Thursday, March 22, 2012

HvS | "The Vocation of Women"

I was going through my mother's papers today to find her writings on what she called "the Vocation of Women." What got me started was an email from Sen. Barbara Boxer today that expresses her outrage at  assaults on the gains that women have made:
House committees that hold hearings on contraception -- and don't invite any women to testify on the panel. State legislatures like Idaho, Virginia, and Texas trying to force women to undergo invasive procedures. Senators who want employers to be able to deny women life-saving health care because it violates their "moral convictions." Right-wing radio hosts who call young women who testify about contraception "sluts."
The issues have come to surface during the primary campaigns and can be expected to continue into the general election, competing with issues relating to the economy. I wondered what my mother had written on this topic that might resonate today.

When it came to feminist issues, my mother was torn in two directions. On the one hand, she became a  Catholic in 1938, when my sister Olga was four years old. As a convert, she was highly orthodox. So in the 1970s she wrote articles defending the traditional role of the nurturing mother. She quoted G. K. Chesterton who extolled the freedom of a woman in the family - out of the rat race and with the potential to become Queen of her Home. However, given the choice, women have shown they like the idea of joining the rat race, and they have done well.

On the other hand, my mother was an admirer of the idealism of the suffragettes. She had two prominent feminist American aunts, Inez Milholland and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her Dutch aunt Maria Pijnappel Boissevain was a leader in her country's movement to grant the vote to women and became one of the first female elected officials; at the same time she gave birth to and raised ten children.

Like Maria Pijnappel, my mother had a significant career as well as raising six children. She would have fought for the right for women to make their own choice, whether to work or not. If she were alive today, I think she would above all be distressed at the tone and content of the debate. She had experienced discrimination against women from the age of three:
My first experience of discrimination against women was when I was three and played with my little boy cousins [Eugen and André van Hall] of four and five. "You're only a girl," they'd sneer. And then they made immense efforts to prove their superiority, which had more to do with their greater age than with their being male. But I was happy to admire them; they were handsome little fellows. One had curls [André?], but I really preferred the one with straight hair [Eugen?], who asked me to marry him when his brother wasn't looking.
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Monday, March 19, 2012

BOISSEVAIN | Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen

Edna St. Vincent Millary and Eugen Boissevain, Austerlitz, NY, 1945
Edna St. Vincent Millay and Eugen Boissevain, 1945, at their
700-acre farm, "Steepletop", which Eugen purchased in 1925.
Edna St. Vincent Millay married my great-uncle Eugen Boissevain (uncle of my mother Hilda van Stockum) in 1923. 

He had been a widower since 1916 when his previous wife, Inez Milholland Boissevain, died in Los Angeles after collapsing while on stage, campaigning for the National Woman's Party (now housed in the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, DC). 

Millay's poetry is clever and often soothing, but faces reality squarely in the eye. She wrote a post-mortem note to Eugen after he died in 1949, saying "The only thing I every did for you was survive you - but that was much." 

From stories of their marriage together, Edna was not far off the mark. He kept her alive much longer than she is likely to have survived on her own. 

His devotion to her was so great that at one point he suggested he join her in her addiction to pain-killers, so that he could fully empathize with her withdrawal difficulties.

Edna was found in 1950 by the Austerlitz, NY postmistress (as she was called). She was lifeless at the bottom of the stairs. Here is a link to 16 of her poems and a tribute to Eugen:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

HvS BOOKS | Tim Sullivan's LTV Show (Updated Oct. 5, 2016)

John Tepper Marlin (left) talks with Tim Sullivan (right).
EAST HAMPTON, NY, St Patrick's Day, 2012–Tim Sullivan interviewed John Tepper Marlin about the life and books of his late mother, Hilda van Stockum (1908-2006).
The interview aired March 18, 21, 23, 25, 28, and 30, and April 1, 2012.

The word “Penengro” means “storyteller” in the language of the Roma (gypsies) or “tinkers” (more respectfully, “travelers”) in Ireland. Rory O'Malley runs away from a foster home he finds difficult, and is protected by the travelers. He learns their language and ways and falls in love with one of the Roma girls. In the end he is persuaded to leave the travelers to go to university. A bittersweet ending that shows respect for the beauties of the Roma culture, especially its oneness with the environment, while cutting no corners in showing how cultural differences can get in the way of permanent relationships. To download Part 1 (8:37 minutes), click here:  Here is the full story of Rory’s adventures:

The son of author Hilda van Stockum  talks about two of her books for young readers. Little Old Bear is about a bear (Jeremy)  who gets two new eyes and gets a new owner and a new home in his old age – a story that will please both child and the grandparent who reads it out. Patsy and the Pup is about a young girl who finds a puppy and is required to return it to its owner, with a surprise happy ending.  To download Part 2 of the interview (9:35 minutes), click here:  For more about Jeremy Bear, go to For more about Patsy and the Pup, go to

The interview covers Hilda van Stockum’s life – how she met her husband Spike Marlin at Trinity College, Dublin through her brother Willem van Stockum – and some of her other books, including two very popular books for teens about the Nazi Occupation of Holland, both originally published by Farrar Straus and Giroux. The Winged Watchman is available in reprint from and The Borrowed House from The Purple House Press (just reissued Oct. 3, 2016). The remainder of the interview is about the changing opportunities in publishing. To download Part 3 of the video (10:04 minutes), go to

Video details: 480x360 pixels, 295 average kbps 10-stage fps, 30 video fps, 27 dropped. To report download problems please email