I have been too busy for awhile now to do daily updates on this site, unfortunately. However, you can find my weekly feminist history round-up posts every Monday here:
On this day in 1920, Tennessee officially approved the Nineteenth Amendment, making it ratified and added to the Constitution. The amendment was the culmination of the U.S. women’s suffrage movement, which had fought for decades to achieve it. Before the ratification of the amendment, all states denied women the right to vote, as it was not enshrined within the Constitution.
Though some women’s rights groups existed before in the U.S., the genesis of the suffrage movement is usually cited as the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848. The movement for suffrage truly took hold after the Civil War, when women’s rights leaders began to push for the inclusion of universal suffrage within the Reconstruction amendments. Though the Reconstruction lead to not only the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments but also the Fifteenth, which prohibited denying the right to vote based on race, color, or previous servitude, women did not earn the right themselves.
Eventually states began to consider suffrage bills but they continued to be unsuccessful, as were the few earlier attempts to amend the Constitution. One of these was “The Petition for Universal Suffrage”, which had the signatures of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (among others). One of the methods attempted to push for suffrage was the New Departure strategy which claimed that the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment together guaranteed women the right to vote. The Supreme Court rejected it three times and the movement switched to another angle in the form of a new amendment.
This lead to the Nineteenth Amendment, which is identical to the Fifteenth Amendment except for the mention of “sex” in the place of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. Republican Senator Aaron A. Sargent submitted the amendment in 1878, but the Senate rejected it (16 to 34) despite many women testifying before the Senate in support. The thirty years that followed (“the doldrums”) featured few achievements for women’s rights and no further consideration of the amendment. From 1910 to 1911 however, the movement began to push for suffrage across the states and finally began to win little battles, though the Senate rejected the amendment again in 1914.
In 1915, Carrie Chapman Catt took over as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She revitalized the organization and made the choice to support the war effort in 1917. The women’s war work of the NAWSA turned them into much more visible symbols of nationalism, which lead to President Wilson speaking out in favor of suffrage in his 1918 State of the Union address. With the push of the President, the Senate reviewed the amendment again. Though it failed to pass by one narrow vote in February of 1919, the President ordered a special session for the Senate to review it again. It passed the house on May 21 1919, and the Senate on June 4, 1919, and finally reached the state of ratification by the states. This process lasted over a year until Tennessee finally ratified it.
On this day in 1934, Diana Wynne Jones was born in London. She was a writer whose most popular works included Howl’s Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series. When she was just five, Diana’s family evacuated her to Wales at the start of the war. She moved several times before her family settled in Thaxted, Essex. With her parents running an educational conference centre, Diana and her younger sisters were often left on their own. She attended the Friends School Saffron Walden and then went on to study English at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, where she attended lectures by both J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis. That same year she married John Burrow, with whom she would eventually have three sons.
Diana began writing in the mid-1960s when her youngest child was two years old. The family was going through some rough times with her husband sick and numerous adults living with them, and writing was a way for her to “keep her sanity”. Her first book was a novel for adults entitled Changeover, which was inspired by the British Empire’s divesting of numerous colonies at the time. She’s best known for her young adult fantasy books, but has also published non-fiction like The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is about cliches in fantasy fiction. Her books range from sharp social commentary to amusing situations, oftentimes including both. She has also inspired comparisons to Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, both of whom she is friends with. (She dedicated her novel Hexwood to him and he dedicated his mini-series The Books of Magic to “four witches”, one of which was Diana.
Diana spoke occasionally about her troubles in creating feminine characters and her worries that the community would not receive them as “universal”. Over time she began to work harder to include feminine heroes, which functioned as a release for her own worries over being a woman writer in a genre often seen as unsuitable for women. She has won numerous awards both for specific books and for her impact on the genre, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for Charmed Life (the first in the Chrestomanci series), and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. She died in 2011 after a battle with lung cancer. One of her last stories, The Islands of Chaldea, was finished by her sister, Ursula Jones, and published in 2014.
On this day in 1860, Henrietta Vinton Davis was born in Baltimore, MD. She was an talented elocutionist and in her later life became a missionary for Marcus Garvey’s African Redemption movement. Henrietta’s father, a musician named Mansfield Vinton, died shortly after her birth. Six months later, her mother Mary Ann married George A. Hackett, an influential man who helped to defeat the 1859 Jacobs bill. (The bill intended to enslave the children of free African-Americans and deport their parents from the state.) But Hackett also died just a few years later, and Mary Ann moved with Henrietta to Washington DC after his death in 1870.
In DC, Henrietta received a public education and passed the exams to become a teacher at the early age of fifteen. She taught first in Maryland and then in Louisiana before returning to care for her sick mother. In 1878, still in her late teens, Henrietta became the first African-American woman employed by the Office of the Recorder of Deeds in Washington, D.C. under George Sheridan. Frederick Douglass was appointed Recorder of Deeds just three years later, and it was under his tutelage that Henrietta’s new career emerged.
Henrietta began her training in drama and elocution in 1882, and in April of 1883 she was introduced to an integrated audience for the first time by the Honorable Frederick Douglass. She went on to perform across New England and the Middle States, while still perfecting her craft and continuing to study. She performed a wide range of works from classics like Romeo and Juliet and “Cleopatra’s Dying Speech” to Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “Negro dialects”. She was the first African American to have tried portraying Shakespearean works since Ira Aldridge.
Henrietta decided to give up her career after discovering the work of Marcus Garvey and giving a presentation at the meeting of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). She instead began to work on behalf of both Garvey and the UNIA-ACL as their first International Organizer and the second Vice-President. In August 1920 she was one of the signers of The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World during the UNIA-ACL convention. At the convention she was also given the title “Lady Commander of the Sublime Order of the Nile”. In 1921 she became the fourth assistant President-General of the UNIA-ACL and established divisions for it in Cuba, the Virgin Islands, Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad and Tobago. She broke with Garvey in 1932 however to create a rival UNIA, Inc, to which she was elected President.
Henrietta died in November of 1941 at the age of 81.
On this day in 1833, Lillie Devereux Blake,a suffragist and a speaker on behalf of women’s rights, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Though her birth name was Elizabeth Johnson Devereux, her father called her “Lillie” from a young age and the nickname stuck. Her father owned a plantation in North Carolina, but the family moved to Connecticut after his death in 1837. She grew up there and studied at Miss Apthorp’s school for girls before later receiving education from Yale tutors.
Lillie was an outspoken child who once wrote at the age of sixteen that she planned to “redress the wrongs done to her sex by trifling with men’s hearts.” As a teenager was pursued by a Yale undergraduate whose advanced she rejected. He retaliated by spreading rumors of a sexual relationship and was expelled from the school for impugning her character. Lillie denied that anything inappropriate had ever occurred between them and later expressed regret at his expulsion. Certainly the rumors did not seem to stick, as she was courted by several men and received multiple marriage offers.
Lillie’s marriage to Philadelphia lawyer Frank G. Q. Umsted in 1855 ended only four years later when he committed suicide. She began to write to support herself and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine. Her first story, A Lonely House, found publication in Atlantic Monthly. She also wrote two successful novels, Southwold (1859) and Rockford (1862), and also wrote newspaper and magazine articles. The stories she submitted to magazines generally featured strong female protagonists fighting within more standard romantic plots of the time. She was best known as a correspondent during the Civil War, when she worked for the New York Evening Post, New York World, Forney’s War Press, and the Philadelphia Press and met with President Abraham Lincoln, General Grant, and Andrew Johnson. Her most well known novel was Fettered for Life, or, Lord and Master: A Story of To-Day, which drew attention to the issue facing women of the day.
In 1866 she married for a second time to Grinfill Blake, a merchant who had testified in support of women’s suffrage. She signed the 1876 Centennial Women’s Rights Declaration and was president of the New York State Woman’s Suffrage Association and the New York City Woman’s Suffrage League. In time she broke with the large bulk of suffragists because her broader beliefs were contrary to theirs. Lillie believed that gender roles were a learned behavior and that women and men had a common nature and should have all the same rights. Susan B. Anthony and her followers believed instead in the separate sphere of women and their different nature. Lillie worked on her own to create the National Legislative League and to improve immigration laws for women. She was also known for lecturing across the United States on female enfranchisement.
Her speeches gained notice when she attacked Morgan Dix, a clergyman who claimed the Bible supported the idea of women as inferior. Lillie’s lectures argued that if Eve was inferior to Adam because her creation came after his, then by the same logic Adam was inferior to the fishes.
On this day in 1942, Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil received a patent for a frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system. The technique they patented lead to the basic technology used in wireless telephones and much more. Hedy was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesley in Vienna, Austria-Hungary. She was the only child of a Jewish father and and a mother who had been born Jewish and converted to Catholicism. (Hedy would later use her influence and fame to help her mother escape from Austria during the Nazi regime.) Producer Max Reinhardt discovered Hedy in the late 1920s and brought her to Berlin to train. She then returned to Vienna to begin working in the film industry, first as a script girl and then as an actress. In 1933 she starred at the age of 18 in Gustav Machaty’s film Ecstasy. (This film later became notorious due to nude scenes as well as a scene of her face mid-orgasm.)
Later that same year (still only 18), Hedy married Friedrich Mandl; a wealthy and very jealous military arms and munitions merchant who had ties to the Nazi government. Hedy later fled the controlling and unbearable marriage to him by disguising herself as a maid and escaping to Paris. In Paris she met Louis B. Mayer, who hired her and convinced her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr. (The surname was a tribute to the silent film star, Barbara La Marr.) The renamed Hedy came to America where she debuted in Hollywood in the film Algiers in 1938. Her manager billed her as the “world’s most beautiful woman” and one viewer stated that during her first appearance in the film: “everyone gasped…Lamarr’s beauty literally took one’s breath away.” Hedy made over 18 films from 1940-1949 and her filmography includes: Boom Town, Comrade X, White Cargo, Tortilla Flat, Dishonored Lady, and Ziegfeld Girl.
Hedy’s roles tended to involve her looking gorgeous and sensual and saying little, which she found boring. That boredom inspired her to take up inventing as a hobby. Some of her early inventions included an improved traffic stoplight and a carbonated drink tablet. (She said the drink tasted like Alka-Seltzer, thus why it wasn’t successful.) During World War II she worked with composer George Antheil to draft designs for a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedoes. Part of her knowledge for the invention came from what she had learned about torpedoes from her abusive ex-husband. The technology they created also drew inspiration from piano rolls, and functioned by changing the radio signals sent to a torpedo to prevent it from getting jammed. The patent was granted under the married name Hedy Kiesler Markey, as she was married at the time to her second husband, Gene Markey. (She eventually had six husbands in total; divorcing the last in 1965 and remaining single for the last 35 years of her life.)
Unfortunately the U.S. Military wasn’t open to using inventions from non-military people (they were also just lazy) and the technology wasn’t put to use until the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The technology design went on to become an important part of the communication technology used now in Wi-Fi, bluetooth, and CDMA. Hedy received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award, the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award, and earned a posthumous induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her work on the design. Hedy died in January of 2000 at the age of 85.
On this day in 1858, Anna J. Cooper was born into slavery in Raleigh, North Carolina. She went on to earn her PhD and became one of the most prominent African-American scholars in U.S. History. Her mother was a slave and her owner, George Washington Haywood, allegedly fathered Anna as well as her six sisters. Anna also had two older brothers. A scholarship at the age of nine granted her education at the Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute. The school had a “Ladies’ Course” reserved for woman, but Anna fought against the regulations by excelling in her school work and they allowed her to take a men’s course. She proved her intellect in math and science as well as English literature, and languages like Latin, Greek, and French.
She remained at the school as a teacher following her graduation. Though she was not listed as faculty, she taught modern history, classics, higher English, and music. She married a fellow former student, but their marriage only lasted two years until his early death. In a way this actually contributed to her ability to keep teaching. Had she remained married the school likely would have told her to withdraw from teaching and become a proper housewife. Following the unexpected death of her husband she attended Oberlin College and took the male course of study again at her own insistence. She returned to St. Augustine’s in 1885 and then earned her M.A. in Mathematics at Oberlin in 1887.
Anna Cooper completed her first book while working as a teacher and principal at M Street High School in Washington DC. A Voice from the South: By a Woman from the South, published in 1892, is one of the first written expressions of Black feminism. The work focuses on numerous topics including racism and the socioeconomic issues faced by black families. The thesis of her work was that the advancement of black women would improve the African-American community on a whole. She spoke of how the “violent natures” of men were against the goals of higher education, and suggested we foster women intellectuals instead. The idea received criticism as too similar to the “cult of true womanhood” but still became one of the most important black feminist arguments of the 19th century.
Her abilities as a speaker were also prized. She delivered her paper “The Negro Problem in America” at the first Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, and was one of only three black women invited to speak at the World’s Congress of Representative Women in Chicago in 1983. In 1914 she began studying at Columbia University to earn her doctoral degree, but stopped after the death of her mother in 1915. Anna adopted the five children of her late half-brother upon her mother’s death. She later transferred to the University of Paris-Sorbonne, only to find that they wouldn’t accept the thesis she had started at Columbia. Anna worked for ten more years to research and compose a new dissertation. She completed and defended The Attitude of France on the Question of Slavery Between 1789 and 1848 in 1925. Anna was 67 when she became the fourth black woman in American history to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy.
She lived until she was 105 years old and died on February 27, 1964. Among her many legacies is a quote by her found on pages 26 and 27 of every U.S. passport. “The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class – it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”
On this day in 1865, Janie Porter Barrett was born in Athens, Georgia to a former slave mother and an unknown (presumed white) father. She was a welfare worker and social reformer who established the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls and the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Her mother worked as a housekeeper and seamstress for the Skinner family. Thanks in part to her fair skin, the Skinners treated Janie almost as one of their own. She received a privileged education (including mathematics and literature) alongside their children, which was an atypical childhood for a black girl at the time. Mrs. Skinner wanted to adopt her and send her to the northern U.S. so she could live and receive education as a white person. Her mother didn’t agree with the plan. Instead she sent Janie to the Hampton Institute in Virginia to receive her education in a black environment.
Living among fellow African-Americans for the first time was a culture shock to Janie. She had never done manual labor before and the vocational-oriented education was new to her as well. In time she adjusted. The school taught her valuable lessons in altruism and a duty to her race, and it was at the Institute that she began to volunteer for local community projects. She trained to be an elementary school teacher and developed the altruistic values that led her to volunteerism. Josie taught at the Hampton Institute, then a rural school in Dawson, and an Institute in Augusta. After marrying Harris Barrett, she formed a casual day care and sewing class that grew at such a pace that it eventually formed the Locust Street Social Settlement in 1890. It was the first settlement organization for African-Americans in the US. The Settlement existed in a separate structure on the family property, and soon had clubs for children, women, and the elderly.
In 1908 Janie helped to create the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. She was their first president, and engaged in the work of helping create environments for children to help them avoid placement in almshouses and jails. Through the Federation she raised money to create a school for African-American girls. In 1914 the Industrial Home for Wayward Girls opened with 28 students. It later became known as the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, and featured academic education, vocational education, “big sister” guidance, and a focus on self-discipline and reliance. Janie was the secretary of the board of trustees for some time—fellow suffragist Mary-Cooke Branch Munford was another—and later was the school’s superintendent. Janie’s deep investment in the school and her excellence at what she did gave her a high reputation which allowed her to demand humane treatment from her students’ future white employers. In 1950 the school became the Janie Porter Barrett School for Girls. It still exists today as the racially-integrated Barrett Learning Center.
(A note: My apologies for not posting these for over a week. I have been going through a rough/busy couple weeks but I will try and most more regularly again. Just as a note, you can find my weekly roundup of these women every Monday on Clever Manka!)
On this day in 1874 was the birth of Alice Duer Miller, an American feminist writer known for her satirical works—most notably the collection of poems titled Are Women People? and the novel Come Out of the Kitchen. Alice was born into a wealthy family in New York City. Among her ancestors included William Duer, her grand-great-grandfather, who was part of the convention that framed the NY Constitution, and also signed the U.S. Articles of Confederation, as well as William Alexander, her great-great-great grandfather, who was a Major-General during the Revolutionary War.
By the time she entered into society her family had lost almost all of it’s fortune, however. She paid for her attendance at Barnard College beginning in 1895 by selling short essays and novels, including a book of poems jointly published with her sister Caroline. At the college she studied astronomy and mathematics, and graduated in 1899. Shortly afterwards she married Henry Wise Miller, a graduate of Harvard University and the son of a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy. She moved with her husband to Costa Rica in a failed attempt to develop rubber cultivation, and returned in 1903 with her husband and their son.
It was after their return that she became known in her campaigning for women’s suffrage, especially after her series of satirical poems (later published as Are Women People?) was printed in the New York Tribune. It’s introduction began with these lines:
Father, what is a Legislature?
A representative body elected by the people of the state.
Are women people?
No, my son, criminals, lunatics and women are not people.
Do legislators legislate for nothing?
Oh, no; they are paid a salary.
By the people.
Are women people?
Of course, my son, just as much as men are.
The title of the series became a catchphrase within the suffrage movement, and was followed by a sequel collection called Women Are People! Her novel Come Out of the Kitchen, published in 1916, was her first real big success; it was made into a play and later a film (Spring in Park Lane). It was followed by numerous other short novels that were often also developed on the stage or screen.
In 1940 she wrote a verse novel called The White Cliffs, about an American girl in London who marries an Englishman who later dies in WWI, leaving her alone with her son, and the eventual worry that her son will follow in his father’s footsteps and die in WW2. The poem ends with these well-known lines:
…I am American bred
I have seen much to hate here – much to forgive,
But in a world in which England is finished and dead,
I do not wish to live.
The poem was popular both in the U.S., and in England, eventually selling over a million copies, something no verse book had ever done before. In 1944 it was made into the film The White Cliffs of Dover in 1944, and is said to have been one of the influences that brought the U.S. into WWII—Sir Walter Layton (a member of the Ministries of Supply and Munitions) apparently even brought the work to the attention of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Alice herself died in 1942, at the age of 68, and never lived to see the book made into a movie, nor the end of World War II.
On this day in 1841 was the birth of Linda Richards, the first professionally trained nurse in the United States and also the creator of the first patient medical records system. She was born Malinda Ann Judson Richards in West Potsdam, New York and was the youngest of three daughters. Her father—a preacher—named her after a missionary (Ann Hasseltine Judson), hoping she would follow in the woman’s footsteps. But after her father’s death of tuberculosis in 1845 the family moved to Vermont and settled on a farm, and when her mother also caught the disease, Linda became her primary nurse until her mother’s death in 1854.
Linda’s interest in nursing was sparked by taking care of her dying mother, but she did not jump right into it as a career. Originally she trained as a teacher at the St. Johnsbury Academy and subsequently worked as one for several years; however she was never truly happy with that career. In 1860 she met and got engaged to a man who would go on to be injured in the Civil War. Upon his return, Linda nursed him until his death in 1869, which finally motivated her to change her life to follow her own dreams. She moved to Boston to become a nurse and pursued her goals regardless of the hardship that got in her way. For example, when her three month period at Boston City Hospital involved almost no training, she didn’t allow herself to be dissuaded. She left, and subsequently became the first student to enroll in the American Nurse’s training school’s inaugural class, run by Dr. Susan Dimock of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. While training at the NEHWC, Linda cared for six patients as part of her ward, often working day and night.
After graduating she worked as the night supervisor at Bellevue Hospital Center, where she created a first of it’s kind patient records system that would go on to be used in both the U.S., and the U.K. She worked at the Boston Training School, reorganizing and improving the failing program until it was recognized as the best of it’s kind. Later she trained under Florence Nightingale in England during a seven month training program, working there for numerous years before returning to the U.S. to found and superintend nursing training schools across the nation, and later in Japan as well. Before she retired in 1911 at the age of seventy, she spent numerous years establishing special institutions for people with mental illnesses, and was also elected the first president of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools.
Her book about her experiences, Reminiscences of Linda Richards, was published in 1911 (and published in 2006 as America’s First Trained Nurse). After suffering a stroke in 1923, she was hospitalized until she died in 1930 at the age of 88.