Archive for the ‘Education & Resources News’ Category

#ThrowbackThursday: The girl who acted before Rosa Parks

August 29th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

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.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

#ThrowbackThursday: The Abduction of Olive Oatman

August 22nd, 2013

Olive Ann Oatman was just an 11-year-old girl in the summer of 1849 when her father, Royse Oatman, a former farmer and store-owner from New York, decided to relocate her, her mother, her three sisters and her three brothers to the New Mexico Territory (now Arizona). Royse Oatman could not have known the tragic and horrific fate that would befall his family, and so with a mind to forge a better life for them, he and his family joined a colony of Brewsterite Mormons planning to settle in the Yuma area.

Some 50 colonists, including the Oatman clan, gathered at Independence, Mo. in the Spring of 1850. They’d organized a wagon train under James Brewster and on August 10, embarked on  their perilous journey down the Santa Fe Trail. It didn’t take long for dissension to cause confusion and conflict among the wayfarers and to cause the group to split. Eight of the wagons now followed the Rio Grande-Gila route with Royse Oatman at the helm. With a shift in his objective and a new determination to go to California, Oatman led his party with little mercy. They rode long and hard under the sun’s oppressive heat and atop the unruly terrain, and when several of his oxen collapsed from exhaustion and members of the crew wanted to stop and rest, Oatman forged on with his family, fearing that his stock would perish before reaching California.

The Oatmans had been traveling for nearly a year by March 18, 1851. The family was moving along the Gila River (later known as Oatman flat) when some 19 Yavapai  attacked them. They were eighty miles from Fort Yuma. Young Olive, now thirteen, watched in horror as her mother, father, brothers and sisters were bludgeoned in their heads with war clubs until they died. Only she and her sister, Mary Ann, aged seven, were spared. Her brother Lorenzo, fifteen, was left for dead but managed to escape. Read the rest of this entry »

#ThrowbackThursday: Women of the Woodstock Nation

August 15th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the first day of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair that was held on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York from August 15-18, 1969.  Overall, 10 women performed on the main stage at the festival, in front of the over 400,000 people in attendance.  This week’s Throwback Thursday post celebrates four of those women who have stood out over time as symbols of the Woodstock generation.

1. Melanie (took the stage around 11:00pm, Friday, August 15)

When Melanie Safka got the Woodstock gig, it was not because she was a mega star.  In fact, she had only performed in small coffee shops around Greenwich Village and was basically unknown as a musician outside of that neighborhood.  She worked in the same office building as the Woodstock organizers and asked if she could play.  Out of the 32 acts to grace the Woodstock stage, Melanie, John Sebastian, and Country Joe McDonald (his first set sans the Fish), were the only ones to perform solo.

By the time Melanie walked off the Woodstock stage, she had become an instant celebrity.  She seemed to the masses to embody the flower child ideal and her music resonated with the crowd who sat through her performance in the rain.  During her set, candles and cigarette lighters were raised up in the air, illuminating the crowd, which was supposedly the first time an audience at a concert had done that.  Seeing that site inspired Melanie to write one of her most famous songs, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain).”  The year after Woodstock, five major music publications named her Female Vocalist of the Year.  Some of her other hits include, “Brand New Key,” “Beautiful People,” which she sang at Woodstock, and her cover of “Ruby Tuesday.”  Throughout her more than 40 years making music, Melanie has sold over 80 million records.  She continues to tour. Read the rest of this entry »

#Historical Women Who Rocked: Dr. Gerda Lerner

August 13th, 2013

By: Sydnee C. Winston, Project Coordinator

A pioneer of women’s history, Dr. Gerda Lerner helped to shape this field of study through narrative, theory, and activism for over 40 years. In the 20th century, Lerner played a central role in the establishment of women’s history as a formal academic field. She also founded the first graduate studies program in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College in 1972.  Quoted by President Carter in his proclamation of the first National Women’s History Week, Dr. Lerner proclaimed, “Women’s history is women’s right—an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long range vision.”

Dr.  Lerner’s groundbreaking efforts and theories in the field of American history helped to advance the study of history in the second half of the 20th century. By demanding that attention be paid to the study of women’s roles, contributions, and experiences in society, she contributed to the successes of the feminist movement, the struggle for gender and racial equality in the United States, and the diversification and development of historical research. Lerner passed away on January 2, 2013 at the age of 92.

Check out our video series The Keepers of History: The Women Who Preserved One Half of Our Nation’s Story, which explores the life of Dr. Gerda Lerner and other pioneer women historians who spent their lives trying to carve out a place for women in the telling of our national story.

Part 1

Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Women Who Rocked: Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus

August 9th, 2013

By: Lily Liu, AARP Historian/Archivist

This summer, I had a chance to speak with college students who are interning at AARP, where I work.  We talked about applying to college and having to write those personal essays in response to questions such as one I faced during my college application process:  “If you could have dinner with one person, dead or still living, who would it be and what would you talk about?”

I know I answered this question back then with an eye to how my response could set me apart from the thousands of other high school seniors jockeying for acceptance at that same institution of higher learning. I know I was trying to elicit a certain reaction from the Admissions Office staff: “Wow, this is so creative!” “Gee, how original!” “This young lady’s essay reflects a maturity beyond her mere 17 years!”

Ah, the innocence of youth!

Now, fast forward a few decades and I really DO wish I COULD have dinner with the woman who founded AARP, Ethel Percy Andrus (1884-1967).  She began her professional career as a teacher and then in 1917 was chosen as the first woman high school principal in California.  In retirement in the mid-1940s, she became a champion of and advocate for the interests and needs of the elders in society after discovering a retired teacher forced by poverty to live in a chicken coop.  In an essay published in the book Who is My Neighbor (1960), Dr. Andrus recalled that pivotal moment when she found another retiree “lonely, unneeded and forsaken.” Read the rest of this entry »

Throwback Thursday: Lucille Ball

August 8th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

This past Tuesday marked the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Lucille Ball, a veteran of television, film, radio, and stage.  Her most notable role, Lucy Ricardo in I Love Lucy (1951-1957), became one of the most well-known and adored characters in television history, and turned Lucille Ball into a household name who continues to entertain generations of people worldwide.  She has received a countless number of accolades, including winning four Emmy Awards (Best Comedienne, 1952 and Best Actress in a continuing Performance, 1955 for I Love Lucy, and Outstanding Continuing Performance by an Actress in a leading Role in a Comedy Series, 1967 and 1968 for The Lucy Show), being the first female inductee into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame and later being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2001, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Citation from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1986, and being posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989.

Lucille Desiree Ball was born on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, NY.  Her father, Henry, died when she was three years old, so she was raised by her mother, Desiree, a concert pianist, and her maternal grandparents.  Her grandparents instilled in her both a commitment to hard work and a love for the theater.  She began performing in school plays as a child and decided to pursue a show business career at age 15.  As a blonde and under the stage name, Diane Belmont, she tried her luck as a Broadway chorus girl during the 1920s.  She had some brief luck in this endeavor but was ultimately fired from four different shows.  She was repeatedly told by people in the industry and acting coaches that she should give up because she did not have enough talent.  This did not deter her, however, and after illness prohibited her from working for a period of two to three years, she returned to New York City, looking for work under her own name.  She took various jobs modeling in department stores, which eventually landed her a Cigarette Girl gig in Chesterfield Cigarette’s national advertising posters in 1933. Read the rest of this entry »

Joan Wages Featured in a segment on WUSA9 about NWHM’s Lecture Series With GWU

August 5th, 2013

Click the photo below to view the video!

#ThrowbackThursday: Did you know women invented these three things?

August 1st, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

1. Liquid Paper

In 1951, Bette Nesmith Graham was a single mother working as an executive secretary at Texas Bank & Trust when she invented Liquid Paper.  She and other secretaries at the bank used electric typewriters, which were becoming increasingly common in the workplace.  While electric typewriters made typing easier and faster, its ribbon made correcting errors difficult.  She came up with the idea to create a liquid that would allow her to paint over her mistakes, much like an artist could do by applying an additional coat.  In her kitchen blender, Nesmith Graham concocted a mixture of water-based tempera paint and made it match the color of the bank’s stationery.  She brought the mixture into work with a thin paintbrush, began covering up her mistakes, and thought nothing of it, even though the results were so successful that her boss had no idea she was using a correcting liquid.

Eventually, other secretaries at the bank began asking her if they could use some of her paint mixture. She started giving the product, which she called Mistake Out at first, to them in little bottles.  In 1956, she realized the product had enough potential for her to begin selling it.  She started the Mistake Out Company and continued making and selling the mixture out of her home.  In 1957, she was selling about 100 bottles of Mistake Out per month and in 1958, was fired from the bank because she was devoting too much of her time to her company.  She renamed her product Liquid Paper, received a patent for it, and was soon getting promotions in magazines and orders from large companies. With a net-worth of about $1 million, Nesmith Graham built Liquid Paper’s headquarters and factory in Dallas, Texas in 1968. She sold Liquid Paper to the Gillette Corporation in 1979 for $47.5 million.

As the owner of her own company, Nesmith Graham insisted Liquid Paper’s headquarters offer a childcare facility and a library, and created an environment where all employees could have a say in company decisions.  She also used part of her Liquid Paper money to establish two charitable foundations that help women in need.  Since her death in 1980, her son, Michael Nesmith, who is known best as one of The Monkees, has continued to contribute to Nesmith Graham’s charities.

2. The dishwasher

Though it would be a nicer story if Josephine Cochrane invented the dishwasher to relieve herself and other women, who were most often responsible for washing dishes, from the task, that is not the case. Cochrane was a wealthy socialite who owned expensive fine china that had been in her family since the 1600s.  She grew increasingly displeased with her servants when she found the china was chipping due to their carelessness in scrubbing the dishes.  She told them she was going to wash the dishes from then on, but soon found the chore to be beneath her.

Previous attempts at building a working, practical dishwasher were unsuccessful.  One patented model had to be cranked by hand and the dishes inside often moved around, which caused them to break. Cochrane believed she could come up with a better one and she got to work on building it.  She measured all her dishes and made compartments for each that sat atop a motor-powered wheel above a boiler, which aimed jets of soapy water at the dishes so they would get cleaned.  Her invention proved successful and, on December 28, 1886, Josephine Cochrane received a patent for her dish washing machine.

Cochrane presented her dishwasher at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago to great reviews and an award for design and durability.  She established a company to make and sell the dishwasher, which evolved into KitchenAid after her death in 1913.  Mostly only hotels and restaurants bought the product in its first few decades of existence, though.  It was not suited well for homes, in part, because residential hot water heaters at the time were not capable of producing as much hot water as was needed to run the machine.  In the 1950s, advancements in technology improving Cochrane’s machine and the beginning of the shift in women’s consciousness leading up to the Women’s Movement in the 60s and 70s, meant more dishwashers were being sold to households than ever before. They continue to be one of the most popular and desired kitchen appliances.

3. The disposable diaper

Marion Donovan spent a lifetime inventing items to make people’s lives easier. When she was in elementary school, she came up with her first invention – a tooth powder to improve dental hygiene.  After graduating from college, she worked for Vogue magazine for a short time before giving up her career upon marriage to be a housewife and mother. Motherhood actually, though, allowed Donovan to come up with the two inventions she is most well-known for.

In 1946, Donovan was taking care of her newly born second child when she came up with the idea to improve upon the diaper.  Both of her children had made a habit of wetting their diapers as soon as Donovan had changed them and laid them down in their cribs.  This may not sound like a major inconvenience today but in 1946, it was. Cloth diapers leaked and, when a child wet one in their crib, it required not only changing the baby’s diaper, but changing the sheets as well and also washing both.  There were rubber pants for young kids on the market at the time, but these were known to cause diaper rash.  Donovan took her shower curtain, cut it to the right size, and sewed a reusable cover for her kid’s diapers.  She added snaps to close the cover, so there was no need to use safety pins like the ones that fastened cloth diapers. The cloth diapers were inserted into the waterproof covers, which kept the babies and their surroundings dry. She named the covers Boaters because she thought they looked like boats and they helped babies “stay afloat.”  As an independent inventor, she manufactured and marketed her product herself until someone was willing to buy it from her, which someone did.  Keko Corporation purchased Boaters from Donovan for $1 million in 1949 and began selling them in Saks Fifth Avenue later that year. They became an instant success.

After Donovan received the patent for Boaters in 1951, she set her sights on inventing the disposable paper diaper. Though her design worked, it was not a commercial success like her previous invention.  Executives thought her design was an unnecessary convenience. Ten years later, Proctor and Gamble used Donovan’s invention to create Pampers, which continue to this day to be one of the best selling disposable diaper brands.  Donovan’s other inventions include, “Zippity-Do,” an elastic zipper extension that made it easier for women to zip up their clothes, and “Big Hangup,” a compact clothes hanger. At age 41, she received a degree in architecture from Yale and went on to design her own house in Connecticut.


Sources: Liquid Paper, MIT, United States Patent and Trademark Office, MIT, The Lemelson Center, MIT, University of Houston

#ThrowbackThursday: Helen Thomas, a pioneer for women in journalism

July 25th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Helen Thomas, the White House reporter who covered every president since JFK, died this past weekend at the age of 92. Though the end of her career was shadowed in controversy, there is no denying Thomas broke down barriers for many female journalists.

Helen Thomas knew she wanted to be a reporter since she worked on her high school’s newspaper.  In 1943, after graduating from college, she got a job as a “copy girl” with what is now known as United Press International (UPI).  As was happening in other industries, UPI hired a small number of women to fill the void in their staff left by men going off to fight in WWII.  When the men returned home after the war was over, UPI felt they did not need women workers anymore, so they fired all of them – except Thomas.  She was promoted to writing light pieces about women’s issues, society, and celebrities for the radio.  In 1960, she got her big break when she was sent by UPI to cover President-elect John F. Kennedy who was vacationing with his family.  From this time until 2010, she was part of the White House Press Corps.  Early in her career, she was one of about five women who covered the White House regularly.  She made a name for herself asking politicians the tough questions they did not necessarily want to answer, regardless of what party they belonged to.  In 1962, she got President Kennedy to invite women to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and the other accomplishments she racked up over her career read as a long list of “first”s and “only”s: Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Women Who Rocked: Josephine Baker

July 22nd, 2013

A native of Missouri, Josephine Baker is remembered for her sultry and comedic stage routines that captivated audiences across the European continent as the Jazz Age unfolded in the United States. During World War II, however, the dancer and singer known as “Black Venus,” “Black Pearl,” or “Creole Goddess” performed a much more important role for her adopted country of France: that of undercover operative in the French Resistance.

In addition to serving as a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary of the French Air Force, Baker maintained an exhaustive performance schedule throughout the war, entertaining both French and American troops. These appearances in many of Europe’s wartime cities provided an excellent cover for the different covert activities she undertook on behalf of the Allied cause.

On at least occasion, Baker smuggled secret military intelligence reports into Portugal from France that had been written in disappearing or invisible ink on her sheet music. (As an element of tradecraft, invisible ink has proved to be a valuable operational tool throughout history. Part of its longevity can be traced to some of the simple and readily available sources for the ink: milk, vinegar, lemon juice, and even urine. In the 20th century, more sophisticated inks resulted from the discovery and introduction of different chemical ingredients.) Read the rest of this entry »