Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. Famous Male Author

Yesterday I received the Fall issue of Fiat Lux, the quarterly newsletter from the UC Berkeley Library Development Office.

As usual, it included a chatty one-page "letter" -- i.e., essay -- by Thomas C. Leonard, who holds the title Kenneth and Dorothy Hill University Librarian. Titled "Hauling it: how donors help" it started with a one-paragraph story about "a northern husband and his southern wife" who in the 1830s schlepped (that's my word, not his) discarded newspapers from "an exclusive reading room in New York City" to New Jersey. They searched those southern newspapers for information on how slaves were treated, and, ultimately, produced American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published by the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839. Mr. Leonard comments and, finally, reveals the name of at least one person in this saga: "By collecting the slave owners' horrifying words about how they treated slaves, Theodore Dwight Weld and his wife changed the national debate."

The emphasis in the preceding quote is mine. Just who was his wife? The noted abolitionist and women's rights advocate, Angelina Emily Grimke. (Note: those are links to three different sites.)She only lost her identity, at least in Mr. Leonard's mind, in 1838, when she married Weld. She has a lengthy list of publications to her name, including an essay -- termed "testimony" -- in American Slavery As It Is.

So, in a year when we have both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin managing to run for high political office with their own names, not as Mrs. William Clinton (as he now likes to be called) and Mrs. Todd Palin, we still have Mr. Leonard, who, I note, does not hold the title of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Hill Librarian, not quite managing to name the "little woman" who helped Mr. Weld.

Ironically, the next paragraph starts with "At Berkeley, libraries today are the places a new generation goes to find what their society has overlooked or not properly valued." Thanks to Mr. Leonard, some of us don't have to go to the library at all to find that out.

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