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Four Years at the Mount

Four Years at the Mount writers send a "Happy Birthday" to some of our nation's greatest historical figures who were born during the month of February!

Historical Figures

February 2017

Blackwellís Message

Angela Tongohan.
MSM Class of 2020

"If society will not admit of womanís free development, then society must be remodeled." ĖElizabeth Blackwell

On February 3, 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England. First working as a teacher, she eventually pursued a career in medicine. She went on to become the first woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States of America.

She was admitted to Geneva Medical College in 1847 where she ended up graduating first in her class. However, her very admittance to the school was met with much controversy. Her peers, who consisted entirely of men, thought the admittance to be some type of practical joke, whereas the public met the news with outrage.

During her time, women were still considered lesser than men. The idea of a woman doctor was silly to many of those in society because of the idea that women were thought to be less capable and much less intelligent.

Even after becoming a doctor, Blackwell continued to be faced with the prejudices of sexism. At one point in her career, Blackwell founded a private practice in New York that struggled financially due the fact that many refused to be treated by a woman.

Yet Blackwell continued to fight. By the time she died on May 31, 1910, she had founded several establishments including the New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, and the Womenís Medical College of the New York Infirmary.

Elizabeth Blackwell can very well be considered a brave and determined hero of her time. Her tenacity has helped pave the way for females of the present day to pursue a career in medicine, a feat that may be considered commonplace today but was met with great opposition a hundred years ago. She inspires women to break barriers like this one.

As a student who is pursuing a career in medicine myself, I can only imagine the difficulty of succeeding in a subject that by itself is already notoriously vigorous and could only be made worse without the support of those around you. Being that it is only my freshman year; I can still tell you numerous stories where I have bonded with my fellow classmates over the mutual exhaustion we feel as we try and soak up the information in our very thick textbooks.

Despite my attachments to Blackwellís career choice, I find that her success delivers a far broader message that may resonate with all those who have experienced prejudice. The obstacles she faced were mainly the result of societal preconceptions about women. It did not matter that Blackwell graduated first in her class, or that she had graduated from medical school, although both accomplishments would have fared her well if she were a man.

All that mattered was that Elizabeth Blackwell was a woman.

I would very much like to be able to say that these preconceptions are a thing of the past: That women and men have long since been considered equal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As is evident in the current gender wage gap, the quality of a womanís work is still considered lesser than a manís.

But why? It seems ridiculous that a person be treated as lesser than another because of a characterizing feature that the individual has no say in. This applies also to race, age, and ethnicity. We are not given an application to fill out before we are born where we get to choose what and who we are to be. We simply are who we are.

Though we are not given a choice on who we are to be, we are given a choice on how we treat others. Blackwell is correct. If society refuses to accept a person based on features that are unchangeable, rather than asking that person to change (which we have already concluded is not a possibility), society must change.

The reality is: society refuses to change.

It has become the norm to judge a person based on appearances. Racism continues to be as rampant now as it was back then.

Now how can such old issues continue to cause such controversy today? It is simple. We are still trying to change the unchangeable. Society is still treating woman as lesser, those with a different color skin continue to be viewed as outsiders, and older people are still regularly being replaced with younger faces.

Itís silly, isnít it?

When we realize that trying to change what cannot be changed is a waste of our time, society will begin to progress. When we realize that discrimination and prejudice against people for characteristics that they have had no part in choosing is unfair and cruel, society will begin to flourish.

Society must recognize that the solution to our problems cannot be met with continuous isolation and hate, but rather with acceptance and love. We must stand by those who are being oppressed unjustly and recognize that we have the power to make a change.

Discrimination and prejudice are a manifestation of false ideas exposed to us by a misinformed society. By accepting one another for who we are despite our appearances and the stereotypes connected with them, we can finally begin to evolve into a society filled with unity and peace.

Elizabeth Blackwell was a brilliant woman who did not let the negativity and prejudice of society hinder her from achieving her dreams. Just as she used society as a motivation to succeed, that same society could have easily brought her down.

Let us focus less on the outer appearances and features of a person, and realize that the greatest assets of each individual remains in their minds and in their hearts.

Read other articles by Angela Tongohan


Birthday Cheers to Charles Dickens

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSM Class of 2019

"There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast."

-Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers

Charles Dickens is one of my favorite writers, and his Oliver Twist is one of my all time favorite books. If you have a taste for a satirical and heartwarming classic, Charles Dickens should be your go-to author. I admire his entertaining writing style, historical impact, and inspiring life story.

When you read Charles Dickens, you may feel as if you are listening to an orchestra. His writing style is beautifully elaborate, and his stories evoke a sense of humor, mystery, pity, and passion. His novels cast a number of idiosyncratic characters, and their lives are always seamlessly --and brilliantly-- intertwined.

Yet Dickensí works provide more than just timeless entertainment. Dickens was an outspoken social critic and is often referred to as the first modern celebrity. He is largely responsible for the popularization of literature, as his wildly successful works helped make literature a source of mass entertainment. His verbose style also inspired other authors, including John Irving and Tom Wolfe, and Dickensian trends are common throughout J.K. Rowlingís Harry Potter series.

Dickensí works provide insight into the societal conflicts in both American and British culture at the time, and they also reflect his personal hardships. In particular, Dickensí works often reflect his love for the countryside and his struggle with industrialism, poverty, the upper class, and his marriage. When he toured America in 1842, he also became outspokenly critical of American toleration of slavery, violence, and lack of hygiene. He also took jabs at American culture which he described as being loud, rude, consumeristic, and extremely independent -- a quality which Dickens thought pitted citizens against each other.

From a biographical standpoint, Dickens overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles; thus, his wild success as an author and social critic are a testimony to his hard work, resilience, and commitment to doing justice.

Dickensí life story is a classic Ďrags to richesí tale. It began at his birth on February 7, 1812 in Portsmouth, England. He grew up as the second of eight children, and although Charlesí father, John always aspired to strike it rich, money was tight in the Dickens household. Despite their poverty, the Dickens family was a happy one. That is, until they met rock bottom.

In 1824, the family moved from their enchanting countryside home to an impoverished London neighborhood. John Dickens spent beyond their means, and consequently, the familyís financial situation grew even more desperate. In 1824, John was carted off to debtorsí prison.

In order to support the family, Charles, a young adolescent, dropped out of school and began working at a boot-blacking factory. Charles described this stage in his life as the end of his childhood innocence. He worked long, depressing hours in the factory all for a meager income. The little money he earned went straight into the vacuum that was his familyís dues. Dickensí abject work environment and hopeless poverty became a source of his social commentary throughout his novels later on. His novels consistently depict the exploitation of the poor by an aloof and iron-fisted upper class. In particular, Dickensí work at the boot-blacking factory inspired his Oliver Twist.

Dickens entered school once more when his fatherís debts were relieved by a family inheritance. When Charles was 15, however, the Dickens family continued to face financial hardship, depriving Charles of his education once again.

Charles dropped out of school in 1827 and began working as an office boy. This humble beginning marked the launching point for the rest of his career. Charlesí work as an office boy quickly evolved into a freelance reporting job and then again into reporting jobs for two prominent London newspapers. Dickens submitted cartoons under the now famous pseudonym "Boz," which Charles adopted from his brotherís nasally mispronunciation of his own name, Moses. His cartoons captured glimpses of everyday London. In 1836, Dickensí drawings were compiled and published in his first book Sketches by Boz. Sketches by Boz and The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, both cartoon series, became wildly successful.

Dickens published his second novel, Oliver Twist, in a series of monthly installments in a magazine called Bentleyís Miscellany. Oliver Twist was written as a veiled indictment of the Poor Law of 1834, which forced all charities to be run through destitute poor houses. The mass public crazed over the novel. Dickens continued to write 13 more works, including A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities, which has sold over 200 million copies.

Dickens continued to face tribulation despite his success. In the 1850s, Dickens lost two beloved relatives, and he ended his hardship riddled marriage of 20 years. In 1865, Dickens had a brush with death in the Staplehurst Railway Accident and was never fully recovered.

Charles Dickens died on June 9, 1870, but his legacy continues to have impact today. His socioeconomic commentary remains relevant as the exploitation of the poor remains a starch reality for many people in the world. Scholars from around the globe continue to study his works, and over 300 film and television adaptations of his works have been made, including the 2009 Disney animated version of A Christmas Carol.

So, folks, mark February 7th on your calendars, and crack open one of Dickensí timeless tales to celebrate his 205th birthday. Birthday cheers to one of historyís most acclaimed and inspiring authors!

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.


Happy Birthday, Mr. Steinbeck

Sarah Muir
Class of 2018

So spoke the classic American writer, John Steinbeck, "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."

A brilliant observation, but then again, you can always count on writers to supply the public with numerable similes and metaphors to explain even simple things, like ideas. Ideas make the world go Ďround, but in the case of the writer, ideas make the world; they create the situations and circumstances necessary for the writer to work at their craft. Steinbeckís novels and stories reflect this and have withstood the test of time, many of them are now considered a part of great American classic literature.

It was on February 27, 1902 when John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California. His father, John Ernst Steinbeck II worked as a treasurer for the county while his mother, Olive Hamilton worked as a school teacher. She shared in and nurtured her sonís love of reading and writing. Little did either of them know that he would grow up to be a famous author and Nobel Prize winner.

The man that would later become a famous classic American author began in a small frontier-like town in Monterey County. Since a great deal of the area at that time had rich and fertile soil, he spent many of his summers working alongside migrant workers on local farms. It was there that he was inspired to write such works as Of Mice and Men, a novel that would highlight the grim reality of migrant labor and the shed light on the dark side of human nature. His characters were mostly the hard-working, everyday man, the kind he saw and worked with frequently.

He graduated in 1919 from Salinas High School and attended Stanford University near Palo Alto, to study as an English Major. He left school in 1925 without a degree and made his way to New York City, pursuing his plan on becoming a published writer. Unfortunately, he left New York a few years later after his works were rejected. He returned home to California where he worked as a tour guide and where he fell in love and married Carol Henning in 1930. Even after their divorce in 1941, she remained an influence on his work, becoming the inspiration for the character Mary Talbot in Steinbeckís novel Cannery Row which would be published in 1945.

While he managed to publish novels such as, Cup of Gold, and other short stories, it was not until 1935 when he received critical acclaim for his novel Tortilla Flat. With the attention of this novel, Steinbeck received his first award and first medal from the Californian Commonwealth Club for best Californian novel. In another two years, he would write his most well-known novel, Of Mice and Men. The play adaptation of it would win him the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1937, he wrote the Grapes of Wrath, a novel that would earn him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1940.

Soon after his first divorce in 1941, he met and married his second wife Gwendolyn Cogner in 1943. While world famous for his novels, Steinbeck also traveled abroad to Europe and Africa as a World War II correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune while at the same time, writing novels, stage-plays, short stories, and producing documentaries. In the early 1940ís, for instance, he produced a documentary about Mexico called The Forgotten Village and spent six weeks in the Gulf of Mexico with Ed Ricketts, a noted Marine biologist and good friend to Steinbeck, on a research expedition, and his work Lifeboat was nominated for an Oscar for best story.

Ed Ricketts was a long-time friend of Steinbeck. They both would take expeditions to the coast and they would even write a small book together that would be published as soon as the United States entered into the second World War. Due to the timing, the work did not sell well, but Ricketts and Steinbeck remained lifelong friends. Tragedy struck when Ricketts died in 1948 after a fatal car accident and Steinbeck fell into a period of depression that was punctuated by his second divorce. However, two years later he met his third and final wife Elaine Anderson Scott, and two years after that he wrote East of Eden.

It was December 20, 1968 when he died at the age of 66, leaving in the wake of his passing, a legacy of 27 books that highlighted manís struggle with himself and the light and darkness that exists in all of us. His writings also worked as a memory trapped in the pages and ink of his stories that served as a reminder to the California of his youth; the sights, smells, and the feeling that he tied to Salinas Valley.

It was sometime during my Junior year of High School when I first read Steinbeck. It was East of Eden, the same worn paperback version that my mother read when she was in high school; its pages yellow and fragile and the spine was nearly torn in half from years of use. It is still on my bookshelf, right next to a newer version. It has taken its place in my heart as one of my favorite American novels. Even Steinbeck labeled it his best work, a culmination of everything he had learned throughout his years of writing.

After decades of writing, he won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his imaginative and realistic writing. However, this decision was heavily censured both by American and foreign critics. Even Steinbeck did not believe that he was the best choice to receive the award, but accepted it and took pride in the accomplishment. During his speech he said, "Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed." Those who love literature, whether as a reader or a writer, know this to be true and know that with the passing of time the need for it grows ever stronger.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


Honest Abe

Leanne Leary
MSM Class of 2017

From the time I was three and begged my parents to let me go to pre-school with my older brother, I have always had a, maybe strange, love for being in school. I loved everything about it. I cherished sitting in the classroom and listening to my teachers. I was in awe that a person could know as much as some of these adults did. I loved the hallways, lunch, everything. My brother and sister were the complete opposite. They would rather be outside running in circles. They would probably have rather shoveled snow for a day or had sauerkraut for dinner than sit in a classroom for even 20 minutes.

Naturally, they mastered the art of playing sick. Seriously, they were "sick" so often that I know my mother stopped believing them, but would buy them ginger ale nonetheless and let them stay home. Who knows what they did on these days, I still donít. In my mind, as I sat at my desk in class, they probably ate all the chocolate or played video games all day, but they swore by their illnesses and were in bed by the time anybody else got home. I watched this happen for eight years, until October of my 8th grade year.

The day had come, I needed to skip school. I had watched both of my siblings perfect this performance for years and I knew what I needed to do. Get just a little bit sick the night before, not sick enough to have to miss practice or go to bed early, of course, but sick enough to plant a seed. Maybe a headache or an upset stomach? I canít remember now what ailed me that night, but it must have worked because when I woke up the next morning and was "too sick" to go to school, my parents didnít question me. My mom brought a glass of ginger ale to my night stand and told me to rest and call if I needed anything.

An hour or so went by and I heard the garage door shut slowly. I stood up, looked out my window, and watched as my dadís car turned left out of the cul-de-sac. I ran out of my bedroom, down the stairs, and grabbed the remote. I turned on the TV as quickly as possible and stood about four feet from it for a few minutes until I was sure I could turn and sit on the couch without missing anything.

I am utterly embarrassed now to admit to you what channel I turned to, so please, please, donít judge me for this.

I sat down and looked onward, the History Channel logo was at the bottom of the screen and I was filled with a joy and thrill that can only come to one 13-year-old who skipped school for the first time to watch an eight-hour long documentary on Abraham Lincoln.

I donít remember exactly when or how it happened, but at some point during an American History Class I had developed a sort of love for Abraham Lincoln. I was absolutely intrigued by everything about him. His life, nicknames, disposition, quirks, actions, philosophy, and more made him stand out, and so, I watched almost every minute of the documentary that day.

Even after eight hours of biographical information, my favorite things about Lincoln still werenít his road to the Presidency or his actions during his time in office.

I was drawn to Lincoln for various reasons, here they are:

  1. Neighbors from his childhood are recorded saying that he would readily walk miles to borrow a book. Lincoln lived in Perry County, Indiana at the time. Reading materials were in short supply in this area, and neither of his parents were literate. Lincolnís parents still encouraged him to read. To solve the obvious tribulation in play, Lincoln read his family Bible and he walked miles for books.
  2. He literally comes from the middle of nowhere. The man was born in Kentucky and moved to the wilderness of Indiana. He started his adult life in physical labor and ended up rising to the highest possible position of power and guiding our country through its most trying time in History. If this doesnít convince you that you can do anything, I donít know what will.
  3. He gained the popularity that eventually led to his first run in politics simply by being a great story-teller in the community. He was entertaining and friendly, and this led him to public office. This is appealing for obvious reasons.
  4. He couldnít settle into one career, we have this in common, him and I. Lincoln worked in manual labor, he was a store keeper, a postmaster, a general store owner, a politician, a lawyer, a politician again, and finally the President. This gives all the young people in the world a little bit of hope.
  5. Lincolnís cabinet, once elected President, was comprised almost only of his political rivals. He perfected "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer," in his first days in office.
  6. He had a little bit of spunk and a lot of defiance in him. He faced the same defiance from political opponents and even from those on his team, but he met it with the more of the same. In response to the siege of Fort Sumter, Lincoln distributed millions from the Treasury for war material without appropriation, he called for nearly 100,000 military volunteers without a declaration of war, and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus. Essentially, Lincoln did what he needed to do.
  7. He had values that were unpopular, and he stuck by them. His motives in the Civil War and in the freeing of slaves have their roots in his political and economic ideals, but he believed that all people, by the directive of our Founding Fathers, have certain rights. He fought to uphold these rights and was so revolutionary that he changed the face of our country forever. (Okay, this is an obvious one.)
  8. Lastly, he coined, "A house divided cannot stand," a phrase that has never lost its relevance or importance.

On February 12th I will be enjoying my annual ice cream in celebration of the birthday of the only man who has ever been cool enough for me to skip school. Happy Birthday, Honest Abe!

Read other articles by Leanne Leary

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