Book Review: Parlor Politics by Catherine Allgor

In her book Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government, Catherine Allgor does exactly what the reader expects her to do. She goes through several examples, the most detailed of which is Dolly Madison, of women who were equally as influential in Washington D.C. and its evolution of the city Americans see as their capitol today. Allgor limits her study of the women of Washington to the white, upper class in order to more accurately describe a certain, powerful section of the private sphere. Catherine Allgor points out that those working behind the scenes in Washington, the wives of the men with the power, were just as integral to the development of the city and the government as the men they were married to.

Allgor does a lovely job of describing how un-lovely Washington D.C. was in its earliest days. People who were traveling into the city often asked where it was when in fact they were standing at the heart of it. It was up to both the men and women of Washington society to create the society the city is now famous for as well as to create the base of what would be an incredibly strong government. The gender role reversal that Allgor describes is what allowed this to happen. She argues that the ones doing all of the political work was the women, while the men maintained the image of disinterestedness and attempted to avoid corruption. The women were the ones forming the groups and campaigning on behalf of their husbands or brothers attempting to gain them positions of power. They often hosted lavish dinner parties and social gatherings and passed them off as such instead of the political escapades that they really were.

One of the biggest aspects of Allgor’s argument is that gender as a societal construction functioned as an ideology. It “can be manipulated and shifted to help shift mechanisms of power” (http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=5033). Seeing it as an ideology allows gender to be a driving force behind the development of Washington as a hot bed of political gossip, power and ideas. Due to the actions of the women of Washington and their lobby groups and their use of the private and public sphere to manipulate American politics, the politics of the city became based upon networking and allegiance to certain people. The women that Allgor describes use their domestic role in the home and the nature of their role in society to establish a culture in American politics that remains even to this day.

Allgor’s argument is very well supported. Not only has she analyzed the women who have always been thought of as politically influential, first ladies Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison but sisters of politicians and women such as Margaret Bayard Smith, who while not the wife of any president, got swept up in the whirlwind that was the structure of Washington society. She explains in the first chapter, how important the relationships in Washington were and how politics and ideas were constantly the talk of the town. She describes how, despite its unfinished architecture and small town feeling, Washington was charming in its own way and had the beauty of an old European city. Allgor provides a plethora of evidence to support her story and her argument. She provides detailed diaries of the women that she profiles as well as detailed accounts of the parties that they hosted at their homes. She sorts through the tedious accounts of the lives of the women constantly portrayed in the shadow of their historically famous husbands. She does this in order to get to the bottom of their influence over Washington and how they managed to acquire such an amount of indirect power.

I am quite convinced by Allgor’s argument. Based upon her evidence and her examples of influential women presented as part of the argument, I do not feel that Washington could have prospered into the flowering political center of American culture without their feminine touch. I believe that if the men were expected to keep up the persona of being disinterested in politics and keeping up this appearance in the public sphere, then it was only natural that the women took over in the private sphere and managed to reach their influence into the public sphere as well. However, while the book is well researched and well supported, Allgor does not try particularly hard to stay objective. She clearly supports the women and appreciates the fact that they challenged their typical small town domestic role. They were afforded the opportunity presented by the unique development of the nation’s capitol to express their opinions to one another and put their ideas into practice via the influence they had over their husbands.

Allgor’s presentation of a different outlook on the development of political life in Washington allows for a much deeper understanding of the Founding Fathers. For example, while John Adams was an influential man on his own and in his own right, in accordance with Allgor’s argument, Abigail Adams was a huge influence over his political behavior and was as much a presence in his presidency as he was. Allgor does a great job of exploring different presidents from different eras of early America. She enables a student of early American history to examine how Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, Louisa Catherine Adams, Peggy Eaton affected Washington politics, both for the better and for worse. While Louisa Catherine Adams and Dolly Madison were a political force in the betterment of Washington, Peggy Eaton, while she was in a position to take on a position of power in Washington, fell prey to the other women of Washington. She was judged by society of Washington for acting as a femme fatale; she was in the position to take on most of the feminine power in Washington, due to the widowed state of the President. The Washington gossip circles engulfed her and called her such names as a tart and other insults not commonly used in civilized society.

Allgor presents a compelling argument that as important as the founding fathers were to the development of Washington politics, their wives and the other women of the Washington lobbying circles, were equally important. Some of the most prominent women making a difference in the newborn capitol were Dolly Madison, Louisa Catherine Adams and Peggy Eaton. However, the women on the sidelines of politics were equally important. Their actions surrounding politics enabled their husbands to maintain the public demeanor of disinterestedness in politics, while they promoted their husbands through indirect political actions and appearing as politically supportive wives to the most powerful men in the country. “Remember the ladies” Abigail Adams remarks, and Allgor allows the reader to understand not only that they should be remembered but what they are to be remembered for.

Advertisements

Hiatus…Sorry About That!

Hey readers! Sorry about that ridiculously long hiatus I accidentally went on! I received a full time employment position and needed to learn how to balance that out with everything else in my life including a side part time job teaching dance! But fear not friends, I am still here and I intend to continue blogging! If you have been following my twitter or instagram, you can see that I have been plenty active in the Disney Parks community! I will be giving the world a blog dedicated purely to my Disney adventures shortly! Thanks for hanging in there if you did and if you didn’t I totally understand! I shall be posting a book review of a book I read ages ago later tonite, so stay tuned and keep Sifting Through Shelves!

Disney U by Doug Lipp Book Review

Have you ever wIMG_4351ondered how Disney does it? What they could possibly say to their cast members to make them so kind, and guest-experience centered? Well, if you would like to know, you may want to crack the binding of Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World’s Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees. The title tells it all, the book is a business guide to those in charge of training employees. It unlocks the secrets to what makes Disney cast members tick, what they are taught in training. No, it’s not brainwashing or abuse of pixie dust. Disney has a tendency to attract a certain type of people to work for them; from the very beginning, it started with Walt, of course. He employed a certain type of people to work at his theme parks and for his company and those people created amazing memories for children of all ages in the theme parks and in turn those people want to create those type of memories for children of the next generation and so on, as a domino effect. Of course, the love of Disney movies and park memories created by other cast members cannot possibly be the only thing that makes the cast members of the Disney Company tick, and as Disney U points out, it’s not. It explains the core of training that the cast members go through at an actual location called Disney University from the Traditions Class to the rest of their training as they are “Earning Their Ears” and not only what makes them great in the beginning but what keeps them motivated and what keeps them with the company for years to come. 

The author, Doug Lipp was one of the people who was integral in creating the first international version of Disney University and its training core. This program was developed for the Tokyo Disneyland park. He then became the head of Disney University training at the Walt Disney Studios. He serves as a consultant to many large companies, all of whom want their employees to be as motivated and loyal as Disney’s. 

The book is formatted in “Lessons”, short breakdowns of what it takes to make people work hard and stay working hard. These lessons are not specific to Disney, they are meant to be shared with many other companies and to be appropriately applied to their training curriculum. No one trains employees the way Disney does, every CEO and head of training wants to crack the code and learn the secret. With his book, Lipp proves that it’s no secret, it’s balance, and easy to remember key principles. The training has to be up to date and the employees need to be kept up to date on the latest training. Lipp does an amazing job of making sure that the book does not read like a boring training manual. It flows and reviews as the reader flips through the pages. It appeals to those who have a strong business background and serves as an amazing tool to those who eventually want to be Disney cast members and what it takes to be part of such a high profile team of people. It’s an incredible read for people who are interested in the behind the scenes of the park and for those who want to know what makes the cast members so magical!

Dream it Do it by Marty Sklar Book Review

I have read quite a few Disney books in my day, being a lover of all things Disney, history and any combination of the two. One of the greatest stories I have ever had the privilege of reading has been Dream It, Do It by Marty Sklar, a long time Disney Imagineer, head of Imagineering and friend to Walt Disney himself. IMG_2280

His book is less of a straight biography and more of a collection of stories that he has compiled together from his half a century working for Walt Disney and his company. He started off as a writer for the paper that was published and sold on Main Street USA in Disneyland and ended his career as the head of Imagineering for the Walt Disney Company. He is the only man to be involved in the development and opening of every single park in the Disney Parks owned by the Walt Disney Company. He has a window on Main Street USA in Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. The pages of Dream It Do It cover a fifty year career with Disney and the opening of Disneyland, all four parks of Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris (originally founded as EuroDisney), Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea and Hong Kong Disneyland. 

The book reads far less like a diary and much more like a fireside chat, a cup of coffee with a friend. Every story is totally honest sounding and does not hide the stress of being on the opening team of so many projects. He had the job of keeping Walt’s legacy alive after both Walt and Roy had passed away. He covers the raw emotions that swept through the company at the time of Walt’s passing. What happened when the man with the ideas so crazy they just might work was no longer there to support those ideas. 

I had the extremely wonderful opportunity to meet Marty and to have him sign my copy of his book.IMG_4350 He was an absolute joy to speak to and a stunning example of the sort of passion for Walt’s legacy that every cast member ought to embody. He was incredibly kind and had nothing but encouraging words for my passion for Walt and Disney history. He hopes that his book will be well loved and I told him that from what I had read so far, there was no way for it not to be. The book is incredible, at times raw and fantastically honest but none the less magical. It takes a special kind of person to be able to put so much magic into words but Marty Sklar certainly has. The book is a must read for Disney fans and those passionate about the heritage of the Disney Company. It contains beautiful stories and stunning photographs to accompany them. The words of a man who truly embodies Disney heritage and what it is to be a Cast Member for the most magical company on earth are truly words to be cherished, read, and reread. I hope that everyone who reads them enjoys them as much as I did.