Tammy's All Things History

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Social History

Alice Mabel Gray: Meet Diana of the Dunes

Alice Mabel Gray

Alice Mabel Gray was a woman ahead of her time. She was intelligent, accomplished, a visionary and an early preservationist. Born in 1881, during the Gilded Age (1878-1889), she grew up in the busy city of Chicago, Illinois. The time Alice was born and lived in was significant in United States history. For emigrants who came looking for an opportunity the American dream seemed to be within reach as the railroad and steel boom brought jobs and instant wealth to people who might not otherwise have a chance to enjoy a better life. Alice grew up in an upper class family, educated and the head of her class. But she like many women of her time and used her intelligence and social status to further her curiosities in mathematics, astronomy and foreign language.

US Naval Observatory

After graduating from the University of Chicago, Alice found work as Computer (one who computes numerical data) under the direct supervision of Professor William Eichelberger at the United States Naval Observatory. The work was not satisfying for Alice as she considered, “the life of a salary earner in the cities is slavery, a constant fight for the means of living.” In 1905, her continuing educational interests brought her overseas to Gottingen University where she befriended Bohemians, who enjoyed free roaming and a simple lifestyle infused very much with nature. Upon returning to the United States, she took up a simpler secretarial job. Soon after realizing her true passion was environmental studies, she gave up everything and moved to the Lake Michigan dunes where she earned the nickname, “Diana of the Dunes”. This nagging attraction would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Alice in the dunes

Alice was more than a circus spectacle or a folklore nymph. She was a visionary and preservationist. She loved nature and longed to be as close to it as possible. In the dunes, Alice could observe nature in its original form. Alice was charitable as well. She shared her knowledge with others by educating the public. Alice passed on any information that she could get her hands on to make people realize the beauty of the dunes. She also wanted the public to know how vital the dunes were and how much they offered for learning and research. The dunes provided her a peaceful place to live and study. She found amazement at the reaction people gave as they listened to her speeches. She was able to sustain herself financially by selling driftwood boxes to buy needed commodities. Even though it was a far cry from the lavish lifestyle others enjoyed during the Gilded Age, she made her life simple, and it was good enough for her.

Gary, Indiana excavation, 1906

Solitude and opportunity for scientific research were short-lived as the encroaching industrial age expanded Gary, Indiana which was situated next to the dunes. The dunes became a focal point in a proposed steel plant that would bring growth opportunity for the town. The only problem was that the dunes being so close to the plant placement plans threatened the lands natural habitat. Alice became alarmed at this and joined forces with local activists who opposed the expansion. They argued it was not environmentally conducive to move the plant so close to the dunes and would harm research data. To offer an alternative and a protesting one at that, The Prairie Club decided to garner public help for the establishment of a park. In the 1920s, the Indiana Dunes State Park was established. It seemed Alice and the support of others pulled off the impossible of preservation of the dunes. She did not enjoy it much for long. Because of her odd behavior as a recluse, her troubled relationship with her husband, and public taunting she became known as, “Diana of the Dunes.” She longed for quiet and privacy the dunes had afforded her but no longer found and planned to relocate to the Texas coast before her untimely death in 1925 at the age of 43.

Indiana Tourism

For many years a festival was celebrated in honor of Alice and others who worked hard to preserve the beauty and heritage of the dunes. But because of inadequate revenue and a lack of general public interest, the celebration was discontinued. Today anyone who wishes to visit the dunes may do so. It remains as a reminder of the need to preserve such nature so that many people in the future may enjoy quiet solitude to observe and reflect.

My Summer Reading 2012

History revisited-I indulged Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a re-print from Dover Thrift Editions. It was coincidental for me because weeks earlier in one of my LinkedIn groups a fellow history enthusiast mentioned the latest trend of re-printing old history books. I had not of heard of this trend before and as I read the updated forward in the book, the re-printing confession caught my attention. The reason I wanted to read The Jungle was because it was mentioned in my reading of the,  The Family which also sparked my curiosity for two of my other blogs, The Black Buffers and the Washington DC riots of 1968.

 The Jungle, is what the newest introduction claimed that Sinclair’s subject matter came from Muckraking. A Muckraker was what a person was called when they exposed hidden atrocities through the use of media. It’s not the first time I have been exposed to muckraking. The industrial age in which this book was written, is full of media rhetoric that causes shock and awe. Just as I also found in researching of the Loray Mill Strike of 1929 in books that were penned after the strike ended to air truths not heard during the turmoil for fear of further retribution from social elite. It seems to me that the muckraking and media hype all fueled the socialism and red (communism) threat that would plague Americans for decades into the future. If you like drama and the darker periods in American history, I would definitely recommend reading this book and with a little sleuthing will bring much more, so much more where this book came from. Muckraking reached all Americans and was not partial to any particular ethnic group or race. Everyone felt it one way or another.

Today the economy is so bad after ten years of foreign war, outsourcing of business, loss of jobs, and wedges drawn heavily between wealth and poverty. In the early 1900’s America faced the same thing but with a less sympathetic ear from those in society able to help. I would bore those around myself to repeat the often too much said phrase of, “history repeats itself”, as similarities can be seen today. Rather, what is more fascinating to me is that in my studies and readings of history, topics seem to come back again and again. It is rewarding to see this as pictures become clearer and results in a greater understanding of the world in general. To me, this is the most important part.

The second book I read is Jesse Ventura’s, American ConspiraciesOriginally I had purchased the book as a gift for my husband who is intrigued by the stories. Soon after, being bored, I picked it up to read and see what it was all about. I am not into conspiracy theories so much but love the history they tell. Jesse mentions in his introduction of the topics of the book and how he was bored flying in planes going to speaking and other engagements. As a result of this he took up reading as a new hobby. His readings coincidentally brought him to a topic of interest: President Kennedy’s assassination. He was so intrigued by the first book that he continued to read anything he could get his hands on about the subject. As a result of his studies he formulated a question about the similarities of other prominent leaders’ assassination during the 1960’s. I do the same thing. As I read I encounter more interesting topics to learn about. Topics such as the Knights of the Golden Circle, a civil war spy group and Major General Smedley Butler, whom he mentions in passing conversations. I look forward to more readings from Jesse. I take the conspiracies with a grain of salt. Historians need factual evidence of things that happen to be valid and worth study or mention just as a scientist needs proof from their experiments to validate their research. In the future maybe Jesse’s ideas will be ones for the history books; proven and true.

My third and final book of summer reading (I am a slow reader) is Martha: The life of Martha Mitchell, by Winzola McLendon. This book is a used one and rough around the edges. I love used books! I was interested in Martha’s story after reading The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club by C. David Heymann and doing further research on Katherine Graham for a paper in college. These two books are chalk full of history and what it was like to live and exist closely to the Watergate scandal in the early 1970’s. When I read books such as these, I can imagine life and how people were in a time when I was very little and my world revolved around play time and toys. The books bring to life many forgotten players both popular and long forgotten. From there other curiosities are perked and trails to explore come into focus.

Dancing around historic timelines can be daunting at times but it is important to be exposed to as much of it as can be. The past often is brought up again and again as people like to reference it, to understand the present and gauge the future. After a while being able to recall the information brings with it better understanding and can lead to interesting discussions with others.

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