Archive for the ‘All News’ Category

Social Marketing Before the Networks Were Online

March 22nd, 2017

 

How often have you been invited to a friend’s house for a fun “social” event where you knew that you were going to be asked to buy something like makeup, jewelry, or cookware? Did you know that women have been using their social networks to sell products for more than 130 years?

Distrust of a sales pitch is as old as the barter system. Advertising, aggressive techniques, and wild product claims heightened cynicism as America entered the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century. The radical solution to building consumer trust turned out to be recruiting women as sales agents. But not in traditional retail settings.

Shopping for Home and Shopping for a Job

The 19th century’s wide-spread growth of factories changed shopping and consuming. Machinery operated with low-skill and therefore low-wage labor made it cheaper to buy rather than make household consumables like soap, candles, canned foods, and men’s clothing. Department stores catering to every socioeconomic level marketed the convenience of one-stop shopping. Job opportunities for sales people proliferated, and both men and women were recruited to positions as retail clerks.

Credit: Library of Congress. Champion American Soap Powder.
Credit: Library of Congress. Champion American Soap Powder.

Women embraced opportunities to enter the workforce. The shift from making at home to buying in a store freed up women’s time while it intensified the need to generate real income to buy stuff. Declining birthrates led to more women entering the paid labor force even while traditional attitudes limited their professional opportunities. Many women wanted jobs that would allow them to balance work with their wife and mother roles.

The combination of a new consumer culture and more women seeking paid employment propelled a new retail sales approach built on women’s social networks.

Selling Trust One Woman at a Time

Shopping may have been a necessary activity in an increasingly consumer-oriented culture, but buying could be fraught. City dwellers easily accessed retail stores, and mail order catalogs made a wealth of manufactured goods available to all. Traveling or door-to-door salesmen brought retail to millions of American front doors, especially in rural areas. While scores of 19tt-century companies profited on direct sales, the traveling salesman stereotype became synonymous with a charlatan or huckster peddling inferior goods. Americans did not view direct sales as a particularly ladylike profession. One company changed that starting in 1886.

The California Perfume Company was born in 1886 after former traveling salesman David H. McConnell purchased a share of the Union Publishing Company. Noticing that his female customers showed more interest in the perfume sample giveaways than the books and magazines he sold, he changed the company’s product and name. McConnell recruited the recently widowed Persus Foster Eames Albee as a sales agent for his new product line. Albee had been one of Union Publishing Company’s most successful sales agents. McConnell gave her an exclusive territory where she used her outgoing personality and social connections to develop a customer base for perfumes and beauty products.

Credit: National Women’s History Museum. Avon perfume bottle ca. 1973.

 

Albee helped McConnell to develop a network of female sales agents that she managed as a General Agent. The company actively recruited middle-class, married women as sales agents, pitching the opportunity as a flexible job that allowed them to earn income without disrupting family life. In 1910, married women accounted for 62% of sales staff. McConnell and Albee deliberately feminized the direct sales model to take advantage of women’s reciprocal social obligations. The California Perfume Company officially changed its name to Avon in 1939, and by then its sales force stood at more than 29,000 women.

Hundreds of other companies took note, particularly those targeting female consumers. Annie Turnbo Malone and Madame C.J. Walker each developed hair care product companies in the early 20th century that marketed towards African American women. Malone and Walker faced challenges in convincing drugstores and other retail outlets to stock their products. Both women turned to direct sales. They traveled the country demonstrating products while recruiting and training women agent-operators. Walker paid bonuses to her sales agents to recruit new saleswomen, the precursor to the multi-level sales model. Success stories of women who had quit day jobs to earn more money as full time sales agents stimulated recruitment.

Turning Retail Sales into a Party

The Great Depression’s plummeting economy threw millions out of work, and thousands of unemployed turned to direct sales to make ends meet. The increase in door-to-door selling and rising homeowner complaints led many municipalities to crack down on door-to-door selling. Direct sales moved indoors, and women became even more integral to its success.

Stanley Home Products, co-founded by Frank Stanley Beveridge and Catherine O’Brien, became famous in the 1930s for its “Hostess Parties”. The practice of in-home product demonstrations started in the 1920s with Fuller Brush and WearEver Aluminum, companies that marketed to women. Stanley salesman Norman Squires formalized the party marketing plan and introduced “hostess” gifts of Stanley products to reward women who gathered friends for demonstrations.

Around this time, entrepreneur-inventor Earl Tupper perfected a process for turning polyethylene slag—a by-product of oil refining—into a clean, translucent plastic. He named his product and company Tupperware and launched a line of kitchen plastics in 1946. Tupper’s products gathered dust on hardware and department store shelves. Even a full-color feature in House Beautiful and a museum exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1947 failed to move his product.

There was one channel where Tupperware thrived. Tupperware sold wholesale lots directly to individual distributors for resale. Several turned out to be Stanley Home Products agents supplementing their stock. Tupper discovered that the highest-grossing distributors touted Tupperware as an ideal party demonstration product. In fact, the air-expelling “burb” signaling a tight seal enjoyed its own long-standing pop culture moment. Tupper hired top independent distributor and Stanley Home Products alumna, Brownie Wise, in 1951 to set up a system making home parties on the Hostess plan the exclusive distribution channel for Tupperware.

Credit: Smithsonian Institute. Brownie Wise.

 

 

Wise set out to integrate Tupperware into American culture. She understood the psychology of her target consumer: young housewives moving into postwar, suburban housing developments. While inventions like the electric vacuum, washing machine, and refrigerator, made housework easier, they escalated housewives’ social isolation. In an era before modern conveniences, teams of women–including servants—operated middle and upper-class households. The miracle of technology enabled one woman to maintain a house. Tupperware parties brought suburban women together in a social setting complete with refreshments, games, and unstructured social time. The demonstration was part of the fun. Tupperware’s line included a range of specialized party and serving pieces. It fit in with the mid-century changing emphasis on women’s roles as hostesses rather than merely housewives. A Tupperware party was social as well as social marketing.

Wise’s true innovation was not the home party model, which she improved rather than invented. Rather it was the way she organized sales teams. As a Stanley dealer, she managed a team of ten other women. At Tupperware, she introduced the multi-level sales team. She incentivized dealers to recruit new sales people below them. In the pyramid model, sales directors at the top of the structure received commissions based on the team members’ sale below them. Women’s social networks proved equally effective in expanding Tupperware’s sales teams.

Working for Family

Just as hundreds of companies followed Avon’s model, so did many more copy Tupperware. Today, women’s sales activities continue strong. According to the Direct Selling Association, 20.2 million Americans were involved in direct selling in 2015. Their estimated retail sales reached $36.12 billion, a 4.8% increase from 2014. Women made up 77% of the sales force, and 20% of sales occurred at home parties.

Pioneered by Avon and built upon by a succession of women-focused businesses, direct selling companies feminized sales by employing women to market to other women. Women agents have used their networks and reciprocal social obligations to build an industry. It evolved with the needs of women in mind, both as customers and employees. Meeting family obligations while bringing in necessary household income was an inducement for women taking sales jobs at the beginning of the 20th century. Flexibility and a work-life balance were cited as a motivating factor for entering direct sales by 65% of sales people in a 2015 industry survey. While the products may (or may not change), the motivations stay the same.

 

By Elizabeth L. Maurer, Director of Program

 

Recommend Readings

  • Clarke, Alison J. 2014. Tupperware: the promise of plastic in 1950s america. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=784780.
  • “Industry Fact Sheets.” Direct Selling Association. Accessed March 22, 2017.http://www.dsa.org/benefits/research/factsheets.
  • Kessler-Harris, Alice. 2003. Out to work: a history of wage-earning women in the United States. Oxford [u.a.]: Oxford University Press.
  • Lamoreaux, Tiffany. “Home is where the work is: women, direct sales, and technologies of gender.” PhD diss., ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY, 2013. https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/110427/content/Lamoreaux_asu_0010E_12813.pdf
  • Peiss, Kathy Lee. 2012. Hope in a jar: the making of America’s beauty culture. Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=3441983.
  • “Stanley Home Products: 75 Years of Excellence and a Place in Direct Selling History.” Marketwire. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/stanley-home-products-75-years-of-excellence-and-a-place-in-direct-selling-history-nasd

A Conversation with Toni Ko

March 22nd, 2017

 

Toni Ko HeadshotToni Ko is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record in developing, launching, and building highly successful global brands. Ko is most often recognized as Founder of the multi-million dollar brand NYX Cosmetics, which she sold to L’Oreal, the largest beauty brand in the world. In April 2016, Ko proudly launched her second company, PERVERSE Sunglasses, after she recognized a gap in the accessories market between the prestige sunglass brands sold in department stores and the mass brands sold in retail stores. She designed the PERVERSE collection for those with style and substance, and offers hundreds of fashion-forward styles at an affordable price. The brand has seen incredible success within its first year, and has been seen on A-list celebrities such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Jessica Alba. Ko’s sunglasses are sold in more than 125 stores nationwide.

Last September, the National Women’s History Museum honored Ko for her leadership in business. Recently, we sat down with her for a discussion about her success, tips for future entrepreneurs and inspiring future generations of women.

What inspired you to start your own business- especially at such a young age?

I started working for the family business when I was a teenager, so by the time I reached my 20’s I was ready to roll the dice on my own. I noticed a huge gap in the market between the super prestigious cosmetics brands and the budget-friendly brands, and I wanted to launch a brand that delivered both. I created NYX with the look and quality of a prestigious brand, married with the affordability of the budget brands.

Who do you consider your role model in business?

My mom.  She taught me the three most important qualities in life: to work hard, to be honest, and to remain humble. These are the simplest and most pure of qualities, yet the most effective and powerful. I will always treasure those messages.

Do you think there are particular qualities women have that men don’t that work towards their advantage in business?

Definitely!  It has been proven time after time that women are more compassionate than men, and this is a huge advantage in today’s world. The new generation is less concerned with inexpensive items vs. over-priced designer tags. Rather, they want to buy products from companies with a greater purpose. Showing compassion towards mankind and our environment is definitely a plus to the modern business model.

What advice do you have for women in business, especially those who want to start their own business?

I love the quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion and speak up about what matters to you. Of course you don’t want to be disrespectful or rude, but it’s important to make yourself heard.

How do you think a National Women’s History Museum can inspire future generations of women business leaders?

It is imperative for women to be inspired and inspire others. A National Women’s History Museum will display the opportunities and successes that one might think do not exist for women. A museum will feature women from all walks of life, with the goal to blend gender bias and show our future generation that men and women are truly equal in all aspects of life and our abilities.

Is there anything else you would like to add for our readers?

When it comes to women and leadership, it’s going to take a while for society to catch up.  My hope for real change lies within the next generation. I recently read an article that the daughters who grew up with a working mother made more money later in their careers than those whose mothers did not work. I can personally identity with this statement because I grew up with a working mother. It was only 45 years ago when a woman could not acquire a credit card without her husband’s signature. In less than 50 years, 40% of women are now the sole or primary breadwinners for their families, which quadrupled since the 1960s. We have certainly come a long way, but we still have a very long way to go. It’s our job to be the role models for the next generation of female leaders. It’s our job to create many different definitions of success. It’s our job to support other women.

Honoring Rosie the Riveter and the Women Who Won the War

March 20th, 2017
"We Can Do It!" by J. Howard Miller, US Government Work
“We Can Do It!” by J. Howard Miller, US Government Work

Before World War II, the prevailing view of a woman’s role was that of wife and mother.  Many occupations divided jobs into “men’s” and “women’s”, a practice reinforced by separate help wanted advertisements. However, the need to mobilize the entire population behind the war effort was so compelling that political and social leaders agreed that both women and men would have to change their perceptions of gender roles—at least during a national emergency.  Women were recruited to contribute in variety of ways.

“It’s a Woman’s War Too!” Women Join the Military

After US entry into World War II, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers introduced a bill creating the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. The WAAC measure allowed up to 150,000 women to volunteer for military service. The armed forces launched crash recruiting drives including rallies, national advertising campaigns, community outreach programs, and appeals to college students.

In 1942, a new law granted women official military status in the Army. Soon after, women joined other uniformed services including the Navy (WAVEs), Air Force (WASPs), and Coast Guard (SPARs).

Are you a girl with star-spangled heart?--Join the WAC now!--Thousands of Army jobs need filling! Library of Congress
Are you a girl with star-spangled heart?–Join the WAC now!–Thousands of Army jobs need filling! Library of Congress

War Department publicists produced posters and subway cards that portrayed women in uniform as glamorous. The National Advertising Council promised that stories and advertisements for consumer products would promote enlistment in the military and volunteerism at home.

“The Girl He Left Behind is Still Behind Him” – Patriotic Labor Force

The country had to keep functioning even as millions of men who performed critical functions in the economy were drafted. The departing men left openings in offices and factories across the country at a time when private industry needed to increase industrial production to meet the demand for war materials. Government encouraged private employers to recruit women to open positions and women to accept them. Women responded to calls to keep Americans fed, moving, and communicating.

To help overcome opposition to women in “men’s” jobs, campaigns to recruit women workers stressed that production work called for domestic skills. If a woman could sew, she could rivet.  If she could put together a pie, she could work on assembly line. Public relations campaigns  — even children’s toys — emphasized patriotism, encouraging women to enter the workforce so their husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers could return home sooner.

Women came from all over the country to work in the assembly lines of defense production plants that were converted or built to mass produce ever more sophisticated armaments. Women worked six days a week, enjoyed only a handful of holidays, and were pressed to take overtime to keep the assembly lines operating around the clock. Women who entered war production were primarily working-class wives, widows, divorcees, and students who needed the money. Wages in munitions plants and aircraft factories averaged more than those for traditional female jobs.  Women abandoned traditional jobs, particularly domestic service, to work in war production plants offering 40 percent higher wages.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

With the help of women workers, total industrial production doubled between 1939 and 1945. The military production was astounding: 300,000 aircraft, 12,000 ships, 86,000 tanks, and 64,000 landing craft in addition to millions of artillery pieces and small weapons.

Women not only took factory jobs, in the cities they took traditionally male jobs such as transit workers and taxi drivers. Women were hired to drive trucks and deliver mail. Professional and technical jobs in radio and journalism, the dominant communications media of the day, opened up to women.

"I've found the job where I fit best!" find your war job in industry, agriculture, business.” Library of Congress
“I’ve found the job where I fit best!” find your war job in industry, agriculture, business.” Library of Congress

All around the country women stepped into government jobs vacated by men. More than a million women, many of them young and single, came to Washington D.C. where they became known as “government girls”. As more men were deployed overseas, women — both military and civilian –were admitted into professional classifications previously reserved exclusively for men. By 1944, women accounted for more than a third of civil service jobs. Clerical work was a typical female job in the War Department, and women moved mountains of paper during the war.

“Keeping the Home Fires Burning” Service on the Home Front

Housework and voluntary activities continued to occupy most married women, but these women were not idle. American women had a long history of volunteer civic activism. Women’s organizations provided a nationwide network that mobilized millions of women to implement a wide range of local projects. Women tirelessly gave their time and money with little or no public recognition.

A large number of women’s auxiliary organizations formed spontaneously to volunteer services to the military and civilian civil defense organizations. Members of the largest, American Women’s Voluntary Services, were trained to drive ambulances, fight fires, and provide emergency medical aid in anticipation of aerial bombings that never materialized. Other volunteer military auxiliary groups organized locally.

“Train to be a nurse's aide Phone your boro Civilian Defense Volunteer Office.” Library of Congress
“Train to be a nurse’s aide Phone your boro Civilian Defense Volunteer Office.” Library of Congress

The Women’s Land Army was organized to deploy volunteers to work on farms and pick crops.  Over a million women and girls participated, although wages were low and they had to pay for their room and board.

Almost 100,000 women throughout the country served as unpaid assistants to local rationing boards that distributed coupons based on individual evaluations of need.

Women were encouraged to grow food in Victory gardens and preserve their home-grown vegetables.  In 1944, 21 million families planted 7 million acres that yielded 8 million tons of vegetables. Victory Gardens were the answer to concerns about food shortages and the Department of Agriculture promoted growing vegetables.

Women played a prominent role in promoting the sale of war bonds to fund defense production. The General Federation of Women’s Clubs “Buy a Bomber” campaign funded production of 431 planes.

Women contributed thousands of hours to supporting the troops by setting up canteens and rest areas, writing letters, serving as hospital volunteers, and hosting events at military bases.

After the War

The expectation at the end of the war was that things would go back to “normal’’. Women would be homemakers or revert to traditional female job occupations. And this was true for many women. Thousands of women who would have liked to keep their jobs lost them to returning veterans. But thousands more voluntarily left the workforce to become wives and start families. The marriage rate increased as thousands of couples made up for lost time.

World War II brought significant, lasting changes. Women engaged in traditionally male jobs, and it became more acceptable for married women to work—though not married mothers. Between 1940 and 1945, the female labor force grew to 19 million, more than a third of the American civilian labor force. After the war, women continued to work outside the home.  By 1950, women comprised 29 percent of the workforce in the United States.

For many women, World War II brought not only sacrifices, but also new jobs, new skills, and new opportunities.  America’s “secret weapon” was the women who voluntarily mobilized to meet every challenge. U.S. government and industry expanded dramatically to meet the wartime needs. Women made it possible.

Adapted from “Partners in Winning the War: American Women in World War II.”

To see more images of women’s roles during World War II, click here: https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/partners/1.htm

 

Typewriting: A Key Skill for Women in Business

March 19th, 2017

Christopher Sholes invented the typewriter prototype in 1868. Remington–a company better known for its sewing machines–brought a successful version to market a decade later. By the 1880s, with the rise of big business in the heart of the Gilded Age, typewriters were well on their way to becoming indispensable office equipment. And the need for skilled operators created a new category of job, one that would become almost exclusively feminine by 1930.

Watch the video to find out how typewriting was key to women in business for most of the 20th century.

Raising a Glass to Irish American Women

March 14th, 2017

On the day Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892, an Irish girl named Annie Moore became the very first person processed through what became the world-famous immigration center. After joining her parents in New York, Annie married Joseph Augustus Schayer, a young German American who worked at the Fulton Fish Market. She bore 11 children, six of whom died before adulthood; she died at age 50 in 1924. She never left New York’s Lower East Side, living the rest of her life in a few square blocks that is today remembered as a notorious immigrant slum. Though Annie would not be remembered if not for being a first, her story nonetheless offers insights into the American experience precisely because she was so very typical.

Ellis Island

The Irish, before and after Annie Moore, had a tremendous impact on American history and culture. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 36.9 million Americans claim Irish roots. The Irish are the second largest heritage reported by Americans after German. But the Irish were unique among all immigrant groups. In immigrating to the United States they accomplished something that no other group even attempted.

THE IRISH SENT MORE DAUGHTERS THAN SONS.

By the end of the nineteenth century, single women accounted for 53% of Irish immigrants. The Irish were the only nineteenth or twentieth century immigrant group in which women outnumbered men. Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States and by the 1840s—at the height of the Potato Famine—they comprised nearly half. After the crisis of the Famine passed and Irish emigration slowed, Irish women continued to migrate in increasing numbers.

Who were these women and why did they come?

Irish women moved to American for the same reasons as men: opportunity and freedom. Young Irish women and girls left behind hard scrabble farms where they worked as long and as hard as men to bring in a crop while also maintaining homes and assisting with children. The Potato Famine devastated the Irish economy. Poor Irish women had few employment opportunities and diminished marriage prospects. So they left Ireland for America.

When they left, they did not try to replicate their rural lives. Instead, they settled in cities where many took jobs as servants or domestic workers. More than 60% worked as maids, cooks, nannies, or housekeepers. Domestic work came with several advantages. Living with wealthy or middle class American families intimately exposed Irish women to American culture, speeding acculturation and assimilation. The greatest advantage was financial. Not only were the wages higher than those for factory workers, as live in help domestics had no housing expenses, which enabled them to save more money.

Women helped women

Strong female networks sustained the immigration flow of Irish women, even during times of economic depression. Women sent money back home to support families but they also paid the passage for their female relatives. Irish women were the only immigrant group to establish immigration chains. They brought over nieces, sisters, cousins, and friends. They were young, under age 24, and unmarried. These women had the freedom to migrate and the desire for independence. Whereas other ethnic groups sent their sons to America, Ireland sent its daughters.

Irish Maid 1898

In America, those daughters developed a reputation for independence. They became education advocates, civil rights leaders, and cultural critics. They changed America.

American Irish prioritized education. The Catholic Church in Ireland launched an education initiative in the late 19th century expanding access to educational opportunities. The Irish Catholic Church in American built on that teaching mission, establishing parochial schools throughout the country that educated generations of Irish Americans. And Irish-Catholic sisters founded scores of schools and women’s colleges. In 1900, Irish American girls attended school at higher rates than any other group, including American-born boys. Before coeducation in the 1960s opened American colleges to more women, more American women earned degrees from Catholic women’s colleges than from Protestant or nondenominational institutions. Education aided social and economic mobility for successive generations.

Education facilitated Irish American women’s entrance into the workforce. Second generation Irish women entered the professions at higher rates than any other immigrant group, becoming teachers, bookkeepers, typists, journalists, social workers, and nurses. By 1910 Irish American women represented the majority of public elementary school teachers in Providence, Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. And by 1939, 70% of Chicago’s schoolteachers were Irish American women. Domestic work provided the first generation’s entry point into the American economy. But the second generation turned its back on servitude, preferring the relative autonomy and regular hours found in government and business.

Once in the workplace, Irish women demanded justice and equality. The second generation protested obvious discrimination and were among the first to organize and join labor unions. Though they were underrepresented among manufacturing workers, Irish American women were overrepresented among union leadership. Moreover, they introduced unions to service and professional fields. They organized teachers unions in order to eliminate male and female pay discrepancy.

Laundry Workers Union

Irish American women also made their mark through literature and journalism. Advanced education produced a generation of literary women, many of whom became professional journalists and novelists. Their subject matter often addressed women’s social inequities. Crusading journalist Elizabeth Cochrane, known by the pen name Nellie Bly, revealed abuse of the mentally ill in her newspaper expose “Ten Days in a Mad House”. Kate Chopin’s classic novel The Awakening criticized the stultifying confines of traditional American womanhood. Margaret Culkin Banning wrote over 400 articles for the leading women’s magazines of the day addressing taboo subjects like body image, alcoholism, and the difficulties of marriage. Their collective bodies of work demonstrate a commitment to fairness and social justice.

Irish women in America made an impact

The documentary evidence gathered from letters and journals suggests that Irish women found the adventure of their new lives in America as compelling as the economic opportunities. Living and working in the United States offered Irish women opportunities for autonomy and self-sufficiency lacking in the more patriarchal structure of “home”. Once in America, they firmly established themselves as a force with which to be reckoned. Their strong networks, formed by immigration patterns and sustained by shared membership in the Catholic Church, nurtured a culture and pride among Irish American women that continues to this day. During Irish American Heritage Month, let’s toast the strong and determined Irish women who became Americans.

 

Further Reading

  • Diner, Hasia R. 1993. Erin’s daughters in America: Irish immigrant women in the nineteenth century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins university press.
  • Ebest, Sally Barr. “Irish American Women: Forgotten First-Wave Feminists.” Journal of Feminist Scholarship 56, no. 3 (Fall 2012). Accessed March 23, 2016. http://www.jfsonline.org/issue3/pdfs/ebest.pdf.
  • Graham, Ruth. “What American Nuns Built – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. February 23, 2013. Accessed March 23, 2016. https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/02/24/what-american-nuns-built-what-american-nuns-built/IvaMKcoK8a4jDb9lqiVOrI/story.html.
  • Nolan, Janet. 1986. Ourselves alone: female emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920.


Explore the successes and challenges for women immigrants to America here.

 

Irish Women 16 Infographic

1917 to 2017: 100 Years of Women in Congress

March 12th, 2017

Legislating History Infographic

To read more about the women who have served in Congress visit National Women’s History Museum’s online exhibit Legislating History: 100 Years of Women in Congress.

 

Women’s History Month

March 5th, 2017

Every year March is designated Women’s History Month by Presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to honor women’s contributions in American history.

Did You Know? Women’s History Month started as Women’s History Week

Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.

In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians—led by the National Women’s History Project—successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.

Carter womens history

Subsequent Presidents continued to proclaim a National Women’s History Week in March until 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, each president has issued an annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

The National Women’s History Project selects and publishes the yearly  theme. The 2017 Women’s History Month theme is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business”.  The theme honors women who have successfully challenged the role of women in both business and the paid labor force.

Explore women and business in the online exhibit here: “From Ideas to Independence: A Century of Entrepreneurial Woman.”

Download a Women’s History month poster exhibit “Working for Equality” here.


How Women’s History Month Came to Pass.

 

African American Activists

February 17th, 2017

African American Activists

To print this poster click here.

The girl who acted before Rosa Parks

February 15th, 2017

 

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

 

Colvin at age 15. Public domain.

Colvin at age 15. Public domain.

Every American child learns about Rosa Parks in school.  On December 1, 1955, she, a black woman, was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man.  Her arrest led to a boycott of the city’s public transportation that lasted 381 days and ignited the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Nine months earlier, Claudette Colvin was arrested for the exact same thing.  She was just 15 years old.

 

Growing Up in Jim Crow Montgomery

Colvin grew up in a poor black neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama.  She was well accustomed with the Jim Crow laws of the South.  She says the first time she realized things were different for her was when she was a little girl and her mother took her to a department store.  A white boy started staring at her and laughing because she looked different than him. She put her hands up to his to show him they both were really the same.  Her mother slapped her for acting out and touching a white person.  She picked up quickly that black people “had to be on their best behavior” while out in public because of Jim Crow.  In school, she learned about inequalities black people in the South faced on a regular basis.  She attended an all-black school, as Alabama did not actually desegregate its schools until years after the 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.  Her instructors took the time to teach their students about Jim Crow and about Black History, especially during February.  February was the month during which Negro History Week (as it was then known) was celebrated around the country, but Colvin’s school celebrated Black History for the entire month, as we do now, because her teachers felt black people were absent from history books. Her personal heroes were Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth.

 

Boarding the Bus and Making a Decision

After school on March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin walked to downtown Montgomery with three of her classmates.  She and her friends were going to take the city bus home from school that day.  When they boarded the bus, they sat behind the first five rows, which were reserved for white passengers.  A young white woman boarded the bus after Colvin and her friends and found nowhere to sit because the white section was full.  Bus drivers had the authority to make black passengers move for white passengers, even if they were sitting in the black section.  The bus driver asked Colvin and her friends to get up, which her friends immediately did.  She refused to move.  On her mind were the lessons she had learned throughout her life, especially during Negro History Month at her school just days before. Though her friends’ seats (one next to Colvin and two across the aisle) were now vacant, the white woman refused to sit in them because, according to Jim Crow laws, black people could not sit next to next to white people.  They had to sit behind white people to show their inferiority. When asked again, Colvin refused to get up.  The bus driver alerted the traffic police, and three stops later, a traffic officer came onto the bus and asked her why she was sitting there and why she would not get up.  She replied, “because it’s my constitutional right,” and told him she was not breaking the segregation law by sitting there.  The traffic officer told the bus driver that the police needed to get involved.  A stop or two later, two police officers came onto the bus and instructed Colvin to get up. She refused.  She later said, “I could not move because history had me glued to the seat…Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on another shoulder.” The police officers each grabbed one of her arms, kicked her, threw her books from her lap, and “manhandled” her off the bus.  They shoved her in their police car, handcuffed her through the windows, and took her off to jail. She was the first person to be arrested for challenging Montgomery’s bus segregation laws.

 

Arrested, Afraid, and Awaiting Consequences

On the way to jail, the police officers called her racist and sexist names, “took turns trying to guess [her] bra size…and cracked jokes about parts of [her] body.”  When they got to the jail, other police officers joined in on the name calling.  She was charged with breaking the segregation law, resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer (one of them got scratched in the scuffle off the bus).  They booked her as an adult and locked her in a cell without permitting her to make a phone call. She had no idea if anyone who could help her would find out where she was.  The classmates that were on the bus with her called her mother and her minister, however, and told them what happened.  Her minister paid her bail and she was released.  This time her mother did not scold her, instead she only asked if she was okay.  Colvin, her family, and her neighbors were all afraid of retaliation from the KKK.  They stayed up all night keeping watch, her father with gun in hand in case they came.  Luckily, they never did.  When she went back to school after her arrest, she found that many parents told her classmates to stay away from her because she was crazy.  As a result of the stand she took, she was made fun of by other teenagers.  She was eventually found guilty on all three charges, but later had two of them dropped by a judge.  The judge upheld the assaulting a police officer charge, knowing it meant she would have “a serious police record that could harm her future, but she could no longer appeal to challenge the Jim Crow regulations.”  She remembers the words her revered said to her on the way home from jail – “I’m so proud of you. Everyone prays for freedom…But you’re different – you want your answer the next morning. And I think you just brought the revolution to Montgomery.”  But the revolution would not actually occur until nine months later.

 

Colvin’s Stance Paved the Way

Colvin feels her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement have been largely forgotten.  When asked why her arrest did not have the impact Parks’ did, she often sites five reasons. First, Colvin was a minor and Parks was an adult – Parks seemed more trustworthy as the face of a movement than a kid would have been.  Second, Parks had lighter skin than Colvin – a feature more socially acceptable at the time.  Third, Colvin was poor and Parks was more middle class – also more socially acceptable.  Fourth, Parks was already well-known and respected in black political circles.  Fifth, Colvin became pregnant (by a man ten years her senior) a few months after her arrest – black leaders did not believe it would be good for their movement if the face of it was an unwed teenage mother. Additionally, Colvin moved to New York shortly after her arrest and rarely mentioned it to others because people there, she says, were more interested in the growing Black Power Movement and Malcolm X than they were in the bus boycott and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Though her arrest has been completely overshadowed by the arrest of Rosa Parks, Parks’ arrest might not have been such a powerful action if it weren’t for Colvin.  Prior to December, 1955, black leaders in Montgomery had been in talks with the bus company about a boycott if they did not desegregate.  The bus company depended on black passengers to stay in business, so they knew a boycott would really hit them hard and have a large impact.  As secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, Parks was well aware of those talks, as well as other strategies they hoped to use to end the unequal treatment of blacks in Alabama and around the country.  When Colvin refused to get off the bus in March 1955, they got to work developing a plan and preparing for the moment to thrust their cause into the national spotlight.  If they did not have that preparation time, Parks’ arrest might not have gained much more than local attention.  Dr. King might not have become the face of the boycott if he had not had that preparation time between the two arrests.

Though she does not get the notoriety Parks gets, Colvin’s contributions to the cause are still most definitely felt.  A year after she was arrested, Colvin became one of four plaintiffs in a segregation case that reached the Supreme Court. Colvin testified in federal court in the Browder v. Gayle (Gayle was the Montgomery mayor) case and was the so-called star witness.  Her testimony helped the court reach its verdict – that segregation on Montgomery buses was illegal.

 

Join in on the conversation!  Post comments below, on Facebook, or Tweet us @womenshistory.

 

Read more about Women in the Civil Rights Movement here.

 

Sources: Democracy Now, NPR, Mother Jones, MontgomeryBoycott.com

Following the Path of Historical Romance to Women’s History

February 13th, 2017
“Woman Reading” by Laura Muntz Lyall, c1903, private collection
“Woman Reading” by Laura Muntz Lyall, c1903, private collection

It’s so easy to bash historical romance novels. You know you’ve seen them – the paperbacks with covers featuring heroines in billowing dresses, swooning with desire into the arms of a shirtless hero – and you may have laughed and felt superior, and maybe even used one of the cynical, pejorative terms for the genre that I’m not going to repeat here.

But I’m betting that many of you aren’t laughing, because you read these books, and you understand why they’re so popular. And they are popular: romance sales make up over half of all mass market books sales in America. It’s also the single portion of the publishing world where not only are nearly all the readers are women, but so are the writers, and the editors, too.

Yes, like all genre fiction (such as sci-fi, mysteries, paranormals, and so on), historical romances are the books read for escapist fun. A love story set in the past is a wonderful way to forget 21st century problems. But it’s not just any old past: it’s a past filled with women. You know, that sizable part of the population that history textbooks so long forgot existed.

 

Heroines Experience Everyday Reality of the Past

Too often history is remembered only as the most boring class in school, all dates, wars, and men with white hair. The best writers of historical romance take their research seriously. They can transform history from dry dates into stories filled with real people suffering real joys and real tragedies, and yes, at least half of those people are women.

Historical romances offer a strong heroine living in a vividly recreated world. She’s often adventurous, daring, and accomplished in non-traditional ways that challenge the convictions of the men around her. She may be a healer, a journalist, a scholar, or a spy, a conductor on the Underground Railway or a lady-in-waiting to an English Queen. That she finds the one man who will fall in love with her for who she is will, of course, be what most readers expect from a romance; a happy ending is guaranteed. But readers live through the heroine, and experience what she experiences – not only the joys of true love, but also the everyday realities of women in the past: how they kept warm, what they ate, and how they dressed, what they feared and what they cherished.

 

Inspiring Curiosity about the History behind the Fiction

“Self-Portrait Reading” by Hilary Coddington Lewis, 1899, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

“Self-Portrait Reading” by Hilary Coddington Lewis, 1899, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Historical romances can do much more than just entertain, however. They can become gateway books that inspire a lasting interest in history in a more general sense. For many casual readers, a wall of traditional history books or biographies in a bookstore or library can be intimidating. Even if there’s a nearby clerk or librarian waiting to offer suggestions, many readers won’t ask because they don’t know what they want or like, and don’t want to appear uninformed.

But if that reader has read a historical romance set in the court of Henry VIII, she may become curious to learn more, and ask for a book about life in Tudor England, or a biography of Anne Boleyn. A historical romance set in 19th century Texas might lead a reader to begin investigating the women in her own family tree at the local historical society, and the historical romance about the Underground Railway could inspire another reader to take her family to the National Museum of African American History.

Just remember that history – and history lovers – come in many forms. Don’t judge the book by the cover. You might be surprised what you’ll learn from a historical romance.

 

By Susan Holloway Scott

 

SHScott author photo @300dpi croppedI, Eliza cover 1118Susan Holloway Scott is the author of over fifty historical romances (written under the pseudonyms Isabella Bradford and Miranda Jarrett) and historical novels, and she is also half of the history blog Two Nerdy History Girls. Her new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, is based on the turbulent life of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, and will be published in September, 2017 by Kensington Books.

 

 

 

 

Read more about the “History of Romance” here.