I found this curious and amusing article about women in Ireland. Enjoy!
Little Women’s Christmas
Ireland’s traditional “girls’ night out” is still observed by a few dedicated girlfriends
By Sheila Flitton
“Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas” is an old custom that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It goes back to the days when large families were the norm. Men never lifted a finger in the house to help, and were never expected to. If a man washed the dishes, he would be called an “auld woman” by other men. No full blooded Irish man was prepared to risk that!
But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one day, at least. On January 6th (the same day as the Epiphany), men would take over of the housework, offering women a chance to go out to relax with each other.
Never one to break with tradition, I returned to my hometown of Cork this year (from Dublin) to join my sisters and women friends to celebrate. As we sat overlooking the River Lee from Cork’s Metropole Hotel dining room, I thought, “We keep the tradition alive but, not in the same way our mothers did.”
Ladies On Guinness
During my childhood, I remember excited, shawled women hurrying to the local public house. On Little Women’s Christmas, they would inhabit this man’s domain without shame. Sitting in “the snug,” a small private room inside the front door, they would pool the few shillings they’d saved for the day. Then they would drink stout and dine on thick corned beef sandwiches provided by the publican. For the rest of the year, the only time respectable women would meet for a glass of stout would be during shopping hours, and then only because it was “good for iron in the blood.”
After an initial chat about the worries and cares of the old year, a pact would be made to leave them outside the door (something that was easier to do before the advent of cell phones). They’d be as free as the birds in the sky for the day – and well on into the evening. Late at night, with shawls dropped over their shoulders, words slurred and voices hoarse, they would always sing. In my memory, I still here them bellowing the unofficial Cork City anthem, The Banks of my own Lovely Lee:
“Where they sported and played
‘neath the green leafy shade
on the banks of my own lovely Lee.”
Some say this tradition is dying. But I was surprised to see how many women of all ages upheld it this year. Like my own sisters and friends, most women no longer gather in the snug of a public house. Wine and lunch has replaced the bottle of stout and corned beef sandwiches. And of course, today’s new man, no stranger to the kitchen, is home trying his hand at cooking and spending quality time with the children (or so they say).. We can’t stop progress, but it’s a pleasure to see Little Women’s Christmas survive.
Sheila Flitton, an actress and playwright, has performed in theater, TV and film for 30 years. She has written three novels and toured the US in her own one-woman play. She was recently nominated for the Best Actress Award in the Irish Times/ E.S.B. Awards for her role in “The Beauty Queen of Leenane.”
WOMEN AROUND THE GLOBE ROCK!
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For thousands of years the holiday season was a time to celebrate women. I am sharing the rich history of our Christmas traditions so that we can appreciate that a women’s power is pervasive that it can still be found within the wreaths and boughs of today’s Christmas.
When Santa Was a Woman: 5 Christmas Histories You Want to Know:
1. Kissing Under the Mistletoe
“A Christmas Kiss” by George Bernard O’Neill. Public Domain image.
Kissing under the mistletoe can be traced back to the Norse goddess Frigg(a) whose son Baldr was killed by a mistletoe spear. When the gods brought Baldr back to life, Frigga declared that, from then on, people passing under mistletoe should kiss in celebration.
While few people today would credit Frigga with this tradition, “[t]he church seems to have known of the links to a pagan religion, because traditionally mistletoe is not included among the greenery that decorates churches at Christmas.” 
2. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
“The Christmas Tree” by Albert Chevallier Tayler. Public Domain image.
Once upon a time, Christmas Eve was known as “Mothers’ Night,” a festival held on the eve of Yule that celebrated The Mothers.
“Glade jul” by Viggo Johansen. Public Domain image.
The Christmas tree is by far the most iconic symbol of the season. The beloved evergreen is a holiday staple for Christian homes, and has been adopted by countless non-Christian holiday-lovers.
Of all the holiday’s traditions, the Christmas tree might have the most ancient and varied roots in a pre-Christian world.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, “The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity.” The “Christmas tree” was as common in pagan Rome and Egypt as it is today. In Rome the tree was a fir, but in Egypt it was a palm tree.
When you decorate your homes with wreaths and Christmas greenery, think about this:
“The Palm Leaf” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Public Domain Image.
So, too, does the Christmas tree have roots in early Judaism. The ancient Israelite goddess Asherah was worshipped by erecting “Asherah poles,” which were either carved wooden poles ortrees. “Just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the Asheira cult and its offshoots were recruited by the Church sanctioning ‘Christmas Trees.’”
And the Christmas tree has other herstoric pagan roots as well. Roots buried in the rich soil of Mothers’ Night.
In the Viking saga Erik the Red, on Mothers’ Night a traveling winter seer would pay the locals a visit. She carried a tall, decorated staff and was greeted with a feast and incantations sung to summon the spirits of midwinter.
The seer’s staff symbolized—you guessed it—a tree. That decorated “tree” was an early ancestor of the beautiful evergreen you have sparkling in your living room, and the sacred songs sung to the seer were precursors of today’s Christmas carols. 
4. Down the Chimney and Through the Hearth
“Christmas Fireplace” by Issa Gm. Licensed for public use under the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution.
What’s more Christmas-y than chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the Yule log burning, and stockings hung by the chimney with care? What childhood Christmas is complete without the time-old tale of Santa coming down the chimney? No matter how intrinsic these traditions are to this Christian holiday, the fireplace—the hearth—and the Christmas traditions that surround it, are rooted in herstory.
The tradition of celebrating the hearth comes from the goddess Hestia, whose name means “hearth,” while families used to wait for the goddess Hertha to descend through the chimney bearing her gifts long before there was a Santa Claus.
5. Santa’s Sleigh and Holiday Wishes for Peace on Earth
“Santa’s Sleigh Lands on a Roof.” Public Domain image.
The Roman writer Tacitus tells us that at midwinter the goddess Nerthus—whose name was synonymous with Mother Earth—rode a “sleigh-like wagon” pulled by oxen. Wherever she went, she spread holiday cheer and peace. “It [was] a time of festive holiday-making in whatever place she deign[ed] to honour.” Along with bringing holiday cheer, wherever Nerthus went, “nobody [went] to war, nobody [took] up arms.”
There are loud echoes of Nerthus’ sleigh-like wagon in Santa’s sleigh. Of course the oxen (or cats!) became reindeer, and the sleigh now flies, but one thing remains unchanged in the millennia since Mother Earth was the central figure of Christmas. Wherever Santa goes, he brings holiday celebrations and (at least wishes for) peace on earth.
WOMEN ROCK AT CHRISTMAS AND EVERYDAY!
The information in this article came from Reviving Herstory.
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On November 10, 1969 a ground breaking show named Sesame Street debut. Since yesterday was the birthday of the woman who dreamed the show and brought the show to reality and in the process changed children’s television forever, I thought we would all like to know a little more about Joan Ganz Cooney.
Joan Ganz was born on November 30, 1929, in Phoenix, Arizona. She was raised in a conventional, upper-class household, and attended North High School, Dominican College and the University of Arizona. Though she was initially drawn to the world of theater, at her family’s insistence she pursued a degree in education and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1951.
After college, Ganz developed an interest in journalism and began her career in media as a newspaper reporter for the Arizona Republic. By 1954, she moved to New York City and worked as a publicist for various networks over the next decade. She got her first opportunity to create television programming as a documentary producer for public television in 1962 and won her first Emmy Award, for Poverty, Anti-Poverty, and the Poor. She married her first husband, Timothy Cooney, two years later.
While Cooney enjoyed her work, she found that she wanted to be able to make more of a difference in people’s lives and began to think about the possibilities of using television as a teaching medium. After conducting a formal study on the subject, she used her findings to help convince others of television’s potential for children, and—with financial assistance from the Carnegie Corporation, the U.S. Department of Education and the Ford Foundation—she established the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) in 1968. With her vision beginning to take shape, Cooney immediately set to work producing its first series, the perennial favorite Sesame Street.
Taking inspiration from the style of television commercials, the show had a quick pace intended to hold children’s interest and featured a variety of educational segments in each episode. Along with its multiracial cast of actors, it also featured a number of puppet characters, known as the Muppets, which were created by the late Jim Henson. Sesame Street premiered on the Public Broadcasting System in November 1969 and has remained on the air ever since. Watched by millions around the world it is one of the best-known and best-loved children’s television shows in history. During its nearly half-century run, Sesame Street has earned more than 150 Emmy Awards,
Underlining Cooney and the CTW’s commitment to educational children’s television, in October 1971 The Electric Company premiered on public television. Geared toward primary school children, the show used comedy sketches, appearances from comic book heroes and a variety of other segments to teach important reading skills and featured Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno and Bill Cosby among its original cast members.
Cooney also played a role in the creation of other programs, such as the science-based program 3-2-1 Contact (which ran from 1980 to 1988) and the math series Square One TV (which ran from 1987 to 1992). After divorcing her first husband in 1975, she married businessman Peter G. Peterson in 1980.
In 1990, Cooney relinquished her role as president of the CTW but has remained involved as chair of its executive committee. Now renamed the Sesame Workshop, it continues to thrive in its mission to “help kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” For her part, Cooney remains actively involved with the development of Sesame Street as well as the strategic planning of the organization.
For her creative vision, drive and revolutionary work in children’s television programming, Cooney has been bestowed countless honors. In 1989, she received an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 1995 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998 and received a National Endowment for the Humanities Award in 2006. Cooney has also been awarded countless honorary degrees and in 2007 founded the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit dedicated to children’s education and literacy.
JOAN GANZ CONNEY YOU ROCK!
The information in this article came from Biography.com.
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This was first published last year but I think you will enjoy reading about the Women of Plymouth again. One of the things I will be giving thanks for are the many wonderful readers of this feature and the plethora of inspiring women to write about.
Since yesterday was Thanksgiving, and we all have been taught about the brave men who came over on the Mayflower to establish the first colony and celebrate the first Thanksgiving, I decided to try to give the women who no doubt cooked the first dinner some equal billing.
THE WOMEN OF PLYMOUTH
On September 6, 1620, 102 passengers and 30 crew members boarded the Mayflower. Some were in search of religious freedom; others, new opportunities in a new land. Eighteen adult women were on board.
Only four of those adult women would survive the following year and be present at what has come to be known as the “First Thanksgiving” in the fall of 1621. The reasons for this scale of loss are well known and well documented, and have little to do with the initial concerns related to lack of strength and fortitude that caused many of the Pilgrim men to leave their wives behind in Europe.
When the Pilgrims arrived on the north shore of Massachusetts after their arduous 66-day, 2,800-mile journey, there was much work to be done. While the men organized and executed scouting trips that would ultimately result in the selection of Plymouth as the site for their colony, the women remained in the cramped — and no doubt fetid — ship. Care-giving roles for children soon expanded to include nursing the sick as the winter swiftly ushered in rampant disease.
DUE TO THE ANTIQUATED SOCIAL MORES OF THE TIME, IN WHICH WOMEN WERE ENTIRELY SUBSERVIENT TO MEN, THE DETAILS OF THEIR LIVES ARE SPARSELY RECORDED.
More than half of the new colonists would be buried by the spring.
The hardship and loss endured by the surviving women is unimaginable. And due to the antiquated social mores of the time, in which women were entirely subservient to men, the details of their lives are sparsely recorded.
Perhaps the most complicated legacy is that of Eleanor Billington. She was the matriarch of the black sheep family of Plymouth: her husband, John Billington Sr., was the first murderer in the new colony and the first to be hanged for his crimes. Her son Francis fired a musket shot aboard the ship that narrowly missed a powder keg, which could have significantly altered history. And her son John Jr.’s disappearance ended when he was found and peacefully returned by a local Native American tribe in what otherwise could have been a history-changing early skirmish. Billington herself would be no stranger to controversy — she was later sentenced to sit in the stocks and be whipped for slandering John Doane. Yet, historians suggest that black sheep was not the only role she played: Eleanor Billington was also responsible for sharing the duties of caring for the sick during that first devastating winter. Elizabeth Hopkins was one of three women who were in the third trimester of pregnancy when the Mayflower departed. She went on to give birth to a son, Oceanus, during the voyage. She and husband Stephen Hopkins, one of the most prominent “Strangers” to land, led a fruitful and colorful life that would see him run afoul of the law for a variety of offenses related to drunken revelry in their home. Mary Brewster joined her husband William and their children, Love and Wrestling, on the Mayflower. William Brewster is one of the most celebrated figures in this early chapter of American history, serving as a chief advisor to Gov. William Bradford, and Mary, according to historical accounts, is said to have acted as a sort of mother figure to colonists, playing a particularly strong role in the moral education of the women and children. Of her death in 1627, at the age of 57, Bradford wrote, “her great and continual labours, with other crosses and sorrows, hastened it before y’e time.” Susanna White Winslow made history twice in the earliest days of New England. She bore the first child there when her son Peregrine was born while the ship was anchored in Provincetown Harbor. And after the death of first husband William White, she married Edward Winslow, viewed as one of the most energetic and trusted men in the colony, in the first wedding recorded there.
Two younger girls, Priscilla Mullins and Elizabeth Tilley, both of whom were left orphaned in the first winter, also survived to the first Thanksgiving. They would go on to have a significant impact on the colony. Priscilla Mullins found a sort of romantic immortality thanks to a largely fictionalized account of her relationship with future husband John Alden in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Courtship of Myles Standish.” About 20 years old when she arrived on Plymouth’s shores, Priscilla was said to be attractive, a good cook, and a strong wit. The latter quality, regardless of whether she actually uttered the words, is immortalized in the most famous moment of the poem, when Alden is dispatched by Standish to ask for Priscilla’s hand in marriage, only to be chided, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” Elizabeth Tilley was 13 when she arrived in Plymouth. Following the death of her parents, she was taken in by Gov. John Carver and his wife Catharine, both of whom would be gone themselves within the year. She would then be taken in by the Carver’s manservant John Howland, and the two would later marry and have 10 children, all of whom would live to adulthood and would eventually create more than a million ancestors. The lineage includes Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush; writer Ralph Waldo Emerson; actor Christopher Lloyd; and former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
LADIES OF PLYMOUTH YOU ROCK!
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Information in this article came from National Geographic
SAINTS & STRANGERS
By John Kelly
In the 1970’s the feminist movement brought recognition to domestic arts and textiles. This led to the rediscovery of Harriet Powers, whose two surviving quilts currently hang in the Smithsonian and in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Harriet Powers, folk artist and quilt maker, was born into slavery outside Athens, Georgia (1837). She was married at 18 and gave birth to nine children. She lived most of her life in Clarke County, where in 1897, she began exhibiting her quilts at local cotton fairs. She was believed to have been a house slave and first learned to read with the help of the white children she cared for.
Powers quilts used a combination of hand and machine stitching along with appliqué to form small detailed panels. She then organized these squares to unfold a larger story, much like a modern graphic novel. This teaching style of quilting has its roots in West African coastal communities, and her uneven edging of panels mirrored the complex rhythms of African-American folk music. Through her quilts, she recorded legends and biblical tales of patience and divine justice. Only two pieces of her work have survived: Her Bible quilt of 1886, which she sold for $5 in the aftermath of the war, now hangs in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Her Pictorial quilt of 1888 is displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Powers’ work is now considered among the finest examples of Southern quilting from the 19th century.
Harriet Powers. Pictorial quilt. 1895-98. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Harriet Powers Bible Quilt, Smithsonian
HARRIET POWERS YOU ROCK!
The information in this post first appeared in the The Writer’s Almanac.
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Saturday, November 11 is a day set aside to honor our country’s Veterans of War. Today I am using this space to honor American Women Veterans.
World War I
More than 35,000 American women served in the military during World War I.
Their service helped propel the passage of the 19th Amendment
Upwards of 25,000 American women between the ages of 21 and 69 served overseas during World War I. They began going in August of 1914—at first singly or with a few companions, later with service organizations, and lastly at the request of the U.S. government. Although the largest number were nurses, women served in numerous other capacities – from administrators and secretaries to telephone operators and architects. Many women continued to serve long after Armistice Day, some returning home as late as 1923. Their efforts and contributions in the Great War left a lasting legacy that inspired change across the nation. The service of these women helped propel the passage of the 19th Amendment, June 4, 1919, guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Army Nurse Corps
More than half of the women who served in the U.S. armed forces in World War I – roughly 21,000 – belonged to the Army Nurse Corps.
U.S. Army Signal Corps
The U.S. Army Signal Corps recruited and trained more than 220 women – best known as the “Hello Girls” – to serve overseas as bilingual telephone operators.
Civilian Welfare Organization
Women served in large numbers in civilian welfare organizations both at home and abroad, including the American Red Cross, YMCA, and Salvation Army.
The National Service School is organized by the Women’s Naval Service to train women for duties in time of war and national disaster.
Large numbers of civilian women worked in the manufacturing of munitions. The Army Ordnance Corps contracts women clerks to support its operations.
The Army School of Nursing is authorized as an alternative to utilizing nurses’ aides in Army hospitals, May 25.
World War II
‘To free a man to fight’
Although the idea of women in the Army other than the Army Nurse Corps was not completely abandoned following World War I, it was not until the threat of world war loomed again that renewed interest was given to this issue. With the rumblings of World War II on the horizon, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts states, “I was resolved that our women would not again serve with the Army without the same protection the men got.” Consequently, the creation of the Women’s Army Corps is one of the most dramatic gender-changing events in American history.
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were the first brave women to fly American military aircraft. They forever changed the role of women in aviation.
Women step up to perform an array of critical Army jobs, “to free a man to fight.” They work in hundreds of fields such as military intelligence, cryptography, parachute rigging, maintenance and supply, to name a few. Additionally, more than 60,000 Army Nurses serve around the world and over 1,000 women flew aircraft for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. Through the course of the war, 140,000 women served in the U.S. Army and the Women’s Army Corps proved itself vital to the effort. The selfless sacrifice of these brave women usher in new economic and social changes that will forever alter the role of women in American society.
Creation of the Women’s Army Corps
Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) is established, May 14. WAAC women work in primarily four fields: baking, clerical, driving and medical. Within one year, this expands to over 400 jobs.
The 149th Post Headquarters Company becomes the first WAAC unit to serve overseas.
WAAC converts into Women’s Army Corps (WAC), July 1, giving women military status, equal benefits and pay, and the same disciplinary code as men.
A WAC recruiting campaign in Puerto Rico results in 200 women being selected from a pool of the 1,500 applicants. They were sent to Fort Ogelthorpe, Ga. for training.
The 6888th Central Postal Battalion is the first and only African-American WAC unit deployed overseas during World War II.
Japanese-American women are recruited to work in the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling, Minn. Other Nisei WACs receive training in clerical, medical and supply positions.
A Permanent Presence
Gender and racial integration
The period immediately following World War II was one of uncertainty and constant change for the Women’s Army Corps personnel. The original intent of the WAC was to last for the duration of the war plus 6-months. However, this post-war period also marked great strides for integrating both the WAC and the Army Nurse Corps into the Regular Army.
Women’s Armed Services Integration Act creates regular and reserve status for women in the Army, June 12.
The first WAC Training Center officially opens at Camp Lee, Va., Oct. 4.
The Army eliminates the 10 percent racial quota, ending racial segregation in the WAC.
Company B, previously an all-black unit, completes its last class of segregated training, welcoming desegregation at Camp Lee.
Army nurses were the only military women allowed into the combat theater during the Korean War.
The involuntary recall of reserve officers for the Korean War marks the first time women are summoned to active duty without their consent.
Professional and Poised
The Women’s Army marches on
After the Korean War, and with the move of the WAC Training Center and School to Fort McClellan, Ala., the focus of the Corps shifted to the examination of management practices and the image of the WAC. The WAC directors in the 1950s and 1960s sought to expand WAC by increasing the types of jobs available in the Army, and by promoting the Corps to not only possible recruits, but also to their family members. The leadership worked hard to act as role models and to instruct the women to respect the Corps, take pride in their work, and ensure that their personal behavior and appearance was always above reproach. Their success was marked by a request from the Army chief of staff to lift the recruitment ceiling on the number of women. It was also during this era we see the removal of restrictions on promotions, assignments and utilization.
First Army green uniform issued to women in March, marking a step toward equality between men and women Soldiers.
First WAC officers assigned to Vietnam, nearly a decade after U.S. involvement in the war.
WACs allowed to serve in the Army National Guard.
Public Law 90-130 equalized promotion and retirement rules for all military officers.
Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson becomes the first WAC promoted to command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank, March 30.
First three women graduate from the Army War College in May.
Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington and Brig. Gen. Anna Mae Hays become the first two women in the U.S. Armed Forces to achieve the rank of brigadier general, June 11.
All MOSs open up to women, except for 48 combat or hazardous duty MOSs.
Women allowed to command men, except in combat units, for the first time in history.
A Time of Change
Moving toward equality and the disestablishment of the WAC
The Vietnam War, the elimination of the draft, and the rise of the feminist movement had a major impact on both the Women’s Army Corps and Army Nurse Corps. There was a renewed emphasis on parity and increased opportunity for women in uniform.
Mandatory defensive weapons training initiated for enlisted women, June 1975.
Women are permitted to be admitted to all service academies.
Women authorized to serve the same length of overseas tours as men, Jan. 1.
The first combined gender class for a military occupational specialty, or MOS, school begins, July 8.
Men and women integrate in the same basic training units in September.
WAC is disestablished as a separate Corps of the Army.
A New Era
Providing greater opportunities for women
The disestablishment of the WAC and the integration of women into the Regular Army paved the way for women to continue breaking down gender barriers. In the ensuing years, the Army was called upon to respond to regional conflicts, natural disasters and humanitarian crises around the globe. The roles of Army Women are tested and re-defined during these contingency operations.
In November, 2nd Lt. Marcella Hayes becomes the first black female pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces when she graduated from Army Flight School.
The first women cadets graduate from U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
More than 100 women participate in Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada, the first assignment for women since the disestablishment of the WAC.
Women are allowed to fly helicopters for the first time in an armed conflict.
Capt. Linda Bray becomes the first woman to command U.S. troops in combat during Operation Just Cause, Panama.
In the largest call up of women since World War II, over 24,000 women served during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Looking to the future
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 mark a pivotal changing point for Army women. As the Army’s mission changed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, so did the roles of women in its ranks. With the Global War on Terror campaign, there was a rapid expansion of jobs and change in roles for Army women. Beginning In 2016, women have the equal right to choose any military occupational specialty including ground combat units that were previously unauthorized.
Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester becomes the first woman in U.S. military history to earn the Silver Star for direct combat action, June 16.
Col. Stephanie Dawson, the first female brigade commander in the New York Army National Guard, takes command of the 369th Sustainment Brigade, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, Nov. 16.
Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody becomes the first female four-star general in military history, Nov. 14.
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh signs a directive authorizing more opportunities for women – approximately 33,000 position – to serve in a wider range of roles that previously were closed to women, implemented April 8.
With the New York City Marathon coming up on November 5th, I though I would share the story of one of the winningest women in the cannons of the marathon and in life. Grete Waitz was a Norwegian schoolteacher who won more New York City Marathons — nine — than anyone else, and whose humility and athleticism made her a singularly graceful champion and a role model for young runners, especially women.
In 1991, Runner’s World magazine named Waitz the female runner of the quarter-century, and she was perhaps the pre-eminent female distance runner in history. She twice set the world record at 3,000 meters, and she set world records at distances of 8 kilometers, 10 kilometers, 15 kilometers and 10 miles.
But it was in the marathon, the 26.2-mile symbol of human endurance, that Waitz most distinguished herself, setting a world record of 2 hours 32 minutes 30 seconds the first time she ran one, in New York in 1978, and subsequently lowering the world standard three more times. In addition to her New York City victories, Waitz won the London Marathon twice, the Stockholm Marathon once and the world championship marathon in 1983.
“She is our sport’s towering legend,” said Mary Wittenberg, the president of the New York Road Runners. “I believe not only in New York, but around the world, marathoning is what it is today because of Grete. She was the first big time female track runner to step up to the marathon and change the whole sport.”
Grete Waitz (whose name was pronounced GREH-tuh VITES) was not simply a champion, however; she was also something of a pioneer. At the time of her first New York victory, women’s distance running was a novelty. Just 938 out of 8,937 entrants in the 1978 New York marathon were women — in 2010, 16,253 of 45,350 entrants were — and the women’s marathon would not be added to the Olympics until the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where Waitz finished second to Joan Benoit Samuelson.
“What will endure forever is that she was able to balance a competitive career with the most gracious lifestyle, and a character that emanated good will,” Samuelson said.
Remarkably, Waitz, a champion track runner, ran her first marathon as a lark, with the encouragement of her husband, who was also her coach, and who told her that a trip to New York would be like a second honeymoon for them. Even in training she had never run more than 13 miles, and the science of the sport was young enough that her dinner the night before the race included shrimp cocktail and filet mignon, hardly the load of carbohydrates that even today’s rankest amateurs know to consume. As she recalled in later interviews, the last 10 miles of the race were agony, and she was so angry at her husband that when she crossed the finish line, she tore off her shoes and flung them at him.
“I’ll never do this stupid thing again,” she yelled.
She was, however, hooked. The next year, she finished the race in 2:27:33, beating her record by almost five minutes and becoming the first woman to officially run a marathon faster than two and a half hours. Her legendary status was assured.
In her home country, her New York victories conferred on her the status of a national hero; a statue of her stands outside Bislett Stadium, an international sports arena in Oslo, and her likeness appeared on a Norwegian postage stamp. She established a 5-kilometer race in Oslo that eventually expanded to 40,000 runners, and in 2007, she started her foundation, which sponsors runners in major races and supports cancer hospitals and patient centers.
“I am convinced you can go through a lot more when you are physically fit,” Waitz said to explain her foundation’s philosophy. “It is both physical and mental. With the athletic background, you think more on the positive side — you can do this.”
But she was also lionized in this country, and especially in New York, and the image of her on the road — a quick, efficient stride, her pigtails slicing back and forth like metronomic windshield wipers — became familiar.
She won her victories as the popularity of the New York marathon itself surged, and she became a celebrity in the city. Cabdrivers and the homeless called her by her first name, and over the years, she and her husband made appearances not only at the marathon but also at other New York events, including Grete’s Great Gallop, a half-marathon run each October as part of a Norwegian festival.
Working with the New York Road Runners Foundation, she frequently spoke to the city’s schoolchildren, and she often appeared on behalf of Fred’s Team, the cancer charity started by her friend Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York marathon, who died of the disease in 1994.
“Every sport should have a true champion like Grete, a woman with such dignity and humanity and modesty,” said George Hirsch, the chairman of the New York Road Runners. “She symbolized what was so great about the community of marathoners.”
GRETE WAITZ YOU ROCK!
The information in this post first appeared in the The New York Times Obits.
I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.
As I am sure that most of you know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I am going to share with you the stories of two of my personal heroes. One is a survivor of breast cancer and the other works tirelessly to raise money for the eradication of women’s cancers. I have had the privilege of being their friend for over 35 years.
We all started out as young mothers in our much loved town of Haddonfield. Fran and Nancy were always organizers and soon I joined in and we were working on all kind of activities to help our children’s school.
We had splendid lives that were only touched by ordinary problems. But, as everyone knows, this type of life doesn’t last forever.
Nancy’s story – The first harbinger of trouble came when Nancy and her first husband divorced. It was a shock to everyone, including her. Nancy was left with two children to raise and a pocketbook full of bills. But to Nancy’s credit, she picked herself up and reinvented her life. She took the experience she gained from all those numerous fund raising activities she had worked on and built a business advising Not for Profit agencies how to increase donations. Nancy didn’t just survive, she thrived.
One of Nancy’s early efforts was to help form a group called Teal Magnolias. The purpose of Teal Magnolias is to raise funds for research for a cure for Ovarian Cancer. Nancy built this effort into such as success that five years after its inception, Cooper Hospital came calling and asked to join forces to build one effort called Pink and Teal. Pink for breast cancer research and Teal for ovarian cancer research. Last year this event raised $750,000.
Little did Nancy or Fran or I realize at the time how personal this effort would become to us.
Fran’s story – Fran lived the life we did, seemingly untroubled for years and years. Fran did have one health scare early on but she recovered completely and it faded from memory and became only a little blip in the story of her life. Her wonderful husband Richard retired and they set out on a fun filled retirement life. Then one day they heard that dreaded word – cancer. Richard had a very rare cancer that really had no cure. They gave it their most valiant fight. But Richard lost the fight and Fran became a young widow. And once again I watched a friend reinvent her life and keep going. Well, sometimes life deals you the joker twice. Fran had no sooner gotten her life back in order than she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now she had to face the fight for her life without the benefit of a spouse to help her. How was she going to do it became my constant worry. But I had no reason for that worry, when you have been a good friend to many people for year upon year, those people come out of the woodwork to help you.
Fran is done her treatment now and honestly looks more vibrant than before she suffered from breast cancer. She rose above the circumstances of her life to become a dedicated supporter of the Pink and Teal Organization. Fran didn’t just survive, she has thrived.
These women are my heroes. I am sure that all of us have women in our lives that we love. Let’s extend that love to every woman and support the efforts to find cures for women’s cancers not just in October but in every month of the year.
FRAN AND NANCY YOU ROCK!
I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.
One of the most popular shows on television right now is Madam Secretary. The show’s popularity is due in no small part because the storyline showcases a woman in an important decision making position in our government. Something that seems to be lacking in our current administration. I thought we might like to have a refresher on the original Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright.
After the war, her family moved back to Czechoslovakia but in 1948 they had to flee their homeland once again because of the Communist takeover of the Czech Government.
Madeleine graduated from Wesley College and began her career assisting in two presidential campaigns. She then became a National Security Advisor under President Jimmy Carter.
Madeleine Albright went on to become the first woman to serve as the U.S. Secretary of State. She served as the 64th United States Secretary of State and the 20th United States Ambassador to the United Nations. She accomplished while simultaneously being a wife and a mother to three children.
Since retirement Madeleine has stayed active in shaping world history. In 2007, she was the chairperson at the Women’s Ministerial Initiative organized by the Council of Women World Leaders. The following year, she supported Hillary Clinton in the Presidential campaign.
Madeleine is widely quoted as saying: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT YOU ROCK!
I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman. I will try to share your post over the weekend.