Historical Aspects


Ida B. Wells was a fearless anti-lynching crusader, suffragist, women’s right advocate, journalist, and speaker of international stature. She stands as one of our nations uncompromising leaders and most passionate defenders of democracy. In this blog, we’ll be looking at the historical aspects of the time in which Ida B. Wells lived in. What was the daily life like? How did they dress?



In 1884, Wells had a incident with the conductor of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. She was asked by the conductor to give up her seat to a white man. She refused and was forcefully removed from the train. During this time, the Civil Rights Act had been overturned by the supreme court causing segregation between African Americans and Whites to be constitutional. In southern states, public transportation was segregated between railroad cars, meaning white people couldn’t sit with black people. Lynching was another thing that happened during that time. The lynching of black people in the Southern and border states became an institutionalized method used by whites to terrorize blacks and maintain supremacy. In 1892, three of Wells friends were lynched. The murder of her friends her to research and document lynching and their causes. 



The clothing style was very different than it is today. During this time period had its own “trends” and styles. The women dressed more elaborate.  They wore very large hats and overall dresses. The dresses were meant to fit everyone the same way. Drapery was very important. The bustle was a cushion that was put in the back of a dress. They also wore corsets. Women never wore pants or shirt skirts. They usually wore long dresses, like the dressed in the pictures above. Men’s clothing varied on the way the man lived during that time. If the man was a farmer, he would wear a shirt and long pants. Wealthy men usually wore a suit and tie everyday.  



Why did Samuel Clemens change his name?


When someone say the name “Samuel Clemens,” most people automatically think of Mark Twain. Others don’t even know who Samuel Clemens is, but if someone says “Mark Twain,” they know who he is. Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist. He’s known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Every time I think of Samuel Clemens, I always ask myself the same question. Why would Samuel Clemens change his name to Mark Twain? Where did this name even come from? What does it even mean?

While searching for the answer, I found out that Samuel Clemens was born in a small village in Florida, Missouri. Before became well-known as a writer, he had a variety of odd jobs. One of them included piloting a steamboat down the Mississippi River. He was licensed as a steamboat pilot in 1859 and worked on the river until fighting there during the Civil War ended traffic traveling from the north to south. His experiences along the river helped him come up with his “new name”.



In 1863, when Clemens was 27, he wrote a humorous travel story and decided to sign his name as “Mark Twain”. This name came from something shouted by crewmen on a boat. To test the depth of the water, a crewmen shouts “mark twain”. When this is yelled, the crewmen is calling for two fathoms, or a depth of 12 feet, which indicated safe water. “Twain” is an old-fashioned way of saying “two” and a fathom is six feet.


So to answer the question, Samuel Clemens changed his name to Mark Twain because of his love of being a steamboat pilot. It became a pen name used for his works, used the same way as people in the show business have a stage name.

Who was Walt Whitman?

Walt Whitman - George Collins Cox.jpg


Walt Whitman was an American poet, journalist, and essayist. He was America’s world poet. He was apart of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. He wrote about democracy, nature, love, and friendship. He also chanted praises to the body and soul, and found beauty and reassurance even in death. Along with Emily Dickinson, Whitman is known as one of America’s most significant nineteenth century poets.

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, Town of Huntington, Long Island. He was the second son of Walter and Louisa Van Velsor. By the time Whitman was four years old, his family packed up and moved to Brooklyn. At age eleven, Whitman concluded formal schooling and sought employment for income for his family. He was an office boy for two lawyers. He also worked as a printer in New York City, until a devastating fire in the printing district demolished the industry. In 1836, at the age of seventeen, he began his career as a teacher in one-room houses in Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841. He then turned to journalism as a full-time career. He founded a weekly newspaper Long-Islander, and later edited Brooklyn and New York papers. In 1848, Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to become a editor for the New Orleans Crescent. While in New Orleans, he experienced the viciousness of slavery in the slave markets in the city. In the fall of 1848, he returned back to Brooklyn and founded a “free soil” newspaper called Brooklyn Freeman. In this newspaper, he developed unique styles of writing.



In 1855, Walt Whitman took out a copyright for the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the first volume. In 1856, he released the second volume. The second edition contained thirty-poems, a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson praising the first edition, and Whitman’s response to Emerson’s letter. During his career, he continued to refine the book, publishing several more editions.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman promised to live a purged and clean life. He wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded at New York-area hospitals. He also traveled to Washington, D.C. in December of 1862 to  care for his brother who had been wounded in the war. These experiences led to his poems in his 1865 publication, Drum-Taps, which includes “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Whitman’s elegy for President Lincoln.


(The poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”)

In 1873, Whitman suffered a serious stroke. He moved to his brother’s home in Camden, New Jersey. There he wrote his final volume of poems Good-Bye, My Fancy. After his death on March 26, 1892, he was buried in a tomb he designed and had built on in Harleigh Cemetery.


Why was Emily Dickinson so reclusive?

During the brief lecture on Emily Dickinson, we learned that she is one of the most highly-regarded poets ever to write. She wrote over 1700 poems, but only ten were published–all anonymously and some apparently without her consent. From the lecture, Dickinson was very social as a young girl, but as she got older, she became more reclusive. Whenever I think of Dickinson’s work, I always ask myself “Why was she so reclusive?” Was she sick and didn’t want people in her business? Maybe she just didn’t like the idea of going public.


I came up with so many things while trying to figure out why Emily Dickinson was so reclusive. Her health was one of them. In 1851, Emily showed signs of tuberculosis. For two years, she met with a TB specialists until her symptoms subsided. In 1863, during her most productive period of writing poems, another medical concern was an eye affliction. She repeated treatment for two years, and in 1865, she was apparently cured.  



(Publication-is the Auction by Emily Dickinson)


As we learned from the lecture, only ten of Dickinson’s poems were published, and they all were anonymous or without her consent. Maybe she didn’t like the idea of going public. In the first first stanza of the poem “Publication-is the Auction,” she talks about how she thinks of publication as being a foul thing. She felt that it was inherently “selling out”. She basically didn’t like the idea of publishing. 



After learning so much about Emily Dickinson, no one really knows why she was so reclusive. She was very social as a young girl and enjoyed school and had many friends. As she grew older she only remained open to visits from close friends and family. Whether she suffered from a medical condition that made her not want to be around people or whether she chose to separate herself from the public is unknown.