Springing into a New Perspective

By Carolyn Lyon James

The days are getting longer, migrating birds are returning from their winter vacation, and tulips and crocuses are emerging from the thawing ground to warm their faces in the springtime sun. April is a time of change and upheaval. We feel a sense of restlessness and longing, a desire to throw open the windows and run outside to breathe the clean air and curl our toes in the green grass. We spent the winter months looking inward, refreshing our souls and renewing our spirits. In April, let’s take a moment to look outward, change our perspectives, and see things in a new light.

When learning history, science, and the arts, we are fed so many facts, figures, and dates that we don’t always get a complete picture of a historical event, an author, or a scientist. For example, during the French Revolution, one of France’s boldest and most trusted generals was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. He made a name for himself in 1792 by capturing a large enemy patrol without even firing a shot. He later fought in Italy under the direction of Napoleon Bonaparte. Dumas was also Black. Given command of the Army of the Alps in 1793, he was the first Black general to command an all-white army. He remained the only commanding Black general until Colin Powell became a four-star general in 1989. Dumas’ son, also named Alexandre, chose not to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the military, instead becoming a famous author and playwright, penning the play, Napoleon Bonaparte (1831), which helped to turn the recently deceased emperor into a legend. He is most noted for his writing of historical novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo whose main character is based upon his dashing father.

Matilda Joslyn Gage is another frequently overlooked historical figure. Gage was an outspoken abolitionist and suffragist, a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. One of the founding members of the National Woman Suffrage Association, Gage and other suffragists held a protest at the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, saying that it was hypocritical to have a female representing freedom in a country where women had no rights. Gage also wrote extensively about the systemic persecution of women throughout history, stating, “the saying arose, One wizard for every 10,000 witches, and the persecution for witchcraft became chiefly directed at women.” She eventually moved to the Dakota Territory to start new suffrage chapters there and to live with her daughter and son-in-law. Listening to her son-in-law tell stories to their children, Gage encouraged him to write these stories down and get them published. “If you could get up a series of adventures or a Dakota blizzard… or maybe bring in a cyclone from North Dakota.” Although she didn’t live to see her advice come to fruition, her son-in-law, Frank L. Baum, was so inspired by her, he eventually wrote The Wizard of Oz and based the character, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, on his dynamic and empowering mother-in-law.

Speaking of witches, famed scientist and astronomer Johannes Kepler arguably wrote one of the earliest works of science fiction, Somnium. One of the characters, Fiolxhilde, a wise woman who made charms and communed with a demon on the moon, bore a strong resemblance to Kepler’s mother, Katharina, who had been supporting herself by concocting herbal potions to treat common ailments. Although not officially published until many years later, a copy of the manuscript made its way to his hometown and fueled the fire, he felt, that led to his mother being accused of witchcraft. In 1615, a local woman accused Katharina of attempted poisoning and witchcraft. Feeling partially responsible for the accusation, Kepler set aside his study of planetary motion to defend his mother in a court of law. He wrote the majority of a 128-page defense which ultimately led to her release from captivity and acquittal in 1621.

Change things up this April. When planting seeds in the garden, take time to plant seeds of knowledge as well. Take time to dig a little deeper into what you know, or think you know, and see what wonderful new ideas can take root and grow into a new understanding of an old teaching.