Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Warrior of the People - Susan La Flesche Picotte

Dr Susan Laflesche Picotte
1865 - 1915

The first American Indian woman to earn a medical degree.
She graduated at the top of her class, and a year early.
She founded the first privately funded hospital located on a reservation.

Susan La Flesche Picotte was first person to receive federal aid for professional education, and the first American Indian woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. In her remarkable career she served more than 1,300 people over 450 square miles, giving financial advice and resolving family disputes as well as providing medical care at all hours of the day and night.

Susan La Flesche was born to Chief Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eyes) and his wife, Mary (One Woman) on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska. She attended school there until age 14. Her father encouraged his people to seek education and build relationships with white reform groups. After being home-schooled for several years, Picotte was sent to the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey.

Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in New Jersey.

She returned home at age 17 to teach at the Quaker Mission School on the Omaha Reservation for two years.

As a child, she had watched a sick Indian woman die because the local white doctor would not give her care. Picotte later credited this tragedy as her inspiration to train as a physician, so she could provide care for the people she lived with on the reservation.

While working at the Quaker school, La Flesche attended to the health of ethnologist Alice Fletcher, who was working there. 

Alice Fletcher
With Fletcher's urging, she went back East to complete her education and earn a medical degree. She enrolled at Hampton Institute, one of the nation's first and finest schools of higher education for non-white students. 

Hampton Institute
The resident physician there, Martha Waldron, was a graduate of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) and encouraged her to apply to the Woman's Medical College. 

Once again, Alice Fletcher helped La Flesche by securing scholarship funds from the U.S. Office of Indian Affairs and the Connecticut Indian Association, a branch of the Women's National Indian Association. 

After only two years in a three-year program at WMCP, Susan La Flesche graduated in 1889 at the top of her class. She remained in Philadelphia to complete year's internship, and then returned home to provide health care to the Omaha people at the government boarding school, where she was responsible for some twelve hundred people.

Susan La Flesche married Henry Picotte in 1894 and the couple moved to Bancroft, Nebraska, where she set up a private practice, serving both white and non-white patients. Along with her busy practice, Picotte also raised two sons and nursed her husband through a terminal illness. In 1906 she led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby for prohibition of alcohol on the reservation.

In 1913, two years before her death, she saw her life's dream fulfilled when she opened a hospital in the reservation town of Walthill, Nebraska. Today the hospital houses a museum dedicated to the work of Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte and the history of the Omaha and Winnebago tribes.
Biography Courtesy of National Library of Medicine (NLM)

On March 14, 1889, Susan La Flesche received her medical degree―becoming the first Native American doctor in U.S. history. She earned her degree thirty-one years before women could vote and thirty-five years before Indians could become citizens in their own country.
By age twenty-six, this fragile but indomitable Indian woman became the doctor to her tribe. Overnight, she acquired 1,244 patients scattered across 1,350 square miles of rolling countryside with few roads. Her patients often were desperately poor and desperately sick―tuberculosis, small pox, measles, influenza―families scattered miles apart, whose last hope was a young woman who spoke their language and knew their customs.
This is the story of an Indian woman who effectively became the chief of an entrenched patriarchal tribe, the story of a woman who crashed through thick walls of ethnic, racial and gender prejudice, then spent the rest of her life using a unique bicultural identity to improve the lot of her people―physically, emotionally, politically, and spiritually. 

A Warrior of the People is the moving biography of Susan La Flesche’s inspirational life, and it will finally shine a light on her numerous accomplishments.

The author will donate all royalties from this book to a college scholarship fund he has established for Native American high school graduates.


I am always thrilled to discover a woman of history who broke barriers and rose above insurmountable odds to achieve a lofty goal even in today's terms. Susan La Flesche did just that. Despite all her amazing achievements, little is known about the details of her life. 

Author Joe Starita has conducted intricate research to recreate the path of this wonderous woman's life. He portrayed her honorably, in a way that showed off her fortitude and determined intelligence. She was a woman dedicated to her people and to improving their lives. Teacher, healer, scholar, wife, mother, and physician, she forged through barriers to become the first American Native woman to become a doctor. 

Definitely worth reading - it will inspire and motivate you! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

CHILD OF THE RIVER by Irma Joubert

A compelling coming of age story with an unlikely and utterly memorable heroine, Child of the River is a timeless tale of heartbreak and triumph set in South Africa at the dawn of apartheid.
Persomi is young, white, and poor, born the middle child of illiterate sharecroppers on the prosperous Fourie farm in the South African Bushveld. Persomi’s world is extraordinarily small. She has never been to the local village and spends her days absorbed in the rhythms of the natural world around her, escaping the brutality and squalor of her family home through the newspapers and books passed down to her from the main house and through her walks in the nearby mountains.
Persomi’s close relationship with her older brother Gerbrand and her fragile friendship with Boelie Fourie—heir to the Fourie farm and fortune—are her lifeline and her only connection to the outside world. When Gerbrand leaves the farm to fight on the side of the Anglos in WWII and Boelie joins an underground network of Boer nationalists, Persomi’s isolated world is blown wide open. But as her very small world falls apart, bigger dreams become open to her—dreams of an education, a profession, a native country that values justice and equality, and of love. As Persomi navigates the changing world around her—the tragedies of war and the devastating racial strife of her homeland—she finally discovers who she truly is, where she belongs, and why her life—and every life—matters.
The English language publication of Child of the River solidifies Irma Joubert as a unique and powerful voice in historical fiction.
International bestselling author IRMA JOUBERT was a history teacher for 35 years before she began writing fiction. Her stories are known for their deep insight into personal relationships and rich historical detail. She is the author of eight novels and a regular fixture on bestseller lists in The Netherlands and in her native South Africa. She is the winner of the 2010 ATKV Prize for Romance Novels.

Five Things You Need to Know:

1.            Child of the River was originally written in Afrikaans as Pérsomi and was published in South Africa in 2010. The story is set in South Africa in the years 1938 to 1968. Americans will be familiar with the two historical themes: the poor white challenge and Apartheid. South Africa’s poor whites of the 1930’s and 1940’s can be compared to the American Dust Bowl experience of the 1930’s  – the “Okies” of Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Texas and New Mexico. The second theme is the South African Apartheid system of the 1950’s and 1960’s, not unlike the segregationist ways then prevalent in the American South.  And the third and most prominent theme is the unlikely relationship between Pérsomi, the sharecropper’s daughter, and Boelie, the wealthy landowner’s eldest son.

2.            As with The Girl From the Train, this novel is set in the northernmost part of South Africa, on a cattle ranch in the Bushveld. The Bushveld is a rugged, hot, dry area that was still largely pioneer country during the mid 20th century. During those years most Afrikaners were farmers (boers in Afrikaans). Electricity was unknown on the Bushveld farms of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Farmers used lamps or candles for lighting and wood stoves for cooking. To enjoy an early morning cup of coffee, they had to fetch water from the river and light the wood stove to bring it to boil. Farmers slaugtered their own cattle or game for meat and baked their own bread in a specially built mud oven.

3.            Child of the River is based on two true stories. At school I knew many Pérsomis: girls who sat with me on school benches, shared dormitories with me at boarding school. They had never before slept on a bed, bathed or showered in a modern bathroom, nor knew how to use a knife and fork. These were the needy children who were handed down charity clothing and who had to collect state subsidised textbooks in front of gawking class mates. Their fathers were drunk weekend after weekend and their sisters were pregnant by age fourteen. My heart went out to them instinctively. I also experienced the Apartheid years. Where I grew up, the Asian owned shops were in the middle of town. I knew Mr. Ravat, his cohort and their shops from a young age. But then these traders were banned to a place far out of town. Their shops and homes were bulldozed. All that remained was a wound in the middle of town, empty land where guilty consciences prevented people from building. They just left because they could no longer trade. I felt their story needed and deserved to be told.

4.            Many hours of research went into writing this book. Revisiting the town of my youth, people opened their hearts, retelling many heart-wrenching stories I had heard over the years, unselfishly unravelling the sorrow I had witnessed as a child, but never understood. Much of my research involves conversations with people who experienced events themselves, or whose parents told them the stories. So I spoke with Mr. Ravat, whom I knew as a child. Today, he is a very old man. But at the time of their forced removal he was an upcoming young shopkeeper whose family had been living and trading in the town for generations. Then the silent terror of Apartheid and the Group Areas Act was upon them. His family was torn apart. The Asian characters in my story were pieced together from his memories and based on court reports. I found it personally very fulfilling.

5.            A follow up of this novel is due for publication in the US in 2017. Readers can again encounter the main characters Pérsomi and Boelie, the self-centered Annabel de Vos (she just forced herself into my novel, as she would!), the ever charming De Wet Fourie, Antonio’s brother Marco all the way from Italy, and the most interesting character of all, the young Asian doctor, Yusuf Ismail.


Based on actual accounts, this is a sweeping novel that takes the readers straight into the heart of Apartheid in South Africa during the mid 1950's. At the heart of the tale is a young woman named Persomis, the daughter of a poor whie sharecropper. Her home life is dysfunctional. Her father is a drunk who beats his family. When Persomis's mother is taken away by the police, social workers step in and seize her younger siblings. They send Persomi to a boarding school, she then attends university and earns a law degree. 

When she returns home, she takes on a case to fight against a law that forces non-whites to leave their homes, neighborhoods, and businesses and move to a location strictly for non-whites. It is this work that brings new enlightening to Persomi that forever alters her life.

The author knows her material well, and it materialized in the splendid descriptions and relaying the South African political atmosphere of the times. I very much appreciated the glossary of South African terms at the start of the book. The author has a knack for delving deep into the psyche of her characters which makes them real and often larger than life. Their plight became my plight and my emotions were stirred in many directions throughout the reading of this important historical novel. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Most Sought After Bride of the 12th Century - Eleanor of Aquitaine -

Eleanor of Aquitaine
1122 - 1204

Imagine inheriting a vast fortune at the age of 15. Now imagine it happened during the middle ages and you were a mere girl. Well that happened to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and it made her the most sought after bride in all of Europe. 

Eleanor was born in France. Her father was William X, the Duke of Aquitaine. He ensured she was well educated, not only in the womanly arts, but also in several languages, literature, horsemanship, and philosophy. He also made sure she understood the intricacies of court life. Why? Well she was his only heir. When her father died, she was only 15 and inherited daddy's title, lands, and wealth. Now rich, the Duchess of Aquitaine, suddenly found herself immensely popular with menfolk. Suddenly under the guardianship of the King of France, and within mere hours, he betrothed her to his heir, Louis VII.
King Louis VII of France
A contingent of no less than 500 men arrived in Aquitaine to deliver the news and take her to the French court. 
Because of the swiftness of their betrothal and marriage, the couple were mere strangers to each other. Mere weeks after their nuptials, her father-in-law the king became ill and succumbed. Eleanor and Louis moved into the cold and austere Cîté Palace in Paris. Eleanor and Louis's coronation took place on Christmas Day.  
Coming from the warmth of southern France, she was ill prepared for cold northern regions. One of the first things she did after she was married was renovate the palace and install built-in fireplaces in nearly every room. Surprised by the pleasant renovation, many other nobles followed suit and installed their own indoor fireplaces.
The first two years of their reign were ones of great conflict. The power struggles came from Count Theobald of Champagne and the Pope. Louis, little more than a youth, inexperienced and brash, made some serious political and military blunders that antagonized his vassals. War soon followed and the devastation was immense. A battle in the town of Vitry, forced thousands to flee or to the refuge of a church. Louis' soldiers set it aflame. It left blood on his hands and guilt plagued him for years. To cleanse himself of sin, he answered the Pope's call for cruade. Eleanor went with him. The journey was dangerous, rough, uncomfortable, and they were beset with misfortune. Eleanor and Louis grew apart and their marriage suffered terribly. The more the public turned against Louis, the more estranged they became until finally they were granted an annulment on the basis of being related by blood. Their two daughters had to remain in Louis' custody. 

Henry II 
She became a sought after prize once again, but not remain unmarried for long. Two months after her annulment, she married Henry II Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy. She got along so well with her soon-to-be father-in-law that rumors swirled about there being an affair between them. And despite the fact she was more of a blood relative to Henry than she had been to Louis, they married. Two years later, upon the death of her father-in-law, Henry and Eleanor  became King and Queen of England. 
Fiercely independent, full of energy and spunk, and highly educated, Eleanor was no shrinking violet in the face of conflict. Their marriage was fraught with much bickering and arguments, but despite all that, she bore eight children for Henry. Meanwhile, King Henry became increasingly unfaithful. Bearing children kept her out of the political arena for many years. In 1167, Eleanor separated from Henry and moved her household to Poitiers. 

Now as mistress of her own domain, Eleanor worked hard to create a legend dubbed the Court of Love. She created a court where the expectations were of love and chivalry, with plenty of folklore shared by bards, and with plenty of learned books and poetry. Through song and words, troubadours and writers used their skills to share tales of courtly love with others outside her kingdom. Artists and poets traveled from far and wide to experience life in Eleanor's court.

Henry III
In 1173, Eleanor’s son, Henry, plotted against his father to seize England's crown. Rumors abounded that Eleanor helped her son. She was arrested and imprisoned for treason, spending the next 16 years of her life being moved from castle to castle. The king suspected her of plotting against his interests. He even blamed her for the death of his favorite mistress, Rosamund. 

Young Henry spent years fighting against his father until he became ill in the year 1183. On his deathbed, he begged his father to release his mother. Henry did so and he allowed her to return to England in 1184. Once there, she again participated in the pomp and ceremony of her husband's royal court. 

Five years later, Henry II died and was succeeded by their son, Richard. The first thing Richard did was free his mother from prison and restore to her all her freedoms. When Richard departed to lead the Third Crusade, Eleanor ruled as regent for him. He became known as Richard the Lionheart and returned to England and ruled until his death in 1199. 

Richard the Lion-heart
Next to take the crown was Eleanor's youngest son, John. He sent her to France as his envoy. She offered John her support when her grandson, Arthur, rebelled. 

King John
In her declining years, she retired to the abbey at Fontevraud and took her vows to become a nun. When she died in 1204, she was buried in the abbey.

The Son She Loved. The Betrayal She Faced. The Legend She Became.
The stunning conclusion to the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy!
Imprisoned by her husband. Separated from her children. If King Henry II thought these things would push his queen into submission, he was wrong. Eleanor of Aquitaine refused to give into his tyranny. Freed by his death, she became dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry bred among his sons had grown into a dangerous rivalry that Eleanor must skillfully control. Eleanor would need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crossed the Alps in winter to bring her son Richard his bride, ransom him from imprisonment and deal with his brother John's treachery. Her indomitable spirit would be tested to its limits as she attempted to keep the peace between her warring sons, fend off enemies, and negotiate a magnificent future for a chosen granddaughter.


Very few authors are able to bring to life from the middle ages as well as Elizabeth Chadwick can. She has a gift for creating deep understanding of her character's thoughts, desires, and motivations. Years of meticulous research into all aspects of medieval life allows the author to enrich the reader's experience through minute details and rich descriptions regarding everyday medieval life, not only of the nobles, but of all social ranks of the time. 

The Autumn Throne is the concluding book in the trilogy of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Although you do not necessarily have to read the first two to understand the third book, I preferred to read the entire series to get a well-rounded view of Eleanor of Aquitaine's life. 

Highly recommended. Another 5 star book by this wonderful author who has long been one of my favorites.