August 2008

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This Sunday, August 31, will see the Sixteenth Annual Tug Boat Race on the Hudson River. The event lasts from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and begins in Hudson River Park at Pier 84, West 44th Street and Hudson River. The race is sponsored by the Working Harbor Committee, whose mission is “to strengthen awareness of the
working
harbor’s
history and vitality today.”

You can view the start of the race at Pier I, near 72nd Street in Riverside Park South. To see the middle of the race, go to Clinton Cove at 55th Street and Hudson River. The race ends at around noon at Pier 84.

You can also buy tickets to view the race from a spectator boat (adults $35, children and seniors $30).

nyc-tug-boat-race-07-by-will-van-dorp.jpgYou can find an account of last year’s race and more information about this year at tugster: a waterblog (the source of the picture above).

In the end, in a wonderfully choreographed bit of political theater, it was the New York delegation, led by Senator Hillary Clinton, that put Barack Obama over the top at the Democratic Convention yesterday — in a most unconventional way:

It was the first time in 50 years that the Democrats had conducted a roll call outside of primetime, but the moment was timed to coincide with the networks’ evening news broadcasts.

While I was writing yesterday’s post about the Women’s Strike for Equality, I tried to find out more about what had actually gone on in Duffy Square, the site of the mock ceremony for a future statue of Susan B. Anthony.

The only thing I could come up with was this poem, posted on the website of a group called Veteran Feminists of America, which seemed to offer a few more concrete details about the event. (It’s also the page where I found the photo I used in yesterday’s post.)

Statues for Women
by Elayne Snyder

What we did, we did
at Duffy Square
on that island in the
middle of
Broadway
between blinking porno
pictures –
a robber’s run from
Forty-second Street.

We …
we did a dastardly thing
a hundred of us –
maybe more than a hundred …
having marched there –
burdened, but singing
with sparklers in our hands.

We came with purpose
and permit and police.
We walked there from
Seneca Falls
from suffrage
and
from out of the skin
of our private experience
to raise the statue of
a feminist
high above our heads,
A symbol.

We watched silently
as the sculptor,
her arms around the
paper mache skirt,
shimmied up over
old Duffy’s bronze body
and gently … breathlessly
placed
the hollow statue
at the crossroads of
the world.

Triumphantly stepping down,
she was arrested.

Minutes later, the statue …
Susan B. Anthony
was recklessly toppled to the ground
– stomped, kicked, crushed
and
completely destroyed
by chuckling pigs.

There are, however, four, perhaps five
statues of women
still standing in the city of New York:
Mother Goose
Joan of Arc
Mother Cabrini
Mary Poppins
and Alice in Wonderland.

February 12, 1972

This morning I found an item in the August VFA newsletter that suggests the papier-mâché statue wasn’t part of the 1970 event but happened a couple years later in 1972. The article in the newsletter is in the first person but isn’t by-lined. It’s not individually linked, so I’ll just give you the whole below. I’ll try to track down the author’s identity and report back later. The anecdote’s a good one, though:

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In 1972, as president of NYC NOW I was planning the Eastern Regional Conference to take place at the old Commodore
Hotel near Grand Central. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a march after the end of the conference?
And we could place a statue of Susan B Anthony near Father Duffy’s on Times Square!”

So I called artist Suzanne Benton and asked her to make us a papier maché of Susan B for the event, but
Suzanne was in midst of planning an exhibition so couldn’t do it. However, she was so inspired that she later sculpted
a beautiful cast bronze statue of our foremother which she brought along to feminist events for years. Later, the
original welded steel Susan B. from which the cast was made was sold to David Miskin, who later moved to Paris
and recently donated it to the American Embassy there. Vivien Leone bought the second cast and it is now at the
Susan B. Anthony house in Rochester, NY.

Meanwhile Kate Millett, whom I’d also asked to make us a statue, got young architect Lorna McNeur in on it. Lorna
not only made a huge one of the great Susan B, but at the demonstration suddenly scuffled up Father Duffy and placed
our statue on his head. The policemen who were “protecting” our demonstration watched her, and when she
slid down they arrested her. JoAnn Evansgardner, in from Pittsburgh, rushed up. Stretching her 5-foot 2-inch frame,
addressed the officers, “What’s
wrong here? I’m Dr JoAnn Evansgardner. May I help?”
But they ordered her into the patrol car to take her to the station with Lorna. By this
time JoAnn’s husband Gerry rushed up to help her, and he too was carted along.

Among the witnesses to this brouhaha was 90-something Jeannette Rankin and our own Emily Goodman, a deceptively
quiet young pioneer feminist lawyer.

A few weeks later we met at the courthouse downtown, Emily, JoAnn, Lorna (shaking with fear) and me. I’ll always
remember tiny Emily standing before the judge seated several feet above her. He listened to the story and talked
to her in a gently patronizing manner. When he set a date. Emily said, “We want the hearing on August 26, your Honor.” “OK,
August 26,”
he agreed.“And we’d like a woman judge, your Honor,” Emily continued. “What!” came
the thundered angry reply, “I’ll
tell you, young woman, you’d have a better chance with me!”
(There was only one woman judge then, and a rather unsympathetic one, as were most successful
women in the man’s world as it was then). Quietly and firmly, Emily said, “You’ve just disqualified yourself, your honor.” The judge rose in fury and stalked out and the case was dismissed. (In that wonderful era
of feminist activism, our mayor John V. Lindsey and most New Yorkers were sympathetic to almost anything feminists
did.)

And, by the way, this was just one of the cases young Emily, now Judge Emily Jane Goodman, handled so beautifully
and so successfully for feminists.

According to the newsletter, which credits Bettye Lane with the photo, Lorna McNeur is now an affiliated lecturer on architecture at Cambridge University.

I’m kind of becoming obsessed by this Susan B. Anthony story. Wouldn’t it be cool if an actual statue were placed there? Next time I’m near Times Square (who goes there on purpose? zoiks!) I want to try to find the statue of Father Duffy.

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THIS DAY IN NEW YORK HISTORY

[Cross-posted to one of my favorite blogs, The Edge of the American West — the folks from whom we stole the “This Day in History” idea in the first place.]

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On August 26, 1970, the fiftieth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, the notorious feminist author and activist Betty Friedan, out-going president of the four-year-old National Organization of Women, led tens of thousands of women in a march down Fifth Avenue toward Bryant Park, where, packed on the lawns behind the New York Public Library, the crowd heard addresses from Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Kate Millett, among others.

The Women’s Strike for Equality, as it was billed, called on women to withhold their labor for a day as a way to protest unequal pay — roughly 60 cents to every dollar a man made at the time — though the march itself didn’t begin until after 5 pm in case potential marchers elected to stay on the job. Organizers also asked housewives to refuse work: “Don’t Cook Dinner — Starve a Rat Tonight,” a typical sign read. The Equality march even included some who were old enough to have paraded for women’s suffrage over a half century earlier, and some marchers demanded complete constitutional equality under the Equal Rights Amendment, which, once it passed the House in 1971 and the Senate in 1972, would spend the next decade being debated, ratified (and in some cases rescinded) by states, yet ultimately refused.

(August 26, 1970, also happens to have been the day I was born, across the continent in the rural Southwest, a world away from New York City and Women’s Lib alike. A few years later I would ride with other children on a July 4th parade float, dressed as a tree holding a stop sign that read: “STOP THE ERA!” But I digress.)

The Times coverage seems by turns both excited by the prospect of the women’s movement and bewildered by the day’s spectacle, noting the support of state and national political figures for commemorative celebrations as well as the apparently surprising fact that the Bryant Park rally was uninterrupted by hecklers. The article also reports on oddball moments: for instance, a smaller crowd had gathered earlier in Duffy Square (Broadway between 46th and 47th), where one “Ms. Mary Ordovan, dressed in cassock and surplice as a ‘symbolic priest,'” consecrated the spot for a statue of Susan B. Anthony, which would replace the one of Father Francis Duffy, a WWI chaplain and Hell’s Kitchen reformer. Crossing herself, Ordovan called on the name of “The Mother, the Daughter, and the Holy Granddaughter. Ah-Women, Ah-Women.”

In a brief aside, the reporter then explains that “‘Ms.’ is used by women who object to the distinction between ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs.’ to denote marital status.” (Within a year Ms. magazine would be founded by Steinem.)

I first came across this Times article — which was itself my introduction to the history of the Women’s Strike for Equality — a decade ago when, as a grad student in American Studies, I had the chance, by an odd set of circumstances, to teach several semesters of U.S. Women’s History. The experience was rewarding and humbling for several reasons — not least because the classes often included one or two elderly women who spent their retirements as “evergreen” students, taking a class a semester in topics that interested them. Their presence initially made me somewhat uncomfortable once we’d reach the 1940s and I’d realize that from here on out some of my students had lived — as women — through the very history I had to lecture on, as a 28-year-old male.

But the courses were also made challenging by the advent of what was just then being called “post-feminism,” a fact that made me somewhat uncomfortable when I’d inevitably realize that a lot of my younger students thought they had no need for feminism in their own lives. To them the world as all a hold-hands-and-sing Coca Cola Christmas commercial; they thought gender inequality belonged to the past or to distant cultures whose traditions, short of female circumcision and slavery, needed to be respected. When I asked them to recall Hillary Clinton’s controversial “stay home and bake cookies” moment during the 1992 campaign — after all, it had happened only five or six years earlier — they reminded me that they had been in middle school at the time; such things were as remote to them as playground bullies and kickball.

Only a quarter-century after the Women’s Strike for Equality, as we were routinely told in the late 1990s, the television series Ally McBeal had driven the last nails in the movement’s coffin. Remember that Time Magazine cover? Looking back, it also seems like a watershed moment when feminist studies in the academy gave way to cultural studies of feminism; rather than argue about what women had or hadn’t gained, how they’d done it, and when, we’d henceforth talk, for better or worse, about how feminists exploited or were exploited by celebrity culture and mass media. Was the Equality march really a landmark event in American women’s history? Or had Friedan’s media tactics simply ensured it would be remembered that way?

Either way, what those 50,000 women had done — their march spilling over from the police-approved single lane, filling the Avenue from curb to curb — seemed almost impossible to imagine, not so much because their feminism seemed outdated, but because so many younger women had become politically apathetic, appeased by a modest set of gains that masqueraded as equality. The media were full of stories about younger women who bought the line that feminism had done them wrong, powerful women who decided to quit their jobs, once they’d begun to reproduce, and give traditional stay-at-home motherhood a chance. And voila! We have contemporary Park Slope, Brooklyn, and its hordes of organic, free-range — but highly monitored — children.

At 3pm on August 26, 1970, according to the Times,

Sixty women jammed into the reception area of the Katherine Gibbs
School, on the third floor of the Pan Am building at 200 Park Avenue,
to confront Alan L. Baker, president of the secretarial school, with their
charges that the school was ‘fortifying’ and ‘exploiting’ a system that kept women in subservient roles in business. Mr. Baker said he would ‘take a good look’ at the question. About 10 members of NOW, starting at 9 A.M. and continuing on into the afternoon, visited six firms, business and advertising agencies, to present mocking awards for allegedly degrading images of women and for underemploying women.

Among the businesses they visited, the article concludes somewhat dryly, was the New York Times itself. Who knew that NOW anticipated Michael Moore by all those years? Too bad they hadn’t taken more cameras with them.

Betty Friedan, the “mother of modern feminism,” died in 2006 on her 85th birthday; her landmark 1963 book The Feminine Mystique, reductively credited with jump-starting the movement, is now generally considered quaint — even offensive in places — if surprisingly compelling.

Gloria Steinem, on whom I developed a mad, Harold-and-Maude style crush on hearing her speak in the early 90s, is now in her 75th year; during the recent primary season she endorsed Clinton and wrote in a Times op-ed that gender, rather than race, remained the bigger obstacle to equality in American life.

Bella Abzug wore big hats and talked refreshingly brash talk until she died in 1998; I hope she was spared the debate about Ally McBeal‘s impact on the movement.

Kate Millett, who in 1970 had just published her excoriating if wooden Columbia Ph.D. dissertation as Sexual Politics (the only really exciting parts are the summaries and quotations from dirty, sexist books) survived years of troubled relations with media outlets and, more recently, Bowerydevelopers; though her Christmas tree farm has gone the way of her downtown loft, she continues to run an upstate artist’s colony for women at age 74.

Can anyone name four feminist leaders of their stature — or even their celebrity — today? If not, whose fault is it?

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The two FringeNYC productions about which we wrote here recently — The Alice Complex and III — have each received awards for excellence from the festival.

The Alice Complex received awards for Outstanding Direction (Bill Oliver, shared with three other productions) and Outstanding Set Design (Tania Bijlani).

III received the award for Outstanding Play, along with three other productions.

Congratulations to all whose hard work went into these two productions. Special congratulations to our friends Peter Nickowitz and Joe Salvatore.

You can find complete list of award winners on playbill.com.

We’ll close with this video of Joe talking about III.


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I blogged this elsewhere last year, but this afternoon I’m leading an annual Sweets and Cheap Eats on the LES walking tour for students returning to the Residential College where I live as faculty in residence.

If you were to add something to this tour, what would it be?

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allen_barelona.jpgBY JESSIE MORGAN-OWENS

Woody Allen’s article in today’s New York Times, “Excerpts from the Spanish
Diary,” is such classic “Woody Allen” that before my first cup of coffee and before reading the by-line, I knew it was him, because his voice had taken over the usual reading-voice I hear in my head.

Try this as an experiment — try to read the first line as Javier Bardem and not as Woody Allen:

“January 2nd: Received offer to write and direct film in Barcelona. Must be cautious. Spain is sunny, and I freckle.”

Or this one, a love note to New York from Barcelona:

“I never like mixing business with pleasure, but I may have to slake the lust of each one in turn to get the film completed. Perhaps I can give Penélope Wednesdays and Fridays, satisfying Scarlett Tuesdays and Thursdays. Like alternate-side parking.”

That last one works as Bardem better, but everything changes when you get to the Upper West Side.

The whole piece is a promotional piece for the film Vicky Christina Barcelona, which the Times held until after they ran their own review last week. But only Woody Allen gets to advertise both his movie and his sexual prowess on page 9 of the weekend Arts and Leisure section. 

The last line: “It’s lonely at the top.”

Penelope Cruz also has an interview, “Screen Test,” posted on the site. She says, “I fell in love with New York the first time I came here. I was blown away. I said, I feel like I’ve been here before, I want to live here … you can always feel like a student when you’re here.”
She then puts in a dig at Los Angeles, a la Annie Hall.

[The image above is taken from the nytimes.com.]

Jessie Morgan-Owens is a professional photographer and a doctoral student in the English Department at NYU. She has taught the Writing New York course with us for the past two years and will be a regular contributor to this site. To see examples of Jessie’s photography, visit her site morganowens.com.

Korean Film

The New York Korean Film Festival begins today with a showing of  Jeon Soo-il’s With a Girl of Black Soil at the Cinema Village. Sponsored by the Korea Society, the Festival continues through August 31 with films at the Cinema Village (22 E 12th St in Manhattan) and the BAMcinématek (at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue).

Here’s a trailer describing the Festival:

The festival includes 15 New York premieres and a retrospective devoted to the work of actor Ahn Sung-ki, often described as “the national actor” by the Korean press. On Wednesday, August 27 at 6:30 p.m., a panel entitled “Korean Actor on the World Stage: A Discussion with Ahn Sung-ki” will be presented at the Korea Society (950 Third Avenue, Eighth Floor, corner of 57th Street). Admission is $15, $10 for students and members.

The showing of Radio Star  (2006, 115 minutes) at 6:40 p.m. on August 26 at the Cinema Village will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Ahn. Click here to see the complete schedule of films.

logo72dpi.jpgI’ve mentioned before my abiding affection for the folks who run the Metropolitan Playhouse. I feel extraordinarily lucky to teach earlier American lit (including 19c drama) and the literary cultures of NYC in a neighborhood — one of the few in the world, I’m sure, if not the only one in existence — where you can actually see earlier American plays regularly staged. From Mowatt’s Fashion to Fitch’s The City and Zangwill’s The Melting Pot, the Playhouse is also its own virtual “City on Stage” archive; indeed, I’m pretty sure my idea for the chapter I’m currently writing on that topic gestated over several years of watching Met Playhouse productions.

Of course, our encounter with these plays in such an intimate space differs radically from how 19c and early 20c audiences encountered them — often in enormous theaters. But I’ll take it, and I’ll take my students along as often as possible.

The coming season has a lot to offer theater and Am Lit buffs: They’ll be doing Nowadays by George Middleton (one of Emma Goldman’s favorite American playwrights), a 1914 play that deals with gender issues; O’Neill’s Anna Christie (woo-hoo!), and an adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’m especially looking forward to the Middleton, since I’m working, when I get a chance between more immediate deadlines, on a chapter of our cultural history that situates Goldman and O’Neill in overlapping, but not identical, theater and intellectual circles.  I’d never heard of Middleton before I starting researching Goldman’s lectures on modern drama.

And then there’s Melvillapalooza! For each of the last several seasons, the Playhouse has hosted a festival of small pieces celebrating, roasting, or inspired by famous American authors, including Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne. This year our beloved HM holds pride of place. I can only hope someone dramatizes the death scene from Pierre, one of Melville’s finest NYC scenes!

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In today’s New York Times, Anita Gates has written a brief, positive review of The Alice Complex by Peter Nickowitz, which I discussed here a couple of weeks ago. (The picture above of actress Lisa Banes as Sally Keating comes from the review.) The final performance of the show is tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. at the Cherry Lane Theater. You can buy tickets online until 9:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow at the box office (cash only). The FringeNYC Festival continues through Sunday.

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