How a Punctuation Mark Gave Us Uncle Tom’s Cabin

If you Google “Semi-Colon Club” right now, you’re going to get a lot of stuff about colon cancer awareness. But back in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s heyday, the Semi-Colon Club was a gathering of extraordinary writers living in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In 1832, at the age of 21, Harriet moved to Cincinnati with her father when he accepted a new job. Her writer uncle, Samuel Foote, invited both of them to join a little literary group that met in his parlor every Monday at 7:30 p.m. Over drinks and hors d’oeuvres, writers contributed pieces to be read aloud to the club, anonymously if they wished, and listened as their work was critiqued.

What was just a way to improve writing and do a bit of socializing (one account said the evening always ended with “a gay Virginia reel led by the reader of the evening and a merry-hearted girl”) ended up being an important part of history. Stowe’s first published story appeared in the Western Literary Messenger, which just happened to be published by a member of the Semi-Colon Club. Without that break, she may never have gone on to write one of the most explosive pieces of literature the world has ever experienced.
Though none of the other members of the circle quite reached the level of literary fame Harriet did, there were definitely some achievers in the ranks of the Semi-Colon Club. Just a few of them:
Salmon P. Chase. Chase was just a young man of 25 when he was in the club, but he would go on to become the 23rd Governor of Ohio, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury and the sixth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, Chase was likely the man who introduced Harriet to Lincoln when he uttered the famous sentence, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” OK, so we don’t have proof Lincoln actually said that, but the pair did meet at the White House in 1862.
Caroline Hentz, who is probably most famous for writing a direct rebuttal to Uncle Tom’s Cabin called The Planter’s Northern Bride in which it is “revealed” that most slaves were content, treated well, and didn't want their freedom.

Elizabeth Blackwell, who later became the first female physician in the United States.

Eliza and Calvin Stowe. Nope, the last name isn’t a coincidence. Calvin was a professor at Lane Theological Seminary, where Harriet Beecher Stowe’s father happened to be the president. When his wife (and Harriet’s good friend) Eliza died of cholera, Calvin and Harriet found themselves spending more time together. They married, of course, and when their first children ended up being twin girls, they named them Eliza and Harriet.

In addition, the Semi-Colonites had at least one notable visitor: Charles Dickens dropped by when he came to the U.S. in 1842.
By the way, the name of the club actually had nothing to do with punctuation or thought separation, other than serving as a clever double meaning. The explanation was that Christopher Columbus - whose Spanish name was Cristobal Colon - discovered new lands, then those who discovered other new things could at least be called Semi-Colons. 

5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.


Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.


Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.


If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.


While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.


Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

George Washington’s Incredible Hair Routine

America's Founding Fathers had some truly defining locks, but we tend to think of those well-coiffed white curls—with their black ribbon hair ties and perfectly-managed frizz—as being wigs. Not so in the case of the main man himself, George Washington.

As Robert Krulwich reported at National Geographic, a 2010 biography on our first president—Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow—reveals that the man “never wore a wig.” In fact, his signature style was simply the result of an elaborately constructed coiffure that far surpasses most morning hair routines, and even some “fancy” hair routines.

The style Washington was sporting was actually a tough look for his day. In the late 18th century, such a hairdo would have been worn by military men.

While the hair itself was all real, the color was not. Washington’s true hue was a reddish brown color, which he powdered in a fashion that’s truly delightful to imagine. George would (likely) don a powdering robe, dip a puff made of silk strips into his powder of choice (there are a few options for what he might have used), bend his head over, and shake the puff out over his scalp in a big cloud.

To achieve the actual ‘do, Washington kept his hair long and would then pull it back into a tight braid or simply tie it at the back. This helped to showcase the forehead, which was very in vogue at the time. On occasion, he—or an attendant—would bunch the slack into a black silk bag at the nape of the neck, perhaps to help protect his clothing from the powder. Then he would fluff the hair on each side of his head to make “wings” and secure the look with pomade or good old natural oils.

To get a better sense of the play-by-play, check out the awesome illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton that accompany Krulwich’s post.


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