Monday, December 31, 2012

Selma Burke

Born this day in 1900: Selma Burke (1900–1995), sculptor

Burke was born in Moorseville, North Carolina. Her father encouraged her early interest in art, but her mother encouraged her to become a nurse. Burke graduated from the Slater Industrial and State Normal School (later Winston-Salem State University) and then earned an RN from the Saint Agnes Training School for Nurses in 1924.
Beginning in the late 1920s Burke worked as a private nurse to Amelia Waring, a wealthy heiress. This relationship gave Burke access to New York society and arts culture. After Waring’s death, Burke abandoned her nursing career for a career in art. She was awarded scholarships that allowed her to study both at home and abroad. She studied at Sarah Lawrence College, in Europe, and at Columbia University, where she earned a MA of fine arts in 1941. She also had her fist solo exhibition that same year. 
Bronze plaque of FDR
In 1943 she won a competition to create a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The relief she created formed the basis for the Roosevelt dime, making her the first African American sculptor to design a U.S. coin. She made portraits of other prominent Americans as well, including such figures as Mary McLeod Bethune and Booker T. Washington. She completed more than 20 commissioned works in bronze and wood, and her work appeared in more than 25 shows. Her last monumental work was a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. that stands in Charlotte’s Marshall Park, completed when Burke was 80 years old. Burke’s work was recognized nationwide. She was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees during her lifetime.
The artist at work.
Her dedication to art including the teaching of art. In the 1940s she was a Works Progress Administration art instructor and taught art at the Harlem Community Art Center under the sculptor August Savage. She went on to teach at many institutions, including Swarthmore College, Livingston College, the A. W. Mellon Foundation, and Harvard University. She also founded two art schools. In 1940 she founded the Selma Burke school of Sculpture in New York. In 1968 she established the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh. Burke especially enjoyed bringing children into the art world and for 17 years taught art in Pittsburgh public schools. In her later years she returned to school as a student, as well, earning a  PhD from Livingstone College in 1970. 

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Margaret Wade

Born this day in 1912: Margaret Wade (1912–1995), “mother of modern women’s college basketball”

Lily Margaret Wade played basketball as a girl in her native Mississippi. She joined her high school team in 1927, where she excelled at the sport.
In 1929 she began attending Delta State Teachers College, studying health and physical education and playing basketball. She made the all-conference teams each of the three years she played, was squad captain during her sophomore and junior years, and was named MVP her junior year. Before her senior year, however, Delta State jettisoned its women’s basketball program. It caved into criticism that the sport was too strenuous and too unladylike for women. Wade recalled,
“We really didn’t have a choice, and it was especially tough on me since I had another year remaining. Administration thought the game was too tough for young ladies, so we burned our uniforms.” 
Delta State did not reinstitute the program until 1973, whereupon Wade, by now 60 years old, agreed to be coach.
In the intervening years Wade had already proved herself an able coach. After graduating from Delta State in 1933 she played semi-professionally until a severe knee injury ended her playing career in 1935. She began coaching high-school basketball and track-and-field in Mississippi. She produced champion-level teams in both sports. In 1959 she joined Delta State as an assistant professor and chair of the Women's Physical Education Department.
As coach for Delta State, Wade led the new Lady Statesmen to win 16 out of 18 games and the state championship their first year playing in 41 years. Between 1975 and 1977 the Lady Statesmen won 93 out of 97 games and three consecutive Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national championships. Wade’s success with Delta State brought women’s basketball to the national spotlight.
Wade retired from coaching after the 1978-1979 season, but taught basketball coaching classes until her retirement in 1982. She also co-authored, (with Delta’s men’s basketball coach, Mel Hankinson) Basketball (1980), a book on coaching techniques.
The Wade Trophy was established in 1978 to honor Wade's role in women’s basketball. It is presented annually to the best college-level women’s basketball player in the nation. This prestigious award is considered basketball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Wade has also been honored by being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Delta State Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Coaches Hall of Fame, and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. She was also the first woman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thea Bowman

Sister Thea swapped out her habit for a dashiki
and head wrap.

Born this day in 1937: Thea Bowman (1937–1990), first African American member the of Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and nun who helped bridge the gap between white Catholicism and African Americans

Thea Bowman was born Bertha J. Bowman and grew up in Canton, Mississippi. She was the daughter of a medical doctor, Theon Edward Bowman, and a music teacher, Mary Esther Coleman (and the granddaughter of slaves). Her parents were a great influence on her. So too were the “old folks” of her community, who kept alive African American folk traditions in both story and song.
Bowman was baptized as an Episcopalian and attended various Protestant churches. In the 1940s she became acquainted with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a group of white nuns from Wisconsin, who crossed the color lines of Canton to teach black children at the Holy Child Jesus School. At the young age of 10, Bowman decided to become Catholic, and her parents allowed her to attend the mission school. By age 12 Bowman knew she wanted to become a nun. She traveled to Wisconsin in 1953 to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at the St. Rose Convent in La Crosse. She took her vows and the name Thea (“of god”) in 1956.
In 1965 Bowman graduated magna cum laude with an English degree from Viterbo College (the order’s school). In 1969 she earned an MA in English from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and in 1972 earned a PhD in language, literature, and linguistics. She then began to study African American music and literary traditions.
Bowman taught at Viterbo College, serving as chair of the English department and director of the Hallelujah Singers, and gave workshops and presentations at other schools, workshops, conferences, and churches. She wove together Catholic teachings and practices and African American cultural and religious traditions and styles. She became well-known for her gospel singing. She also served as director of intercultural awareness for the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi.
Through her work she brought the Catholic Church into the African American community. At the same time, she advocated for greater presence of African Americans within the Church structure and thought. During her career she helped found the First National Black Sisters Conference, the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, and the National Black Catholic Congress. She even wrote a Catholic hymnal for churches in African American communities. In addition to advancing African American participation in the Church, she advocated for a stronger role for women as well.
By all accounts Bowman was a dynamic, mesmerizing, inspiring speaker, singer, and role model. She was the recipient of numerous honors during her lifetime and was posthumously awarded the Laetare Medal from Notre Dame University.  

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Catharine Sedgwick

Born this day in 1789: Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1789–1867), popular writer in the early American tradition

A native of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Sedgwick received a sporadic but good education, both at home and away. At one time her name was uttered in the same breath as that of James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving as writers who invented American literature. Sedgwick wrote historical novels, romances, and tales of moral instruction. Her best and best-known novel is Hope Leslie (1827), a story set in New England about conflicts between Puritan settlers and the local native population. Instead of showing the noble white pitted against the base savage, or the white woman as victim to rapacious Indians, the novel was sympathetic to the injustices done to the Pequots and featured women as heroes. It also boldly portrays romance and marriage between a white settler woman and a Pequot man.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Meg Greenfield

Born this day in 1930: Mary Ellen (Meg) Greenfield (1930–1999), influential, Pulitzer Prize winning editorial-page editor of the Washington Post

Known for her disciplined intellect, wry writing style, and informed insight, Meg Greenfield was considered by many to one of the most influential women in Washington during the 1980s and 199os.
Greenfield began working at the Washington Post as an editorial writer in 1968. The following year she was named deputy editor of the editorial page. She was admired for her rigorous ethics and for demanding high standards from her editorial staff. In 1974 she also began writing a weekly column for Newsweek magazine. In 1978 she won a Pulitzer Prize for her editorial writing. The following year she became the Post’s editorial-page editor, a position she held until her death in 1999. Her memoirs were published posthumously in 2001.
Greenfield held a B.A. from Smith College (1952), was a Fulbright scholar (1953), and was the recipient of several honorary degrees.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Susan Butcher

Born this day in 1954: Susan Butcher (1954–2006), sled-dog racing champion

Susan Butcher, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, began training dogs at age 16. In 1975 she moved to Alaska and established her own kennel.
For more than a decade she dominated the sport of sled-dog racing, a physically grueling sport typically dominated by men. She is the only racer to win three consecutive Iditarods (1986, 1987, 1988). The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race is the sports longest and most difficult sled-dog race, ranging 1,152 miles through the Alaska wilderness. Butcher won the race a fourth time in 1990. She finished in the top five in 12 out of 17 Iditarod. She also once drove a team of huskies to the top of Moot McKinley (a.k.a. Mount Denali), the highest peak in North America.
Her achievements in the sport extend beyond the racing trails. She is lauded for revolutionizing the way sled-dogs are raised, trained, and treated.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Martha Coffin Pelham Wright

Born this day in 1806: Martha Coffin Pelham Wright (1806–1875), founding feminist, abolitionist

Martha Coffin Wright was the sister of Lucretia Coffin Mott. Like her sister, she was both an abolitionist and suffragist. She was part of the group of women’s rights activists, including Lucretia and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who planned the first women’s rights convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. She was active in women’s rights organizations at both the state and national level. She served as secretary of the 1852 and 1856 National Women’s Rights Conventions, an officer at the 1853 and 1854 National Women’s Rights Conventions, and president of three other conventions. She also helped found the American Equal Rights Association in 1866 and the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869. She was president of the NWSA in 1874.
Wright and her husband, David Wright, were both active in the American Anti-Slavery Society. They were agents in the Underground Railroad and harbored fugitives in their Auburn, New York, home. 
Wright was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Elizabeth Chandler

[I]t is impossible that it can be improper for us to solicit for another, what under the same circumstances it would be right to seek for ourselves. In fact, if we confine our views to the female slaves, it is a restitution of our own rights for which we ask: — their cause is our cause—they are one with us in sex and nature—a portion of ourselves; and only deprived by injustice of the immunities which we enjoy. Therefore as they cannot protect themselves, it becomes an imperative duty to claim for them the respect due to the female character, and we should feel her indignity as painfully as though nature had placed no distinguishing mark of colour between us.
 —Elizabeth Chandler

Born this day in 1807: Elizabeth Chandler (1807–1834), abolitionist who used poetry and essays to draw people, especially women, into the anti-slavery cause

Elizabeth Chandler was born in Delaware, but raised in Philadelphia, mostly by her grandmother after being orphaned at age 8. She was raised as a Quaker and became an active abolitionist and writer at a young age.
In 1826  she won a prize from her local newspaper for her anti-slavery poem “The Slave-Ship.” Hew work caught the eye of abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, who editied the Genius of Universal Emancipation. He reprinted the poem and began regularly publishing her work. In 1829 he asked Chandler to join the paper and edit its “Ladies Repository.” Chandler contributed many of the essays and poetry that appeared in the section. She urged women to take a more active role in the abolitionist movement and to feel a kinship with enslaved women. She promoted the Free Produce movement, boycotting goods producted by slave labor, such as molassas, cotton, rice, and tea. This was one way, she felt, that women could weild their influence.
“You may altogether avoid lending your support to the slave system, by refusing to be benefited by its advantages; and you can aid its extinction, by giving on every occasion the preference to the products of free labor.…[W]ill you not stand boldly and nobly forth, in the face of the world, and declare that American women will never be tamely made the instruments of oppression?”
Women, she believed, should use their position as mothers to teach their families the wrongs of slavery. She also pushed back against those who criticized women’s role in the movement by responding that slavery was as much a moral as a political, issue and therefore most definitely in the woman’s sphere.
Her poems and essays were widely reprinting, making her influential in drawing people into the abolitionist cause, especially women. Several of her poems were set to music and became hymns for the cause and played regularly during anti-slavery meetings.
In 1830 she moved with a brother and an aunt to Michigan. There Chandler founded Michigan’s first anti-slavery society in 1932. It became a way station to Canada on the Underground Rail Road. Chandler died of a fever just two years later at age 28. Her collected poems were published in two volumes in 1836 (The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler: With a Memoir of Her Life and Character and Essays, Philanthropic and Moral). Proceeds of the sale of her works were used to further the abolitionist cause.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sarah Breedlove Walker, a.k.a. Madame C. J. Walker

“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”
—Sarah Breedlove Walker

Born this day in 1867: Sarah Breedlove Walker, a.k.a. Madame C. J. Walker (1867–1919), business woman, philanthropist, first African American woman millionaire

Sarah Breedlove was born the daughter of sharecroppers in Louisiana and was orphaned by age six. She was married at age 14, widowed by age 20. For 18 years she raised her daughter, A’Lelia, by herself. Breedlove worked as a washerwoman and studied at night. After years of experimenting, she developed a hairstyling product for African American women and began selling it locally.
In 1906 she moved to Colorado and married newspaperman Charles J. Walker. In Colorado she set up a successful mail order business to sell the “Walker Method.”
Her business grew and she hired women as agents to sell her product door-to-door. She rebranded herself as Madame C.J. Walker and moved her company headquarters to Indianappolis in 1910. At the height of its success the Madame C.J. Walker Company employed 3,ooo agents in the U.S. and throughout the Caribbean. Walker carefully trained her agents to use and sell her products (a range of products and appliances) and aggressively promoted her products through advertising and personal tours.
Between her successful business and shrewd real estate investments, Walker amassed a fortune. She became a very generous philanthropist. Among her causes were education, anti-lynching campaigns, homes for the aged, and the NAACP. She even encouraged her agents to engage in philanthropy, giving out cash prizes to the Walker agent social clubs that performed the most community work.
Walker established a trust fund to support her favorite causes and left the bulk of her state to A’Leila, including her business (in which A’Leila had played an active part). A’Leila (A’Leila Walker Kennedy) went on to be an important founder of the Harlem Renaissance.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hanna Jensen Kempfer

 “A child should not be punished for what is no fault of his own. I want to do all I can to improve the lot of these poor children because I am one of them. I am an illegitimate child. I know what it means.”
—Hanna Jensen Kempfer  

Born this day in 1880: Hanna Jensen Kempfer (1880–1943), popular legislator who served in the Minnesota state house of representatives for nearly 20 years

Kempfer was born at sea, the North Sea to be exact, under the British flag. She was the daughter of an unknown ship stewardess and sailor. The baby was abandoned in a Norwegian port and placed in an orphanage. She was adopted the following March by a Norwegian couple, Martha and Ole Jensen. The family moved to the United States in 1886. By that time the Jensens also had a four-year-old son, named John.
The family settled in Minnesota, squatting on railroad land. They remained poor, living in a small log cabin with a sod roof. From a young age Hanna worked many jobs, earning enough money to be able to get some schooling and pass a teacher’s exam.
She began teaching in Friberg Township, Ottertail County, at age 17. The students loved her, especially because she made them a hot lunch daily. She never forgot her own hardships and always tried to help others avoid the suffering she endured.
Kemfer was a natural community organizer and leader. She organized church socials, quilting bees, storm relief, and farm improvement clubs, and led township meetings. In 1903 she married a farmer named Charles Taylor Kemfer. The couple had no children, but opened their home to many in the community, especially orphans.
In 1922 the members of the community convinced her to run for representative in the state house. Running as an independent she was elected with a large number of votes. (She was also one of the first four women to serve in the Minnesota Legislature.) She served from 1923 to 1941, with only one defeat, in 1930. Her main focus was the environment and social welfare—especially that of women, children, and the disabled. She pushed for fishing licencing, the proceeds of which paid for stocking lakes and other fish management. She introduced legislation to protect the state flower, the Showy Lady’s Slipper. She also procured a ban on certain steel animal traps, described as cruel, on public lands. She fought for the welfare and status of illegitimate children, drawing upon her own experiences as well as making frequent visits to the state’s welfare institutions. She pushed for a law (finally adopted in 1927) that would give illegitimate children the same status as children born in wedlock and entitling them to their father’s surnames. Any men who opposed the measure, she said, were the “Tome-cats of the species.”
Kempfer was known for her take-no-prisoners passion in the legislature. Her collegues described her as “completely fearless,” outspoken, and uncompromisingly honest. She retired from politics in 1941 and died two years later after a fall.

 I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Phillis Wheatley

On this day in 1767: Phillis Wheatley’s first published poem appeared in print

Phillis Wheatley, a 13-year-old enslaved African girl, had the first of her many poems published on December 21, 1767.  "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin" was printed in the Rhode Island Newport Mercury.
History does not know the real name of the girl kidnapped from Senegal (it is believed) when she was 7 or 8 years old. Phillis is the name of the slave ship that brought her to Boston. Wheatley is the name of the man who purchased her for his wife. The Wheatleys taught Phillis to read and write, unusual for slave holders. They recognized her talents enough to provide her with additional learning and encouraged her writing. Mrs. Wheatley, especially, championed Phillis Wheatley’s poetry, if not her freedom. Wheatley earned widespread recognition with An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine…George Whitefield. Although recognized for her poetry and finally manumitted in 1773 after the death of Mr. Wheatley and toward the end of Mrs. Wheatley’s life, Phillis Wheatley died in poverty. In addition to her poetry, she is remembered for her opposition to slavery on the grounds—and as living proof—that Africans were not an inferior race.
Here is the poem, which she wrote after hearing an account to of the two men’s harrowing adventure.

On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin
by Phillis Wheatley

Did Fear and Danger so perplex your Mind,
As made you fearful of the Whistling Wind?
Was it not Boreas knit his angry Brow
Against you? or did Consideration bow?
To lend you Aid, did not his Winds combine?
To stop your passage with a churlish Line,
Did haughty Eolus with Contempt look down
With Aspect windy, and a study'd Frown?
Regard them not; — the Great Supreme, the Wise,
Intends for something hidden from our Eyes.
Suppose the groundless Gulph had snatch'd away
Hussey and Coffin to the raging Sea;
Where wou'd they go? where wou'd be their Abode?
With the supreme and independent God,
Or made their Beds down in the Shades below,
Where neither Pleasure nor Content can flow.
To Heaven their Souls with eager Raptures soar,
Enjoy the Bliss of him they wou'd adore.
Had the soft gliding Streams of Grace been near,
Some favourite Hope their fainting hearts to cheer,
Doubtless the Fear of Danger far had fled:
No more repeated Victory crown their Heads.
  Had I the Tongue of a Seraphim, how would I exalt thy Praise; thy Name as Incense to the Heavens should fly, and the Remembrance of thy Goodness to the shoreless Ocean of Beatitude! — Then should the Earth glow with seraphick Ardour.
 Blest Soul, which sees the Day while Light doth shine,
To guide his Steps to trace the Mark divine.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lydia Sayer Hasbrouk

Born this day in 1827: Lydia Sayer Hasbrouk (1827–1910), writer, feminist, and proponent of dress reform

Lydia Sayer was born in 1827 in Warwick, New York. In 1849 he began wearing what later became known as “bloomers”—a knee-length skirt paired with a pair of pantaloons (or “Turkish trousers”). She wore them for practical reasons, but when her style of dress kept her from being admitted to the Seward Seminary (Florida, New York), she began wearing them as a matter of principle as well.
In 1856 she began editing The Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors and Fashions of Society, a feminist periodical established by her future husband, John Whitbeck Hasbrouck, editor of the Whig Press (Middletown, New York). She married John that same year. The couple had three children.
Hasbrouck opposed slavery and embraced many feminist causes. She was a proponent of medical training and education for women. She believed in property rights for women, equal pay, and suffrage—even refusing to pay taxes on the grounds that she could not vote for representation. The cause she most championed in The Sibyl, however, was dress reform. She was also president of the National Dress Reform Association, 1863–1864. Many other feminists, including Amelia Bloomer, whose name is inextricably linked with the trousers (she vigorously defended them, though did not invent them), gave up the cause of dress reform: the outfits engendered so much ridicule that they distracted the public from the more urgent needs of women’s movement.

For a description of the layers and layers of skirting and undergarments women typically wore in the mid-19th century, go here. This hoop frame is the least of it!

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jane Cunningham Croly

“The somewhat churlish treatment accorded to Mrs. Croly’s application for a ticket, and, subsequently, to other ladies who applied for an extension of the same privilege upon the same terms as men, suggested to Mrs. Croly the idea of a club composed of women only, that should manage its own affairs, represent as far as possible the active interests of women, and create a bond of fellowship between them.”
— Jane Cunningham Croly, A History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America

Born this day in 1829: Jane Cunningham Croly (1829–1901), journalist, feminist, pioneer of the woman’s club movement

Jane Cunningham Croly was born Jane Cunningham in Leicestershire, England, and grew up in New York state. In 1855 she moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism. She began writing a weekly column in the Sunday Times and Noah’s Weekly Messenger. “Parlor and Side-walk Gossip” was one of the earliest instances of a woman’s department in a city newspaper. It also became what is believed the first syndicated column authored by a woman. She wrote for several other publications as well. As was the standard for women writers, she wrote under a pseudonym, “Jennie June.”
In 1856 she married fellow journalist David Goodman Croly. The couple would have four children, one of whom died in infancy. In 1860 both began working for the New York World. Croly managed the World’s women’s department from 1862 to 1872. She also wrote for the Weekly Times, and for 27 years was the chief staff writer for Mme. Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions (later Demorest’s Monthly Magazine). She also created the first newspaper shopping guide. She wrote for many other publications as well, including Godey’s Lady’s Book and The New York Times.
Although much of her writing was about fashion, she poked fun at the confining clothing of the day (as well as the more extreme fashion reforms). She devoted much of her writing to the improvement of women’s standing in society. She urged middle class women, who were freed from the more burdensome household duties, not to waste their minds on trivialities. She believed deeply that the key to women’s emancipation was financial independence and economic equality—gained through equal opportunity for employment. She believed that all other freedoms would follow, including the right to vote. She insisted that women, if they wanted equal outcomes, should put equal effort into their endeavors.
In 1868, the New York Press Club held a reception honoring Charles Dickens—and did not allow women to attend. Croly was incensed. In response she created a professional women’s association called Sorosis—the first major woman’s club in the nation.
She threw herself into the woman’s club movement. She held a national convention of woman’s clubs in 1889. It brought together representatives from more than 60 woman’s clubs to help organize their social reform efforts. The convention led to the creation of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Croly wrote a history of the movement, The History of the Woman’s Club Movement in America (1,170 pages long!), published in 1898. She also founded, in 1889, the Women’s Press Club of New York. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

Other books by Croly include Jennie Jungian: Talks on Women’s Topics, 1869; For Better or Worse, 1875; Cookery Book for Young Beginners, 1866. See also this tribute to Croly, Memories of Jane Cunningham Croly, “Jenny June,” by the Women’s Press Club of New York City.

I welcome your feedback! React, comment, subscribe below.