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Women

What can I say about women? I am not one, nor would I know how to be one.

There are so many quotes about the nature of history—what it is and who decides—that I can add little to clarify things. The Greeks understood history as Clio, one of the nine Muses, a daughter of Zeus (supreme divinity) and Mnemosyne (memory or recollection) who, along with the other eight Muses, represented inspiration for literature, science and the arts. This helps, especially in that the personifications of all this inspiration are women.

Exposed as I was to the Christian, rather than the ancient Greek tradition, I am drawn to the Old Testament rather then the New, where women are regarded differently.Yahweh visits Old Testament women in their homes, at their hearths, tending their children, and they laugh at Him! Try that in the New Testament and see what Paul has to say. [“Pauline” is an ironic name for a girl, don’t you think? Now Martha, on the other hand….] 

Martha002

The first (but not the earliest) woman I had imagined in Agincourt was Martha Tennant, mother of the character I had invented to be architect for the Carnegie-era library a la mode du Louie Sullivan. She grew from the necessary backstory that Anson Tennant required, and I, as always, was aided along the way by images gleaned from eBay. One day, my standard search turned up this studio postcard portrait of an anonymous woman, identified only by the source: “The Society Studio, 731 on the Boardwalk, Atlantic City”. With apologies for the oxidation that has made it more lustrous than lush, here is the woman who became Anson’s mother and who grew in her own right as a person of power long before the Nineteenth Amendment.

The Druids recognized four stages of womanhood: infant, maiden, woman, crone (a noun now with negative connotations). So I invoke here the druidical sense of a woman-become-sage, whose life experience has already awarded her one foot through the pleroma. This photograph has already been transformed by our friend Jonathan Rutter into a tempera portrait that was part of the 2007 Agincourt exhibit and will be shown again next September (deus volens). In the meantime, I need to flesh out Martha’s life.

Did you know, for example, that she became a nun?

MARTHA CURTISS CORWIN TENNANT

Scraps of Martha Tennant’s biography are scattered throughout this blog. But in recent entries she’s identified as the cohort of a Sac & Fox medicine woman, a restauranteur, a madam and an imposter priest—good company, if you ask me. Eighteen months ago Howard Tabor (Martha’s great-grandson) devoted a column to her, so rather than repeat it here, you can follow this link and read a fragment of the life inspired by my postcard find.

I’ve never known anyone quite like her. It would be inaccurate to claim she was like my grandmother (who raised me and ought to be credited for my few finer qualities), though Granny has shown up here in other guises. Yet it was relatively easy to imagine Mrs Tennant and her accomplishments; what I don’t yet know are the chinks in her armour, those moments of weakness or indecision that brought her low, and especially how she turned adversity to advantage, as women often do.


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