Archive for the ‘American Women – 19th Century’ Category

“Fall, Leaves, Fall”by Emily Jane Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow

Blossom where the rose should grow;

I shall sing when night’s decay

Ushers in a drearier day.


For Baby…

With a little revision this poem can be perfect for baby. For example, where Bronte tends to be overly morbid (“die, flowers”) you may want to revise to more baby friendly language (“bye bye flowers”). You may even want to stick with just the first four lines of the poem.

My son loves the word “day” for some reason. Well, actually, I do know the reason. On one of his baby sign language DVDs, he’s obsessed with this song, “A New Day.” To sign “day,” use one hand to grab your opposite elbow and point your index finger of your other hand up to the sky. While your saying the word, move your pointed finger across to your other elbow, to simulate the sun setting over the sky.

For Mommy…

My first thoughts – does she just like being miserable? After a few readings, however, I thought that maybe Bronte has a point. Even those of us who despise the end of summer have to admit that there is something very beautiful about the fall. Yes, it does ultimately lead us to a point when everything seems to “die” as Bronte so bluntly puts it. But, is there beauty in death? Our culture doesn’t seem to like confronting it (although, sometimes the cover of the NYTimes makes me think differently). Is it safe to say that we are a “youth” culture? It almost seems like every cosmetic product is designed to diminish the signs of aging. Why don’t we consider wrinkles beautiful?! My good friend once said she hopes to one day have deep smile wrinkles as marks of a life spent laughing. Anyway, back to Bronte… I thought it was interesting to note that this famous author of Wuthering Heights died after refusing to take medicine when she was sick with the flu. I would love to know when this poem was written. Could it be symbolic of her own personal experience with death?


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Monthly Theme:  Mother and Child

Weekly Content:  American Women of the 19th Century

Daily Subject: Poetry

If Emily Dickinson quietly asserted her voice through her poetry, this next poet did just the opposite. Charlotte Perkins Gilman used writing to loudly express her opinions about the culture of the day.  In her autobiographical short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” Gilman exposed the lunacy of a common practice of solitary confinement for women who were suffering from what we now understand  to be a form of depression, specifically post-partum. For more specific details about this very important work, take a peek at the following post at “The Errant Aesthete:”  http://theerrantaesthete.com/2009/08/26/a-gilded-cage-of-yellow/ 

In the following poem, Gilman addresses the complexities of identity. The sing-song melody of the poem brings enjoyment to baby while providing food for thought for mommy. 

A Conservative

by Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman [1860-1935]

The garden beds I wandered by
One bright and cheerful morn,
When I found a new-fledged butterfly,
A-sitting on a thorn,
A black and crimson butterfly,
All doleful and forlorn.

I thought that life could have no sting
To infant butterflies,
So I gazed on this unhappy thing
With wonder and surprise,
While sadly with his waving wing
He wiped his weeping eyes.

Said I, “What can the matter be?
Why weepest thou so sore?
With garden fair and sunlight free
And flowers in goodly store:” –
But he only turned away from me
And burst into a roar.

Cried he, “My legs are thin and few
Where once I had a swarm!
Soft fuzzy fur – a joy to view –
Once kept my body warm,
Before these flapping wing-things grew,
To hamper and deform!”

At that outrageous bug I shot
The fury of mine eye;
Said I, in scorn all burning hot,
In rage and anger high,
“You ignominious idiot!
Those wings are made to fly!

‘I do not want to fly,” said he,
“I only want to squirm!”
And he drooped his wings dejectedly,
But still his voice was firm:
“I do not want to be a fly!
I want to be a worm!”

O yesterday of unknown lack!
To-day of unknown bliss!
I left my fool in red and black,
The last I saw was this, –
The creature madly climbing back
Into his chrysalis.

 For Baby…

This is a great poem to incorporate movement.  Make up your own signs or use ASL to “act out” the poem (think “Itsy Bitsy Spider”).  Remember, baby may not yet have the stamina to listen to the entire poem.  Pull a few of your favorite stanzas to read with baby. 

For Mommy…

The way this poem reads, you would think it was meant for children. Children’s literature, especially poetry, include messages that can be very meaningful to adults. As mothers, we have many different layers to our lives.   Being a mother is an extremely important part of our identity.  However, in this mama’s opinion, it is unhealthy to solely identify with this role.  Just like the butterfly in the poem remembers her days as a worm, moms must remember and continue to develop the parts of themselves that make each unique.  How do we fit ourselves in to our own busy lives?

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Monthly Theme:  Mother and Child

Weekly Content:  American Women of the 19th Century

Daily Subject:  Poetry

Our next poet was born around the same time as the other two American figures that have been included in this week’s posts. Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in the year 1830.   I’m not even going suggest that Dickinson socialized with the likes of Cassatt or Alcott, well, because Dickinson just didn’t socialize. A very private, secluded individual, she was not even famous for her work during her own lifetime.  One commonality between these three famous American women, however, is that they were all surrounded by knowledge. During the 19th Century, Amherst, MA, was a hub for education.  Dickinson’s family, well-respected in the community, had connections with many famous writers of the day.  Here’s your six-degrees of separation, Dickinson’s family was friendly with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alcott’s childhood neighbor.

Nature, the gentlest mother by Emily Dickinson

Nature, the gentlest mother,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest or the waywardest,
Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill
By traveller is heard,
Restraining rampant squirrel
Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation,
A summer afternoon,–
Her household, her assembly;
And when the sun goes down

Her voice among the aisles
Incites the timid prayer
Of the minutest cricket,
The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light her lamps;
Then, bending from the sky

With infinite affection
And infiniter care,
Her golden finger on her lip,
Wills silence everywhere.

For Baby…

Forget about all those fancy toys that light up and make techno sounds, your baby thrives  in nature. Whether you take baby to the park or are lucky enough to have your own backyard, baby learns best in a natural environment.  When reading this poem to your baby, use your voice to emphasize the nature words in the poem – “squirrel,” “bird,” “sun,” “flower,” “sky.” The most authentic experience would be to read the poem in the park or backyard, so that you can point out the words with baby.  If you don’t have this option, act out the words the best way you know how!

For Mommy…

Of course, it makes sense to compare nature to motherhood. We are all familiar with the concept of “mother nature.” At first reading, though, I felt that Dickinson’s choice of words such as “gentlest” and “mild” portrayed mothers as passive and weak.  It wasn’t until my second or third reading that I realized what I interpret as the true meaning of the poem. We can only appreciate the peacefulness and serenity of nature because we know the power of its strength. How are the acts we do as mothers simultaneously gentle and powerful?

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Monthly Theme:  Mother & Child

Weekly Content: American Women of the 19th Century

Daily Subject: Art History

In the last post, we wondered if Louisa May Alcott and Mary Cassatt crossed paths. Cassatt spent most of her adult life in Paris, studying with the likes of Edgar Degas and the Impressionists.  However, according to the Concord, MA Community Website, Alcott’s sister had just begun to establish a life as an artist in Paris before she died in 1879. If not Louisa, her sister must have been profoundly influenced by the work of Mary Cassatt. Here is a sketch May Alcott drew for big sis’ famous work Little Women.

Illustration from Little Women drawn by May Alcott

For Baby…

Take a minute to show your baby all three works of art we have covered so far.  Using the same strategies as described in earlier posts, encourage your baby to describe the paintings in the best way he or she knows how. Whether your baby is just beginning to say the /b/ sound for “baby”, using a sign to describe what he or she sees, or listening to you say the word, the two of you are starting to explore art together. Don’t expect your baby to look at the picture for longer than a few minutes (or seconds). This is just the beginning!

For Mommy…

Do you see any similarities between Alcott’s sketch and Cassatt’s paintings? What about the mothers’ eyes? Is it me, or do they all have a distant, pensive look indicating other worries and  hardships? The sketch was drawn specifically for Little Women. I don’t remember a lot about the book but I do remember the family struggling with poverty. What about the other paintings, what could these other women be thinking about? Moms today have a lot of different roles that they play each day. How do you think it affects our mindset as mothers? How can we strive to be truly present for our kids?




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Monthly Theme:  Mother and Child

Weekly Content: American Women of the 19th Century

Daily Subject:  Poetry

Louisa May Alcott is another prominent American female figure of the nineteenth century. Most remembered for her work Little Women, Alcott had been secretly writing under pen names for years before its publishing.  Enjoy the following poem with your baby just before he or she drifts off to la la land!


“Lullaby” by Louisa May Alcott 

Now the day is done,
Now the shepherd sun
Drives his white flocks from the sky;
Now the flowers rest
On their mother’s breast,
Hushed by her low lullaby.

Now the glowworms glance,
Now the fireflies dance,
Under fern-boughs green and high;
And the western breeze
To the forest trees
Chants a tuneful lullaby.

Now ‘mid shadows deep
Falls blessed sleep,
Like dew from the summer sky;
And the whole earth dreams,
In the moon’s soft beams,
While night breathes a lullaby.

Now, birdlings, rest,
In your wind-rocked nest,
Unscared by the owl’s shrill cry;
For with folded wings
Little Brier swings,
And singeth your lullaby.

For Baby…
Your baby will love to listen to the rhythm of your voice as you read this poem. Again, this is a sleepy time activity that would best fit in right before a nap or bedtime. Although your baby will not understand the full meaning of the poem, some key vocabulary words may stand out to him or her. Babies love nature – emphasizing words such as “sun,” “sky,” “flowers,” and “trees” will help them connect with the poem. Adding sign language for these words may also enrich the experience.

For Mommy…
 It would seem that Lousia May Alcott and Mary Cassatt would have know each other, right? Two creative, successful women of the nineteenth century, when women did not have nearly the opportunities that we have available today, they were both born in Pennsylvania less than 20 years apart.  I’m not saying they were next door neighbors! Alcott was born in a town that is now part of Philly and Cassatt was born in what is now Pittsburgh – that’s pretty far when you’re traveling by horse and buggy! However, looking at their work, side by side, gives us a better peek into the mindset of the nineteenth century woman (although both of these woman had advantages that were most likely not available to the average woman of the 1800s). How does the theme and imagery of this poem compare to the following painting by Mary Cassatt? 

Mary Cassatt, Sleepy Baby, c. 1910

Mary Cassatt. Sleepy Baby. c. 1910


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Language Development and Art History

Mary Cassatt, 1897, Breakfast in Bed

Mary Cassatt, 1897, Breakfast in Bed

In celebration of what this blog is all about, our first month centers around mother and child. Even more relevant to our purposes, this painting demonstrates the work of a hard-working, talented woman. Mary Cassatt painted hundreds of works, most of which honor the simple, yet beautiful, everyday acts of motherhood. Not too shabby for a woman born in Pennsylvania in 1844!

For Baby…

Show your infant or toddler a print out of this beautiful work of art (check out the archives for a bigger picture). The painting sets a cozy mood so try to introduce the activity during a calm time of the day, perhaps right before a nap or bedtime. Introduce or reinforce vocabulary slowly, enunciating the beginning consonant sounds. For example, point to the baby in the painting and say “/b/ /b/ baby, the baby is in the bed with the mama.” Breaking down the individual sounds in words will help your baby approximate new vocabulary. Encourage your baby to use these approximations as he or she is learning new words. If he or she points to the baby and says “/b/,” clap and say, “Yes! That’s the baby!” With that type of encouragement, he or she will be saying the whole word in no time!

For younger babies, you may want to incorporate a sign while introducing new vocabulary. The ASL sign for “baby” is made by cradling your arms together as though you are rocking a baby. It’s alright if the sign isn’t perfect, as long as your baby has a way to communicate the word to you!

For older babies, you can extend the activity to include more of a question/answer format. For example, “What is the baby doing?” You could also introduce more descriptive vocabulary (ex. “the pillow looks soft”).

For Mommy…

Take a few moments to do a quick internet biography search about Mary Cassatt. An American woman artist in the nineteenth century, she was quite an anomaly for her time. Most biographies describe her as a privileged youth with connections in the art world. How do we compare her with other woman of her era? Did she have an unfair advantage or should she be hailed as breaking the mold of her time? Why do you think she chose to devote most of her work to the subtleties of female life?

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