May 31st in (Feminist) History

Capture.PNGOn this day in 1912 was the birth of Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese-American experimental physicist who was well known in the field of nuclear physics. Born and educated in China, she eventually studied at the National Central University in China, where she studied mathematics before switching to physics. In a time of strife between China and Japan, Chien-Shiung was elected as a student leader by her peers, who believed that her status as a top student meant that the authorities might overlook any involvement in political protests. She worked hard at her studies, but still lead protests, including a sit-in at the Presidential Palace in Nanjing.

After graduating, she did two years of graduate study at Zhejiang University, before taking the advice of a Professor and journeying to the U.S., where she was accepted at the University of Michigan. After arriving in California and visiting the University of California, Berkeley, however, Chien-Shiung changed her mind about which school she wished to attend; this was a decision aided by her discovery that the University of Michigan did not let their female students use the front door. (It was also at Berkeley that she met Luke Chia-Liu Yuan, a physicist who was the grandson of Yuan Shikai– the first President of the Republic of China, who was also self-proclaimed Emperor of China– who would later become her husband.)

During World War 2, Chien-Shiung joined the Manhattan Project, working in their Substitute Alloy Materials (SAM) Lab at Columbia University. Here, she helped “develop the process for separating uranium metal into uranium-235 and uranium-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion”. She is perhaps best known for conducting the “Wu Experiment”, which was designed to decide whether or not conservation of parity, previously established in electromagnetic and strong interactions, also applied to “weak interactions”. Essentially, she showed that “weak force violates the law of parity”, by determining that electrons (which are produced by a weak force interaction, beta decay) always flew in the same direction, rather than be affected by a magnetic field. (If this is confusing, you can read more here.) Suffice it to say that it was Chien-Shiung who developed this experiment, and she who performed it with the help of lab workers– but the Nobel Price for this discovery went instead to Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, her (male) colleagues who provided the theoretical knowledge, but nonetheless needed Chien-Shiung to design and perform the experiment.

Chien-Shiung did later win the inaugural Wolf Prize in Physics, however, 13 years later for the same experiment, and in her time she was known as “the First Lady of Physics”, the “Queen of Nuclear Research”, and “the Chinese Madam Curie”. In her later life, she became a lot more outspoken, especially about gender equality. She corrected any men who tried to refer to her by her married name, rather than as Professor Wu, worked to eventually have her pay adjusted to be equal to that of her male colleagues at Columbia University, and also spoke out about Chinese politics, including the crackdown in China following the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

“I wonder”, she said once, during a speech at Massachusetts Institute of Technology symposium in 1964, “whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment.”


May 27th in (Feminist) History

richi414On this day in 1861 was the bith of Victoria Earle Matthews (nee Ella Victoria Smith), an American author and essayist known for her work in the settlement movement, and especially for civil rights issues. Victoria (then Ella) was born into slavery in Georgia, as the daughter of a slave and her master. Shortly after her birth, Victoria’s mother ran away to New York, leaving her daughters behind as she worked to earn enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her daughters. She did in fact return, and was the first black woman to be recognized in Georgia’s court system.

After being emancipated, Victoria moved with her family to New York. She attended public school until leaving to work as a domestic servant to support her family. In between working, she read books in the library of the home she worked in; the owner caught her, but gave her permission to read whenever she had time, which allowed her to self-educate herself. Though she married at 18, Victoria began writing as a journalist and a fiction writer. Much of her work involved her political interests, especially regarding the issues that black people faced at the time. She wrote about the African-American struggle, the idea of Post-Civil War reconciliation, and also about miscegenation– something that particularly struck home for her, as someone with very noticeable European ancestry. She also became the first president of the Woman’s Loyal Union of New York (a black woman’s club and a civil rights organization) and co-founded the National Federation of Afro-American Women (which later merged with the National Colored Women’s League to become the National Association of Colored Women.)

Victoria’s appearance– she had fair skin and a very European appearance– allowed her to gain preferential treatment in a society still prejudiced against people with darker skin. However, she used that to help others who didn’t have the same advantage. She became involved in settlement work, which was a social movement aimed towards getting the mingling of the rich and the poor, but especially towards providing services like education, daycare, and healthcare to the poor in urban areas, to help alleviate their poverty. At first, Victoria worked by visiting people and families, going house to house providing services like helping a mother do laundry, or prepare a meal. In her experience visiting these households one by one, she learned of the lives they lead, and their difficulties with poverty, bad housing, limited economic opportunities, etc.

Victoria was especially concerned with the plight of young black girls, who were arriving in the North in large numbers to find work and better life opportunities than they could get in the Jim Crow south, and being lured into prostitution. After touring the South to investigate organizations and red-light districts that were victimizing young black girls, Victoria created the White Rose Industrial Association, a training facility where black girls could come to learn domestic work. She also wanted to make education a part of what she offered, and began teaching them reading, writing, and math, as well as literature and race history. In time, wanting to do more Victoria and her supporters (including a number of other black women and ministers) bought a home that they named the White Rose Mission (or the White Rose Home for Colored Working Girls). Volunteers would meet migrants at the train station and offer them safe housing, making sure they didn’t fall into the hands of traffickers and others who might try to trap them into something more dangerous. They were given a place to live, and at the Mission they would also be educated, trained in practical skills, and encouraged by Victoria to be self-sufficient. The White Rose Home not only gave them the chance for future work, but a safe place to live, where they could always be around their teachers and thus learning when they could, as well as allowing them a place to enjoy socializing at cultural and literary events.

Victoria died in 1907; she had no living children, as her only son died at the age of 15. But she left a legacy behind, including that of an organization named after her: The Victoria Earle Matthews (Mothers) Club, an all-black organization that worked to aid young black women and girls who had been abused or threatened with sexual abuse.

May 26th in (Feminist) History

54038381_127741405946On this day in 1903 was the death of Susette “Bright Eyes” La Flesche (Tibbles), a member of the Omaha tribe who was a writer, interpreter, artist, and lecturer, known for her support of Native American causes. Susette was born in 1854 in Bellevue, the same year that the Omaha tribe gave up their hunting grounds in Nebraska and agreed to move to a reservation in northeastern Nebraska instead, to Joseph LaFlesche (the last recognized Chief of the Omaha) and Mary Gale (whose mother was from the Iowa tribe).

Susette was raised on the reservation, but left to get further education at a private school in New Jersey. Even then she was known for her writing ability; an essay she wrote her senior year was published in the New York Tribune. After graduating, Susette returned to the reservation as a teacher for several years. In 1877, however, she went with her father (whose mother had been Ponca) to investigate the living conditions of the Ponca tribe, which had been dislocated. Upon their return, Susette helped to publish a story of the Ponca’s plight in the Omaha Herald along with Thomas H. Tibbles, who she would later marry.

Nearly a third of the Ponca tribe died during the first two years of their relocation, due to the journey and the living conditions, including the son of Chief Standing Bear. When Standing Bear left with some of his tribe members to bury his son in their traditional homeland, they were arrested and confined. It was due to Tibbles’ (and Susette’s) coverage that Standing Bear received the pro-bono services of two defense lawyers. At the trial, Susette stood as Standing Bear’s interpreter, and also testified about the conditions at the reservation. Standing Bear v. Crook was a massively importantly, landmark civil rights case, which ended in the judge deciding that Native Americans did in fact have all the rights as U.S. citizens under the constitution.

After the trial, Susette– known more publicly now as “Bright Eyes”– went on a speaking tour with Standing Bear and her half-brother, among others, around the Eastern U.S., interpreting for Standing Bear but also speaking for herself as well. She testified in Washington before a Congressional committee about the Ponca tribe’s removal from their land, met with well-known American writers like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who saw her and stated she could be “Mennehaha” from his poem “The Song of Hiawatha”), and after marrying Tibbles, went on a tour of England and Scotland where she met and spoke with both nobility and those in literary circles. They also traveled to Pine Ridge South Dakota in 1891 to inquire about the Battle of Wounded Knee and the issues faced by the Native Americans at the reservations there.

Through her life, “Bright Eyes” continued to testify on behalf of Native Americans, as well as to write, lecture, and advocate for them. In 1902 she and her husband moved back to the Omaha reservation, where she lived until she died in 1903. She was eulogized in the U.S. Senate, was inducted to the Nebraska Hall of Fame, and will always be remembered as the first woman to speak out (to congress, the courts, etc) for the cause of Native Americans.

May 25th in (Feminist) History

rosario_castellanosOn this day in 1925 was the birth of Rosario Castellanos, a Mexican poet and author, who was considered one of the most important literary Mexican voices in the last century. Her work, which went on to influence cultural studies and feminist theory, featured writing about themes of cultural and gender oppression. It could be said that her beliefs began at a young age, both in the attention she paid to the plight of the indigenous Maya people who worked for her family, and also in the way her family treated her as compared to her brother. Once, when a soothsayer foretold that one of her mother’s children would die, Rosario stated that her mother exclaimed, “Not the boy!”

At the age of only 16, just a year after her parents lost their land (to land reform and a peasant emancipation policy) and moved to Mexico City, both of Rosario’s parents died and she was left on her own. Joining a group of Mexican and Central American intellectuals, she began to read extensively, and started to write as well. She attended the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and studied literature and philosophy (she would later teach there) and also joined the National Indigenous Institute, where she wrote scripts for puppet shows that were performed in impoverished regions in Mexico, in an attempt to promote literacy. She was also appointed ambassador to Israel in 1971, in recognition for her literary achievements.

In her literary career, Rosario wrote three novels, one major play, essays, and numerous poetry. She is known for taking a good deal of care in writing of indigenous people, writing about them and their plights with understanding and concern, despite not being indigenous herself. Her poem, “Valium 10” is considered a great feminist poem on the level of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”. The poem– perhaps made even more understandable today by changing the title to “Prozac” or “Zoloft”– is about women who are frustrated and anxious, trapped in the roles they are forced to play. Here is an image of the full translated poem (source, but you have to scroll a bit), and here is an excerpt:

And in the dark, at the beginning of your sleep,
You realize what has been lost:
the most expensive diamond,
the navigating map, the book
with one hundred basic questions (and its respective
answers) for at least a basic, simple, elemental
dialogue with the Sphinx.

and you have the painful sensation
that in the crossword puzzle
an error slipped,
that made it impossible to solve.

May 24th in (Feminist) History

PicMonkey CollageThere is no one stand-out event or person to discuss today, so you get FOUR for the price of one instead:

• On this day in 1819, the birth of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. She inherited the throne at 18, and reigned for over 63 years. She was the longest reigning Monarch in Britain until she was recently surpassed by her Great-Great Granddaughter, Elizabeth II, who has currently reigned for 64+ years. Queen Victoria’s era of reign was known as the Victorian era– a period of cultural, scientific, industrial, political, and military change and growth, as well as the great expansion of the empire. Her nine children with her husband, Prince Albert, were married across Europe, bearing 42 grandchildren and earning her the nickname of the “Grandmother of Europe”.

• On this day in 1870 was the birth of Ynez Enriquetta Julietta Mexia, a Mexican-American botanist who was the most accomplished female plant collector of her time. She was known for her collection of plants from Mexico and South America, and discovered the genus of Compositae. She discovered several species named after her, including Mimosa mexiae, and a genus named Mexianthus (a genus of Asteraceae, flowering plants).

• On this day in 1899 was the birth of Suzanne Lenglen, a French tennis player who won 31 Championship titles (between 1914-1926), and was one of the first international female sports celebrities (and the first female tennis celebrity). She was nicknamed La Divine (the Divine One) by the French Press, and her record included: 241 titles, a 181 match-winning streak, and a 341-7 match record (97.99% wins).

• On this day in 1930, Amy Johnson became the first female pilot to fly to Australia from Britain. The plane she used during this flight can be found now in the Science Museum in London, and in recognition of her achievement she received the Harmon Trophy, and was honored with the No. 1 civil pilot’s licence under Australia’s 1921 Air Navigation Regulations. In the 1930s, she set numerous flying records either solo, or with her husband. She flew in the Air Transport Auxiliary in World War II, and died during a ferry flight.

May 23rd in (Feminist) History

fullerdaguerreotypeToday in 1810 was the birth of Margaret Fuller, an American women’s rights activist and journalist who was also a part of the transcendentalism movement. Margaret’s book, Women in the Nineteenth Century, is considered the first major feminist work within the U.S., and she was also the first full-time female book reviewer in American journalism. She was educated by her father and became a teacher, later holding what she referred to as “conversations” for women, which were essentially discussions among women that helped to compensate for their inability to access higher education.

Margaret edited a transcendentalist magazine The Dial in 1840, before joining the staff of the New York Tribune in 1844. She was known as the best-read person (male or female!) in New England by her 30s, and was the first woman allowed to use Harvard’s library (wow– at Harvard tbh). Margaret Fuller was a big advocate for prison reform, and the emancipation of slaves (she also supported the rights of Native Americans), but especially for women’s rights– particularly women’s right to employment, and education. On the subject of women’s employment, she once said, “If you ask me what office women should fill, I reply—any … let them be sea captains if you will. I do not doubt that there are women well fitted for such an office”.

She was cited as an inspiration by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Gage,, but after her death, much of her importance as well as her voice became lost, as those who published her letters censored or altered her work. However it is rumored that she (or her personality anyway) were the inspiration for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.

Also on this day…

• In 1846, the birth of Arabella Mansfield, the first female lawyer in the U.S. who took the bar exam (despite it being restricted to men only) and then challenged the state court to earn women the right to be accepted to the bar.
• In 1926, the birth of Aileen Hernandez (still alive today!), an American union organizer and civil rights activist, as well as the second national president of the National Organization for Women and co-founder of Black Women Organized for Action in San Francisco.

May 20th in (Feminist) History

extraordinarywomen_ameliaearhart3_tx800On this day in 1932, Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot (and second-ever pilot) to fly a solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving from Newfoundland on May 20th, she traveled over 2.000 miles in almost 15 hours to land in Ireland the next day. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement, but also set numerous other records as well. In 1928, as part of a three-person crew, Amelia was considered the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an aircraft at all, though on that flight she only kept the plane’s log. That year, she also became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back, and in 1931 she set the world altitude record at 18,415 ft.

Though some people may now think of her as a stunt-flier, much of what Amelia did involved trying to change the perception of people when it came to women fliers. She worked as an associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, working not only towards greater acceptance of aviation in general, but especially for women. She promoted commercial air travel, did lecture tours, wrote books, and became an official at the National Aeronautic Association, where she worked towards the establishing of separate records for women fliers. She also created a group known as the Ninety-Nines, the members of which were all female pilots that worked to advance women in aviation. Always a strong advocate for female pilots, when the Bendix Trophy Race of 1934 banned women fliers, she refused to fly in Mary Pickford (screen actress) to open the races, in protest.

Of course, what Amelia Earhart is best known for now is not any of her achievements, but her final flight. In 1937, while attempting to make a circumnavigational flight around the world, her plane disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean, near Howland Island. In her last radio messages she said that she was lost and low on fuel. It was the last anyone ever heard of her. Neither her plane (minus a tiny piece of the engine), nor her body, were ever found, but Amelia herself inspired an entire generation of female aviators.

May 19th in (Feminist) History

2013_lorraine_hansberry_lorrainehansberry_headshot_5048929u_428wThis day in 1930 saw the birth of Lorraine Hansberry, an American writer and playwright who was the first black woman to have one of her plays performed on Broadway. She was born in 1930, to parents who provoked ire when they bought a home in the Washington Park Subdivision of the South Side of Chicago, a traditionally white area. The drawn-out legal fight by their white neighbors– on the basis of a covenant that banned African-Americans from buying or leasing land in that neighborhood– eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court, who rejected that specific covenant while at the same time not ruling on the constitutionality of said covenants in general.

Lorraine’s experiences with segregation as a child directly influenced her and her writing. Her most well-known play, A Raisin in the Sun, is about the lives of black Americans living in Chicago and dealing with the same racial segregation that she did. (The play’s title was taken from the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem”, from a line that reads: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”) Her play was the first written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. At 29 years old, she was the youngest American playwright as of that time, and went on to be the fifth woman ever to receive the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

Though she married a Jewish man, Lorraine was believed to be a closeted lesbian. This is presumably not just speculation or negative gossip, but rather something supported by her personal notebooks and private letters. She wrote about feminism and homophobia, was a gay rights activist, and joined the Daughters of Bilitis; the first lesbian civil rights group in the U.S. Her only other play to be produced while she was alive was The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, which ran for 101 performances and closed the night she died of cancer, at only age 35.

Also on this day…

• Google has you covered with their Doodle celebrating the birth of Yuri Kochiyama on this day in 1921. From Google’s post: “Born in California, Kochiyama spent her early twenties in a Japanese American internment camp in Arkansas during WWII. She and her family would later move to Harlem, where she became deeply involved in African American, Latino, and Asian American liberation and empowerment movements.” She was present at the assassination of her friend, Malcolm X, and held him in her arms as he died.
• In 1800, the birth of Sara Miriam Peale, an American portrait painter who painted primarily politicians and military figures, such as Lafayette, who sat for her four times. (Thought you Hamil-toasties would like that.)
• In 1879, the birth of Nancy Astor, the Viscountess Astor, an American-born British politician, who was the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.

May 18th in (Feminist) History

723762365_origOn this day in 1954, Jackie Cochran became the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier. Jackie is known for breaking numerous records as a pilot. She was the only woman to compete in both the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934, and the Bendix race in 1937– which she won, and later worked with Amelia Earhart to open officially to women. After setting a national speed record for women pilots, a transcontinental speed record, and several altitude records, Jackie was considered the United States’ best female pilot. On top of all that Jackie– often called the “Speed Queen”– won five Harmon trophies, was the first woman to fly a bomber plane across the Atlantic, was the first woman to take off and land from an aircraft carrier, the first pilot to make a blind landing, the first pilot to fly without an oxygen mask above 20,000 ft., and more.

Jackie Cochran was also involved in attempts to start flying divisions for women in the Army Air Forces, writing to several people to attempt to get women pilots employed to fly non-combat missions. Finally, in 1941, Lt. Col. Robert Olds responded to her, asking her to compile a list of women pilots and their skills, flying times, etc. She compiled a list and, at the request of General Henry Arnold, brought a group of 76 qualified female pilots (later whittled down to 25 after training) with her to England, to work with the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

Jackie’s efforts, in part, eventually lead to the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). Convinced from her time with the ATA that women could do more than just ferry military craft, she convinced General Arnold to create the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which later merged with WAFS to form the Women Airforce Pilots Service (WASPS), with Jackie Cochran as the Director. Jackie trained hundreds of women pilots in her time as Director, won three Distinguished Flying Cross awards, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, for her service in the war.

To this day, she still holds more speed and distance records than any pilot alive or deceased, female or male.

May 17th in (Feminist) History

rosalc3ada_castro_de_murguc3ada_por_luis_sellierOn this day in 1863, Rosalía de Castro published Cantares Gallegos, her book of poetry which was the first book ever published in the Galician language. Born in 1837, she is known as a key figure in the Galician romantic movement, also known as the Rexurdimento, or Renaissance. Galicia is an “autonomous community” of Spain, and in the past the Galician language had been replaced by Spanish, leaving it relegated to private use, or to the use of commoners. By Rosalía’s time, Galicia had become considered a language fit only for the ill-mannered and illiterate. But Rosalía– expected to only speak Spanish as a highly educated woman– decided to write her poetry in that language, rather than in Spanish, and in the process won herself the love of the Galician people.

Her poetry is most known otherwise for it’s use of saudade (in Galician), or an “almost ineffable combination of nostalgia, longing and melancholy”. Here is an example of one of her poems, in both Galician and English:

Rosalía was not just a poet, she was also a humanitarian who worked to help the poor and defenseless, was an opponent of any form of abuse of authority, and also defended women’s rights. Every year on this day, the day her book of poetry was published, Día das Letras Galegas (“Galician Literature Day”) is celebrated in the Autonomous Community of Galicia.

Also on this day…

• In 1903, the birth of Lena Levine, an American psychiatrist and gynecologist, and the director of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau of New York. She was prominent in the development of marriage counseling and birth control.
• In 1937, the birth of Hazel R. O’Leary, an American politician, and former United States Secretary of Energy, who is to-date the only woman or African American to serve as the Secretary of Energy.
• And in 2004, the first legal same-sex marriages in the U.S. were performed in the state of Massachusetts!!