HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY

The Unconventional Life of Mary Walker, the Only Woman to Have Received the U.S. Medal of Honor

Dress reformer, women’s rights activist, and all-around pioneer.

Mary Walker, with her Medal of Honor on her lapel, 1873.

Mary Walker, with her Medal of Honor on her lapel, 1873. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/ LC-DIG-BELLCM-25836

On a summer day in 1866, Mary Edwards Walker exited a milliner’s store on Canal Street, in New York, and was promptly arrested. A report the following day stated, “The lady wore a long coat or robe and a pair of cloth pants, and the guardian of the public peace, imagining that there was something wrong about this, and that a lady ought not be allowed to dress as she pleases, undertook to arrest her.”

The 19th-century dress reform movement had started 16 years earlier with the “bloomer,” a billowing, tapered pant that had been adopted, briefly, by middle-class women as an alternative path to gender equality. The bloomer’s popularity was, for the most part, short-lived, largely on account of the ridicule and harassment faced by the women who wore them, but for Walker, a physician, dress reform was critical to women’s emancipation.

Consider the typical outfit for women of a certain class in the late 1850s: a chemise and drawers, a tight-fitting corset, a crinoline cage underskirt, petticoats, a dress, stockings, and slippers. The long skirts dragged in the dirt, spreading disease; crinolines were flammable; corsets were constricting; and fabrics were frequently dyed with arsenic. It was a hazardous and uncomfortable time for women’s fashion, and Walker wanted to change that.

Mary Walker grew up on a farm in Oswego, New York, into a family of abolitionists who emphasized education and equality. They were anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco, and her father believed corsets were damaging to health. After working as a teacher, Walker attended medical school in Syracuse and graduated, with honors, in 1855. At her wedding in 1856, to fellow medical student Albert Miller, she wore the “reform costume”—a skirt over pants—and she did not follow the traditional vows and promise to “obey” her husband.

Mary Walker, 1860.
Mary Walker, 1860. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/ LC-DIG-PPMSCA-19911

Walker began to lecture and contribute to the reform magazine Sibyl: A Review of the Tastes, Errors and Fashions of Society. She urged women to “go to a smith and have their dressical and dietetical chains severed so they may go forth free, sensible women.” Although an ardent support of women’s rights in general, dress reform was her priority. “The greatest sorrows from which women suffer today are … caused by their unhygienic manner of dressing. The want of the ballot is but a toy in comparison!”

Unlike other suffragists, Walker argued that women already had the right to vote, on the basis that the words “We the People” are not gender-specific. To her, there was no need to enshrine in the Constitution a right already given.

After the wedding, Walker and Miller established a private practice, but neither that nor the marriage was a success. The practice failed, reportedly, because patients did not want to see a female physician, and the marriage due to her husband’s infidelity. She left them both in 1859.

Two photographs of Walker, taken between 1860 and 1865.
Two photographs of Walker, taken between 1860 and 1865. NATIONAL ARCHIVES

In July 1861, after spending time in Iowa (in an attempt to capitalize on the state’s more lax divorce laws), Walker moved to Washington, D.C., where she applied for a military surgeon’s contract in the Union Army. She was denied, and instead was offered a position as a nurse, which she refused. Walker continued to petition for a surgeon’s role while volunteering as a doctor. In December 1862, the New York Tribune wrote, “Dressed in male habiliments … she can amputate a limb with the skill of an old surgeon, and administer medicine equally as well. Strange to say that, although she has frequently applied for a permanent position in the medical corps, she has never been formally assigned to any particular duty.”

Eventually, in 1864, she was assigned as the acting assistant surgeon to the 53nd Ohio Volunteers, an appointment that the director of the medical staff called a “medical monstrosity.” She wore an officer’s uniform, with small modifications, and carried two pistols. In April 1864, she was captured behind enemy lines and kept at the Confederate prison Castle Thunder for four months, until she was released through a prisoner exchange.

Following the war, Walker continued to advocate for dress reform. She designed a “dress reform undersuit,” which, she declared, was a solution “to cruel corsets, tight garters and other underpinnings.” She also claimed, dubiously, that the garment prevented seduction and rape.

Walker's "dress reform undersuit."
Walker’s “dress reform undersuit.” LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/ LC-USZ62-60517

She also traveled to England to state her case to crowds in London and Manchester. In London, her address began “Gentlemen and Ladies,” and in the same speech, she said that “she was one of those who thought it was better and easier to live out their own individual lives, and to use the powers specially bestowed upon them, than to live according to other people’s notions—to live, in fact, the lives of other persons.”

Walker’s speeches also drew attention to the double standards women faced. A report from Edinburgh in 1867 noted, “She also thought the press often did not do so much justice to women as they might. They often criticized women severely when they allowed men to pass, saying very little about them.”

A cartoon depicting the "eminent women's rights activist" Walker during her visit to meet President-Elect Grover Cleveland in 1885. A "strong minded woman" who "crossed her legs just like a man," it stated."
A cartoon depicting the “eminent women’s rights activist” Walker during her visit to meet President-Elect Grover Cleveland in 1885. A “strong minded woman” who “crossed her legs just like a man,” it stated.” NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY/ PUBLIC DOMAIN

Back in the United States, the suffragists were wary of Walker, both because of her controversial attire and her perspective on the need for a constitutional amendment. For a few years, she lived with lawyer and activist Belva Lockwood. Together with five others, they tried to register to vote, and failed. By the 1870s she had adopted the attire that she would wear for the rest of her life: trousers, vest, coat, and top hat. She was harassed in the street. A woman set her dog on Walker and, on one occasion, she was pelted with eggs. To support herself, she wrote two books, and toward the end of the 19th century, agreed to appear in dime museums—popular but lowbrow attractions.

Mary Walker, c. 1911.
Mary Walker, c. 1911. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/ LC-USZ62-48794

Walker radically challenged 19th-century gender norms. Of her choice of wardrobe, Walker stated, “I don’t wear men’s clothes, I wear my own clothes.” She kept her maiden name, saying “a woman’s name is as dear to her as a man’s is to him.” She argued that the pensions of wartime nurses should equal those of veterans. And, a century before the women’s liberation movement, she argued that women should be able to support themselves and receive equal pay for equal work, as well as recognition for their work in the home: “Too well do women know the great mass of men feel that if they earn the money, they have performed nine-tenths of living, and whatever a women does is only of minor consideration.”

To this day, Walker remains the only women to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the country’s highest award for wartime valor, although it did not come without controversy. In 1865, President Andrew Johnson* awarded it to her along with 910 other civilians (all men) for their duty in the Civil War. Walker’s citation mentioned her service treating the sick and wounded at several battles, as well as her time as a prisoner of war. But in 1917, a change to eligibility meant that any medal not earned in “actual combat” was revoked. Walker ignored the change and continued to wear the medal on her lapel until her death. Sixty years later, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter restored the award, which is today on display at the Pentagon.

Walker died the year before women obtained the right to vote. She was buried at the family plot in Oswego, in a black suit.

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FEMINIST FRIDAY

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.

Photo

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.

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FEMINIST FRIDAY

 

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! 

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FEMINIST FRIDAY

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.

Marie Jana Korbelová was born on May 15th in the Smíchov district of Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Adolf Hitler forced the family into exile because of their political beliefs and Madeleine and her family spent the war years in Britain. They first lived on Kensington Park Road in Notting Hill, London, where they endured the worst of the Blitz.  Madeleine remembers hiding under a large metal table, to protect the family from the recurring threat of Nazi air raids.

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!

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FEMINIST FRIDAY

Every once in a while a friend recommends a story about an amazing woman to me.  My friend, Elizabeth, brought Gertrude to my attention and boy am I glad she did.  What an amazing woman.

Gertrude Bell: The Queen of the Desert 

Born into an affluent, progressive family, Gertrude Bell lived a life of adventure and intrigue. She defied the expectations of a woman in Victorian England, becoming a world traveler, a skilled mountaineer and an accomplished archaeologist. Well versed in the lands and cultures of Mesopotamia, Bell put her knowledge to work for the British government during World War I. After the war ended, she was instrumental in the creation of the country we now known as Iraq.

Bell was the first woman to earn first-degree honors in modern history at Oxford. At the time, few women attended college, but Bell was fortunate to have a supportive family who allowed her to advance her education. She attended Lady Margaret Hall, one of the only colleges in Oxford that accepted women.

Bell was unlucky in love. The first man she fell for was Henry Cadogan, a member of the foreign service she met while visiting Iran in 1892. The couple shared a love of literature, including the poetry of Rudyard Kiplingand the stories of Henry James. Unfortunately for Bell, her father disapproved of the match. He objected to Cadogan’s gambling habit and its accompanying debt.

Later Bell became enamored with a married British officer, Dick Doughty-Wylie. According to an article in the Telegraph newspaper, the pair exchanged numerous letters expressing their affection for each other. Bell wanted Doughty-Wylie to leave his wife for her, and his wife threatened suicide if he did. The whole tragic mess ended when Doughty-Wylie died in the battle at Gallipoli in 1915.

A skilled mountaineer, Bell almost met her end on a slope in 1902.She started climbing years earlier during a family holiday in La Grave, France, in 1897. She tackled greater heights with her 1899 ascents of the Meije and Les Ecrins in the French region of the Alps. Bell continued to challenge herself with other peaks in the Swiss Alps the following year. Becoming one of the leading female climbers of her day, she helped tackle some of the virgin peaks of the Engelhorner range. One of these previously uncharted peaks was named Gertrudspitze in her honor.

Bell, with her guides, tried to climb another mountain, the Finsteraarhorn, in 1902, when a blizzard hit. She spent more than 50 hours on a rope on the mountain’s northeast side before she was able to make it back to a local village with her guides. The experience left Bell with frostbitten hands and feet, but it did not end her love of climbing. She went on to scale the Matterhorn in 1904. She described her experience in one of her letters, according to A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert. “It was beautiful climbing, never seriously difficult, but never easy, and most of the time on a great steep face which was splendid to go upon.”

Bell’s fascination with the Middle East began with a visit to Iran in 1892. Her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, was the British ambassador at the time she made her first journey to the region. To prepare for the trip, Bell studied Persian and continued to actively work on learning the language while in Tehran. She later took up Arabic, a language she found especially challenging. As she wrote in one of her letters, “there are at least three sounds almost impossible to the European throat.”

Later traveling extensively through the region, Bell found inspiration for several of her writing projects. She published her first travel book, Safar Nameh: Persia Pictures, in 1894. In 1897, her English translations of Poems from the Divan of Hafiz were published and are still considered some of the finest versions of these works today.

Bell was passionate about archaeology. She had developed this interest during a family trip in 1899, visiting an excavation of the Melos, an ancient city in Greece. Bell undertook several archaeology-related journeys, including a 1909 trek along the course of the Euphrates River. She often documented the sites she found by taking photographs. In one of her projects, she worked with archaeologist Sir William Mitchell Ramsey on The Thousand and One Churches (1909), which featured Bin-Bir-Kilisse, an archaeological site in Turkey.

During her career in military intelligence and civil service, Bell was the only woman working for the British government in the Middle East. She worked with T.E. Lawrence, perhaps better known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” in the Arab Bureau during World War I. Based in Cairo, the bureau gathered and analyzed information to help the British oust the Ottoman Empire from the region. The British had suffered several military defeats against them when Lawrence devised a new strategy. He wanted to recruit Arab peoples to oppose the Turks, and Bell helped him to drum up support for this effort.

After the war, Bell sought to help the Arabs. She wrote “Self-Determination in Mesopotamia,” a paper that earned her a seat at the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris. Bell continued to explore related political and social issues in her 1920 work Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia. She was involved the 1921 Conference in Cairo with Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, that established the boundaries of Iraq. Bell also helped bring Faisal I to power as Iraq’s new king. For her work on their behalf, Bell earned the respect of the peoples of Mesopotamia. She was often addressed as “khutan,” which means “queen” in Persian and “respected lady” in Arabic.

Bell helped establish what is now the Iraq Museum. She wanted to help preserve the country’s heritage. In 1922, Bell was named the director of antiquities by King Faisal and she worked hard to keep important artifacts in Iraq. Bell aided in the crafting of the 1922 Law of Excavation. A few years later, the museum opened its first exhibition space in 1926. She spent the final months of her life working on the museum, cataloguing items found at Ur and Kish, two ancient Sumerian cities. Bell died on July 12, 1926, in Baghdad.

GERTRUDE BELL YOU ROCK!

The information in this post was written by Wendy Mead for Biography.Com.

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FEMINIST FRIDAY

This is a reprint of an article I wrote some time ago.  With the anniversary of 9/11 on Monday,  and with all the heroic work that first responders have been doing for the last few weeks, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce you to a hero, Moria Smith.  Moria selflessly gave her life so that many others could live.  What follows is an article by a man who was probably one of the last people to see her alive.

Moira Smith

I was one of the last people to see Police Officer Moira Smith before she perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center. I remember her very vividly because my experience was personal, intense, and unique. This is to document what she was doing in those final minutes.

I have to background this story by saying that my wife has been a flight attendant for a major US Airline for over twenty years. During that time, she has received extensive training in emergency evacuation procedures. I have seen her practice the drill for evacuating passengers from a fiery aircraft on many occasions. I always felt that she was very sincere about executing her responsibility in such a situation. Her rehearsals includeded details that would never occur to the average person. For example, she was trained to touch a door with the back of her hand before opening it. If the door was so hot that it burned her hand, she would still be able to use the front of her hand to hold a rope should that be necessary. The dedication and intensity with which she executed these exercises left me no doubt about her intention to perform in an emergency situation.

On 9/11, I entered 2 WTC moments before the first tower was struck. I took the express elevator to the 78th floor sky lobby and everything appeared normal. I entered the local elevator and pressed 84. The elevator stopped on the 82nd floor and a young man leapt into the car just as the door was closing. He was screaming, “Terrorists, go down” I asked him what he had seen, but he was in such a state of shock he couldn’t communicate. He was crouched in the corner and kept saying, “Fire! Fire”

The elevator continued up to my floor but I didn’t get out. I kept trying to find out what the young man had seen. When we got back down to the sky lobby, the scene has changed completely. The floor was packed, and people were lined up ten deep in front of the express elevators to go back down. We weren’t sure if the elevators were going to be running, so many of us started down the stairs.

At first, it was a slow march. There were people streaming into the descending crowd on every floor. However, when we had gone down about ten floors, the flow of people joining us stopped. I though that perhaps the situation had clarified, and I decided to view the scene for myself.

The first reentry door was on the sixtieth floor. I asked a fellow who was walking around locking up offices where I could go to see the North Tower. He pointed down a hallway and said, “It’s that way, but don’t look. It’s too horrible!”

I went anyway. When I got to the window, I looked up and saw the flames shooting out of the top floors. I looked down and saw three distinct large pools of blood. I reckon the largest was thirty yards across. The bodies were mixed in with the wreckage and I could make out several legs sticking out of the debris. I looked back up just to see a man in a white shirt jumping from a top floor. I saw his face clearly. My eyes followed him down till the ground came into focus, then I looked away.

My reaction was very physical and intense. My stomach turned, my knees became wobbly, and my eyes saw black. I almost passed out.

I thought that by exiting the building under these circumstances I would add to the confusion and impede the rescue workers. I decided to sit down and wait for the emergency to get under control. I had been sitting for about 15 minutes, when the second plane hit our building. We knew something enormous had happened because the building shook and the temperature rose by ten degrees in an instant.

There were about ten of us who had been sitting around in the reception area on that floor. We all got up quickly and hurried down the steps. The staircase was open now and we were moving quite fast.

After we had gone down several floors, we came to a cripple woman lying on a landing between floors. Her walking cane was by her side and she was looking at the people hurrying by. She was yelling, “I’m going to die. I’m going to die.” I felt a pang of guilt as I continued past her with the rest of the crowd. My mind flashed images of my wife alone in the bed and my sons without a father. Nothing else mattered, I had to get out.

When we got down to about the fifth floor, we caught up with the tail end of the main crowd. The trek down the steps became a slow march again. I looked back to see who was behind us. There I saw an Oriental fellow carrying the crippled woman on his back.

I didn’t fault myself for being a coward. Rather, I admired him for being calm and composed in this emergency situation. I thought, “I could have done that too – or at least I could have helped out – but I’m not thinking – I’m panicked”. As we stood there in the dimly lit staircase, I was thinking about the carnage I would witness when we came out into the plaza lobby. I was trying to brace myself. To be prepared for the worst.

We exited the stairwell to a ramp which led toward the main plaza. A slow moving line progressed along the ramp to a down escalator which connected to the underground passageway being used to exit the compound. Moira stood at the end of the ramp directing the traffic down the escalator. She had her flashlight in her right hand and she was waving it like a baton. She was repeating over and over- “Don’t look! Keep Moving.”

I immediately had the sensation that I knew what had happened there before. I thought: groups of people had come through here and stopped to look at the horror of the situation. There mass hysteria and the exit paths were blocked. She broke it up and got things moving again. Now she’s making sure it doesn’t happen again.

It was a very intense personal experience for me. It was like I was in a scene that I had witnessed before only this time – instead of my wife rescuing strangers – it was me being rescued by Moira.

I came to the end of the ramp and I was standing squarely in front of Moira, I leaned to the left to try look past her to see the plaza. She quickly matched my motion and blocked my vision saying “don’t look.” Our eyes made direct contact. My eyes said to her, “I know how bad it is and I understand what you’re doing.” Her face was full of pain and her eyes said to me, “In this horrific situation, this is the best and only thing I can do.”

The mass of people exiting the building felt the calm assurance that they were being directed by someone in authority who was in control of the situation. Her actions even seemed ordinary, even commonplace. She insulated the evacuees from the awareness of the dangerous situation they were in, with the result that everything preceded smoothly.

In my company – sixty one people perished – one hundred eighty survived. Afterwards, I asked several of my fellow employees if they had noticed the woman police officer at the escalator landing. They said, “Yeah – she was directing traffic.”

A statue of Moira –holding her flashlight while evacuating the building – would be an excellent way to pay tribute to the heroism of the NYPD on 9/11. As a work of art, it would work on many levels.

It commemorates the Supreme Sacrifice in an understated way that will encourage viewers to look twice.
It will have special meaning for women. Moira’s job on 9/11 was without heraldry, yet she may have been responsible for saving more lives than anyone else.
Contact the Author – Martin Glynn

MOIRA SMITH YOU ROCK!

 

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FEMINIST FRIDAY

When my children were preschool age it was very popular to send your child to a Montessori Preschool.  I really knew nothing about Dr. Montessori or her method, so I was intrigued to learn about what an inspiring woman she was.  In honor of the first week of school in our district, I would like to introduce you to this innovator.

Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy (1870). She was a bright student, studied engineering when she was 13, and — against her father’s wishes — she entered a technical school, where all her classmates were boys. After a few years, she decided to pursue medicine, and she became the first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree. It was so unheard of for a woman to go to medical school that she had to get the approval of the pope in order to study there.As a doctor, she worked with children with special needs, and through her work with them she became increasingly interested in education. She believed that children were not blank slates, but that they each had inherent, individual gifts. It was a teacher’s job to help children find these gifts, rather than dictating what a child should know. She emphasized independence, self-directed learning, and learning from peers. Children were encouraged to make decisions. She was the first educator to use child-sized tables and chairs in the classroom.

During World War II, Montessori was exiled from Italy because she was opposed to Mussolini’s fascism and his desire to make her a figurehead for the Italian government. She lived and worked in India for many years, and then in Holland. She died in 1952 at the age of 81.

She wrote many books about her philosophy of education, including The Montessori Method (1912), and is considered a major innovator in education theory and practice.

MARIA MONTESSORI YOU ROCK

The information in this post first appeared in the The Writer’s Almanac.

I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.  I will try to share your post over the weekend.

FEMINIST FRIDAY

 On the eve of the Labor Day Weekend, I would like to introduce you to Mary Harris Jones, more commonly referred to as Mother Jones.  Mother Jones was a fearless union organizer.  At one time she was called the most dangerous woman in America.  It is thought that the American Classic song,”She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” was written to honor her and to this day there is a magazine that investigates and reports injustice titled Mother Jones.
 Mary Harris Jones, or “Mother Jones”, was born to a tenant farmer in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. Her family fled the potato famine when she was just 10, resettling in Toronto. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis, where on the eve of the Civil War she married a union foundry worker and started a family. But in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of her husband and all four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business – only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Jones then threw herself into the city’s bustling labor movement, where she worked in obscurity for the next 20 years. By the turn of the century, she emerged as a charismatic speaker and one of the country’s leading labor organizers, co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

She traveled the country to wherever there was labor struggle, sometimes evading company security by wading the riverbed into town, earning her the nickname “The Miner’s Angel.” She used storytelling, the Bible, humor, and even coarse language to reach a crowd. She said: “I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator.” Jones also had little patience for hesitation, volunteering to lead a strike “if there were no men present.” A passionate critic of child labor, she organized a children’s march from Philadelphia to the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York with banners reading, “We want to go to school and not the mines!” At the age of 88, she published a first-person account of her time in the labor movement called The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). She died at the age of 93 and is buried at a miners’ cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.
She said: “Whatever the fight, don’t be ladylike.”

 

MARY HARRIS JONES YOU ROCK!

The information in this post first appeared in the The Writer’s Almanac.

I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.

FEMINIST FRIDAY

As I watched the news this week, it came to my attention that a movie is going to be made about The Queen of Comedy, Lucille Ball.  As a little girl I grew up watching Lucy and Ethel get into all kinds of trouble trying to live an independent life and then as a teenager and budding women’s libber, I realized that Lucy had found her way to independence by being the first woman to own a television studio.  I thought maybe we all might need a refresher on the dynamo that was Lucille Ball.

The woman who will always be remembered as the crazy, accident-prone, lovable Lucy Ricardo was born Lucille Desiree Ball on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Her father died before she was four, and her mother worked several jobs, so she and her younger brother were raised by their grandparents. Always willing to take responsibility for her brother and young cousins, she was a restless teenager who yearned to “make some noise”. She entered a dramatic school in New York City, but while her classmate Bette Davis received all the raves, she was sent home; “too shy”. She found some work modeling for Hattie Carnegie‘s and, in 1933, she was chosen to be a “Goldwyn Girl” and appear in the film Roman Scandals (1933).

She was put under contract to RKO Radio Pictures and several small roles, including one in Top Hat (1935), followed. Eventually, she received starring roles in B-pictures and, occasionally, a good role in an A-picture, like in Stage Door (1937) or The Big Street(1942). While filming Too Many Girls (1940), she met and fell madly in love with a young Cuban actor-musician named Desi Arnaz. Despite different personalities, lifestyles, religions and ages (he was six years younger), he fell hard, too, and after a passionate romance, they eloped and were married in November 1940. Lucy soon switched to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she got better roles in films such as Du Barry Was a Lady (1943); Best Foot Forward (1943) and the Katharine HepburnSpencer Tracy vehicle Without Love(1945). In 1948, she took a starring role in the radio comedy “My Favorite Husband”, in which she played the scatterbrained wife of a Midwestern banker. In 1950, CBS came knocking with the offer of turning it into a television series. After convincing the network brass to let Desi play her husband and to sign over the rights to and creative control over the series to them, work began on the most popular and universally beloved sitcom of all time.

With I Love Lucy (1951), she and Desi pioneered the 3-camera technique now the standard in filming sitcoms, and the concept of syndicating television programs. She was also the first woman to own her own studio as the head of Desilu Productions. Lucille Ball died at home, age 77, of an acute aortic aneurysm on April 26, 1989 in Beverly Hills, California.

LUCILLE BALL YOU ROCK!

The information in this post first appeared in the IMBd website.

I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.

FEMINIST FRIDAY

 

As we turn the calendar to August, I know some of us are looking forward to the total solar eclipse that will occur in the United States on August 21st.  This week it was the birthday of Maria Mitchell, who against all odds became an astronomer.  This is her story:

 Maria Mitchell is the first acknowledged female astronomer.  She was born in 1818 on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. Although the American essayist Hannah Crocker explained that same year in her Observations on the Real Rights of Women that it was then a woman’s “province to soothe the turbulent passions of men … to shine in the domestic circle” and that “it would be improper, and physically very incorrect, for the female character to claim the statesman’s birth or ascend the rostrum to gain the loud applause of men,” Maria Mitchell’s Quaker parents believed that girls should have the same access to education and the same chance to aspire to high goals as boys, and they raised all 10 of their children as equals.

Maria’s early interest in science and the stars came from her father, a dedicated amateur astronomer who shared with all his children what he saw as physical evidence of God in the natural world, although Maria was the only child interested enough to learn the mathematics of astronomy. She would later say, in a quote recorded in NASA’s profile of her, that we should “not look at the stars as bright spots only [but] try to take in the vastness of the universe,” because “every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.”

By age 12, Maria was assisting her father with his astronomical observations and data, and just five years later opened and ran her own school for girls, training them in the sciences and math. In 1838, she became the librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum and began spending her evenings in an observatory her father had built atop the town’s bank.

On October 1, 1848, a crisp, clear autumn evening, Maria focused her father’s telescope on a distant star. The light was faint and blurry, and Maria suddenly realized she was looking not at a star, but a comet; she recorded its coordinates, and when she saw the next night that the fuzzy light had moved, she was sure. Maria shared her discovery with her father, who wrote to the Harvard Observatory, who in turn passed her name on to the king of Denmark, who had pledged a gold medal to the first person to discover a comet so distant that it could only be seen through a telescope. Maria was awarded the medal the following year, and the comet became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.”

Mitchell’s list of firsts is impressive: She’d made the first American comet sighting; in 1848, she was the first woman appointed to the American Association for the Advancement of Science; in 1853, she became the first woman to earn an advanced degree; and in 1865, she became the first woman appointed to the faculty of the newly founded Vassar Female College as their astronomy professor and the head of their observatory, making her the first female astronomy professor in American history.

Mitchell also became a devoted anti-slavery activist and suffragette, with friends such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and helped found the American Association for the Advancement of Women. In her Life, Letters, and Journals, Maria declares that, “no woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be? Born a woman – born with the average brain of humanity – born with more than the average heart – if you are mortal, what higher destiny could you have? No matter where you are nor what you are, you are a power.”

MARIA MITCHELL YOU ROCK!

The information in this post first appeared in the The Writer’s Almanac.

I invite you to share a link to your story of an inspiring woman.