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” ( 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.

Time Travel vs. Nostalgia

1264092_10152240965547818_837053240_oI hear a lot of people saying how they long to go back to the days of old Hollywood, or how they wish they had been at the signing of the Declaration of Independence or something of the like. What they don’t realize is that unless they would like to give up things like technology, modern medicine, and for ladies, your basic rights, going back to a time period other than the one to which we have become accustomed would kind of suck. If you went back to the 1700s or the Civil War era and you became ill, because your body wouldn’t be able to fight the diseases that were so rampant. Now, many people now a days have been vaccinated, but there are lots of things that we don’t get vaccines for simply because the disease isn’t around anymore. So, for one thing, your likelihood of dying of an illness that the 21st century body isn’t prepared for is fairly high. And to ladies who would like to go back to the antebellum or revolutionary era, news flash, say good bye to voting, literacy and having a say in anything, and good luck birthing all those kids without the benefit of a hospital.
My major, as I have mentioned in previous articles, was history, so I’m quite well acquainted with the past and why it’s fascinating. It wasn’t until I had a professor ask my Jazz in American History class one day what era we would like to have been born in. I said Revolutionary America because of all the excitement and intellectual development. I was shocked when he said “Ok, none of which you are a part of because you are a woman, you have 5 kids, at least 2 of which probably died in child birth or shortly thereafter of disease and that’s only if you actually made it to 23.” I was taken a back and then I realized he was right.
It was then that I began to realize the difference between nostalgia and actually wanting to be born in another time or be transported to another time. We go to events like the renaissance faire, visit 20s speakeasies and go to Dapper Day because there are things about those eras that we like. I love the IMG_1308dresses and glamour of the 20s-50s Hollywood and the manners that people had back then. I love the corsetry of the Renaissance and the hearty food and archery. But the difference between the nostalgia I have for other eras and actually wanting to transport myself back to them is that I like studying and experiencing parts of these times from the comfort of the 21st century, where we are blessed with the technology and events to visit these eras and return safely with all of our medical health and rights in tact.

Just as there are things we don’t like about the 21st century such as the dependence on technology, war, and a general laziness about the culture, there are far more things we wouldn’t like about the other eras the world has gone through. Every time period has its faults. If you are interested in other time periods, find events centered around them and read about them. Then realize that while they are nice places to visit in your mind and from the comfort of the 21st century, there are many reasons you wouldn’t want to actually live in them. If you don’t believe me, check out a show called Colonial House. It was a show on PBS that placed people in a colonial town and they had to live the same way that people would have lived back then. There is also a show, the precursor to the show called the 1900 House where a family had to live as they would have in Victorian times. Check out the links below and keep sifting through shelves! You never know what you’ll find!

Patriotism in Walt Disney World

SONY DSCPeople who are heavily involved in the Disney fan sphere will know that Walt Disney himself was a huge fan of patriotism and his company today is no different. Patriotism is celebrated all year long through various attractions and events throughout the parks of the Walt Disney World Resort. I would argue that there is two attractions that falls under the category of Americana more so than true patriotism but as they still pay homage to America as a nation, I will include them in my list of patriotic attractions but they will be the bottom two. So here’s a list of all the patriotic events that you could attend as a guest to make it a truly American fourth of July celebration at the Walt Disney World Parks.

8. The Muppet’s 3-D Show- Ok so not the most patriotic thing you could do, but it does have to quote Sam Eagle “A salute to all nations but mostly America…” at the end of the show. It’s a cute show to see with the little ones or with any Disney fan really who loves our beloved Muppets.

7. Main Street Electrical Parade- The Americana part of this comes at the end with what I aptly call the “Bacon” float. It might be the most obnoxious piece of Americana in the parks, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch. It has a bacon shaped huge flag with a gigantic bald eagle on the back and fireworks coming up off of the flag. My only issue (besides its in your face ‘Merica vibe) is the color of the jackets of the soldiers leading the float…they are RED! Anyone remember the phrase “The red-coats are coming” … the ones who wore the red coats, if you remember your Revolutionary War history, were the British…not the Americans. Why are the British leading the American flag down the parade route. I have asked a number of Cast Members and no one seems to be able to tell me…but if anyone has an answer please leave it in the comments!

6. Hall of Presidents- Really Liberty Square in general but the specific attraction is the most patriotic. It’s a beautiful (not often visited) attraction that pays homage to the Presidents of the United States from George Washington to Barack Obama. It’s a great historical attraction and I always enjoy myself when I go. It’s a great show to go to if only for the air conditioning. Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom is great to begin with because it feels like you are walking through colonial America. While you are there, grab a bite to eat at the Liberty Tree Tavern. It’s like eating Thanksgiving every day and the rooms are specific to some of the Founding Fathers of America.

5. Carousel of Progress- Not every attraction that I consider patriotic screams red, white and blue. Besides being one of my favorite Disney attractions, this one takes the guests on a journey through American technological progress from the 1890s to the future (of the 1980s). It’s very American Dream centered and follows a typical American family through the nation’s progress.

4. Fourth of July Fireworks- Now, WDW puts on a fireworks show every night, so their Fourth of July fireworks spectacular has to be above and beyond the usual. There are 360 degree fireworks all around Magic Kingdom and the Seven Seas Lagoon on the 3rd and 4th of July and they are nothing short of amazing. The only other time that they do fireworks of this magnitude is on New Years Eve.

3. Main Street USA- Stop, look around, listen to the Dapper Dans and the Main Street Philharmonic. Eat some popcorn and cotton candy and a hot dog from Casey’s Corner. It’s called Main Street USA after all, it’s the America we all wish we lived in and Walt’s dream brought it to life for us.

2. The American Adventure- If you are prepared to sit through a very long show (which is well worth it), head to the America pavilion in the Epcot World Showcase. It’s an incredible show hosted by Samuel Clemens and Benjamin Franklin. It takes the audience on a trip through American history, through the Civil War, 9/11 and everything in-between. The music is so beautiful and the audio animatronics are incredible. It’s worth every moment and you may very well cry. If the Voices of Liberty are in the hall where the attraction is housed, definitely stop and listen to them, they are so beautiful to listen to. To me, the American Adventure is what patriotism should be and the Main Street Parade is what patriotism is 😦

1. Flag Retreat- Flag retreat happens in Town Square on Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom every day at 5pm. The flag is lowered in a beautiful ceremony full of genuine patriotism and reverence. There is an honorary veteran of the day who is chosen to help with the ceremony and he is presented with a certificate, a special flag pin and a photo with the flag after it is lowered. The Main Street Philharmonic play God Bless America and the Star Spangled Banner and the Dapper Dans sing. There is usually a small child chosen to say the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s a beautifully executed ceremony every day but there is usually a little something extra added by the Voices of Liberty and sometimes military personnel on Memorial Day and Independence Day. Fun fact–the other flags on Main Street USA are not legitimate flags, they are missing either a star or a stripe and serve to cover the lightning rods atop all of Main Street USA, hence why they are not lowered daily.

I hope you enjoyed this article on the patriotic vibe throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. Thanks for reading and keep sifting through shelves!


This Hipster Historian’s Opinion on July 4th and America’s Obsession with It

Ok so…July 4th is always called the Birthday of our Country in America…as a woman who majored in early American history I beg to differ.

We will keep with the birthday analogy for the sake of the argument.

First of all…the Continental Congress voted on separation and freedom from England on July 2nd. It was on July 4th (which is why the document is dated July 4th) that the final version of the wording was agreed upon in Congress. If John Adams were alive today (after FREAKING OUT) he would tell you that independence day was yesterday. Most of the signers did not sign until August of 1776 but the Declaration was read to the public in Independence Square on July 8 of ’76.   We shall name the Continental Congress meeting in 1774 the sexual consent if you will. Ok…and…we will call the unanimous vote on July 2 the pregnancy test and YAY it’s positive! The colonies are pregnant with a country! We will call July 8 the announcement to the general public, the family if you will. Friends in the colonies take it fairly well…while the parents in England are a bit upset about the whole ordeal. Though it’s a bit early in the pregnancy to be telling people, the colonies of America have said to the world “We are pregnant with a country that we hope will be free from England!”

It’s a rough pregnancy, tarring and feathering (It’s almost like I watched the John Adams tv show), and nasty correspondence back and forth with the mother country telling this teenager that she’s too rebellious and young to have a country of her own! (And in all fairness, the Articles of Confederation were the early American history equivalent of Teen Mom).

Finally…after a Massacre in Boston,  some beat downs by the British and a lot of tea in Boston Harbor…America’s water broke at the battle of Saratoga when the colonies finally began to push out this nation of their own. The colonies pushed (hehe) through Valley Forge with the help of Doctor (ok not really but just go with the analogy) George Washington. When we finally won our infant of a nation, the British weren’t even really in the delivery room. (Cornwallis did not attend the surrender at Yorktown). This will forever be why I don’t think July 4 should really be America’s birthday. October 19, 1781…the day the British surrendered to America should really be the day for that… I’m not going to say that my argument is perfect… far from it as I wrote this post rather quickly and the dates of some events through a bit of a wrench into my story but…my birthday was yesterday…that day I was actually born and breathing in the world…not the day that my mom took a pregnancy test…

If you read the link I’m going to post…the founding fathers almost forgot about the 1 year anniversary of the Declaration…