The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 28, 1912: Marina Raskova

Marina Raskova

Born on the 28th March 1912 Marina Raskova (née Malinina) was to become a famous Soviet navigator.

Having grown up in a middle class family Marina's intentions were to become a musician but she changed her career path after the death of her father in 1919. In 1930, after the birth of her first child, she began work in the Aero Navigation Laboratory of the Air Force Academy as a draftswoman.  It was here that she acquired specialist knowledge of navigation and trained to fly, eventually becoming a navigation instructor at the Academy.

Raskova first became notable in 1938 when she was one of three women on a pioneering non-stop flight from Moscow to Komsomolsk–on-Amur in the Far East. The plane was unable to reach its destination and was losing fuel over the Siberian wilderness. In order to keep going and avoid nosing down, it was decided that Marina should bail out and as a result she spent ten days wandering in the taiga. After the remaining pilots landed safely and Marina was picked up, the three women were awarded "Hero of the Soviet Union" stars.

During World War II Raskova used her influence with Joseph Stalin to secure permission for all-female combat units and Raskova herself oversaw the training process. The unit soon gained respect from their enemies and were known as the "Night Witches." Sadly, Marina did not survive the war and died in a plane crash in 1943, but her legacy remains.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 27, 1868: Patty Hill

Patty Smith Hill

Nearly everyone knows the tune "Happy Birthday to You." Some people even realize that the song is protected by copyright, and any commercial use requires paying royalties. But most people don't know about the women behind the song.

Patty Hill was born March 27th, 1868, in Kentucky. The middle of three sisters, she and her siblings were taught to advocate for others. They were also told by their father that it was "a tragedy for women to marry for a home" and to value their education. Patty took these lessons to heart, and was her class valedictorian at the Louisville Collegiate Institute.

Patty is best known for co-writing the song for "Good Morning to All" with her older sister Mildred, writing the lyrics while Mildred penned the melody. The song was written to welcome children to class each day, and was first published in Song Stories for the Kindergarten in 1893. It became far better known as the melody of "Happy Birthday to You," which first appeared in print in 1912, and gained popularity over the years, though the Hill sisters only gained credit for writing the song in 1935 after a series of court cases.

Beyond co-writing "Happy Birthday to You," Patty was a leader in the progressive education movement. She was also an advocate of the educational practices that are now known as Kindergarten. Additionally, in 1924 at Columbia University Teachers College, she helped to create the Institute of Child Welfare Research. Though we may best know her as the co-writer of one of the most popular songs of all time, her memory lives on in every Kindergarten classroom in America.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

March 26, 1819: Louise Otto-Peters

German women's rights activist Louise Otto-Peters (1819-1895).

Although she was born into a comfortable middle class German family, Louise Otto-Peters spent much of her life campaigning for the rights of women, including the working class.

Born on March 26 1819, Louise's parents died when she was young which forced her to consider how she would make a living. She had been well-educated by personal tutors and by the 1840s began her career in writing, producing a wide variety of work including novels, short stories, and political articles. The latter of these were published in journals edited by Robert Blum, a German democratic politician and revolutionist.

Unlike many of her feminist contemporaries, Louise believed strongly in the rights of all women, including the working classes, reflecting her broad democratic ideals. Writing under her own name as well as the pseudonym Otto Stern, she began to discuss the role of women in politics and encourage women workers to organise themselves. In 1848, the European Revolutions spread across much of the continent, led by loose coalitions of reformers, the middle class, and workers. Although these revolutions ultimately did not hold together for long, the liberalisation they brought was crucial to Louise and all women like her. Although women were still not allowed to be members of revolutionary clubs and could not directly participate at most political functions, they had made some progress.

In 1849, Louise was able to found a weekly newspaper, Frauen-Zeitung, or "Women's Newspaper." Contributions came in from across Germany and the newspaper soon became a tool in which progressive liberal women could reach the general public with their demands for reform. The paper's motto, proudly displayed on the masthead, tells us how passionately Louise believed in women's rights: Dem Reich der Freiheit werb ich Bürgerinnen! ("I am recruiting female citizens for the realm of freedom!"). 

Despite censorship and harassment, Louise continued to publish Frauen-Zeitung until it was suppressed in 1852 and she temporarily retired from political life. In 1865 she co-founded the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (General Union of German Women) in Leipzig. The goals of the Union were stated in a pamphlet penned by Louise called "Das Recht der Frauen auf Erwerb" ("Women's Right to Work"). By 1876 the Union had 11,000 members and Louise and co-founder Auguste Schmidt served as joint presidents and editors of the house journal, Neue Bahnen (New Paths).

Louise Otto-Peters' career as a writer enabled her to become a spokeswoman for women's rights, forcing the revolutionaries of 1848 to acknowledge women in their campaigns and widening women's political and social engagement.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March 25, 1782: Caroline Bonaparte

Caroline Bonaparte, beginning of the 19th century. Carnavalet museum, Paris.

What would it be like growing up as Napoleon Bonaparte's little sister? Just ask Caroline Bonaparte, his youngest sister. Everyone has heard of her big brother, the Emperor of France, but did you know that Caroline was a queen? She and her first husband, Joachim Murat, were the Queen and King of Naples in the early 1800s.

Caroline was born in Corsica, but moved with her family to France during the French Revolution. She was an educated young lady who attended the St. Germain en Laye school in France. Several years after moving to France, at the age of 17, she fell in love and married Murat. Her husband was a general who worked for Napoleon and at first Napoleon did not approve of the marriage. Eventually the couple became the King and Queen of Naples and had several children.

Caroline lived during a very interesting time, having witnessed the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. She came from a prominent family and managed to rise even further in power. Even though her brother Napoleon is much more recognizable, Caroline was a significant figure in European history herself.

There are many rumors and stories about Caroline Bonaparte, including rumors of adultery and other scandals. In spite of these negative stories, she was still respected for her power and beauty. Caroline died in Italy in 1839, but still has descendants living today.

Friday, March 22, 2013

So you want to be an Artist

I bet that many little girls have decided at one point that they wanted to be an artist when they grow up. Later, many of us realize that our crayon stick figures are not as beautiful as we once thought, but that is no reason to give up on being an artist. There are so many different types of artists and art-related careers today. Some are more traditional such as painter, illustrator, or sculptor. But now there are a multitude of newer art forms such as fashion or graphic design and digital photography. The opportunities for aspiring artists are endless.

Art is a career that can be started at any age, with or without formal training. Take Aelita Andre, for example. This little girl from Australia started painting masterpieces before she was even a year old. Her work has been showcased all over the world–pretty impressive for a 6 year-old!

If creating decorative art pieces is not exciting to you, why not try fashion or graphic design? Designers in these fields are in high demand because their artwork is used by many people everyday. Think about how often you wear clothes or see product labels and advertisements–probably dozens of times everyday! Someone had to design those things, and that person could be you! Many designers use computers to create their art, so they get to be a part of the exciting worlds of both art and technology.

If you have an eye for beauty and a creative spirit, you might want to look into photography. Photographers can use either digital or film cameras and can get very creative when choosing what to capture. Photography can capture images of people, scenic views, nature, and so much more. Later, images can be manipulated on software such as Photoshop. Like the other art careers mentioned here, the field of photography is constantly changing.

A career in art can be very exciting! There is so much beauty in the world available to inspire artists, who in turn create more beauty. Art comes in many forms and the career opportunities are very diverse. So break out your old box of paints or colored pencils, find some clay, or get behind the lens of a camera and see what you can do with your creative mind.

-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March 21, 1866: Antonia Maury

Antonia Maury's 'photograph card' in her senior year at Vassar.

Antonia Caetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York in 1866 to a Protestant minister and naturalist. Yet she was not born to humility: her family had a long history in the sciences. Her great-grandfather James Maury had taught three American presidents, her grandfather had made the first daguerreotype of the moon, and her uncle had been the first to photograph a star. 

Antonia was exposed early on to scientific inquiry, helping her uncle Henry Draper in his laboratory by the age of 4. By 1887, she had graduated with honors from Vassar College, where she studied physics, astronomy, and philosophy. After graduation, Antonia continued helping her uncle and his successors at Harvard in cataloging over 10,000 stars through spectral analysis. She was the "computer" behind their work: computing and cataloguing stellar spectra for stars in the northern hemisphere.

During her work, Antonia devised her own system of categorizing stars, but her efforts went unappreciated as her theories contradicted the role of her as simply a "computer." Her work as the first to calculate the orbits and periods of revolution for the first two spectroscopic binaries discovered also went largely unappreciated, receiving only slight mention in published works.

In 1897, Antonia published her work in Spectra of Bright Stars Photographed with the 11-inch Draper Telescope as part of the Henry Draper Memorial. Eventually, Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung and the International Astronomical Union recognized her work, modifying their classification systems based on Antonia’s work.

Antonia continued her work as an astronomer, teaching at Harvard and the Castle School in New York. She also delivered lectures on astronomy at other colleges, to professional groups, and to the general public. After retiring, Antonia became an advocate for saving the western Sequoia forests and worked as curator for the Draper Museum. Finally, in 1943, at the age of 77, Antonia received the Annie J. Cannon award of the American Astronomical Society. 

Antonia died in January of 1952. Though she waited until the end of her life to receive the recognition she deserved, she never accepted the labels that others placed upon her. Antonia continued pursuing her passions and questioning the universe around her, even when others tried to silence her or take credit for her work. She stood up for her findings, rejecting her role as simply a "computer" to become one of the most prominent astronomers of the early 20th century.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

March 20, 1918: Marian McPartland

Marian McPartland

Born in England on the 20th of March, 1918 Marian McPartland (née Turner) started piano lessons around the age of three. She went on to become one of the great jazz pianists of the last 100 years. This year she'll be 95 years old.

After studying at the famous Guildhall School of Music, Marian began touring Europe in World War II as part of a four piano vaudeville act entertaining the troops. It was during this time she met her future husband, the cornet player Jimmy McPartland, and accompanied him back to the United States in 1946. Over the next 30 years Marian enjoyed much success as part of a trio, a soloist, and recording artist, even establishing her own recording label in 1970.

In 1978, Marian McPartland got the chance to take over from Alec Wilder's National Public Radio  (NPR) show and Piano Jazz was founded. In the show Marian would take jazz musicians sit them down at a piano with her and interview them. Despite Marian stepping down as the host in 2011, the show is one of NPR's longest running, and is still going strong after more than 30 years thanks to the success and talents of Marian, who is still artistic director of the program.

Marian talks about her introduction to jazz and the success of her radio show in this interview:

Five years ago, at the age of 90, Marian celebrated by taking to the stage guests at her birthday celebrations, performing with the likes of Norah Jones and releasing another album, Twilight World. We hope she enjoys this birthday just as much!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March 19, 1844: Minna Canth

Finnish author Minna Canth

Minna Canth was born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson on March 19, 1844, in Tampere, Finland into a middle-class family. She was studying to be a teacher before she married her teacher Johan Ferdinand Canth in 1865. She assisted him editing the newspaper Keski-Suomi until his death in 1879. When she began writing, Canth was a widow raising her seven children and managing her family drapery shop. As an independent woman, Canth began to host salons in her home for men and women to gather and discuss contemporary literary and social issues.

Canth had a diverse body of written work. She published novels, plays, and short stories. She also wrote as a journalist, usually under the pseudonym "Wilja." Additionally, she translated work by well-known Danish and Norwegian authors into Finnish. Canth was one of the first authors to write in Finnish, the native language of her country. Previously, most Finnish authors had written in Swedish. Canth's writing was considered radical at the time for addressing social issues such as women's rights and labour rights. Her most well-known works are the plays Työmiehen vaimo (The Worker's Wife), which she wrote in  1885 and Anna Liisa, written in 1895.

The first biography of Canth was written in 1906 by Lucina Hagman, a leader of the women's rights movement in Finland. In Finland today her works continue to be performed and studied. She received her own flag day, Minna Canth's Day, on March 19, 2007.  She was the first woman to receive her own flag day in Finland, which also happens to be the Finnish Day of Equality.

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18, 1380: Lidwina van Schiedam

Lidwina's fall on the Buttox. Wood drawing from the 1498 edition of John Brugman's Vita of Lidwina.

Today, many girls all over the world love to ice skate. In the Catholic church, the patron Saint of ice skaters is Lidwina van Schiedam from the Netherlands. Lidwina was born in the town of Schiedam, Holland on March 18, 1380. In 1395, At age 15, Lidwina fell while ice skating and broke a rib. According to her biographers, she never recovered from this accident. She grew progressively worse, and she was disabled for the rest of her life. Some modern scholars believe that Lidwina is one of the first known multiple sclerosis patients.

After her fall, Lidwina constantly fasted and gained a reputation as a mystic and a holy woman. The town officials of her hometown issued an official public document that asserted her complete lack of food and sleep. According to this same document Lidwina began shed skin, bones, parts of her intestines, which gave off a sweet odor. Her parents kept these in a vase. Lidwina died on April 14, 1434, at age 53.

Lidwina's grave in Schiedam immediately became a place of pilgrimage. The same year she died a chapel was built over her grave. Her relics were taken to Belgium in 1615 and remained there until they were returned to her hometown of Schiedam in 1871. Lidwina was officially canonized by Pope Leo XIII on March 18, 1890. She is the patron saint of ice skaters and the chronically ill, as well as of the town of Schiedam.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Inspirational Girls: Olivia Bouler

Olivia Bouler talking about her vision.

If you spend few minutes and listen to Olivia Bouler in the above video, you will instantly share her vision. Wishing to save the world is one thing, whereas acting towards this direction is totally different. Olivia Bouler made it clear when she carried out an exemplary project to save the birds in the Gulf Coast. Having spent most of her family holidays there, the twelve year-old girl was already familiar with that particular habitat. So she was shocked to learn about the disaster due to oil spill that took place in the area and couldn't cope with the fact that the birds were put in danger.

Olivia is an artist, a saxophone player, and aspires to become an ornithologist. In the Gulf Coast campaign she managed to bring together all her skills and efforts to make a statement and produce a wide impact. Olivia addressed her anxiety in the form of a letter to the National Audubon Society where she proposed to offer her original bird drawings in order to raise funds for the endangered birds. The phrase "11 years old and willing to help" used in her appeal bears a strong sentimental load, making it almost impossible for the environmental organization to refuse any involvement. I mean, who can say no to a kid's straightness and spontaneity? The National Audubon Society embraced the collaboration and Olivia's 500 paintings reached a remarkable economic milestone for the Gulf recovery. She also published a  book for children with bird illustrations titled Olivia's birds: Saving the Gulf and received many awards in the years that followed for her meaningful action as regards the conservation of natural ecosystems.

That said, I cannot imagine anything more inspirational than Olivia's targeted passion and so creatively implemented project.

-Magda Repouskou
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

March 14, 1833: Lucy Hobbs Taylor

Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female dentist.

Today it is not uncommon to have a female dentist, but as with many professional careers this was not the case a century ago. Lucy Hobbs Taylor paved the way for future generations of female dentists; she may have graduated from dental school in 1866, but her legacy lives on today.

Lucy was born in Constable, New York on March 14th, 1833. Her first career was in teaching, which she did for ten years. In 1859 she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to pursue dentistry. The dental school refused to admit her to the program, but a professor at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery worked with her through a private program of study. After completing her studies, she opened her own dental practice in 1861. It was not until 1865 that she gained professional recognition as a member of the Iowa State Dental Society. The next year she was the first woman to earn her doctorate in dentistry.

After all of her professional success, Lucy married James M. Taylor in 1867. This was not a case of becoming a housewife after marriage–Lucy even convinced her husband to also become a dentist. They worked together until Taylor’s death. At that time, Lucy retired from her dental practice to be active in women's rights.

In the years after Lucy entered dentistry many other women followed her footsteps. By 1900 almost 1000 other American women had entered the dental field. The American Association of Women Dentists honors Lucy with an award to recognize excellence and achievements of women in dentistry. Women are also using their voices for change in the dentistry profession. The Lucy Hobbs Project   aims to pave the way for women’s success in dentistry.

It is clear that Lucy Hobbs was passionate about her career in dentistry because she overcame many obstacles to reach her goals. She is remembered today for becoming the first American woman dentist, and a respected advocate for women's rights. Since Lucy’s time, dentistry has become a popular career for women, with over 47,000 American women working as licensed dentists today. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

March 13, 1798: Abigail Powers Fillmore

Abigail Powers Fillmore, as engraved by John Chester Buttre in 1886; Courtesy the Library of Congress.

Abigail Powers was born in 1798, the youngest of a Baptist minister's seven children. At the age of 12, Abigail lost her father and her family lost its sole means of support. After his death, their mother moved the family to upstate New York, where Abigail was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Her education was supplemented by the large collection of books left by her father, helping her become proficient in literature, math, government, history, philosophy, and geography.  

In 1814, Abigail became a teacher. After several years of teaching, Abigail was offered an invitation to open a private school in Broome County, due to her reputation as a highly educated lady. In 1819, Abigail met Millard Fillmore when he attended her classes at New Hope Academy to finish his education. With Abigail’s help, Millard became a prominent lawyer in New York, and they married in 1826.

Abigail continued to work as a public school teacher, but also supported her husband in his bid for the state legislature and then for Congress. She also continued her own education–while raising two children–learning French, piano, and scientific horticulture.  Eventually, Millard became Vice President under Zachary Taylor; Abigail’s role was primarily to deliver public speeches or review federal job requests. However, in 1850, President Taylor died and Millard became President of the United States.

Abigail had become the first First Lady to rise from a lower-economic class to the female figurehead of a nation. During her three years as First Lady, Abigail used her power to help others. She helped local citizens, such as a young dressmaker who under her patronage became a prominent Washington designer. She also attended public functions, including being the only woman in a treaty-signing delegation with the Sioux.  She is also credited with establishing the first library at the White House.

Abigail died in 1853, shortly after her husband left office. Yet her legacy lived on: in the students she taught, the libraries she established in New York and Washington, and in her legacy as a First Lady who put the citizens' needs–from education to economic empowerment–first.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12, 1923: Mae Young

Mae Young, American professional wrestler.

When I was casting my eye over the list of amazing and accomplished women with March birthdays, one occupation stood out for me from the rest: American professional wrestler. I don’t know why this stuck out to me exactly; I'm not a fan of wrestling at all, although I do remember watching Hulk Hogan a little back in the day. Perhaps that was why I was drawn to Mae Young's name. Wrestling has always seemed to be such male-dominated sport/entertainment. Even the women in the ring seemed to be there more for eye candy or anything else. So why was Mae Young included in a list of amazing women?

Well, because she's kind of badass.

Johnnie Mae Young was born on March 12th, 1923. She began wrestling on her high school's boys' team at the age of 15–I can’t imagine there were many other girls her age doing that! Whilst in high school she also went to a professional wrestling show and challenged their champion Mildred Burke. The organisers wouldn't allow this, but did permit Mae to fight Gladys "Kill 'em" Gillem, Burke’s opponent. Mae beat her in seconds, and caught the eye of fight promoter Billy Wolfe.

Two years later, she left home to become a professional wrestler. She worked for Billy Wolfe along with other legendary female wrestlers such as former opponent Gladys Gillem and the "Fabulous Moolah" Lillian Ellison. Although times were difficult (Wolfe totally controlled their bookings and took 50% of their earnings), Mae was hugely successful. She helped open up Canada for female wrestling and helped expand women's role in sport by encouraging them to take advantage of the fact that men were fighting overseas in WWII. After the war's end, she and Burke were some of the first women to tour Japan.

Mae was an extraordinary pioneer. In 1951 she became the National Wrestling Alliance's first Florida Women's Champion and then in 1968 became the NWA's first United States Women's Champion. Although she has just turned 90, she has continued appearing in the ring in the WWE, giving her the distinction of being the only professional wrestler to wrestle in documented matches in nine different decades. Wow!

Ruth Leitman, the director of Lipstick and Dynamite, a 2005 documentary about the women wrestlers of the 1950s, called Mae and her compatriots "the most stunning, un-self-proclaimed feminists in sports entertainment history." Perhaps Mae doesn’t want to call herself a feminist, but I think, however unwillingly, she is. She showed that a woman is just as capable in the ring as a man, and can certainly best the men when it comes to longevity.

Wrestling is a hugely male-dominated affair, and for Mae to succeed in the way that she has and for the length of time that she has, is quite extraordinary. I'm still not a fan of the sport, but I am always a fan of tough, independent women like Mae.

Monday, March 11, 2013

March 11, 1903: Dorothy Schiff

Dorothy Schiff, publisher of The New York Post, with the presses running overhead in 1963.

Dorothy Schiff (1903-1989) was all the things a New York socialite should be: good-looking, prominent in society, and influential in politics. She was also riddled with self-doubt and suffered from depression. She was married four times, romantically linked to many others, and her family was emotionally distant. Born into a wealthy Jewish family, Dorothy also felt isolated from others due to her faith and money (she converted to Episcopalian before her first marriage, and back to Judaism after they divorced).

Despite all this–or perhaps because of it–Dolly, as she was known, became New York's first female newspaper publisher. In 1939 she bought the struggling New York Post, becoming vice president and treasurer and in 1942, took over the Post completely. Dolly ran the paper for nearly 40 years, until she sold the Post to Rupert Murdoch in 1976.

Although she often struggled in her personal life, Schiff was socially progressive. She disliked being labeled a feminist, but she hired more women than any other newspaper of the era. She supported liberal Democratic causes, and under her leadership, the newspaper opposed Joseph McCarthy, supported the Civil Rights movement, and spoke out against the Vietnam War. In short, Schiff's publishing philosophy for The New York Post was simple and straight-forward: avoid "narrow-mindedness, prejudice, and all the things it is the business of liberals to fight."

To learn more about Dorothy Schiff, read about her at the Jewish Women's Archive or at the Online Encyclopedia. Alternately, there are several biographies written about her, including The Lady Upstairs: Dorothy Schiff and The New York Post (2007), by Marilyn Nissenson and Jeffrey Potter's Men, Money and Magic: The Story of Dorothy Schiff (1976).

Additionally, you can find an overview of her personal papers at the New York Public Library.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Girl in the Roaring '20s

A young girl posing with her doll from the 1920s.

When we think about girls in the 1920s, an image of a flapper with her bobbed hair and daring short skirt comes to mind. The flapper is an important part of history, as she paved the way for girls and women to be more worldly and tough, but what about younger girls growing up in the era? As teenagers and young women dismantled traditional ideas about girls, society looked to little girls who still fit into the girlhood mold.

At this time in history, girls were thought of as delicate, virtuous, and pure. Little girls embodied this role as their older sisters rebelled. We see young girls portrayed in this way in classics such as the comic strip Little Orphan Annie. This long-running (1924-2010) and popular comic told the story of a young orphan girl who faced many troubles but remained optimistic, generous, and compassionate. Young girls of the '20s were expected to have those same characteristics.

Though the little girls growing up in the Roaring '20s were expected to follow the traditional roles of their mothers and grandmothers before them, everyday life was certainly different for them. Fortunately for these girls, child labor began to decrease and education became more important. With more girls spending their time learning to read rather than working in factories, children's literature surged with classics such as The Little Red Hen and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. Playtime included mass produced Kewpie dolls  and newly popular Teddy Bears.

Fashion for young girls also changed during this era. Like the older girls, dresses and hair got shorter, but for little girls this was meant for comfort rather than fashion. Emphasis was placed on soft, easy to clean fabrics such as cotton. The girls probably much preferred the new fashions to the thick, restrictive clothing of the turn of the century.

We so often equate girlhood in the 1920s with the flapper lifestyle, but the changing lives of younger girls were just as important. The girls were in some ways stuck between two eras where they were expected to behave in traditional ways, but societal changes were creating exciting new opportunities to pursue. How fun would it have been to grow up in such a ground breaking time?

-Hillary Hanel
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Women's Day

March 8th is International Women's Day. Celebrated around the world, it's even an official holiday in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, China, Russia, Vietnam, and Zambia. Depending on where you are in the world, International Women's Day may simply be a day for men to express and celebrate their love for the wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers in their lives. In other places, the political roots of the holiday remain, and the human rights and social awareness themes designated by the United Nations are discussed and examined.

International Women's Day 2013 has declared the year's theme as "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum" while this year's UN theme for International Women's Day is "A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women." Ban Ki-moon has this to say:

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future.
 One young woman was gang-raped to death. Another committed suicide out of a sense of shame that should have attached to the perpetrators. Young teens were shot at close range for daring to seek an education.
These atrocities, which rightly sparked global outrage, were part of a much larger problem that pervades virtually every society and every realm of life.
 Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack.

You can read his full message here, and be sure to check out International Women's Day 2013 for more information and events in your area. You can also follow #IWD, #InternationalWomensDay, and #womensday on Twitter.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

March 7, 1938: Janet Guthrie

Janet Guthrie at Talladega 500, May 1977

"I wanted it a lot. Any racing driver of that era would have given their eye-teeth for an opportunity to tackle the Indianapolis 500. And I wanted it very, very much."

Janet Guthrie was born on the 7th of March, 1938 in Iowa City, Iowa. Prior to her career in racing she attended the University of Michigan where she graduated in 1960 with a B.Sc. in Physics. She then worked as a pilot and flight instructor, a technical editor, and also as an aerospace engineer for Republic Aviation, but her true passion was for racing. Guthrie bought her first car, a Jaguar XK120 in the early 1960s and was racing full time by 1972. Her breakout point was in 1976, when she caught the attention of team owner Rolla Vollstedt who invited her to test a car.  

In the male dominated world of motor racing, Janet Guthrie stands out as the first woman to ever compete in the NASCAR Winston Cup (now the Sprint Cup) Series in 1976, finishing in 15th place out of 40 cars. She is also the first woman to compete in both the 1977 Indianapolis 500 (where she placed 29th) and the 1977 Daytona 500 in which she was named 'Top Rookie' (Guthrie came 12th). However, Guthrie still had obstacles to overcome, despite sometimes out qualifying top NASCAR drivers. For example, she was once denied entry at the Darlington Raceway as women were banned from the garage. She did eventually get to her car and race. Attitudes towards her gradually began to change as she continued to perform well, and proved that she was a capable and competent racer.  Amongst her most memorable career highlights is finishing 6th place in the 1977 Spring Bristol race. Overall, Guthrie competed in 33 NASCAR races over four seasons, and in 11 IndyCar events where she finished as high as 5th place.

Janet Guthrie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on 29th May 2011

Having competed against NASCAR elite, including Richard Petty, David Pearson, and Buddy Baker, Guthrie proved to critics that women could make it in the world of motor racing and later drivers like Danica Patrick have her to thank for paving the way for women in racing.

In 1980, Guthrie became one of the first athletes to be entered into the Women's Sports Hall of Fame, then in 2006 she was introduced to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. You can see Janet Guthrie's helmet and driver's suit at the Smithsonian Institution.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

March 6, 1937: Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova as she prepares to board the Vostok 6 in 1963.

Born in 1937, Valentina Tereshkova had no idea where life would take her. The daughter of a tractor driver and textile worker, Valentina was only enrolled in school for 8 years before circumstances forced her to begin working in the textile factories. Yet that didn’t stop Valentina’s desire for a better life.

Valentina continued her education via correspondence courses and soon found a hobby she loved: parachute jumping. Her passion soon led to her selection as a Soviet cosmonaut, to participate as one of four women contending for the woman-in-space program.  Her training went quickly, and in June of 1963, Valentina became the first woman in space, during a solo flight aboard the Vostok 6. During the nearly 71 hours she spent in space, Valentina orbited Earth 48 times.

When she landed back on Earth, Valentina was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Although she never flew again, Valentina became a spokeswoman for the Soviet Union, eventually receiving the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace. She then became chair of the Soviet Committee for Women from 1968 to 1987, and headed the Russian Centre for International Scientific and Cultural Co-operation.

In 2000, at the age of 63, the International Women of the Year Association awarded Valentina the Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century award. To this day, Valentina remains the only woman in the world to have carried out a solo flight into space for three days.

Valentina showed girls, both in the Soviet Union and internationally, that just because you’re born into small circumstances means doesn’t mean that your life needs to be small. Valentina rose from her family’s simple life to one of greatness: affecting change by turning her passion into her career, and then into a means by which to advocate for peace and international cooperation to the world.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

March 5, 1897/98: Soong Meiling, Madame Chiang Kai-shek

Soong Meiling as a young woman in traditional Chinese dress

Like many women, Soong Meiling is often thought of in terms of her famous and infamous husband, Generalissimo and President Chiang Kai-shek. She is remarkable, however, in that she was an influential figure in her own right, with a unique position as a cultural intermediary between the East and West.

Meiling was born on March 5, 1897/8. Unlike many Chinese daughters, she and her sisters were anything but ignored by their father, Charlie Soong, who had been educated in the United States, returning to Shanghai to bring his Western learning and Methodist faith to China. Owing to their father’s belief in the dignity of women and the tumultuous political climate of the early 1900s, the three Soong sisters, Ailing (1888-1973), Qingling (1893-1981), and Meiling were educated in the United States. In 1908, Meiling and Qingling joined Ailing, who had arrived four years earlier, at Wesleyan College in Georgia. Meiling transferred to Wellesley College in 1917 to be nearer to one of her brothers who was attending Harvard University, as Ailing and Qingling had returned to China.

It seems as though Meiling fully embraced the modern womanhood–and internationalism–her father and American education offered her, gaining a reputation for mischief and wit. The Wesleyan College website includes, among others, this quip:
One of May-ling’s tutors asked her to recount a history lesson on Sherman’s march through Georgia. The teacher was quite unprepared for her response: "Pardon me, I am a southerner, and that subject is very painful to me. May I omit it?"
Upon her return to China, Meiling met Chiang Kai-shek. Qingling had, earlier, married Sun Yat-sen, the first president of China after the fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and a social liberal interested in democracy and friendly with the Communists. Chiang Kai-shek, a military man who some feel tended toward fascism, succeeded Sun Yat-sen upon his death in 1925. Qingling was horrified by Chiang Kai-shek’s tactics and the marriage between him and Meiling in 1926. Their ideological differences created a rift between the sisters, and Qingling fled to the Soviet Union as Chiang Kai-shek lead a purge against Shanghai Communists in 1927. As Chiang Kai-shek became the Nationalist leader of China, so, too, did Meiling become the First Lady.

Two First Ladies: Soong Meiling with Eleanor Roosevelt

Meiling was attractive and personable, she had an impressive command of English, and she knew both the United States and China well. She was a sort of spokesperson for her husband and country, visiting the United States multiple times during World War II. She won popular American support with her charisma, Western-friendly modernity, and resistance to the perceived excesses of Maoism (the Communist opposition to Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists). She was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine three times, in 1931 and 1938 with her husband, and in 1943 on her own. Meiling was active in Nationalist politics, participating in many high-level committees and at one point taking charge of the air force. As Chiang Kai-shek’s power grew, Meiling served as translator, secretary, and advisor.  

Meiling followed her husband to Taiwan with the Nationalist defeat by the Communists in 1949. She was still active and influential in international politics and humanitarian initiatives. Upon the death of her husband in 1975, Meiling moved to the United States to live in New York. She kept a relatively low profile, with a few exceptions, until her death in 2003. Meiling has a complex legacy as Madame Chiang, often demonized as a conniving, power-hungry sex symbol. Much of this may be more due to her gender and political role than her true character. Putting these interpretations aside, however, she is fascinating to consider in terms of her Eastern and Western personae and ability to navigate between the two as a type of ambassador during a crucial time in world–and women’s–history.

Monday, March 4, 2013

March 4, 1891: Lois W.

Lois W., co-founder of Al-Anon.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and the Twelve Step program are familiar to many of us, either from personal or family experience, or from their portrayals in movies and television. But many of us forget–if we ever knew–the brave stories of those who founded Alcoholics Anonymous (for alcoholics) and Al-Anon (for relatives and friends of alcoholics).

Lois Burnham had what she described as an "idyllic" childhood. Deeply loved by their parents, the Burnham children were taught to be compassionate and caring individuals, and to give back to the world. Lois, having a college degree, also believed in being self-sufficient and making her own way in the world. These beliefs would turn out to be invaluable in her married life.

In 1918, a couple of months before her 27th birthday, Lois married Bill Wilson shortly before he left for Europe to fight in WWI. Lois had been told some stories about Bill's drinking from other soldiers, but she became painfully aware of the extent of his drinking after he returned from Europe. Although Lois continued to work–and was in fact the primary earner–they ran into financial difficulties, in no small part due to Bill's drinking. It wasn't until 1934 that Bill was able to achieve sobriety, and in 1935, he and Dr. Bob (Smith), both recovering alcoholics, founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

In 1951, Lois and Bill founded Al-Anon, recognizing from Lois's own experiences that family members of alcoholics needed their own support groups. Although there had been other family support groups around the country, Bill felt that Lois was the person to consolidate the groups (Dr. Bob's wife, Anne, had been working with families from the start, but passed away in 1949). Started by writing to less than 100 non-alcoholics who had contacted AA for information, Al-Anon eventually grew into an organization with over 387,000 members and more than 29,000 groups around the world.

Although she was known only as Lois W. for much of her adult life (respecting the privacy traditions of both AA and Al-Anon), her anonymity was broken in 1971 when Bill died and the New York Times printed an obituary. But even thereafter, she continued to be known as Lois W. within Al-Anon. Lois died in 1988 at 97 years old.

For more information on Lois W. and Bill W., as well as their home Stepping Stones, please visit the Stepping Stones website.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Hina Matsuri: Japanese Girls' Day

Licca Doll with rabbit-printed screen, Tokyo, Japan. Girl Museum, 2010.

March 3rd is Hina Matsuri–the 1,000 year old celebration of the health, happiness, and future success of daughters in Japanese culture. Girl Museum's Hina Matsuri: Celebrating Girls' Day in Japan looks at the history of this spring festival and how it is celebrated in contemporary culture using images and video.

Japan has the only official 'Girls' Day' in the world–dedicated to honoring girls, their health, happiness, and successful futures–an idea that should be celebrated by everyone, every day.

Women's History Month 2013

With March upon us once again, the Girl Museum Blog will celebrate Women's History Month the best way we know how: by recognizing some of the many amazing women born in the month of March. Throughout the month, we'll profile interesting women on their birthdays,  providing highlights of their unique and inspirational lives. We'll feature a different woman every Monday through Thursday, so be sure to check back every day to find a new inspirational figure or an old heroine.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Memories of Girlhood: Camping in Scotland

Junior Girl Sarah and her dad (and the top of her sister's head) on holiday in Scotland in the early 90s.

When I was a girl, many of my friends went on holidays abroad whilst my family stayed in the UK. I can’t remember being specifically jealous that they were spending their holidays on sunny and sandy beaches but it wouldn’t be surprising if I was. My dad didn’t like to fly or sail, but still wanted to get away from it all, so my parents bought a motor caravan and off we would go, usually to Scotland.

I can’t remember now if I was jealous of my friend’s exotic holidays, but it doesn’t matter to me now, because I wouldn’t change those summers spent in Scotland for anything. The memories I have are vivid and mostly hilarious–many of the stories we reminisce over have passed into something like family legend. There was the time a horse decided he was rather attracted to our caravan and, well, demonstrated his affection. There was the time we rescued a lamb from underneath a cattle grid. The time my sister, my mum, and I were playing on a beach and my dad casually came over and told us that the island just off the coast nearby was where anthrax was from–I should add that my dad strongly denies that this story is true. I suspect his memory may be more accurate than mine, but my story is much more memorable and so it’s the one that sticks.

Perhaps the most vivid memory I have is the time my mum insisted that my sister and I accompany her on a swim in the loch. I remember it being a clear and sunny summer’s day. We were parked up on the edge of the loch, far enough away from other campers to feel that we were alone. The water must have been cold but I don’t actually remember that. I do remember how clear the water was, if only because it made seeing the jellyfish so much easier. By the time we realised how many there were, we were in the middle of a bloom of jellyfish. It was like a scene from Finding Nemo, except we were too big to bounce over the jellyfish. Most vividly of all, I remember following her as she found a safe path through the jellyfish. Later, some other campers told us they had seen a shark in the loch, too.

At the time it felt like an epic adventure and a narrow escape, but I’m sure in reality it was much more mundane–I’m not even sure if the shark part was true. But it makes for a good story, and it always makes us laugh when we tell the story at family get-togethers, and for me that’s a big part of what family holidays are about; creating new memories that will soon pass into legend and makes us laugh for years to come.

-Sarah Jackson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.