Rosie the Riveter

Rosie cover medium2015 is the 20th anniversary of the publication of my book, “Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II.” Just learned today of the death on Tuesday of Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell’s “Saturday Evening Post cover “Rosie,” (Not the Riveter, just Rosie, because the men who wrote the song threatened to sue the Post.) I still have the tape of the fun phone interview I did with Mary who gave me great details, e.g., Rockwell had her switch shirt colors, change her shoes, etc. Rockwell method was to paint from a photograph that he would cut apart and use as a model.  So, Mary told me, she “didn’t have to sit a long time.”  Shortly before she saw the cover, Rockwell called her to say: “I’m sure you’re not going to like what I did to you.” How did you reply, I asked Mary, “Oh, being a 19-year-old girl,” I said, ‘Oh, that’s Ok.’” I sent Mary two copies of my book: One autographed from me to her & one for her to autograph and return to me, which she did.  I still have it.

Posted in women's stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Earth Day

Minerva Hoyt medCelebrate Earth Day, everyday!  In the early 1900s,  Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a lover of desert plants, became alarmed at the effect of increased car traffic in desert regions of southern California.  A conversation activist, she spearheaded efforts that culminated in 1936 with establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument!  I’m intrigued by deserts: How life survives, even thrives in harsh environments. I went to Joshua Tree on a 1997 women’s stories road trip. Titled the “Apostle of the Cacti” the plaque heralds her for contributing to a “heightened appreciation, not only of the Joshua Tree, but of the total desert environment.”

Posted in women's stories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Listen my children and you shall hear

Our friend Jan came dinner last night (pecan waffles with fresh fruit toppings–bananas, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries).  As former schoolchildren in Massachusetts, she & Linda both knew that tomorrow, Saturday 4/18, is the anniversary of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” With that memory they started Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem: “Listen my children and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,/On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five; . . . .” Being that in writing Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America,  I learned about Sybil Ludington’s ride, twice the distance as Paul’s, through a stormy danger-filled night, I pulled out a copy of Berton Braley’s poem, “Sybil Ludington’s Ride,” written in the form of Longfellow’s poem’s: “Listen, my children, and you shall hear/Of a lovely feminine Paul Revere/Who rode an equally famous ride/Through a different part of the countryside,/Where Sybil Ludington’s name recalls/A ride as daring as that of Paul’s.”  One of our women’s stories road trips was to Carmel, New York, to view and photograph the spectacular statue by Anna Hyatt Huntington of Sybil atop her horse Star.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsybil:plaqsmall220px-Sybil_Ludington_stamp


Posted in women's stories | Leave a comment

Frances Perkins

This morning we wished a Happy Birthday to Frances Perkins who was born on April 10th in 1880. Appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Frances Perkins was the first woman cabinet member and architect of some of the most far reaching and important reforms and social legislation ever enacted in America.  With her familiar tricorn hat (her mother had told her to always wear a hat that is wider than her cheekbones, to avoid looking “ridiculous”) planted firmly on her head, Frances Perkins prodded, pressured, and persuaded recalcitrant businessmen, labor leaders, and politicians to respond to the needs of the American people and end child labor, establish working conditions, fairer wages, reasonable working hours, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.  FPcover The image is the cover of my biography of Frances Perkins, “A Woman Unafraid: The Achievements of Frances Perkins.” I often think of her wise words: “You just can’t be afraid . . . if you’re going to accomplish anything.”  The plaque is in the Frances Perkins Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. It reads: THIS BUILDING IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF/FRANCES PERKINS, SECRETARY OF LABOR, 1933-1945,/WHOSE LEGACY OF SOCIAL ACTION ENHANCES THE/LIVES OF ALL AMERICAN WORKERS. IN WARTIME/AND PEACE, IN DEPRESSION AND RECOVERY/SHE ARTICULATED THE HOPES AND DREAMS OF/WORKING PEOPLE AND WORKED UNTIRINGLY TO/ MAKE THOSE HOPES AND DREAMS A REALITY/THROUGH THE FORCE OF HER MORAL COURAGE,/INTELLECT, AND WILL, SHE BROUGHT SWEEPING/CHANGES TO OUR NATIONAL LAWS AND PRACTICES/AND FOREVER IMPROVED OUR SOCIETY.FPplaque

Posted in women's stories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Poetry Month: Elizabeth Bishop

EB:PCHappy April (will the piles of snow around our house melt in time for our annual Easter egg hunt party on Sunday?!) and National Poetry Month! Twice I’ve found landmarks to the award-winning poet–Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979): the house in Great Village, Nova Scotia, where she lived for a time with her grandparents and the house in Key West, Florida, where she lived for ten years that has a literary landmark with her lines: “Should we have stayed at home,/wherever that may be?”  Linda took this picture of me at the marvelous landmark to her in Nova Scotia.

Posted in women's stories | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Harriet Tubman: An American Hero

What do an asteroid, a section of a highway, a college dormitory, many schools, museums and a World War II Liberty Ship have in common? How about statues in Boston, Massachusetts, Ypsilanti, Michigan, and New York City, or National Historical Parks in New York and in Maryland? If  you guess that they all have something to do with Harriet Tubman, you are correct! They are all named in honor of her.

640px-Harriet_Tubman_by_Squyer,_NPG,_c1885Harriet Tubman was born Araminta “Minty” Ross into slavery on a plantation in Maryland. As a young child, her master, John Brodas, hired her out to clean house and care for a baby. I was so little that I had to sit on the floor and have the baby put in my lap, she later recalled. If the baby cried or if the house was not clean enough, she would be whipped. One day she ran away and hid in a pigsty for a few days. She survived by eating potato peels, until the pigs chased her out of her hiding place and she was returned to Brodas.

One day while working in the field, she saw another slave slip away.   The overseer chased him, corned him in a store, and ordered Minty to tie him up for a whipping. She refused. The slave escaped. The enraged overseer picked up a heavy iron weight, and threw it, hitting Minty in the head. Blood gushed out of the terrible wound. For the rest of her life she suffered from severe headaches and seizures that caused her to suddenly go to sleep. Then, just as abruptly, she would wake up and go on as if nothing had happened.

In the mid-1840s, she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. In 1849 she escaped from slavery. Safely arriving in Pennsylvania, a free state, she declared: “I felt like I was in Heaven.”  Despite the dangers, Harriet Tubman returned many times to Maryland and led many slaves to freedom. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse, a scout, and a spy. there is a chapter about her in my book Spies! Women in the Civil War.  Spies ebookAfter the war, she advocated for woman suffrage because, she said, “I suffered enough to believe [in] it.”

PCHarrietTubmanGravesmallHarriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913. A small evergreen tree was planted over her grave in Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York. Today that tree majestically towers over her grave, welcoming people who come to honor her and leave tokens of respect.


Posted in Women's History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dorothea Dix: Crusader for Humane Treatment

DLDnewUntil 7th grade, I lived on the grounds of a state mental hospital, where my father was a psychiatrist.  So, no wonder my first biography was “Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix.” Her crusade began today–March 28, 1841, a cold, blustery day when, in response to a request to teach Sunday School lessons to women prisoners, she went to a jail in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  To her horror she found two indigent mentally ill women confined in cages made of rough boards–disheveled, shivering women whose only crime was their illness. No stove heated their filthy pen.  Why was there no heat, she indignantly asked the jailer. Because “lunatics” don’t feel the cold, he replied. Appalled and outraged, she launched a successful campaign to get stoves installed.  Instilled with a great purpose Dorothea Dix, a brilliant investigator and lobbyist, devoted the rest of her life to providing humane treatment for people with mental illness in the U.S. and abroad. She also served as Superintendent of Women Nurses for the Union during the Civil War, raised money to build fountains for horses (there’s a plaque to her on a restored fountain in Boston) and provide life saving boats at stations along the east coast, and advocated for prison reform.  Renowned in her day, Dorothea Dix died in 1887. Tributes resounded from as far away as Japan. The image is the first day cover of a U.S. postage stamp issued in her honor. (On a research road trip for my book about DIx, I drove to Hampden, Maine, and discovered a marvelous stone arch and park dedicated to her memory.)DLDStampCover

Posted in My Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Vaughan: Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday legendary jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, also known as “Sassy” and “The Divine One” who was born on March 27, 1924 in Newark, NJ.  sarahvaughsignThis street sign is in front of NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) in Newark.  Whenever I go to a concert there I make sure to salute Sarah Vaughan (and point it out to anyone who is around me).

Posted in Women's History | Leave a comment

Deborah Sampson

Very slowly but surely, 19th century women claimed their right to speak/perform in public.  One of the earliest was Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man and served as a soldier in the American Revolution. She fought in several battles and was wounded. Fearing detection if she was treated by a doctor, she removed a musket ball from her thigh with a penknife and sewing needle. Honorably discharged after serving eighteen months, she eventually received a pension for her military service. On this day–March 26th–in 1802, Deborah Sampson, dressed in a soldier’s uniform, performed her one-woman show “The American Heroine” in Boston. DeborahSampsonStatutecropThis statue of Deborah Sampson in located in front of the library in Sharon, Massachusetts.

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Three-Part Story: Julia de Burgos

Juliadeburgossign1The story behind a street sign in New York City is inspiring and sad and heartening. Located at the corner of East 106th Street and Fifth Avenue, the street sign reads–“JULIA DE BURGOS Boulevard.” Curious about the sign and Julia de Burgos, I did research to learn more. That is how I discovered the inspiring and sad and heartening story. First here is the inspiring part:

A teacher, poet, and activist, Julia de Burgos was a tall woman with brown wavy hair, a heart-shaped face, and dark eyes that, according to one of her friends, “looked as if they were trying to penetrate a person’s soul.” 100px-Julia_de_BurgosBorn Julia Constanza Burgos Garcia in 1914 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, she grew up captivated by a river she later celebrated in her famous poem,

Rio Grande de Loiza

Rio Grande de Loiza

Rio Grande de Loiza with the line “My wellspring, my river.”

After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, Julia de Burgos taught in an elementary school, wrote many poems, and published two books. A fearless advocate for justice and equality, she participated in the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence from the U.S. (Its status is still being debated.) She criticized the treatment of women: “I am life, strength, woman,” she declared. She spoke out for the rights of poor people and of minorities.

Involved in an intense love affair with a fellow activist, Julia de Burgos left Puerto Rico. Together they moved back and forth between Cuba and New York City. When the relationship end, she remained in New York City, where she had relatives and was acclaimed as a poet.

In time, however, and now for the sad part of the story, she was overwhelmed by poor health, alcohol addiction, and debilitating depression. The street sign with her name marks the place where she collapsed on July 6, 1953, and was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died. No identification was found on her body, so Julia de Burgos was buried in a cemetery for unknown or destitute people.

Now for the heartening part of the story: Friends and relatives soon noticed she was missing. Determinedly searching, they finally located her burial place and had the coffin with her body exhumed and returned to Puerto Rico. Poets, writers, activists, political leaders honored her at her funeral and burial in Carolina, a city through which the Rio Grande de Loiza flows.

U.S. Postage Stamp

   U.S. Postage Stamp

Julia de Burgos Park, Bridgeport, CT

Julia de Burgos Park, Bridgeport, CT

Memorial Mural by Manny Vega, 106th Street, between Lexington and 3rd Ave., New York, New York

Posted in Women's History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment