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Most Americans associate Lady Liberty with welcoming immigrants, but that's not what she was meant to represent.

This article first appeared on 07.07.20.

If Americans were asked to describe the Statue of Liberty without looking at it, most of us could probably describe her long robe, the crown on her head, a lighted torch in her right hand and a tablet cradled in her left. Some might remember it's inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

But there's a significant detail most of us would miss. It's a feature that points to why Lady Liberty was created and gifted to us in the first place. At her feet, where her robe drapes the ground, lay a broken shackle and chains—a symbol of the abolishment of slavery.


Most people see the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of our welcoming immigrants and mistakenly assume that's what she was meant to represent. Indeed, the opening words of Emma Lazarus's poem engraved on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty—"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"—have long evoked images of immigrants arriving on our shores, seeking a better life in The American Dream.

But that plaque wasn't added to the statue until 1903, nearly two decades after the statue was unveiled. The original inspiration for the monument was emancipation, not immigration.

“The Statue of Liberty we now associate with immigration was a gift from France to commemorate the emancipation of American slaves. Before you lift your eyes to her torch of enlightenment, first pass them over the broken shackle and chains at her feet.”

According to a Washington Post interview with historian Edward Berenson, the concept of Lady Liberty originated when French anti-slavery activist—and huge fan of the United States' Constitution—Édouard de Laboulaye organized a meeting of other French abolitionists in Versailles in June 1865, just a few months after the American Civil War ended. "They talked about the idea of creating some kind of commemorative gift that would recognize the importance of the liberation of the slaves," Berenson said.

Laboulaye enlisted a sculptor, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, to come up with ideas. One of the first models, circa 1870, had Lady Liberty holding the broken shackles and chains in her left hand. In the final iteration, her left hand wrapped around a tablet instead and the anti-slavery symbolism of the shackle and chain was moved to her feet.

Writer Robin Wright pondered in The New Yorker what Laboulaye would think of our country today. The America that is embroiled in yet another civil rights movement because we still can't seem to get the whole "liberty and justice for all" thing down pat. The America that spent the century after slavery enacting laws and policies specifically designed to keep Black Americans down, followed by decades of continued social, economic and political oppression. The America that sometimes does the right thing, but only after tireless activism manages to break through a ton of resistance to changing the racism-infused status quo.

The U.S. has juggled dichotomies and hypocrisies in our national identity from the very beginning. The same founding father who declared "that all men are created equal" enslaved more than 600 human beings in his lifetime. The same people who celebrated religious freedom forced their Christian faith on Native peoples. Our most celebrated history of "liberty" and "freedom" is inseparable from our country's violent subjugation of entire races and ethnicities, and yet we compartmentalize rather than acknowledge that two things can be equally true at the same time.

Every nation on earth has problematic history, but what makes the U.S. different is that our problematic history is also our proudest history. Our nation was founded during the heyday of the transatlantic slave trade on land that was already occupied. The profound and world-changing document on which our government was built is the same document that was used to legally protect and excuse the enslavement of Black people. The house in which the President of the United States sits today was built partially by enslaved people. The deadliest war we've ever fought was over the "right" to enslave Black people.

The truth is that blatant, violent racism was institutionalized from the very beginning of this country. For most of us, that truth has always been treated as a footnote rather than a feature in our history educations. Until we really reckon with the full truth of our history—which it seems like we are finally starting to do—we won't ever get to see the full measure of what our country could be.

In some ways, the evolution of the design of the Statue of Liberty—the moving of the broken shackle and chain from her hands to being half hidden beneath her robe, as well as the movement of our perception of her symbolism from abolition to immigration—is representative of how we've chosen to portray ourselves as a nation. We want people to think: Hey, look at our Declaration of Independence! See how we welcome immigrants! We're so great! (Oh, by the way, hereditary, race-based chattel slavery was a thing for longer than emancipation has been on our soil. And then there was the 100 years of Jim Crow. Not to mention how we've broken every promise made to Native Americans. And honestly, we haven't even been that nice to immigrants either). But look, independence and a nod to immigration! We're so great!

The thing is that we can be so great. The foundation of true liberty and justice for all, even with all its cracks, is still there. The vision in our founding documents was truly revolutionary. We just have to decide to actually build the country we claim to have built—one that truly lives up to the values and ideals it professes for all people.

Where's the freest nation in the world?

This article originally appeared on 11.05.15


Which country best represents the "free world"? That was one question at the heart of a report by a London-based think tank.

Each year, the Legatum Institute ranks countries on their Prosperity Index by measuring performance on eight subindices.



Among their most notable findings for 2015 is a new global leader for personal freedom.

They rate countries' personal freedom according to surveys covering tolerance for immigrant and minority communities, civil liberty and free choice, and citizens' satisfaction with their freedom of choice.

study, research, welfare, health

A mapping out of what creates personal freedoms.

Image by the Legatum Institute.

So which country is our new beacon of freedom?

liberty, happiness, Canada, universal rights

Dancing Canada.

assets.rebelmouse.io

That would be Canada.

The Canucks ascended five places since the previous year to take the #1 seat for personal freedom.

They took the top spot because over 92% of survey respondents said they believe Canada is both welcoming to immigrants and "tolerant" of ethnic minorities, and 94% feel they have the freedom to shape their own futures.

Canada ranks sixth overall for prosperity and holds the second highest rank for education. Their lowest score was in the subindex for entrepreneurship and opportunity, which could change under the leadership of Canada's newly-elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Others in the freedom top 10 include New Zealand, Norway, Luxembourg, Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Uruguay.

What about the United States?

It is the self-proclaimed "land of the free."

America, freedom, countries, rights

All-American Benedict Cumberbatch.

Happy Bbc GIF/Giphy

You're not fooling anyone, Cumberbatch.

The U.S. climbed seven spots from its 2014 rank, just barely squeezing into the 90th percentile for personal freedom at #15. And though it remains the world's richest country, it ranks 11th overall for prosperity.

The U.S. was the subject of another one of Legatum's top-line findings for becoming less safe, sliding down three places to #33 for the safety and security subindex.

The world's highest-ranked country for overall prosperity is Norway. But that's old news. The quasi-socialist Scandinavian state has held the post for the last six years.

Today, the maple leaf is a global symbol of freedom.

Let's let it ring to a tune by one of Canada's most iconic sons, Neil Young:


via Pexels and Pexels

Two women from the Victorian era.

“Spinster” was one of the worst insults a person could hurl at a woman in the Victorian era. Typically, a spinster was a single woman who was childless, unmarried and had few prospects.

Spinsters were the subject of cruel jokes and thought of as sad, lonely women, left on the shelf.

The term spinster dates back to the 1300s and refers to women who spun yarn for a living. This was often the profession of single women because they didn’t have the resources to purchase expensive materials, so they were relegated to spinning wool.

In 1889, the editor of Tit-Bits, a British weekly magazine, asked single women to write in and explain why they aren’t married. The woman with the best response would be featured in the paper and win a prize.

The article was discovered by historian Dr. Bob Nicholson.



The request was a response to an earlier piece the magazine had run asking male readers, “Why are you a bachelor?”

The editor received a ton of letters and they weren’t the cordial responses we’ve come to expect from women of the era. Nope. They were smart, funny and sharp retorts that showed there were a lot of women out there who were single for a reason.

The editor originally only planned to post one response, but instead, he ran 21 responses and gave each one an equal piece of the prize. Each woman earned 5 shillings, which is about $25 today.

Here are 11 of the best responses. The first one is a reference to the tide of American women who flocked to England to marry into the aristocracy in the era.

1. It's the damn Yankees

“Because I am an English lady, and the Americans monopolize the market," — Miss Jessie Davies

2. She's a wild horse

“Like the wild mustang of the prairie that roams unfettered, tossing his head in utter disdain at the approach of the lasso which, if once round his neck, proclaims him captive, so I find it more delightful to tread on the verge of freedom and captivity, than to allow the snarer to cast around me the matrimonial lasso," — Miss Sarah Kennerly

3. She's a self-made woman

“Because I have other professions open to me in which the hours are shorter, the work more agreeable, and the pay possibly higher,” — Miss Florence Watts

4. She's rare china

“Because (like a piece of rare china) I am breakable, and mendable, but difficult to match,” — Miss S.A. Roberts,

5. Only Shakespeare could describe her


“My reason for being a spinster is answered in a quotation from the ‘Taming of the Shrew’: ‘Of all the men alive I never yet beheld that special face which I could fancy more than any other,” — Miss Lizzie Moore

6. Ready for action

“Because I am like the Rifle Volunteers: always ready, but not yet wanted,” — Miss Annie Thompson

7. No need for a beast 

“…I do not care to enlarge my menagerie of pets, and I find the animal man less docile than a dog, less affectionate than a cat, and less amusing than a monkey,” — Miss Sparrow

8. We'll marry when John can afford it


“John, whom I loved, was supplanted in his office by a girl, who is doing the same amount of work he did for half the salary he received. He could not earn sufficient to keep a home, so went abroad; consequently, I am still a spinster,” — Miss E. Jones

9. Men are deceitful

“Because men, like three cornered tarts, are deceitful. They are pleasing to the eye, but on closer acquaintanceship prove hollow and stale, consisting chiefly of puff, with a minimum of sweetness, and an unconquerable propensity to disagree with one,” — Miss Emaline Lawrence

10. There's no way off the marriage toboggan


“Because matrimony is like an electric battery, when you once join hands and can’t let go, however much it hurts; and, as when embarked on a toboggan slide, you must go to the bitter end, however much it bumps,”
— Miss Laura Bax

11. Waitin' fer a dook

“Dear Mister Tit-Bits,-beein a cook with forteen pund 5/10 1/2 savins in the bank i natterally looks down on perlseesmen soljers an setterar, so i ham waiting fur a erle or a dook or sumthin of that sort to perpose fer my and and art, and that’s why i ham a spinster,” — Miss Annie Newton

Photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash

With one turn of the wheel, my dad taught me a lesson about self-care in high school that I'll never forget.

When I was in high school, I woke up one morning feeling overwhelmed. I was an honors student, I was involved in various activities and clubs, and for whatever reason, I felt thoroughly unprepared for the day. I don't recall if I had a test or a presentation or if it was just a normal school day that I couldn't face—I just remember feeling like I'd hit a wall and couldn't make my mental gears turn right.

I usually walked the mile and a half to school, but I was running late so my dad offered to drive me. In the car, I tried to keep it together, but halfway to school, the tears started to fall. My dad looked over and asked if I was OK.

"I don't know," I sobbed. "I feel like … I just … I need a day."

He knew I wasn't sick. He could have told me to tough it out. He could have given me a pep talk. He could have forced me to go. But he didn't do any of those things.

With zero hesitation—and just a simple "OK"—he turned the car around and took me home.


I have no memory of what I did the rest of that day. Three decades later, the only thing that sticks out is the basic-but-profound lesson my dad instilled in me the moment he turned that steering wheel: It's totally OK to take care of yourself.

We talked about it briefly on the way home. As it turned out, he was also taking a "mental health day." My dad was a social worker, and as an adult, I can totally understand why he would need to take a random day off sometimes. But it didn't really matter what he did for a living. Most of us need an occasional mental health day—adults, teens and kids alike.

Some schools have begun incorporating this understanding into their school attendance policies. Utah passed a bill in 2018 that allows a mental health day to count as an excused absence from school. Oregon enacted a similar law in 2019 and Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada and Virginia have followed suit.

“Mental health days are not only good for the practical aspect of giving young people a break," psychologist Caroline Clauss-Ehlers, Ph.D., told Healthline, "but they also validate that the community and society are saying, ‘We understand and we’re supporting you in this way.”

Occupational therapist Shelli Dry concurs, telling Healthline that acceptance of mental health days can help eliminate the stigma that often comes with mental illness.

“For schools to recognize that sometimes it’s better to take a mental health day than push through when you cannot seem to cope, is a tremendous support for students to feel understood and accepted, and [this, in turn, encourages] students to understand and accept themselves more,” she said.

Sometimes we forget how hard it is being a kid. In some ways, I think it's way harder than being an adult. Considering the fact that 1 in 6 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder each year, we need to acknowledge that a lot of kids have days where they're struggling. But even kids who don't deal with mental illness sometimes need a down day. Modern life is busy and complex, no matter our age. Managing it all daily—and then also handling whatever extra stuff life throws at us—is a lot.

Part of good parenting is teaching kids to persevere through challenges, but encouraging perseverance has to be balanced with insight and wisdom. Sometimes kids might cry wolf, but it's important for parents to understand that kids might be dealing with more than we know. Sometimes kids need to be encouraged to dig deep for resilience. Sometimes kids have already been resilient for a long time and need a little time and space to just be.

My dad knew me. He understood that I wasn't just being lazy or trying to get out of doing something hard. He trusted me to know what I needed, which in turn taught me to listen to my inner alarm and trust myself. As a result, I've spent my adult life with a good sense of when I need to push through and when I need to pause and reset—a gift I'm immensely grateful for.

All of that said, this advice does come with a caveat. As a parent of kids who are learning to manage anxiety, mental health days can be a mixed bag. There's a difference between taking a mental health day because you really need it—which happens—and taking a mental health day to avoid facing fears—which also happens. Avoidance feels good in the moment but fuels anxiety in the long run, so parents and kids have to be aware of how the idea can be misused and unintentionally make certain mental health issues worse.

The bottom line, however, is that kids need breaks sometimes. And when you allow them to take an occasional day here and there to breathe, to do some self-care, to reconnect with themselves and reset their mental and emotional barometer, you teach them that their well-being matters. You teach them that it's OK to acknowledge when they've hit a limit and pause to recoup their strength.

It's OK to turn the car around when you know you need to. That's a lesson we all need to learn, and one we need to support with work and school policies in addition to internalizing individually. We're making some good strides toward that goal, and the sooner we all get on the same page, the better everyone's well-being will be.

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