Nora E. Cordingley, 1888-1951

An excerpt from the New York Times obituary that starkly but accurately captured the details of Nora E. Cordingley’s death.

In February 1966, Esquire magazine published an article by Gay Talese called “Mr. Bad News.” The subject of that piece was Alden Whitman, a still-very-much-alive obituary writer for the New York Times. Many obituaries are written months or even years prior to the individual’s death. That’s why one sees a 2000 word overview of someone’s life published literally within the hour after they have passed. March is Women’s History Month. To mark the occasion editors at the Gray Lady have created a series they are calling “Overlooked,” for which they are writing obituaries for prominent women who did not receive recognition in the newspaper when the women originally died. Charlotte Brontë, Emily Warren Roebling and Ida B. Wells are three of the first fifteen subjects. Hopefully this will become something like “The Lives They Lived” section that appears the final Sunday of the year. I would like to see them do some figures from the First World War such as Edith Cavell. They are soliciting potential future articles. For whatever they regard it to be worth, I may submit a few ideas to the Times editors.

December 15, 1921 Library Journal announcement

I once mentioned in passing here on The Strawfoot a woman named Nora E. Cordingley, a Canadian who worked at Roosevelt House on East 20th Street starting in the 1920s. I knew then that I wanted to expand on her story a bit more but was waiting for the time. That time came a few weeks back when something came through my feeds soliciting articles for the Women of Library History blog. They are currently running their sixth annual series on women who work in the library profession. When I saw the announcement, I knew the time had come and I started working on it right away. The editor and I agreed we should publish the article today. Nora E. Cordingley died on March 14, 1951, 67 years ago today. I am really proud to have written this article. Ms. Cordingley is one of the overlooked people who kept Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy alive and she deserves to be remembered. Read the article here.

Hitting a benchmark

William Cullen Bryant, Grolier Club

Occasionally during a semester we in my department take annual leave days to research and write. Today was one such day for myself. I was fortunate because the rain and snow came in buckets. I can hear people shoveling outside as I write this. I did not leave the house today. I did two loads of laundry downstairs and otherwise stayed in. It turned out to be an important day because I managed to finish the draft of Incorporating New York. The manuscript landed at almost exactly 75,000 words. Of course there is still a great deal of work to be done. I’ll be spending the next several weeks editing and fact checking. After that, I’m going to organize the references. These are not small things. Still, today has proven to be an an important benchmark in the project. The structure of my text is now set and these is no more primary research to be done. The task is more clerical now. I cannot tell you what a burden this lifts from me. I am going to keep grinding in the coming days and weeks to make the narrative as tight as I can make. I’m really happy with how things have turned out.

I had a small serendipitous moment last night. A friend and I attended a science fiction talk and reception last night at the Grolier Club on East 60th Street. When I was leaving I noticed the painting you see above. I did not know who it was at first but it turned out to be William Cullen Bryant, a member of the club and a good friend of, among others, Frederick Law Olmsted. Bryant is a minor character in my book. I love visiting places like the Union League and Grolier Clubs and never pass up a chance to visit when invited. I think that institutions like these provide continuity, which is no small thing in a place that changes as quickly as New York City does. This was in evidence last night; they’re constructing a modern building right next to the Grolier Club. Change is one of the themes of my book. I couldn’t help but take a quick snap of the painting before heading out last night to beat the snow home.


Sunday morning coffee

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, East 20th Street

I spent the day yesterday pounding out a small project that will hopefully see the light of day sometime this month. I don’t want to say too much about it right now, but I will say here that it is about the Roosevelt Birthplace on East 20th Street. It came out to about 900 words. Again, it is a low stakes projects. Little things like this though can be a lot of fun. There are so many good stories to tell. I will keep everyone up to date.

Once I finish the book manuscript, I intend to do something about the development of Roosevelt House as a cultural institution. The story is a more interesting one than people realize. Roosevelt died in January 1919 when the troops were coming home from Europe. The world was seemingly at peace but actually in turmoil. Much of the world was gathering in Paris for the peace negotiations. That summer was the Red Scare and the race riots here in America, and chaos and starvation abroad. The Russian Revolution was going on, and soon that country would be in civil war. Theodore Roosevelt was gone by the time all this happened, but that was the milieu in which the Roosevelt Memorial and Woman’s Roosevelt Memorial Associations went about the work of rebuilding the house in the early 1920s. The founders of the site saw it as a center for promoting patriotism and for fending off the world’s ills in what was an uncertain time. It is very much an untold story and I think there is a lot to go on here.


Meeting a doughboy’s son

An 86-year-old World War I veteran attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 13 November 1982

I had an interesting experience this past Tuesday at the final event for our Gilder Lehrman, Library of America, National Endowment for the Humanities World War One project: the son of a Great War veteran attended. As you might imagine, I was surprised–greatly and pleasantly–when he told me. I asked the gentleman if during the conversation he might be willing to share his father’s story. It turned out to be fascinating.

As it turned out the man’s father was born in Italy in the 1890s, came to the United States during the great wave of migration in the early twentieth century, and ended up back in Europe wearing an American doughboy’s uniform when the United States entered the war. It is a fascinating but actually not entirely unusual story. An interesting book came out several years ago called The Long Way Home telling the stories of twelve American soldiers who came through Ellis Island. It is one thing to say that millions of people fought in a war. Hearing individual stories makes it more relatable; each soldier’s story, from wherever he came and however he served, is another tile in the mosaic. The veteran whose son attended the function the other day was in his late 60’s when his son was born, which from doing the math as Iroughly calculated it would have been in the 1960s. So, this aspect of the story is a bit more anomalous. It is similar to the stories one hears of Civil War veterans who fathered children in the 1900s and 1910s. To hear the son tell the story was a humbling experience and a reminder that when we discuss about the Great War we are not talking about ancient history, but a historical moment within the living memory of even the children of the soldiers who served.

(image/Department of Defense. Defense Audiovisual Agency by Mickey Sanborn)

Monday morning coffee

Editing the manuscript yesterday

It rained all day yesterday and I took advantage of the inclement weather to stay in and edit my manuscript. It is amazing how the more you revise the more you find. I sent the draft to a friend last night for him to read. I probably have another 1500 words to reach the finish line. After that, it will be mainly be the clerical work of further editing and the data entry of adding the citations into Zotero. After this week as I wrap up the draft, blogging will pick up again as well.

Enjoy your day and your week.

Presidents Day 2018

I have spent the weekend wrapping up the penultimate chapter in my Civil War book, which ends with the death of Theodore Roosevelt Sr. in February 1878. As it happened I was writing yesterday of President Rutherford B. Hayes’s May 1877 trip to New York City. Hayes, wife Lucy, and much of the cabinet came to New York for a very public series of events spread over a few days. In today’s parlance, we would say that Hayes was consolidating his base. He actually had lost Manhattan to Samuel J. Tilden quite handily in the 1876 presidential election, on his way to losing the overall popular vote. Much of Hayes’s support came from individuals like Theodore Roosevelt Sr., John Jay, Joseph H. Choate and their allies in organizations such as the Union League Club. Roosevelt was at just about every one of the public and private gatherings held in Hayes’s honor.

Contemporary photograph of Fitz-Greene Halleck statue in Central Park

The dedication depicted here took place on 15 May 1877. A short list of those on hand to see President Hayes dedicate the statue to poet Fitz-Greene Halleck includes William Cullen Bryant, William M. Evarts and Carl Schurz, Generals Winfield Scott Hancock and William Tecumseh Sherman, and former New York governor Edwin D. Morgan. The Seventh Regiment Band played. After this event Hayes toured the American Museum of Natural History in its temporary quarters within the Central Park Arsenal escorted by Theodore Roosevelt Sr. It is strange how in popular memory we tend to jump from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt, dismissing the administrations that came between. Abe and Teddy are the subjects of considerably more biographies than all the others between. I believe we serve ourselves poorly and that it is our loss for not doing so.

Enjoy your Presidents Day, everyone.

(images/top, NYPL; bottom, unknown photographer via Wikimedia Commons)

Sunday evening coffee

I hope everyone’s weekend has been good. It has been a rainy one here in Brooklyn. I seized the opportunity the inclement weather has provided to write. I crossed the 70,000 word barrier today on the draft of my book about Civil War Era New York. The word count for the draft itself will land somewhere in the 72,500 range. The editing, honing, and fact checking over the rest of the winter might add another 2000 or so after that. I am off tomorrow for Lincoln’s Birthday. I’ll also be waiting for a repairman to come and fix something in the house. I wrote 1000 words yesterday and gain today. If I can do that a third day in a row, I’ll be in great shape. I even told a friend I would send him the draft to read one week from today. They say that one should write the book one wants to read, and I have done that.

Someone asked me today if I feel myself winding down. I did not until today. For the past several weeks I was worrying as I neared the finish line. The tendency for intellectual drift and self-sabotage only became more marked as I neared the end of this stage. I’m past that now. The trick has been to force myself from becoming impatient and to let the process take care of itself. Of course the book is a long way from release, if it ever is indeed published. I don’t want to give away too much just yet, but I have been developing what I think might be some good public history opportunities related to the Incorporating New York for this spring and summer. First things first, though: finishing the draft over the next seven days.


“Serious but not critical”

Theodore Roosevelt as he was in 1918. After years of living the strenuous life his health declined precipitously that year and led to his death in January 1919.

While of course no one could have know it at the time Theodore Roosevelt had just eleven months to live as of February 6, 1918. For those watching Roosevelt’s activities however, it was clear that his health was failing. One hundred years ago today he was at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City for surgery to remove accesses on a thigh and in his ears. He had acquired these maladies first in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and later, more seriously, in Brazil in 1913-14 during trip down the River of Doubt. This was Roosevelt’s second procedure in less than a week; surgeons had operated on him in Oyster Bay a few days previously before bringing him into the city for more extensive tests and, ultimately, the additional surgery. There to keep him company in the coming days while he recuperated were daughters Alice and Ethel, wife Ethel, and his sister Corinne. Not present were his four sons, who by now were all in uniform and on active duty. Telegrams of support poured in from Woodrow Wilson, French President Raymond Poincaré, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and scores of others.

It was still an active time for Colonel Roosevelt. Remember, he was still just fifty-nine years old. In this period he was writing his columns for the Kansas City Star and speaking his mind on what he saw as the failures of the Wilson Administration in getting the United States up to speed and involved in the Great War. He had had to cancel a number of public talks that very week for the surgery itself. He was in Roosevelt Hospital for nearly a week and suffered a few set back. This is what led his physicians to inform the public that Roosevelt’s condition was “serious but not critical.” He was on the mend, at least temporarily, by mid-February. Some were still optimistic. and there was even public chatter at this time of Roosevelt running for the White House again in 1920.


Great War inflation

Food prices jump from $.90 to $1.29, Brooklyn Daily Eagle: January 31, 1918

This striking headline appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle one hundred years ago today. A jump from $.90 to $1.29 represents a 30% increase in the price of groceries. The way I have always understood it American food producers had done well the first three of the war, selling food stuffs to European governments to feed their hungry armies out in the field. This demand in turn set off inflation here in the United States, not to staggering proportions but at least enough for American consumers to feel the pinch. Rationing and price controls too contributed to inflation at the dinner table.

As of late January 1918 the United States still had few troops stationed overseas, though the number of men in uniform and in training stateside was growing exponentially. This was putting additional strain on both the food supply and the transportation systems that brought goods from here to there within the United States. One can only imagine what Americans were thinking when they saw headlines like this in the winter of 1918.