“On Wells and Wellness: A Tribute to Amelia Jenks Bloomer” by Jennifer Schneider
Origins of the word well —
Old English wel(l), of Germanic origin;
related to Dutch wel and German wohl;
related also, most probably, to the verb will.
Adopted forms of speech —
The well remains a source of sustenance. A noun. An adjective. An adverb. Not unlike the way I used, and still wish, to be. I fear my days are numbered, as might be the issues of the Lily. My well is deeper than others would lead me to believe. I toss a coin and make a wish. As the birds, stars, and butterflies spin in the sky above, I extend my hand, all fingers loose, and grasp for luck in numerical form.
1. I began the day not feeling my best. My cheeks swelled as chores called. The rosy hue an often tell. The well feels farther each time I trace, test, then place my steps.
2. Dexter often inquires why I prefer to go to the well alone, rather than send the children. It’s a long walk. Too much pressure on your hip. Fear you might fall. Fear not. I walk the plot and plot new paths. A pencil tucked in my boot. The surrounding garden is always a work in progress — a book of sorts, anticipating p(l)aces to bloom. All blossoms desire space (and ways) to form new angles. Agility, too. Lily petals dressed in pantaloons. They flutter. Flirt. Wither. Then fall to none other than their own needs. The bricks brush shoulders with soil at their feet. The strongest plots are ripe with conflict.
3. I walk to fetch water. Once at my destination I rest my weight, the wait well worth the energy. I sit at the foot of a nearby apple tree and catch my breath. Hope and anticipation sing alongside bird calls. I’ll catch a line for an upcoming speech. A scene will drop. It always does. The well, a source of ink, a water spring, a fountain — an origin of wor(l)ds.
4. My thoughts are a collection of random things. My thoughts remain. I wait. An incomplete list of places I’ve welcomed new words.
– in the rose garden amidst thistle and thorn
– behind the lavender bushes just beneath the moon
– alongside the red cardinals at the night side windowsill
– as I drop pinches punches of pepper in the sour dough cake batter
– in my head during extended days of sleep, sex, kitchen work, and summer humidity
– as I brush the horse’s mane
– in the porcelain tub — divine
– In the washroom, as my corset comes undone
– at the doctor’s house while waiting for prescriptions
– at the school mistress’s house while adding beads
– in bed, an increasingly common s(l)ight.
– at the well as the children take turns minding Dexter’s queries
5. The well remains my favored place to write and writing my favored pastime. A garden of sweet silence. Even while the doctor says consonants consume my energy. I reply with silent e’s and adjectives. Words like strong (not wrong) and persistent (not drug resistant). Simple terms for reasonable folk. Still, folklore spreads. Amelia’s back in bed. My cheeks are red. Subscribers inquire. Will you retire? “No,” I regularly say. “Switch the strings of letters on your tongues instead.” In the pages of the Lily, I reimagine a world of women in comfortable clothes. I pack the laundry lines with pant legs, all hung to dry. Each a query of who, what, where, when, and why. Each leg an actor in my story.
6. I fetch the water, then walk back. Dexter need not fret. My journal is as full as the pails I hold. The return trip feels long. Increasingly longer still.
7. Despite my desire for rest, I conclude my day feeling less than I did at best. I worry. I fret. I fear the well and the wellness it supports has put me to the test. I will persist.
8. Soaked sheets. Empty bed. Cries echo.
Amelia Jenks Bloomer
Lessons on (from, for, to) a Free Press: My Path to the Newsroom*
If not offered a curriculum of one’s liking, curate, create, then churn one –
1. History; Wars of Words and Worlds
As a girl, I was neither expected nor permitted to study numbers. Not arithmetic. Not the War of 1812. Not the Wars of the Spanish or Austrian Succession. Not the American Independence. Domestic conflict was as intriguing as international relations. All objects proper nouns. I was gifted fifteen years of folding linens and laundry before graduating to a live-in governess position. With two years of passive language study, I learned the difference between consonants (not continents or continental divisions) and vowels (doweries distinct from destinies, I think). I actively consumed all portions of literary instruction (seized synonymous to sensibility for some). Each letter a layer of (y)earning with hidden earning possibilities – (l)earning skills, knowledge, and tools to do and become. I’d wrap my knobby fingers around my pen and dip its feathers in heavy blue ink, like the leaning tower of porcelain bowls in the metal basin, I’d think — if the history of a woman’s way to words isn’t something about which to write (and right), then how could things ever change?
2. Culinary Arts & Kitchen Chemistry
The kitchen was always a place and space of motion. Most mornings, I would pound chicken then help prep dough for the cookie press (noun) – a device that operated similarly to a syringe. Dough converted into delicacies for women and men. Mama often gifted me the chance to decide on the image that would grace the cookies’ middle. Prime real estate. Perfectly situated. With a dash (a hyphen, of sorts) for emphasis. A pinch of pepper for pizazz. Not unlike the comma’s pause. As I’d pinch then press, I’d contemplate the device’s potential to leave its mark. My word! Imprints of footsteps and thumb nails would form with each new push. In the kitchen I learned how to season my words. I’d invite hungry neighbors for tastings to satisfy their urge to consume. Punch lines flavored of sweet fruits and savory sauce. My ideas were regularly processed in a blender. Then sliced into individual portions — ready to serve. Not unlike a paper. As I’d dress the table and prep for the meal’s headlines (remove excess traps, trim deep-seated beliefs, my thoughts would wander. Livers and onions were akin to layouts and comics funnies. Fried. Six degrees of separation from tried. And Muenster Cheese. The oven dings timers on schedules similar to news alerts and press deadlines. Potato skins. The many layers of chips and cheese. Six-layer dip. Multiple ways, as the men say, to skin a cat. The news is like that. I’d brine (and prime) bylines and wonder in nineteen-point font — might a cookie press symbolize something greater?
3. Laundry Duty, A Daily Ritual
Laundry lingered in the small pockets of air between dawn and doing. The basket was always full. So different from opportunities. I’d press cottons, stitch hems, and sketch patterns. Bleach was as much a metric for diluted pigment as a solution. The chemical reaction would remove all stains and, in their place, form new ones. The subtle shadows of what used to be spun into a reminder of what we could become. Truth telling. The steam from the kettle would remove wrinkles as new ones formed on the cheeks, jowls, brows of Mother and Father. The seasons always turned. The iron a press – as much a component of presentation (less one limb, plus one setting) as a pressure of sorts. The laundry line adopted a pattern. Its middle capable of holding multiple truths and both a concave and convex form. Each fabric appointed a communication – coarse wools, fine linens. A proper temperature (not unlike temperance) for textiles of all sorts. I’d learn. Temper as much a relative of temperature as temperance. Both noun and verb. Each pleat, a pressure point. Each stitch, a colon of sorts. The news an outlet for laundry and fabrics already worn. Also, a source of sustenance. I’d wear the stories untold as a robe, my corset a constriction like formal rules of construction – descriptive adjectives, adverbs to modify my words. Fury, frills, fabric. Gripes, grills, grammar. I toss consonants and vowels and wonder about states of being — To be. To become.
The pear tree birthed odd, asymmetrical fruits. Mostly tart. Mostly unused. Unfit for daily household use. Not unlike the manual mixer Father bought one Sunday. He paid twenty cents. “A steal” of sorts. He set it down on the oak table in the middle of the shadow cast by the pear tree, its presence an always nearby reality. The squirrels had already nibbled the pear for thirty seconds longer than ideal. The hand crank mixer consumed the shade and all the fresh air us girls – one, two, three, more — were hoping for. We yearned for something new, something new to do, to learn, to earn. Our daily news much less fun than that our brother spun. Not all news is fit for print or consumption, Mother warned. Not all tools are fit for redemption or reduction, Father tooled. I listened, then mixed my own batter – a blend of sweet, sour, and another kitchen hour. The act of mixing ingredients to (re)create reality is not always easy nor should it be. Letters are, not surprisingly, refreshingly similar. S and T. C and H. E and R. Why not place “wo” before all men? Even the sweet pear is part ear. I learned to listen. To toil. To reimagine. Once mixed, “pear” becomes “reap”. Swap an R for an L. An easy leap, I liked to think. Even as a young girl, decades before I’d become the first woman to run a newspaper, I’d mix afternoons with homemade mixers and handheld cranks. The music was always on. The news may not have always been right, like the consistency of the dough in the mixing bowl, but it became an always secure place to write. I’d wonder – might a press be a haven safer than home?
5. Measuring Cups and Magnifying Glasses
The relationship between magnification and unification remains interesting, even years after I first made the connection. I received my first pair of glasses when I was nearly fifteen. Suddenly, I could see much more than I ever before believed. Stains neatly spun. The world became less formidable, more malleable. Even a glass of water appeared, suddenly, somehow, different. I’d see stories waiting for moments to melt in the ice cube’s wink. Now, I offer a glass before each interview and as I write, I drink in measured intervals. Room temperature sliced and diced. To break the awkward silence is not unlike the undersized eggshells cracked on the side of an oversized mixing bowl. Tap once. Twice. Convert passive to active voice. Incorporate strong verbs – What more must women wait for?
It’s our turn… (Amelia Jenks Bloomers, the first women to edit, print, and run a newspaper)
* After Sejal Shah’s Curriculum, https://www.conjunctions.com/online/article/sejal-shah-02-26-2013
My Truths (Consumable in Written Form)
I’ve said things, things I believe, in various fonts. Neatly poured, apportioned, and seasoned of nouns and verbs (alongside spicy adjectives and adverbs, of course). Grammar has always been such a lovely broth. Flavored to suit all tastes and testimonies. Dashes of periods, commas, and prepositions turned proposition. A blend of my life’s work. Diced, sliced, and spiced — rarely sanitized. And though I did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments, a hearty stew of a document with impressive compliments, I took note. As Dexter would later remark, “the principles promulgated in those documents began to have an effect upon [my] thoughts”. A flavorful influence, indeed. Dexter’s always known me as well if not better than I’ve known myself. Since my attendance at the Seneca Falls Convention on July 19 and 20, 1848 (a most peculiarly satisfying two days), I’ve said many most unexpected things – truths more likely than not in written form (Dexter first saw my worth and the potential opportunity of my simmering words). He’d later speak in 1895’s Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer (who would have thought there could be such an audience for such a cookbook!) of his belief that I “possessed the power of expressing [my] thoughts on paper with both ease and grace” (isn’t he kind!). Even feminists can have heroes, I believe. Here, in my own words (of unlikely sorts), I collect a pinch of some of my more memorable soups turned writings (delicious, indeed!). Future chefs, take note!
In The Water Bucket, a temperance paper to which I’d contribute, I’d observe — “Another cannot make cake fit to eat without wine or brandy. A third must have brandy on her apple dumplings” … “What flimsy excuses these! brandy and apple dumplings, forsooth! That lady must be a wretched cook indeed who cannot make apple dumplings, mince pies, or cake palatable without the addition of poisonous substances.”
Of The Lily, a temperance turned fully-fledged newspaper that I’d start from my own broth, I’d remark — “It was a needed instrumentality to spread abroad the truth of the new gospel to woman, and I could not withhold my hand to stay the work I had begun.”
For early soups, I (still shy) would publish anonymously. As perspectives boiled, I became bolder. By 1850, my name – Amelia Bloomer – was printed on The Lily’s masthead. Truths for the locals to read, though even truths are often confused. Overripe juice! A blend of too many cooks in a kitchen, perhaps. A distortion of an original recipe — bloomers, undone.
Having no idea “my action would create an excitement throughout the civilized world, and give to the style my name and the credit due Mrs. Miller … I stood amazed at the furor I had unwittingly caused.”
Controversy stirs hunger, I’d learn. The Lily had an early circulation of 500 per month; afterwards it rose quickly (to 4,000, my word!). Now, I take stock as truths take shape in broths of words. Even as my apron’s undone, I believe in the truth of my words (my reality). With love to heroes in syllabic form.
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Jennifer Schneider Artist Statement: I identify as a writer, author, creative, mentor, and educator. I create to think more deeply, to be more present, and to preserve truths as I know and experience them.