Monthly Archives: August 2016

France’s Rights of Man

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man_and_of_the_Citizen_in_1789On August 26, 1789, the French Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was truly a remarkable document. Although inspired by The Declaration of Independence, it contained more principles than that document; it was drafted by the Marquis de Lafayette, who was impressed by the document written by his good friend Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was in Paris as our ambassador during this time.

The Declaration was a statement of democratic principles grounded in the philosophical and political ideas of Enlightenment thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The document proclaimed the Assembly’s commitment to replace the ancien régime (meaning the king and the way the county had been governed for centuries) based on equal opportunity, freedom of speech, popular sovereignty and representative government.

Here, in its entirety is Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen:

The representatives of the French people, organized as a National Assembly, believing that the ignorance, neglect, or contempt of the rights of man are the sole cause of public calamities and of the corruption of governments, have determined to set forth in a solemn declaration the natural, unalienable, and sacred rights of man, in order that this declaration, being constantly before all the members of the Social body, shall remind them continually of their rights and duties; in order that the acts of the legislative power, as well as those of the executive power, may be compared at any moment with the objects and purposes of all political institutions and may thus be more respected, and, lastly, in order that the grievances of the citizens, based hereafter upon simple and incontestable principles, shall tend to the maintenance of the constitution and redound to the happiness of all. Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:

Articles:

Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation.

Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.

Law can only prohibit such actions as are hurtful to society. Nothing may be prevented which is not forbidden by law, and no one may be forced to do anything not provided for by law.

Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative, in its foundation. It must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in the eyes of the law, are equally eligible to all dignities and to all public positions and occupations, according to their abilities, and without distinction except that of their virtues and talents.

No person shall be accused, arrested, or imprisoned except in the cases and according to the forms prescribed by law. Any one soliciting, transmitting, executing, or causing to be executed, any arbitrary order, shall be punished. But any citizen summoned or arrested in virtue of the law shall submit without delay, as resistance constitutes an offense.

The law shall provide for such punishments only as are strictly and obviously necessary, and no one shall suffer punishment except it be legally inflicted in virtue of a law passed and promulgated before the commission of the offense.

As all persons are held innocent until they shall have been declared guilty, if arrest shall be deemed indispensable, all harshness not essential to the securing of the prisoner’s person shall be severely repressed by law.

No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.

The security of the rights of man and of the citizen requires public military forces. These forces are, therefore, established for the good of all and not for the personal advantage of those to whom they shall be intrusted.

A common contribution is essential for the maintenance of the public forces and for the cost of administration. This should be equitably distributed among all the citizens in proportion to their means.

All the citizens have a right to decide, either personally or by their representatives, as to the necessity of the public contribution; to grant this freely; to know to what uses it is put; and to fix the proportion, the mode of assessment and of collection and the duration of the taxes.

Society has the right to require of every public agent an account of his administration.

A society in which the observance of the law is not assured, nor the separation of powers defined, has no constitution at all.

Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condition that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified.

 

For months after this declaration, the Assembly members debated fundamental questions about the shape and expanse of France’s new political landscape. Would the clergy owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church or the French government? And probably most importantly, how much authority would the king retain? The Assembly adopted France’s first written constitution on September 3, 1791, which was basically a compromise proposed by more moderate voices in the Assembly, establishing a constitutional monarchy. The more radical elements in the Assembly were not happy, namely Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton; they wanted a more republican form of government and a trial for Louis XVI.

Marie Antoinette, Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775. Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

Marie Antoinette, Portrait by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty, 1775. Musée Antoine Lécuyer.

In April 1792, the newly elected Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria and Prussia, because it believed that French nobles leaving the country were building counterrevolutionary alliances. In Paris, the political crisis took a much more radical turn when a group of insurgents attacked the royal residence in Paris and arrested the king on August 10, 1792. The following month, amid a wave of violence in which Parisian insurrectionists massacred hundreds of accused counterrevolutionaries and the Legislative Assembly was replaced by the National Convention, which proclaimed the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of the French republic. On January 21, 1793, it sent King Louis XVI, condemned to death for high treason and crimes against the state, to the guillotine; his wife Marie-Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later.

1793 saw the Revolution’s most violent and turbulent phase. In June 1793, the Jacobin party seized control of the National Convention from the more moderate Girondin party and instituted a series of radical measures, including the establishment of a new calendar and the eradication of Christianity!! They also unleashed the bloody Reign of Terror (“la Terreur”); for 10 months suspected enemies of the revolution (the Jacobins) were guillotined by the thousands. Many of the killings were carried out under orders from Robespierre until his own execution on July 28, 1794. His death marked the beginning of the more moderate phase in which the French people revolted against the Reign of Terror’s excesses.

Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_Study_at_the_Tuileries_-_Google_Art_Project

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries

On August 22, 1795, the National Convention, composed largely of those assembly members who had survived the Reign of Terror, approved a new constitution that created France’s first bicameral (two houses) legislature. Executive power would lie in the hands of a five-member Directory (“Directoire”) appointed by parliament. Royalists and Jacobins protested the new regime but were swiftly silenced by the army, which was now being led by a young (and successful) Napoleon Bonaparte.

By the late 1790s, the government relied almost entirely on the military to maintain authority and had ceded much of their power to the generals in the field. On November 9, 1799, frustrated with the Directory leadership, Bonaparte staged a coup d’état, abolishing the Directory and appointing himself France’s “first consul;” soon to become Emperor of France, and then Europe.

 

Storming of the Bastille and arrest of the Governor Bernard-René de Launay, 14 July 1789. Museum of the History of France, Versailles.

Storming of the Bastille and arrest of the Governor Bernard-René de Launay, 14 July 1789. Museum of the History of France, Versailles.

Books that might be of interest for this time period:

  • The Black Count: Glory Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (92 DUMAS)
  • Several biographies on Napoleon (92 NAPOLEON)
  • Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon by Michael O’Brien (940.27092 OBR)
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in France, 1830-1900 by David McCullough (920.009213044361 MACC – At Fairview)
  • How Paris became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean (944.361033 DEJ)
  • Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour through the History of Paris by Rosemary Flannery (704.9 FLA)
  • Walks through Marie Antoinette’s Paris by Diana Reid Haig (914.436104484 HAI)
  • Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 by Jeffrey H Jackson (944.360813 JAC)
  • Seven Ages of Paris by Alastair Horne (944.361 HOR)
  • The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson by William Howard Adams (973.46 ADA)

 


Sources:

 

The Eruption of Krakatoa: August 1883

Kracatoa 1By Stephen McClain, Reference Department

In our everyday, technology filled lives; it is easy to forget that the earth is dynamic. Our planet is constantly changing, whether we realize it or not. The landforms that we take for granted are in many cases the result of earth’s violent and relentless activity that has persisted for billions of years. This third planet from the sun is our home, but Earth does not care about us. Nature is not required to make sense nor consider human existence regarding its activity. What seems static from a human perspective is in a constant state of movement. Natural disasters often remind us that Mother Nature is more powerful than humans and she must be respected.Kracatoa 2

Kracatoa 3Tectonic activity, such as volcanic eruptions are illustrations of Earth’s volatility. Though there have been more recent blasts in modern times, none have been more deadly than the eruption of Krakatoa on August 26, 1883. Krakatoa (or Krakatau) is a small island located between Java and Sumatra in the Indonesian Island Arc. The island is only about 3 miles wide and 5 miles long. These islands and the volcanic activity in the region is the result of tectonic movement below the sea floor. The Indo-Australian plate is subducted under the Eurasian and Pacific plates as it moves slowly northward toward the Asian mainland. When Krakatoa erupted in August of 1883, an estimated 36,000 people were killed. Many perished due to the eruption, but many more died after the resulting tsunami following the collapse of the volcano into the caldera below.

With our advanced modern technology, we are able to detect natural hazards like severe weather and also monitor earth’s internal movement. For example, in 1980, geologists were able to detect seismic activity and knew that Mount St. Helens would erupt soon, saving the lives of many. The brave Krakatoans (10 points if you caught the Seinfeld reference there) had no warning system or advanced notice. Before nature was understood at the level it is today, it was more respected and spawned many legends and folktales of angry gods and evil spirits. Those closest to the volcano in western Java and Sumatra were victims of the volcanic debris and hot gases from the blast. Countless thousands more were killed by the 120 foot high wall of water from the following tsunamis. After the initial eruption on August 26, a cloud of gas and debris was sent some 15 miles into the atmosphere and it is believed that debris from this eruption clogged the neck of the volcanic cone, allowing pressure to build inside the magma chamber. The next morning, four massive explosions were heard as far away as Perth, Australia (about 2800 miles) and much of the island collapsed into the caldera. According to the Volcanic Explosion Index (VEI), the eruption of Krakatoa is given a rating of 6, which is comparative to the explosive force of 200 megatons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT). The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 had a VEI rating of 5.Kracatoa 4

Coral block thrown onto the shore of Java after the Krakatau eruption of 1883. Picture taken in 1885.

Coral block thrown onto the shore of Java after the Krakatau eruption of 1883. Picture taken in 1885.

Just a few months prior to the eruption in May of 1883, the captain of a German warship reported a cloud of ash over Krakatoa that he estimated to be over 6 miles high. Other vessels in the area reported seeing similar sites and heard explosions. Inhabitants of the neighboring islands celebrated and held festivals in honor of the display of lights in the night sky. The celebrations would end tragically with the eruption and ensuing tsunami on August 27.

The first explosion ruptured the magma chamber, sea water rushed in causing the water to flash-boil. The force of this phenomenon created a steam-generated explosion that propelled pyroclastic materials over 25 miles at speeds of over 60 mph. The eruption sent about 11 cubic miles of volcanic debris in the lower atmosphere that darkened the skies for nearly 300 miles from the volcano. The effects of the eruption of Krakatoa were not only felt in the immediate area of the volcano. Because of the debris in the atmosphere, Europe and the United States experienced unusually brilliant sunsets and for the next five years, the average global temperatures would be about 1.2 F degrees cooler.

Large coral block transported by the Krakatoa explosion (Photo by S. Leroy)

Large coral block transported by the Krakatoa explosion (Photo by S. Leroy)

Krakatoa was not the largest eruption in the modern era, but it was certainly responsible for the largest loss of life. Could an eruption of this magnitude happen again? Absolutely. Do we know where or when? Nope. But be assured that the U.S. Geological Survey has its eye on many locations. Nevertheless, there is nothing that we can do about an eruption other than be prepared.

So stop worrying and enjoy this beautiful day. Earth always wins in the end.

 

 


Sources:

 

Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Baptism of Virginia Dare, lithograph, 1880

Baptism of Virginia Dare, lithograph, 1880

Virginia Dare was the first child born in any British colony and part of the first mystery in the “new world.” She was born in 1587, in the Roanoke Colony (located in North Carolina now) and named after the Virginia colony where her parents lived. She was also the grand-daughter of the colony’s governor, John White. The Roanoke Colony was later known as the Lost Colony, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of our country’s history.

Sir Walter Raleigh received the right to set up a colony from the Queen; he wanted the gold and riches the Spanish were getting, while the Queen wanted a base in the area to attack (and plunder) the Spanish ships coming from the new world full of gold. Even though Raleigh himself never visited North American, he sent two representatives to explore the area. They landed on Roanoke Island in 1584 and established good relations with the natives, taking two natives back to England. Raleigh met with the natives and decided to send an expedition, led by Sir Richard Grenville. As the men explored the area, they discovered that a silver cup was missing and accused the natives. They killed the villagers and burned the town—all for a silver cup. Grenville left the colonists to establish a fort and went back to England for more supplies. Surprisingly, the natives no longer viewed the English as friendly, and often attacked the fort. The ship promising to return didn’t come with fresh supplies. Sir Francis Drake stopped by to say hello, and offered to take anyone back to England who wanted to go; some did—they were the lucky ones. A second colony expedition, organized by Raleigh, was led by John White (a friend of Raleigh’s), and were to settle near Chesapeake Bay. Before they unloaded at Chesapeake, they had orders to check on the Roanoke Colony.

roanokeThis second expedition found no one in the colony. The colonists were forced to stay behind by the fleet’s commander, Simon Fernandez (reasons unknown), while the ship went back to England for reinforcements. Before he sailed away, White tried to re-establish friendly relations with the Native Americans; some tribes were friendly, others still were angry over the previous treatment of their tribesmen. The colonists watched as the ship left them in the new world. White wanted to get back as soon as he could, after all his daughter and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, were at Roanoke. He could find no captain to take him back in the winter months, and then in 1588, the Spanish attacked the English in the grand Armada, which further delayed his return. In 1590, White’s relief ship finally landed on Roanoke Island and found the settlement deserted. No people, no bodies, no signs of struggle. They only found this word carved in a pole: CROATOAN.

The return of Governor White to the "Lost Colony"

The return of Governor White to the “Lost Colony”

As to what happened to the 115 colonists living on Roanoke Island, no one has ever found any clues or remains. Only the word CROATOAN. Was it a clue? What did it mean?

Several ideas have been explored over the centuries. They could have been killed, but where were the bodies? They could have been assimilated into other friendly tribes; there was a Croatoan tribe that was friendly with the colonists. This would have accounted for no bodies and no struggles. But wouldn’t other tribes in the area have given this news to other white men? No one really tried to investigate until Captain John Smith, of Jamestown fame, tried to ask the nearby tribes if they knew what happened. He was told that a friendly tribe took them in. He was also told by Chief Powhatan that he and his tribe had murdered them all. He even showed Smith things he said had belonged to the white colonists. There were wild rumors of two story Native American buildings, possibly erected by the missing colonists.

Virginia Dare’s name has become a way to attract tourists for North Carolina. Many locations are named after her, including Dare County, North Carolina; the Virginia Dare Trail and the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, which spans the Croatoan Sound. Her birthday is celebrated annually on Roanoke Island. On her 350th birthday in 1937, the community of Roanoke Island launched a play entitled “The Lost Colony.” This drama was supposed to be a one year run, but has become a permanent and popular Outer Banks attraction.

Marble sculpture of Virginia Dare formerly in St Bride's Church, Fleet St

Marble sculpture of Virginia Dare formerly in St Bride’s Church, Fleet St

In 2005, PBS aired a Time Team America program: the team traveled to Roanoke Island looking to find the site of Fort Raleigh and any clues as to what happened to the Lost Colony. This was a collaboration of archaeologists and scientists who are given 3 days to dig and study interesting historic sites to see if they can find more information. In an different program, aired on the History Channel in 2015, archaeologists searching around an old settlement area found some intriguing items, including a gold ring, a musket barrel and a slate that may have been used for children to learn their alphabet. Perhaps, someday, we’ll finally find out what happened to the vanished Roanoke colony.

To read about Virginia Dare, we suggest these books:

  • Roanoke by Margaret Lawrence (F LAW)
  • Roanoke: solving the mystery of the lost colony (975.6 MIL)
  • Roanoke: a novel of the lost colony by Sonia Levitin (F LEV)
  • The Mysterious disappearance of Roanoke colony in American history (YA 975.6175 KEN)
  • A Kingdom strange: the brief and tragic history of the lost colony of Roanoke (975.6175 HOR)
  • The Virginia adventure: Roanoke to James Towne: an archaeological and historical odyssey (975.54251 NOE)
  • The Lost colony: a symphonic drama in two acts, with music, pantomime and dance (812 GRE)
  • Time Team America. Fort Raleigh, NC (DVD 930.109756175 TIM)

 


Sources:

The Scandalous Cleopatra

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Queen-cleopatraCleopatra is still an enigma even after 2000 years. So much so that books are still being written about her. Everyone knows the story of Cleopatra, who by the way was the 7th Cleopatra to rule Egypt. She read the writing on the wall when Rome began to conquer nation after nation. Plus she wanted to win the Egyptian throne, and rule alone, not with her brother/husband. She wanted to get on the good side of Julius Caesar when he was in Alexandria. Knowing that her brother Ptolemy XIII would keep her from meeting with Julius Caesar, she had herself wrapped in a rug and delivered to Julius. And thus she outwitted her rival brother. She and Julius had a good relationship; she became his mistress, even having his child. When Julius Caesar was murdered, she chose to back Mark Anthony against Octavian (soon to be Augustus Caesar). Octavian, upset that Mark Anthony has chosen Cleopatra over his own sister Octavia, broke the second triumvirate and declared war on Cleopatra (and Mark Anthony). After his defeat at the Battle of Actium, Mark Anthony fell on his sword in defeat and Cleopatra committed suicide by death by poisonous snake on August 12, 30 B.C.

This is what history tells us. Here are some facts you may not have known:

Cleopatra may not have been Egyptian, or maybe she was. Ptolemy I, a general in Alexander the Great’s army, became ruler of Egypt after Alexander died. His line, the Ptolemaic line, lasted for several centuries, ending with the death of Cleopatra. Greek was the language of the ruling family in the beginning; our Cleopatra (VII) knew the Egyptian language, but also spoke Greek and Latin and many others. Outside Europe, in Africa and in Islamic tradition, she was remembered very differently. Arab writers refer to her as a scholar; 400 years after her death her statue was still honored at Philae, a religious center that also attracted pilgrims from outside Egypt.

Cleopatra_VII_tetradrachm_Syria_mint

A tetradrachm of Cleopatra VII, Syria mint

Many scholars believe that Cleopatra wasn’t as beautiful as once believed. She was intelligent and well educated, speaking as many as a dozen languages and was familiar with mathematics, philosophy, oratory and astronomy. She reportedly enjoyed talking to learned men and women and could hold her own with them. Coins with her portrait show her with manly features and a large, hooked nose (however, she might have intentionally portrayed herself as masculine as a display of strength). Plutarch claimed that Cleopatra’s beauty was “not altogether incomparable,” and that it was instead her mellifluous speaking voice and “irresistible charm” that made her so desirable. So it may have been only Roman propaganda that portrayed her as a debauched temptress as shown in the movies.

Members of the Ptolemaic dynasty often married within the family to preserve the purity of their bloodline. Cleopatra’s parents were probably even brother and sister. Cleopatra eventually married both of her younger brothers, each of whom served as her ceremonial spouse and co-regent at different times during her reign. Her first sibling-husband, Ptolemy XIII, defeated her and ran her out of Egypt after she tried to become sole ruler, and they faced off in a civil war. Cleopatra regained the upper hand by teaming with Julius Caesar, and becoming his mistress. Nine months into their relationship, she gave him a son, naming the baby Caesarion – little Caesar.  After Caesar’s son was born, he backed Cleopatra’s claim to the throne and helped her regain it.  Because of this alliance, Ptolemy drowned in the Nile River after being defeated in battle. Following the war, Cleopatra married to her younger brother Ptolemy XIV, but it is believed that she had him murdered in a bid to make her son Caesarion her co-ruler. She also engineered the execution of her sister, Arsinoe, whom she considered a rival to throne.

Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar caused quite a scandal in Rome: Egypt and its pleasure-loving culture were despised as decadent by the rule conscious Romans. But the real reason their relationship was so scandalous was that Caesar had no other sons. He was married to Calpurnia, and had had two wives before her, but he had no son, until now. The worry that Caesarion, an Egyptian, might grow up to claim to rule over Rome as Caesar’s heir was a direct threat to Rome.

Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Eventually, Cleopatra married Mark Antony and had three children with him, which made the Romans even angrier with her. Antony’s rival Octavian portrayed him as a traitor under the sway of a scheming seductress, and in 32 B.C., the Roman Senate declared war on Cleopatra. The conflict reached its climax the following year in a famous naval battle at Actium. Cleopatra personally led several dozen Egyptian warships into the fray alongside Antony’s fleet, but they were no match for Octavian’s navy. The battle soon devolved into a rout, and Cleopatra and Antony were forced to break through the Roman line and flee to Egypt.

Augustus (Octavian) founded his reign on the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. When he had the chance to have a month named in his honor, he chose the eighth month, in which Cleopatra died to create a yearly reminder of her defeat. She chose to die rather than suffer the violence of being paraded and shamed, led through the streets of Rome as a defeated enemy. Augustus had to make do with an image of her that was carried through the streets instead.

Most scientists thought the grave was under the sea near Alexandria (in or near a temple that fell into the sea after too many earthquakes), but others are not so sure. Kathleen Martinez, a criminal lawyer who became an archaeologist to find Cleopatra’s tomb, has found promising signs at some of the sights Cleopatra was known to visit of a possible gravesite. At the close of the program, the search was still on. I suppose we’ll know when the world knows. In the meantime, learn more about her at the library.

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

  • Cleopatra, a Life by Stacy Schiff (92 Cleopatra)
  • Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams, Distractions (92 Cleopatra)
  • Cleopatra and Antony: Power, Love and Politics in the Ancient World (932.0210922 PRE)
  • Nefertiti and Cleopatra: Queen-Monarchs of Egypt (932.014 SAM)
  • Alexandria: The Last Light of Cleopatra (916.20455 STO)
  • Rome’s Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire (937.05 ALS)
  • The Pharaoh: Life at Court and on Campaign (932.0099 SHA)

Sources:

Amazing Women Athletes: Gabby Douglas

By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department

Even if you don’t know a pommel horse from a polo pony, it’s nearly impossible not to be inspired by the amazing American gymnast Gabby Douglas. Gabby is the first African-American and the first woman of color from any nation to win a Gold medal in the individual gymnastics all-around competition; the fourth female American gymnast to win the Gold; and the first U.S. gymnast to receive both of those honors in a single Olympic Games, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Furthermore, she accomplished all of that before her 17th birthday. Douglas is also the first female reigning Olympic all-around champion to return to the World Championships and medal in the all-around since Elena Davydova in 1981.

gdouglas 1

Gabrielle Christina Victoria Douglas was born on New Year’s Eve 1995 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the youngest of four children to Natalie Hawkins and Timothy Douglas. Gabby was raised by her mother and her siblings Arielle, Joyelle, and Johnathan, and it was Arielle who encouraged Gabby to begin tumbling and trying cartwheels and convinced their mother to allow Gabby to begin gymnastics lessons at age 6. Arielle said, “I taught her how to do a cartwheel, then the next day I saw her doing one-handed cartwheels and I thought, I didn’t teach you that!” Gabby’s undeniable talent for gymnastics soon became evident when at age 8 she won the Level 4 all-around gymnastics title at the 2004 Virginia State Championships.

In October 2010, Gabby moved halfway across the country from her home in Virginia to Iowa to train under Liang Chow, the 1990 World Cup Nationals champion for the Chinese men’s gymnastics team, at his prestigious Gymnastics and Dance Institute in West Des Moines. Gabby lived with a host family, Travis and Missy Parton and their four daughters, while undergoing intensive training with Chow in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. The blonde-haired, green-eyed Partons took Gabby in and treated her as one of their own, but needless to say, there were moments of culture shock. In her book “Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith,” Gabby recounts how weird it was to go for days at a time in Iowa without seeing another person with a skin tone even close to her own. “When my Mom came to town, she and I started a joke about it,” Gabby said. They turned it into a game, a la the classic car trip game “Punch Buggy” —but instead of hitting the other on the arm when they spied a Volkswagen Beetle, Gabby and her mom would trade swats and say “Black person!”

gdouglas 2In September 2011, while still not completely healed from a sprained hamstring and injured hip flexor, Gabby traveled to Texas to a World Championship verification camp at the facility owned by prominent gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi. Gabby was chosen for a spot on the World Championship team at age 15, making her the youngest gymnast on the team. Her chances of making it to London were contingent upon a single competition, the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. Team USA edged out Russia and China to win the gold, and Gabby’s performance on the uneven bar finals earned her the nickname “Flying Squirrel” from Marta Karolyi. Another hurdle to Gabby’s road to London had just been cleared.

Since Gabby’s meteoric rise from underdog to superstar, her personal brand—and her faith in God– has only gotten stronger. She has co-authored two books, created her own line of leotards called Gabbymojis, and appeared with her family in a docuseries on Oxygen called Douglas Family Gold. Her beautiful face has graced magazine covers such as Sports Illustrated, Time, Teen Vogue, People, and Essence, and endorsements for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Procter & Gamble’s “beauty brands,” Nike, and Mattel (Barbie), just to name a few. She cites former All-American collegiate football player and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow as an inspiration to speak publicly about her strong Christian faith. Gabby has said, “I don’t think I could have done it if he hadn’t been so bold about his own faith during interviews.”

By the time you are reading this, the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be off by leaps and bounds (Faithful Readers, y’all know I couldn’t complete a blog without at least one pun) and Gabby and her Fierce Five teammates will once again be vaulting (oops, I did it again) toward their dreams of bringing home more American gold.gdouglas 3

 


Sources and suggested reading:

  • Awesome Athletes: Gabby Douglas by Jameson Anderson (J 92 DOUGLAS)
  • “The Comeback Kid,” Teen Vogue, June/July 2016
  • Gabby Douglas by Jon M. Fishman (J 92 DOUGLAS)
  • Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith by Gabrielle Douglas and Michelle Burford (J 92 DOUGLAS)
  • Great Moments in Olympic Gymnastics by Blythe Lawrence (J 796.44 LAWRENCE)
  • Raising The Bar by Gabrielle Douglas (J 92 DOUGLAS)
The opinions expressed here in this fourth installment of the “Amazing Female Athletes” series belong solely to the author and are in no way representative of any other WCPL employees, their families, friends, and coaches. Ms. Parish has visited London in the past, and has also been referred to as a squirrel, but that’s about where the similarities between the author of the blog and the subject of the blog come to an abrupt dismount.
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