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 rather strong opin­ions. Some of them are sourced from the 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. Occa­sion­al­ly an author will insist to me that their meet­ing has an offi­cial name that use con­sis­tent­ly across their pub­li­ca­tions, busi­ness min­utes, Face­book pages etc., but after a few min­utes with Google I can usu­al­ly find enough counter-examples to prove incon­sis­ten­cy.

To cut through this, Friends Jour­nal uses “Town (State) Meet­ing” every­where and always, with spe­cif­ic excep­tions only for cas­es where that doesn’t work (meet­ing is named after a street or a tree, etc.). Town/state abbre­vi­a­tion in parentheses/capital-M–meet­ing. This for­mat­ting is unique to Friends Jour­nal—even oth­er Philadelphia-based Quak­er style sheets don’t fol­low it. We’ve been doing it this dis­tinc­tive­ly and this con­sis­tent­ly for as long as I’ve been read­ing the mag­a­zine.

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 get back to 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 was to begin a six-month sab­bat­i­cal, with Frances Williams Browin to fill 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 from that posi­tion 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’ve sent them for review, 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.

img_1593

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

2015-08-14 12.53.23
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.