by Jeanne Gehret

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How to know a personDeep relationships fill the heart as nothing else can. This month I’m struck with the timeliness of David Brooks’s new book, How to Know a Person. He discusses principles that I try to embody in my own life and in my Dauntless Series of books. As Brooks says, “the ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood [is an important skill that every human community needs].”

The 19th century reformers I feature looked deeply at others, too. Through the women’s suffrage movement and the campaign to abolish slavery, they valued people whose lives were invisible in the current culture. The enslaved workers who formed the unseen backbone of Southern mansions were a good example. Though we have those beautiful landmarks today, the names of the people who held them together have mostly faded into obscurity.

Invisible women

So too it is with the invisible women behind famous men. Until not very long ago, we knew little of the crucial Underground Railroad work done by women like Frances Seward–work that undoubtedly inspired and prodded her famous husband to give his all as Secretary of State to end slavery.

Like Frances Seward, Annie Anthony stood behind a famous man. Daniel Anthony’s name is synonymous with the founding of Kansas. She lived in the shadow of her famous sister-in-law Susan, too. But Annie’s own significant contributions to social reform are just beginning to surface.

Don’t just look — see. Don’t just hear — listen. As Brooks says, now more than ever, when the news gives us only sound bytes, our humanity dictates that we need to go deep with other and to understand the incidents that have left marks on their souls.

In the same way, we can benefit from the experience of historical figures. Although many news articles reported what Annie, Susan and Daniel did, I’m exploring why they did things and the long-lasting ramification of how these actions affected their personal lives.

For example, Annie broke with island tradition when she wed a man from the mainland. Why? Perhaps the loss of Union soldiers among the small population of her hometown prompted her to look further from home for a potential suitor. How did this affect her when she married Daniel and moved to Kansas? Probably culture shock!

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