Friday, March 25, 2011

Today in Women's History

Who and what might we remember today?

It was March 24, 1826, when she was born to Hezekiah and Helen Leslie Joslyn.  Her father was a physician who homeschooled her in Greek, biology, and math.  Her mother supplemented her learning through intentional conversations with theologians, philosophers, and scientists, guests in their home.  They also sent her to Clinton New York Liberal Institute.  She met the love of her life, and they were married.  She deepened her interest in theology, continued to read the Bible in Greek, and taught herself Hebrew to further her interactions with the scriptures.  She and her husband were parents of four children.  She and her husband were white and free in the United States, and involving their children, they opened their home to runaway African American slaves, participating illegally in the underground railway.  She fought for temperance.  She began to fight for women's rights in America, especially the right to vote.  In1852, at age 26, she was the youngest invited speaker at the Third National Women's Rights Convention.  She was a historian, focusing on how the enslavement of black Africans and the oppression of women shared horrors and had many parallels.  She helped form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA); she testified before the all-male Congress of the United States to protest it's limited democracy; she gave a speech entitled "The United States on Trial, Not Susan B. Anthony" in several U.S. cities (when Anthony, a woman, had been jailed for attempting to vote); and she took on the role as editor of the NWSA newspaper, National Citizen and Ballot Box.  Her own "articles covered such topics as the treatment of women prisoners, prostitution, the plight of Native Americans, and the role of Christianity in the oppression of women."  With Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she co-authored the History of Woman Suffrage in three volumes of more than 3,000 pages, and they co-edited The Women's Bible, a two-volume, internationally-collaborative commentary on the scriptures from a woman's perspective.  She authored an essay, "Who Planned the Tennessee Campaign of 1862?," to recover the lost recent history of Anna Ella Carroll, a woman, a tactician in the Civil War.  She wrote the book, Woman, Church, and State, to bring further attention to the abuses of women committed by the church and the government. Differences with others led to their excluding her from any work on the fourth volume of History of Woman Suffrage.  For that reason, historians today speculate that this first-wave feminist is not as well known as she might otherwise be.  She is Matilda Joslyn Gage.

Today is also the birthday of second-wave feminist Gloria Steinem.

Today is also the 100 year anniversary of the horrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.  Here's from -->
The worst factory fire in the history of New York City occurred on March 25, 1911, in the Asch building, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Company occupied the top three of ten floors. Five hundred women, mostly Jewish immigrants between thirteen and twenty-three years old, were employed there. The owners had locked the doors leading to the exits to keep the women at their sewing machines. In less than fifteen minutes, 146 women died. The event galvanized support for additional efforts to be made to increase safety in the workplace. It also garnered support for labor unions in the garment district, and in particular for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

On the homefront today, I've had a wonderful email exchange with the president of one of the U.S. colleges that my daughter has been admitted to for the coming fall semester.  This president is a woman.  What's that matter today?  Well, she and my daughter comprise 51% of the American population, the female half of our society.  Haven't things been improving over the past 20 years, with a 13.5% increase in the number of women college presidents?  Yes.  But are 51% of the college presidents in America women?  No.  The most recent published survey shows that "23% of the U.S.’s regionally accredited institutions" have women presidents.  And how did these few women actually get to the top?  If you ask S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College, she'll tell you she's had to avoid petty arguments with men.  For example, in a Chronicle of Higher Education article out this morning, she remembers "when a man told her at a cocktail party that there were too many women at Kenyon College."  President Nugent explains, giving him the benefit of the doubt:  "He was apparently unaware that the national population is majority female as well."  So what did she do?  "I probably just refreshed his drink," she advised.  And so, today, things are still moving forward in women's history, our history, yours and mine together.

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