Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Well-behaved? Not really.

by Niki Turner

"Well-behaved women seldom make history."
~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, American historian, Harvard professor, Pulitzer Prize winner

 Rarely do we encounter a feminine history-maker, record-breaker, or world-changer who conformed, complied, yielded or acquiesced to the societal norms and cultural expectations of her day. Instead, it's the women who followed their hearts, often enduring hardship and persecution, whose names are written in our history books.

Nellie Bly, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart ... those were the biographies I read as a girl. As an adult, reading through the Bible for the first time, I met more history-making women: Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Zipporah, the daughters of Zelophehad, Achsah, all the Marys, Elizabeth, Anna, Priscilla, and multiplied others. 

I encountered another history-making woman this weekend, quite by surprise, while creating a Colorado history quiz for my homeschooled seventh-grade son. I was surprised I'd never seen her name before, or heard of her accomplishment.

Julia Archibald Holmes and her husband were among the first group of prospective prospectors to set out from Lawrence, Kansas, for Colorado, in hopes of striking it rich in the widely exaggerated gold fields of the 1850's. According to the textbook, Holmes, 20, " had walked rather than ridden from Kansas in order to build up her endurance." If you remember your American history, the vast expanse of western Kansas to the Rockies was (rather aptly) dubbed "The Great American Desert" by early explorers. And here goes Julia... 

Upon reaching Colorado, Julia and her perpetually nameless husband, with two other men, started up Pikes Peak on August 1, 1858, headed for the summit. Pikes Peak, one of Colorado's 54 "fourteeners" (mountains with a summit of more than 14,000 feet above sea level), was something of a landmark for Colorado's gold-seekers. They reached the 14,115-foot summit on August 5, 1858, making Julia the first white woman to climb Pikes Peak, quite an accomplishment, especially for a woman in that era.
By mark gallagher (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

An early snowstorm forced the group to descend, and soon Julia and her hubby (who IS this guy?) were traipsing (yes, on foot) to New Mexico, where Julia eventually became a correspondent for the New York Tribune, a suffragette, reformer, and supporter of abolition.

What surprised me more than her decision to walk 500 miles across eastern Colorado and western Kansas? Every reference mentions her wardrobe. Seriously. And all because she opted to climb Pikes Peak wearing (gasp) bloomers and a short skirt. If that weren't scandalous enough, she added moccasins and a hat and called the get-up her "American outfit."

Holmes met with resistance for everything from her choice of clothing to her decision to climb the peak. Her response should be our response when we're told we can't do something, can't accomplish something, or should just turn back and give up. (Like writing, for example!)

"I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself . . . Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed." ~Julia Archibald Holmes

Serious question: What have you been discouraged from doing? Are you doing it anyway? Do you believe you can succeed? If not, why?

Non-serious question: Have you ever read about a history-making man whose clothes made the news with his achievement? Except for John the Baptist and his camel hair shirt, and maybe Joseph's coat of many colors, I can't think of any! 

(FYI: Blogger is having some sort of hiccup today with comments. Before you click "submit," copy your comment! If you attempt to comment and get an error message, try right-clicking on the comment button and select "open in new window" from the options. That SHOULD work!)


  1. Niki--interesting woman!

    I struggle with the idea of discouragement. Some equate criticism with discouragement, but without criticism--and what we can truly learn from it--is any dream attainable?

    But when we weather the criticism and grow a stronger backbone through the walk--as Julia did, our dreams only grow closer and more reachable.

    I'm not sure it's so much believing I can succeed, but becoming a person that can be successful. I don't think anybody can discourage me from that, except maybe me.

    LOL--you got me thinking this morning. That can be a dangerous thing.

  2. Good points, Barb.
    I have battled discouragement from a ministry standpoint for a long time. It's toxic. But it is altogether different from criticism, correction, or instructions for improvement.

    I think discouragement comes when we start to believe on the inside that the dream is impossible, whether because of what other people have told us, or because of what we have told ourselves.

    LOVE your differentiation between succeeding and being successful!
    Makes me think of Hemingway: a success at writing, a failure in so many other areas. Which brings us back to what Susie wrote about Sunday and doing what the Lord leads us to do on a day to day, season by season basis.
    LOTS to think about!

  3. Excellent post, Niki. I've seen the photo of this woman many times without knowing who she was or what it was about. Thank you for enlightening me.

    'What have you been discouraged from doing? Are you doing it anyway? Do you believe you can succeed? If not, why?

    Let's see...

    - I was told to go to an academic school instead of a technical with the warning, 'God wants you to go here.' I felt otherwise and ignored the warning. I graduated from the technical school with awards and a bursary.

    - In Oct '76 I was told not to marry because I was too young (19). I married 2 months later and have now been married 34 yrs. (yowza)

    - While in the CAF, I was told I didn't have what it takes to get promoted to Master Corporal. After coming 3rd out of 120 men and women on my Jnr Leader's Course, I was promoted to Master Corporal.

    - I was told I had less than a 20% chance of becoming pregnant and that I'd never carry a baby past 26 weeks. I have 4 kids ranging in age from 12 to 32 and although they were all preemies, the earliest I deliverd was 32 wks.

    - I was told the only way I'd get published was to pay someone to do it (self-publish). I'm still working on this one, but I know I will succeed. Not sure yet if it'll be with a traditional or ebook publisher, but I'll be the one collecting the money, not dishing it out for the privilege.

    As for your 2nd question... I'll think about it. :)

    Anita Mae.

  4. very interesting. I'm quite impressed and would love to read more about Julia Holmes.

    I am drawing a blank on things I've been discouraged not to do. I have to assume there was a huge number of them before I turned 25!!

  5. If I lived back then I would have opted for Native American garb.

  6. Great post, Niki! What an inspiration. (Makes me quite curious about her no-name husband, too! I think he must've been a singular fellow.)

    Like Anita, I was told scores of things I couldn't do: I was too young to get married; I'd have a hard time having babies; and so on. I've failed at a lot of things, but when I undertake something, I've learned to listen for God's approval before I seek anyone else's.

    Love the clothes question. I hate to say it, but I instantly thought of Monica Lewinsky.

    I'm going to have to keep thinking!

  7. Anita, your comment made me smile. You are a woman of faith, m'dear! And you will most certainly meet that next goal with success!

  8. Deb,
    ME TOO! And there's scarcely anything about her beyond a few sentences here and there. She might just need her own book!

  9. Susie, I hope you are feeling better!
    I was told I was too young to get married, too. Shows what "they" know, I suppose.

    You're spot on about listening for God's approval... man's accolades don't matter much in the scope of eternity!

    Monica Lewinsky? Really?
    I don't remember anything about her wardrobe. I DO remember Patti Hall's boots during the Oliver North thing in the '80s, though!

  10. Dina, I completely agree. Those women who came west had to be made of pretty tough stuff to keep wearing the clothes of the era in the conditions they faced!

  11. What is it about women that people focus on the way they look than on their accomplishments. It's like Sarah Palin. Whether you like her or don't, can't people focus on what she says rather than how her hair is done.

    Seriously, there is still such a double standard in this regard.

    Anyway, good post, Niki!

  12. Lisa, I know what you mean. There's something disturbing about the fact that female fashion outshines female accomplishment 150 years later!

  13. Niki, I love reading and learning about strong women. I also grew up reading biographies about history-making women and still love to read and write about them. Yes, Julia needs someone to write a book about her.

    That picture of Julia is so unique. I love it. I'm with Dina, I'd wear Indian clothes if I was trekking across the country back in those days.

    Oh, on the clothes and men who never make history because of them...I heard a rather strange story yesterday about a 40-something man who wears diapers and bunting suits because dressing like a baby makes him feel loved. He even has a man-sized crib. It's strange in a gross sort of way.

  14. I can honestly say I've never been discouraged from trying to do anything. My parents have always been so supportive of everything I've ever wanted to do.

    I actually love the fashions of the 19th century. I know for a fact I can wear them all day and be perfectly comfortable. In 100 degree heat with humidity off the charts no less!

  15. Suzie, after I shudder in horror at the idea of a 40-year-old man in diapers and a crib, my heart goes out to him... how SAD!

    Julia is a neat lady. Makes me wonder how many other women in history have slipped off the pages of the history books.

  16. Rachel, you have been blessed to have parents like that!

    I must say, at least those clothes were made from natural fibers! They had to be more comfortable than pantyhose and underwire bras!

  17. Loved this Nikki. We just studied the aquisition of Pike's Peak in homeschooling.

    I'm going to have Delayne read your blog post today in history.

  18. Thank you, Nike! Always glad to have a timely post for other homeschoolers. I hope Delayne likes it!

    BTW, for anyone "into" Colorado history, the book we're using is called "Colorado: A History Of the Centennial State" by Abbot, Leonard & McComb. I got a used copy on Amazon.

  19. Julia Archibald Holmes is my great great great grandmother! She is quite inspiring...

    By the way her husband was James Henry Holmes who was a captain in the civil war. He was known as the "Little Hornet" and was the territorial governor of New Mexico.

  20. Pearl, I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that you found this post and took the time to comment!
    We're all fascinated by your great-grandmother's story, as you can tell from the comments!
    Thank you for sharing your history!


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