Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Of Daughters of Destiny and Watered Down History

I was eleven or twelve when I first read several stories in Daughters of Destiny, written by Noelle Wheeler Goforth. Her father, Little Bear Wheeler, had been in our area at a home school convention and we purchased the book from him. Now, I like Little Bear; he’s a very entertaining storyteller and a neat guy. But, of course, Daughters of Destiny was also sold by Vision Forum, which is enough “to give sober men pause.” (Actually, I believe DOD is out of print now, as I cannot locate it on the Vision Forum or Mantle Ministries websites.) I liked Daughters of Destiny when I was younger...but there was always something missing. Now, I know what it is.... I do a lot of histrical research and some of my pet projects/interests have been Queens of England; such as Elizabeth I and Victoria. In Daughters of Destiny, there is a story about Victoria in the “Daughters of Royalty” section and it is full of conflicts with the actual historical record. While DOD paints Victoria’s Mother, the Duchess of Kent, as a kind, intelligent woman who wished to shield her daughter from the court—she was in actuality, quite a silly, unkind woman; being manipulative and domineering towards her only daughter. Daughters of Destiny avows that the reason that the Duchess of Kent kept Victoria near her at all times, even having Victoria sleep in her room up until the girl became Queen, was that "she believed that no nurse or governess, however skilled she might be, could take the place of a Mother."1 The truth is that Victoria did have a governess named Louise Lehzen who was far closer to her than the Duchess of Kent. And the real reason the Duchess was so involved in Victoria's life was because she was a control freak and was also hoping to become regent. Of course, Victoria turned eighteen before becoming Queen and one of the first things she did was ask that her bed be moved from her Mother's room. Unfortunately, Daughters of Destiny bypasses such conflicts entirely. Many other stories in Daughters of Destiny suffer from this saccharine portrayal and end up making the “heroines” look quite wimpy—when in fact, most of them were strong, courageous women. They are “wimpy” because they actually have nothing to triumph over—even if problems are mentioned there is no real conflict, only melodrama. As in the Queen Victoria story, their future is obviously happy from the first sentence. By smoothing out their stories and eliminating the villains and bumps in their roads, the historical women are reduced to being merely docile, boring creatures who just expect everything to have a happy ending. As James Loewen says of textbooks, “The stories that history textbooks tell are predictable; every problem has already been solved or is about to be solved. Textbooks exclude conflict or real suspense. They leave out anything which might reflect badly upon our national character. When they try for drama, they achieve only melodrama, because readers know that everything will turn out fine in the end.” 2 “The optimistic approach prevents any understanding of failure other than blaming the victim.... After a thousand pages, bland optimism gets pretty offending for everyone.” 3 These excerpts weirdly fit for a book written by a homeschooler for homeschoolers and that's rather discouraging. I thought we homeschooled people were supposed to pursue the truth not regurgitate the same old legends.

Now, this may not be all Noelle Goforth’s fault. I remember Little Bear saying something like, “I encouraged Noelle to use all of the girl books in our library to compile a book to encourage young ladies.” She must have used their personal library because in the bibliography, there are 16 sources listed (with only titles and dates—no author or publisher names, unfortunately, which would make tracking them easier), and of those sources I could only locate 4-5 in my tri-county library system. Why? Well, they were all written before 1935; nine were written before 1900, three between 1900-1910, one between 1910-1920, and three between 1930-1940. Fitting in with this, I also recall Little Bear recommending the buying of old books, written in the 1800's especially, because "they will have a biblical worldview." Now, there's nothing wrong with old books but you have to be careful with their take on history and life in general. Why? Because they moralize everything. As with Victoria's mother being held in honour, even though the historical record shows that she was far from saintly, the history books (especially the ones for children) tend to twist away from facts in an effort to moralize or make them melodramatic or just stick to legends that have been proven false. I don't know why they did that back then but I can tell you that books written after 1930-40ish have a greater chance of being accurate. The reason for this, I think, is that the authors decided to go back to the historical record of first-hand accounts, letters, and diaries while researching them. When I'm researching something, if I can't find copies of original documents and such, I always pick out books written sometime after 1930 to the present and I check their bibliographies for strong sources. For a good example of what you can find in older books, I have a book from 1922, about Queen Elizabeth I. In this volume, it asserts the Victorian idea that "women do not experience the slightest desire before marriage."4 That idea is laughable at best, infuriating at worst—all of such research has been proven wrong and was an entirely male assumption anyway. (Don't get me started on what I call, "The Victorian Repression Doctrine: tell women nothing about anything and leave them in ignorance and fear for the greater part of their lives. You know, they might think about things and that would just be wrong." No wonder women were so afraid of childbirth if no one told them what to expect! *rolling eyes*)

Older books are also terribly racist—not just to African Americans in regards to slavery but also to American Indians. In Daughters of Destiny, Pocahontas and Sacagawea are portrayed as good, which they were; but in other parts of the book, words such as "savages" and "red men" are also used in reference to Indians. I'm a European American but I don't like the white supremacist or Eurocentric viewpoints one bit—in anything—and especially not in "Christian" publications.

Martha Finley is given a glowing story in Daughters of Destiny and it is even said, "Because of the strong Christian content that surfaces throughout Elsie's life, Miss Finley was blackballed. She was ignored by contemporary critics and by such popular children's magazines of her day as St. Nicholas and Youths Companion." 5 First off, I doubt that she was blackballed because of the Christian content of the novels—as I've already said; almost all books for children in the ninetieth century were written with extremely moralistic views. So, I don't know why she was blackballed or if she even was…I can hope it had to do with the melodrama or racism in the Elsie books. Yes, there's racism in the Elsie Dinsmore series…does that really surprise you? Here’s an Elsie review if you're not familiar with these books or if you are and you don't believe me about the racism. (I don't know anything about this site but I thought the review is quite interesting.)

Older books may be written from a biblical worldview but how can that help anything if they are incorrect in their facts or racist. Use them at your own risk and be very careful with any historical books recommended by Vision Forum. The Henty series, Beautiful Girlhood series, and many other old or historically-inspired books sold by Vision Forum have incorrect historical material and white supremacist overtones. They are also inclined towards "heroification" of historical figures. As a matter of fact, most of Vision Forum's and even Mantle Ministries' "historical" teachings are full of errors, legends, and Eurocentric assumptions. (Even though we're Americans most of us are technically European Americans and therefore, can still be Eurocentric.) Remember, a book (or even a lecture) can only be as good as its sources and Daughters of Destiny has very poor ones. The only reason I still have it is because I like some of the poetry selections—at least they can be taken at face value.

Definitions -

White supremacy: racial view; the view that white people are supposedly genetically and culturally superior to all other people or races and should therefore rule over them.

Eurocentric: Focusing on Europe; focusing on Europe or its people, institutions, and cultures, often in a way that is arrogantly dismissive of others.

1: Daughters of Destiny, Noelle Wheeler Goforth, page 130.
2: Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong, James
W. Loewen, Introduction, Page 5.
3: Ibid; Introduction, Page 6.
4. The Private Character of Queen Elizabeth, Chamberlin, Frederick.
5 Daughters of Destiny, Noelle Wheeler Goforth, page 208.
“That's the sort of thought that gives sober men pause” – Linus Van Pelt

Two books I recommend:

- Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. I absolutely loved this book and it was a very fast read. Do keep in mind though, that you may not agree with everything Mr. Loewen says, mostly in the last few chapters. The sections on Columbus, Vietnam, the Reconstruction, and American Indians were very informative and intriguing.

- The Good Old Days: They were Terrible! by Otto Bettmann. If you're as tired of I am of people talking about "the good old days" especially homeschooled girls (mostly sighing about the clothes people used to wear) and patriarchy type people, then you'll love this book. Once you read it, you'll know what Solomon meant when he said, "Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions." Ecclesiastes 7:10.


1 comment:

Natalie (Nyquist) Ference said...

To Whom it May Concern;

On April 12 the Young Ladies Christian Fellowship permanently removed me from any participation on the site. Since they have chosen to publicly state no further ties or affiliations with me, I decided to also make a public statement.

For my full statement please visit this page on my website:

Please pass this statement on to anyone you know who has been a YLCF reader. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.