Here is my July Today’s Chicago Woman/ChicagoNow blogpost.
Maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of my Today’s Chicago Woman blogposts have a history flavor to them.
This is no accident. I love reading, and writing-about, American (women’s, especially) history: So much so that I studied American history in graduate school, and wrote my master’s thesis on Jane Addams and the relationships among the women who created Hull House.
But, shortly thereafter, I realized that the role of college professor wasn’t right for me. I loved the stuff I might get to profess about, but I needed to find a more vital and public venue in which to study history and find it instructive—for today’s Chicago woman, for that topic was my real passion.
Well, one of those venues is this one, the pages of Today’s Chicago Woman.
Indeed, I think that today’s Chicago woman can benefit, in myriad ways, from understanding (keep reading), the work and life of her foremothers and fore-sisters, most especially the work and life of those with deep Chicago connections (again, keep reading).
So, here goes my women’s history lesson for this month’s—Independence Day’s month—(today’s) Chicago woman. Notably, I’m thinking July Fourth, Independence Day, as I write.
Though I admit I’m actively thinking about those last few days off baking in the sun, going to the beach, and hanging-out with friends and family, never far from my mind these last (June, May, April) —and soon-to-be, July!—days is the Gulf oil spill, the disaster BP has wrought.
To give credit where credit is due, as we discussed the “BP massacre” one recent night, my husband reminded me, Rebecca, the amateur historian and fierce political blogger, who should have this fact on the tip-of-her-tongue at all times, that it was an amazing woman, who first said what time it is about “Big Oil.”
That would be Ida (Minerva) Tarbell, who, over a century ago, wrote: “They [“Big Oil,”] had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me.”
And that’s one of Ida Minerva’s milder comments.
And who was Ida Minerva writing about? Well, none other than Standard Oil (at its last, headquartered in Chicago and employing hundreds of today’s Chicago women), a cousin of BP, bought by BP a few years back.
In 1904, Tarbell published The History of the Standard Oil Company. “…[o]ne of the most thorough investigations ever written of how a business monopoly exploits the public by using unfair tactics, [it] has been called…’arguably… the single most influential book on business ever published in the United States.’”
Now, this bit about Ida Minerva isn’t some obscure bit of women’s history trivia, of interest only to those of us whose favorite form of trivial pursuit is the one about women in American history.
No. This bit about Ida Minerva is really, really important for all today’s Chicago women, today and everyday.
Why? Well, because Ida Minerva had the guts, the guts to get to the gut (wrenching) heart-of-the-matter, as I noted above, over a century ago, about Big Oil’s avaricious and unending willingness to exploit women, men, the environment, the vanity of public officials, you-name-it; the guts to write about the willingness of Big Oil to exploit whatever in pursuit of its holy grail, Big Profits.
You could say that this is all a justifiable, totally reasonable, smart (businessman’s) reaction to the American public’s “stuck-on-stupid” approach to (not) saving our environment, because of our well-of-desire for cheap oil, but I think this analysis too facile.
No, there is something bigger at-hand here, and that something is our repeatedly-apparent, for over two centuries and counting, unwillingness to understand and take-hold-to what Independence Day is really about: American days un-dogged by the willful and injurious actions of British, or, for that matter, any other, kings.
Hear this: Ida Minerva, just like another amazing American woman journalist named Ida, Ida B. Wells, who I’ve also written about in these pages did what we all need to do everyday, not just on the Fourth of July: She celebrated the Fourth of July, Independence Day, not by going to the beach, but by writing tirelessly and unceasingly about the meaning of the Fourth of July, Independence Day: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,”un-dogged, even in the dog days of summer, by the willful and injurious actions of kings.
Forget the beach, the barbecue, and the brew: July Fourth is about our independence from kings’ oppression. On July 4th 1776, it was the oppression of King George; on July 4th 2010, it’s the oppression of another, and no better, British king, British Petroleum.
Go here, today’s Chicago women: and tell the BP British king to go back where he came from, just like our ancestors told King George he should do; we today’s Chicago women, are just not having you here on our shores.
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