Discover the Tenth Muse

Celebrating Women’s History month, we’re exploring female writers, authors, poets. We’ll start with one of the earliest known female poet and songwriter. A woman whose work was widely quoted and revered by her male successors. It is said that Plato called Sappho the tenth muse.

A bust of Sappho with her hair in tight curls around her face and two long loose curls draped over each shoulder.

We know little about her, but there are many legends and stories that claim to know details. Scholars disagree and sometimes facts put those stories in dispute.

Her Life

Sappho was born on the Greek island of Lesbos in 620 BCE, to a wealthy, aristocratic family. Since Lesbos’s primary export was wine, it’s likely her family were vintners.

Women in Ancient Greece were bound by the customs and traditions of their city-states. So although some scholars believe she was a woman of leisure, her wealth did not protect her from the expectations of her family and society. We know through her poetry that she learned to play the lyre, and that she composed lyrics for single voices. Surviving fragments of her poetry refer to two brothers. She may have had a third brother.

She lived most of her life in her hometown of Mytilene on Lesbos.  

The Legend

Some scholars believe she married a wealthy man, Cercylas, a wealthy man from the island of Andros. Her poetry also mentioned a daughter. 

She may have run a school for unmarried women. Or she could be confused with another ancient Greek woman who ran such a school.

Several different tyrants ran Athens during Sappho’s lifetime. It is possible she lived in exile in Athens for a time. Exactly why and when is unclear. Speculation is that she may have gotten too political in her writing.

There is a legend that she leaped from the Leucadian rock to certain death in the sea because of her unrequited love of Phaon, a younger man and a sailor. Most critics today believe that story is simply a legend. Scholars believe she died in the year 579 b.c.e.

Photograph of the profile of "the Oxford Bust" of Sappho, the tenth muse. It has the head and torso coming from different statues, probably put together by a sculptor in the 1600s.

Her Work

We don’t know who published her work. Nor do we know how long they published her work. We don’t know whether she refined an existent meter of poetry or she created her own. Today we call it a “Sapphic” stanza.

Her poems depart from the tradition of her time. They do not address the gods. Rather, her verses are personal, spoken from one person to another. They simple, direct, and convey the bittersweet difficulties of love. Read a sample.

Some say that Plato (born in 428 b.c.e.) called her the “Tenth muse,” though other scholars claim it is unlikely it was Plato. We know they admired her for centuries because coins and statutes and busts with her likeness and name survived to this day.  

Her Legacy

Based on ancient writings, scholars believe someone collected her work into nine volumes in the third century B.C. Scholars discovered her through quotations by other ancient authors. In 1898, scholars unearthed fragments of papyri with her poems on them. Archeologists discovered more scraps of her poetry in Egypt in 1914. 

The New Comedy was a style of Greek drama introduced in the middle of the third century BC. Where old comedy parodied public figures and included supernatural or heroic bits, New Comedy were not realistic plays but conveyed “the disillusioned spirit and moral ambiguity of the bourgeois class of this period.” The writers of the New Comedy portrayed Sappho as “overly promiscuous and lesbian.” They convinced Pope Gregory who burned all her works in 1073. (The term “lesbian” is derived from the island of her birth).

We’ve discovered only one intact poem traced to her. The French translation is below.

Photograph of the French translation of "an ode of Sapho." The only surviving poem attributed to the tenth muse.

The Tenth Muse

Not only is Sappho one of the earliest female writers known to us, her life is an example of how we can misjudge the bits and pieces of a life that survives the person.

If the scholars can’t agree, how can we think we got it right?

As my women in history posts often reflect, women’s contributions to history are often ignored or misconstrued. Would they have judged her work differently if she were male? If the New Comedy writers hadn’t satirized her, would we enjoy her lyrics today?

Her writing could reflect who she was or who she knew or what she saw in society. Scholars will jump to conclusions, but we will never know the truth about the tenth muse.

Image Credits

First Image is by G41rn8, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Second Image is by Harrsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last image is by Anonymous, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A Strong Woman and her Silent Spring Inspired the Environmental Movement

In the summer of 1962, The New Yorker published Silent Spring by Rachel Carson as a serial in three parts. President John F. Kennedy read it, and in August the newly published book became an instant bestseller. Ultimately, the book led a nationwide ban on DDT, sparked a nation’s awareness and interest, and the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A strong woman and her Silent Spring inspired the environmental movement.

Portrait photograph of Rachel Carson her book Silent Spring inspired the environmental movement
Public Domain

Early Life

Rachel Carson, the third child born to Robert and Maria McLean Carson, was born on May 27, 1907, near the Allegheny River on a farm in Springdale, Pennsylvania. She had two passions: nature and writing. Her love of nature she inherited from her mother. As a child, she explored the forests and streams around her 65-acre farm. One of her stories was published by a children’s magazine at 10. At 11, she won her first prize for her story published in St. Nicholas Magazine.


She graduated with honors from high school and won a scholarship to Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University). 

Inspired by her biology teacher, Mary Skinker, Rachel switched her major from English to biology and became one of only three women in the class.

She won a summer scholarship to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Maine.

Rachel graduated magna cum laude in 1929.

After winning a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University, she studied Zoology.

She received a master’s degree in zoology from John Hopkins in 1932.

That summer she earned a summer fellowship at the U.S. Marine Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. It was her first experience with the ocean.

She continued at John Hopkins working toward a doctorate. However, lack of funds forced her to drop out of graduate school in the spring of 1934.

The US Bureau of Fisheries

Coached by Mary Skinker, Rachel took the Federal Civil Service exams for junior wildlife biologist and junior aquatic biologist in 1935. She was the second woman ever hired by the US Bureau of Fisheries in Washington D.C. Her part-time job was writing radio scripts on marine life.

She became a junior aquatic biologist in 1935.

From 1939 to 1941, the government reorganized the Bureau of Fisheries under the Department of Interior. During the reorganization, they sent Rachel to Chicago.

She spent the summer of 1940 at the Fisheries Station at Woods Hole and sailed on the Bureau’s research ship, the SS Phalanthrop.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image of a pier through a marsh at Wildlife Refuge 
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Public Domain

They promoted Rachel to Associate Aquatic Biologist, and she moved back to Washington D.C. More promotions followed. She became an Information Specialist for the department, now called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Wartime research includes radar and sea studies.

Accompanied first by FWS artist Shirley Briggs, and later by artist Kay Howe Roberts, Rachel conducts research from 1946 to 1948 at Chincoteague and Parker River Refuges, Mattamuskeet, and Red Rocks Lakes.

She visited the Florida Everglades Refuge and then sailed to the New England Bank aboard the SS Albatross III, a Woods Hole Oceanographic research ship.

Her Writing

She became a freelance writer when she joined the bureau. Her article “Undersea” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1937.

Her first book, Under the Sea-Wind, was published in 1941. Accord to the FWS, the book highlighted her “unique ability to present deeply intricate scientific material in clear poetic language that could captivate her readers and pique their interest in the natural world.” It was a Scientific Book Club selection, but WWII impacted sales, and it went out of print in 1946.

In July 1944, the Reader’s Digest rejected her proposed article about DDT because it was too “unpleasant.”

In 1952, she won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for The Sea Around Us (1951). It was on the New York Times Best-seller List for 32 weeks. The book also won a national science writing-prize and a Guggenheim grant.

In 1955, she published The Edge of the Sea.

Personal Life

Her father died a few months after the Bureau of Fisheries hired her. Rachel became the sole provider for the family.

Rachel’s older sister, Marian, died in 1937 at 39. Rachel and her mother took in Marian’s two daughters, Virginia, 12, and Marjorie, 11. They moved to Silver Spring, Maryland.

In 1950, Rachel had a cancerous breast tumor removed. The doctors made no further treatment recommendations.

Rachel retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1951 to write full time.

In 1953, thanks to her book sales, Rachel and her family moved to Southport Island, Maine. There she met Dorothy Freeman, a summer resident, who became a lifelong friend.

After her niece, Marjorie Williams, died in early 1957, Carson adopted Majorie’s son, Roger. They moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, to care for her aging mother.

Rachel’s mother died in 1958.

In 1960, Rachel had a radical mastectomy after her breast cancer returned. They told her her cancer diagnosis meant she had “a matter of months.” 

Inspired the Environmental Movement

Rachel was afraid of dying, but the idea of dying before she could finish the book terrified her.

Her manuscript, Silent Spring,was a warning to the public about the long-term effects of over-use of pesticides.

There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.

Rachel Carson, “A Fable for Tomorrow” from Silent Spring.

By early 1961, Rachel had multiple illnesses and multiple surgeries, all related to her cancer.

The history of life on earth has been an interaction between living things and their surroundings.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

She persevered and finished the book. They published Silent Spring in 1962.

Praise and Attacks

President Kennedy mentioned that he’d read Silent Spring, and it became the most talked about book in decades.

CBS interviewed Rachel for a TV special. By this time, she couldn’t stand because her cancer had spread to her spine. She begged CBS not to tell anyone she was sick. CBS kept her secret and “The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson” aired on April 3, 1963. Millions viewed it.

She testified before Congress. The chemical industry and its allies vilified her with personal and professional attacks.

President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee Report validated Carson’s research, and the government banned DDT.

Writer, scientist, and ecologist, Rachel Carson died on April 14,1964.


photograph of a bronze sculpture of Rachel Carson sitting on a bench
photo by Laura A. Macaluso, Ph.D., CC BY-SA 4.0 

Silent Spring inspired the environmental movement and led not only to a nationwide ban on DDT but public awareness and the banning of other pesticides. And it led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Fish and Wildlife Service established the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in 1966 in cooperation with the State of Maine to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds.

They posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980.

Her homes are national historic landmarks, and various awards bear her name.

In 1995, Freeman’s granddaughter published letters exchanged between Rachel and her best friend, Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952–1964: An Intimate Portrait of a Remarkable Friendship.


Rachel Carson was a remarkable woman, a strong woman. Silent Spring inspired the environmental movement and generations of people who work to protect the world and all its creatures.

City of the Future and Living Concrete

The future may seem grim right now, but there will be a future. And it may be brighter than you expect. As a science fiction writer, one of my favorite pastimes is following articles and predictions of future technology. Today we’ll look at reports of the city of the future and living concrete.

City of the Future

image of the city of the future: Toyota's Woven City with Mount Fuji in the background

In Cnet’s report on the CES (consumer Electronics Show) one of the coolest new things was Toyota’s city of the future. Until now, they have done city planning around automobiles. The prototype city Toyota will build has no human drivers. 

They plan to build the Woven City on 175 acres of a now-defunct factory near Mount Fuji. The plans feature self-driving vehicles run on hydrogen fuel cells, robots, smart homes, and new forms of personal mobility. Not only that, regular people will live in this city of tomorrow.

“Living” Concrete

Concrete is the second most-consumed material on Earth after water.

Using sand, gel and bacteria, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a self-healing concrete. They believe that someday the concrete could “heal their own cracks, suck up dangerous toxins from the air or even glow on command”.

They aren’t the only scientists working to create a self-healing concrete. In 2010, a graduate student and chemical engineering professor at the University of Rhode Island created a “self-healing” concrete embedded with tiny capsules of sodium silicate.

What I think

Who hasn’t dreamed of a city of the future? I’d love to have a robot doing the dishes and the laundry, wouldn’t you? And hopping into a self-driving car would make me feel a bit decadent. However, I think the Woven City will take time to become more than a novelty. There have been many advances in the technology, but for humans to use these technologies every single day—well, we humans have a tendency to push the limits. These robots and self-driving cars will have to be stupid-proof.

As for living, self-healing concrete—wow, what a boon that would be. No more potholes! And yet, I am skeptical. Remember the Chaos Theory? The earth will break free of this self-healing concrete. And if it doesn’t, earth may be in more trouble from concrete than from pollution.

Hmmm, I said the future might be brighter than you expect, didn’t I? I have faith that smart, innovative researchers will make these things work. But I see how stupid we humans can be, too. Unfortunately, we simply cannot predict the level of stupid that will occur. So I say, let’s go ahead. I can’t wait to tryout the cities of tomorrow and self-healing concrete. But then again, I’m a science fiction author. I enjoy thinking about these things. What do you think? Would you try out in an experimental city of the future and living concrete?

A Bump in the Road of Pandemic Life

Ugh. I hate it when a plan goes splat. I thought I had figured out this Pandemic Life. After all, self-quarantine wasn’t much different from my everyday life as an author. Oops. The road may look straight, but a bump in the road can make life difficult. Somehow Tuesday was my day to hit that bump. Everything turned upside down. No, nothing bad happened. I tripped over a lot of small frustrations.

LIke this image of a long straight road with a lot of bumps, A bump in the road of Pandemic life can leave you uncertain or worse.

A Bump in the Road

Tuesday was supposed to be productive. I have been writing and making progress on my novel. Not huge amounts, but 2-4 pages a day. I planned for 2 pages today. 

I hadn’t researched my blog post yet, but I’ve gotten my method down pat. It wouldn’t be a problem.

My monthly newsletter was scheduled for release on Tuesday. I wrote it a few days ago. It needed proofreading and images and it would be good to go.

And to prepare for new book cover designs, I’m redesigning the logo for my imprint, Rocket Dog Publishing. The image only needed a final tweak, and I could send it to my designer.

It All Went South

like this detour sign, A bump in the road of pandemic life means you're changing direction.

I’m not sure when things went south. Was it when I cut more words out of the WIP than I wrote?

Perhaps it was while I made the final change to the logo. The Photoshop layer went weird and I COULD NOT figure out what I did wrong.

Maybe it was when I wrote a 1,000 word long blog post about something not on my plan. And it wasn’t appropriate for my blog. What was I thinking?

Then there was dinner, a stovetop one pot meal. Easy peasy. Except I started it one hour later than I should have. And it heated up the house.

We had a very warm day outside today. Eighty degrees. Lovely blue skies. Lots of pollen in the air and a husband who’s allergic to every kind of pollen there is means no opening of windows. Time to turn on the AC. With the stove in high gear, the house grew inordinately warm. You guessed it, the air conditioner is on the fritz.

And when my husband said something without thinking, I got angry. Really angry. I replied in anger. I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true, but my tone was—um—not nice.

Time To ReGroup

Just like this slow down sign along a road, A bump in the road of pandemic life means slow down, regroup

Why am I sharing this with you? Not for your pity. Seriously, minor frustrations that add up to an outburst rarely rates a blog post. Except we’re in the midst of a pandemic. It’s changed all our lives. And if you’re like me, you think you’re handling things extraordinarily well. Until you aren’t.

Today was a small warning. I could keep pushing. Keep trying to get everything done. But that wouldn’t be wise.

There are stages you go through when dealing with a life-changing crisis. You can read about the different stages in a post written by a guy who’s seen many life-changing crises.

I had taken care of our security (first stage). We have shelter and food. And enough TP for now. *Smile*

Mentally, I’d given myself time to adjust. I accepted the fact that we had to change the way we did things. Made a plan. And it was working.

I knew I had to slow down. And I did. But I forged forward, forgetting to give myself more frequent breaks. Didn’t  allow for the mental disruption to continue longer than a week or two. And it surprised me when I hit more than one bump in the road of pandemic life.

Adjusting to a Crisis

Adjusting to a crisis takes time. And it isn’t linear. You’ll be fine this week. And not so fine next. Everyone’s adjustment period is different. But we all need to allow ourselves to have those disruptions. Forgive ourselves for not living our “normal.” For not being as productive as we expect ourselves to be.

There will be days when minor frustrations magnify. Heck, there are major frustrations too. They would bother us if there wasn’t a pandemic going on. With a pandemic? Sometimes those bumps magnify into mountains.

When you hit a bump in the road of pandemic life, give yourself a break. Step back. Recognize your stress levels. Look in your mental health first aid kit and use the tools you have there.

Take a Break

image of girl lying on a bed, relaxing
Vacation in self-quarantine

So, this is me. Taking a break. Stepping out of my plan, out of my comfort zone and sharing this with you. I hope that by sharing this, you’ll realize it’s time to take a break a little more quickly than I did. That you’ll forgive yourself and allow yourself time to recover when you hit a bump in the road of your pandemic life. Have you hit that bump yet? What did you do to cope?

With Words, She Made a Difference

This week’s woman of peace is author Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880). One of the most influential American women writers from the 1820s through the 1860s she was a prolific author, a literary pioneer, and a tireless crusader and champion for America’s excluded groups. With words, she made a difference. 

Image of Lydia Marie Child reading a book. Perhaps one of her. With words, she made a difference.
Public Domain Image of Lydia Maria Child

Early Life

Born on February 11, 1802 in Medford, Massachusetts, she was the youngest of six children. Her father, Convers Francis, was stern and religiously orthodox. Susannah (Rand) Francis, her mother, was ill and distant. Her mother died when Lydia was twelve. 

After her mother’s death, they sent Lydia to live with a married sister in Maine. Norridgewock, a frontier society, exposed Lydia to a small community of impoverished Abenaki and Penobscot Indians. 

Lydia moved back to Massachusetts at nineteen. She lived with her brother Convers, a scholarly Unitarian minister. Her brother guided her education in literary masters such as Homer and Milton.

She reportedly hated the name Lydia. So when she converted to Unitarism and was re-baptised, she gave herself the name of Maria. She chose to go by Maria  (Ma-RYE-a) from then on.

Early Career

Lydia read an article in the North American Review discussing the field offered to the novelist by early New England history. That inspired her to start her first novel. She finished it in six weeks. 

Her debut novel, Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times  published in 1884 was the first New England historical novel written. She turned the usual view of the Puritans on its ear with a female protagonist who lived in early Salem and rebelled against the religious and racial bigotry of the time. The character first married “an Indian by whom she has a son, and later an Episcopalian.” Initially, the scandalous interracial marriage earned fire from the critics, but due to a patron from Boston, she became an overnight success.

Her first children’s book, Evenings in New England. Intended for Juvenile Amusement and Instruction, appeared in 1824. Written as a series of educational conversations between Aunt Maria and her two children, it focused on American issues and values. It was critically acclaimed and an instant success. 

Her second novel, The Rebels, or Boston before the Revolution(1825), tells a pre-revolutionary story of women from Boston. “The North American Review described the author as overwhelmed by her imaginative powers and accused her of filling the pages of her short book with enough plots to serve a dozen novels.” (Read more.)

In 1826, she edited and published the first American children’s magazine, The Juvenile Miscellany

She wrote several novels, poetry, and an instruction book for mothers, The Mothers Book.

In 1829, she published her most successful book: The Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of Economy. It was the first book of its type aimed at women who did not have the money for housekeepers and leisure activities.


A brilliant but erratic Boston lawyer and journalist, David Lee Child caught her eye with a kind review of her second novel. His idealism and his enthusiastic promotion of her writings in the columns of his Whig newspaper, the Massachusetts Journal, charmed her. 

They married in 1828 and moved to Boston. But David’s writing was so fast and loose he earned the nickname of David Libel Child. 

Their lives were a constant struggle to pay his legal costs and debts. Lydia wrote and also took in boarders and taught school to support them.


In the early 1830s, Lydia and her husband met William Lloyd Garrison and joined his band of antislavery reformers.

She published An Appeal for that Class of Americans called Africans in 1833. In it, she portrayed the evils of slavery and blamed both the North and the South for its existence. She argued in favor of the emancipation of slaves without compensation to slaveholders. And she defended interracial marriage again. “The book was influential in winning recruits to the anti-slavery cause.” (Read more).

“She is often identified as the first white woman to have written a book in support of this policy.” (Per Wikipedia)

While abolitionists extolled the wonders of her book, the general public did not. Sales of all her books suffered. Cancellations of subscriptions to her children’s magazine, The Juvenile Miscellany forced her to give up her editor position on the magazine.

She published four more antislavery books, including The Oasis (1834), a gift book. The purpose of the book was “to familiarize the public mind with the idea that colored people are human beings–elevated or degraded by the same circumstances that elevate or degrade other men.” (Read more.)

A social outcast, she continued writing and editing the Anti-Slavery Standard. By 1842 she had “transformed it from a dry partisan organ into a first-rate “family newspaper.”” Its circulation now doubled that of The Liberator, and even Child’s severest critics admitted that the paper was converting many people to the abolitionist cause.” 

Life After the Civil War

After the Civil War, Lydia worked on behalf of the rights of freed slaves. She published a collection of slaves’ experiences in The Freedman’s Book (1865). She also returned to her early interest in the rights of Native Americans. Appeal for Indians (1868). She wrote collections of poems, biographies, histories, and more.  (see her bibliography.)

In 1844, she wrote a poem of twelve stanzas. The poem, “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Dayexpressed memories of Lydia’s childhood visits to her grandfather’s house. We know a portion of the poem today as the song, “Over the River and Through the Woods.”  

She died in Wayland, Massachusetts, on October 20, 1880, at age 78.

Image of the tombstone of Lydia Maria Child, a woman who with words, she made a difference
Public Domain Image

Lydia Maria Child was a woman with a mission. She wrote the first New England historical novel, the first comprehensive history of American slavery, and the first comparative history of women. In addition, she edited the first American children’s magazine, compiled an early primer for the freed slaves, and published the first book designed for the elderly. 

If you liked this woman of peace, you might like Nonviolent, She Made a Difference and The First Female Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Lydia Maria Child did not use violence and did not advocate for the Civil War. She was one of the first people to influence political and societal changes through stories and poems. With words, she made a difference.