Have You Met Alice?

Today’s post is about a woman I should have heard of, but have not. She is, for a large part, the reason why women have the right to vote, which was a 72 year battle that ended on August 26, 1920, with the passing of the 19th amendment. It just so happens that August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S. (Yet another fact I did not know.)

In light of the recent event where Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter from civil rights activist Coretta Scott King (a silencing that he did not extend to his male counterparts, and a silencing that inevitably backfired), I think recognizing Alice Paul’s contribution to the equality of the sexes is very timely, as there’s still progress to be made (for example, how women earn 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man).  Interestingly, Alice Paul was raised as a Hicksite Quaker. The Hicksite Friends “endorsed the concept of gender equality as a central tenet of their religion and a societal norm of Quaker life” and it is obvious that this belief in equality influenced Alice throughout her life, worldviews, and activism.

While Paul led a comfortable life, she did not sit on her heels. After spending time in England and witnessing the suffragist movement there, Alice went from being “reserved” to being a “militant suffragist.” While in England, Paul joined up with the Pankhurst suffragettes, whose motto was “Deeds not words,” and this often meant the breaking of windows, heckling, and the use of other means to raise awareness of the suffrage movement. There were arrests, hunger strikes, and imprisonment. While in prison, Paul saw the following quote written on the cell wall, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” a phrase that appears to be attributed in similar forms to both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  The phrase was also used by Susan B. Anthony (another activist for women’s rights who was a Quaker and whose name is much more familiar).

While there was some fracture in the various strategies among suffragists groups to attain equality for women in the U.S., Paul eventually formed the National Woman’s Party in 1916. This group was often deemed “unpatriotic” for picketing during wartime, and the women were often jailed. They even marched on Pennsylvania Avenue during President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration (unfortunately, that march ended with physical violence against the women). After being imprisoned in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, Paul and her comrades went on a hunger strike. The conditions of the Workhouse were unsanitary, the women were often beaten, and public outcry led to their release. At this point, President Wilson “reversed his position and announced his support” and in 1919, the House and Senate passed the 19th Amendment. It was then ratified in 1920 (thanks to Harry Burn’s mother, who asked her son on the Tennessee assembly to support the amendment).

Did Alice Paul stop with the 19th Amendment?  No. She pushed on. She persisted.  And, to this day, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), rewritten in 1943 as, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” has yet to be ratified. Many Southern states have failed to support such.  It is obvious that the need to persist continues. Silencing someone for gender, sexual orientation, skin color, religious preference, etc. is not acceptable. While McConnell may have stopped Warren from reading King’s letter with his sexist rebuke, he only amplified the need to persist, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” McConnell’s sexism led to a timely reminder to women and other disenfranchised groups that persistence can, and does, pay off.  




Source sites:

Who Was Alice Paul?

Women’s Policy Research

Danse Sauvage

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Today we celebrate Josephine Baker. I was thrilled to draw Josephine’s card not only because it is Black History Month, but also because Josephine was part of the Resistance – the French Resistance in WWII – and she is an inspiration to me as I also resist.

One of the things that appeals to me about Josephine is that she was multi-faceted: a performer who was both comical and sensual, a woman who did not depend on a male partner for financial stability (back when it was even harder to do so), and a woman who  vociferously opposed racism. While she saw success in the US as a performer, she was an overnight hit in Paris. One of her most creative costumes was one of bananas strung into a skirt. Josephine was so popular that she was photographed as often as Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, and in 1927 she “earned more than any entertainer in Europe.”

Josephine had nicknames such as “Black Venus, “ “Black Pearl,” and “Creole Goddess,” and she hailed from St. Louis, Missouri.  Of the many youtube videos I watched, this is one of my favorites.

So, in short: resist.  Dance.  And be sure to mix some humor into your life amid the stress. As Josephine saidSurely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.

Fannie Lou

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Imagine going into surgery to have a tumor removed, only to wake and find out that you’ve also had your reproductive organs removed without your consent.

Imagine that you lose your job and get kicked off the land you’ve farmed for over two decades for simply driving to the county courthouse and registering to vote.

Imagine that while you were sick and tired of being sick and tired, you still fought for civil rights, even after being shot at and jailed.

Imagine being beaten so badly you suffered from permanent kidney damage.

Imagine the power and tenacity it took to be Fannie Lou Hamer, a black woman who took her rage and defiance and turned it into energy and actions that led to securing voting rights for African Americans and the creation of economic and community programs.

Imagine that, and act.


Oh, Be A Fine Girl — Kiss Me!

This is a part of a series of brief posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

I am anxious to see the latest film, Hidden Figures, which tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three black women who were integral in the success of the U.S. Space Program. On that note, I found it interesting that the Women Who Dare knowledge card I drew today featured another hidden woman in history, in the related field of astronomy: Annie Jump Cannon.

Cannon had a strong academic background that included Wellesley, Radcliffe, and the Harvard Observatory. It was at the Harvard Observatory where she and other women (since labeled “Pickering’s Women” by science historians) that Cannon did some pretty impressive cataloging of stars, while taking existing classification systems and creating a more simplified one that “was adopted as the universal standard,” and led to the mnemonic device that many astronomers used, “Oh, Be A Fine Girl – Kiss Me!” According to Women Who Dare, Cannon classified over half a million stars.  And while she was the first woman to be awarded the Draper Gold Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the male-dominated group never did allow her membership.

Take some time to get to know Annie’s work and contributions to astronomy here at Annie Jump Cannon Biography, and  Annie Jump Cannon.

Strange Fruit

This is a part of a series of posts I’ll be doing that feature women — as writers, creatives, world-changers, or everyday people who’ve made a difference, yet we’ve likely not heard of them.

Surprisingly enough, even though I’m a Georgia native, I was not familiar with Lillian Smith. Hers was the first knowledge card I drew from my deck of Women Who Dare. Ironically, Smith lived just about 40 minutes from where I live now, as she spent the bulk of her life in Rabun County. Lillian was a writer and activist who stood openly against segregation and racism as early as the 1930s, saying that “Segregation is spiritual lynching.”

As I read more about Lillian, and I encourage you to do the same here,  I was moved not only by her bravery and activism, but also by the fact that she struggled with her desire to write creatively or “respond to her stern conscience and the intellectual voice of duty.” It appears Smith was able to satisfy both desires, as she wrote both creatively and with an eye towards social justice. While I’ve heard of her book, Strange Fruit, I’m adding it and Killers of the Dream to my reading list. Smith was one of the first white Southerners to speak and act against racism, and she openly lived with her lifetime partner, Paula Snelling.  I look forward to reading her work.

Special thanks to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, where I gathered much of this information.

I Dare You

2017 is going to be my year of intentionally sharing stories of and by women, and the majority of books I read this year will be by women. Why? Because I want to offer to the world the many unheard, under-shared, overlooked stories about women. In my over twenty year career in higher education, I’ve attended an inordinate number of commencements, workshops, and conferences.  Most recently, I’ve caught myself getting irritated — irritated not by poor speakers, but the same-old stories and quotes that are almost always about or by men. I want to add to the existing stories out there– the ones I’ve yet to even learn; the ones we certainly don’t hear enough.

So I challenged myself. If I had to give a talk tomorrow, what examples that highlight women would I turn to? My list was too short.  Even though I hold a few degrees, I never had a women’s studies course. So, it’s up to me to fill in the blanks. I’ve decided to start with the two decks of cards I have from the Library of Congress, Women Who Dare. Then, there’s the book my my dad gave me, The Last Word, which contains quotes by women — 324 pages of them. It is going to be fun. I’d appreciate it if you, reader, would share with me any resources you’ve used and find to be significant —  textbooks, biographies, reading lists, films, or syllabi.

I dare you to join me in this initiative. You don’t have to limit your focus to  women — but I do challenge you to read up and share success of those who are under-represented, yet fully a part of this multifaceted world in which we live. Share. It will enrich us all.  As Audre Lorde said, When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.

Ants in the Washroom

10960176_10202415076136507_3535643233750564748_oIt’s spring. How do I know? Not from the groundhog, but from ants.  There are ants in my bathroom and in the kitchen.  And last night I noticed a large, unattractive bug scurrying under the fridge that looked somewhat like a stink bug. There’s also a rather dainty and innocuous spider living in the corner of my bedroom. If, on the off chance I decide to clean, I will not squish him, but instead gently toss him outside. From my 20 plus years of living in the southern Appalachians, I’ve noticed my own signs that warmer weather is on the way, and these are some that have proven to be reliable.  Next, there will be wasps. After that, and maybe one more dusting of the white stuff, I’ll be able to sit in the sun and get my (much needed) Vitamin D the natural way.

I’ve recently become interested in signs, superstitions, and spells of southern Appalachia and have begun to research the many bits of folklore I’ve heard through the years, along with actual stories from friends and neighbors. Turns out, if I watch the smoke from my neighbor’s chimney close enough, I may be able to predict the weather. So, as I drive in to work, I take note of how the smoke hangs and if the birds are active, as both are alleged predictors of if the weather will clear or change.

I also think a lot about heritage and place. I live not far from Cherokee County, NC, and the Cherokee, before driven out, lived on the land I now make home. Turns out that I even have some Native American blood (thrown in with some Russian and Polish) in me. I sometimes wonder if some my paternal ancestors lived in the same spot I do now – why not? I think in the end we are all related somehow. And the Cherokee (or Tsalagi) traditions mixed with the Scots and Irish settlers to create the lore specific to this area. I want to know more about these stories and spells, and I also want to explore my own personal observations that evolve into a more personal lore or narrative. On that note, if you live in the southern Appalachians, I’d love to hear your stories – things passed down such as superstitions, beliefs, practices that you are open to sharing. How have you have kept or tossed aside any of these beliefs? If you are inclined to share, use the contact option above to send me your story. In the meantime, watch for ants in the house. They may very well be our angels of spring.