Archive for the ‘Throwback Thursday’ Category

#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.

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#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 »

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 »

#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 »

#ThrowbackThursday: The First First Ladies – Dolley Madison

July 18th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

4. Dolley Payne Todd Madison, wife of James Madison (1768-1849)

Much more so than her predecessors, Dolley Madison embraced the role of First Lady as we think of it today.  In fact, she pretty much created it, setting the bar upon which all later First Ladies have been judged.  While Abigail Adams acted as a private adviser to her husband, Dolley was a very public partner to James.  In the eulogy he gave at her funeral in 1849, President Zachary Taylor called Dolley “the first lady of the land for half a century.”  It was the first time a president’s spouse had been referred to as a “first lady,” although the term did not become an official title until the 1860s when newspapers began using it for Mary Todd Lincoln.  When she died, Dolley Madison was the last public figure from America’s founding generation.

Dolley was born to John and Mary Coles Payne, both strict Quakers, on May 20, 1768.  She was raised in the Quaker faith, which taught equality between women and men.  Dolley took that teaching with her throughout her life, never seeming to act like she was of lesser status because she was a woman.  Her parents relocated the Payne family to Philadelphia when Dolley was young and it was in that city in 1790 that she married John Todd.  The Todds had two children, John Payne and William.  The yellow fever epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793 took the life of John on the same day the infant William died.  Though John had made Dolley the executor of his will, her brother-in-law kept everything from her and left her in near-poverty until she took legal action to obtain what was rightfully hers.  Because she was a woman, she also had to fight in court to be the guardian of her own surviving son. Read the rest of this entry »

#ThrowbackThursday: The First First Ladies – Martha Jefferson

July 11th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

3. Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, wife of Thomas Jefferson (1748-1782)

Of the first four First Ladies, we know the least about Martha Jefferson.  Though she died about 18 and a half years before Thomas Jefferson became president, she is still considered a First Lady because she is the only spouse he had.  No portrait of her is known to exist and, like Martha Washington did with her letters to and from George, Thomas destroyed nearly all their personal communication after her death.

Martha Wayles was born in Virginia on October 19, 1748 to the well-off family of John and Martha Eppes Wayles.  Her mother died shortly after she was born due to complications from the birth.  She was raised by her father, two stepmothers, and tutors.  As a child, she was well educated.  She became an accomplished musician who played the pianoforte and spinet, and also sang.  When she was 18, she married Bathurst Skelton with whom she had a child named John.  Less than two years after the marriage, Bathurst became ill and died in 1768.

After the acceptable period of mourning was over, the wealthy and beautiful (all physical accounts of her describe her as such) new widow began attracting many suitors, including Thomas Jefferson.  Thomas fell in love with Martha nearly straightaway, however, she did not share the same feelings for him when he first started calling on her.  Neither did her father, who did not approve of the lower status Thomas Jefferson’s interests in his daughter.  Thomas proposed to Martha in early 1771, but she did not accept.  Thanks to an encouraging letter written to him by a friend, Mrs. Drummond, Thomas continued to pursue the relationship.  According to family lore, two men waiting outside the Wayles’ house to see Martha heard her and Thomas, who got there before the other men, playing music and singing together.  Upon hearing this, they gave up and went home.  Bonding over things, such as their mutual love of music and literature, Martha accepted Thomas’ proposal by June, 1771.  Unlike marriages of generations past that considered monetary and social reasons for tying the knot over romantic feelings, the couple was one of a growing number of couples getting married out of love. Read the rest of this entry »

#ThrowbackThursday: The First First Ladies – Abigail Adams

June 27th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

2. Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), wife of John Adams

Abigail Adams is one of the most popular First Ladies.  She is often referred to as John Adams’ intellectual equal, confidant, closest advisor, and soul mate.  Many people are aware of her “Remember the Ladies” letter to John, which she wrote while he was at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia during the planning and writing of the Declaration of Independence.  In the letter she famously states, “in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.  Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.  If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”  For urging her husband to consider giving women the vote and other rights when setting the new laws of the land, Abigail is lauded as an early suffragist and feminist.

Unlike the lack of remaining correspondence between Martha and George Washington, Abigail and John wrote over 1,100 letters to each other that continue to provide us with a great deal of information.  Being such close partners (John thanked her in one letter for being his partner), the two missed each other greatly when John was away on political business and kept in regular touch.  According to some, the couple was acutely aware of the importance of their personal letters and wanted them to be saved for historical purposes.  John even bought a leather-bound book to keep his letters from Abigail in and suggested Abigail get one to do the same with his letters to her.  The Adams’ letters shed a great deal of light onto the kind of woman Abigail was as well as her relationship with John.  Also unlike Martha and George, there is no debating that Abigail and John’s marriage was one full of love, romance, admiration, and respect. Read the rest of this entry »

#ThrowbackThursday: The First First Ladies – Martha Washington

June 20th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

We posted on Facebook last week about Rachel Jackson on the anniversary of her birthday.  Some of you commented that the First Lady’s story was interesting and Facebook user, Susan, said she wished history like Jackson’s was more well-known.  Inspired in part by Susan and other Facebookers, here is the first of a four part Throwback Thursday miniseries all about our first First Ladies.  We all know about their Founding Father husbands from school, but not nearly as much information about the women themselves is common knowledge.

1. Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802), wife of George Washington

Before George Washington, Martha Dandridge was married to her wealthy godfather, Daniel Custis.  Daniel’s father was a volatile man who did not approve of his son’s love for the lower-status Martha.  He had to be heavily persuaded before finally giving his permission for Martha and Daniel to wed.  Though she and George never lived in the White House when he was president, Martha did move to Daniel’s large estate, “White House,” upon their marriage.  Martha’s first father-in-law regularly made life difficult for the couple and Martha blamed Daniel’s untimely death in 1757 on the stress put onto him by his father.  Daniel died without having made a will, which meant Martha became the executor of his estate and also meant she had more legal rights than women were normally permitted in the eighteenth century.  Though she owned 300 slaves and over 17,000 acres of land, and was worth over 40,000 pounds, she lived in a time when women did not manage property or financial matters.  Martha began looking for a new man to take over for her and the new widow was an attractive catch. Read the rest of this entry »