“Invincible”

Several events involving women in sports, the military, and organizations for women occurred on March 21, spanning nearly one hundred and twenty years.

Sorosis Founded

Croly

On March 21, 1868, Jane Cunningham Croly (1829-1901) founded Sorosis, the first US professional women’s club was formed in New York City. Sorosis was one of the most influential organizations for women in America during the late nineteenth-century. Until then, women’s social associations were mostly sponsored by churches or were subsidiaries of men’s organizations.

Croly was a nationally renowned journalist, who joined the New York Tribune in 1855. She became one of the first women to write a syndicated column in the United States under the pen name Jenny June. In April 1868, the New York Press Club held a dinner honoring Charles Dickens during his American tour. Women were initially barred women because their presence would make the event “promiscuous” though they eventually agreed to allow women if there was sufficient interest and later apologized.

In response, Croly and several other women – journalist and author Kate Field, New York Ledger writer and children’s book author Anne Botta, Croly’s co-editor of Y, Ellen Louise Demorest, poet sisters Alice and Phoebe Cary, writer Ella Dietz Clymer, and Celia Burleigh, soon to be an ordained minister – founded Sorosis, a press club. The name refers to “plants with a grouping of flowers that bore fruit… meant to symbolize women’s determination to transform supposedly delicate and feeble ladies into important members of public society.” Sorosis’s mission was to “establish a freemasonry among women of similar pursuits….[to afford] an opportunity for discussion…the results of which promise to exert an important influence on the future of women and the welfare of society.”

Sorosis By-Laws

Croly used Sorosis to improve women’s status in the private and public spheres by making them more efficient homemakers so that they could spend more time improving themselves and the culture around them. To become a member, women had to be invited, pass inspection, take a loyalty oath, and pay an initiation fee of five dollars. Members were mostly women with careers often by necessity. Though there were many professions represented, most were those open to women, such as journalism and literature.

Members and guests gave presentations on various topics, including divisive issues such as religion, though women’s suffrage was forbidden, to create unity among members. Sorosis members were involved in reform movements such as abolitionism, suffrage, prison reform, temperance, and peace. Despite discussion of suffrage being forbidden, many Sorosis members favored and were involved in the suffrage movement. Members were also involved in abolitionism, prison reform, temperance, and peace.

Sorosis also included committees for literature, art, drama, music, philanthropy, science, education, house and home, and business. Discussions about art focused on female artists, or how women were portrayed in art. The club sponsored scholarships for female art students, and members bought paintings and sculptures by female artists.

Cartoon

George William Curtis, editor of Harper’s Weekly advocated for women’s rights and was a vice-president of the American Woman’s Suffrage Association. His cartoons often portrayed women’s rights and women’s organizations in a light-hearted manner. One of them was Charles Bush’s cartoon published in 1869, almost a year after Sorosis was founded. His cartoon, contrary to Croly’s intention, depicted Sorosis’s efforts to reverse gender roles, with men caring for children and women engaging in business and politics. Croly’s intention was to expand women’s sphere.

In 1889, in honor of Sorosis’s twenty-first anniversary, Croly invited other women’s clubs in the United States to a convention in New York City. On April 24, 1890, 63 clubs ratified the constitution and became the General Federation of Women’s Club.

The First Yeomanette

Although World War I had been raging for nearly two years, the United States had remained neutral. However, after Pancho Villa raided several Southwestern states. Congress ratified the National Defense Act in May 1816, which Wilson signed on June 3. The Act brought the states’ militias under federal control and gave the president the authority to mobilize the National Guard in the case of war or national emergency. The Act also made the National Guard a permanent reserve force.

In August, Congress passed and Wilson signed the Naval Act of 1916, to create ships for a “Big Navy.” As the possibility of war became imminent, Congress passed the Naval Reserve Act of 1916. The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 allowed “all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense” to enlist. When Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels asked, “Is there any law that says a yeoman must be a man?” he was told it did not. Daniels and the Bureau of Navigation, informed naval district commanders that beginning on March 19, that they could begin recruiting women. Most women took secretarial or clerical jobs, but there were also telegraphers, draftsmen, translators, mess attendants, camouflage designers, and recruiting agents. Women were only allowed to serve at shore stations, though some were accidentally given orders for sea duty. To avoid errors, the navy designated the women as “Yeoman(F)” but they were refereed to as “Yeomanettes.”

Walsh

Loretta Perfectus Walsh (April 22, 1896 – August 6, 1925) enlisted on March 17, becoming the first woman to serve in the United States armed forces in a position other than nurse. On March 21, 1917 Walsh became the US Navy’s first female Petty Officer. She served at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia through the war and finished her enlistment on inactive reserve status until her enlistment ended on March 17, 1921.

Walsh died on August 6, 1925 at 29. She was buried under a monument commemorating her achievement. The Department of the Navy history program has a wreath laying ceremony in her honor.

The roughly 11,000 women were discharged from the navy by July 1919. Some were hired through an expedited process through the Civil Service, though nurses employed as civilians continued to serve during the 1920s and 30s. Women were not recruited for the navy again until World War II.

First Black Olympic Figure Skating Medalist

Debi Thomas

Feb. 15, 1988 – Time magazine

Debra “Debie” Janine Thomas (born March 25, 1967) is an American former figure skater and physician. She won numerous awards during the 1980s, from World Figure Skating champion in 1986, two U.S. National Figure Skating Champion titles. She won the World Professional Figure Skating titles in 1988, 1989, and 1991, and became the first black athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics when she won a bronze at the 1988 Olympic games in Canada.

While training for the 1998 Olympics, Thomas attended pre-med classes at Stanford. When she became U.S. national champion in 1986, she was the first female champion to balance full-time university with competition in thirty years, since Tenley Albright, the first U.S. women’s gold medalist in figure skating. When Thomas won the 1986 World Championships, she became the first black world champion in the skating history.

At the Olympics, Thomas and her rival, Katerina Witt of East Germany performed to Bizet’s Carmen, earning the program the name “The Battle of the Carmens.” Witt won the gold medal, Thomas the bronze and Canadian Elizabeth Manley took third.

After the Olympics, Thomas skated on the Stars on Ice tour from 1988 to 1992. She graduated from Northwestern University’s medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon. She eventually opened up her own practice in Virginia.

“I Give My Heart. I Give My Soul. I Give Myself.”

Events

May 13th is apparently the day for planets and Civil War related events. In 1781, William Herschel discovers Uranus, and in 1930, Harvard College received a telegraph that Pluto had been discovered.

During the American Civil War, in 1862, U.S. federal government forbids all Union army officers from returning fugitive slaves, annulling the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and setting the stage for the Emancipation Proclamation. Three years later, the Confederate States of America agree to the use of African-American troops.

Birthdays

Abigail

Abigail Powers Fillmore (March 13, 1798 – March 30, 1853), wife of Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States, was First Lady from 1850 to 1853. She was the first First Lady to grow up in an impoverished family and rise to a higher socioeconomic level. Despite this, she was well-educated, having access to her deceased father’s large library, as well as learning math, government, history, philosophy and geography.

In 1819, after several years of she began working at the New Hope Academy, a private school in New Hope, New York. There she met her future husband Millard Fillmore, who had enrolled to augment the rudimentary education he had received because of his impoverished upbringing. Though they were separated for three years when his family moved, they corresponded and married in 1826.[1]

In 1848, Millard was chosen as Zachary Taylor’s vice president. The election took place on the first Tuesday of November, but at the time, Inauguration was not until March 4, 1849. After President Taylor died in July, 1850, Millard succeeded him as President and the couple moved to the White House.

Fillmore was the first First Lady to wear clothing made by a sewing machine, a relatively new invention. Unlike previous First Ladies, Abigail attended some public events, including being the only woman present when Sioux leaders signed what may have been the Treaty of Mendota or the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.

Fillmore died just three weeks after she and her husband left the White House. Both Congress and the President’s Cabinet adjourned in mourning.

Deaths

Bidu

Balduína “Bidu” de Oliveira Sayão (pronounced bee-DOO sigh-OWN) (May 11, 1902 – March 13, 1999) was a Brazilian opera soprano. One of Brazil’s most famous musicians, Sayão was a leading artist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1937 to 1952.

She was born to a wealthy family in Rio de Janeiro and began lessons with a former Romanian soprano, Elana Theodorini. By her late 20s, she had sung in many opera houses in Europe and South America. Her first performance in the United States was in 1935. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the title role in Manon. The New York Times review called her a the “crown of the performance….This was the voice, though the voice is a little small, with the expressive qualities needed for the part.” She became so popular, that during the 1940s, a comic was created about her life.

After making her Met debut, Sayão never left the Western Hemisphere, making the Met her base, the San Francisco Opera her alternative headquarters, and traveling only to South America to perform.

She was one of the most popular stars of the Metropolitan Opera from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Her small voice prevented her from singing heavier roles such as Tosca and Madam Butterfly, but her performances as Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Boheme, and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, and other roles were praised. She was one of the honored guests who sat on stage during the Met’s Centennial Gala in 1983.

Sayão gave more than 200 performances of 12 roles at the Met before she resigned in April 1952. She died at 96 in Maine.

Odette

Odette Sansom Hallowes GC, MBE (28 April 1912 – 13 March 1995), also known as Odette Sansom and Odette Churchill, was an Allied intelligence officer during the Second World War. Her family moved to Boulogne in 1926, where she met English hotelier, Roy Sansom, whom she married in 1931.

When war broke out in 1939, Roy joined the army and his family moved to a small hamlet. In 1942, the BBC appealed on behalf of the Admiralty for listeners to send postcards or photographs of the French coastline to use for intelligence operations. Sansom sent pictures from her time in Boulogne, adding a note explaining that she was French by birth and knew the area well. After accidentally addressing her letter to the War Office, she was recruited for the Special Operations Executive (SOE)’s French Section.

Sansom was one of the first women that the SOE recruited for undercover work. She joined the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), which supplied SOE with drivers, cipher clerks, telephonists and administrators as part of her cover in case she was arrested as a spy in France. Her first assignment was the contact a resistance group on the French Riviera, before establishing a safe house in Burgundy. Her undercover identity was as Madame Odette Métayer, a widow from St Raphaël, and her contact was Captain Peter Churchill, code name ‘Raoul’, head of SPINDLE, an SOE network based in Cannes.

After the Germans invaded southern France in November, Sansom’s situation became very perilous. She and Churchill were captured in April 1943. She was initially placed in solitary confinement at a Paris prison, and after refusing to divulge any information, was transferred to Nazi counter‐intelligence service headquarters. She was tortured, though the extent of her torture is debated.

Eventually, she was sent to Ravensbruck, the women’s concentration camp, where 50,000 died from disease, starvation and overwork and 2,200 were gassed. On May 1, 1945, with the Allies drawing closer, Sansom was handed over to the Allies.

She returned to London a week later to find that Churchill had also survived. She was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1946 and became the first woman to receive the George Cross, the highest non‐military decoration for gallantry.

After she divorced her husband, Sansom married Churchill in 1947. Her story was featured in Jerrard Tickell’s bestselling biography Odette in 1949, and Herbert Wilcox’s film the following year. The couple divorced in 1955. After Wilcox’s film was released, several former resistance members accused Sansom and Churchill of exaggerating their wartime records.

Until she died at 82, Sansom laid a wreath with violets attached, beneath the FANY memorial at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. After she died, a plaque was placed in her honor. In 2012 Odette was featured in Royal Mail’s ‘Britons of Distinction’ stamp collection.

1. There is a conflict in the date of their marriage. The White House entry on Abigail Powers Fillmore lists their date of marriage as February 1826, but the National First Ladies Library indicates that they married in January 1826.

“Every Great Dream Begins With A Dreamer”

March 8 is International Women’s Day, which originated during protests in the United States and Europe to honor and fight for political rights for working women. The first observance was on February 28, 1909 in New York. The following year, the International Women’s Conference suggested March 8 as “International Women’s Day,” which even became a national holiday in Soviet Russia in 1917 after women gained suffrage. Though mostly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day during the International Women’s Year in 1975. This year’s theme is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”.

Birthdays

Charlotte Whitton httpstcelive2s3amazonawscommediamedia69a

Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton OC CBE (March 8, 1896 – January 25, 1975) was a Canadian feminist and the first female mayor of a major city in Canada as mayor of Ottawa, serving from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964. She attended Queen’s University, becoming the first female editor of the Journal, the student newspaper. Whitton received many honorary degrees, including one from Smith College in 1955.

In 1920, Whitton became secretary of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare, serving as executive director from 1926 to 1941, advocating for improved and standardized child welfare legislation. Although Whitton advocated for women’s rights and improving social conditions for mothers and children, she advocated for eugenics, believing that immorality and criminality were genetic. She opposed immigrants considered “undesirable” and “feeble-minded” and those of “Oriental, Armenian, Jewish, or Central European, or lower-class British heritage.” Whitton also believed that juvenile immigrants were “physically, morally, and socially degenerate.” After resigning from the Canadian Council on Child Welfare in 1941, Whitton worked as a freelance writer and lecturer on social welfare.

Whitton never married and lived with her companion Margaret Grier, whom she met at Queen’s University for thirty-two years, until Grier died in 1947.

Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling OBE PhD MSc CEng (8 March 1909 – 18 November 1990) was a British aeronautical engineer and motorcycle racer. Shilling received her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, one of two female graduates in 1932 from the University of Manchester. University records list her as “Mr.” Beatrice Shilling because the entry form did not include any space for women. She received a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree by the end of 1933. Three years later, she joined the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and became the leading specialist in aircraft carburetors.

During the early years of the Second World War, Royal Air Force pilots discovered that the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines powering their Spitfires and Hurricane would stall, allowing enemy planes to escape. Shilling solved the problem by inventing the RAE restrictor, what became known as “Miss Shilling’s orifice”, a small, washer-like metal disc that restricted fuel flow to the carburetor helping prevent engine stall. The initial design drastically reduced engine stalling. Shilling received an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her war efforts.

In addition to her work on engines, Shilling raced motorcycles, breaking into another male-dominated field. She received the Gold Star for lapping the track at over 106 mph, faster than any other woman on two wheels.

Image

From: “Sylvia Wiegand, Grace Chisholm Young and Agnes Dunnett” Posted on February 19, 2013

Sylvia Margaret Young Wiegand (born March 8, 1945) is an American mathematician, who comes from a family of mathematicians. Her paternal grandparents Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1944) and William Henry Young (1863-1942) were mathematicians, her father, Laurence Chisholm Young (1905-2000), was the Distinguished Research Professor in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, and her aunt Cecily Young Tanner (1900-1992), wrote a Ph.D. thesis in mathematics at Cambridge University and taught at Imperial College, University of London. Young’s grandmother Grace was the first woman to earn a doctorate in Germany.

Sylvia Young was born in Cape Town, South Africa, while her father was Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. The family moved to Wisconsin a few years later when her father transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where Young also later took math courses. Young attended Bryn Mawr College and graduated in three years, and went on to complete a master’s degree at the University Washington in one year.

She and her husband Roger Wiegand worked in commutative algebra and were eventually hired at the math department at the University of Nebraska. Sylvia was initially an instructor, and became a full professor in 1987, the only female professor in the department at the time.

Wiegand advocates for women in mathematics at the University of Nebraska, including establishing a fellowship o honor her grandparents to support graduate research. In 1996, the math department began an annual summer mathematics camp for high school girls called All Girls/All Math, and in 1998, began the annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics. During that time, Wiegand became President of the Association for Women in Mathematics, promoting math and science issues on Capitol Hill and increased funding for math and science education and research. She is also a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.

In addition to her mathematical career, Wiegand is a competitive runner, including the 100 mile Leadville ultramarathon which she finished in 29 hours, 35 minutes in 1994.

The Artist Speaks

March is Women’s History Month, after Congress passed a resolution on March 1, 1987. March first is World Book Day. Here are some historical events that occurred on March 1.

Events

"Court Trial of Witches," illustration by unknown artist, published in "Witchcraft Illustrated" by Henrietta D Kimball, circa 1892

“Court Trial of Witches,” illustration by unknown artist, published in “Witchcraft Illustrated” by Henrietta D Kimball, circa 1892

On March 1, 1692, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, were brought before magistrates in Salem Village, Massachusetts, beginning the Salem witch trials. Sarah Good was a poor woman, Sarah Osborne, whose sister-in-law had married into the Putnam family, and Tituba was Reverend Samuel Parris’s slave.

Over the next few months, twenty people would be executed – nineteen hanged, one pressed to death – and over one hundred and fifty people would be accused. Thirteen of those executed were women, and around twenty-four other women were convicted.

Birthdays

Theresa Bernstein, American painter and printmaker, ca. 1890-2002.jpg

Photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son in 1930, Archives of American Art     Smithsonian Institution

Theresa Ferber Bernstein-Meyerowitz (March 1, 1890 – February 13, 2002) was a Polish-American, Jewish artist and painter whose career lasted ninety years. She was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art and Design) in 1911. She studied with William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League. She painted urban scenes such as trolleys, elevated trains, and Coney Island. Her painting style was considered by some to be “masculine,” but Bernstein’s painted women at leisure and the workplace.

Although Jewish subjects were not her specialty, she depicted weddings and synagogue services. Despite growing up in what she called a secular household, Bernstein was an ardent Zionist who attended the first American Zionist meeting in Madison Square Garden in 1923.

Her popularity waned after the 1920s, but the women’s movement led to renewed interest in her work. Her paintings are part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Art Institute, the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum.

Theresa Bernstein died on February 12, 2002, two weeks shy of her 112th birthday, though she may have been as old as nearly 116.

File:Mercedes de Acosta.jpg

Mercedes de Acosta (March 1, 1893 – May 9, 1968) was an American poet, playwright, fashion icon, and novelist, known for her many lesbian relationships. She was born in New York and befriended Degas, Tolstoy, Debussy, and others. Her wardrobe was the start of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Her lovers included Russian actresses Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead, dancer Isadora Duncan. While in a relationship with Duncan, Acosta began writing, producing three volumes of poetry, two novels, four produced plays, and many that wee no performed, and screenplays. Some of her other lovers in the 1930s included Ona Munson, who played Belle Watling, the madam, in Gone With the Wind, and dancer Adele Astaire, Fred Astaire’s sister).

In 1920 Mercedes married painter Abram Poole, though she kept her own name when she married and later joined the Lucy Stone League, which advocated women keeping their surnames upon marriage. Throughout her marriage, she continued having relationships with women, including actress Eva Le Gallienne, for whom she created several plays, including Sandro Botticelli, a fictional account of Botticelli’s model for his famous painting The Birth of Venus.

In 1931, Acosta met Greta Garbo, though the exact nature of their relationship is unclear, as Garbo publicly maintained that the relationship was platonic. Acosta also had relationships with other women, including Marlene Dietrich at the same time.

When her finances became dire, Acosta published her memoir, Here Lies the Heart, in 1960, though she was vague about her various relationships. She also sold her papers to the Rosenbach Museum and Library, including working material for her memoir, personal correspondence, objects and photos. Although some of the correspondence was sealed until the correspondent’s death at her request, all is now available.

Doris Hare.jpg

Doris Hare, MBE (1 March 1905 – 30 May 2000) was a British actress, singer, dancer and comedian. Her career spanned many countries, genres, and mediums. She was born in Bargoed, Monmouthshire, Wales. Her stage debut at three at her parents’ mobile theatre, was at a time without television, films, or microphones. Nearly fifty years later, she made her television debut in 1953 in an episode of Douglas Fairbansk Junior Presents. She performed in New York, London, and Scotland, included Mistress Quickly in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mrs Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera, Katherine in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and Mary Hearn in The Farmer’s Wife and Emlyn Williams’s thriller Night Must Fall.

She is best known for being the second actress to portray Mrs Mabel “Mum” Butler in the popular sitcom On the Buses alongside Reg Varney. By the time she starred in On the Buses, she had spent over sixty years on stage, from performing in music halls during her childhood, to revues between the wars, to the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. She was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her wartime service in the Merchant Navy.

Books

Some of my favourite books by and about women include:

  • Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • Deborah Harkness’s The All Souls trilogy

  • Mary Higgins Clark’s Kitchen Privileges: A Memoir

  • Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s series

  • Celeste Ng’s, Little Fires Everywhere

  • Elizabeth Peters’s The Amelia Peabody series

  • Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts series and her other historical fiction

  • Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

  • Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

  • Sarah Nelson’s So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading

  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game