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9 Timeless Bits of Wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt

Most people remember Eleanor Roosevelt as a first lady, United Nations diplomat, and humanitarian, but she was also a prolific writer. Roosevelt wrote 27 books—and her first one, an advice book for American ladies called It’s Up to the Women, was published shortly after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration. Out of print for years, the work is slated for a re-release on April 11, 2017, with a new introduction by Harvard University historian Jill Lepore.

It’s Up to the Women contains an eclectic assortment of wisdom. (The Hartford Courant described it as "a book of general counsel and advice on pretty well everything, from dish-washing to high diplomacy.") Naturally, the book offers reflections on women's changing roles in society, and tips for living through the Great Depression. But even by modern standards, it still yields plenty of good, common sense advice for women and men alike, on everything from health to parenting to doing one's civic duty.

In honor of Women's History Month, here are some select nuggets of wisdom culled from Eleanor Roosevelt’s debut work.

1. ON JUGGLING A FAMILY AND A CAREER

Long before we debated the concept of “having it all,” Roosevelt contemplated how women could have both a family and a fulfilling career. To make this juggling act possible, she argued, society needs to relax its rigid standards of motherhood and wifehood. Men occasionally need to shift their priorities, and women may have to as well:

I never like to think of this subject of a woman’s career and a woman’s home as being a controversy. It seems to me perfectly obvious that if a woman falls in love and marries, of course her first interest and her first duty is to her home, but her duty to her home does not of necessity preclude her having another occupation. A woman, just like a man, may have a great gift for some particular thing. That does not mean that she must give up the joy of marrying and having a home and children. It simply means, when we set them in opposition to each other, that we haven’t as yet grown accustomed to the fact that women’s lives must be adjusted and arranged for in just the same way that men’s lives are. Women may have to sacrifice certain things at times—so do men.

2. ON MONEY

Roosevelt wrote It’s Up to the Women during the Great Depression, so the nation's economic downturn weighed heavily on her mind. She advocated a frugal lifestyle, and even devoted an entire chapter to the importance of budgeting (“A budget is a necessary evil no matter how dull you may find it,” she conceded). However, Roosevelt also acknowledged that we sometimes need to throw austerity to the wind and splurge on little things: "No one can really decide [what to spend our money on] for us because to some people certain things mean more than to others,” she wrote. “I should be most unhappy if I could not buy new books but having beefsteak for dinner would mean nothing to me whatsoever!”

Roosevelt also had plenty of advice for fashion on a budget: Buy only what you need, spend more money on quality clothing items that will stand the test of time, and jazz up a tired ensemble with fresh accessories. “One can usually count on a coat lasting two seasons, but a new hat will frequently make people think that everything one has on is new,” she wrote. Good style, Roosevelt concluded, is the product of taste and a carefully curated wardrobe—not money.

3. ON BUDGETING TIME

Roosevelt was a tireless worker, but even she needed a respite from the daily grind. “It is a rare person who can get on without some break in the regular routine,” she wrote. “Budgeting time to arrange for these breaks is just as important as it is to plan the income.”

To fit leisure time into a busy schedule, Roosevelt recommended sticking to a regular routine, completing the hardest chores in the morning, and teaching children to perform basic self-care tasks and chores for themselves. As for break time, it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as it's relaxing. “If you need extra sleep perhaps you can get a nap, but if not, sewing or reading or doing some kind of work you enjoy may be your rest,” Roosevelt wrote. “It simply means that your regular routine should be off your mind.”

4. ON HEALTH

Taking the time to maintain a healthy lifestyle is important for your health as well as the wellbeing of those close to you. “Your physical condition rests on your mental condition and on your spiritual attitude toward life,” Roosevelt wrote. “A nervous and irritable person can do little to make life pleasant for those around her; therefore it is up to us to study our physical needs well and to budget our lives to meet these requirements.”

Roosevelt rattled off a list of tips that would make any physician proud: Eat nutritious meals, get fresh air, keep your brain sharp with hobbies, and exercise. She also recommended staying mindful of your food choices, indulging in moderation, and eating slowly. Try dining with “some congenial companion" to pace yourself, she suggested, but “a book will do if no human is at hand!”

Sleep is also important—but don't get too freaked out if you experience bouts of insomnia. “People who do not sleep should not worry about it,” Roosevelt wrote. “They should lie there and rest and think about pleasant things. They will either fall asleep or, at the worst, get up next morning perhaps a little less refreshed but still quite able to do their daily tasks and retire early the next.”

5. ON PARENTING

Roosevelt, a mother of six (her third child died when he was less than a year old), believed in teaching children to do their own chores; to love books, nature, and their country; and to explore their unique talents. But aside from that, the first lady had a hands-off approach to motherhood. She believed that children should be allowed to make mistakes—and learn from them—at every stage of life.

“I believe very strongly that it is better to allow children too much freedom than too little; it is better for them to get their feet wet than to be told at the age of 15 to put on their rubbers," Roosevelt wrote. "They should be old enough by that time to take care of themselves and if they prefer to get their feet wet, they should be allowed to do so."

However, Roosevelt did point out that a parent’s counsel occasionally comes in handy—particularly during the teen years: “Try to understand young people, particularly your adolescent young people, and not to be shocked or irritated by them," she wrote. "They are at an age where they do not understand themselves or the emotions which sweep over them and it is a time above all times when wise parents may be useful.”

6. ON KEEPING AN OPEN MIND

As times change, so do societal values, Roosevelt wrote. Stay open-minded and routinely reevaluate your core ideals:

We must all realize, I think, that between generations there is a tremendous gulf and that each new generation sets up its own standards as the result of contact with its own con-temporaries ... What would have seemed to one generation absolutely immoral will to another generation simply seem a matter of custom and manners and therefore in a changing world we must bear in mind that we cannot be too sure that ideals which have served us in the past are to continue to serve us in the future.

7. ON KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

Can't afford to live like your affluent neighbors? Instead of feeling insecure, try enjoying life on your own terms and budget, Roosevelt wrote. After all, in an uncertain economy, everyone—even the rich—needs to watch their wallets:

One must set one’s own standards of what one wants in society. One must not be too much influenced by others and above all one must not attempt to strive to match what somebody else is doing. 'Keeping up with the Joneses' is no longer so important because Mr. and Mrs. Jones are apt not to be very sure how long they can continue doing what they have always done. It is becoming increasingly evident that what one has matters little; what one is means that one can gather around oneself those who wish to see real people without regard to anything except enjoyable relationships and real personality.

8. ON MAKING FRIENDS

Cultivating a diverse social group broadens your horizons and helps you become a better person, Roosevelt wrote. Make an effort to befriend all sorts of people, and teach your kids the same principle:

The more kinds of people we know, the more interesting will our lives be. And the younger we discover this and bring up our children in an atmosphere of friendliness and to a habit of understanding and congeniality with varied interests and conditions in life, the more vital will be our homes and the better a training place for the children whom we must eventually shove out of the nest.

9. ON DOING YOUR CIVIC DUTY

Not everyone has time to be politically active, but as a U.S. citizen, it's your duty to stay informed and "use [your] vote as intelligently as possible," Roosevelt wrote. Don't vote for a candidate just because your family is, or because of regional prejudices: “A vote is never an intelligent vote when it is cast without knowledge. Just doing what some one else tells you to do without any effort to find out what the facts are for yourself is being a poor citizen.”

And since the book's title is It's Up to the Women, Roosevelt would have been remiss if she hadn't urged women to use their unique perspectives to change the political landscape:

One can have a bloodless revolution if one can count on leaders of sufficient vision to grasp the goal for which the mass of people is often unconsciously striving, and courage enough in the nation as a whole to accept the necessary changes to achieve the desired ends ... Are there women ready to lead in these new paths? Will other women follow them? We do not know, but one thing is sure, the attitude of women toward changes in society is going to determine to a great extent our future in this country. Women in the past have never realized their political strength. Will they wake up to it now?

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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski
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The Elements
9 Diamond-Like Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Nicole Garner
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History
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
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Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.

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