Tomorrow – March 8th – is International Women’s Day, a day that was first celebrated on Feb. 28, 1910, as National Women’s Day, in the United States by the Socialist Party of America to honor the women garment workers’ strike, known as the Uprising of the 20,000 (1909-1910). I did a search of historical newspapers and found two relevant news items: the top one “Sunday was observed as National Women’s Day throughout the United States”; Norwich Bulletin, Norwich, CT; Feb. 24, 1913, p. 5; and “A celebration of ‘National Women’s Day’ for the socialist party will be held March 2 Sunday, 8 p.m. at Maccabees’ hall, 1109 1/2 South C St. Speaking, music, play, recitations and other interesting features are on the program”; The Tacoma Times, Feb. 26, 1913, p. 8. Clara Lemlich (above) sparked the strike when she jumped on the stage at a mass meeting and issued a call for action: “I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities . . . I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.” The other photos are a tiny sampling of women’s protests: from top to bottom: Russian women on March 8, 1917, an impetus of the Russian Revolution; the “Grand Picket” March 4, 1917, when 1,000 suffragists carrying purple, white, and gold banners marched in a freezing rain around and around the White House, demanding that President Wilson support for a federal woman suffrage amendment; the “Women Strike for Peace and Equality” Aug. 26, 1970, when thousands of protesting women took over the streets of cities across America.
Today – March 4, 1933, with the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Frances Perkins became the first woman cabinet member. President Roosevelt appointed Frances Perkins Secretary of Labor during the greatest economic crisis in American history – the Great Depression. At that time, women weren’t supposed to have nontraditional careers, or be outspoken, or occupy a powerful position. But that didn’t stop Frances Perkins. With her familiar tricorn hat planted firmly on her head, Perkins prodded, pressured, and persuaded businessmen, labor leaders, and politicians to respond to the needs of the American people and end child labor, establish safer working conditions, fairer wages, reasonable working hours, unemployment insurance, and Social Security. Dedicated, disciplined, honest, and often controversial, Frances Perkins exerted a far-ranging influence on twentieth-century America. To accomplish things, she said, “You just can’t be afraid.” I grew up and went all the way through graduate school never learning about Frances Perkins but once I discovered her she has been an everlasting guiding beacon in my life, especial in these times. Along with the title of the eleven chapters in my book, A Woman Unafraid: The Achievements of Frances Perkins, I included a quote by Perkins: “I could talk well . . .”; “I discovered for the first time . . . that I had a mind.”; “I felt I must sear it not only on my mind but on my heart. . . .”; “Doing means digging your nails in and working like a truck horse.”; “. . .the beauty of loyalty and chivalry between women.”; “It is there to be done, so I do it.”; “We were always in a crisis.”; “It is a great satisfaction. . . .”; “It hurts.”; “I felt I must stand by . . . .”; ” . . .the time has gone so fast.”
March 3, 1913 – 104 years ago today – more than 8,000 suffragists marched in a “monster demonstration” in Washington, D.C., the day before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, a non-supporter of women’s right to vote. There were floats, bands, and divisions of women, including a delegation from Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority of black students from Howard University. Ida B. Wells, the only black women in the Illinois delegation, defied organizers who told her to walk with a black delegation and slipped in the Illiinois delegation, walking with two white Illinois suffragists who welcomed her. The parade and pageant started at the Capitol, marched up Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House, and ended in a mass-meeting at Hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Near the end of the parade a glorious tableau was staged on the steps of the Treasury Building. The captions in this full page spread in The Sun, 3/8/1913, read: top – “The head of the suffrage parade checked near the reviewing stand by the mob of spectators whom the Washington police were unable to handle. Two troops of United States Cavalry from Fort Myer are soon coming to their assistance at a critical moment.” (In fact the police stood by, watching men attack the women, many of whom ended up in the hospital. After a Congressional Hearing, the chief of police lost his job.) Middle, L-R: “The Mounted Herald of the Suffrage Parade. Miss Inez Milholland, a dashing gold covered vision in white.” (In 1916, Milholland would die while fighting for the Cause.); “Mrs. Florence Flemming Noyes, the classical dancer, who represented ‘Liberty’ in the suffragette tableau on the Treasury steps. Mrs. Mildred Anderson ‘Hope’ and their attendants; “Mrs. Robert Burleson, the Grand Marshall, who led the great suffragette procession, assisted by a troupe of girl aides. all mounted on military charges.” Bottom: “Children’s song and dance on the south stage of Treasury at the conclusion of the parade.” In 2013, my granddaughter Sophie, age 9 at the time, went to Washington, D.C. to march in the centennial reenactment of the great parade. Deltas from around the country and England marched in celebration of their founding in 1913 and participation in that women’s first, but not last, “monster demonstration’!
Happy March – National Multicultural Women’s History Month! Today I serendipitously discovered the amazing mural “When Women Pursue Justice” in Brooklyn, New York. I was there on an errand with my son Jonathan, who lives in Manhattan, and stopped to have lunch with Stephen, another son, who lives in Brooklyn. Created by Artmakers, Inc. the 3,300 square foot mural was completed in October 2005. It is located at 498 Greene Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the birthplace and district of Shirley Chisholm, the late congresswoman and presidential candidate, who is depicted holding a banner inscribed “A Catalyst for Change,” astride a golden house. The two large figures to the left of her are Audre Lorde (below) and Dorothy Day (above). I took the top photo, a view through the top of the black iron fence pickets and bare branches. The bottom photo is by © Lisa Kahane
I’m a longtime member of the Authors Guild, the oldest and largest professional organization for writers in America. Pearl S. Buck, whose biography I have on my to-write -list, was once the president, as was Madeleine L’Engle. The current president is Roxana Robinson. Today I received the following declaration from the Authors Guild that I wanted to share:
We Are Not the People’s Enemies
First President Trump complained that “the media” was biased against him. “Dishonest.” Presidents have made such complaints before, in moments of weakness and self-pity.
Then he labeled the media as “the opposition party.”
Now he has declared journalists to be “the enemy of the American People.”
We at the Authors Guild hear that as a declaration of war. We know our history. Enemy of the People is a phrase long favored by authoritarians and tyrants. The “correct Russian term,” Gary Shteyngart points out, is врагнарода, vrag naroda. Long before Lenin and Stalin used it, Robespierre inaugurated the Reign of Terror by declaring that the Revolutionary Government “owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death.”
An earlier president, John F. Kennedy—when he was taking a beating in the press after the Bay of Pigs fiasco—was asked if he resented the media. He said this:
“It is never pleasant to be reading things that are not agreeable news, but I would say that it is an invaluable arm of the presidency, as a check, really, on what is going on in the administration … I would think that Mr. Khrushchev operating a totalitarian system, which has many advantages as far as being able to move in secret, and all the rest—there is a terrific disadvantage in not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily …Even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn’t write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn’t any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.”
President Kennedy was a member of the Authors Guild. So are many of the journalists now covering the Trump presidency, the historians who will soon reflect upon it, and the novelists who challenge us with their imaginative—and, yes, subversive—visions.
The administration is now said to be preparing the elimination of the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities under the false guise of budgetary necessity. We understand this, too, to be part of an attack on the free expression of diverse views.
The Authors Guild serves writers as a nonpartisan advocate. Our members represent a broad spectrum of social and political views. But blanket attacks on writers and journalists, as a class, are not a partisan issue; they are attacks on democracy itself. And, as advocates for authors and the first amendment rights of writers, we cannot let these attacks go unanswered.
We are not the people’s enemies. We are the eyes and ears of the people. And we are the people’s memory.
Celebrating 4 birthdays today – 2/24 – identical twin sons David and Stephen and fraternal twin grandchildren Balan and Quinn!!!!! Another set of twins on the way, due in a month when we already have 3 family birthdays – fun!!!!
Tomorrow – Feb. 21 – is the birthday of Barbara Jordan, who was born in 1936 and died on Jan. 17, 1991. An eminent orator, lawyer, politician, civil rights leader, Barbara Jordan left a powerful legacy of indomitable forthrightness. Below are some of her quotes:
We, as human beings, must be willing to accept people who are different from ourselves.
There is no executive order; there is no law that can require the American people to form a national community. This we must do as individuals and if we do it as individuals, there is no President of the United States who can veto that decision.
The majority of the American people still believe that every single individual in this country is entitled to just as much respect, just as much dignity, as every other individual.
A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good.
Life is too large to hang out a sign: “For Men Only.”
On the 15th of February, I will wish Happy Birthday to Susan B. Anthony who was born on that date in 1820, almost two hundred years ago.
With her erect posture, dark-brown hair, steely eyes, a bump on the bridge of her thin, arched nose, and a fearless personality, Susan B. Anthony was a formidable fighter for equality and justice. As a lecturer against slavery, she was encountered hostile crowds (once a maraudering mob burned an effigy of her). As a co-leader, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of the movement for women’s rights, she was ridiculed, reviled, scorned and snubbed. In the early days, she later recalled, it felt like “the whole world was against” them. Mobs of hissing, hooting, bellowing hostile spectators would disrupt women’s rights conventions. Politician, preachers, reporters, and a vociferous assortment of foes hurled slurs, and false claims.
Very few people were wishing Susan B. Anthony a Happy Birthday on February 15th.
But over the years people started changing their minds about Susan B. Anthony. For her fiftieth birthday, hundreds of admirers attended a festive celebration, despite a torrential rainstorm, and honored her with gifts, speeches and poems. Even more people attended her seventieth birthday party. Gifts were piled high. Seventy pink carnations were presented to her. Toasts were made. Telegrams, cablegrams, and letters were read. A huge crowd celebrated her on her eightieth birthday. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote a witty poem with lines describing their speaking tours: “From sleigh, ox-carts, and mayhap coaches./Besieged with beetles, bugs, and roaches:/All this for the emancipation/Of the brave women of our Nation.” Eighty children, one by one, laid a single red rose on her lap.
Susan B. Anthony’s last birthday celebration, her eighty-sixth, was held in 1906. Addressing the gathering, she declared that in the on-going fight for women’s right to vote—“failure is impossible.”
Those now iconic words—“Failure is impossible”—were the last ones spoken by the esteemed Susan B. Anthony in public. She died at her home in Rochester, New York on March 13, 1906. Today Susan B. Anthony’s birthday, February 15, is an official state holiday in California, Florida, Wisconsin, New York, and in West Virginia, where it is celebrated on Election Day in even years. Efforts to make it a national holiday have failed in the U.S. Congress, but many people support the idea, including me. How about you?
Happy Birthday, Susan B. Anthony!
Today – Feb. 10th – is the 90th birthday of the great American soprano Leontyne Price. I heard her sing many years ago at the Metropolitan Opera House. I just listened to her singing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” (first video in this link). Her voice soothed my mind, troubled by the endless political chaos.
“Nevertheless, she persisted!” Sojourner Truth is one among millions of our foremothers who “persisted,” just as millions of women, and men of good will, are persisting today and will continue to persist! I love that word – persist!