Archive for September, 2013

#HistoricalWomenWhoRocked: Bertha Knight Landes

September 17th, 2013

Bertha Knight Landes was a political pioneer and an #HistoricalWomanWhoRocked. She was the first woman mayor of Seattle and the first woman mayor of a major American city. She and her family moved to Washington in 1895 when her husband Henry became a faculty member at the University of Washington.  Landes was the mother of three children and was active in various women’s clubs.  For example, she founded the Women’s City Club and was president of the Washington State League of Women Voters.  In 1921, the Seattle mayor appointed her to serve on a commission studying unemployment.

Landes and Kathryn Miracle became the first women to serve on the Seattle City Council in 1922.  After being re-elected in 1924, Landes became the Council President.  Two years later, in 1926, she ran for mayor of Seattle.  Running on a platform that stressed law enforcement, reform, and morality, she defeated incumbent Edwin J. “Doc” Brown.

Both as the City Council President and as mayor, Landes supported issues like city planning and zoning, improved public health and safety programs, and better hospitals and recreation programs.  She supported public ownership of utilities.  Landes’ administration focused on caring for Seattle’s moral, social, and physical environment.

Even though her administration went well and received high marks, the issue of her sex consistently superseded her accomplishments in office; most people believed a city as large as Seattle should have a male leader.  Knight was defeated for reelection in 1928.  When asked what she saw as the future for women in politics, she said, “Women now wield considerable power along political lines and I believe each succeeding year for some time to come will find them wielding that power more effectively.  But…at present men in general are not ready to yield to women the privilege and right of holding high political office.”

After her political career, Landes wrote extensively for national magazines, encouraging other women to become involved in politics.  Landes wanted women to be treated equally with men and called for public service to be gender-neutral.  She wrote, “Let us, while never forgetting our womanhood, drop all emphasis on sex, and put it on being public servants.”

“NWHM de Pizan Hat Auction: The Elizabeth Keckley Bonnet”

September 16th, 2013

By: Laura Spears

The world recently re-discovered the remarkable Elizabeth Keckley. She has been a featured character in movies, plays and books. This new interest in Elizabeth (known as Lizzie) as a historical figure is understandable. After all, it is no small accomplishment for a woman born a slave to become Washington D.C.’s most sought after dressmaker, a business owner, the president of a humanitarian organization, and a published author.

In the summer of 1862, Lizzie and a friend were out for an evening walk and observed a white family giving a party for the benefit of wounded soldiers. “This suggested an idea to me,” wrote Lizzie. “If the white people can give festivals to raise funds for the relief of suffering soldiers, why should not the well-to-do colored people go to work to do something for the benefit of the suffering blacks?” The following Sunday, Lizzie announced her plan to her church. Within two weeks, she had founded the Contraband Relief Association. With forty other women she raised money to provide food, shelter, clothing, and medical care to the 40,000 escaped slaves and injured black Union soldiers who had come to the Washington D.C. area seeking asylum. Her travels with Mary Lincoln allowed her the opportunity to raise additional funds in New York, and found a branch society in Boston.

Lizzie’s life highlights the complexity of race relations in the mid nineteenth century. Her biological parents were an enslaved black woman and a white plantation owner. Lizzie lived the first 34 years of her life in involuntary servitude to her own family, before she purchased her own freedom. It was then that she moved to Washington D.C. where Mary Lincoln hired Lizzie as a dressmaker. They became so close that Lizzie was the first person Mary sent for the night her husband was assassinated. After his death, Mary gave Lizzie the brush that she frequently used to comb the President’s hair. Indeed, Lizzie lived her life in a grey area, as a sister/slave, and then a Negro employee who became a close friend.

Despite her close relationship to the Lincoln family, Lizzie only requested a social invitation to The White House on one occasion. On April 11, 1865, Lincoln delivered a speech from a second story window of The White House. The President had been called upon to speak immediately following the surrender of the Confederacy days before, but he declined, and promised to speak on this particular evening. Lizzie asked Mary if she might attend, and bring a friend, and Mary consented. The bonnet I have made is designed for this visit to the White House. Read the rest of this entry »

“NWHM de Pizan Hat Auction: The Lucy Burns Hat”

September 13th, 2013

By: Laura Spears

“We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts–for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.” So read the banner carried by Lucy Burns in June, 1917. However, the words on her banner were not her own. Lucy’s banner contained a direct quote from President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war on Germany. She and other “silent sentinels” that stood outside the White House gates often repeated President Wilson’s words on democracy back to him to plead the case of the 20,000,000 American women who were not self-governed.

Although the National Women’s Party had begun their banner campaign in January of 1917, the Sentinels outside of the White House with their signs were largely ignored until the United States entered World War I. After this, their messages directed toward a war-time President were seen as unpatriotic. The banners began to draw crowds. Sometimes these crowds grew angry and hurled insults and other objects. Policemen allowed onlookers to destroy the women’s banners and then arrested the women for the only legal charge that they could come up with: blocking traffic.
This was not the first time Lucy had been arrested for demonstrating. She and Alice Paul had met years before at a police station in England while incarcerated for demonstrating with English suffragists. Alice noticed that Lucy was wearing an American flag pin on her lapel and introduced herself. Upon their return to United States, both women began working with the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. In 1913, Lucy and Alice founded their own organization, National Women’s Party. The sole objective of the NWP was “to secure an amendment to the United States Constitution enfranchising women.”

Lucy and 30 other picketers were arrested and sentenced to jail time for the November 10th picket. Members of the NWP had been arrested on numerous occasions since June of 1917, but this incarceration would see the most brutal treatment of the women. They would be denied legal counsel, sanitary food, and sleeping conditions. As punishment for calling out to another inmate who was being abused by prison guards, Lucy’s hands were chained above her head to her cell door for an entire night. In protest of the poor living conditions, Lucy and other inmates began a hunger strike. Prison doctors physically restrained her and force-fed her through a tube inserted into her nostril many times during her imprisonment.
Lucy’s White House banner campaign gained national attention. There was a public outcry against the treatment of the imprisoned members of the NWP, and a federal amendment for women’s suffrage gained more support. The NWP used this national support and the congressional election of 1918 to replace congressmen who did not support suffrage with those who did. Soon, suffrage was the law of the land. Read the rest of this entry »

#FoodieFriday: A Day in the Life of a Kitchen

September 13th, 2013

By: Sydnee C. Winston, Project Coordinator

In this week’s #FoodieFriday, we continue our focus on “educational documentaries” from the 1940s-1960s. In Day in the Life of a Kitchen, Frigidaire shows how its products can improve the life of a homemaker and make her more equipped to care for her husband and family.

In Let’s Make a Sandwich, homemakers are advised on how to make a sandwich into a “festive affair:”

In Cooking Terms and What They Mean, a homemaker learns important cooking terminology found in recipes so she can take better care of her husband:

NWHM & GWU Launch the first Forum in their New Lecture Series

September 12th, 2013

Click the photo below to RSVP for the event!

#ThrowbackThursday: Vintage Educational Videos

September 12th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Have you ever found yourself watching vintage educational videos on YouTube?  Some of them seem quite silly and cheesy today, but they were intended to be serious teaching tools for teenagers and young adults.  Here are five of our favorite ones on the web. Do you remember watching any of these back in the day?

1. On breaking out of a dateless slump: “You know, grooming and cleanliness, and letting the boys know you’re around – those things are all important.  But it’s the friendliness and interest, and helpfulness that really counts.”

2. On dating: “You’re different from other girls…You’re smarter.  You’re almost like a man”

3. On women in the workplace: “You’ve got a new bearings inspector who happens to be a woman.  You need someone and there isn’t a man available.  It seems to me that whether the gal adds up to trouble or not is pretty much up to you.”

Read the rest of this entry »

“NWHM de Pizan Hat Auction: The Zora Neale Hurston Hat”

September 11th, 2013

By: Laura Spears

As early as childhood, the anthropologist and playwright, Zora Neale Hurston had a knack for swapping stories.

“I used to take a seat on top of the gatepost and watch the world go by. One-way to Orlando ran past my house, so the carriages and cars would pass before me. The movement made me glad to see it. Often, the white travelers would hail me, but more often, I hailed them and asked, ‘Don’t you want me to go a piece of the way with you?’

She would travel a little of the way with her new acquaintance, either telling them stories or asking them questions about themselves, then she would trot back down the road to her family’s home in Eatonville, Florida.

Traveling and story telling became Zora’s livelihood from the time she left Florida as a teenager in 1914.  She spent the rest of her life on the road, collecting stories and research that she would use in her plays, essays and novels. As an educated African American woman she helped debunk racist theories and share that evidence with audience through theatre. She is most remembered for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Zora attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. From Howard, Zora went to New York, to study at Columbia College with the noted anthropologist, Franz Boas. Before Boaz, the study of anthropology was based mostly on anecdotal evidence instead of observable facts. Like all of his students, Boaz expected Zora to be meticulous in her research. One of her first field research tasks was to measure the skulls of her African American neighbors in Harlem. Armed with a set of calipers she carried in her purse, she set out to disprove the anthropological theory that blacks had smaller brains than whites.

As an anthropologist, Zora went on several tours of the southern United States collecting the folklore and songs of African American communities. She stayed in labor camps in Florida and collected the stories of lumber workers and railroad crews. She went to New Orleans and the Bahamas and studied hoodoo. Read the rest of this entry »

“NWHM de Pizan Hat Auction: The Claire Phillips Fascinator”

September 9th, 2013

By: Laura Spears

Claire Phillips, who would later go by the code name “High Pockets,” worked as an American spy during World War II. She was  born in Portland Oregon in 1908, and little is known about her life before the outbreak of World War II except that she worked as a singer and dancer, often with touring companies. In 1941, Claire was working at Club Alcazar in Manila. There, she met her husband, American Sargent John Phillips. The two married shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, on Christmas Eve in 1941.

When the Japanese invaded the Phillipines in January, the two were separated and Claire lost track of John. After months of heavy fighting, American forces surrendered the peninsula of Bataan. John, along with 75,000 American soldiers left on the peninsula, was now a prisoner of war.

Claire had fled Manila during the invasion, but she returned soon after the surrender. She had acquired false papers, and went under the new identity of Dorothy Clara Fuentes, a Filipina/Italian woman. As Madame Fuentes, Claire operated Club Tsubuki. This nightclub became the headquarters for her espionage ring. Every night, High Pockets and her staff of dancers would put on a cabaret for Japanese officers, pour their drinks, light their cigarettes and mingle among them. Claire would give all her attention to the most senior officer in the club; coquettishly steering the conversation toward topics such as when the fleet was leaving, where they were heading, and what they were carrying in their boats. Once her patrons left, Claire would slip a note to a Filipino runner with all of the information she had gathered that evening. The runner took the note to American guerillas, who then passed on the info to General MacArthur.

On one occasion, the commander of a flotilla of Japanese submarines asked as a special request that Claire perform a fan dance, since the flotilla would be leaving Manila in two days. Claire promised that if he returned the next night, the fan dance would be part of a going away party in honor of them. Wearing a deceptively nude-colored body stocking, dancing beneath a red spotlight with two large feather fans, Claire gave the commander and his men a memorable farewell. That night after their departure, she sent word of the fleet’s plans to MacArthur. The entire flotilla was later sunk. Read the rest of this entry »

#FoodieFriday: The Fast Food Strikes

September 6th, 2013

What is being called the largest fast-food industry strike in history, happened last Thursday. Thousands of workers in 60 cities across the nation walked off their jobs to demand better wages and to increase the current minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $15/hour. A large portion of the strikers were women. One of these women was Veronica Clark of Detroit, Michigan. Veronica is a mother of three children and the sole breadwinner for her family. She works at McDonald’s and makes $7.40 an hour. For the last six years, Veronica has been looking for other employment but hasn’t been successful in finding anything. According to The Guardian, “she is paid less per hour in real terms than the lowest paid US workers were half a century ago, when, on 28 August 1963, hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded into Washington for the historic march for freedom and jobs for black Americans.”

The average fast food worker is 28 years old. Two thirds of the industry’s workforce is comprised of women; their average age is 32, and they are mostly women of color. The majority are supporting children and families on $7.50 minimum wage, no benefits, and few hours. According to, “the implications of this movement are large. Whether or not workers are able to raise the minimum wage to $15 is one thing, but the fact that there is now an unparalleled amount of action in the industry means that something is bound to happen in the near future. Dorian T. Warren, a professor from Columbia University,says, “Many are earning so little they have nothing to lose.” Fast-food workers will continue to fight until they see some change.”

#ThrowbackThursday: Queen for a Day

September 5th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Pretend it is the 1950s.  You are a recently single mother who needs a high school diploma so you can get a job to provide for your five children.  Or, say, you need a wheelchair for your son who had an accident and became paralyzed.  Or you need home repairs to erase the memory of when your husband, who was dying of brain cancer, decided to take his own life before the disease could.  Would you go on national television, compete against other women’s hardships, and hope the audience would select yours via applause-o-meter as the saddest so you could win a bunch of prizes?  Thousands of other women did.

“Would you like to be Queen for a Day?”  That question was asked to American women every weekday for 19 years on the long running radio and television show, Queen for a Day.  The show has been called a precursor to today’s reality television and “the worst program in TV history.”  Despite the fact that contemporary critics bashed the show and modern critics have mostly written it off as unimportant to Popular Culture History, it dominated the ratings when it was on the air.

Queen for a Day debuted on radio on April 29, 1945 and on television on January 1, 1955.  During its time on television, the show averaged 13 million viewers per episode and was number one in the ratings.  A one minute commercial spot on Queen for a Day cost advertisers a whopping $4,000, and NBC cashed in $9 million each year from the show.  The show gave away $23 million in prizes. It aired in the middle of the day, which meant its target audience was middle class housewives who were home to watch it.  It went off the air in 1964.  Its contestants were always women, except during occasional special episodes where a “King for a Day” or “Newspaper Boy King for a Day” was chosen.

Read the rest of this entry »