Remembering Jeannette Rankin, First US Congresswoman

If women had held the preponderance of political leadership roles for the last few millennia, would peace have become more of a central organizing theme of history than war?

Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican and lifelong pacifist, was elected to Congress in 1916; that’s four years before the Constitution gave all women the right to vote. Not only did Rankin lead the way as a first for women, she defied all semblance of political tradition by opposing both World War I and World War II.

Rankin’s leadership style has many lessons for us today, especially since she did not shy away from controversy. The subject of Rankin’s very first Congressional vote (against President Wilson’s WWI war resolution) set the stage for her destiny. Rankin lost the support of most of the women’s suffragists who had campaigned for her, because they feared her anti-war vote made women look weak and hurt the suffrage movement. Embracing controversy can be tough when we ruffle the feathers of our opponents, but it’s even tougher when we lose the support of our closest friends and allies.

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Octavia Butler, A Pioneer In Science Fiction

Last Saturday’s open thread asked who your fictional role models have been. As you’ll see from the comments on that post, they are many and varied. But some I hadn’t known about until I received Jezebel writer Anna North’s engaging profile of novelist Octavia Butler. It makes me want to buy her books immediately and start digging into them. Read on, enjoy, and keep adding to the list of female fiction role models who helped to shape you.

When an interviewer asked Hugo- and Macarthur-winning novelist Octavia Butler what she thought of her books being classed as science fiction, she said, “Really, it doesn’t matter. A good story is a good story.” Here is (some of) the story of Butler’s life.

Butler grew up in Pasadena, raised by a single mother who’d had to leave school after the third grade. Of her own early years, Butler has written,

At school I was always taller than the rest of my class, and because I was an only child I was comfortable with adults, but shy and awkward with other kids. I was quiet, bookish, and in spite of my size, hopeless at sports. In short, I was different. And even in the earliest grades, I got pounded for it. I learned that five- and-six-year-old kids have already figured out how to be intolerant.

But she also discovered writing at the age of 10 – she chose science fiction, she says, because “because it was so wide open. I was able to do anything and there were no walls to hem you in and there was no human condition that you were stopped from examining.” Her books – the first, Patternmaster, was published in 1976, and the last, Fledgling, came out in 2005 – did more than examine. They also reflected the deep inequalities plaguing America – and humanity as a whole — and sounded a warning for the future. Butler said her novel Parable of the Sower “calls people’s attention to the fact that so much needs to be done and obviously [there] are people who are running this country who don’t care.”

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Women’s History Open Thread: Fictional Role Models

I’m thinking a lot about literature this weekend because I’m presenting on “Women in Leadership” on a panel with former White House doctor, Connie Mariano at the Tucson Festival of Books. Fictional characters can play a big part in our lives. Are there fictional women who have been fantasy role models for you?

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Best of International Women’s Day: Be a Front Porch Lady

How did you recognize the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day March 8? If you haven’t yet signed the “Million for a Billion” petition to tell Congress you want them to fund international family planning and save the lives of so many women and children around the world, please do so here. This is one meaningful way to honor the women who founded IWD to promote equality for women, including the right to vote and hold public office. Another is to reach out to help another woman. Today’s guest post from Kathy Korman Frey, entrepreneur in residence at George Washington University School of Business and founder of The Hot Mommas Project tells just such a story. Read on, and keep reading for a roundup of some of the best of IWD posts:

A dignified, beautiful, African-American woman stood at the podium during the Wake Forest Women’s Weekend. All eyes were on Esther Silver-Parker, one of the most senior former executives at Wal-Mart and now president of the Silver-Parker Group. Would she talk about women’s advancement to the C-suite? Would she share her secrets to success? That, she did. And one of them was not at all what we expected.

Silver-Parker grew up in rural North Carolina, in a two-bedroom house, with her parents and many siblings. She recounted a screenplay-like story about a group of women she called: The Front Porch Ladies. “The Front Porch Ladies were the women who sat on their front porches as we came home from school,” Silver-Parker said. “They would treat our business like it was their business.”

When Silver-Parker was accepted to college, imagine her surprise when the Front Porch Ladies showed up on her front porch. There they all stood, having brought with them a full set of blue luggage for her to take off to school. “From time to time at college, I would get letters from the Front Porch Ladies,” Silver-Parker told the audience. “They would write words of encouragement, and sometimes include a dollar or two.”

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The Value of Women’s Work

There has been a marked change in the estimate of [women's] position as wealth producers. We have never been “supported” by men; for if all men labored hard every hour of the twenty-four, they could not do all the work of the world. A few worthless women there are, but even they are not so much supported by the men of their family as by the overwork of the “sweated” women at the other end of the social ladder. From creation’s dawn. our sex has done its full share of the world’s work; sometimes we have been paid for it, but oftener not.

Any idea when this statement was made? OK, a clue: I recently ran across it in a speech given by Harriot Stanton Blatch at a suffragist convention–in 1898.

Isn’t it amazing that Blatch made this argument 113 years ago? Her point still resonates today. A study released by the Center for American Progress shows that in the down economy, women increasingly became the sole breadwinners, despite the persistent wage gap, since men were being laid off at higher rates to trim companies’ bottom line. More and more men became “stay-at-home fathers.” And yet we aren’t seeing a change in workplace culture as a result.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay, First Woman Pulitzer Poetry Winner

My parents started sending me to Mrs. Fred Day’s charmingly named “Expression” classes when I was three years old. There, over a period of seven or eight years, I learned at least one new word each week, practiced exercises intended to improve my posture and diction, was schooled (or at least she tried to school us) in the social graces of serving refreshments to my classmates, and memorized a variety of poems. Some of the lines that have lodged most memorably in my mind are those of Edna St. Vincent Millay. There was the cheery:

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

From “Afternoon on a Hill”

…and the dramatic:

All your lovely words are spoken.
Once the ivory box is broken,
Beats the golden bird no more.

From “Elegy”

So when Bonnie McEwan of Make Waves sent me Millay’s poem, “Recuerdo,” along with a note that the poet who liked to call herself “Vincent” and took many lovers during her life, had been the first woman to receive a Pulitzer prize for poetry in 1923, I immediately conjured the sights and floral smells of Mrs. Day’s rather formal home in Temple, Texas – walking distance from my elementary school. She always wore her perfectly coiffed grey hair up and fastened with combs, and practiced the graciousness she patiently tried to teach all of us rowdy kids. She would have been Millay’s contemporary–a shocking thought to me now, since I think of the poet as fuzzy history while the teacher remains sharply drawn in my mind.

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We Need a Million for a Billion

Today’s guest post comes to us from The Population Institute. I highlight it because the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day is being celebrated at events around the world today. The best way I can think of to celebrate IWD is to petition the U.S. Congress and other world leaders to make good on their commitments to fund international family planning. In No Excuses, I show why reproductive self-determination is essential for women to have any other kind of power. But the Republicans are trying to eliminate or drastically cut family planning funds in the U.S. and globally. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole post, please click here to sign the petition now. You’ll be saving women’s lives.

It’s time to hold world leaders accountable for their promises. Seventeen years ago world leaders gathered in Cairo, Egypt, and declared access to reproductive health care to be a universal right, but for many that right has not been realized. An estimated 215 million married women in the developed world want to avoid a pregnancy, but are not using a modern method of birth control. Tens of millions of young men and women are at risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

It’s time to make access to contraceptives and reproductive health care a reality, not just a right.
Need another reason? By giving women the power to prevent unwanted and unintended pregnancies we save lives. Every year 365,000 women, many of them too young to bear children, die as a result of pregnancy-related causes.

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Breaking Barriers: Kentucky’s First Female African American Senator, Georgia Davis Powers

Kathy Groob, former elected city council member, publisher of ElectWomen Magazine, and partner at November Strategies political consulting firm contributed this inspiring article about Georgia Davis Powers, the first woman and first African American elected to the Kentucky state senate. It’s the first of a number of Women’s History Month guest posts I’m excited to share with 9 Ways readers.

At the time, Georgia Davis Powers had no idea she had made history in 1968 by becoming the first woman AND the first African-American elected to Kentucky’s State Senate. All she knew was that she wanted to make a difference in her community.

It was never her intention to become a politician, or even to work in government, but in the spring of 1962 Powers was introduced to politics upon the suggestion of fellow church member Verna Smith. Upon Ms. Smith’s advice she joined the U.S. Senatorial campaign staff of Wilson Wyatt. This led to six more years of managing mayoral, gubernatorial, and congressional campaigns. She also became heavily involved in the civil rights movement, leading the Allied Organization for Civil Rights in promoting statewide public accommodations and fair employment law in the early 1960’s. In 1964, she was one of the organizers of a march on the capital in Frankfort in support of equity in public accommodations, in which Dr. Martin Luther King and baseball legend Jackie Robinson participated.

In 1964 she was the first black woman elected to the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee. But after two years she resigned after becoming discouraged by the fact that the Committee had not discussed a single one of her proposals.

In 1966 she worked in the bill room during the legislative session for the Kentucky House of Representatives. This gave her the opportunity to see first hand how government functioned; as a result her political ambitions grew.

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Women’s History Month Open Thread: Family Ties

Many of us look to women in our family as our sheroes. Who are the women in your family who have helped shape you and how did they do it?

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Women’s History Friday Roundup: The Rally Edition

In 2004, women made history by descending on Washington in droves to March for Women’s Lives. Estimates vary about how many people attended the march, but it’s safe to say that there were over 1 million pro-choice activists in D.C. in 2004, myself included.

Last weekend a Walk for Choice was held in cities across the globe. Here is a roundup of photos from rallies across the country–the decentralized nature of the walk made it impossible to get exact numbers, but the geographic dispersion was impressive.

This Is a Sampling of What a Pro-Choice Rally Looks Like:

NYC – Feministing
Boston Walk for Choice
Walk for Choice Chicago – Feministing
Tucson Walks for Choice – Feminists for Choice

But we should not have to fight these battles over and over…

If you’ve got photos that you would like to add to our historical record (however “unofficial” it might be), please leave a link in the comments section. And by all means, take a moment to share your most proactive and innovative thoughts about what history you want to write for the future of reproductive rights, health, and justice.

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