Friday, February 25, 2011

Dorothy Seymour

I'm sorry for posting so much, people. I often resolve to stop inundating people with posts so often but there are so many things going on everywhere that are worth commenting on that I just can't help myself. This is a story that was brought to my attention by reader Patrick whose controversial comments we all appreciate. Thanks, Patrick!

The baseball lovers among us must have surely heard about Harold Seymour's seminal studies of this sport. I know nothing about baseball but even I have heard his name and know of his importance to the writing of baseball's history. Now it turns out that much of the research for all of the books and most of the writing for the last one had been done my Seymour's wife Dorothy, his life partner of 30 years whom he refused to acknowledge as a co-author. 

Dorothy contributed a lot to Harold's career from the moment they married. She was helpful in helping him get through the writing of his doctoral dissertation:
As a good '50s wife, she typed the 632-page dissertation in which Seymour traced baseball from a childhood pursuit of boys into a full-fledged business and American cultural centerpiece. Cornell University awarded him his doctorate in 1956, and the dissertation helped launch sports history as a legitimate scholarly pursuit. It grew into his first baseball history book, published in 1960.Dr. Seymour's wife knows now that she probably contributed more to that dissertation than the academic world would consider appropriate. In the preface, Seymour acknowledged "the help of numerous individuals and organizations."He did not mention Dorothy.
Everybody knows that being the partner of a person in the throes of writing a doctoral dissertation is very hard. Those of who who suffered through the process of researching, writing, revising and going nuts over the dissertation know how much we owe to those people who were by our side and put up with us in the process. Seymour, however, felt nothing similar. A wife for him was not as person. She was a convenient object who was supposed to produce and shut up.

The most frequent argument male chauvinists use to disparage women is that the entirety of human civilization was created by men while women just sat there twiddling their thumbs and sometimes managing to look pretty which only served to distract men from their all-important endeavors. I wonder how many of the great works of literature and scientific advances owe their existence to the silenced wives who toiled in the background and whose input was never recognized.


Rimi said...

I once read a biography of an American architecht from... Florida, I think. I'm no fan of dissecting architecture so I skimmed the book, but it turns out she was a pioneer in designing 'modern' buildings -- like old-age homes -- and indeed designed and oversaw 40% of the public buildings in her area, but there is no mention of her as a successful architect anywhere in the history of American architects, much less as a pioneer of certain forms.

On similar veins, a grad student of Politics once pooh-poohed Lady Ada Augusta Lovelace's status as the world's first programmer, saying that programming has go so absolutely further that her efforts really meant very little.

After a few minutes the conversation turned to the concept of democratic representation, and he quoted freely from Plato, and enthusiastically spoke of 'the Roman system'. I asked him if he thought classical references were a good model for modern multiethnic democracies, given the Wise Old Men excluded everyone but the rich (sane) men of the city from participating in the process. The man appeared miffed. "Predecessors", he said sententiously, "are never to be dismissed. Had they not laid the founding stones, we would still be barbarians today. The thing may have changed beyond recognition, but the core ideas remain the same".

So it's not like women whose acheivements are well-known are immune from being edited out of mainstream history, or having different standards of merit applied to them.

I'm also reminded of a Jon Stewart interview with the founder-CEO of Indian MNC Infosys. Stewart disclosed that Thomas Friedman's famous phrase, "a flat world" (from his book "The World is Flat"), was actually coined by his interviewee, Narayan Murthy. He tried to needle Murthy about Friedman 'stealing' his phrase, but Murthy didn't rise to the bait. And even after that much-watched show, the phrase is still attributed to Friedman.

It all boils down to believability. In comparison to a Pulitzer-winning American journalist, an 'geeky' tech-company CEO with an Indian accent is simply unbelievable as the coiner of a new catchphrase. And it's the same for any minority group -- not in terms of number but in terms of social power.

Rimi said...

I don't know if you read the Lisbeth Salander trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and so on), but even if you didn't you may have been aware that after the author's sudden death, his wealth via royalty passed onto his father and brother, and not his domestic partner of several decades. Contentions then surfaced from his friends and colleagues that the books were really written by her -- the named author had quite a different style and was possibly incapable of writing such sustained tomes. I haven't followed the case, but I did think the concerns ironic, in view of the content of the books.