because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Annie Edson Taylor

Many women grow up, get married, have babies, and spend their lives in loving service or quiet desperation -- or a combination of both. This is such a common path that most women don't imagine what they would do if they didn't have a husband and family to take care of. Annie Edson Taylor found out.

Taylor's father died when she was twelve. Then, after she graduated from college, got married and had a baby, her son died in infancy. And, before she could recover from that blow, her husband died, making her a widow, as well. Being left to her own devices in the mid-1800's, most young women would probably have remarried and proceeded to fulfill the dream they'd always been taught to fulfill. But Taylor went another direction.

Moving from New York to Michigan to Texas to Mexico City and back to Michigan, while trying a whole string of different jobs, Taylor taught school, taught music, taught dancing -- whatever would pay the rent. By the time she reached her sixties, however, she feared she was going to be facing the poorhouse if she didn't come up with some money to support herself in her old age. So she decided to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

It's hard to imagine how she came up with such an idea, but she did. And more importantly to her position as an in-your-face woman in history, she carried it out. On October 24, 1901 (her 63rd birthday), Taylor climbed into a custom made oak and iron barrel padded with a mattress and persuaded a group of very reluctant assistants to shut and launch the barrel into the river. They didn't want to. They argued with her. They were convinced she might die. And, of course, it could have happened. But Taylor was adamant. So her assistants screwed down the lid and set her afloat.

Twenty minutes later, the barrel was pulled out of the water at the bottom of the falls and Taylor climbed out without injury other than a small gash on her forehead. Unfortunately, the feat didn't make her rich as she had hoped. She made a little money speaking for a while. And attempted a few other related ventures: a novel, a film, and selling her services as a clairvoyant, among other things. But she never accumulated the wealth she had hoped. On the other hand, she didn't wind up in the poorhouse either. Sometimes, what keeps an in-your-face woman going is the inspiration she receives from her own life.

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