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Inside this Issue

March/April 2019

Glimpse into the lives and passions of the diverse group of women who comprise today’s DAR membership.

National Treasures
Take a step inside the DAR Museum for a closer look at its fascinating collection.

More Articles
Learn about the interesting historical articles from this issue.

To Come in Our Next Issue
Preview the exciting stories to be featured in the next issue of American Spirit.


Today's Daughters
She’s Going the Distance: Debbie French

Volume 153, Number 2
By Lena Anthony
Photograph courtesy of Debbie French

When Debbie French started training for her first race, a 3.1-mile fun run in 2006, she couldn’t run from her house to her neighbor’s without stopping for a break. It’s safe to say she’s come a long way. The fun run became a half marathon (13.1 miles), which became a marathon (26.2 miles), which turned into an ultramarathon (31 miles), which became an even longer ultramarathon (50 miles).

Right after the fun run, Mrs. French learned how to swim and added triathlons to the mix. She started with the shortest—or sprint—distance (400-yard swim, a dozen or so miles on the bike and a 3.1-mile run) before graduating to longer distances. In 2014, to celebrate her 40th birthday, she finished an Ironman—a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, done in that order, without a break. If you’re wondering, it took her 16 hours.

For some athletes, training for a race as long as an Ironman is a full-time job, but that wasn’t a luxury afforded to Mrs. French, who fit in long workouts, sometimes more than once a day, whenever and wherever she could.

“Family first is always my motto,” said Mrs. French, who is raising two teenagers with Lee, her husband and fellow endurance athlete. “That meant that sometimes I was up before dawn with a headlamp on, to get in a 25-mile training run.”

When she was training for the Ironman, Mrs. French was teaching commercial interior design at a Spokane, Wash., community college. She and Lee also sold a house and built a new one. Despite the tough schedule full of competing priorities, she didn’t consider quitting the sport.

“There’s something inside all of us that we want to do but we don’t think we’re capable of doing,” she said. “Honestly, some of these things scare the living daylights out of me, but the sense of accomplishment I get every time I cross a finish line is food for the soul. It moves me every day.”

For many athletes, crossing the finish line and being declared an Ironman is the pinnacle of one’s racing career. But for Mrs. French, the highlight of her career was the 50-mile Le Grizz ultramarathon, which runs alongside Montana’s Glacier National Park.

At the 18-mile mark, two things happened—a grizzly bear ran out in front of them on the trail, and Mrs. French’s iliotibial, or IT, band started to throb, a repetitive stress injury sometimes called “runner’s knee.” A good friend running with her encouraged Mrs. French to not give up and walk the rest of the way if she had to.

“She was such an inspiration,” she said. “It took us about 13 hours, but we finished together. It’s the highlight of my career, not because I finished fast, but because I finished period.”

Whenever Mrs. French returns home after a big race, her fellow Daughters are always eager to hear about it.

“They’re so supportive and always so kind to ask me what my latest adventure is,” said the member of Jonas Babcock Chapter, Spokane, Wash. “Our chapter meeting was the week after the Ironman, so the regent asked me to bring my medal and talk about the experience. I don’t expect anyone else to share my particular passion for endurance racing, but I hope that by sharing my experience, others can see that they’re never too old to follow their dreams and start something new.”

Mrs. French will be celebrating her 45th birthday later this year, and she plans to honor the milestone with another Ironman race, so training is in full swing. She’s also considering her longest ultramarathon yet—100 miles. 

“My husband did one, and I was part of his support crew,” she said. “That got me thinking, ‘If he can do it, maybe I can, too.’”

For more Today’s Daughters, please click here.

To nominate a Daughter for a future issue, e-mail a description to americanspirit@dar.org.


National Treasures
A Game for Globe Trotters

Volume 153, Number 2
Photo courtesy of William Strollo/DAR Museum

Groundbreaking journalist and world traveler Elizabeth Jane Cochran, born in 1864 in western Pennsylvania, took the nom de plume Nellie Bly in the 1880s when she began reporting for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, then one of the country’s most influential newspapers. She had her first taste of international travel as the paper’s foreign correspondent in Mexico.

Her next stint as an investigative journalist took her to New York City, where she wrote for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, New York World. Bly became a national sensation when she published an article about the harsh conditions and treatment of mentally ill patients at New York’s asylum on Blackwell’s Island. 

In 1889, the newspaper sent Bly on a round-the-world trip. Her aim was to finish her journey in less time than Phileas Fogg, the main character in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. She beat the fictional Fogg’s record by eight days, and soon after wrote a successful book about her adventure.

In 1890, the McLoughlin Brothers Company created the board game “Around the World with Nellie Bly,” with players competing to be the first to travel the world in 72 days.  

For more National Treasures, please visit the DAR Museum's Featured Objects.


More Articles
FEATURES

To Rectify an Omission: Elizabeth Ellet Writes Women Into Revolutionary History by Courtney Peter
Decrying the absence of women from the early American historical record, Elizabeth Ellet sought to correct the oversights with her three-volume work profiling more than 100 Revolutionary women.

Women Publishers of the Early American Era by Karen Springen
Several industrious 18th-century women took an active part in the business of publishing, spreading news of rebellions against the British and keeping their communities informed before and during the Revolutionary War.

Our Patriots: Mercy Otis Warren: Conscience of the Revolution by Daniel S. Marrone, Ph.D.
Though Mercy Otis Warren’s fervently anti-British satirical plays and poems were first published anonymously, she began taking ownership of her work in 1790, earning a place as the leading female intellectual and historian of the early republic.

Maple Sugaring in Early America by Samantha Johnson
Maple sugar, an inexpensive and locally produced alternative to cane sugar imported from the Caribbean, traces its history back to the American Indians, who taught early American settlers the process of harvesting maple sap.

DEPARTMENTS

Visions of America: Rooted in America by Bill Hudgins
On a Tennessee farm once owned by Andrew Jackson, the nonprofit American Heritage Trees produces saplings of trees associated with historical people and events. 

DAR Pathway of the Patriots by Jamie Roberts
To celebrate the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026, the DAR is leading a project to plant 250 trees along Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River Trail in memory of 250 Patriots.

Historic Home: Molly Brown House Museum by Bill Hudgins
Built in the 1880s, the home of American philanthropist, activist and Titanic survivor Margaret “Molly” Brown was slated for demoliton in the 1970s before a group of Denver preservationists saved and restored it.

Spirited Adventures: Skagit Valley in Bloom by Jeff Walter
Each spring, the rich agricultural land of the Skagit Valley in northwest Washington state earns the title of the nation’s tulip capital, as field after field shows off a rich tapestry of multicolored tulips. 

Plus the President General’s Message, Bookshelf and Whatnot

To purchase an issue of American Spirit, contact magazinesubscriptions@dar.org

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To Come in March/April 2019:

Tomatoes in the Colonial Era 

David Hosack: Botanist for the Republic

200th Anniversary of Reconstruction of the U.S. Capitol