Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shirley Babashoff

Babashoff after setting a world record in the 800-meter
 freestyle at the 1976 Olympic trials. 

Born this day in 1957: Shirley Babashoff (b. 1957), one of the greatest freestyle swimmers of all time

Babashoff is widely regarded as one of the greatest freestyle swimmers of all time. She set six world records and earned a total of eight individual Olympic medals (one gold and two silvers in 1972; one gold and four silvers in 1976). At the 1976 Olympics Babashoff spoke out about the East German team’s use of performance-enhancing drugs and she was unfairly pilloried in the press as a bad sport. Three decades later, German officials admitted to systematically doping (without their knowledge) the East German team members from 1973 to 1989. She also set a total of 37 U.S. records, 17 in individual events and 20 in relay.
Babashoff was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1982 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1987.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Barbara Tuchman

“Honor wears different coats to different eyes.”
 —Barbara Tuchman

Born this day in 1912: Barbara Tuchman (1912–1989), Pulitzer Prize–winning historian

With a strong narrative style, carefully researched details, and a keen understanding of complex historical issues, Tuchman brought history to life. She is most famous for The Guns of August, the book than earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 1963. She won a second Pulitzer for Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911–1945 in 1971.

Additional works include:
  • The Lost British Policy, 1938
  • Bible and Sword, 1956
  • The Zimmerman Telegram, 1958
  • The Proud Tower, 1966
  • Notes from China, 1972
  • A Distant Mirror, 1978
  • Practising History, 1981
  • The March of Folly, 1984
  • The First Salute, 1988

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

“We sought justice because equal pay for equal work is an American value.” —Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter

Signed into law this day in 2009: The LILLY LEDBETTER FAIR PAY ACT, which reaffirms the right of any victim of pay discrimination to challenge any discriminatory paycheck he or she receives, including cases of discrimination based on sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age or disability.

Shortly before she retired from Goodyear, Lilly Ledbetter learned that for nearly two decades she had been making less money than her male counterparts. Although she initially won her lawsuit against Goodyear, the Supreme Court ruled that the company did not owe her anything because more than 180 days had passed since Goodyear first decided to discriminate against her. This ruling profoundly weakened the effectiveness of the Equal Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. The Lilly Ledbetter law acknowledges that each paycheck is a new incident of discrimination, effectively restoring the ability of people to challenge pay discrimination. Ledbetter worked for 10 years to see the new law into place. She herself, however, will receive no compensation from Goodyear. “Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of,” she said. “In fact, I will never see a cent. But with the president’s signature today I have an even richer reward.”
Obama said as he signed the act into law,
“Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job—and she did it well—for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits—losses that she still feels today.

“Now, Lilly could have accepted her lot and moved on.… [b]ut instead, she decided that there was a principle at stake, something worth fighting for. So she set out on a journey that would take more than 10 years, take her all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and lead to this day and this bill which will help others get the justice she was denied.”

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Hannah Bachman Einstein

New York City street children, c. 1908

Born this day in 1862: Hannah Bachman Einstein (1862–1929), champion of working mothers, widows, and children whose advocacy led to the establishment of municipal, state, and national boards and associations for child welfare.

Einstein was born Hannah Bachman to German Jewish immigrants in  New York City. She married manufacturer William Einstein in 1881. The couple had two children.
Einstein became deeply involved with Jewish charities. In 1896 she became a trustee of the United Hebrew Charities of New York, in 1897 she was named president of the Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood, and in 1899 was named president of the New York Federation of Sisterhoods.
Soon Einstein realized that the needs of the poor were beyond the scope of private charities. To further her understanding of social welfare problems and solutions she took courses at Columbia University and the New York School of Philanthropy. Einstein took a special interest in widowed women and their children. She firmly believed that children belonged with their mothers, but at that time, children of  widows  often ended up institutionalized. Einstein argued that widowed women should receive government “pensions”—which would free them to raise their own children.
Through Einstein’s sustained efforts, New York passed the Child Welfare Law of 1915. The law established local child welfare boards to oversee public aid to widows and their children. Einstein served as chair of New York City’s board from its establishment in 1915 until her death in 1929. New York served as model for similar boards throughout the nation. Einstein became head of the New York State Association of Child Welfare Boards and founded the National Union of Public Child Welfare Officers. Within 5 years nearly every state had established public child welfare.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Leontyne Price

“The way I was taught, being black was a plus, always. Being a human being, being in America, and being black, all three were the greatest things that could happen to you. The combination was unbeatable.” —Leontyne Price

Price in Porgy and Bess, 1953.
On this day in 1961, soprano LEONTYNE PRICE (b. February 10, 1927) debuted at the Met, becoming the first African American to open a season at the Metropolitan Opera. “It was the first operatic mountain I climbed, and the view from it was astounding, exhilarating, stupefying,” she reported. Price received a 42-minute ovation—one of the longest in Met history. She was also the first African American opera singer on television and the first African American prima donna. Her extraordinary talent has won her worldwide acclaim and a slew of honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recorded Arts and Sciences.

Get you mind blown with “Pace, pace mio Dio” from La Forza del Destino:

Follow the link for Caro nome and listen for that last high note: it will blow your mind and possibly shatter your windows.

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bessie Coleman

“The air is the only place free from prejudices.” —Bessie Coleman

Born this day in 1892: Bessie Coleman (1892–1926), aviator and barnstormer; first African American licensed pilot

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, the daughter of sharecroppers. In her early twenties she moved to Chicago, where a brother lived. Tales of World War I pilots excited in her an interest in aviation. She could find no aviation school, however, that would accept her—a black woman. So she learned French, and with the help of some sponsors, went to France in 1920 to study at the famous Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy. She became the first American woman to earn an international pilot's license. She was also the first licensed African American aviator.

Upon returning home to the United States, the same barriers that prevented her from learning to fly in the U.S. kept her from becoming a commercial pilot. She discovered she could make a living performing in aerial shows. So she returned to France for further training, learning the skills needed to become a stunt pilot.

She was a brash and daring pilot whose exploits earned the popular aviator the nickname “Queen Bess.” Coleman worked hard to make a name for herself. She never, however, compromised her principles. She steadfastly refused to perform to segregated crowds and alienated the entertainment industry by backing out of a movie role when discovered she was being asked to portray a degrading racial stereotype.

Coleman’s ultimate goal was to open her own aviation school. In addition to stunt shows, she gave lectures to black audiences, hoping to inspire them to take to the skies.

Coleman needed to raise money to buy an airplane and a hangar to put it in. Tragically, she was killed when she and her mechanic, William D. Wills, were test driving an old plane she managed to secure. A wrench became tangled in the gearbox and Dills lost control of the plane. Coleman was flung from the aircraft, which then crashed to the ground. Both Coleman and Dills were killed.

Coleman succeeded in inspiring other women and African Americans to fly. Flying clubs were established in her name, she was honored with a U.S. postal stamp, and Chicago honored her by renaming a road at O’Hare airport “Bessie Coleman Drive” and by holding a “Bessie Coleman Day.”

Bessie Coleman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Maud Wood Park

 Born this day in 1871: Maud Wood Park (1871–1955), feminist and social reformer whose lobbying efforts were instrumental in securing passage of the 19th Amendment

Park was born Maud May Wood in Boston, Massachusetts. She was educated at Radcliffe College where she was in a minority of two as a supporter of suffrage (her sister suffragist was Inez Haynes Gillmore). She joined the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, becoming its chair in 1900. That same year she served as a delegate to the meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1901 established the College Equal Suffrage League to help draw young, educated women into the cause. After extensive lecturing and touring (a tactic she used throughout her career), Park had inspired the generation of chapters in 30 states. These banded together to form the College Equal Suffrage Association. Also in 1901 Park became executive secretary of the Boston Equal Suffrage Association for Good Government, an organization dedicated to suffrage and reform efforts of particular interest to women.

In 1916 Park became the head of the congressional committee of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In this role she organized an army of lobbyists to help push the suffrage amendment through Congress. Her lobbyists kept close tabs on members’ positions on suffrage and had to keep them interested in the cause—Congress had vowed to legislate on nothing not related to world war.

After passage of the 19th Amendment, Park became the first president of the League of Women Voters, formed in 1920. In 1924 she organized the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee, lobbying for the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act of 1921. This act authorized federal aid to states for maternity, child health, and welfare programs. It was the first social welfare program funded at the federal level. The committee also secured the passage of the Cable Act of 1922, which granted independent citizenship to married women.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Kate Waller Barrett

Born this day in 1857: Kate Waller Barrett (1857–1925), physician, social reformer, and suffragist

Barrett was born Kate Harwood Waller in Falmouth, Virginia. In 1876 she married Robert South Barrett, an Episcopal minister. Barrett’s interest in the plight of so-called “fallen women” was aroused when an unmarried woman and her baby came to the rectory for help, and Barrett was surprised to discover that this supposedly disgraced woman was little different from herself. Barrett and her husband soon began ministering to local prostitutes. To aid their efforts, Barrett earned an M.D. from Women’s Medical College of Georgia (1892).
Barrett devoted herself to championing the cause of poor unwed mothers, who often lacked access to medical care and were considered social outcasts. She eventually became president of the Florence Crittenton Mission. The mission provided health care, education, and job training to unwed mothers, needy immigrant women, prostitutes, and women who had contracted venereal diseases. In time, more than 50 local missions were established across the nation. Because of her efforts, the plight of unwed mothers became an acceptable subject of philanthropy. In 1898 the National Florence Crittenton Mission became the first philanthropic institution chartered by Congress. It operates today as the Florence Crittenton National Foundation
Barrett was also vice-president of Virginia’s Equal Suffrage League from 1909 to 1920, a delegate to the National Democratic Convention of 1924, and sat on the Board of Visitors at William and Mary College.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gertrude B. Elion

“Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.”
Gertrude B. Elion 

Born this day in 1918: Gertrude B. Elion (1918–1999), Nobel Prize laureate in physiology or medicine

Elion, a native New Yorker, graduated from high school at age 15. In 1937 she graduated from Hunter College with a degree in biochemistry. She was unable to obtain a graduate research position because—say it with me people—she was a woman. Instead, she took various work as a lab assistant, an assistant organic chemist, a chemistry and physics teacher, and a research chemist. She eventually earned a master’s degree chemistry from New York University (1941).

World War II, by necessity, opened up some doors for women, and Elion was able to begin pursuing biochemistry in earnest. In 1944 she began working in the Burroughs Wellcome Laboratories as assistant to and then colleague of George H. Hitchings. Using innovative research methods, they developed drugs to treat a variety of ailments, including leukemia, malaria, gout, viral herpes, and autoimmune disorders.

In 1957 Elion created the first immuno-suppressive agent, used in organ transplants. In 1967 she was named head of the Department of Experimental Therapy at Burroughs Wellcome. After her official retirement in 1983, Elion oversaw the development of AZT, the first drug used to treat AIDS. She and Hitchings, along with Sir James W. Black, received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1988. In 1991 she was awarded a National Medal of Science and became the first woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Her name is attached to more than 40 patents.

Gertrude B. Elion was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1991.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Roe v. Wade

 “Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection.” 
—Justice Blackmun

On this day in 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States legalized a woman’s right to abortion.

In 1973 the Court ruled that

“[the] right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

Justice Blackmun, writing the majority opinion, added further:

 “We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires. One’s philosophy, one’s experiences, one’s exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one’s religious training, one’s attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one’s thinking and conclusions about abortion.

“In addition, population growth, pollution, poverty, and racial overtones tend to complicate and not to simplify the problem.
Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection.” 

FYI: NPR has a brief overview of abortion rights history here.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Helen Hamilton Gardener

Whoever differs with the multitude, especially with a led multitude…will find out from their leaders that he has committed an unpardonable sin. It is a crime to travel a road of your own, especially if you put up guide-boards for the information of others.
Helen Hamilton Gardener

Born this day in 1853: Helen Hamilton Gardener (orig. Alice Chenoweth, 18531925), author, feminist, social reformer, and freethinker

Alice Chenoweth adopted the pseudonym Helen Hamilton Gardener after collecting a series of freethinking lectures she had delivered in 1884 into a volume titled Men, Women, and Gods, and Other Lectures (1885). She came to the attention of feminists, however, after writing “Sex in Brain,” a carefully researched refutation of the notion that the female brain is inferior to the male brain.

Gardner continually questioned the status quo, especially in regards to sexual equality. She decried the sexual double standard and the inferior position of women in marriage. She explored these themes in several novels. Is This Your Son, My Lord? (1890) won widespread attention and succeeded in its aim of using fiction to shine a light on fact. One topic of the novel was the age of consent for girls, which was exceedingly low in the nineteenth century—as low as 7 in one state.  (Please see below for an excerpt of the preface she wrote for the second edition. It’s a very stirring defense of her choice of topic for a novel and shows what insight feminists and freethinkers had—and needed to have to challenged entrenched notions.)
In 1913, after the Congressional Committee of the National American Women Suffrage Association defected to the more militant National Women’s Party, Gardner was invited to help organize a new Congressional Committee. She served as an unofficial lobbyist to President Wilson, with whom she was very close and on whom she was very influential. She worked quietly behind the scenes to effect passage of the 19th Amendment. 
In 1920 President Wilson appointed Gardener to the U.S. Civil Service Commission. At the time it was the highest federal position ever held by a woman.

From the author’s preface to the 1894 edition of Is This Your Son, My Lord?
 The double system of morals which has legal and therefore social support—which makes of man a free and dominant human being and of woman a dependent function only and always—is not understood one whit better than was physical slavery in 1853. Race ownership with its double code of moral obligation is now illegal, and therefore looked upon as immoral and wholly pernicious. Sex ownership is still legal, and for that reason, and for that only, is it recognized as less vicious that a double standard of moral obligation should exist between the sexes. There is but one depth of degradation below that which allowed men to hold in bondage their fellow men and make of them financial dependents, and legal and social and moral pensioners because they were black; and that is the depth which is touched when, by all legal, moral, social and financial conditions the marriage altar is but an auction block upon which, for the sake of the right to live, the purity and devotion and loyalty of womanhood are sold—not on equal terms—with no pretence of fair exchange—into a perpetual servitude of body and soul that knows no limit and can hope for no escape.

The black man had his food and clothes and code of morals and duties, in which he had no voice, served to him by a dominant race from which he could make no appeal. He was a dependent mentally, morally, and physically. That was the reason of his degradation. It was not that he suffered physical hardships. He was frequently better off in that regard, than was his free brother. It was the root of the system that degraded him. He was held as an inferior with no voice in his own control and no right to his own development.

Woman stands in that position to-day. She has no voice in her own government, nor in fixing the standards by which she is judged and controlled. She is a dependent morally, mentally, financially and physically.

It is all very well—and very silly—to say that women control society and make the moral standards that govern it. They do nothing of the kind. Financial dependents and political nonentities create no standards. They receive them ready made. The merest modicum of reason will supply the proof of this.

No subject class—no unrecognized, dependent class—ever yet made public opinion either for itself or for others. It always did, and it always must, simply reflect the sentiments and opinions of its rulers.

It is true that many a woman treats with scorn the “fallen” of her sex while receiving the companion in crime as a suitable son or husband. Who makes that sentiment? Who decides what woman is “fit to be a wife and mother”? Who makes the laws that give divorce to a husband for the least fault of the wife, but places another standard upon the loyalty of the husband?

Who talks about “making an honest woman” of his companion in guilt? Who makes him “honest”? Who enacted the legal standards upon which all these social sentiments rest? A man is valued of men for many things, least of which is his chastity. A woman is valued of men for few things, chief of which is her chastity. This double code can by no sane or reasonable person be claimed as woman made. Woman has had no voice whatever in its establishment. She has the same voice and power possessed by all financial and legally dependent creatures in its continuation and reflection. She is a very good mirror; but she cannot be accused of being the creator of the original of the reflection.

The willingness to accept a degraded and subordinate status in the world, and the assertion that they like it, are the lowest depths of human degradation to which human beings can be reduced. A system which produces willing legal, moral, financial and social dependents and inferiors is one that cannot fail, as all history shows, to breed crime and vice, poverty and insanity, imbecility and moral obliquity enough to make of a beautiful world a mere den of discomfort, discord, and despair.

This lesson has been taught and learned with classes and with races; but it is yet to bear but withered fruit while the mother of these classes and races is beneath justice and outside of freedom, while she is a financial dependent (which is always a slave ) a political non-existent, (which is always a creature without defence) a moral beggar at the feet of her companion in degradation and a social echo of the opinions, expressed or insinuated, of those who hold over her not only all physical, financial, and social power, but who also sway her through the tenderest and holiest ties, and scruple not, alas, to make her the victim of her own virtue.

Freedom of religion had its novelists long ago and, in its newer, broader phase, has them to-day. Freedom of political choice and action has numbered many a romancer and poet as its champion. Labor has not failed to dramatize its cause in literature and on the stage. The cause of manhood as against kingcraft, priestcraft, or slave driver, was exploited by many a gifted soul who with the dash of a poet’s or novelist’s pen showed more people the hideousness of the old and the hope in the newer thought than could have been induced to read or made to understand dry legal argument or sociological treatise.

Shall not woman have her novelists also ?

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