June 30th in (Feminist) History

05friedan3_lgOn this day in 1966 was the founding of the National Organization for Women, formed by a group of women at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women. The formation was sparked by frustration at the recently formed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which had decided not to fully enforce Title VII and its prohibition on sex discrimination, and ruled that sex segregation in job advertising was perfectly allowable. A month later, Dr. Pauli Murray (a civil right’s activity, women’s right’s activity, lawyer, and the first black woman ordained to be an Episcopal priest), then a law professor at Yale and part of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, denounced the EEOC and it’s recently stance. She was almost immediately contacted by Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique– it was this first connection that led in part to the feminist movement re-emerging in the U.S.

Both Friedan and Murray were representatives at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women in Washington, DC. Though many of the representatives wanted to pass a resolution remanding the EEOC for its action and demanding that it end employment sex discrimination (as it was legally mandated to do), they were told that they didn’t even have the authority at the Conference to pass a resolution, let alone to have any authority. Friedan had heard rumors that those involved around the EEOC were privately suggesting a need for women to have some sort of organization to speak on their behalf, inspired by the civil rights groups had done for those movements. She invited others at the conference, equally frustrated by the proceedings, to join her that night in her hotel room.

The number of women who were present at that first meeting including Pauli Murray, as well as Catherine Conroy, Rosalind Loring, Inka O’Hanrahan, Dorothy Haener, Mary Eastwood, and Kay Clarenbach. Frustrated, angry, and ready to do something, they began to form their new organization. It was Friedan who wrote down the acronym NOW on a paper napkin in her hotel room, but the organization itself gained its first official members the next day at lunch, when, as Gene Boyer later recalled, “Catherine Conroy pulled out a five-dollar bill from her wallet and, in her usual terse style, invited us to ‘put your money down and sign your name.’ NOW was a reality and I think we all felt somehow we had participated in a significant beginning.”

Twenty eight women were part of setting up the “temporary” organization, according to Analoyce Clapp, “To take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, assuming all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” By October they had 300 charter members, both men and women, and in had their first organizing conference from October 29-30 of that year, forming a Statement of Purpose and filling positions, including naming Kay Clarenback as Chair of the Board, Betty Friedan as President, and Aileen Hernandez (who had been a member of the EEOC, but resigned) as Executive Vice President. Writing about the conference in 1966, Betty Friedan reported, “We wasted no time on ceremonials or speeches, gave ourselves barely an hour for lunch and dinner…At times we got very tired and impatient, but there was always a sense that what we were deciding was not just for now ‘but for a century…’ We shared a moving moment of realization that we had now indeed entered history.”

The National Organization for Women still exists today. It now consists of 550 chapters in all 50 U.S. states. It focuses not just on women’s rights, but civil rights, LGBT rights, and equal rights.


June 29th in (Feminist) History

julialathropOn this day in 1858 was the birth of Julia Clifford Lathrop, an American social reformer who was the first woman to ever head a U.S. federal bureau, as the head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Born to a father who was a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, and a mother who was an active suffragist, Julia attended the Rockford Female Seminary before transferring to Vassar College, where she developed her own program of study in statistics, sociology, institutional history, and community organization. She worked for some time at her father’s law office studying law herself, before moving to Chicago to join a number of socialist reformer women (including Jane Addams) at Hull House. In the early days of the House, she formed a discussion group called the Plato Club, and worked as a volunteer investigator of relief applicants.

In 1893 she was appointed the first ever female member of the Illinois State Board of Charities; over her time on the board, she was responsible for helping to create reforms such as the removal of the mentally ill from state workhouses, and the appointment of female doctors in state hospitals. In 1912, President Taft gave in to pressure from Progressive women reformers and appointed Julia to be the chief of the newly formed Children’s Bureau. In her nine years there, she worked to guide research into infant mortality, maternal mortality, child labor, mothers’ pensions, juvenile delinquency, and more. She was known during the time as “America’s First Official Mother” (really, Patriarchy? yeesh), and her focus on maternal/child welfare gave conservative women a role in politics for the first time (as they had not been open to such a role in suffrage or women’s rights movements).

Despite her more liberal beliefs, she often towed a more conservative line while in office, mostly because she knew that doing so would avoid controversy and allow her to build public support for her agency and get the work done that she needed. It was for this reason that she continued to make clear her “opinion” that “motherhood was the most important calling in the world”, despite the fact that her very position and leadership relied on her right to a college degree and a job. The public support she garnered allowed her to do things such as support the proposed national health insurance act proposed by the American Association for Labor Legislation in 1917. The act went against the private insurance industry and, in part, provided a provision for weekly cash allocations for pregnant women. Julia argued for the act, stating that U.S. leaders needed to stop blaming high infant mortality on the so-called “ignorance and laziness” of the working and poor class, and realize that they needed to address the poverty that caused such issues. Her statement also included this remark: “Which is the more safe and sane conclusion? That 88 per cent of all these fathers were incorrigibly indolent or below normal mentally, or that sound public economy demands an irreducible minimum living standard to be sustained by a minimum wage and other such expedients as may be developed in a determined effort to give every child a fair chance?”

Unfortunately, the act did not pass, as many politicians and even other staff in her Bureau believed that women (especially those with children) should not work if they were poor; they should only stay at home and care for their children. They didn’t believe the connections she posited between children’s health and things like minimum wage, sanitation systems, or workers’ insurance, and their focus remained on teaching (white) mothers how to care for babies while disregarding the awful, incredibly high mortality rate for children and babies born into families of color. In time, however, that would change. The people who succeeded Julia at the Children’s Bureau formed a unit that created and implemented child welfare policy, which still remains today despite the loss of the agency’s power and influence.

In later years, Julia would go on to join others in calling for a separate court system for children, which later lead to the establishment of juvenile courts; Julia herself helped found the country’s first juvenile court in 1899. In 1904, she helped create and then became president of the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute, studying the physical and mental health of children, and beginning the shift away from the idea that only environment determined a child’s behavior. She was sent in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson (along with Grace Abbott), to represent the U.S. at an international child welfare conference. Later, after her retired from the Children’s Bureau (in 1922), she became president of the Illinois League of Women Voters, formed the National Committee of Mental Illness, and represented the U.S. at the Child Welfare Committee held by the League of Nations in Switzerland in 1925. She died in April of 1932, at the age of 73; still single, and with no children of her own.

June 28th in (Feminist) History

mitchell_maria_deskOn this day in 1889 was the death of Maria Mitchell, the first American woman to be a professional astronomer, known for discovering a comet later named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”. She was born in 1818 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, a distant cousin (first cousin, four times removed) of Benjamin Franklin. Her parents were Quakers, and she and her nine brothers and sisters were raised in a community that placed value on education equally for both boys and girls. Living as they did in a whaling port town, women of the area were also far more independent in general, due to the need to run their homes and manage all their family and business affairs while their sailor husbands were at sea for months.

Maria was educated first at a local school where her father was principal, and then at his own school where she was also a teaching assistant. It was her father that taught her to use his telescope; the two of them enjoyed astronomy together, and it was him at the age of 12 ½ that they calculated the exact moment of an annular eclipse. After her father’s school closed, she attended a school for young ladies and then eventually opened her own school in 1835. Unlike the local segregated public school, Maria controversially opened her own school to all children, regardless of race. A year later she took a job as the Nantucket Atheneum’s first librarian, and she worked there for 20 years, until 1856.

King Frederick VI of Denmark had previously established the awarding of gold medals to anyone who discovered a “telescopic comet”, aka a comet too distant and dim to be scene with only the naked eye. On October 1, 1847. Maria spotted a comet that would allow her claim one of those medals for herself; named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” or C/1847 T1. There was a brief period of unsurity over who had discovered the comet first, however it was soon resolved that though Francesco de Vico had reported it to European authorities first, he had actually seen it two days after Maria. In 1848, the new King Christian VIII awarded Maria her medal, and she became famous worldwide, especially since only two women astronomers (Caroline Hershel and Maria Margarethe Kirch) had discovered comets before her.

Following her discovery, Maria became the first woman elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1848), Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1850), and one of the first women elected to the American Philosophical Society (1869, along with Mary Somerville and Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz). She went on to work for some time at the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office (calculating tables of positions of Venus), and became professor of astronomy and later Director of the Observatory at Vassar College. It was after several years of teaching there that Maria realized her salary was lower that numerous male professors who were younger and less experienced than her. She protested, insisted on a salary increase… and got it.

Maria was also friends with several well-known suffragists (like Elizabeth Cady Stanton), and was an abolitionist who stopped wearing cotton clothing in protest of slavery and plantations. She also co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women. She never married, and eventually retired from Vassar in 1888 to live with her sister Kate and family in Lynn, Massachusetts. She died there in 1889 at the age of 70, but was honored in numerous ways, including the naming of the Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket, the SS Maria Mitchell (a WW2 Liberty ship), and a train on the NY Metro North railroad named The Maria Mitchell Comet. She was also posthumously inducted into the U.S. National Women’s Hall of Fame.

June 27th in (Feminist) History

800px-crystal_bird_fausetOn this day in 1894 was the birth of Crystal Bird Fauset, who was the first female African-American state legislator in the United States. She was born Crystal Bird in Maryland and raised by an Aunt in Boston, attending public schools and eventually earning her B.S. from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1931. That same year she married Arthur Huff Fauset, who was a fellow educator. (Arthur is pretty interesting too, he was the son of a black man and a white Jewish woman, who became a civil right’s activist, a teacher, and an active figure in the Harlem Renaissance.)

Crystal began her career teaching at in New York at a public school, before she became the field secretary for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). It was here that she became more outspoken about race relations and the black community, and eventually joined and became active in numerous civil right’s organizations. In 1925 she was offered a position in the newly formed Interracial Section of the American Friends Service Committee, which was a Quaker-founded organization working towards social justice and peace, including improving race relations in the U.S. As an AFSC member she made 210 public appearances over the course of a year (1927-1928), giving talks and speeches about race relations, and “lift(ing) the curtain that separates the white people and the colored people, to lift the curtain of misunderstanding that is so dividing [them]”. In 1933 she was also named executive secretary of the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College.

It was through her appearances that she became better known to the public, and in 1938 she was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. She represented the 18th District of Philadelphia, which at the time was a largely white neighborhood. Despite that, she managed to introduce nine bills and three amendments, mostly dealing with women’s workplace rights, housing for people in poverty, and public health. It was during her time as a state legislator that she became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, later helping her gain the position of Assistant Director and Race Relations Director of the Office of Civil Defense. She also advised both the First Lady, and the NYC mayor (Fiorello LaGuardia) on race relations, and was a member of President Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet”, helping to promote civil rights for African Americans.

After World War II, her focus turned global, and she made numerous trips to the Middle East, India, and Africa. She passed away in Philadelphia in 1965, at the age of 71. A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Marker is found outside her old home in Philadelphia; it praises her accomplishments as the first Black woman elected to state legislature.

June 24th in (Feminist) History

24895814_137062805730On this day in 1914 was the birth of Pearl Witherington, a French-born British citizen who was an SOE agent in World War 2. Though she was born in Paris and raised in France, she was technically a British subject. When the Germans invaded France in May of 1940, she was employed at the Paris British Embassy. She felt from occupied France along with her mother and three sisters, eventually making it to London where she joined Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). She was said during her training to have been the “best shot” ever seen in the service.

Codenamed “Marie”, she was dropped into occupied France by parachute on September 22, 1943, where she joined the SOE Stationer Network, lead by Maurice Southgate, for whom she worked as a courier. In May of 1944 however, Southgate was caught by the Gestapo and brought to the Buchenwald concentration camp, so Pearl, under the new code-name “Pauline”, took over as the leader of the newly formed SOE Wrestler Network. With the help of her fiance, Henri Cornioley, she reorganized the entire network and its 1,500 members of the Maquis (French guerrilla resistance troops).

Pearl and her troops were so effective that the Nazi regime put a bounty of ƒ1,000,000 on her head, and ordered 2,000 men to attack her and her force with artillery. The battle lasted 14 hours, during which time the Germans lost 86 men and the Maquis lost 24 (including civilians). Pearl fled as the Germans broke up her unit, but quickly returned and regrouped her troop, launching into a series of large-scale guerrilla attacks that devastated the German forces who traveled through her area on their way to the battlefronts. All in all, her force eventually killed over 1,000 German soldiers, presided over the surrender of 18,000 German troops, and disrupted an important railway line (which connected the south of France with Normandy) over 800 times.

Despite everything she had accomplished, when she was recommended for the Military Cross following the battle, she was declared ineligible because she was a woman. The government attempted to offer her a “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (MBE) in the Civil Division, to which she icily responded, “there was nothing remotely “civil” about what I did. I didn’t sit behind a desk all day.” Eventually she accepted a military MBE, though in recent years she was also awarded a CBE and was a recipient of the French military’s Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honor). In April of 2006, after waiting for 60 years, she was awarded her parachute wings, which she had been fighting to earn despite having only done four parachute jumps instead of the required five. As she stated: “The chaps did four training jumps, and the fifth was operational – and you only got your wings after a total of five jumps. So I was not entitled – and for 63 years I have been moaning to anybody who would listen because I thought it was an injustice.”

Following the war she returned to England and married Henri Cornioley, with whom she had a daughter named Claire. Her autobiography, Pauline was published in 1997, with the help of journalist Hervé Larroque. The interviews in that autobiography were edited by Kathryn J. Atwood and published in 2013 as the book Code Name Pauline. She died at the age of 93, in a retirement home in the Loire Valley in France.

June 23rd in (Feminist) History

jeancioneOn this day in 1928 was the birth of Jean “Cy” Cione, a pitcher who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League from 1945-1954. Jean, known for being a left-handed batter and pitcher, was born in Rockford, Illinois. She joined the boys’ softball team in third grade, and in eighth grade she played on the Rock River School Boy’s softball team, which lead her at age 14 to be the first girl ever lettered by Rock River School. She also worked at J. L. Clarke, where she played for the company’s girls softball team. When she turned 17 in 1945, she attended the tryouts in Racine, passed the test, and was offered a contract to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL).

She entered the league as a player for the Rockford Peaches, managed by Bill Allington. They competed in the 110-game regular season with five other teams: the Fort Wayne Daisies, the Kenosha Comets, the South Bend Blue Sox, the Grand Rapids Chicks, and the Racine Belles. Along with a number of other experienced young players on her team, Jean was mostly used as a reserve first sacker (the backup for Dorothy Kamenshek), before she eventually began to pitch and play outfield. That year, Rockford won the AAGPBL pennant with a 67-43 record. When two new teams were added in the next year, Jean was briefly shifted to the Peoria Redwings, but for the 1947 she returned to the Rockford Peaches. Over her career she would shift several times, to the Kenosha Comets (1947-1951), the Battle Creek Belles (1952), and the Muskegon Belles (1953), before finally returning to Rockford in 1954, for the years final league. In her most successful year, 1950 (for the Comets), she won 18 games and threw a pair of no-hitters in August; a 12-inning game against Grand Rapids and a 7-inning game against Rockford. She also turned in an unassisted triple play, one of only 15 in Major League Baseball history.

In between seasons, she graduated from high school and then studied at several colleges, including earning a bachelor’s degree at Eastern Michigan University, and a master’s degree at the University of Illinois. After her retirement from baseball, she taught physical education in elementary school for ten years, and then returned to Eastern Michigan University to teach sports medicine for almost 30 years. As EMU established a women’s athletic program, Jean became their first women’s athletic director. Jean went on to become a part of Women in Baseball, which is a permanent display at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in New York. She was also inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and the Michigan University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.

Of course, one of her most well-known legacies is perhaps the movie A League of Their Own which, despite the lack of real names, tells the story of Jean and other AAGPBL players like her, and caused a return in media coverage over her and her teammates, who had previously faded into obscurity.

June 22 in (Feminist) History

mrs_james_secordOn this day in 1813, Laura Secord walked 20 miles (32 km) through American-occupied territory to warn British forces in Canada of an impending attack by American forces. While perhaps little known elsewhere, in Canada her story is much better known, to the point of becoming almost like a legend. There have been books, poetry, and plays written about her, and she was given a number of honors including stamps and coins, a statue, a museum, and a school named after her.

She was the first child born to Thomas Ingersoll and his wife Elizabeth Dewey in the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1775. She was followed by three more daughters, the third of which was given up for adoption to an aunt. Two more wives, one step-daughter, and four more girls and three boys followed. Thomas, who was a major in the army, eventually became weighed down by the persecution of Loyalists and the economic conditions following the Revolutionary War. After meeting with the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant in 1793, he traveled to Upper Canada and petitioned for a land grant, which he received on the condition that it be populated by other families within seven years. The Ingersoll family moved to Oxford-on-the-Thames (later known as Ingersoll, Ontario) in 1795, though after failing to fulfill the conditions of the contract they lost the land and eventually moved to Credit River (near where Toronto is now) and ran an Inn until Thomas’ death.

When the family moved, Laura remained in Queenston and married James Secord, a wealthy man whose family originated in France, after five “D’Secor” brothers fled the persecution of Protestant Huguenots and settled in New York, where they founded New Rochelle and changed their name to Secord. Laura lived with her husband in a house in St. David’s, with a first-floor shop, and she had five children, four of them girls. Her husband James served in the 1st Lincoln Militia when the War of 1812 broke out. When he was severely wounded in the fighting, Laura rushed to his side; some stories (possibly embellishments) claim she found three American soldiers readying to beat him to death and begged to save his life. Whatever happened, they returned home, where Laura nursed her injured husband back to health and in time, amassed a collection of American soldiers who were billeted in their home.

It was on the evening of June 21st, 1813, that she overheard the American plans for a surprise attack on British troops; how she heard it isn’t officially known, though it is speculated she overheard conversations between the U.S. soldiers billeted in her home. With her husband still recovering from his battle wounds, Laura herself left her home early the next morning and walked the 20 miles to warn Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. Her journey took her from present-day Queenston, through St. Davis, and the Niagara Escarpment (currently under possession by the Americans), until she arrived at the camp of Mohawk warriors allied to the British troops. The warriors lead her to FitzGibbon’s headquarters, where she passed along her message so the troops could ready for an attack. Despite the fact that it was her message which lead to the warning needed, and to the British force and Mohawk warriors winning the Battle of Beaver Dams, Laura was not mentioned in any reports immediately after the battle.

Her life following the war was unfortunately plagued with poverty and other strife, especially after her husband died in 1841. She was supported by better-off members of her family, and eventually moved to a cottage with her daughter Harriet (and her two daughters) and Hannah (and her two daughters), both of whom had been widowed. Despite numerous attempts at petitioning the government for acknowledgement of Laura’s deeds, they continued to be unsuccessful; the only official recognition she ever received was from the Prince of Wales, who heard the story and sent £100 to Laura when she was 85 years old. She died at the age of 93, in 1868, and was buried next to her husband. Her grave is marked with a monument that details her 20 mile walk during the War of 1812. Numerous (male) historians have since questioned her story, attempting to say that it was a myth and that she contributed nothing to the Battle of Beaver Dams, despite first-hand claims from Lietenant FitzGibbon. However her legacy lives on, made famous in the 1880s and the women’s suffrage movement and perpetuated by other early feminists and historians.

June 21st in (Feminist) History

turnersplit-4049On this day in 1883 was the birth of Daisy Turner, an American poet and storyteller known for her oral histories of her family’s history from Africa and England to America. Her father Alec Turner was born into slavery and taught to read (despite it being illegal at the time) by the granddaughter of the plantation owner. Eventually he left the plantation and traveled to Vermont, where he could be a free man, and after serving in the Union Army, he eventually settled in Vermont and married his wife, Sally. Daisy was their ninth child, after their eighth died in infancy; her parents eventually had sixteen children.

Even as a child, Daisy was outspoken; one of the most popular stories about her (which became the subject of a children’s book), took place when she was about eight years old. Her teacher instructed her to carry a black doll and recite a poem about Africa in the school pageant, but instead she recited her own poem, made up on the spot. Her performance won her first prize. Another story involves her at age 16, confronting a man who had cheated her father until she returned with the money owed to him, and later at the age of 44 she brought suit for breach of promise against a white man when he broke off his engagement to her– and won the settlement. She was also known for being a “firecracker” in general, and used to walk around with her shotgun, supposedly enjoying her ability to make being a little uncomfortable.

But she truly became known only when she was in her 100s, and a Vermont historian reached out to her after seeing an article about her in the newspaper. Beck called Daisy on the phone, and after passing her test– “Are you a prejudiced woman?” “I don’t think so…” “Well, come anytime!”– she met Daisy and began to write down all the stories the elderly woman knew about her history. This included the story of her great-grandmother, who was shipwrecked on her honeymoon journey to Africa from England. She was saved by the son of an African chieftain and had a child with him, Alexander. Alexander was captured by a slave trader and brought to New Orleans, purchased by John Gouldin, and taken to a plantation in Virginia. It was here that his son Alec Turner, Daisy’s father, was born.

All of Daisy’s stories were recorded, and eventually formed a children’s book, a documentary film, and then finally a book, Daisy Turner’s Kin: An African American Family Saga. At the age of 104 (the same year she passed away), Daisy was also filmed in a Ken Burn’s historic Civil War series, telling her family stories.

Also on this day…

… in 1734 was the death of Marie-Joseph Angélique (her given slave name, her birth name is not known), a Portuguese-born slave in New France (Canada), who was convicted and hanged for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed much of Old Montreal. However there is no proof she actually set the fire at all, the numerous people who testified against her only said they “thought she did it”. There wasn’t a single witness, nor even a single reason why she might have done it– except that she was black, and a slave, and considered a “troublemaker” because she had tried to escape before.

June 20th in (Feminist) History

gail_patrick_argentinean_magazine_corpOn this day in 1911 was the birth of Gail Patrick, who was not only an American film actress in the 30s and 40s, but went on to become one of the first women TV producers. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, she graduated from Howard College, where she remained as the acting dean of women as she completed two years of law school at the University of Alabama. Her aspiration was to be the governor of the state, but in 1932 she ended a Paramount Pictures beauty pageant on a “lark” and ended up winning train fare to Hollywood. Despite not winning the contest itself, she was still offered a standard contract– but unlike others at the time, Gail took the time to read the contract and dispute it. She negotiated until she got $75 a week instead of $50, and refused to accept the usual 12-week-layoff provision. She also blacked out the section of her contract that held her to doing “cheesecake stills”, stating, “In the back of my mind I had this idea I could never go home to practice law if such stills were floating around.”

She appeared in 60 feature films between 1932 and 1948. Though she got top billing a few times, in movies such as King of Alcatraz and Disbarred, she was usually found playing the role of the ‘other woman’ or some other form of ‘bad girl’ (aka the rival of the leading lady). Some of her most notable roles were in My Man Godfrey,Stage Door (against Ginger Rogers), and My Favorite Wife (where she played Cary Grant’s second wife and helped write the judge’s lines in a courtroom scene). Later, Gail would attribute her success to luck, stating that she just happened to come to Hollywood at a time where studios were looking for “hussies”, and she thought she happened to fit that bill. While still an actress, she did patriotic service during WW2, including two tours of Canada (promoting Victory Loans), which made her the only film star to visit the whole nation from coast to coast.

Around the time that she stopped acting, she married her third husband, Thomas Cornwell Jackson, who was the head of an LA advertising agency. They adopted two children, one in 1952 and another in 1954. Her husband Cornwell was the representative for Erle Stanley Gardner, the author who wrote the books featuring criminal defense attorney Perry Mason. Burned by disappointing radio series and films, the author had refused to license the character again, until Gail won his trust. Forming a production company of which she was president (and the writer and her husband were partners), she developed the tv series Perry Mason, which ran for nine seasons and won the first Silver Gavel Award for a TV drama. Gail was the executive producer of the show, and one of the first women producers at all; at the time, she was the only female executive producer in prime time, which was incredibly tough. Gail even wrote up her own contract, one incredibly favorable to her production company that she was shocked CBS accepted it.

In her career, she would go on to serve as vice president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and later as president of it’s Hollywood chapter. She was the first women to be a leader in the academy and the only female leader until 1983. After divorcing her third husband (who tried to run a revived Perry Mason series without her and failed), she married for a fourth time, and then eventually passed away from leukemia in July of 1980, having kept the disease a secret from everyone (including her husband) for four years.

June 17th in (Feminist) History

rani_of_jhansiOn this day in 1858 was the death of Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, a queen of the Jhansi State in India, and one of the leading figures in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Born in November of 1828, she was named Manikarnika and nicknamed Manu. Educated at home and raised to be independent, she was also trained in horsemanship, fencing, and shooting. In May of 1842, she was married to Raja Gangadhar, the Maharaja of Jhansi, after which she was called Lakshmibai in honor of Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess. In 1851, Lakshmibai gave birth to a son, but he died at only four months of age. She and her husband adopted a child (the son of her husband’s cousin), but the next day the Maharaja died, and despite a letter he wrote stating that his wife Lakshmibai should have the government of Jhansi for her lifetime, his wishes were not obeyed. With their son adopted and not theirs by birth, the British East India Company applied the “Doctrine of Lapse”, rejected their claim to the throne, and annexed the state. That following Marsh, Lakshmibai was given money and an annual pension, and ordered to leave the fort and the palace. Nothing Lakshmibai did could accomplish the reversal of the annexation, and frustration and anger was rising as the Doctrine had been used to take over eight different states between 1848-1856.

On May 10, 1857, the Indian Rebellion began in Meerut. Hearing word, Lakshmibai asked for permission to create a small force of soldiers to protect herself. In June of 1857, men of the 12th Bengal Native Infantry seized the fort, convinced the British to lay down their arms, and then broke their promise of safety and killed them all, along with their wives and children. Still unsure whether to support the rebellion, Lakshmibai was pressured and threatened into giving money to the soldiers. After, with no government left in the city, she took over the administration with permission of the British Government. Over the next few months she and her soldiers protecting the town and kept it safe; first from a rival for her throne and then from attacks from neighboring towns. Through her time in control, she continued to reach out to the British for assistance, only to receive no response, and no help.

In order to protect herself and Jhansi, she had reduced her fortune and most of her options without help, and she was also privy to the reports from towns that had been taken back under British control, where anyone suspected of being a rebel was executed, and the towns were then looted. In January of 1858, a British force began to march on Jhansi, and Lakshmibai had to expect the worst– and also prepare for it. When the troops arrived in March, they offered her the chance to surrender. Knowing her people would be executed if she did, Lakshmibai refused and began to lead her people to fight back and defend their fort. Throughout the siege she was seen on the walls along with her soldiers, and on April 3rd when the British finally entered the fort (with orders to kill all men over the age of sixteen), she was right in the middle of the fight, too.

Eventually, knowing her capture was inevitable, Lakshmibai took her son and escaped– one legend claims that she strapped her son to her back and leaped her horse over the cliff; the horse died, but she escaped and traveled 100 miles to Kali, where she met other rebels and was forced to continue retreating. This time they fled to Gwalior, an ‘impregnable’ fort held by a pro-British Maharaja. Around 11,000 rebels, including Lakshmibai, advanced on the fort; after only a few shots, Maharaja Sindia’s army defected and he fled; a new Maharaja named Rao Sahib was crowned and Lakshmibai was given a pearl necklace for her part in the fight.

They then faced the British in battle on June 17th, where Lakshmibai was given command of the eastern flank of the rebel force. It was in this battle that Lakshmibai died. There are numerous stories of her death, though the general basics are somewhat the same, and usually involve Lakshmibai dressed as a sowar (a cavalry soldier). Lakshmibai was on horseback when the British cavalry appeared by surprise, causing her soldiers to scatter. She didn’t flee, but instead attacked and was unhorsed and possibly wounded by a sabre. On the ground, bleeding at the side of the road, she looked up and saw the man that had unhorsed her, raised her pistol and fired. But she missed, and the soldier killed her with his carbine; since she was dressed as a soldier, he didn’t even realize who he had killed. Her tomb is located in Gwalior. Statues of her (usually on horseback with her son at her back) can be found in numerous locations in India, and she has a University and a National Park named after her. In addition, a women’s unit in the Indian National Army was named the Rani of Jhansi Regiment.

Two decades after her death, Colonol Malleson of the British army wrote in his History of the Indian Mutiny: “Whatever her faults in British eyes may have been, her countrymen will ever remember that she was driven by ill-treatment into rebellion, and that she lived and died for her country.”