Archive for January, 2013

The Seven Sisters: Now and Then

January 31st, 2013

My name is Jennie Ostendorf and I am a senior at Barnard College.  Barnard is a small liberal arts college located in the middle of New York City.  It is known for its rigorous academics and competes for students with schools like Georgetown University, University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University, and NYU. But there is one quality about Barnard that sets it apart from these other institutions: Barnard only accepts female students.

(President Obama speaks at Barnard Commencement 2012 Photo Credit: Barnard College)

Since its founding in 1889, Barnard has been dedicated to the enrichment and success of women.  I can say with certainty that my college experience has been extraordinary because of Barnard’s values. Because I came to Barnard, I have met pioneers like Gloria Steinem and Anna Quindlen; studied leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Bella Abzug; worked with peers and professors who challenge and inspire me; and have learned, grown, and excelled in an environment where women can (and are expected to) do anything.

Read the rest of this entry »

Upcoming Women’s History Month Events

January 28th, 2013

Check out these exciting events during Women’s History Month (March 2013) that are open to the public:

The 1913 Suffrage Parade Exhibit
Throughout March in the lobby of the National Press Club
529 14th Street (just south of F St.), 13th Floor, Washington, DC 10045

Learn about key figures from the historic suffrage parade and the role of the press in helping to turn public opinion in favor of women’s voting rights. Created by the National Women’s History Museum with support from the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, the exhibit is free and open to the public. Press Club restaurant, The Fourth Estate, is on the 13th Floor and open to the public. The Metro Center Metro stop is two blocks away.

72 Years of Fighting for the Vote
Saturday, March 2, 11 AM-12:30 PM—The George Washington University Lisner Auditorium
21st at H Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20052
Up front seating included in VIP Package
Learn more about how women’s right to vote was won after a 72-year fight, involving three generations of women.  Enjoy a not-to-be-missed panel of experts moderated by Ann Lewis, Chair of the Commission on Celebrating Women’s History and Counsel to President Bill Clinton. No ticket necessary. Near the Foggy Bottom Metro stop.

“First Ladies: Hidden in Plain Sight”
Cokie Roberts and Professor Catherine Allgor
Monday, March 4   5:30-7pm–The Arts Club of Washington, DC   2071 I (Eye) St, NW
For ticket purchase:
Ticket included in VIP Package
Journalist Cokie Roberts, author of two books on America’s First Ladies of the infancy of the country, will talk with Professor Catherine Allgor, author of a recent biography of Dolley Madison and Director of Education at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.  They will focus on the challenges of telling the stories of the First Ladies.  Wine and cheese will be served.  Near the Foggy Bottom and Farragut West Metro stops.

‘Valor knows no gender’: Pentagon lifts ban on women in combat

January 25th, 2013
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

Declaring that it would strengthen both the military and the country, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday lifted a ban on women in combat and said that it was “the responsibility of every citizen to protect the nation.”

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, the secretary vowed that the decision would not compromise military readiness and pledged that the armed forces would not lower standards for service, such as for physical fitness.

“If they can meet the qualifications for the job,” he said, “then they should have the right to serve.”

President Barack Obama said in a statement that the decision would “be another step toward fulfilling our nation’s founding ideals of fairness and equality,” themes that he sounded three days earlier in his second inaugural address.

The deaths of more than 150 American military women in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president said, demonstrate that “valor knows no gender.” Another 1,000 women have been wounded in the nation’s two most recent wars.

The decision replaces a 1994 military policy memo signed by Les Aspin, a defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, that excluded women from assignments to units below the brigade level if the unit would be engaged in direct combat.

The change is expected to open 230,000 front-line positions to women.

Nearing the expected end of his own time as defense secretary, Panetta spoke of visiting Arlington National Cemetery and seeing no distinction between men and women who had given their lives in defense of the country.

“They serve, they’re wounded, and they die right next to each other,” he said. “The time has come to recognize that reality.”

The secretary said that there would be a review period for each of the armed services to see if there are any jobs that should be excluded. He wants recommendations on his desk by May 15.

But Pentagon officials said it might be next year before specifics are worked out and women can begin applying for the newly opened positions.

Asked specifically about special operations units such as the Navy SEALs and Delta Force, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon briefing that he believes there are women who would meet those standards.

For years, women in the military, and outside groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that women already serve on the front lines but are not recognized for it. Women constitute 15 percent of the active-duty military.

Panetta said repeatedly that he had been impressed by the role of women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We are making our military stronger, and we are making America stronger,” he said.

Critics of Panetta’s decision had expressed concern that allowing women to serve in combat roles could harm unit cohesion and weaken military readiness. Others said they worried about lower standards for physical fitness, leading to a weaker fighting force.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said earlier Thursday that lifting the ban was “the right thing to do,” but he stressed that the military should make sure physical standards are met.

Reaction on Capitol Hill appeared mostly positive. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, congratulated Panetta for the decision in an interview on “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC.

“I think this is a very positive step, and it reflects the reality of what’s happening, obviously, in defending our nation,” she said.


National Women’s History Museum Announces Launch of Suffrage Centennial Celebration in the Nation’s Capital March 1-3, 2013

January 17th, 2013



Washington, D.C. (January 17, 2013) The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) is pleased to announce a leading role in the upcoming Suffrage Centennial Celebration in Washington, D.C., March 1 – 3, 2013.  The weekend will be a national celebration of women winning the vote and the power of their ballot, honoring a victory that took three generations and 72 years.  It will highlight events beginning in 1913 that put suffrage in the national spotlight, and in 1920, secured women’s voting rights through the Nineteenth Amendment now enshrined in the Constitution.

We’re dedicated to bringing this pivotal time in women’s history alive and are thrilled to join with other organizations and institutions—and women and men across the country—to embrace this grand Suffrage Centennial Celebration,” said Joan Wages, President and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum.

March is National Women’s History Month throughout the nation, but the DC kickoff is tailor-made for the many hungering for a richer slice of women’s history than that served up by most history books.  Women weren’t “given the right to vote,” and suffrage pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were far from the movement’s only heroines.

Young suffragists and master strategists Alice Paul and Lucy Burns arrived in DC as 1913 began.  They were impatient, fed up with state-by-state efforts  that, after 65 years, had brought women voting rights in just 10 states—mostly western states eager to attract women.  Only 60 days later, their historic women’s suffrage procession down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913, signaled pursuit of a new national strategy– a constitutional amendment to win voting rights and a desire for the national spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

NWHM Hires New Director of Programs

January 15th, 2013

The National Women’s History Museum brought on its newest staff member, Elizabeth Maurer, on Monday as the Museum’s Director of Programs.  The Museum is delighted to have Ms. Maurer join the staff and trusts that her expertise will help to further develop and improve current Museum programs, and create new and enriching programs that will have a positive impact on the public.

Maurer was most recently the Director of Re-Living History in Alexandria, VA. There, she developed and presented public programs matched to K-12 state and national standards for science, history, and civics. She also created comprehensive, educational curriculums in various content areas and developed and lead teacher workshops combining subject matter content and innovative teaching strategies.

From March 2008 to May 2010, she was the  Director of Operations at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington. As Director, she researched, wrote and designed comprehensive educational curriculum in history, civics and science. She supervised the Museum’s Forensic Science programs and established program goals and objectives to meet national curriculum standards while employing object-based learning techniques. She also devised and implemented a strategic plan to market education programs via social networking, educational products &on-/off-site programs to target audiences, resulting in increased visitation.

Maurer has her Master’s in Teaching with an emphasis in Museum Education from George Washington University.

Historical Women Who Rocked: Film Director Dorothy Arzner

January 10th, 2013

What do Hollywood heavyweights Lucille Ball and Katharine Hepburn have in common? Both of their legendary film careers were made possible by Dorothy Arzner. Ever heard of her? Chances are you haven’t because she is one of many women in history whose incredible stories have been forgotten. In addition to being the first woman to direct in the Hollywood studio system, she was the only woman for her entire career which lasted for nearly 20 years! Her name is credited to more films than any other woman in Hollywood to date. Dorothy directed the first “talkie” for Paramount and invented the boom mic.

Although Dorothy’s amazing story has faded into historical obscurity, a new project is working to unearth it and share it with the world.  Sophisticated: The Untold Hollywood Story of Dorothy Arzner, “will tell the story of this great unsung heroine…Hollywood’s first female director, Dorothy Arzner.”

Wendy Haines is the film’s producer and  brings over 20 successful years in the Entertainment Industry coupled with an entrepreneurial background in business management. Along with her passion for collaboration, Wendy brings a visionary ability combined with practical business perspective, which makes for the combination of a winning producer. Ms. Haines’ goal is to inspire a collaborative effort to write this unsung heroine back into history.

To learn more about this important project please click here.

Gerda Lerner, Women’s History Pioneer, 1920-2013

January 9th, 2013

By: Dr. Linda Gordon, New York University, January 9, 2013

Photo Credit:

Gerda Lerner, historian, writer, feminist activist and program builder, died January 2, 2013, In Madison, Wisconsin, at age 92.

Born Gerda Hedwig Kronstein to a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, she was active in anti-Nazi protests while in secondary school.  When her father, Robert Kronstein, came to understand the Nazis’ plans to appropriate Jewish property and arrest Jews, he fled to Lichtenstein to develop a second business.  Gerda and her mother Ilona and sister Nora were arrested and held for six weeks; they were released only after Robert sold his Austrian assets to Gentiles for a pittance.  Gerda believed that her experiences as a Nazi resister and imprisoned teenager were the most formative influences of her life, undergirding her assertive, fighting spirit and her understanding of the virulent force of racism.

Immigrating to the US, she contracted a brief first marriage and divorce, and earned a living in working-class jobs, then in 1941 married Carl Lerner, a theater director and film editor.  They moved to Los Angeles where he worked in Hollywood and she worked with community social-justice groups.  Both were Communists at the time, and when Carl Lerner’s career was destroyed by the Hollywood blacklists, they returned to New York with their two children.  In the 1960s Gerda became one of the founding members of NOW.

At age 38 Gerda enrolled in college and then graduate school at Columbia. Defying warnings and belittlement from those who believed she should choose a more conventional and “high status” topic, Gerda wrote a PhD dissertation about women—the abolitionist Grimke sisters.   In 1968 she began teaching at Sarah Lawrence College where she developed an MA program in women’s history, the first in the US.  Twelve years later she won a professorship at the University of Wisconsin, over significant opposition, where she developed a PhD program in women’s history.

Two related intellectual and personal understandings marked Gerda Lerner’s career: a visceral grasp of how power worked and a sense of the relatedness of various forms of inequality and oppression—class, race, gender, and global imperialism.   In both her faculty positions she strategized that teaching women’s history would not be enough to build respect for the field, and that she needed to build women’s history programs with visibility and autonomy.  In both places the existence of these programs attracted top-notch students willing to take risks and to pursue graduate work in history not merely as job training but also out of a commitment to making history relevant to movements for social justice.  At Wisconsin she took the job only on the condition that the history department hire a second faculty member in the field, and Linda Gordon came there in 1984.

The Sarah Lawrence and Wisconsin programs combined trained over 40 historians of women and gender, many of them now the leading scholars in the field.  Gerda organized the first ever conference of faculty from graduate programs in women’s history, at which several dozen professors from around the country were able to share syllabi, programmatic developments, teaching methods, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

NWHM Remembers Dr. Gerda Lerner’s Legacy

January 4th, 2013

NWHM was saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Gerda Lerner on Wednesday, Jan. 2nd. Dr. Lerner, who was 92 years old, was a pioneer in establishing the women’s history field and inspired the work that we do to celebrate, educate and pass on the collective history of American women to the public. Dr. Lerner knew that in order to have a fuller understanding of history, and hence ourselves, the standard field of American history must be compelled to be more inclusive of all of its citizens’ historical experiences, contributions and achievements.

“In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist,” Dr. Lerner told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I asked myself how this checked against my own life experience. ‘This is garbage; this is not the world in which I have lived,’ I said.”

With the preponderance of women’s history programs at colleges and universities around the country today, it may be difficult for some to imagine a time in our nation’s past when the field of women’s history didn’t really exist. But it was only about three decades ago that discipline began to solidify as an academic field. Dr. Lerner founded the very first graduate program in women’s history in 1972 at Sarah Lawrence College and set out to collect source materials including diaries, letter and speeches, that would help historians to reconstruct the lives of women. But in the decades that preceded, US history for much of its existence ignored and diminished the importance of women’s lives, work and experiences. The brand of history that long was taught focused almost exclusively on white men, usually those in politics and the military; and women historians, as well as women’s history, were relegated to the footnotes of our national story.

Dr. Lerner spent her life challenging the way historians of the day thought about history. In 1963, she earned her B.A. from the New School for Social Research in New York. She then received her Ph.D. in American History from Columbia University in 1966. Dr. Lerner returned to Columbia to pursue women’s history, a field not yet considered a formal area of study. There she began her battle to gain recognition of women’s history as a separate specialized discipline. That same year Lerner joined fellow activists Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, Aileen Hernandez, and others in founding the National Organization for Women (NOW). Upon receiving her doctorate, Lerner began teaching at Long Island University. She is credited with teaching the first post-World War II college course in women’s history.

In 1980, she began teaching at the University of Wisconsin and remained there as Professor of History Emerita. At Wisconsin, she established a Ph.D. program in women’s history and continued to help similar fledgling programs at universities throughout the country. In 1981, she became the first female President in 50 years of the Organization of American Historians.

As NWHM reflects on the historic events of this week—the swearing in of the 113th Congress of the United States, we can see the wheels of history turning and a new history being forged. At no other time in our nation’s past have more women occupied a greater presence in Congress than they do now. Twenty women now preside in the Senate and eighty-one in the House. As women’s history classes, museums, historical societies and other organization discuss the historical importance of this week’s events, they should also consider the legacy of Dr. Lerner’s life-long work in helping to make these types of conversations possible.

NWHM honors Dr. Lerner’s memory, legacy and her life’s work. Without her commitment to ensuring that women’s history be viewed as a central area of scholarship, we would not exist.

“Women’s History is the primary tool for women’s emancipation.”

-Dr. Gerda Lerner

Please click here to view a short clip about the life of Dr. Lerner taken from the Museum’s film: “The Keepers of History.”

Gerda Lerner, a Feminist and Historian, Dies at 92

January 4th, 2013

Gerda Lerner, a Feminist and Historian, Dies at 92

Reprinted from the New York Times

Gerda LernerGerda Lerner, a scholar and author who helped make the study of women and their lives a legitimate subject for historians and spearheaded the creation of the first graduate program in women’s history in the United States, died on Wednesday in Madison, Wis. She was 92.

Her death was confirmed by Steve J. Stern, a history professor and friend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Dr. Lerner had taught for many years.

In the mid-1960s, armed with a doctorate in history from Columbia University and a dissertation on two abolitionist sisters from South Carolina, Dr. Lerner entered an academic world in which women’s history scarcely existed. The number of historians interested in the subject, she told The New York Times in 1973, “could have fit into a telephone booth.”

“In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist,” Dr. Lerner told The Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I asked myself how this checked against my own life experience. ‘This is garbage; this is not the world in which I have lived,’ I said.”

That picture changed rapidly, in large part because of her efforts while teaching at Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1970s. In creating a graduate program there, Dr. Lerner set about trying to establish women’s history as a respected academic discipline and to raising the status of women in the historical profession. She also began gathering and publishing the primary source material — diaries, letters, speeches and so on — that would allow historians to reconstruct the lives of women.

“She made it happen,” said Alice Kessler-Harris, a history professor at Columbia. “She established women’s history as not just a valid but a central area of scholarship. If you look at any library today, you will see hundreds of books on the subject.”

Read the full article at