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A Holy Terror, A Common Scold, and the First Feminist Blogger

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Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither.

–Abby Kelley Foster, National Women’s Rights Convention, 1851

In the summer of 1829, more than a century after Grace Sherwood had been plunged into the Lynnhaven River in Virginia in what is generally considered the last American witch trial, a bedraggled Anne Royall took the stand at the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia to face charges of being an “evil disposed person” and a “common scold.”

The US district attorney had conjured the charges from an ancient English common law, which had long been dismissed in England as a “sport for the mob in ducking women,” especially for older women as a precursor in trials for witchcraft.

The 60-year-old Royall, “godmother of the muckrakers,” grinned in the seat of the accused for her unabashed acts of free speech and free press. According to the court’s research, England had curtailed the conviction of “common scolds” in the late 1770s at the same time it ceased hanging women and gypsies as witches.


Not so in our nation’s capital. For the throng of reporters that crowded the suffocating courthouse that summer, the United States v. Anne Royall—and the “vituperative powers of this giantess of literature,” according to the New York Observer—would become one of the most bizarre trials in Washington, D.C.

Anne Royall was no stranger to trials. One of the most notorious writers of her time, she had shattered the ceiling of participation for politicized women a generation before Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony entered the suffrage ranks and issued the “voice of woman” into the backroom male bastions of banking and politics nearly two centuries before Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.

She had paid dearly for her groundbreaking role as a satirist and muckraker.

Nearly half a century after Royall’s death in 1854, the Washinton Post would stretch a headline across its pages with a reminder of her still haunting and relevant legacy: “She was a Holy Terror: Her Pen was as Venomous as a Rattlesnake’s Fangs; Former Washington Editress: How Ann Royall Made Life a Burden to the Public Men of Her Day.”

The Post’s backhanded compliment of Royall’s pioneering muck-raking journalism, however, missed her defining element in the art of exposé nearly a century before President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 famously branded “the men with the muck rakes”: her take-no-prisoners humor in defense of the freedom of the press—at any cost. “She could always say something,” declared a New England editor, “which would set the ungodly in a roar of laughter.”

Anne Royall knew how to make her readers laugh, and laugh at men—a dangerous talent, especially for a freethinking woman who rattled the bones of Capitol Hill and made Congress “bow down in fear of her” as the whistleblower of political corruption, fraudulent land schemes, and banking scandals and as the thorn in the side of a powerful evangelical movement sweeping across the country.

She didn’t simply have a second act in life; she had three or four or five. Born in Maryland in 1769, her freethinking politics had been shaped in the Virginia backwoods library of her Freemason and Revolutionary War-hero husband, William Royall. Rejected by his family as a lower-class concubine, Royall was left penniless when her husband’s estate was finally adjudicated in the courts in 1823.

In debt but defiant as ever, Royall reinvented herself and launched a literary career at the age of 57. She announced her intention to publish a book on her recent sojourn in Alabama as a “serpent-tongued” traveling writer in the 1820s, introducing the term “redneck” to our American lexicon and a Southern and frontier view to an emerging national identity, and challenged the prevailing mores of “respectable” Christian women through one avenue suddenly available: the printing press.

Traipsing across the rough country as a single woman, she quickly published a series of “Black Books” that provided informative but sardonic portraits of the elite and their denizens from Mississippi to Maine. Her Black Books became prized possessions, if only for the delight of devastatingly funny descriptions of her “pen portraits.” Power brokers sought out her company—or locked their doors. President John Quincy Adams called her the “virago errant in enchanted armor.”

The anti-Mason religious fervor sweeping the Atlantic Coast and across the frontier infuriated Royall and prodded her to sharpen her witty pen in a self-appointed role as journalist and judge. The Second Great Awakening had provided the nation with one of its most critical opponents: dour and reactionary Presbyterians intent on establishing a Christian Party and transforming American politics—and Royall took them on. “The missionaries have thrown off the mask,” she warned. “Their object and their interest is to plunge mankind into ignorance, to make him a bigot, a fanatic, a hypocrite, a heathen, to hate every sect but his own, to shut his eyes against the truth, harden his heart against the distress of his fellowman and purchase heaven with money.”

Royall may have limped after a brutal attack in New England, been scarred from a horsewhipping in Pittsburgh, and lamented being chased out of taverns on the Atlantic Coast, but she relished the attention in the nation’s capital. Andrew Jackson’s secretary of war, John Eaton, would soon testify on her behalf.

The Jacksonian era’s most outlandish trial underscored an alarming witch hunt in the press, singling out Royall’s “unruly” boldness as a funny, foul-mouthed, politically charged and outspoken woman in a volatile period of religious fervor. Tossed to the heap of “hysterical” women, Royall was brandished by the federal court and subsequent historians with the shame of drunkards, prostitutes, cranks—and witches.

Royall dismissed the carnivalesque proceedings as an American inquisition—they had less to do with her “respectable” behavior and were instead aimed at her journalistic right to free speech as a woman. Why had no man, among many other equally abrasive journalists, ever been put on such a trial?

For journalism historian Patricia Bradley, in her survey of women in the early years of the press, Royall’s branding as a “virago” diminished “her travels around the new nation as its storyteller,” which could “easily have been framed heroically, and that her accounts of the new nation, appearing at the same time as Alexis de Tocqueville’s vaulted accounts, may have become equally celebrated.” But they never were.

In fact, her story is far more complicated than has ever been told. Her role as a pioneering woman satirist in a suffocating age of religious orthodoxy has been overlooked by a century of moralizing critics. The successful and enduring tenacity of her enterprising literary strategies—maintaining an independent newspaper for decades, while publishing ten books as a social critic and agitator—rarely receives as much attention as her beggarly attire of an impoverished lifestyle.

Defiant to the “bitter end,” a nautical term she helped introduce into the American vocabulary, Royall roasted the wags on the Washington scene for three decades and, hence, remained an unavoidable female symbol—and target—in an era when women were “gross counterparts” in American humor. Her larger-than-life figure grew even more worrisome for critics when Royall targeted elite women in the religious and reform movements. Such audacious tampering with the “cult of true womanhood” in that period, as historian Barbara Welter notably wrote, damned such a person—especially another woman on the fringe of society—as an “enemy of God, civilization and of the Republic.” To the defining traits of respectable womanhood— piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity—Royall overturned every rule as an itinerant iconoclast who had cohabitated with her husband before marriage and took a vow to expose the hypocrisy of the “church and state” forces.

To this end, as novelist Shirley Du Bois declared in her own harrowing period of political witch hunts in the 1950s, Royall’s role as a pioneering woman politico should have also distinguished her as a de facto feminist. A generation before the suffrage movement launched its call for women’s rights at the historic convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, Royall breached the accepted place of women in the halls of Congress, elbowed her way into the back rooms of political deals at the White House, and dominated the discussion of the latest news among her peers in the corridors of the national press. But her refusal to attend to the suffrage cause, above all else—especially her campaign for universal education as an entryway to public participation—set her on the margins of women’s history. Royall’s quick trigger in expressing her disgust of ignorance, especially among the elite social reformers, regardless of gender, won her few friends. Few women of her time, on the other hand, expressed such a concern for reversing the tide of anti-intellectualism and its fallout in political corruption.

Royall has been largely ignored or minimized by most histories on women in her era and conversely lionized by historians of the Masonic brotherhood, which had banned women from their covens. Instead, the enduring issues that she challenged in her time—the stranglehold of financial and religious interests in the polarization of politics, the fragmentation of national unity, the unending debates over the balance between freedom of religion and freedom of speech, the role of anti-intellectual mediums to disenfranchise the powerless from public participation, and the shifting and historic role of women in the public arena and media—make Royall’s complex story worth reconsideration today.

Her life serves as a cautionary tale of the price paid by one woman for the right to dissent; of the historical use of ridicule and satire in leveling the patriarchal claims of frightened men in power; of the small wonder of reinvention in a state of desperation; of an older woman who repeatedly rose from mishaps and refused to be silenced.

Anne Royall was warned, tried and convicted. Nevertheless, she persisted—for decades.

Here’s the coda: Anne Royall took her revenge after her witch trial. At the age of 62, she launched her own newspaper in Washington, DC, with a gaggle of orphans and carried out two decades of investigative reporting and often hilarious commentary in an increasingly divided nation as a pioneering woman journalist, editor, and publisher— effectively, the nation’s first blogger.

As a witness to the historic demonstration by Samuel Morse of his telegraph in the Capitol room on May 24, 1844, Royall recognized the first “information highway” for the nation’s communication expansion as its grid was laid along the very horse trails and rutted stagecoach lines that she had already traveled as a pioneering writer. Morse would be immortalized that day at the Capitol. Royall would be forgotten.

Nonetheless, the playful Royall couldn’t resist edging to the elbow of Morse’s tapper, insisting on her own rendezvous with history. Anne Royall was present, she informed the assistant at the key. He nodded and tapped a series of strokes, as a small wheel on his right slowly turned. Royall smiled. She didn’t bother to look around. Within seconds, the assistant reached over and retrieved a narrow slip of paper that had issued from the telegraph machine, tore it off, and then handed it to the singular newspaper editor. Royall took it into her worn hands.

“Mr. Rogers respects to Mrs. Anne Royall.”

trials of a scold

Excerpted from THE TRIALS OF A SCOLD: The Incredible True Story of Writer Anne Royall by Jeff Biggers, published by Thomas Dunne Books. Copyright © 2017 by Jeff Biggers.

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314 days ago
Nearly half a century after Royall’s death in 1854, the Washing­ton Post would stretch a headline across its pages with a reminder of her still haunting and relevant legacy: “She was a Holy Terror: Her Pen was as Venomous as a Rattlesnake’s Fangs; Former Washington Editress: How Ann Royall Made Life a Burden to the Public Men of Her Day.”
309 days ago
Greater Bostonia
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Spheres of cells reveal which drugs can enter brains

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A new method reveals which drugs can cross the cellular barrier that separates the brain from the bloodstream1.

The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from foreign invaders. But it also blocks out many chemical compounds, creating a major hurdle for drug development. Treatments for autism and other psychiatric conditions need to cross from the blood into the brain in a reliable way.

Researchers can use synthetic systems to model the blood-brain barrier in laboratory dishes. But these models are expensive to assemble, limiting the number of drugs that researchers can screen at a time.

The new method offers an inexpensive way to screen several compounds at once. It involves co-culturing the three types of cells that form the blood-brain barrier: endothelial cells, which line the inside of blood vessels; pericytes, which surround the endothelial cells; and astrocytes, which support the healthy functioning of neurons. Human cell lines for all three cell types are commercially available.

After 12 hours in culture, the cells organize into tiny spheres. Endothelial cells and pericytes form the outside of the spheres, and astrocytes make up the interior.

The method was described 6 June in Nature Communications.

Test run:

Researchers exposed the spheres to a peptide known to cross the blood-brain barrier, called angiopep-2. They tagged the peptide with a fluorescent marker. When they looked under a microscope, they saw a fluorescent signal deep inside, indicating that the peptide had crossed into the sphere. Another peptide known not to cross the barrier did not permeate the spheres.

The team tested 16 fluorescently tagged peptides that were assumed to cross the blood-brain barrier based on their size, water solubility and electric charge. Only five of the peptides readily passed into the spheres. One of the five disrupted the structure of the spheres, so the researchers eliminated from it from further study.

They injected the remaining four peptides into mice and then inspected the animals’ brains for a fluorescent signal. All four peptides accumulated in the brain.

The peptide that permeated the spheres most readily was not the most abundant in mouse brain tissue. Still, the technique could help scientists narrow the search for drug candidates to test in animal models, the researchers say.

The post Spheres of cells reveal which drugs can enter brains appeared first on Spectrum | Autism Research News.

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396 days ago
Sounds exciting.
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Questionnaires can be a good predictor of survival rates in multiple sclerosis

The way in which patients with multiple sclerosis answer questionnaires could help to predict their survival rate from the disease, a study has found.
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436 days ago
In which doctors learn that patients who feel like shit are doing worse than those who feel just not so great.
439 days ago
The kind of headline that makes me hesitate: "Do I really want to know what this says?"

*clicks and reads*

"Yep, kind of wish I hadn't read that."
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Loss of spinal nerve fibres not the only cause of disability in multiple sclerosis

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It is commonly thought that in MS, the loss of axons (nerve fibres) contributes to the chronic disability found in many patients.
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484 days ago
Damn. "In spinal cord trauma, people with less than 10% of their spinal cord axons may still be able to have useful lower limb movement, but in MS, patients with as much as 40% of their axons retained, as shown in our study, are almost invariably wheelchair bound."
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I’m Not Mean, I Just Have Resting Bitch Personality


Can’t I be nice and you also leave me alone?

Image: Surian Soosay

I don’t have Resting Bitch Face, but I have always looked more upset than I am. When I was five I was diagnosed with a lazy eye, and though I was told I “grew out of it,” I’m not sure my eyes are quite…even. It’s not that one of my eyes is different, it’s that they’re not exactly the same. To add to that, I’m nearsighted. For many years—specifically the years in high school when it was not cool to wear glasses—I was in denial of this fact. So I would dutifully wear my thin oval-shaped glasses during Algebra 2/Trig H class so I could see the board, and as soon as it was time to walk between classes I would squint my way down the hall, scowling more deeply in order to see the faces of those walking towards me. When I was in college, one of my TAs said he saw me walking down the street but resisted the temptation to say hello because I looked like I was brooding. I have Resting Brood Face.

I also suffer from a more complicated affliction, which I am happy to explain, called Resting Bitch Personality. I SEEM like a bitch, but I’m not. The only thing I resent more than small talk is the social expectation of having it. I will ice out even the most talkative hairdresser. I will ice out my own family. “I’m not going to talk just because you WANT me to, in this moment!” I’m a rigid motherfucker, but I’m not a bitch.

This is not to say that I’m silent all the time or never make conversation. I just prefer it to be on my terms, and not yours. When you ask me a question I feel put on the spot. I hate the expectation of performance. I resent that you have to announce to a house full of relatives your plans for the evening: “I think I shall now retire to my bedroom, goodnight to all!” As if you owe anyone an account of your every move.

I come off as an ice-cold bitch in public, but not because I hate everyone, but because I believe in some sort of false bubble of privacy—that I am walking through my life as the protagonist. I realize that makes me selfish, but I would argue that I’m also passive: I often feel as though I am watching my life rather than living it. So when you speak to me or look at me, I lose track of the footage. I believe you are not supposed to talk to or look at strangers in a public bathroom, and I believe retail salespeople are sociopaths.

But I wouldn’t say I’m an introvert. I love attention, I love being right, I love performing when I know I’m good. When I’m On, I’m On. Maybe it’s a younger-sibling thing—I’m sort of always waiting to see what other people do first. I’m very comfortable watching other people, and uncomfortable with the idea of them watching me. Anyway I just wanted you to know that I’m not ACTUALLY a bitch, I just seem like one. Please do not diagnose me in the comments, I already have enough problems. Thank you.

I’m Not Mean, I Just Have Resting Bitch Personality was originally published in The Hairpin on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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516 days ago
"The only thing I resent more than small talk is the social expectation of having it." Normal people will read this piece and think it's satire, but *I* know the truth. (It is The Truth.)
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516 days ago
I have recently been saying that I am not unfriendly, I'm just not friendly.

“Welcome Them”—An Interview with Alisa Bowman on RAISING THE TRANSGENDER CHILD

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As Janet Mock recently explained in the New York Times, “Young People Get Trans Rights. It’s Adults Who Don’t.” At this regressive moment in history, as the Trump administration rescinds legal protections for trans youth, it’s important to remember that culture continues to march forward. More and more trans kids across the country are living as their true selves at home and at school, and increasing numbers of parents and educators are realizing they need to learn how best to support the trans kids in their lives. Raising the Transgender Child, a new parenting guidebook by Alisa Bowman and Dr. Michele Angello, is going to make that a whole lot easier.

This practical and super readable book breaks down the issues for everyone, from those who are only just learning the word “transgender” and want to know, “What’s the difference between LGB, LGBT, LGBTI, and LGBTQQIP2SAA?” to those who are knee-deep in navigating the legal and healthcare systems to get their child’s transition-related healthcare costs covered by insurance and may turn straight to the chapter outlining “Seven Ways to Avoid Going Broke.” It’s also packed with statistics from the latest research illustrating the devastating costs of refusing to affirm a child’s gender identity, for the next time that conservative uncle tries to argue that your child will “grow out of it.”

“This wonderful book arrives at exactly the right moment, providing parents, families, and educators with an invaluable resource for raising a trans child with wisdom and love,” says Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She’s Not There and Stuck in the Middle with You.

I spoke with Alisa Bowman about her personal reasons for writing the book, and how other parents are responding. – Rachel Aimee

MUTHA: What made you want to write this book?

ALISA BOWMAN: This book began one day over coffee with my literary agent. I casually mentioned that my son was transgender. At the time, Caitlyn Jenner had just come out, and my agent leaned toward me and fired off dozens of questions. She was genuinely curious and wanted to learn. I was genuinely generous and offered as many answers as I could.

On my way out of the coffee house, a young man tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I couldn’t help but overhear…” I thought he was about to lecture me and tell me I was raising my child wrong. Instead he said, “I’m trans. I think you are a wonderful mother.” Then he handed me his business card and said, “If you ever need ANYTHING, please reach out.”

We marveled at how small this world can be. Then we parted ways.

Several weeks later, my agent emailed, saying she thought the world needed a guide for parents like me.

Just the idea of it made my stomach turn. At the time, my son was in the closet. He looked like any boy. Most people had no idea that he had ovaries and a vagina.

I told her that, though I could see the need for it, I could not pen a book like this. It was just too dangerous.

But she persisted.

Soon a publisher was interested. I talked the publisher into allowing me to use a pen name. But then August of 2016 happened. That’s when things got personal. That’s when a high school student went before our district’s school board and she told them that she didn’t want transgender students in the locker room with her. Her story went viral. Soon people were commenting on Facebook about kids like mine being freaks and perverts and mentally ill.

I knew my son was none of those things.

I also knew something else: it was time to stop being so silent.

Three weeks later, my son and I went before the school board, and we brought an entire loving community with us. A video of my son’s speech soon went viral, and we were inundated with requests for interviews. What shocked me more than anything was how many people stood up for us once they realized it was safe to do so. That’s when I asked our publisher to put my real name on the book rather than have me write under a pen name.

MUTHA: That’s an amazing story. As you discuss in the book, many parents think they are protecting their children by preventing them from expressing their true gender identity, but the research shows the opposite. What advice do you have for these parents?

ALISA BOWMAN: I used to be one of the parents in the former category. I wanted my son to “just” be a masculine girl rather than a transgender boy. In other words, I would hear myself wishing, “Can’t she just be a masculine girl?” and “Can’t she just be a lesbian?”

My reasoning was that society was more accepting of masculine women than society was of men with ovaries and, therefore, he’d be happier and safer as a result. But I was wrong. By trying to force an identity onto my son, I didn’t see him for who he truly was – and that was a lot more harmful than accepting him and helping him to find his way, even in a world that may or may not accept him.

We’ve all probably experienced milder versions of what transgender people experience, and those experiences can help us to empathize with what it’s like to be told you are “wrong.” Perhaps, for example, you were told that you were crazy for loving a particular song or movie. Or maybe, your parents strongly encouraged you to go into a STEM profession, even though you loved the arts. Or maybe you were told to dress a certain way. When our families, friends and society attempt to define us without our input or permission, it’s annoying and frustrating and anxiety producing. So just imagine how it would feel if society was telling you that you were wrong about how you perceived and expressed your gender, perhaps going as far to tell you that you were going to go to Hell for it. Imagine how it would feel if you felt your parent’s love was conditional on you behaving in a way that didn’t reflect who you really were. Imagine how stressful it would be to go through the world pretending to be someone you knew you weren’t. That’s the experience of transgender youth who are not accepted by their families, and it’s partly what is driving the very high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among transgender people.

MUTHA: What kind of response has the book gotten from parents?

ALISA BOWMAN: During a recent book signing, I was heartened to meet several parents who had been raising transgender children near me. We didn’t know one another and probably would have never met if not for the book events. And had we never met, they would have felt as if they were all alone – with no other families like theirs in the area. I literally watched the expressions on their faces change from fear to comfort, and that made every bit of this process so worth it for me.

MUTHA: What are the most useful things that parents (not just parents of trans kids but all parents) can do to support gender diverse kids and their families?

ALISA BOWMAN: Affirm. Affirm. Affirm. Use the name someone asks you to use, even if it’s not technically their legal name. Use the pronouns they ask you to use, even if it feels awkward at first. Welcome them into gendered spaces. Believe them when they tell you who they are, and make every effort to treat them as their identified gender.

And talk to your own children about gender. Help them to be the kid who sticks up for someone who is being bullied. Talk to them about the importance of kindness, compassion, and love. The bullies of the world are pretty rare, but people who stand by and do nothing as those bullies accomplish their dirty work are very common. Teach your child what to do so they are not scared into silence, but rather courageous enough stand up for the most vulnerable among us.

Alisa Bowman

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521 days ago
"The bullies of the world are pretty rare, but people who stand by and do nothing as those bullies accomplish their dirty work are very common."
521 days ago
Rare? The "left" are boldly getting worse. https://youtu.be/uvOzGVj18zU
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