Women’s History Open Thread: Infamous Women

In No Excuses, not all of the women I talk about have had a positive impact on women’s lives. In fact, I share a quote from Madeleine Albright that says “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” But should women support women like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, who oppose policies that help women, such as reproductive rights, fair pay legislation, and social programs that are most likely to help women and children who constitute the majority of those living in poverty?

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Women’s History Roundup: Create a Movement

Throughout history, men with leadership proclivities have tended to start businesses to create wealth or/and to go into politics. They take the direct path to power for its own sake. Women, on the other hand, tend to start social movements. Susan B. Anthony and women’s rights, Jane Addams and the Settlement House movement, Margaret Sanger and birth control, Candy Lightner and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and today’s Emily May and Hollaback just to name a few.

The 9 Ways Women’s History Month posts this week are all examples of women starting social movements large and small:
Burning Women: Triangle Fire 100th Anniversary Illuminates Wisconsin Union-Busting
Alice Paul’s Equal Right Amendment Back at the Plow
Violence Against Women: Not in My Backyard – Er, Subway Car
Inspiration from Sin City

What are some other examples of woman-initiated social movements that inspire you?
What new social movement would you start if you could?

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Burning Women: Triangle Fire 100th Anniversary Illuminates Wisconsin Union-Busting

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

The Triangle Waist Company, site of the fire that fanned the U.S. union movement into full flame, was housed, ironically, in the Asch Building.

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, it became an inferno, snuffing out the lives of 146 employees, mostly women, primarily immigrants, about two-thirds Jewish and one-third Italians, over one-half of them teenagers. Many were girls as young as twelve or thirteen years old. Child labor was routine at the time, as was weekend work.

Triangle’s owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, placed immense pressure on he women to force their treadle sewing machines, like racehorses in their final lap, to produce women’s shirtwaist garments ever-faster. Their goal, not surprisingly, was to raise the factory’s profitability in an increasingly competitive field.

The Asch Building stood in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village. Triangle Waist Company, a million dollar a year business, was one of the best-equipped factories of its day. Still, it was a horrible sweatshop with few safety provisions and almost no protections for workers against unfairly low pay, discrimination, sexual harassment, and certainly no paid sick leave, health insurance, or vacation.

Precautions against fire consisted of twelve red buckets of water.

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Alice Paul’s Equal Rights Amendment Back at the Plow

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” – Alice Paul, suffragist and author of the still-not-ratified Equal Rights Amendment

Yesterday, March 22, was World Water Day. That got a modicum of press. But did you know it was also the 39th anniversary of the date on which Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed out of the U. S. Congress and was sent to the states to be ratified? Probably not. And yet, if there is a resource women need as much as clean water, it must be the guarantee of equality under the law.

The original ERA, introduced in Congress in 1923, was written by Alice Paul, a women’s rights activist instrumental in the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women’s right to vote. Paul also started the National Women’s Party, believing that without a political organization’s clout, women’s concerns would never be taken seriously by politicians. Paul was also one of the few women’s suffrage leaders who realized that getting the right to vote was necessary but not sufficient to enable women to be equal partners in society. She argued that those who had fought for suffrage should then shift their work to getting laws passed that would continue to expand women’s rights.

“When you put your hand to the plow,” Paul said, “you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.”

How right she was! And we aren’t there yet.

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Violence Against Women: Not in MY Backyard—Er, Subway Car?

There are many ways of turning the wheels of history. Sometimes an act that seems small and obvious at the time changes the course of a group’s actions. Like the butterfly wings flutter that changes the climate halfway around the world, I believe every one on the subway car described by author and co-founder of SheWrites.com, Deborah Siegel, will forever think twice before looking away from a violent act.

The other day I was riding the number 2 train home from the city, thinking about what I might write here in honor of Women’s History Month and feeling overpowered by current affairs. The tsunami, earthquake, nuclear disaster. Senseless murders in Libya. The gang rape of an 11-year-old girl. This month, I sense such widening circles of sorrow swirling, it’s easier, I confess, to shut off and just hold close those I love. If I pause long enough to truly let the world in, I fear I’ll be carried out on a wave, swallowed up by a sea of emotion from which there is no return. And then, there’s the tragedy going on right in our own backyards—that which lifts us out of our chairs and just kind of compels us, without thinking, to act.

Here is what I mean:

On the subway seat across from me, a woman sits with a large-sized purse taking up half the seat next to her. A hulking man enters the car and sits down—partly on the seat with the bag, and partly on the woman who owns the bag. The woman gets up in a huff.

“You don’t sit on women,” she says.

“Your bag was taking up half the seat,” he says.

“You don’t sit on women!”

“Your bag was taking up half the seat!”

This seems like it’s going to go on for a while. People nearby are getting edgy. I try to catch the woman’s eye, shoot her a glance of solidarity.

An older woman sitting closest to her catches her eye instead and says, “Let it go. You’re the bigger person.”

The two women chat. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but the man is listening all the while. The first woman gets off at the next stop. The man, it seems, is not through.

“She’s the bigger person huh?” he says to the older woman.

“Oh you’ve got the wrong one. The wrong one. Don’t you start with me now,” she says.

As the subway doors close, the dozens ensue. I try not to listen but, like a rubbernecked driver who can’t look away from a car wreck, I’m compelled. The words “Your mama…” “Your wife…” “Your mama…” “You’ve got the wrong one…” pour from the pair repetitively, and in escalating tones. There’s a feeling of gas rising to the point of combustion.

And then: THUNK. Sound of woman’s head being slammed against subway wall. Next, a piercing wail.

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Inspiration from Sin City

This guest post comes to us from Emmily Bristol, the creator of The Sin City Siren and The Tired Feminist. She is an award-winning writer, a community organizer and a new mom in Las Vegas.

For Women’s History Month, I knew just who I wanted to talk about: The Westside Mothers of Las Vegas. To me, they embody the power of women and grassroots organizing.

Even as Rat Pack names twinkled in the lights of the 1960s Las Vegas Strip, blacks were segregated into a section of town called the Westside and times were desperate. Among those struggling were single mothers Ruby Duncan, Rosie Lee Seals and many others. They were uneducated, poor and black. They didn’t have any experience as community organizers, but they were motivated to help their hungry children.

In just a few years, they would create an organization — Operation Life — that would grow far beyond their initial neighborhood meetings in living rooms and laundromats. Operation Life opened a community center providing healthcare, poverty programs and home-grown economic development to West Las Vegas for the first time. And they managed to bring the glittering Strip to a stand-still in one of the largest protest marches in Las Vegas Boulevard’s history.

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Women’s History Open Thread: Honoring Our Mentors

Mentors are particularly important for helping us develop a leadership style, and to shape our professional development. Who have been your mentors? What role have they played in your life? A new study released by Catalyst suggests that women need more than mentors, they need people who will sponsor them proactively into top leadership roles.

Do you agree? Have you had a sponsor? Have you been a sponsor?

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Women’s History Roundup: The Lesser Knowns Edition

Yesterday I mentioned that I feel like Women’s History Month is a good opportunity to shine a light on lesser know women – such as Lisa Rabinowitz, the woman ejected from court for daring to wear pants. In that frame of mind, here are some links to help give some more lesser known women their moment in the spotlight.

Here’s a list from Huffington Post of Female Firsts to give you a good timeline of women’s historical achievements.

California NOW has launched a 30 Women You Should Know series on their blog this month, highlighting some women who don’t always get the time they deserve in the spotlight. Check out their post about Women in Military History.

And to wrap up our list of women whose time in the spotlight is overdue, check out the bios of these interesting women:
Astronaut Ellen Ochoa
Egyptian protester Asma Mahfouz

If you missed the guest post from Jezebel’s Anna North about writer Octavia Butler, be sure to check it out and leave Anna some comment love.

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Lois Rabinowitz: Now You Can Wear Slacks

Today’s guest post is from women’s success coach Bonnie Marcus. Bonnie takes a candid look at how attitudes towards women’s attire have often had serious consequences. Shining the light on lesser known women is what Women’s History Month is all about in my opinion. Enjoy!

It’s hard to imagine the days when women were frowned upon for wearing slacks in public. In the 1960’s, however, this was the case. Women were expected to wear a hat, gloves, high heels, nylons and a girdle. It was commonly accepted behavior for women to dress up every day before they left the house.

In the summer of 1960, Lois Rabinowitz went to traffic court in New York City to pay a speeding ticket for her boss. Lois was a 28-year-old secretary for an oil company executive. She was a newlywed and her husband of just two weeks drove her to the courthouse that morning. Lois was neatly dressed in slacks and a blouse.

Upon seeing Lois in slacks, the Magistrate of the court was outraged and sent her home.

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Beyond the Headlines: How to Find Role Models with Expertise

Emily Jasper writes this guest post for 9 Ways. Emily Jasper’s blog was chosen as one of ForbesWoman’s top 100 websites for women. Here’s the bio she sent to accompany this inspiring guest post:

Known to rip apart magazines to write in the white space, I’m constantly thinking about what to write next. I write about my own observations at my blog From the Gen Y Perspective. In addition to questioning the various perspectives different from my own and those of my generation, I am passionate about filling my time with ways to connect with the world.

Women’s History Month always gets me thinking about role models. It’s been argued that finding women who are role models for our future female leaders can be a little tricky. When reports include the fact that women still make up only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs, I see what the proverbial they are saying. Most of us look to our mothers, teachers, and community leaders if we feel like it’s hard to find someone else in the limelight who really is a role model.

I realized about a year ago, however, the women who are my role models are leaders because of their expertise and what they do with it.

Most of my role models are female journalists and writers. While they are successful at reporting, I’m really attracted to their proficiency and passion. These women take all the education and wisdom they’ve learned from being on the leading edge of news or research, and they share it with us in the telling of stories.

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