The Depression Made Them Do It?

Following the collapse of the New York stock market in October 1929, the world was thrown into a decade of what would become known as the Great Depression. As a result of widespread unemployment and desperate economic and material conditions, and unprecedented number of people turned to relief. Despite allocating much of their budget to financial assistance, the government of Canada was unable to cope with the request and strict regulations were developed regarding who was eligible. When relief was not available, many families were left with nowhere to turn. This is perhaps best exemplified in the case of the Bates family.
Rose and Edward Bates lived in Saskatchewan and operated a failing butcher shop. They chose to move to British Columbia and attempted to run a business there but were again unsuccessful. As such, they applied for relief in Vancouver but were told they were not eligible, having just moved there. They managed to return to Saskatchewan but were again told they could not get relief because they had left the province. It was wintertime in 1933. Destitute and desperate, they rented a car and planned to kill both themselves and their eight-year-old son Jackie by way of carbon monoxide poisoning. Tragically, only their son was killed. They had not been able to purchase enough gas, and ran out before they succumbed.
In the spring of 1934 the couple was charged with murder. However, the Saskatchewan jury in charge of the case refused to convict them, saying the fault was not theirs. Popular sentiment agreed that the Depression and Prime Minister Bennett’s economic policy were responsible.
Bill Waiser has written a book on the subject, Who Killed Jackie Bates?, which reveals that other factors may have been involved. For example, it appears that Edward and Rose had a troublesome and unhappy marriage. While the text has met with mixed reviews (for example, see here), it shows that the issue was one of complexity.
Although the issue is by no means black and white, it can be seen  as the tragic ramification of circumstances beyond the family’s control or alternatively as a failure of the court to convict a pair of guilty murderers. Perhaps it is both. Perhaps the blame lies somewhere else entirely. The choice, of course, is yours.

Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley 

Posted in 20th Century History, Canada, The Great Depression | 1 Comment

War or Peace: Rebellion in Münster

The early 16th century was a time of radical religious reform in Europe. The Protestant Reformation led to a break with the Catholic church and a subsequent fragmentation of religious belief. Among the new Protestant sects were various forms of Anabaptism. While the Anabaptist movement is today associated with pacifism, one event in the 1530s shows that this path was not inevitable: the Münster Rebellion.

The town of Münster was located in Westphalia. Prior to the events of the uprising, an Anabaptist pastor, Bernhard Rothmann, declared that a prophet would soon be coming to liberate the people of Münster. Ultimately, two key names can be associated with leading the rebellion: Johann Matthys and Jan Bockelson.

In February of 1534, Matthys and Bockelson took control of the city without much difficulty, initiating what would become sixteen months of Anabaptist rule. Matthys in particular saw this control of Münster as an opportunity to create a “New Jerusalem.” In taking political control of the city, the Anabaptists even established their own mayor, Bernhard Knipperdolling

Matthys prophesied that God’s judgment would come on Easter Sunday in 1534. Conceiving of himself as a second Gideon, he surrounded himself with only 30 followers. In the end, they were cut off from the main group and killed. Matthys’ head was mounted on a pole and displayed in the city.

Bockelson has become better known in history as John of Leiden. Claiming to be a successor of the Biblical King David, he was proclaimed king and governed with absolute authority, justified by heavenly visions. In the course of his rule, he introduced reforms to the city such as legalizing polygamy and instituting common goods.

As the rest of Europe became aware of the state of affairs in Münster, they felt compelled to act. The city was besieged by Francis of Waldock, the former bishop of the town in June of 1535 and fell that month. Significantly, Catholic and Protestant troops cooperated in retaking Münster. 

The leaders of the rebellion were tortured, and in January of 1536 were publicly executed. Their bodies were subsequently hanged from the steeple of St. Lamberti Church in cages which remain there to this day (photo found here). Followers who feared persecution fled to nations such as England which were more tolerant of their dissenting views.

The Münster Rebellion marked a change in the Anabaptist movement. Never again did they have such potential for political power. The uprising spread the Anabaptist name throughout Europe, and Anabaptists who had not supported the actions of the rebels were sure to differentiate themselves from the event. Thus arose the Anabaptist emphasis on pacifism which is known today.

Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
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Race Suicide

When it comes to discussing eugenics, most have heard of the horrific T4 euthanasia program implemented in Nazi Germany which resulted in nearly 200,000 deaths. Certainly, such a sobering event must be remembered. Yet to focus solely on this instance of eugenics is perhaps to forget that the movement arose in other nations and at other times throughout history. 
The eugenics movement met with popularity in North America at the turn of the 20th century. The movement had elements of both positive and negative eugenics – both an emphasis on procreation by what were considered to be superior human specimens contrasted with enforced sterilization and even euthanasia of those seen as inferior. Yet one of the complex issues surrounding the North American eugenics movement was the concept of race suicide. 
Race suicide is defined by as “The extinction of a race or people that tends to result when, through the unwillingness or forbearance of its members to have children, the birthrate falls below the death rate.” The origin of the term is listed as “1900-05, Americanism.”
One of the original proponents of this concept was Theodore Roosevelt. He discussed the fear of white American infertility and stated that to use birth control or fail to keep up with the birth rate of ethnic minorities was to risk suicide. The pressure was thus placed on Anglo-Saxon women to continue to procreate, and the use of birth control was constructed as contrary to nationalism. (Image found here.)
The ideology of race suicide spread, likely in part due to its ability to support various political and religious agendas. In Quebec, French-Canadian nationalists echoed the rhetoric of Anglo-Saxons, proclaiming that the use of birth control was race suicide. Interestingly, however, socialist groups supported birth control, feeling that the capitalist system encouraged large families in order to create a large, cheap labour force. These views continued into the era of the Great Depression, despite the fact that having many children was frequently not economically viable.
Comfortable as it may be to believe that ideas of eugenics are gone from our present society, Google provides an interesting timeline of search results relating to race suicide. While these results are not all perfectly relevant, the graph provides an interesting depiction of the fact that race suicide has never disappeared from newspapers and journals within the past century. Though most prevalent in the early 1900s, mention of the concept persists. It is impossible to say how relevant these concepts are within the popular societal mindset, yet it is important to be aware of the past’s influence upon our present.

Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley

Posted in 20th Century History, America, Canada | Comments Off

Original Sin?

Today, I was introduced to an individual I could not believe I had never before encountered: Lilith, the mythological first wife of Adam in the Garden of Eden according to Jewish folklore. As in any case of mythology, the tales surrounding Lilith are both numerous and varied. Alan G. Hefner writes a summary of the stories for the Encyclopedia Mythica which can be found here. While she is largely a Jewish mythological being, Hefner states that “descriptions of the Lilith demon appear in Iranian, Babylonian, Mexican, Greek, Arab, English, German, Oriental and Native American legends.”

As the first wife of Adam, the earliest record of Lilith can be found in The Alphabet of Ben Sira which dates back to somewhere between the 8th and 10th centuries. In the text, king Nebuchadnezzar questions the meaning of the angels depicted on an amulet created for his sick son and the following explanation is given:

     “The angels who are in charge of medicine: Snvi, Snsvi, and Smnglof. After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone‘ (Gen. 2:18). He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while am to be in the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: ‘Sovereign of the universe!’ he said, ‘the woman you gave me has run away.’ At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angels to bring her back.
     “Said the Holy One to Adam, ‘If she agrees to come back, fine. If not she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.’ The angels left God and pursued Lilith, whom they overtook in the midst of the sea, in the mighty waters wherein the Egyptians were destined to drown. They told her God’s word, but she did not wish to return. The angels said, ‘We shall drown you in the sea.’
     “‘Leave me!’ she said. ‘I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days.’
     “When the angels heard Lilith’s words, they insisted she go back. But she swore to them by the name of the living and eternal God: ‘Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet, I will have no power over that infant.’ She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels’ names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers.”

And so Lilith left Adam. The legends state that God then created Eve from Adam, thus a submissive being. Meanwhile, Lilith stayed by the Red Sea and allegedly commingled with demons there, giving birth to a plethora of demonic children.

In the 10th century, the Midrash Abkir told the story of Adam and Lilith more completely. It states that when Adam realized his sin, he separated from Eve for 130 years during which time Lilith came and seduced him. Some versions say that when Lilith came back to him, she and Adam had children together,  In the 17th century, the story of Lilith was spread through Johannes Buxtorf’s Lexicon Talmudicum. Throughout the Middle Ages, she was also seen as a queen of demons, associated both with Asmodeus, King of Demons, and with Satan himself. She is also said to have daughters, the lilim who are associated with men’s sexual desires.

While the legends surrounding Lilith are endlessly fascinating, what made me most surprised that I had never before encountered her was the magnitude of writers and artists who have depicted her in their various works spanning numerous time periods and artistic movements. To the right is Michelangelo’s depiction of Lilith from “The Temptation of Adam and Eve.” Lilith is frequently associated with serpents, as well as lions and owls (although the snake has particular relevance in the Garden of Eden). Above in this post is John Collier’s depiction of her, also involving a serpent. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, brother to Christina Rossetti, not only painted “Lady Lilith” (see image below) but wrote a sonnet to accompany the piece. Robert Browning also wrote a poem entitled “Adam, Lilith, and Eve.” (In the interest of space I have chosen not to include either of these works, but I recommend looking up both of these interesting poems.)
In recent history, Lilith has become important as an icon in feminist strains for her refusal to submit to Adam in the Garden. She has been claimed by some to be the original feminist, and has lent her name to various magazines and journals. Thus, although I had not heard of her until today, it appears that Lilith remains well known in some circles.
Regardless of her reality or renown, I believe that Lilith remains a fascinating figure of past mythology.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Doukhobors and Democracy

Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting article while searching to learn more about the Doukhobors, a Russian religious sect who emigrated to Canada’s West en masse in the 1890s. The name of this group means “spirit wrestlers,” originally a derogatory term in response to what was seen as their fighting against a traditional interpretation of the Holy Spirit.
Facing persecution in their homeland Russia, over 7000 Doukhobors emigrated to Western Canada at the end of the 19th century. This migration was assisted by men such as Leo Tolstoy and Peter Kropotkin, admirers of their traditional lifestyle.
Shortly after their arrival in Canada, a radical group of the Doukhobors formed known as the Sons of Freedom. These men were in search of Christ and earthly paradise. As an act of demonstration, they walked naked through Doukhobor villages, apparently seeking the purity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
This early protest seems reflected in the opening line of an article written by Christopher Shulgan in The Walrus Magazine entitled “Taking the Cure: How a group of British Columbian anarchists inspired democracy in Russia.” His piece begins, “It stands as one of the more unusual turning points of the Cold War, thanks mostly to the surprise appearance of several naked middle-aged women.” The full text of Shulgan’s article can be found here.
The article stems from Shulgan’s research for a biography of Aleksandr Yakovlev, at that time the Soviet Union’s Canadian ambassador who went on to become “Gorbachev’s strategic adviser.” Shulgan contributes to Yakovlev much of the influence behind Gorbachev’s famous policies of perestroika (a restructuring of the Soviet Union’s economic policy involving limited free enterprise and private property ownership) and glasnost (“openness,” increased freedom of the press allowing discussion and criticism of the state of the Soviet Union). Remarkably, Shulgan argues that Yakovlev’s ideals which led to these policies were greatly influenced by a visit he made to British Columbia’s Doukhobors in 1980.
To what degree this group was in fact influential in bringing about Russian democracy I cannot yet knowledgeably say. Nonetheless, it appears that there is more to this radical and yet conservative group than meets the eye.Though slightly lengthy, I recommend Shulgan’s article, as both his argument and his subject matter are highly interesting.
To learn more about Yakovlev, his obituary from the New York Times can be found here.
I hope that you enjoy the reading.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
Posted in 19th Century History, 20th Century History, Canada, European History | 1 Comment

The Eye of the Beholder

Today, a friend and I were discussing ideals of beauty throughout history. Case in point: Cleopatra. She is, after all, perhaps the classic example of varying interpretations of what is beautiful. Knowing that she was considered attractive in her own time, we today portray her as tall and slim. In reality, it has been suggested that she was short and plump. Such a description hardly seems to evoke a pinnacle of beauty. Few cases could point more clearly to the transient and subjective nature of beauty. It is difficult to comprehend why and how cultural perceptions can change so dramatically, and yet there can be no doubt that it has.

Such a discussion leads me to what is perhaps one of my favourite Shakespearean sonnets. In Sonnet XVIII, Shakespeare creates an eternal depiction of a beautiful man or woman through his reliance on the everlasting nature of the written word:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
One of the things which makes this sonnet most interesting is that it is, I believe, intentionally vague in its description. While ideals of beauty will change, the idea of beauty is constant. Each reader is free to envision his or her own perception of the young man or woman to whom this sonnet is addressed. Shakespeare’s impression of the lasting nature of the written word is equally fascinating, but more on that another time perhaps.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
Posted in Shakespeare | 1 Comment

The Nature of History

History, put simply, can be defined as the past. Yet what is the nature of that past? The answer to this question was perhaps most famously attempted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who stated in their Communist Manifesto that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” On this point, however, I cannot entirely agree. While it is undoubtedly true that conflict pervades much of history, I do not believe that class struggle is invariably the underlying cause. Additionally, surrounding every period of conflict is a period of greater rest.
Instead, I would perhaps suggest that the history of Western civilization is that of a perpetual, and largely unfulfilled, search for “progress.” Such a definition necessarily leads to the question, What is progress? In this, I believe ambiguity is necessary. History is varied to the point that a narrow definition is largely impossible. However, I think it can be agreed upon that progress is uniformly viewed in a positive light. Progress may be for a group, a class, a nation or for the individual or those immediately surrounding him or her. Within this definition there is room for Marx and Engels’ conception of class struggle. As each class seeks to better itself and thereby to progress, struggle naturally ensues.
There is no doubt that a quest for progress has led to beneficial programs and discoveries. Yet one must question to where we are progressing. What are our goals? What is it that we as individuals, as a society, as a nation are striving to achieve? Will it ever be enough? The trouble with progress is that it incessantly points out that which is inadequate at the current time, leaving one not fully satisfied with the present. As we ever seek more, we must not lose track of our morality. To do so would be to fall prey to what Emile Durkheim describes as the “malady of infiniteness.” And it is, perhaps, when we lose sight of our morality that we are most likely to begin the struggles of which Marx speaks.

An interesting book has been written on this idea of progress by Massimo L. Salvadori. It is entitled Progress: Can We Do Without It? This work traces key historical events, trends and ideologies such as Nazism, globalization and democracy. One of his final chapters asks the important question, “Can we give up the idea of progress?” I think this question is an important one to consider in a world where we are faced with increasing technological innovation and possibility.

And so while progress may define the nature of our past, it continues to define the nature of our present. It is likely that it will continue to do so in our future, yet this is not yet a reality. In time we will be forced to consider how much is enough, and what we are willing to sacrifice for our ideals of progress.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
Posted in Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx | Comments Off


The Staples Thesis is a Canadian contribution to economic history, largely developed by Harold Innis. It discusses the way in which the economic development of nations, in particular Canada itself, both has been and continues to be based on one or a few (regional) raw material resources. These are the nation’s staples, or commodities, which are exported in raw form (or as the economy progresses, in semi-processed form) to other countries. Historically in Canada, these have been cod fishing, the fur trade, wheat and lumber. While the staples do allow for initial economic growth, over-dependence on one or a few sectors ultimately leads to vulnerability. To ensure sustained progress, a nation must be able to diversify economically. Over-reliance is not sustainable, and will eventually lead to decline.
I believe that a Staples Thesis can be applied to our lives in general. Often, we limit our concentration to one or a few sectors of our lives: relationships, education, careers. Initially, these things will likely bring us growth, joy, success. Yet by focusing almost exclusively on any one of these areas, other aspects of our lives will be comparatively ignored. We as humans must learn to diversify within and among the various areas of our lives. For just as one resource may become exhausted or decrease in demand, so may our relationships, our education, or our careers eventually come to an end. In this event, it is a balanced and varied lifestyle which will lead to our sustained growth and prevent future vulnerability.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
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Authority and Impact

Having just finished studying the Great Schism, I thought perhaps that I would share some thoughts with you. For those not previously acquainted with this event, the Great Schism, in its crudest explanation, consisted of a historical religious dynamic which resulted at one point in the existence of three popes and accordingly the splintering of papal authority.
Countries obedient to Rome and to Avignon. (click to enlarge)
In 1378, Pope Gregory XI died and Pope Urban VI was elected. Pope Gregory XI had moved the papacy back to Rome from Avignon where it had been established from 1309-1377. Many of the cardinals wished for it to be moved back to Avignon, and in September of 1378 thirteen cardinals elected their own Pope Clement VII who was a cousin of the French king and who reestablished his papacy in Avignon. Papal allegiance split along national lines. Neither of the popes was willing to concede his position, either in favour of the other or a new pope entirely. In 1409, cardinals who represented both of the popes met at the Council of Pisa and elected an entirely new pope, Alexander V. Neither of the other two popes accepted this decision and until 1417 there were three popes in Western Europe.
While the Great Schism represents a time when the internal power struggle within the church was perhaps most manifest, the sentiments and issues which surrounded it were certainly not unique. Historically, there had been additional external conflict between the pope and various kings over numerous issues of authority and subordination. Reviewing this event, I could not help but question the nature of authority. In particular, whence is it derived? Certainly, there are myriad answers to such a question and no singular explanation can be given. It may not be difficult to accept authority, whether because it declares itself and is subsequently imposed or because one has voluntarily come to the conclusion that a source is authoritative. Yet what occurs when, as in the Great Schism, multiple authorities assert themselves in an equal yet conflicting manner? In such situations, to what degree do we decide for ourselves who, if any, we will believe and to what degree do we merely follow popular sentiment in our particular geographical or social realm?
The more ancient a historical event is, the more incredible it seems that it has been preserved in such detail and that we are able to study it today. Yet such a discussion begs questions as to who or what has fallen through the historical cracks. Is it only important individuals and their actions who are remembered, or does historical memory allow room for the hidden masses? Such questions are further complicated by the great man theory of history which sees in the past primarily, or even exclusively, the decisive influences of particular leaders. If this is true, is it nonetheless important to remember those who were voiceless?
I think that this relates nicely to the themes discussed in my last post of analytical versus imaginative history. Powerful individuals and organizations of the past have left us the luxury of concrete evidence. While this certainly has the potential to be problematic, it can also provide definitive answer. It is for the rest of society, those who left no record of their own but who experienced the very events and decisions which capture our interest, that we must employ our imaginative faculties. Though such speculation may never be confirmed, I feel that this will allow for a greater understanding of the past, and perhaps be an initial step in developing a sense of historical empathy.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
Posted in European History, Great Man Theory of History, Great Schism | Comments Off

Historical Empathy?

A professor mentioned today that the study of history largely consists of two parts: The intellectual, analytical angle frequently focused on in academic settings, yet also an imaginative, empathetic side. I found this to be an interesting assertion leading me to question what role empathy can play in the study of history.
That there is room for sympathy would likely be largely agreed on. I suspect that few can learn about the events and horrors of the past and fail to experience some degree of shock and pity in response to traumatic experiences that individuals must have encountered. The same is likely true even of the less horrific yet more chronic working and living conditions of various ages.
Yet even if one were overwhelmed by this sense of sympathy, would empathy be possible? To what degree can we envision life across temporal, physical and cultural barriers? Even when we remove the temporal aspect, how much can we relate to our contemporaries who live a life geographically and socially removed from our own?
In that same class we discussed the Bubonic Plague. In this instance, I do not think that I can imaginatively do the event justice. While the chaos and despair which inevitably ensued can easily be grasped in an intellectual and numerical sense, the reality of living at the time seems beyond my empathetic reach.
Nonetheless, I find this idea of historical empathy intriguing, and believe that it is something to be desired, if not attained.
Sincerely, Abigail Quinnley
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