The article in October’s “Secrets of American History” issue that prompted the most passionate responses was “Sidelined,” by Susan Dominus, about Margaret Rossiter’s efforts to spotlight overlooked female scientists. “No woman should ever again be subjected to the ‘Matilda Effect,’” Linda Bergofsky of Poolesville, Maryland, wrote, using Rossiter’s term for the phenomenon of men getting credit for women’s achievements. “As a woman in medicine...I had never heard of most of these women scientists,” wrote Laura E. Al-Sayed of Missouri. “It is lovely to see these accomplished women finally ‘unearthed,’ but very sad to think of all the women who were driven away before ever having a chance to succeed.” Readers also praised the novelist Ken Follett’s ode to Notre Dame: “He brought the building of this magnificent cathedral to life,” noted Sandra Alawine of Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
The Woman Behind the Curtain
Matilda Gage’s contributions to the work of Margaret Rossiter and American feminism (“Sidelined”) are undeniable, but she made other contributions as well. Her daughter, Maude Gage, married L. Frank Baum, author of the “Oz” books. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to see Matilda’s presence in such forthright female characters as Dorothy Gale, Princess Ozma and Glinda the Good Witch.
— Fred Erisman | Fort Worth, Texas
American Indian History
“The Trigger,” about George Washington’s role in the French and Indian War, was interesting, but two maps were distressing. Swaths of color showed the areas of North and Central America claimed by European nations. The key identified the uncolored areas as “title not established.” It would be more accurate to label those areas (as well as the colored areas) “lands of Native Americans.” Smithsonian should not be promulgating European colonialist views in the 21st century, at the expense of Native Americans.
— Pat Delo | West Springfield, Massachusetts
In “Making Purple Rain,” author Amanda Petrusich says it “has always been something of a mystery” how Prince “was able to conjure such gleeful and transporting melodies.” The truth is more prosaic. I’m a studio musician and songwriter and know people who worked closely with Prince, and they all say he worked harder and longer than anyone they had ever met. It’s tempting to ascribe magical qualities to him, but there is no mystery: It boils down to hours and hours of solitary work, and fearlessly confronting the things that keep you from achieving what you want.
— Seth Glassman | Pound Ridge, New York
I greatly enjoyed Richard Grant’s account of the Green Corn Rebellion (“Rebellion in Seminole County”), but surely it is an overstatement that an abortive insurrection by a few hundred backcountry rabble a century ago “wrecks” the notion of American exceptionalism. Our national saga has at times followed a complicated path, but a few aberrational uprisings do not refute de Tocqueville’s conclusion that America was—and remains—an egalitarian society uniquely suited to democratic self-government.
— Mark Pulliam | Knoxville, Tennessee