Posts Tagged ‘Throwback Thursday’

#ThrowbackThursday: Mary McLeod Bethune and the Education of Young Black Girls

October 3rd, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an educator, civil rights activist, and political advisor to multiple US presidents. She became president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1924 and founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. Her most notable political appointment was as part of President Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet.” She served as Roosevelt’s Director of the National Youth Administration’s Division of Negro Affairs from 1935-43. During her time with the National Youth Administration, she helped to create programs “which prepared [black youth] for skilled, high salaried positions in the labor market, and total equality for Negroes in every facet of the American society,” (Ross, 1975: 6). Bethune worked tirelessly for equal treatment of blacks and their full integration into American life. In particular, she believed economic equality, and the ability to vote and have access to the political process would provide racial uplift for black Americans (McCluskey, 1997; Linsin, 1997). Her efforts “[placed] her within the broad spectrum of the racial uplift ideology that so engaged educated African Americans during the early 1900s,” (McCluskey, 1997: 201).

As an educator, Bethune sought to produce a young generation of New Negro Women. With $1.50, she opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida on October 3, 1904. The school would later merge with the all-male Cookman Institute to form what is now known as Bethune-Cookman University. When Bethune’s school first opened, Daytona was a segregated city, where its black citizens had unequal opportunities, especially when it came to education. Black schools had inadequate facilities and resources, black children, if they enrolled in school at all, were in classrooms for less hours of the day than white students, white teachers earned higher salaries than black teachers, and the state spent a fraction of the money they spent on white schools on black schools – all in all, “by 1904 the town of Daytona had no viable school system for blacks,” (1997: 203).
Despite the difficult surrounding environment, Bethune’s school for young girls would soon flourish, promoting the “dual purpose that Bethune envisioned: to teach both academic and practical skills to black girls,” (1997: 206). The school provided girls with domestic science courses, as well as business and liberal arts courses, which would enable students “to support themselves while they simultaneously strove toward better opportunities,” (1997: 209) before and after graduation. As a postsuffrage woman, Bethune encouraged her students and blacks in the Daytona community to “exercise their voting power,” (Linsin, 1997: 26) and “to get involved” with elections and campaigns (McCluskey, 1994: 214). She believed racial uplift started with the education of black girls and the instruction she provided her students with became “a prerequisite for the full participation of black women in public life and for their recognition as worthy women,” (1994: 211).

Audio: MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE: “WHAT DOES AMERICAN DEMOCRACY MEAN TO ME?” AMERICA’S TOWN MEETING OF THE AIR, NEW YORK CITY (1939)

Join in on the conversation!  Post comments below, on Facebook, or Tweet us @womenshistory using the hashtags #ThrowbackThursday and #TBT.

Sources:

Minnesota Public Radio

Linsin, Christopher E. “Something More than a Creed: Mary McLeod Bethune’s Aim of Integrated Autonomy as Director of Negro Affairs.” The Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 76, No. 1. Florida Historical Society, 1997. 20-41.

McCluskey, Audrey. T. “Multiple consciousness in the leadership of Mary McLeod Bethune.” NWSA Journal. Vol. 6, No. 1. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. 69-81.
Ross, Joyce. “Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Youth Administration: A Case Study of Power Relationships in the Black Cabinet of Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The Journal of Negro History. Vol. 60, No. 1. Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc., 1975. 1-28.

#ThrowbackThursday: The Woman Behind the Men

September 26th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Out of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol, only nine are of women.  Most of the statues there and elsewhere in the Capitol are of men who have been deemed great and important enough to be on display in the building that represents our nation.  Though women are underrepresented in the number of statues, there is one woman who is behind the creation of three of those that stand there.

Vinnie Ream was born on September 25, 1847 in Missouri.  As a child, she was taught how to draw and paint by Winnebago Indians.  Her family eventually moved to Washington, DC, where she began to study with DC-based sculptor, Benjamin Paul Akers. During the Civil War, Ream took up other work with the US Postal Service and also volunteered with war relief efforts. In 1863, Missouri Congressman and friend, James Rollins, introduced her to well-known sculptor, Clark Mills, who offered her a job as his apprentice.  Under Mills, Ream flourished and began creating busts of some of Washington’s important people, including Thaddeus Stevens.

In 1964, Ream got James Rollins to ask President Abraham Lincoln’s permission for her to sculpt him while he was working in his office. Lincoln, after learning that she came from a poor background like he did, agreed to let her create a bust of him.  Ream later said of Lincoln, “He had been painted and modeled before, but when he learned that I was poor, he granted me the sittings for no other purpose than that I was a poor girl.  Had I been the greatest sculptor in the world, I am sure he would have refused at that time.”  Ream visited the White House for 30 minutes a day everyday for five months to sit with Lincoln, until he died in April 1865.  She said her time with Lincoln and his death impacted her life. Read the rest of this entry »

#ThrowbackThursday: You Don’t Own Me

September 19th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

When 17 year old Lesley Gore reached the top spot on the pop charts with “It’s My Party” in 1963, she instantly became one of the most popular pop acts of the early 1960s.  Her sound was similar to the very successful “girl groups” of the era and her music resonated with high school kids across the country.

In 1964, Gore released “You Don’t Own Me.”  The song keeps the same bubblegum pop sound she became famous for, but the lyrics contain more social commentary that her earlier releases and most of the songs (especially women’s songs) at the time. During the early 1960s, many girl groups and female singers’ songs were about love and devotion to the men in their lives.  For instance, Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him” (1963) contains the lyrics, “I will follow him, follow him / Wherever he may go…For nothing can keep me away / He is my destiny,” and  The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” (1962) even seems to condone staying in an abusive relationship with the lines, “He couldn’t stand to hear me say / That I’d been with someone new / And when I told him I had been untrue / He hit me / And it felt like a kiss.”  When “You Don’t Own Me” came out, it turn the role of song’s female protagonists around.  With lyrics such as the following, the song was an early source of the feminist consciousness that was coming to fruition.  “You Don’t Own Me” opened the doors for later women’s liberation songs to have their place in popular music.

“And don’t tell me what to do
Don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display ’cause

You don’t own me
Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me
Don’t tie me down ’cause I’d never stay

I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you”

For the 2012 election, Gore and other celebrities brought “You Don’t Own Me” back when they recorded a music video PSA for the song.

Join in on the conversation!  Post comments below, on Facebook, or Tweet us @womenshistory using the hashtags #ThrowbackThursday and #TBT.

Sources: Biography, Billboard, History

#ThrowbackThursday: Vintage Educational Videos

September 12th, 2013

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

#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: 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 »

#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 »