Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review: Neither Heroine Nor Fool by Janet L. Coryell

This book covers the life and times of a woman by the name of Anna Ella Carroll, born in 1815 in Somerset, Maryland. She was the daughter of a plantation owner who was too generous for his own good. While growing up she was formally educated by her father, Thomas King Carroll, who had been a law student before the plantation was bequeathed to him. As such Anna was taught in an “unladylike fashion”, learning pre-law, Latin, and all the requirements of well read young men for the time.

As she grew up she took a great interest in the country’s political workings, allying with the infamous American party, otherwise known as the Know-Nothings. This group helped to cement her political views throughout the rest of her life, including a peculiar prejudice against members of the Roman Catholic Church. The hypocrisy in this is based in the fact that her mother’s family was of an old and prestigious Catholic bloodline, the Kings.

Taking an “unladylike” point of view for her time, she was not in the least bit disinclined to dive into the political field of the day, though to soothe those who protested her activities she publicly made it known that what she said was eclipsed by the fact that she was a “weak woman, unschooled in the intricacies in our governing body”. Privately she was anything but. She spent most of her time writing political essays, pamphlets, letters to newspapers, and collections of political arguments in order to take part in the governing process as well as make an income. Unfortunately her father had lost the plantation and she was forced to travel between Baltimore and Washington as her work as an author demanded. The majority of her letters were sent directly to the various Presidents, Secretaries of State, and Secretaries of War. At almost no time did she use a middle man to get her views across. Occasionally her letters were responded to, which she often took as permission to write on her patrons’ behalf and aid in their campaigns for election. It is unfortunate though many such replies which she took as permission, were not, and thus would refuse to pay her for her services.

Perhaps the greatest influence she had in America was her suggestion during the Civil War to use the Tennessee River as a staging point for an attack on the south using gunboats. The problem that the Union army had originally faced was the main river, the Mississippi, which they used for naval attack and supply would become to shallow in the summers for large boats to traverse. After Anna’s consultation with an experience boatman name Charles Scott, they submitted the idea to President Lincoln and the Secretary of War. The plan was accepted and was a wide success, but Anna was never given credit for the plan because of the effect it would’ve had on Union soldier’s morale that a woman had thought of it.

The point the author is trying to make in this novel is that although in life she made a surprising difference in the country for someone with no legitimate political power, the American Suffrage Association of the early 1900’s made her a heroine after her death. They did so by crediting the Tennessee Plan to her as well as giving recognition to her political prose. Though it is sad to say, it seems she had a greater impact on America as a symbol rather than a human being. Such evidence is well grounded as much of Anna Ella Carroll’s original writings and personal journals are still intact.

Personally I found the book to be cold in its reference to Ms. Carroll, there was never any mention of her personal life or motivation for her actions. All that was ever mentioned was the writing that took place between her and various political figures. No mention of lifestyle, husband, or children. I found this to be disconcerting. I would not recommend this for recreational reading, though it does a good job of showing the political turmoil up to and during the civil war.

No comments: