Jovita Idár- Pioneer for Mexican-American Rights

During the 1913 Battle of Nuevo Laredo, it was almost impossible to tell whether the fighting was taking place on the Mexican or the American side of the border. A 28-year-old journalist named Jovita had been following the unrest growing in both Mexico and the US, and she couldn’t sit by and watch any more. Along with a friend, Jovita crossed the border during the battle to see what she could do to help. She had been trained as a teacher, not a nurse, but by the end of the battle she was providing medical aid to as many people as she possibly could.

Jovita was born Jovita Idar in 1885 in the town of Laredo, Texas, on the US-Mexico border. She was one of eight children born to Jovita and Nicasio Idar. Her father, Nicasio, owned a small weekly Spanish-language newspaper, titled La Cronica. As a child Jovita was raised by parents who were advocates of rights for Mexican-American in the US, and she absorbed many of their teachings. She attended a Methodist school known as the Holding Institute, and she earned her teaching certificate in 1903, hoping to improve the lives of children living in small towns like Laredo.

Her time as a teacher exposed her first-hand to the problems facing children of Hispanic descent in America. Their schools were poorly funded with few resources, and even as a teacher Jovita felt she was unable to make her voice heard when she protested against these problems. In response, she resigned from her teaching post and became the first woman to work in her father’s newspaper office. She and two of her brothers helmed the newspaper during a time of unrest in the Hispanic community. She wrote about American-Hispanic relations, criticizing educational/social discrimination, deteriorating economic conditions, decreasing use of the Spanish language, loss of Mexican culture, and the practice of lynching Hispanics.

Jovita_IdárDuring this time in the early 20th century, several identity groups in America were establishing themselves with organizations to help end discrimination. The NAACP was formed in 1909, and several groups advocating women’s suffrage were gaining momentum. In 1911, Jovita and several members of La Cronica’s staff attended the first Mexican Congress in Laredo, Texas to discuss the issues facing Mexicans in the United States. During this time, Jovita became passionate about the idea of women’s suffrage and helped to found first League of Mexican Women. Jovita became its first president, and she chose their first objective based on the biggest need she had experienced so far: proper education for poor children.

Two years after the conference, fighting in the Mexican Revolution was beginning to intensify. After Jovita witnessed the Battle of Nuevo Laredo, she became motivated to help as much as she could. She joined an organization called La Cruza Blanca, similar to the Red Cross, and traveled all throughout Northern Mexico providing aid to the wounded. This experience strengthened her efforts to foster a cross-border community of Mexicans on both sides of the border. Upon her return from Mexico, Jovita wrote a series of editorials decrying discrimination against Mexican-Americans, including the widespread Texas practice of lynching of Hispanics. Her articles criticizing U.S President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to send army troops to the border earned her attention from Texas Rangers, and they were dispatched to shut her newspaper down. She responded by standing in the doorway of her office and refusing to move aside.  

Following the fallout from the Mexican Revolution, Jovita moved to San Antonio where she met her husband, Bartolo Juárez. Jovita lived the rest of her life there, staying involved in the causes she believed in. She helped to establish a free kindergarten for children in the city, and she worked as a translator for patients in the county hospital. Jovita was fiercely passionate about the rights and treatment of Mexican-Americans in Texas and beyond. Throughout her life, her first priority was standing up for herself and her people during a time when women’s voices were not especially welcome. About her lifelong fight, Jovita wrote “Working women know their rights and proudly rise to face the struggle. The hour of their degradation is past…. Women are no longer servants but rather the equals of men, companions to them”

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Behind the Tree Claims

When the early settlers first came to the Dakota Territory there were very few to no trees. The railroad company would plant trees as they went along to help mark their way, and the one in De Smet became known as the Lone Tree. This was the only tree in De Smet when the Ingalls family first arrived and it even made an appearance in The Long Winter. During Almanzo Wilder’s and Cap Garland’s brave trip for the wheat they used the “Lone Cottonwood” as a point of reference in the snow-covered prairie (Long Winter 270). Due to the lack of trees the government wanted to entice the settlers to plant trees, which was where the Timber Culture Act came in.

Many people know about the Homestead Act of 1862, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, which gave settlers 160 acres of land for $1.25 per acre. This act lured many people into the area with cheap land and the idea of moving west. However, there was another act that brought many people to the area and is less known. That is the Timber Culture Act of 1873. Senator Hitchcock from Nebraska described the goal of the act in a Senate debate, “the object of this bill is to encourage the growth of timber, not merely for the benefit of the soil, not merely for the value of the timber itself, but for its influence upon the climate.”[1] Some senators pushed for this act because the west needed timber for fuel, while other senators pushed it because they believed that the tree would bring more rainfall to the region. Either way the government wanted a way to entice settlers to plant trees.

With the Timber Culture Act settlers could get 160 acres, possibly in addition to their homestead land, to plant forty acres of trees on. Originally there was not an age requirement for the land; however, when the act was amended in 1874 the government made the requirements the same as the Homestead Act, twenty-one or head of household, and citizen or soon to be citizen. In this amendment, the government also made a schedule with certain “deadlines” for planting the trees. The act was amended a second time in 1878, which lowed the required acres of trees planted from forty to ten. It also helped out settlers as it made exceptions for trees that were destroyed due to the harsh climate.

Ultimately this act did not pan out as intended. It had many loopholes and flaws as some homesteaders got away without planting trees on their tree claims. If the homesteader was not able to plant all the trees they could preempt the land, which meant the homesteader could purchase the land and possibly sell it later. Due to loopholes like this, ultimately the act was repealed on March 3rd, 1891.

Almanzo had gotten his homestead and tree claim in 1879, 6 years before he married Laura. He had proved up his homestead in five years; however, he and Laura were not able to prove up their tree claim with in the allotted time, which was about eight years, and thus Almanzo preempted the land.[2] Laura talked about her and Almanzo’s tree claim in The First Four Years. She discussed how the trees were not doing well and they needed to have ten acres of trees planted. Their trees also had to be given extra care because “for years from now there must be the ten acres with the right number of growing trees in order to prove up on the tree claim and get a title to the land” (First Four Years 47). Laura wrote that by the end of her and Almanzo’s fourth year of marriage nearly all the trees on their ten acres were killed (First Four Years 121). There was no point in replanting them because either way they could not fulfill the requirements for the Timber Culture Act. In August of 1888 Almanzo filed an intent to preempt his land and then in 1890 he purchased the land for $200.2 The failure of Laura and Almanzo’s tree claim did not help their terrible first four years; however, their troubles were not unusual. As I had mentioned earlier, the Act was repealed in 1891 due to people preempting the land as the trees did not grow well out here.

Over time De Smet has been able to overcome the difficulty of growing trees and today there are a fair number of trees in the De Smet area. There is even a De Smet Forest which can be seen off Highway 14 on the eastern side of De Smet.

 

[1] C. Barron McIntosh, author. 1975. “Use and Abuse of the Timber Culture Act.” Annals Of The Association Of American Geographers no, 3: 347. JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed June 30, 2017).

 

[2] Cleaveland, Nancy. 2011. “what happened to almanzo’s claims?” (accessed July 11, 2017).

Annie Smith Peck- Pioneer for Women in Exploring and Mountaineering

Mount Coropuna in Arequipa, Peru, is 21, 079 feet tall. In 1911, a 61-year-old woman 133239449-f767fc7f-36f5-469f-95df-8f039b25d146named Annie was trying to make it to the summit. Mountaineering in 1911 involved taking serious risks. There were no oxygen tanks or supportive equipment, nothing to aid a climber in high altitudes. All Annie had to rely on was her determination, her experience, and her desire to reach the top. On the ground, it was sunny and warm. Up near the top Annie could see nothing but ice and snow. It was an alien world she was climbing through, and as she got farther and farther up it was getting more difficult to breathe. The summit seemed both impossibly close and incredibly far away, but Annie was determined to make it.

Annie was born Annie Peck Smith on October 19th, 1850 in Providence, Rhode Island. The youngest of four children, with four older brothers, Annie grew up spending more time playing outside and rough-housing than inside learning household chores. In addition to being extremely athletic, Annie was also incredibly talented academically. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a masters degree in Greek, both from the University of Michigan. She worked for a time as a teacher, in both the United States and in Europe. Her intellect alone was enough to impress; In 1886, Annie became the first woman ever to be permitted to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. To support herself when she wasn’t teaching, Annie gave lectures in Greek archaeology. However, she soon found that often her audience was more interested in her hobby of mountaineering than in her studies.

Annie first became enamoured with the thought of scaling mountains during one of her many trips to Greece. She traveled through Germany and Switzerland, and the sight of the Matterhorn awakened a desire in her to reach new height. She began practice climbs in the United States, finally conquering Mount Shasta in California in 1888. Six years later, she made it to the top of the Matterhorn. The ascent brought her notoriety in Victorian circles, as did her next climbs in Mexico, one of which secured her the women’s altitude record in the Western Hemisphere.

Many people were just as fascinated by her climbing outfits as they were with her any peck2exploits. For starters, Annie climbed in pants. Her outfits caused a stir in Victorian circles, as she was seen as very improper. In addition to her clothing, it was also seen as reckless and irresponsible for a women to be gallivanting around the world climbing mountains. Annie stated once, “Although one is not inclined to be timid or nervous, it is nevertheless a trifle depressing to receive letters full of expostulation and entreaty: ‘If you are determined to commit suicide, why not come home and do so in a quiet lady-like manner?’”  In addition to her athleticism and intellect, Annie was also an avid supporter of women’s rights. She advocated for the right of women to be treated on the same level as men, whether it was in mountaineering or the right to vote. In fact, when Annie made her ascent of Mount Coropuna in 1911, she placed a pennant reading “Votes for Women” on the peak.

During her life, Annie wrote many books describing her record-breaking climbs and describing the travels she took throughout South America. Through it all, she remained a fierce advocate for the rights of women to take up so-called “manly” activities. Whether she was causing a stir with her climbing outfits or setting altitude records in Peru, Annie lived her life doing exactly what she loved. ”Climbing is unadulterated hard labor. The only real pleasure is the satisfaction of going where no man has been before and where few can follow.” Annie climbed mountains for the rest of her life. Her last climb was of Mount Madison, in New Hampshire, at the age of 82 years old.

Pioneer Cooking: Pancake Men

ingredients 2What could be more fun than making pancake men? Laura describes in her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, that her mother made the family pancake men for Christmas:

“For breakfast there were pancakes, and Ma made a pancake man for each one of the children. Ma called each one in turn to bring her plate, and each could stand by the stove and watch, while with the spoonful of batter Ma put on the arms and the legs and the head. It was exciting to watch her turn the whole little man over, quickly and carefully, on a hot griddle. When it was done, she put it smoking hot on the plate.” (Little House in the Big Woods 79)

Molly and I picked out numerous old fashioned recipes to test last summer and thought pancake men would be a fun recipe. This recipe can be found in The Little House Cookbook on page 92. For the recipe you need baking soda, water, whole wheat and white flour, salt, cultured buttermilk, an egg and salt pork. Now for us, we just used two cups of white flour instead of one cup of white and one cup of wheat. The reason the recipe calls for one cup of each is to resemble the flour that Ma would have used. The salt pork is used to grease the pan, since we did not have salt pork readily available, we just used butter instead. Once you have the ingredients you can start making your pancakes.

pouring

stirring

Making pancake men at this point is almost an art form. You have to be careful that the pancakes actually look like a man at the end, but then you cannot take too long or else your pancake man will burn. However, you still must successfully flip your pancake man. Mine looked great until I flipped him over and he became decapitated and Molly’s flipped successfully but was also burned. It may take a few tries until you perfect this art but it is a lot of fun and Molly and I got some good laughs out of it. We suggest making your pancake men small to start off with, to make flipping easier.


As for the taste, the pancakes were very good even with the lack of sugar and homemade batter. The taste combined with the cute pancake men makes for the perfect breakfast, dinner, or even late-night snack!

 

Margaret Hamilton- A Pioneer for women in NASA and Computer Science

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 was just minutes away from touching down on the surface 625098110.0of the moon. Engineers in Houston, TX, and in the lab at MIT, including a young software engineer named Margaret, were anxiously waiting to see if their brand-new computer software would hold up. So far, everything with the lunar module’s on-board computers had gone according to plan, with no major hiccups. So the engineers in Houston were startled when error messages suddenly began popping up. The computer, built with software written by a team of engineers from MIT headed by Margaret, was being overwhelmed with a series of unnecessary tasks rather than performing its real job of landing the lunar module. The panicked astronauts sent a message back to Houston. Should they abort the landing? Would the computer fail at the last minute?

Margaret was born Margaret Heafield on August 17, 1936 in Paoli, Indiana. As a young girl, she excelled in science and math, both subjects not considered typical for women to like. She attended Earlham college in 1958 to get a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. While she was there, she met her husband, James Cox Hamilton. After Margaret graduated, she was accepted to the lab at MIT as a software engineer. The plan for Margaret was to work three years to support her husband’s degree at Harvard Law, and then the pair would switch so Margaret could pursue a graduate degree in abstract math. However, Margaret would soon find herself caught up in one of the biggest revolutions to ever sweep the technology industry.

During her time at MIT, she got her first introduction to the world of software engineering. She worked on projects such as SAGE, which was a computer program designed to search for “unfriendly” aircraft, a very early form of homeland security. Margaret called her work on SAGE as a “jumping-off point”, where she became interested in the importance of software reliability. This early work under pressure undoubtedly served her well during her next major project: creating software for the Apollo 11 moon mission.

In 1961, MIT’s instrumentation lab received the contract for the Apollo guidance and control systems. In order to take advantage of what she saw as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Margaret put her plans for a graduate degree on hold and applied for a position with the Apollo program. She was hired on the spot. As Margaret recalled, it was like the “Wild West.” She and her colleagues were coding programs for takeoff, navigation, flight plans, and the moon landing, all without a guidebook or a clear set of rules. There were no classes in computer science and no precedent for the programs Margaret was creating. As she said of herself and her fellow engineers, they “had no choice but to be pioneers.”

In 1965, Margaret was put in charge of all onboard flight software for the Apollo mission. As a female engineer at NASA in the 1960’s, Margaret was already unique. As a female engineer at NASA in the 1960’s responsible for a major coding project like Apollo, Margaret was unprecedented. She was also unusual in the fact that she was a working mother in the 1960’s. While working on the Apollo program, Margaret would often bring her young daughter, Lauren to the lab at night and on the weekends. Margaret was often asked how she could stand to leave her child all day while she was at work. But to Margaret, the work that she was doing was important, and so she created a balance that allowed her to spend time with her daughter and to give her absolute best at her job.

The flight software that Margaret’s team was coding had to be absolutely perfect. The astronauts needed to be able to rely on it to get them safely to the moon and back, something no one had ever attempted to do before. Coding in Margaret’s day was slightly Margaret_Hamilton_-_restoration.jpgmore complicated than typing it out on the computer. Every line of the program had to punched in a stack of cards, which would then be run through a massive computer overnight. The picture on the left shows Hamilton standing next to a massive stack of code written for the Apollo program. Every line of that code had to be tested and retested according to the rigorous standards Margaret put in place. As she and the other programmers knew, there would be no second chances if the software failed mid-flight.

This intense testing proved invaluable when the time came for the moon landing. As the computer’s error messages were popping up, Margaret and the other engineers knew that the software would not fail. It had been programmed specifically to perform the most important task in case of a shutdown. In this instance, that task was landing the lunar module. Houston advised the astronauts to continue with the landing process, and history was made.

Margaret Hamilton is a true modern pioneer. She excelled in science during a time when women were often excluded from tech jobs, particularly in the brand-new field of computer science. Engineers like Margaret Hamilton were responsible for contributing to a massive leap in software technology that resulted in the basis for the computers we have in the present day. In 2016, Margaret was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for her contributions to the Apollo mission. Today, Hamilton is the creator of Hamilton Technologies, a tech company in the same neighborhood as MIT, where she got her start as a software engineer. She has encouraged hundreds of women and girls to enter the tech industry, where their accomplishments have the chance to be just as important and legendary as Hamilton’s.

Day in the Life of a De Smet Tour Guide

Have you ever taken a guided tour through a museum or historic site and wondered what it was really like to be a tour guide? Could it really be as glamorous and exciting as it seemed?

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LIWMS Director and tour guides visiting the Walnut Grove, MN, pageant.

Like most jobs in the tourist industry being a tour guide is an incredibly rewarding, if not occasionally frustrating experience. There are painfully slow days, lightning-fast busy days, and days that are combinations of the two and feel like they’re going to last for the rest of our lives. But how many other jobs are there where you can get paid to talk to people about history all day? In the end, the benefits of working as a tour guide always outweigh the drawbacks. “The best part about being a tour guide,” according to Heidi, who has worked at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society for four years, “is that you get to meet people from all over the world.”

Of course, a major part of being a tour guide is interacting with the guests of the museum. People from all over the country and even the world come to visit, and whether De Smet is a destination or a pit stop for them, they all bring something new and interesting to each tour.  Some groups will know a lot about Laura’s life, some only know about her from the television show, some have almost no knowledge of her at all, and some will be a mix of the three. While that gives the each tour some variety, it also contributes to one of the biggest challenges of being a tour guide. Our executive director, Tessa Flak, has also worked as a tour guide at the Laura site in Burr Oak, Iowa. “I’ve spent eight years as a tour guide,” she says, “And none of my tours have ever been the same.” Tour guides are not only responsible for memorizing the stories of each “Little House” book and the tour script, but often have to adapt each tour on the fly to fit a particular groups’s interest and knowledge level. 

 

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However, there is much more to being a LIWMS tour guide than just giving tours! A typical day will start with opening each of the buildings and checking to make sure everything looks ready for the day ahead. The gift shop will need to be vacuumed and restocked. During the day there is generally someone posted at the front desk, in order to answer questions, handle transactions, and get people signed up for tours. At the end of the day, each building needs to be cleaned, swept, and locked up for the night.

Beyond these daily chores, however, the most typical thing about a tour guide’s day is that there is no such thing as a typical tour guide day. One of our summer interns, Melanie, put it best: “My favorite part of a regular day is the random things we do, like decorating covered wagons or rearranging display cases in the exhibit. Life is always exciting here at the Society!” Sometimes you might find yourself pulling an 1880’s covered wagon across a parking lot, rearranging porcelain dolls in our gift shop cases, or struggling to fix a weed-whacker. During a summer thunderstorm this year, we ended up serving fruit punch and some of Laura’s leftover birthday cake to guests as we waited for the rain and hail to stop!

 

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The craziness of some of these days brings all of us tour guides together into a sort of family. But what brings us together the most is our desire to bring the world of Laura to life for our visitors. Dianne, our assistant director, states that being a tour guide is important “because we are the ones who are passing along her stories and keeping them alive.” Without tour guides, the experience of visiting Laura’s “Little Town” would be far less personal. “We spend a short time with people on our tours”, Dianne says, “but sometimes they leave a lasting impression on us as we hope we do for them.” And every tour guide can agree, one of the most special moments during a tour are when visitors are overwhelmed with emotion from visiting the buildings of Laura’s childhood. We get to feel like we are helping to make dreams come true. How’s that for a summer job?

TV Show Truths: Competition Over Almanzo

One of the most memorable scenes in the “Little House on the Prairie” television series is  Laura and Nellie’s mud fight. Many Laura fans have raised the question: Did this really happen? The answer is no; however, Laura and Nellie did have some competition over Almanzo Wilder.

TV Show:

In season six of the TV series Almanzo Wilder comes to Walnut Grove along with his older sister, Eliza Jane. One day when Almanzo dropsEliza Jane off at school, Mrs. Harriet Olsen, Nellie’s mother, takes notice of Almanzo and thought that he would make a perfect match for her daughter who just graduated from the school in town.  Nellie seems to be a bit embarrassed by her mother’s actions, but goes along with it. On the other hand, Laura Ingalls falls for Almanzo right away, so there ends up being this competition between Laura and Nellie. Laura volunteers to cook Almanzo’s favorite dish, cinnamon chicken for Nellie and Almanzo’s first “date.” Due to the competition, Laura  uses cayenne pepper instead of cinnamon. Ultimately it ruins their date as Nellie and Almanzo’s mouths are burning after just one bite.

For Nellie to get back at Laura she lends Laura her books to study for the school certificate test. Nellie does not give Laura the history book because even though Miss Wilder said there would be a lot of history, Nellie said it was just to throw her off. Laura ends up failing the test because it is almost all history. After the test Laura runs into Nellie and amidst her furry, they get into a mud fight. Laura ends up winning because Almanzo comes by and picks Laura up to help her clean up and leaves Nellie in the mud.

Books:

In the books Laura and Nellie’s competition did not happen the same way it did in the TV show, it was a lot more civil. None the less, there was still some competition between the two. In Laura’s book, These Happy Golden Years, Nellie comes into the picture after Laura and Almanzo had already been on some sleigh and buggy rides together. One main difference between the books and TV show is that in the show Laura and Nellie’s competition starts early on, before Almanzo picks up Laura from her first teaching job. In the books, the competition between the two starts much later and it is after Almanzo picked her up from her first teaching job.

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura started going on buggy rides with Almanzo once he has a new buggy. Almanzo and Laura go on a few buggy rides themselves and then one Sunday Nellie Olsen shows up in the buggy. Nellie talks constantly about how much she loves buggy rides and how great his horses were. Laura could not stand Nellie but does not say anything about it. The next Sunday Nellie is in the buggy again when Almanzo comes to pick Laura up and Laura is not happy. During the buggy ride Laura is determined to have Nellies true colors show. First Laura lets the end of the dust robe flutter carelessly behind the horses, which scares the horses momentarily and scares Nellie as she exclaims that they were wild.

Second, Laura suggests to go by the Boasts and then asks to take new road north. The road ends up being “wet and boggy” and Nellie declares that “this isn’t any fun” (THGY 176). Laura executes what she had planned, she exposed Nellie Olsen’s true self. Once Almanzo drops Nellie off she suggests that they would go another way next week, but Almanzo just says goodbye.

When Almanzo drops off Laura she makes it clear to him that she will not go on anymore buggy rides with him if Nellie is going to come; he has to pick either her or Nellie. And when Sunday comes again there is Almanzo ready to take Laura for another buggy ride.

Real Life:

In Laura’s real life there was no Nellie Olsen. She was actually modeled off of three people, Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. In this instance, the real Nellie Olsen was Stella Gilbert. Almanzo started giving Stella rides because she worked hard and it would be nice for her to have a break. Laura was fine with it at first, but then “Stella’s smugness gave her scheme away to me. She was trying her best to edge me out of drives” (Pioneer Girl 301). Laura then started to maneuver the drives so they would end closer to Stella’s house and Almanzo would have to drop her off first. One day when Almanzo was dropping Laura off she gave him the same ultimatum that she gives him in the books. The main difference is that in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography Laura is more confident that Almanzo will come back for her and in the book, These Happy Golden Years, she is not confident that Almanzo will come for her.

Unfortunately, the mud fight scene from the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series did not happen in real life. That being said, Almanzo still had multiple admirers who wanted to get behind his beautiful team and tried to edge Laura out. Even though each aspect is a little different, with the TV show being the most dramatic, all three convey the “competition” Laura had when courting Almanzo.