The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, September 14, 2003

Emily Roebling - an inconvenient heroine

I'd never heard of the woman until catching the last half of a docco on the BBC last week.

But she seems to be the epitome of what the wimmin would loathe in a role model: all that study, determination, chutzpah all devoted to a cause simply because it was her husband's. Merely to think of Emily devoting herself to saving the bridge to save his life must surely cause any right-thinking feminist to vomit!

She certainly seems to be an orphan of Academe: Amazon lists only one book about her [1] - and that was published in 1984, and is currently out of print!

Not that's she's been edited out of history, exactly. But 339 items (none of them substantial, that I can see) from Mr Google (such an eminently searchable name too!) scarcely seems adequate recognition.

And, so far as I can see, no Hollywood treatment either, even in pre-feminist days. Part of the problem may have been that the woman, to judge from the photos I've seen (this, for instance) was nothing if not excessively plain - though not quite thirty when called upon to step up to the plate on her husband's behalf.

One of the tantalisingly informative timelines [2] - relating to a Ken Burns docco on the Bridge from the early 80s - says that none other than Boss Tweed (William Marcy Tweed in the indictments) was a trustee of the bridge company (until justice caught up with him). Tweed got sent to the slammer, of course: but one can't help feeling that a couple of hours with Emily Roebling telling him exactly what she thought of him would have been a more appropriate - if certainly cruel and unusual - punishment for the political trailblazer.

(I was surprised to learn, after leaving Washington Roebling at the end of the docco in 1883 still in bad shape from the sequelae of caisson disease, that, whilst the ever-loyal Emily dropped off the twig at the tolerably early age of 60 in 1903, Washington remarried and survived to the age of 89!)

(By chance, the period over which the Brooklyn Bridge was built falls neatly into the run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle which is available on the Brooklyn Library site. One needs dates as well as years to use the resource effectively - the timelines available online are disappointingly short of precise dates - but the edition of opening day - May 24 1883 - devotes the whole of its front page to the Bridge.)

  1. Silent Builder: Emily Warren Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge by Marilyn E. Weigold.

  2. There's also a timeline for the Roebling Company and its descendants.

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