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  • Mary Ware Dennett’s Rescued History

    Published by New Hampshire Magazine, February 18, 2021

    Apologies, Marie Kondo, but let’s not all rush to tidy up


    Sharon Spaulding

    February 18, 2021


    There’s an emotional angst and urgency swirling in my soul — and it’s not directly related to COVID-19. It’s a nagging sense of obligation and a question every time I look under my bed or open my basement closets: “To toss or not to toss?”


    Until Marie Kondo, the tidying guru, came along, those unorganized piles didn’t tug at my conscience. Maybe I’m just getting older and don’t want to leave my kids a house filled with stuff they don’t want. Or perhaps it’s hard to say goodbye to the memories that are stuffed inside the boxes in my closets. But while I’m all for what Marie calls “sparking joy,” I’ve also learned that, sometimes, procrastination is the better path.


    Sharon Spaulding discovered a trunk of papers belonging to equal rights advocate Mary Ware Dennett at her family’s summer home in Alstead. Courtesy photoOften, mundane objects are the ones I cherish the most. Tattered photographs can instantly conjure a memory, a smile, a sound, bringing something — or someone — to life. Those scrawled love notes from my then-4-year-old trace not only the archeology of our existence, but also the human heart.


    Have you ever thrown something out, then regretted it?


    When my mom died, I became Ms. Efficiency on steroids. Her clothes were either tossed or donated. Months later, after my best friend died, her kids transformed her clothes into cozy lap quilts. I regretted my haste with my mother’s things. When my father passed, I grabbed his well-worn, red-and-black flannel shirt. Although it looks out of place hanging in my closet filled with mostly Ann Taylor-style clothing, simply seeing that shirt each day evokes the smell of my father’s aftershave and warm memories of him wrapping me in his arms.


    On a recent evening, two of my three adult children and I cleaned out a chest of drawers in an old house in Alstead, New Hampshire, that has been in my husband’s family for more than 100 years. We’ve spent every summer here since they were babies. As children, they’d run wild and barefoot in its fields of clover, Queen Anne’s Lace and milkweed. Together, we’d rise at 2 a.m. to watch meteor showers streak across the sky like fireflies, and play weeklong games of Scrabble, Canasta and Monopoly.


    This same old house had steamer trunks in the attic that taunted me for years, trunks filled with letters, papers and journals dating to 1848. As my husband and I continued the tradition of annual visits, I began to leave my summer reading at home in favor of digging into those trunks. What I discovered was the life story of an extraordinary woman, one who brought about some of the most significant changes in equal rights in the early 20th century, and then was quickly forgotten. Although chances are slim that you’ve heard her name, that woman, Mary Ware Dennett, was recently celebrated by Time magazine as one of nine women in American history that everyone should know.


    The attic where Spaulding found Mary Ware Dennett’s journals and papers dating back to 1848. Courtesy photo


    Dennett was a reproductive rights advocate, an artist, the second-in-command of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, a pacifist, and an outspoken defender of Black women’s rights. She was a contemporary and bitter rival of Margaret Sanger because Dennett was devoted to making the world better for all, not just a few. Like her relative, Lucretia Coffin Mott, who teamed up with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to launch the women’s movement at Seneca Falls in 1848, Dennett’s aim was nothing less than fulfilling the original promises of the Declaration of Independence.



    At the 1913 women’s march on Washington, D.C., intended to upstage the inauguration of anti-suffragist Woodrow Wilson, it was Dennett who reprimanded parade organizer Alice Paul for discriminating against Black suffragists.


    “The Suffrage movement stands for enfranchising every single woman in the United States and there [is] no occasion when we would be justified in not living up to our principles,” Dennett said. And in a second rebuke, she said, “All colored women who wish to march shall be accorded every service given to other marchers.”The attic where Spaulding found Mary Ware Dennett’s journals and papers dating back to 1848. Courtesy photo


    Believing the “first right of every child is to be wanted,” it was Dennett, not Sanger, who in 1915 started the first national birth control organization in the U.S. It was also Dennett who battled the U.S. government in a landmark case over sex education and censorship. Her victory in 1930 soon after enabled publication of previously banned books such as James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” A pacifist, there is even evidence that Dennett co-founded what later became the American Civil Liberties Union.


    At the end of her long career, in the 1940s, Dennett offered her extensive files to the library at Harvard. These chronicled women’s suffrage from 1908-1915, the battle for reproductive rights from 1915-1930s, the founding of the Women’s Peace Party and the World Federalist Society prior to World Wars I and II, plus her work on First Amendment issues. Silly girl. Harvard, that all-male bastion of elite education, declined and this precious record of history ended up in my family’s attic.


    Eventually, in the late 1980s, my mother-in-law donated most of the papers to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, but not Dennett’s private journals, those that chronicle her hopes and fears, her struggles to rise again and again in the face of public ridicule. These papers now form the basis of a book I’m writing about her life.


    Dennett advocated for, among other things, women’s right to vote and reproductive freedom. Courtesy photo


    Imagine if a Marie Kondo-style cleaning had been done and the trunks unceremoniously dumped. Her voice would have been forever silenced. We would have missed the unfolding of her life not only through her words, but also in the mementos she saved — a scrap of material for a new dress, a favorite poem, a ticket stub from a symphony. Across the centuries, these and other trinkets resurrect a fully living, breathing woman, not merely a list of accomplishments.


    Amid the most mundane chatter about the clothes that needed mending, the weather, or the pesky gray hairs that were emerging about her face, are references to the deep disappointments of a failed argument in Congress or the humiliation of lies promulgated by her opposition in the press. It all makes Dennett’s voice more approachable and relevant to the battles we’re still fighting today.


    Dennett advocated for, among other things, women’s right to vote and reproductive freedom. Courtesy photoHad her children rushed to tidy up when she died and tossed the remnants of her life, none of us would know her name, her story. None of us would know on whose shoulders we stand or discover from her just how she managed to juggle the many hats she wore. I’m learning more from Mary Ware Dennett today than I could ever have imagined. It’s why I now sort my piles with less haste.


    Find Out More


    Sharon Spaulding has spent 10 years researching the life of suffragist and sex-ed activist Mary Ware Dennett. She is working on a book about Dennett’s life, and also publishes a monthly newsletter, “Women Make History: Stories We Should Have Learned in School.” sharonspaulding.com


  • Enjoy Life—Eat Pie
    Published by Utah Stories: April 7, 2017


    The Sunglow Cafe, a Small Town Diner Serves up a Twist on Homemade Tradition

    Published in Utah Stories April 7, 2017 by Sharon Spaulding


    At the Sunglow Cafe, you are likely to be welcomed and waited on by Saidee (left) or her mom, Misty (center), while Saidee’s dad, Brian, serves as manager and cook. Photos by Sharon Spaulding. Amble into the Sunglow Café in Bicknell (pop. 322), and you’ll think you’ve walked onto a movie set and into a world both familiar, but different. Mustard colored walls echo the sandstone outside. Large, teal painted arrows on the walls are reminiscent of ancient Native American symbols seeming to guide you on the path to wisdom. Inside this modern day Kiva a few miles outside of Torrey, these arrows point to a different sort of mantra written just inside the front door: Enjoy life. Eat Pie.


    Though baseball caps have replaced cowboy hats, Levis still seem to fit just right over the mostly long, lean frames of men who sit as comfortably in a saddle as they do in an easy chair. Chances are you’ll be welcomed by Sadiee or her mom, Misty. Brian, Sadiee’s dad and Sunglow’s cook, flips burgers, eggs, and pancakes on the griddle.


    At the Sunglow Café you can order steak and eggs for breakfast, steak and salad for lunch, or steak and potatoes for dinner. Bicknell is still cattle country. For $1.99, you can have chocolate milk. The menu is as long and deep as the famous red rock canyons nearby. But while people come in for good food at honest prices, curiosity seekers come to taste the fruit of knowledge: the Pickle and Pinto Bean pies.


    Yes, you read correctly, the Pickle and Pinto Bean pies have made the Sunglow somewhat famous. They were the creation of Cula Ekker, who was once known as the “Pie Queen” of Wayne County.


    No one knows the exact origin of Cula’s creations, but, says Brian, they date to the Depression when people simply had to make do with what they had and everything was made from scratch.


    Cula’s brother, Milton Taft, says he and his sister were two of six siblings who grew up nearby on a farm. When Cula was just nine years-old, a brother was injured in a riding accident and spent most of a year in a hospital in Salt Lake City. Their mom went with him, leaving Cula to handle the cooking for the family and the farm hands.


    “Cula loved to cook,” says Milton. “She was always cooking. She had a job for several years cooking at the local school.”


    When Milton built the Sunglow motel in 1965, along with the restaurant, Cula signed on as chef and began serving up herAt the Sunglow Cafe, mustard colored walls echo the sandstone outside, while teal painted arrows reminiscent of Native American symbols point to a mantra the locals know so well. famous Pickle Pie.


    According to Brian, legend has it that one day two bikers were passing through and one had a recipe for Pinto Bean pie. He and Cula swapped their secret formulas. No one knows what became of the biker, but Cula added the pinto bean to her menu.


    Cula passed away a few years ago, but not before sharing her recipes with Bessie Stewart, who has worked at the Sunglow for 31 years. Also born and raised in Wayne County, Bessie comes in at 5 a.m. to make up about 14 fresh pies, and she still makes the soup noodles from scratch. Last November, she baked over 300 pies to fill Thanksgiving orders.


    “Cooking is all I ever done all my life,” she says. “We moved to Hanksville when Lake Powell went in, and worked for people in motels and gas stations and then moved to Bicknell. I started working for Cula in 1983.”


    In addition to continuing Cula’s legacy, Bessie is locally and affectionately known as the “pistol-packing pastry chef.” She once unloaded the barrel of a .22, firing at her husband as he tried to disappear into the darkness of a desert night.


    “The Lord was with him,” she laughs. “We were both so angry. When I picked up that gun, he knew I meant business and took off running. It was so dark I couldn’t see, so I fired at the sounds he made as he ran. It took a few years before we could laugh about it,” she says, “but eventually we made up.” Today, she has four kids, 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. Her husband passed away several years ago.


    Says Brian, “Every summer we get about 50 tour buses packed with Europeans headed to Escalante. The French love the pies. We hear it over and over again that this is the type of pastry you would find in a different kind of eating establishment.”


    What’s the secret? Says Bessie, “It’s the lard. We only use pure pork lard. It makes for the flakiest crust.”


    In addition to Pickle and Pinto Bean, the Sunglow serves up Buttermilk and Oatmeal pies along with the more traditional Apple, Pecan, and Blueberry. Whole pies are $9.95 and a single slice is $3.49.


    Pickle Pie has a sweet but tangy taste you might savor on a summer’s day, while the Pinto Bean, coconut mashed with the beans, has a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of pie.


    Whoever painted those four words on the wall was truly wise: Enjoy Life. Eat Pie. At least at the Sunglow Café.




    Cula Ekker’s Pie Dough Recipe

    6 cups sifted flour

    2 teaspoons salt

    1 – ¼ pounds (2-1/3 cups) of pure pork lard – no substitutions

    12 tablespoons Water

    2 tablespoons vinegar

    2 eggs


    In a mixing bowl, sift flour and salt. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk together water, vinegar, and eggs until thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, into flour mixture, stirring lightly with a fork after each addition until the pastry is just moist enough to hold together. Shape pastry into a ball. Roll out as desired.


    The Sunglow Family Restaurant and Hotel at 91 E Main St, Bicknell, UT  435 425-3701

  • Like Mother Like Daughter: Helping Others Lift Themselves Out of Poverty
    Published by BOLD:  May 7, 2016

    By Sharon Spaulding

    May 7, 2016


    Growing up in Puerto Rico with 12 people in a three-room hut with an outhouse, Leah Barker never imagined that one day she would lead an international nonprofit working to lift families like hers out of poverty.


    Fast forward to Salt Lake City where Barker, 50, runs an innovative $5 million organization working in rural areas in developing countries.


    “I’ve lived it,” says Barker, from her industrial park office. “I watched my mom do it, and I’ve done it. Now I have the privilege of working with others, particularly women, to learn the skills they need to realize their own dreams and break the cycle of poverty.”


    Dressed in khakis, T-shirt, and a scarf made by a women’s cooperative in one of “her” villages, Barker credits her success to her mom’s tenacity and being a great role model.


    “My parents divorced when I was 5, and my dad never provided any support,” she said. “With my mom running the show, I knew I was headed somewhere, I just didn’t know where.


    “My mom’s mantra was education. She used to tell us that the only need we had was getting an education. ‘If you need shoes,’ she would say, ‘it better be that the school requires them. If you don’t need shoes for school, you don’t need them.”


    When her parents split up, her mother took a factory job earning just $500 per month to provide for a family of six. She also went back to school. She finished her high school diploma, got a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, and finally became an elementary school teacher. “By the time I was in the third grade, she was my English teacher, ” says Barker.


    After her own high school graduation, Barker followed in her mother’s footsteps and enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico, but also like her mother, she ended up marrying a “bozo,” as she refers to her first husband. Along the way, she moved to Utah where she dropped out of school to work to pay for his college education and take care of their two children.


    “Eventually,” she recalls, “we separated. My mom’s advice? Get back into school.”


    Barker listened to her mom and earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Her first job after college was with the Salt Lake County Housing Authority.


    “When I went to the interview, the woman asked why she should hire me instead of the 60 other candidates who were much more qualified. Because, I told her, I’ve lived it. I watched my mother move us out of poverty, and now I’ve done it.” Barker got the job.


    After a few years in that position and later with an educational nonprofit, in 2009, Barker became CEO of CHOICE Humanitarian, an international nonprofit working in rural areas of eight developing countries.


    According to Barker, the CHOICE Leadership Model of village development focuses on empowering women to create their own path out of poverty. It is an integrated approach incorporating education, health, environment, culture and economic development. It is designed to strengthen local leadership and train others to become leaders.


    “Of course, we also work with men and families,” Barker says, “but when you focus on the women, results happen. The moms are the ones who set the examples and raise the standards for their children.”


    Since taking over as CEO, Barker has increased donations each year by $750,000.


    “Every dollar donated to CHOICE is leveraged by a multiplier of five, and the organization is debt-free,” she says. “We practice what we teach.”


    Her approach to fundraising is similar to the methodology CHOICE uses in villages.


    “The point of our work,” she says, “is for villages to become self-sustaining and self-developing. The same is true for CHOICE as an organization.”


    Barker is referring to an innovative approach to fundraising. Traditionally, nonprofits rely on the generosity of individual donors and grants. While CHOICE utilizes this approach, it also engages with corporations in two ways: one, they take company employees into the field to spend a week working alongside villagers on projects that the locals have determined to be critical to their path of self-reliance. Projects might include digging wells, building schools, health clinics, or even cook stoves.


    The second approach with its corporate partners is one that helps to establish markets for products made in the villages. A leader in essential oils, doTERRA, funds CHOICE’S work to train small farmers in sustainable agricultural practices. The small farmers, in turn, grow environmentally green crops that are then sold to doTERRA at fair-market value.


    “This provides economic opportunity for the villagers, and is helping CHOICE become a self-sustaining nonprofit,” Barker says. “Everyone wins.”


    According to Barker, taking people into the fie ld on expeditions is a life-changing experience. “You get to experience true partnership with others. You find it isn’t about us helping them. It is about people helping people. That’s why we run expeditions for college students, families, even singles groups. As my mom used to say, we are all in this together.”


    For companies, going on an expedition also creates team bonding across all levels.


    “Being a socially responsible company is important these days, especially to younger employees and consumers,” says Barker.


    Another example of a corporate partner she cites is the clothing and home furnishing retailer, DownEast, whose primary market is Millennials.


    “In seven years, DownEast has contributed over $200,000 through employee gifts and corporate matching and the have sent their employees, including their founders, on four expeditions,” Barker says. “This year, the village DownEast adopted on their first trip has officially graduated from our program.”


    What does Barker’s mother think of her daughter’s success?


    “She is so proud,” says Barker, “because it’s all about giving back and passing on what I learned from her.”


    Besides the importance of an education, what other lessons did Barker learn from her mom that she now passes along to young mothers?


    “Be a good role model – your children are learning from you how to become adults.”

  • The Woman in the Market

    Published by The Writing Cooperative, March 25, 2017

    Sharon Spaulding

    Mar 25, 2017


    “Who’s that woman over there? No. Over there. The platinum blonde selling the Provence linens, just past the spice vendor, opposite the flower stall. The one whose legs are stuffed like sausages into those lace up, white vinyl, gladiator boots with heels. Doesn’t she know it is 95 degrees today? Those boys we passed along the way, the ones who were diving for coins in the river by the footbridge, they know how hot it is.”


    “I bet she hawks linens by day and croons by night, a wannabe chanteuse in a second-class, smoke-filled bar, pining for when she was young and ran off to North Africa with the Algerian prince she met at the café where she worked as a waitress. Her father disowned her for that one!”


    “No. She must be married to the butcher, that pig of a man selling sausages at the edge of the market. He probably told her to wear those ridiculous boots because it gave him a hard-on and he likes his women slightly stuffed.”


    “She dumped him a long time ago for the salty haired antiques dealer with the deep set eyes who sells cleavers and other implements.”


    “It’s probably just her cover and she’s really a spy. I mean, I didn’t see her last weekend and I made it almost all the way around the entire market. Those linens probably have codes written in invisible ink or computer chips or antique coins sewn into the hems. Coins. Maybe that’s what those boys were searching for in the river.”


    “I bet those boys are her kids or maybe even her grandkids. She probably gave them a few coins to stop pestering her and sent them off to the boulangerie to buy bread for dinner. Of course they never made it to the baker and spent the money instead on ice cream…”


    “…but not wanting to risk the hand of the butcher, their father, they decided to hunt for treasure among the river rocks so they wouldn’t have to fess up to their crime. But that’s another story.”


    “No. I’m certain I saw her once in the pages of a magazine when she was a fashion model and those boots were still in style.”




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