In praise of an editor past

Frances William Browin from the September 15, 1968 Friends Journal.
When I became an editor at Friends Journal in 2011, I inherited an institution with some very strong opinions. Some of them are sourced from predictable wellsprings: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foundational mid-century style guide and the editorial offices of the Chicago Manual of Style. But some is all our own, logically tested for consistency with Chicago but adapted to Quaker idiosyncrasies.

One of our most invariable (and contested) formats comes from the way we list congregations. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quaker meeting listed as  Town Monthly Meeting, Town Friends Meeting, Town Quaker Meeting, etc. People often have strong opinions about the correct ways to write them out. Sometimes an author will insist to me that their meeting has an official name that is use consistently but I can usually find this isn't true within a few minutes with the help of Google.

To cut through this, Friends Journal uses “Town (State) Meeting” everywhere and always, with specific exceptions only for cases where that doesn’t work. Town, state abbreviation in parentheses, capital-M meeting. This formatting is unique to Friends Journal--other Philadelphia-based Quaker style sheets don't follow it. We’ve been doing it this distinctively and consistently for as long as I can remember.

Fortunately we have digital archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haverford College's Quaker and Special Collections. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used keyword searches to see how far back the format goes. Traveling the years back it time it's held remarkably steady as "Town (State) Meeting" until we scroll back into the fall of 1962. The October 15 issue doesn’t have consistent meeting listings. But it does announce that longtime Friends Journal editor William Hubben is going on a six-month sabbatical, with Frances Williams Browin filling in as acting editor.

It didn't take her long. The next issue sees a few parentheses unevenly applied. But by the November 15th issue, nineteen meetings are referenced using our familiar format! There’s the “member of Berkeley (Calif.) Meeting” who had just published a pamphlet of Christmas songs for children, an FCNL event featuring skits and a covered-dish supper at “Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting” and the announcement of a prominent article by “Kenneth E. Boulding, a member of Ann Arbor (Michigan) Meeting.”

I've tried to imagine the scene... Browin situated in her new temporary office... going back and forth, forth and back on some listing... then finally surprising herself by shouting "enough!" so loudly she had to apologize to nearby colleagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back but only as a contributing editor, and Browin was named editor. Friends Journal board member Elizabeth B Wells wrote a profile of her upon her retirement in 1968:

Her remarks usually made sparks, whether she was expressing an opinion (always positive), exerting pressure (not always gentle), or making a humorous aside (often disturbing). For in her amiable way she can be tart, unexpected, even prejudiced (in the right direction), then as suddenly disarmingly warm and sensitive.

This sounds like the kind of person who would standardize a format with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years later:

She was so entirely committed to putting out the best possible magazine, such a perfectionist, even such a driver, that her closest colleagues often felt that we knew the spirited editor far better than the Quaker lady.

It’s a neat profile. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copyedited manuscript, I say a quiet thanks to the driven perfectionist who gives me permission to be prejudiced in the right direction. Wells's profile is a fascinating glimpse into a smart woman of a different era and well worth a read.

80s Flashback Time

Some of my younger friends are freak­ing out about Trump, won­der­ing how we’ll get through his pres­i­den­cy. For those of us of a cer­tain age though this is déjà vu, a return to the days of Ronald Rea­gan. Though many peo­ple lion­ize him in ret­ro­spect, he was a train wreck through and through.

I was young when he came into office and my only mem­o­ry of his first term is being inter­rupt­ed in gym class to an announce­ment he had been shot in an assas­si­na­tion attempt. My first inkling of him as a politi­cian came from a high school social stud­ies teacher Roy Buri who con­stant­ly made fun of Reagan’s state­ments and poli­cies. I laughed at Buri’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tions but I also began to inter­nal­ized them. He was a leg­end at the school and had report­ed­ly pro­vid­ed a safe haven in the 1970s for stu­dents orga­niz­ing against the Viet­nam War. Retro bonus: he even looked a bit like Bernie Sanders!

When I grad­u­at­ed and moved onto a most­ly con­ser­v­a­tive col­lege, I would stay late at nights in a base­ment lounge talk­ing with friends in about how we could deal with the era we were liv­ing. I remem­ber an epiphany that even though the media were telling us to believe cer­tain things because that was the main­stream nation­al dis­course, we didn’t have to. We could be inde­pen­dent in our actions and con­vic­tions. Yes, that seems obvi­ous now but it was a major real­iza­tion then.

So what did we do? We protest­ed. We spoke out. We knew gov­ern­ment wasn’t on our side. For those los­ing friends to AIDS, there was deep mourn­ing and right­eous anger. There was a melan­choly. A lot of my world felt under­ground and grit­ty. I start­ed writ­ing, edit­ing a under­ground week­ly paper on cam­pus (real­ly the start of my career). I fig­ured out that the geog­ra­phy depart­ment was full of left­ies and spent enough time there to earn a minor. Most of all, I worked to de-normalize the Rea­gan and Bush St Admin­is­tra­tions – the deep cor­rup­tion of many of its offi­cials and the heart­less­ness of its poli­cies.

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“My secretary just walked in wearing pants.… and she looks terrific!” and other mom stories

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My mother’s death notice is in today’s Philadel­phia Inquir­er.

Here’s anoth­er instal­la­tion of mom sto­ries, orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten for a longer obit­u­ary than the one run­ning in today’s paper.

A sin­gle par­ent, she earned an asso­ciates degree at Rid­er Col­lege in Tren­ton and worked as a sec­re­tary at a num­ber of Philadelphia-area based, include Women’s Med­ical Col­lege and the Pres­by­ter­ian Board of Pub­li­ca­tions. In the mid-1960s she became an exec­u­tive sec­re­tary at the newly-formed Colo­nial Penn Life Insur­ance Com­pa­ny. An office fem­i­nist, she liked recount­ing the sto­ry of the day in the 1970s when the women of the office unit­ed to break the dress code by all wear­ing pant suits. A senior vice pres­i­dent was on the phone when she walked into his office and is said to have told his caller “My sec­re­tary just walked in wear­ing pants.… and she looks ter­rif­ic!”

When Colo­nial Penn lat­er start­ed an in-house com­put­er pro­gram­mer train­ing pro­gram, she signed up imme­di­ate­ly and start­ed a sec­ond career. She approached pro­grams as puz­zles and was espe­cial­ly proud of her abil­i­ty to take oth­er pro­gram­mers’ poorly-written code and turn it into effi­cient, bug-free soft­ware.

In the ear­ly 1990s, she moved into her own apart­ment in Jenk­in­town, Pa. She reclaimed a short­ened form of her maid­en name and swapped “Bet­sy” for “Liz.” Dur­ing this time she became a com­mit­ted atten­der at Abing­ton Friends Meet­ing. As clerk of its peace and jus­tice com­mit­tee, she worked to build the con­sen­sus need­ed for the meet­ing to pro­duce a land­mark state­ment on repro­duc­tive rights. As soon as it was passed she said, “next up, a minute on same-sex mar­riage!” In the late 90s, that was still con­tro­ver­sial even with LGBTQ cir­cles and I imag­ine that even the pro­gres­sive folks at Abing­ton were dread­ing the thought she might put this on the agen­da!

In her late 60s, she bought her first house, in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neigh­bor­hood. She loved fix­ing it up and babysit­ting her grand­chil­dren. She nev­er made any strong con­nec­tions with any of the near­by Quak­er Meet­ings only attend­ing wor­ship spo­rad­i­cal­ly after the move. When she was diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease in 2010, she took the news with dig­ni­ty. She moved into an inde­pen­dent liv­ing apart­ment in Atco, N.J. and con­tin­ued an active lifestyle as long as pos­si­ble.

Plain Quaker Nurse-In

I recent­ly read a New York Times arti­cle on the resurg­ing phe­nom­e­non of nurse-ins, designed to high­light the lack of laws giv­ing moth­ers the right to nurse in pub­lic. Lit­tle did I real­ize a plain dress­ing Quak­er near Grand Rapids Michi­gan was at the cen­ter of its nurse-in! From the local (link-unfriendly) news­pa­per:

As a Quak­er woman, Jen­nifer Seif lives a mod­est and sim­ple life. Breast­feed­ing is nat­ur­al to her, and she has nursed her chil­dren while in the gro­cery store, the doctor’s office and dur­ing Quak­er meet­ings with­out a prob­lem. So the Grand Rapids woman was shocked and embar­rassed in April when Kent Coun­ty Clerk Mary Beth Hollinrake approached her while she was breast­feed­ing her infant son, Micah…“It’s shock­ing to me that any­one would be offend­ed.” The moth­er of three said she was wear­ing a cape dress — a gar­ment designed for dis­creet nurs­ing…

I learned about this through the blog of Jenn and her hus­band Scott. Here’s Jenn’s post on the inci­dent. For those won­der­ing about their local pro­tec­tion, the La Leche League has a fab­u­lous state-by-state list­ing of the nurs­ing laws.

Scandal du Jour: Vice President leaking CIA Names

In the last year scan­dals seem to fol­low a curi­ous pat­tern: they rise up, get a lot of talk in Wash­ing­ton but lit­tle else­where and then dis­ap­pear, only to come back three months lat­er as mas­sive pub­lic news.

Back in July, we post­ed a num­ber of entries about White House dirty tricks against a whistleblower’s wife. For those who missed the sto­ry, diplo­mat Joseph Wil­son had trav­eled to the African nation of Niger to inves­ti­gate the sto­ry that that Iraq had tried to buy ura­ni­um from it. Wil­son eas­i­ly deter­mined that the sto­ry was a hoax and report­ed this infor­ma­tion back to Wash­ing­ton. Despite the debunk­ing, Pres­i­dent Bush used the alle­ga­tion in his State of the Union address and Wil­son lat­er came out and told reporters the Pres­i­dent knew the infor­ma­tion was false. A short time lat­er some­one in the White House let a con­ser­v­a­tive colum­nist know that Wil­son was mar­ried to an oper­a­tive for the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency, expos­ing her name and endan­ger­ing both her mis­sion and the lives of those help­ing her.

We called this a trea­son­able offense but the news blew over and few peo­ple out­side Wash­ing­ton seemed to fol­low the sto­ry. Last week it blew up big again and it’s been cre­at­ing head­lines. Rumor has it that the White House leak came from very high up in the Vice President’s office and the ques­tions have mount­ed:

  • who leaked the infor­ma­tion?
  • what did the Vice Pres­i­dent know?
  • what did the Pres­i­dent know?
  • did the Pres­i­dent and his advi­sors know the Niger sto­ry was false when he addressed the nation and use it to call for war in Iraq?

The in’s and out’s of the renewed scan­dal are being ably tal­lied by Joshua Michal Marshall’s Talk­ing Points Memo. He’s sit­u­at­ing the leak in the back­drop of an ongo­ing war between the Vice President’s office and the CIA. As we’ve been doc­u­ment­ing for a year now, the Vice Pres­i­dent has been pres­sur­ing the CIA to skew their find­ings to suit the polit­i­cal needs of Admin­is­tra­tion. Most of the pre-war reports from the CIA found no evi­dence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruc­tion, for exam­ple, which made Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney furi­ous and he was some­what sucess­ful in get­ting them to rewrite their sto­ry. Now of course we know the CIA was right, and that Sad­dam Hus­sein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruc­tion.

We have inde­pen­dent intel­li­gence ser­vices pre­cise­ly so we will have the best infor­ma­tion pos­si­ble when mak­ing deci­sions of nation­al secu­ri­ty. To politi­cize these ser­vices to serve the agen­das of a pro-war Admin­is­tra­tion (who sali­vat­ed over an Iraq inva­sion long before the 9/11 bomb­ings) is wrong. It’s the kind of thing a banana repub­lic dic­ta­tor does. It’s not some­thing that the Amer­i­can peo­ple can afford.