Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rhoda Holmes Nicholls

Self-Portrait, 1880 (oil on canvas)

Born this day in 1854: Rhoda Holmes Nicholls (1854–1930), noted painter and art educator 

Nicholls was born Rhoda Holmes in Conventry, England. She had already gained a name for herself when she married American painter Burr H. Nicholls in 1884. The couple lived in the United States, and Nicholls made quite a name for herself in the art world there as well. She won numerous prizes at various exhibitions, including the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo of 1901. She taught watercolor for many years in New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. She also coedited Palette and Brush and served on the staff of Art Interchange and the Art Amateur.
Nicholls was most noted for her exquisite watercolor work.

A Summer Girl

Watching Baby

Still Life, c. 1900 
Peasant Woman with Pitcher

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Patty Smith Hill

Born this day in 1868: Patty Smith Hill (1868–1946), pioneering educator

Patty Smith Hill, a native of Anchorage, Kentucky, brought a progressive philosophy to kindergarten education. Her approach stressed creative play—deviating from the more rigid Froebel method popular at the time. She engaged both boys and girls in creative play that encouraged them to participate in activities typically reserved for one gender. Hill also promoted nursery school education, helping to organize the National Association for Nursery education in 1925. For 30 years she was a faculty member of Columbia University’s Teachers College and helped found Columbia’s Institute of Child Welfare Research. She developed large colorful blocks, known as “Patty Hill Blocks,” that were widely used for creative play in kindergartens across the nation. Also, she co-wrote, with her sister Mildred Hill, the tune for “Happy Birthday to You.” (They originally wrote the song as a classroom greeting song—“Good Morning to All.”)

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kate Richards O’Hare Cunningham

Born this day in 1877: Kate Richards O’Hare Cunningham (1877–1948), socialist and social reformer

Cunningham was born Kate Richards in Ottawa County, Kansas. She was very briefly a school teacher before apprenticing to the machine shop where her father worked in 1894. She joined the machine shop union, even though it was not in the practice of admitting women. During this time she also engaged in social reform work, supporting temperance and the local Florence Crittendon mission.
Cunningham became disillusioned with social reform work and sought a deeper, structural change in society to prevent social ills. As a result, she became a socialist and one of the leading proselytizers for socialism in the Plains states. It was in this capacity where she met her first husband, fellow socialist Francis Patrick O’Hare. The couple had four children. The O’Hares published a socialist magazine, which ran under various titles over the years.
While campaigning against U.S. entry into World War I, Cunningham was arrested on espionage charges, accused of saying “that the women of the United States were nothing more nor less than brood sows, to raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer”—words she denied. She was sentence to five years in prison. (She was imprisoned alongside anarchist Emma Goldman, who admired Cunningham but found her intimidating.) An amnesty campaign led to a commutation of her sentence and eventually a full pardon by President Coolidge. Upon her release Cunningham worked for the amnesty of other political prisoners and also worked on behalf of Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs.
As the socialist movement declined (and being staunchly opposed to communism), Cunningham turned her attention to prison reform, including the use of prison-contract labor. She was a founding trustee and original faculty member of Commonwealth College, a worker’s school founded by the socialist Llano Co-operative Colony of Louisiana.
Cunningham divorced O’Hare in 1928 and later that year married attorney and mining engineer Charles C. Cunningham. The couple lived in California. Cunningham lectured for Upton Sinclair’s anti-poverty crusade. She was also heavily involved in prison reform.  She was a whirlwind of reform as the assistant director of the California Department of Penology (1939–1940). Among the many reforms she instituted for the state was the establishment of different institutions for different levels of offense. She transformed California’s prison system to one of the most advanced in the country.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Gloria Steinem

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” —Gloria Steinem

Born this day in 1934: GLORIA STEINEM, journalist, author, political activist, organizer, and feminist icon; co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus and Ms. magazine

Steinem was a social activist for many causes before becoming the figurehead of the second wave of feminism. Always a coalition-builder, she has worked to combat sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, pornography, child abuse, and poor working conditions for migrant farmers. She was a founder of New York magazine, Ms. magazine, the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Action Alliance, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. In the 1970s she campaigned across the country for support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Steinem is the author of several books, including a collection of her essays, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983); Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992); Moving Beyond Words (1994); and Doing Sixty and Seventy (2006).
Steinem is the recipient of numerous awards of recognition and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. She continues her work, traveling and speaking in the United States and abroad. Go here for a calendar of her current and upcoming appearances.

Witty and incisive, Steinem is famous for boiling down salient issues into a few choice bon mots. Here’s a sampling:

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.
The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving.
There are really not many jobs that actually require a penis or a vagina, and all other occupations should be open to everyone.
I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.
Most women's magazines simply try to mold women into bigger and better consumers.
Work is valued by the social value of the worker.
The authority of any governing institution must stop at its citizen’s skin.
A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.
No man can call himself liberal, or radical, or even a conservative advocate of fair play, if his work depends in any way on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women at home, or in the office.
But the problem is that when I go around and speak on campuses, I still don't get young men standing up and saying, “How can I combine career and family?”
A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after.
A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.
A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space.
Unless we include a job as part of every citizen's right to autonomy and personal fulfillment, women will continue to be vulnerable to someone else's idea of what need is.
Men should think twice before making widowhood woman’s only path to power.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sarah Elizabeth Doyle

“The women’s sphere is one of infinite and indeterminate radius.” —Sarah Elizabeth Doyle

Born this day in 1830: Sarah Elizabeth Doyle (1830–1922), suffragist and social reformer who co-founded the Rhode Island School of Design and engineered women’s access to Brown University

Doyle was a native of Providence, Rhode Island. After high school she was a popular and by all accounts inspirational teacher. She also served as a principal for many years. Doyle believed deeply in the need to promote women’s advancement. She was a member of the Rhode Island Woman Suffrage Association and lobbied for state suffrage when Rhode Island was drafting a new constitution. She saw not only suffrage but also the organization of women as key to their advancement. She helped found the Rhode Island Women’s Club in 1876 and served as its president until 1884. She also helped found the Rhode Island State Federation of Women’s clubs. She contributed greatly to promoting women’s access to higher education. In 1887 she was instrumental in founding the co-educational Rhode Island School of Design and through her efforts Brown University opened its doors to women in the 1891.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Equal Rights Amendment

On this day in 1972 the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), first introduced to Congress in 1923 (1923!), was submitted to the states for ratification

Today I’m calling out Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia—the 15 states that failed to ratify the ERA by the 1982 deadline.

The full text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
 Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
 Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The biggest opposition to the ERA came in the form of Phyllis Schaffly, who maniacally campaigned against it on the grounds that “[t]he claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century. The truth is that American women never had it so good. Why should we lower ourselves to ‘equal rights’ when we already have the status of special privilege?” Also, fear of unisex bathrooms.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Abortion Speakout

Women rebuffed from speaking at abortion hearings. 
(The New York Times, Friday , February 14, 1969)

On this day in 1969: the Redstockings held an “abortion speakout” to protest restrictive abortion laws

In early 1969 New York state legislators were holding hearings on abortion laws. When the radical feminist group the Redstockings protested that the panel of experts consisted of 14 men and one nun, the hearings were moved behind closed doors. On March 21 the Redstockings began holding a series of abortion speakouts—public consciousness-raising sessions in which women shared their experiences with illegal abortions and giving up children for adoption and their desire to control their own bodies. The action changed the abortion debate from being only about cases of rape, incest, or birth defects to the right of women to control their own bodies.

P.S. This is the panel that testified before Congress in hearings held in 2012 on birth control benefits:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” —Harriet Beecher Stowe

First published in book form this day in 1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stow, arguably the most influential book in American history

Stowe’s wildly popular book (it sold 10,000 copies in the first week alone) whipped up anti-slavery sentiment in the United States. Some even claim it caused the Civil War. In any event, it was deeply influential, bringing to readers a highly personal depiction of slavery and its indignities and horrors. Read it here for free!

Stowe and a scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Edith Nourse Rogers

  “The first 30 years are the hardest.” Edith Nourse Rogers, commenting on her service in Congress

Born this day in 1881: Edith Nourse Rogers (1881–1960), Representative in Congress (R, Mass.) from 1925 to 1960, noted veterans’ advocate and supporter of women’s roles in the military, created both the Women’s Army Corp and the GI Bill of Rights

Rogers was born Edith Nourse in Saco, Maine. She was educated in Lowell, Massachusetts and Paris, France. In 1907 she married John J. Rogers of Lowell. In 1912 Mr. Rogers was elected to Congress, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C.
Rogers volunteer for the Red Cross, serving both oversees and at home. She did extensive work with military hospitals, including conducting field inspections with her husband. President Harding, and later presidents Coolidge and Hoover, appointed her as presidential representative to visit veterans and military hospitals.
In 1924 she served as a presidential elector for Calvin Coolidge and as secretary of the electors of her district she became the first woman to officially deliver the vote.
After her husband’s death in 1925, Rogers was urged by prominent republicans to run for his seat. She won the special election held to finish his term. She was subsequently re-elected for 17 more terms, making her the longest-serving woman in Congress. She was a popular politician, and from 1942 on carried every city and town in her district—garnering between 72 and 100 percent of the votes.
Much of Rogers’s long career was devoted to veterans affairs as well as women in the military and women’s rights (including equal pay). She served on the Committee of Foreign Affairs, the Civil Service Committee, and was ranking Republican on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, serving twice as its chair.
Rogers introduced more than 1,200 bills into Congress. Among her most notable achievements are the creation of the Women’s Army Corps and the drafting of the GI Bill of Rights.
Rogers received many honors and citations, particularly for her work on behalf of veterans. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Marilla Marks Young Ricker

Born this day in 1840: Marilla Marks Young Ricker (1840–1920), lawyer, “the prisoner’s friend,” free-thinker, and suffragist

Ricker was born Marilla Marks Young in New Durham, New Hampshire. Her father was a free-thinker and supporter of equal rights for women. He educated her in politics and philosophy and taught her to follow her own convictions.
She became a school teacher at age 16. In 1863 she married John Ricker, a wealthy farmer and supporter of equal rights who was many years her senior. Mr. Ricker died just five years into the marriage.
Now a wealthy widow, Ricker went abroad, studying languages and developing a fluency in German. While overseas she continued to explore free thought, political equality, and birth control.
Upon returning home she took up the study of law, seeing it as a tool to help society’s disadvantaged. In 1882 she was admitted to the bar of the supreme court of the District of Columbia—outranking the 18 men with whom she took the exam. In her practice she offered her services to disadvantaged and destitute prisoners and successfully challenged the “poor convict” laws that kept debtors imprisoned indefinitely. In addition to legal aid, she offered material and financial aid to the District’s  prisoners and prostitutes. She was often referred to in the press as “the Prisoner’s Friend.”
In 1890 Ricker successfully petitioned New Hampshire (her home state, where she spent her summers) to admit women to the bar. She became the first woman admitted to the bar in New Hampshire. She also became the first woman to attempt to run for governor of that state in 1910, but her application was refused on grounds that without the right to vote, she did not have the right to run for office. A lifelong suffragist, Ricker protested her lack of representation every time she paid her taxes. She voted in 1871, in the town of Dover, declaring
“I come before you to declare that my sex is entitled to the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...I ask the right to pursue happiness by having a voice in that government to which I am accountable.”
Although her ballot was refused, she may have been the first woman to vote, however unsuccessfully, in  the U.S.
Ricker was a member of the Woman Suffrage Association, the New Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association, and was vice-president-at-large of the National Legislative League.
Ricker also authored several books on free thought, including The Four Gospels (1911), I Don’t Know, Do You? (1915), and I Am Not Afraid, Are You? (1917).
In honor of Ricker’s trailblazing efforts for women and in recognition that New Hampshire has the first all-woman delegation to the U.S. Congress, the New Hampshire state legislature has introduced a joint resolution to direct the joint legislative historical committee to acquire a portrait of Ricker and display it in a place of honor in the state house complex.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Martha Platt Falconer

Born this day in 1862: Martha Platt Falconer (1862–1941), social worker and reformer noted for revolutionizing correctional programs for delinquent girls.

Falconer was born Martha Platt in Delaware, Ohio. After the death of her mother in 1877 she lived for a time in Philadelphia with one sister and then in Kansas with another. The independence of frontier women made a lasting imprssion on Falconer, who then took up the cause of suffrage and devoted her career to women’s needs.
In 1885 she married Cyrus Falconer, a Santa Fe Railroad employee. The couple had three children. In 1888 they moved to Chicago, where Falconer became active in civic work and social reform.
Falconer served as one of Cook County’s first juvenile probation officers. She later worked for the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society, both in the field and as assistant superintendant. In 1906 parlayed this combination of direct care and executive experience to serve as superintendent of the girls division of Philadelphia’s House of Refuge.
In this position she created a model for transforming institutions for delinquent, displaced, and homeless young women, which were virtual prisons, to institutions base on rehabilitation and that focused on teaching responsibility and self-reliance.
During World War I she took a leave of absence from the House of Refuge to work with delinquent girls who prostituted themselves to military training camps, establishing programs that served as models for similar ones established during World War II.
After resigning from the House of Refuge in 1919 Falconer held several positions at reform institutions in New York, and after she retired she was appointed as a delegate to the International Conference of Social Work in Paris. She traveled often, both at home and abroad, to serve as a consultant to various institutions for delinquent girls and women.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Jean Rosenthal

Born this day in 1912: Jean Rosenthal (1912–1969), innovator who revolutionized theatrical lighting design

Rosenthal’s interest in theatre and lighting design were inspired by the work of Martha Graham. During her career Rosenthal worked with not only Graham, but also Gian Carlo Menotti John Houseman, and Orson Wells, and on many Broadway musicals, operas, and ballets—creating lighting design for more than 300 productions. Working with Graham, however, gave her the greatest opportunity for creativity and her greatest joy. Rosenthal described her use of light as giving performers a “jewel-like” quality. “Light is quite tactile to me. It has shape and dimension.” Her work created the art of lighting design, which had up until her innovations had been stale formulas for indicating day, night, cheerful, and serious.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Wilma Vaught

“What I wanted to be when I grew up was—in charge.” 
— Brigadier General Wilma Vaught (ret.)

Born this day in 1930: Wilma Vaught (b. 1930), U.S. Air Force brigadier general

To pursue her ambition to lead, Vaught joined the Air Force. The military, however, wanted her to learn how to put on lipstick and how to sit like a lady. They refused even to teach her how to fire a gun. The pressures of the Vietnam War, however, eventually caused the government to lift many of the restrictions on military women. By the time she retired in 1985 she had achieved the rank of brigadier general.
Vaught earned a B.S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana, an M.B.A. from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and was a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
In 1957 she was commissioned a second lieutenant  and was assigned to the 908th Air Base Group as chief of the Data Services Branch. She also commanded the Women in the Air Force Squadron Section. Over her long career as a comptroller, served both at home and overseas, she rose through the ranks—as laws restricting women’s advancement in the military were lifted. In 1980 she reached the rank of brigadier general, becoming the first woman in the comptroller career field to reach that rank. She also earned numerous medals and other distinctions, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon with oak leaf cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four service stars, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with palm and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. She has also been honored many times as a key role model and trail blazer for women. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

Postscript: Vaught was instrumental in establishing the Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation and serves as its president. You can read more about the Women’s Memorial—the 4.2-acre Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery—here. (Don’t bother looking for information on Arlington National Cemetery’s website: they don’t have any.)

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lucy Hobbs Taylor

Born this day in 1833: Lucy Hobbs Taylor (1833–1910), first woman dentist in the United States

Taylor was born Lucy Beaman Hobbs in western New York state. After graduating from a New York boarding academy, she taught school in Brooklyn, Michigan, and began informally studying medicine with a local physician. She then moved to  Ohio in order to pursue a degree in medicine at Ohio’s Eclectic College of Medicine. The school, however, refused to admit her because—say it with me, people—she was a woman. Instead, she studied privately under one of the school’s professors. After settling on a career in dentistry she then studied dentistry privately under the dean of Ohio College of Dental Surgery (because the school blah blah and so on) and apprenticed herself to one of the school’s graduates.

Taylor opened her own practice in 1861  (at that time medical degrees were not required to practice dentistry). In 1865 she was elected to membership in the Iowa State Dental Society and was a delegate to the American Dental Association that same year. The Ohio College of Dental Surgery finally admitted her later that year and she graduated a few months later. She went on to teach her husband how to be a dentist, and together they operated a popular practice in Lawrence, Kansas. Taylor is also remembered for being supporter of women’s rights and for her work with numerous charitable organizations.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Janet Flanner

Born this day in 1892: JANET FLANNER, (1892–1978), longtime The New Yorker magazine columnist and Paris correspondent known for her witty and sophisticated “Letter from Paris” pieces (writing under the pseudonym GenĂȘt) and for her insightful contributions to the magazine’s “Profile” series.

Here’s an excerpt from her profile of Adolph Hitler (March 14, 1936):

“Lacking the cerebral faculty of creating new public ideologies, as a fanatic [Hitler] has developed his unusual capacity for adapting those of others. Being self-taught, his mental processes are mysterious; he is missionary-minded; his thinking is emotional, his conclusions material. He has been studious with strange results: he says he regards liberalism as a form of tyranny, hatred and attack as part of man’s civic virtues, and equality of men as immoral and against nature. Since he is a concentrated, introspective dogmatist, he is uninformed by exterior criticism. On the other hand, he is a natural and masterly advertiser, a phenomenal propagandist within his limits, the greatest mob orator in German annals, and one of the most inventive organizers in European history. He believes in intolerance as a pragmatic principle. He accepts violence as a detail of state, he says mercy is not his affair with men, yet he is kind to dumb animals…. His moods change often, his opinions never. Since the age of twenty, they have been mainly anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, anti-suffrage, and Pan-German. He has a fine library of six thousand volumes, yet he never reads; books would do him no good—his mind is made up.”

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jane Delano

Born this day in 1862: Jane A. Delano (1862–1919), founder of the American Red Cross Nursing Service

Delano, an educator and administrator of formidable skills, made her greatest contribution by transforming the Red Cross Nursing Service into a reserve for the Army Nurses Corps. Through her efforts, 8,000 well-trained, professional nurses were available for mobilization at the outset of World War I. In addition, Delano mobilized an additional 20,000 nurses and other aid workers to serve the war effort overseas. She also served as the director of the Red Cross’s Department of Nursing, overseeing efforts to cope with the influenza epidemic of 1918. She died during wartime service and was posthumously awarded distinguished service medals from the Red Cross and the U.S. Army. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1982.

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