History from
the Bottom Up

Anne Hutchinson, Cheeky Preacher

Anne_Hutchinson_on_TrialThe road I drive on to get in and out of New York City is called the Hutchinson River Parkway. It was named, of course, for the Hutchinson River. But I wonder how many people know who the Hutchinson River was named after.

Anne Hutchinson, that’s who. If she hadn’t been a woman, she would have been a powerful minister at the level of her contemporaries, John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and John Cotton. But she was a woman, and in 1637 she was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and excommunicated by the Puritan church because she was acting like a minister. Also, she espoused a ‘covenant of grace” rather than a “covenant of works.” If you think that sounds like a petty distinction, it is, at least to us. But the Massachusetts Bay Colony was not known for its religious tolerance. Also, she’d assembled a bunch of women in her large home several days a week for the purpose of “resolving questions of doctrine and expounding scripture” (in the words of John Winthrop). In so doing, Winthrop said, she had “troubled the peace of the Commonwealth.”

That Puritan Funster, John Winthrop

That Puritan Funster, John Winthrop

Anne and her husband and large family (she’d had fifteen kids, not all of whom survived infancy) and many of Anne’s followers settled Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1638. All the men signed a pledge called the Portsmouth Compact, but Anne couldn’t sign the pledge to the colony she founded, because she was a woman.

After her husband died in 1642, Anne and her surviving children moved to New Netherland, in what is now part of the Bronx. In 1643, Anne and all but one of her children were killed by Indians who were battling with the Dutch.

Author Visit!

For two days last week, I visited the Hampden Meadows school in Barrington, Rhode Island, to talk to multiple classes of fifth graders. I knew it was going to be a great author visit when this greeted me: And once inside, this:I shared the pink doughnut five ways with my four library helpers, who were there to help me get my presentation technology up and running. Best doughnut I ever spent. They had the slideshow up on the screen in no time. Here … Read more

Boy Oh Boy

I love fashions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and fun fact: men were every bit as into fashion, if not more so, than were women. In the days when an outfit could cost as much as a house, one wore one’s wealth and image on one’s back. Here’s a little picture show for you, with some of my most favorite crazy, outlandish men’s fashions. First, the sixteenth century:  … Read more

Way to Glow

In the course of my research for an upcoming book about poison in history (Spring, 2017), I came across a lot of cool facts that, for space reasons, I was unable to include in the book. One of these is luminous glassware. That would be glass that contains uranium. Under an ultraviolet light, the glass glows bright green. And yes, the glass emits radiation.

In ancient times, glassmakers discovered that adding uranium, a naturally-occuring element found … Read more

Oh, Baby!

From National Library of Medicine

I remember that anxiety I felt when we brought our first baby home (he’s now in college). Everything in our apartment became a Potential Hazard that might hurt my precious child. New parents are given a lot of advice, and I was all ears. Also, I worked at Sesame Street at the time, so I’d read a LOT of safety articles already. Most of the advice I received seemed pretty reasonable. Stuff like—be sure to swivel pot handles around so … Read more

Duel Purpose

I saw the show Hamilton last week. My family is somewhat obsessed with it, and we knew every note of the soundtrack. Still, it exceeded our expectations.

One question left unanswered by the musical is: what became of Alexander Hamilton’s killer, Aaron Burr? Why was he not arrested for murder?

Quick summary: Burr, the Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, challenged Hamilton to a duel, after years of simmering tensions and mutual badmouthing of one another in the press. On July 11th, 1804, Burr shot Hamilton, and by the afternoon of the … Read more

Facts and Blarney about Saint Patrick (Reposting!)


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! While not Irish myself, I do have quite a few Irish relatives by marriage on my Italian mother’s side. (“They meet each other in church!” as my Irish uncle-by-marriage once cheerfully explained to me.) To honor the day, I thought I’d share five fascinating facts about Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick (approximately CE 389 to 461). March 17th is believed to be his death date.
We’re not sure who the original inhabitants of Ireland were, although some historians believe the Greeks or Scythians arrived in Ireland as … Read more

Skype Day

Because I’m on a book deadline (make that two. No, three.), I’ve had to get super-efficient with my time but also try to carve out hours for what I love to do—and one of those things is Skyping with classrooms across the country. So my new tactic is to clump my short Skypes into one day a month. Last Thursday was my day-of-skyping. I spoke with kids in New York, New Jersey (twice), Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Here are some pictures I took, when I remembered to take them—sorry they’re blurry.

Thanks to all the teachers for organizing, and … Read more

Author Visits!

What a week! In the past eight days, I visited ten schools via Skype and three schools in person, in South Portland, Maine, Andover, Massachusetts, and Old Saybrook, Connecticut. It has been busy, but so awesome, and has reaffirmed my belief that I have the best job in the world.

A few highlights from my in-person visits:

Kindergarten and first grade kids at Dyer Elementary

Eager volunteers running up to the stage at West Elementary … Read more

World Read Aloud Day 2016

On Wednesday I Skyped with multiple classrooms around the country for World Read Aloud Day. Thanks to all the teachers and librarians for making time in their day for this super-fun event, and to all the kids for asking fantastic questions. Here are some highlights of the day (although I’m still not used to seeing myself on a huge screen, like the Great and Powerful Oz):  … Read more

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