series Robin of Sherwood.

 

 

 

 

 

King Arthur

Oh, Arthur! How we want to believe! Of all legends, yours is perhaps the most influential of any! Your mage Merlin/Myrrdin is the direct ancestor of Gandalf, Dungeons and Dragons, Dumbledore, and more.  “Arthur” (depending on spelling) is believed to have actually been a military leader who fought battles against the Saxons around the end of the 5th century. The earliest possible references to him date to the 600’s, though some discuss a Battle of Badon but give no mention of a king named Arthur.  Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first to give a romanticized version in the 1100’s, then Thomas Malory came along in the 1400’s and standardized the legend. T.H. White called him the Once and Future King, and Lerner and Loewe put it all to music so we could remember it easier. Arthur was probably real, but not quite as mystical as we’ve been made to believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January’s a harsh month, but 31 days is sure better than 66, so curl up with a legendary figure, real or possibly not, and decide for yourself.

 

What’s Happening at Cheshire Library in January

The new year is right around the corner! Start 2019 off right with educational and entertaining programs from Cheshire Library! Here are a few to tempt you:

Scrabble Evenings

Tuesdays (Jan 8, 15, 22, and 29), 6:00 – 8:00PM

The perfect winter pastime – bring your friends & family and join your community in a game of Scrabble every Tuesday night in January. Please bring your up-to-date library card to check out a game board at the Checkout Desk, them meet your fellow players on the newly renovated Upper Level. No registration required.

Bad Art Night

Thursday, January 10, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00PM

Bad Art Night is back! At this laid-back, fun event we encourage you to make the worst piece of art that you can. Bad art and craft supplies will be provided, but you can also bring your own. This even is for adults, because why should kids get to have all the fun? Come join us and have a few laughs while you’re at it! Registration is required.

Survivors Swing Band Concert

Sunday, January 13, 2019, 2:00 – 3:30PM

The Survivors Swing Band are a Connecticut-based 7-piece professional jazz band that play the hot tunes and soothing ballads from the fabulous era of Swing plus many of the wonderful melodies from the two decades that followed. Bring your dancing shoes!

Meditation: a 3-Part Program

Wednesdays, (January 16, 23, and 30), 6:30 – 8:00PM

This is a three week meditation training led by Sue Maisano. It is advisable to stay committed to complete all three parts, because each training session builds upon the previous session. This workshop meets three times: each class builds on the previous ones, it is recommended that you register for all three sessions: January 16, January 23, January 30.

Teen Drop-in Programs:

Anime Club : Friday, January 4, 2019, 3:00 – 4:30PM

Can’t get enough Anime and Manga? Be an “Otaku” and join the Cheshire Anime Club! We’ll meet monthly, read and talk about what’s hot in the world of Manga, and watch some of the latest Anime releases on the big screen! Grades 7 -12.

Yu-Gi-Oh: It’s Time to Duel! : Friday, January 25, 2019, 3:00 – 4:30PM

A Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game tournament here at CPL!   Just bring your cards, and join in the fun!  Grades 7-12.

Abraham Lincoln: the Life of an American President

Thursday, January 17, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00PM

Born in a log cabin, he rose through self-education to the highest office in the land. However, he was considered by many to lack the qualifications needed for the intellectual and political demands of his position. This program will explore the life and personality of this powerful but surprisingly enigmatic figure in our history, including his childhood, professional career and political ambitions. Registration is required.

Documentary Film: The White House Inside Story

Thursday, January 24, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00PM

Celebrate the 200-year history of the White House through the stories of the First Families who have called it home, and through the recollections of workers, historians and members of the press who have spent time within the illustrious building. Registration is appreciated for this adult program.

U.S. Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band Concert

Sunday, January 27, 2019, 2:00 – 4:00PM

The United States Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band will be performing classic jazz, blues, and rags with a “New Orleans” flavor. The Dixieland Jazz Band has entertained audiences across America, and around the world. Please join us for a very special concert!

UPDATE: The band will not be able to perform if the U.S. government is still in shutdown on January 27. Please check the CPL Event Calendar before the event to see if the concert has been cancelled.

The Geography of Coffee

Monday, January 28, 2019, 6:30 – 8:00PM

This talk will discuss the role of geography in understanding production, movement, and consumption of coffee around the world. Which countries are coffee powerhouses and why? What is the role of sustainability in coffee production? Why was it considered the “devil’s drink” for so long? We will include a tasting and food pairing from three different coffee growing regions of the world. Registration is required.

An Evening with First Lady Dolley Madison

Thursday, January 31, 2019, 6:00 – 8:00PM

“Mrs. Madison” will speak about the founding of our nation,  her husband James Madison’s role as the Father of the American Constitution, and events of the early Republic. Registration is required.