Merci beaucoup…

I am not myself lately. In fact, some days I hear the Talking Heads in my own head – HOW DID I GET HERE???

I thought I had crossed enough bridges and moved enough times that I was adept at it all, but this time the resilience is slow in coming and at moments it all feels like a little too much. I am easily provoked and annoyed. I feel out of focus and discombobulated.

Similar to how the squeaky wheel gets the grease, when going through major life transitions, it is ofter easer to focus on the irritations rather than the upsides. And when the going gets tough, I tend to romanticize past situations. But I know everything can look better in the rearview mirror and the only direction to go is forward, so I think on that. With my new friend, Insomnia, I have plenty of time in the middle of the night to ponder away. The bedroom windows are open allowing for a cool breeze, the darkness is comforting, and all is quiet until the birds start chirping shortly before 5:00 a.m.

What do I think about in the middle of the night? I try to figure out why I feel so out of sync with myself. I think about how I got here and how to move forward. I think about who I have become and who I want to be. I’m often surprised these days when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and am reminded – I am not 21 anymore! In some ways the world is no longer my oyster, but in other ways it is more so than it ever was. No little ones needing 24/7 vigilance. I don’t have a job eating up 50-60 hours of my week and my husband is very low maintenance. doing more things for me than I do for him.

I have the great privilege of choosing how to spend my remaining years. We live our lives through the choices we make and I’m determined to make my way through my melancholy and follow my dream. More than anything, I want to write and publish my book. So, I’m taking a hiatus from blogging. My original goal was to post twice a week for one year. Camp Grandma Musings is now over two years old, and I’ve never missed a Sunday or Wednesday. Over the past couple of years I have “met” new people through my blog. I’ve reconnected with others (I’m looking at you Barb!) and I’ve had a great time. Merci beaucoup for every read, comment, and share.

Whiles it is a little bittersweet to let it go, I don’t want to be on my death bed thinking – if I had just tried a little harder, I would have gotten that book done. I’m going to spend a few weeks getting settled into our new home and recovering my joie de vivre. Then I will work on establishing a routine that allows me to work on my book each day. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be passing a bookshop and there will be my book – shiny and new – the pot of gold at the end of one of my personal rainbows.

C’est la vie.

Women of consequence – Frances Oldham Kelsey

In 2010, Frances Oldham Kelsey, then 96, was chaperoned by her two daughters as she accepted the very first Dr. Frances O. Kelsey Award for Excellence and Courage in Protecting the Public Health awarded by the Food and Drug Administration. While it was the crowning jewel of her long and remarkable career, Ms. Kelsey received multiple honors during her 101 years on earth, including the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civil Service from President John F. Kenneday in 1962. Shamefully, I didn’t know who this woman was.

In September 1960, Kelsey began working for the FDA as a medical officer, reviewing applications for drug approvals. Assuming the application from the William S. Merrell Co. to market thalidomide was a slam dunk, the FDA assigned it to newly hired Kelsey. And we should all be so grateful they did.

Born in 1914, she grew up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where a chance meeting with a vacationing teacher ignited an interest in biology. The first school she attended was Leinster Preparatory School in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia. Theoretically an all-boys school, for several terms Kelsey was the only girl, perhaps laying the groundwork for her success in a male-centric field.

Kelsey graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a Bachelor of Science in 1934 at the age of 20. Canada had been hard hit by the Depression and there were few jobs for young university graduates, so she decided to continue her studies and pursue a Master of Science degree in biochemistry. The biochemistry course at McGill was already full, so she switched her focus to pharmacology, graduating in 1935.

Even with her master’s degree, Kelsey was unable to secure a position and stayed on at McGill as a research assistant. In February 1936, her professor heard that the University of Chicago was opening a new pharmacology department. Kelsey wrote to the chairman of the newly established department, inquiring if there may be an opening for her. Applying her three-cent stamp to the envelope and sending it off, she had no idea what lie ahead. Much to her delighted surprise, on February 15 she received a letter airmail, special delivery telling her, “If you can be in Chicago by March 1st, you may have the Research Assistantship for four months and then a scholarship to see you through a Ph.D.” She was bothered a bit that the letter started out, “Dear Mr. Oldham”. She asked her professor at McGill if she should explain to Professor Geiling the difference between Frances and Francis.

Kelsey arrived in Chicago during a national emergency. The S. E. Massengill Co.’s elixir sulfanilamide, a medicine widely prescribed for colds and other infections had been linked to a mounting nationwide death toll. Kelsey was assigned to a team assembled by Professor Geiling to identify the toxic agent. The group successfully identified the toxic agent as diethylene glycol, used as a solvent in the preparation. Today diethylene glycol is better known as the active ingredient in antifreeze. This scandal exposed the inadequacy of existing regulation.

After completing her Ph.D., University of Chicago offered her a faculty position and by 1942 she was studying drugs that would cure malaria. This was the start of Kelsey’s interest in drugs that pass from mother to fetus through the placenta.

In 1960, Professor Geiling was head of the new pharmacology center for the FDA and recruited Kelsey who would serve as a medical officer, reviewing applications for drug approvals in the U.S. Providentially, she was assigned thalidomide, a painkiller/tranquilizer used to reduce nausea. Pregnant women suffering from morning sickness were considered particularly suitable candidates for the drug.

Even without approval, in 1960 American law allowed the company to send experimental samples to doctors. Merrill sent 2.5 million tablets to over 1,000 American doctors who administered it to almost 20,000 patients, hundreds of whom were pregnant.

“The burden of proof that the drug is safe…lies with the applicant.”

Kelsey was unimpressed by Merrell’s application and refused to approve it, telling them their risk assessment was inadequate, relying on anecdotal testimony in place of clinical data. She wanted more data from controlled studies. She was extremely concerned when she realized no trials had been carried out on pregnant animals to discover if the drug could cross the placenta.

FDA drug review had to be completed within 60 days, otherwise drug approval become automatic. Merrell waged an aggressive campaign for approval, but Kelsey held firm to her scientific and ethical principles, continually blocking the approval of thalidomide and requesting additional data.

Sadly, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, about 2,000 children died and 10,000 were born malformed as a result of their mothers being given thalidomide during pregnancy. Finally in November 1961, thalidomide was withdrawn in Germany for use by pregnant women. Largely due to the heroic effort of Frances Oldham Kelsey, only 17 of these “thalidomide babies” were born in the United States.

The blocking of FDA approval of thalidomide is the best known of Kelsey’s accomplishments, but she had a long and vibrant career with the FDA. in 1963, she was appointed head of their investigational drug branch. In 1967, she become director of the office of scientific investigations, a position she held until she was 80. Even then, she continued working at the FDA as an advisor, finally retiring at age 90 in 2005.

Of all the information available online about Frances Oldham Kelsey, my favorite was her “Autobiographical Reflections.” In the opening paragraph, she talks about a letter she received in 1987 from an eighth-grade girl who was preparing a speech on Kelsey. She did ask for a couple of facts, but what got Kelsey’s attention was when she wrote: “But, most of all, perhaps you could describe how hard it was to be a woman studying science and medicine when most of your classmates were men. Perhaps you could also tell me how frustrating it must have been to find work when people thought a woman should only be a housewife.”

The last line of her Autobiographical Reflections is “It has been an interesting career.” Kelsey helped open the door for women to medical and scientific research. She was instrumental in inspiring legislation that tightened the testing parameters on experimental use of drugs and strengthened the authority of the FDA. She inspired a young girl to give a speech about her. And she did all this while marrying and having two children. A woman of consequence.

The Domestic Goddess moves in with the decidedly Undomestic Goddess…

Please enjoy this guest post from my sister, Jeanne.

How’s that going?

Well, interestingly. Besides the practical issues we have encountered – which furniture, dishes, electronics and home decor we should keep and use and which will become the subjects of our yard sale, the daily chores we have each practiced differently over decades can sometimes be an issue.

The UG (me) has always washed my dishes by hand in a dishpan with a drainer nearby. The DG (stormy) as a modern woman, prefers utilizing the efficient dishwasher. When other chores need to be done, admittedly as an old fart, I procrastinate while DG with her schedule of tasks, is not only on it, but seems to fairly faithfully follow it. With two women who have each done things ‘their own way’, there must be some adjustments or one of us will be committed and I strongly suspect it might be me.

When I (UG) decided to buy basement shelving for all our assorted gee gaws, DG said to wait until we know how much we needed to store and then decide on the shelves. The UG’s position was buy the shelves, there will always be stuff to fill them. Two different approaches. UG chooses a solution first then deals with all the piles on the floor. Two approaches, both solve the problem. It’s just deciding who wins out, age or youth…an ancient dilemma.

We have to learn to read signals. I have learned when DG is very quiet with a furrowed brow that there is something out of balance in her world. Perhaps the furniture arrangement needs tweaking, or a different picture would better suit a wall or UG has been too slow accomplishing a necessary task. The DG has run a pretty tight ship for a number of decades and has the successes to show for it including amazing progeny, marvelous grandkiddos a nd an exemplary collection of glassware. UG on the other hand has been a bit of a gypsy occasionally making seat of the pants decisions and living a less structured life. We each have something to offer to our new household. I look forward to our future of both comforting routine with occasional surprises through patience, consideration, love and wine.


A Congenial Table…

“It’s interesting how things like china and crystal (“good dishes”) were so important at one time”

I received the above response along with a polite thanks but no thanks from one of Mr. Smith’s siblings in response to my inquiry as whether someone would like to have a few pieces of Grandma Pat and Grandpa Bud’s wedding crystal. Many, many years ago on an anniversary, the grandparents gifted each of their eight offspring with a few pieces of this stemware.

My sister and I are gearing up for a big moving sale, but it didn’t feel right to put my in-laws’ crystal out to be haggled over. Luckily, one of Mr. Smith’s brothers is now in possession of what was once a treasured possession of his parents. While I proudly wear my crown of “the woman with a glass for everything”, my goal is have next to nothing stored away in boxes that my children will have to offload after my demise. If I don’t have space to have it out and easily accessible, I want to pass it on as was the case here.

Registering for fine china and crystal was once a rite of passage for engaged couples and while many couples still register for wedding gifts, said list may now contain more everyday useful items, fancy smart speakers, or high-tech appliances rather than 12 place settings of tableware. Two of our three sons registered for china and I’m happy they did. For Valentine’s Day this year, our oldest son pulled it out and set a festive table, along with party favors. But I digress…

I’m not sure where it originated, but I have a great affinity for pottery and china dishes and delight in finding a unique antique platter or bowl. Mixing in the older dishes makes for a more creative table scape. Entertaining may have become more casual, but it can still be beautiful.

While Mr. Smith and I own a plethora of wine glasses, we don’t have any 12 that match. I have more fun picking up vintage pieces that I spot at antique stores and take sales. I love serving my guests (and myself!) a glass of bubbly in a vintage flute. When setting a lovely table, they mix well with my Riedel wine glasses I bought at Target.

So relax my splendid progeny. You will not have to hire someone to cart off box upon box of dishes and glassware you have no interest in. But I sincerely hope you will look on the bottom of things in the china cupboard and pass them on to the designated recipient. It gives me great pleasure to think of my grandchildren one day using my vintage champagne glasses to drink a toast to Grandma Stormy. Cheers!

C’est la vie.

Try, try again…

Mothers’ Day is the day to celebrate and honor our own moms, as well as the profound influence mothers have had on society.  The stationary stores and gift shops are overflowing with cards bursting with loving sentiments.  “You’re the Best Mom Ever”, “You’ve always listened, loved, and let me lean on you”, or “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without you.”

Nope, nope, I don’t think so.  What happens to those of us who have/had challenging relationships with our mothers?  When you don’t get on with your mother, it is often accompanied with a little cloud of guilt and all the Mothers’ Day hoopla can rub salt in that maternal wound.  

How do we shake off the guilt and the dark clouds?  This year my sister and I chose to focus on good memories of our mother.  When I was a little girl, my mother would make a lemon jelly roll.  I was fascinated by the process.  You bake a large, shallow flat cake, fill it with lemon curd, roll it up and voilà, you have an exotic, delectable dessert.  We would bake a jelly roll in her honor!

There exist different adaptations of this dessert with various names and in a different era (not mine!), the fine art of preparing a jelly roll was often taught in Home Economics class.  You bake a cake in a long shallow sheet pan, turn it out onto a towel dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and while it is still warm you start from a short side and roll the cake and the towel into a log shape.  After it is cooled, unroll your cake keeping it on the towel and spread your filling over the cake.  Roll the filled cake tightly and keep your fingers crossed it doesn’t crack.  

My sister can’t eat sugar, so instead of using our mom’s 60-year-old recipe (which as NOT very detailed), I scoured the internet for a sugarless version of this whimsical and fun dessert. We started with making the lemon curd.  I love it when something does exactly what the recipe says it should.  We masterfully whisked the egg yolks until they were a lemony, smooth consistency.  This was combined with the melted butter and other ingredients for a very tasty, successful concoction which included lots of fresh lemon juice. Time to move on to the cake part.

Ah, the cake.  All was going well until we went to pour it into the pan for baking.  There was no way it was right!  I am well aware that many recipes you find on the internet or in magazines have errors in them – ingredients omitted or portions incorrect.  I’m choosing to believe I chose a bum recipe and not that we were lacking in talent.  But that said, I was very disappointed when our efforts were dropped into the trash.

But, if we are anything, we are indeed our mothers’ daughters.  She had plenty of backbone and was not easily defeated.  So, we searched for another recipe and tried again.  Success!  It did crack slightly during the rolling process.  Also, I tried a short cut I read in one recipe and used paper towels instead of a cloth towel for the process.  I would not do that again.

One of the best things about getting older for me has been gaining perspective.  I have come to believe that many of the differences between my mother and me weren’t about me but were her own personal struggles that as a child I could not understand.

I have also come to believe that it is true that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without my mother and her example of perseverance.  And without her I wouldn’t be feasting on lemon jelly roll tonight!

Happy Mother’s Day!

C’est la vie.

My bookshelf…

While I spent more time packing and unpacking books in April than I did reading them, I did manage to devour a couple of titles.  Feeling the need for comfort reading, I fell back on one of my favorite genres, historical fiction.  Mr. Smith and I, along with millions of other readers, are particularly drawn to World War II historical fiction.

Sometimes I wonder about this attraction.  Is it the inherent sense of good versus evil?  Is it a way to connect with our grandparents’ disappearing generation?  Is it the real-life stories the books are based on?  I know I often wonder what I would have done under similar circumstances.  


This book was inspired by the true history of the few bookshops that survived the Blitz, including those on Paternoster Row, a street in the city of London that was the center of the London publishing trade.

Grace Bennett was born and raised in a small England town, but always dreamed of moving to London.  When she finally arrives in August 1939, it is not what she expected.  There are bunkers and drawn curtains which quickly evolve into blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies.

Not previously interested in literature, she finds herself working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop in the heart of London.  Between the bookshop and a new love interest, Grace learns to appreciate the power of books and the sanctuary bookshops can provide to people. She also discovers strength she never knew she had when she becomes a warden with the ARP (Air Raid Precautions).  Four Grandmas!

SISTERS OF WAR by Lana Kortchik

Natasha and Lisa Smirnova are sisters in Kiev, 1941, when they realize their lives are about to change forever.  The Red Army is withdrawing, and Hitler is advancing.  As the German army occupies their city, the sisters and their family face the horrible realities of war.  There is love, betrayal, kindness and cruelty.

            “…all human wisdom is summed up in these two words – wait and hope.”

I have read a lot of historical fiction, but never anything about the Nazi occupation of Kiev and parts of the Soviet Union.  This book illustrated the complexity of life during World War II and taught me some history I should have already known.  Highly recommended. Four Grandmas.

C’est la vie.

Now I will do nothing but listen. Walt Whitman

As we settle into house sharing, my uber-early rising sister worries about waking me up in the morning when she grinds the beans for her coffee.  No amount of reassuring her it is not a problem seems to assuage her concern.  Hopefully she will relax as we settle in and learn each other’s boundaries and idiosyncrasies.

I quite enjoy the sounds of morning, hearing the house wake up and come to life.  As a young mother, I woke many mornings to the sound of a baby crying.  It was a sweet pleasure knowing I had the ability to scoop them up and quickly comfort them.  Then came that wonderful stage when instead of waking up crying, they woke up cooing and babbling to themselves, just for a young mother’s listening pleasure.

For many years, the sounds of our house were the sounds of children.  Sometimes laughing, sometimes squabbling, and often the lyrical bleating of “Mom?  Mom?  Mom???”. They were the melody of our life.  I could monitor where everyone was in the house or yard by the sounds I could hear. As our sons became more independent, I would listen for the click of the back gate letting me know they were home from school or back from band or soccer practice.  After they were driving, I could never sleep at night until I heard the door close and their footsteps  headed up the stairs to bed.

Along with the family sounds, our old Victorian house was full of ancient and familiar noises that kept me company.  Radiators pinged and floors squeaked along with other assorted thumps, bangs and knocks.  I realize all those sounds had a reasonable, scientific explanation, but I preferred to believe they were just keeping me company as I went through my day.  

We lived kitty corner from a church and its bells along with the whistling of the local trains that ran through town became a part of our daily soundtrack.  On Sunday mornings, classical music playing throughout the house called our sons to breakfast (along with the smell of bacon).  Many a glorious summer evening, music poured through our open windows while we sat on the back porch sharing conversation and catching up on neighborhood and school events with our sons.  

After years of parenting sons and caring for an old house, Mr. Smith and I made the move East and were able to spend over a decade just enjoying being a couple.  We quickly adjusted to apartment living and being able to call the landlord with any problems.  Apartment living does come with its own brand of noises, including the 7:00 a.m. trash pickup below my 10th floor window!

Now our nest is less empty.  So far in our new home I have woken up to the sound of birds chirping to one another, to rain on the roof, and to my own thoughts refusing to be ignored.  Not once to the sound of the coffee grinder, but I’ll be listening.

C’est la vie.

Midweek Mélange

Good morning and welcome to this week’s Midweek Mélange.  This morning Mr. Smith and I are acting like air traffic controllers for the strapping younger ones unloading all our worldly possessions from the moving truck. And if I thought packing was bad, now the fun really starts.  According to some obscure lists, Wednesdays have been proven to be the most efficient day of the week to get work done, so here’s hoping!  I have the satisfaction of knowing it will end as Wine Wednesday!

Hopefully your Wednesday is a little less stressful.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and check out some of the recent news items that caught my attention this month.


Su Min spent her first 56 years being a dutiful Chinese woman.  She endured an abusive marriage that she originally thought would be a way out of the drudgery and endless chores she had shouldered at her parents’ home.  She spent years caring for her daughter and then twin grandsons but came to a point where “Life at home is truly too upsetting.”  

At first, she was worried about the social stigma her family would experience if she left, she had resigned herself to her life of drudgery.  Until the day this retired factory worker stumbled upon a video online of someone introducing their camping gear while on a solo road trip.  Always enamored of travel, she started researching everything she could find about road trips and soon made up her mind.  When her grandsons started preschool, she would start on a journey of her own.

Su Min purchased a four-and-a-half by eight-foot rooftop tent for her small Volkswagen hatchback.  She grabbed a minifridge and a rice cooker and on September 24, 2020, she set out on a road trip, basking in her newfound freedom.

Net-A-Porter ad for International Women’s Day featuring Su Min.

An accidental feminist icon, she has been documenting her journey for her more than 1.35 million followers across several social media platforms, as well as being an international personality.  Women send her messages, sharing their own stories and cheering her on. They greet her at her nightly destination with fruit and homecooked meals.  She hopes to cover all of China on her solo road trip, so don’t expect her home for several years.  

You can read more about Su Min in this New York Time’s article.


I love making lists and reading lists so when I spotted Esquire’s 38 Documentaries That Will Change Your Life, I knew I had to check it out.  It is an inspiring list and there are several I want to watch in the future.  I was delighted to note a couple of my personal favorites on the list.  Mr. Smith and I both thoroughly enjoyed Man on Wire and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?  But if your time is limited and you must choose just one from the list to watch, I would recommend Honeyland.

Honeyland is the story of Hatidze Muratova, one of the last Macedonians to practice beekeeping in the Balkan Mountains.  Hatidze lives with her ailing mother in a village without roads, electricity or running water.  She ekes out a living selling her honey in small batches at the market in the closest city, a four hour walk away.  The film is visually beautiful, telling the story of an extraordinary woman.  It is a look into a very different way of life, but an acknowledgement of some of our similarities.  No spoiler here, but I had to smile at what Hatidze searched out to purchase at the market after selling her honey.


I was happy I stumbled on this Inspired Life Washington Post article, This woman, 82, dresses to the nines each Sunday for virtual church.  La Verne Ford Wimberly of Tulsa, Oklahoma is an 82-year-old retired educator who must have a bigger closet than I do.  She would need it just for her collection of hats which numbers somewhere around 50.  

Since March 29, 2020, she has taken photos of herself each Sunday in one of her stunning color-coordinated outfits that she has carefully selected from her closet, jewelry boxes and hat boxes.  She has posted her colorful photo each and every Sunday and has been inundated with positive responses.  She keeps a running list of what she wears each Sunday, not wanting to commit the faux pas of wearing the same outfit twice!

La Verne credits a junior high teacher for her interest in fashion.  As a young teenager, she noticed this teacher wore a different beautiful outfit to school each day.  When La Verne became a teacher herself, she decided to emulate her teacher’s example and dress up for the kids.

If this 82-year-old retiree can make the effort every Sunday as she meticulously dresses for her Zoom church, I think we can all occasionally leave our sweats in the drawer. 

C’est la vie.

And the Academy Award of Merit goes to…

It doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?  It may be the official name, but the coveted gold statuette is better known by its nickname, Oscar.  There is little consensus where the nickname originated, although many have tried to take credit.  Bette Davis claims that after winning the Academy Award for Dangerous in 1936, she remarked that the statue’s naked butt reminded her of her husband’s, Harmon Oscar Nelson Jr., after getting out of the shower.  The most popular story has been that Academy librarian, Margaret Herrick, thought it resembled her Uncle Oscar and the Academy staff began referring to it as Oscar.  Wherever it came from, once Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky used the name in his column in 1934 in reference to Katharine Hepburn’s first Best Actress win, the nickname was here to stay with the Academy officially adopting it in 1939.

The first Academy Awards took place on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.  Following a ceremony of less than 15 minutes, the remainder of the evening was devoted to dining and small talk.  Only 15 statues were given out that year and acceptance speeches were probably shorter.

The ceremonies were broadcast on the radio until 1953 when they were first televised.  The pre-ceremony red carpet became a part of the broadcast in 1961, but it wasn’t until 1964 that the carpet and ceremony were both broadcast in glorious color.  I suspect the fascination with Oscar fashion took off at that point. When it comes to the Oscars, I’m thinking fashion, style and glamour.  Looking at the recent Vogue article, The 48 Best Oscars Red Carpet Dresses of All Time, I remembered several of these celebrated dresses and can see why they were chosen.  I then selected my three favorites from their narrowed down list.  I tend to love vintage and old Hollywood charm.

I also came across the list of all the Best Picture winners through the years.  It is quite a walk through history. I checked out the year I was born, 1955. For fun, I have added On the Waterfront to my must watch list of films to watch this year.  

Will you be watching the Oscars tonight?  The Oscar statuette is the most recognized award in the world with millions tuning in globally to see who goes home with the coveted prize.  In recent years, fewer and fewer people are tuning into the big event.  Are we too inundated with award shows?  The Golden Globes, People Choice Awards, Critics Choice Awards and numerous others have all been televised in recent years.  Or did Billy Crystal nail it when he joked, “Nothing takes the sting off the world’s economic problems like watching millionaires present each other golden statues!”  

I won’t be watching tonight, but I will check out the list tomorrow morning, as well as the finery. I’m hoping to see some inspired ensembles.

C’est la vie.

Women of Consequence: Sybil Ludington

There’s an old saying, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.” This adage was rolling around in the back of my mind when I started looking into Sybil Ludington.

Sybil was born April 5, 1761, the first of twelve children to Henry and Abigail Ludington.  Her father had served in the British military, but at the time of the American Revolution switched sides to the Patriot cause.  When the Revolutionary War began, the Ludingtons were living in Duchess County (now known as Putnam County), New York, and the aging Colonel Ludington was serving as commander of the local county militia.

On April 26, 1777, shortly after Sybil’s 16th birthday, a rider arrived at their home with the news that that the town of Danbury, Connecticut had been attacked and burned by the British militia.    Colonel Ludington knew he needed to gather his men and go defend the nearby towns and homes against the advancing British army.  Unfortunately, his men had disbanded for the planting season and were scattered around the region on their respective farms and homesteads.  Someone needed to alert the men of the attack so they could gather and prepare a defense.

It will never be known for sure if Sybil’s father asked her to make the ride or if she volunteered, but that night she rode out to alert the Colonel’s men of the attack on Danbury.  She knew the lay of the land around her father’s farm and knew where many of the men lived, information that would serve her well.   She road though the dark, rainy night, returning home around daybreak.  By that time, many of the regiment had gathered and were ready to march.  

Sybil is said to have ridden around forty miles (approximately triple the distance of Paul Revere), facing precarious weather, terrain and risk of capture.  She rode her horse, Star, through the dead of night, into the early morning, warning of the advancing British troops. Thanks to her warnings, the militia were able to move the supply of food and weapons the Continental Army had stored in Danbury and warn the residents of the perilous danger.  While they weren’t able to save all of Danbury, thanks to Sybil’s bravery, fewer lives were lost, and it was considered a success by the militiamen.   

Sybil married Edmond Ogden in 1784 and they had one son, Henry.  Her husband died of yellow fever in 1799.  Following his death, Sybil purchased a tavern and used the proceeds to aid her son in his desire to become a lawyer.  Sadly, Henry died in 1838.  After his death, Sybil applied for a Revolutionary War pension since her husband had served in the military.  Claiming insufficient proof of marriage, her pension was denied and she died in poverty in 1839.

She has been called The Female Paul Revere, and while her actions were equally as heroic, I never saw her name in the history books in my school days.  The first account of her historic ride was documented by Martha J. Lamb in her 1880 book, History of the City of New York, which has been questioned by some historians because she did not provide documentation.   However, Sybil’s father stated in his memoirs that he asked his daughter to ride the countryside and alert the Militia. 

Through the years, the legend of Sybil has grown to include tales of her carrying a large stick which she used to knock on doors to wake the militia and to fend off attackers. A statue of Sybil by Anne Hyatt Huntington depicts her with her arm raised, wielding the legendary stick.  

 We do not know the exact length of her ride, but her journey lasted from dusk to dawn and was most certainly further than Paul Revere rode.  And unlike her male counterpart, she was not caught and so finished her mission.  

Thanks to the epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the legendary ride of Paul Revere is familiar to most school children.  But with a little bit of fact checking, you will find the well-known poem has several inaccuracies.  Paul Revere did not ride alone, was captured by British troops, and never cried out “The British are coming, the British are coming.”  Much poetic license was taken with history and some feel it should be read as more a myth or tale, not as a historical account.

Historian Paula Hunt has provided a detailed historical account of Sybil’s story and how it has been presented to the media.  She states that many of the popular details of the story could be “fictions”, such as the horse named Star, the stick in her hand and the 40-mile distance.  Hunt writes: “Sybil’s ride embraces the mythical meanings and values express in the country’s founding.  As an individual, she represents Americans’ persistent need to find and create heroes who embody prevalent attitudes and beliefs.” These heroes inspired other fighters for independence.

In 1996, the national Daughters of the American Revolution decided the evidence was not strong enough to support their criteria for a war hero and removed a book about Sybil from their headquarters bookstore.  The DAR chapter near her historic home disagrees and says that her exploit was documented and continues to honor her.    Paula Hunt continues, “The story of the lone teenage girl riding for freedom, it seems, is simply too good not to be believed.”

With all due respect to the national Daughters of the American Revolution, I am sticking with historian Paula Hunt.  Sybil’s story is simply too good not to be believed.  As with many stories of female exploits and heroism, we are finally beginning to accept that women have played an important part in history and their accounts should taken seriously.