Kate Millett: The “Lavender Menace”

By Fred W. McDarrah – Public Domain,

The second wave of feminism had many facets. While Betty Friedan argued for economic equality, in her 1970s book Sexual Politics, Kate Millett advocated a more militant revolution and boldly decried patriarchy with a call for a radical revision of roles for women. Millett represented the “lavender menace” uptight Americans feared—lesbians! Wild woman politico Millett minced no words in her crusade against sexism, even criticizing missionary style intercourse as one of the evils of keeping women down. She has gone on to write several more books guaranteed to shock in some form or fashion: The Prostitution Papers, an exploration and defense of hooking; Flying, a frank account of her love life; and Sita, about the death of a lesbian affair. She has also made a well-regarded film, Three Lives, and revealed her institutionalization for mental illness in an eye-opening account. According to Gayle Graham Yates in Makers of Modern Culture, Kate Millett is the best known American feminist outside America because of her newsmaking trip to Iran to work on behalf of Iranian women’s rights ending in her expulsion from the country by the Ayatollah Khomeni.

“Patriarchy decrees that the status of both child and mother is primarily or ultimately dependent on the male.”
— Kate Millett

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton: Feminist Foremothers

The pioneer crusader for women’s right to vote started life as a precocious child. Raised in the 1820s by a Quaker father who believed in independent thinking and education for women, Susan learned to read and write by the time she was three. Her first career was as a schoolteacher, but she soon found her niche as a political reformer, taking up the cause of temperance, then abolition. In 1869, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the National Women’s Suffrage Association and put out a pro-feminist paper, The Revolution.

When the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1872 guaranteeing equal rights for African Americans, including the right, as citizens, to vote, Anthony and Cady Stanton kicked into action demanding the right to vote for women as well. Susan and a dozen other suffragists were jailed for trying to vote in the presidential election of that year. Undeterred, they began to work for a separate amendment giving this right to women. However, Congress patently ignored the amendments put before them each year on the vote for women until fifty years later.

Both Stanton and Anthony were real hell-raisers. Stanton, along with Lucretia Mott, organized the first women’s rights convention in 1848 with a platform on women’s rights to property, equal pay for equal work, and the right to vote. Stanton was introduced to Susan B. Anthony three years later. They were a “dream team,” combining Elizabeth’s political theories and her ability to strike people’s emotions, with Susan’s unmatched skill as a logician and organizer par excellence. They founded the first temperance society for women and amazed everybody with their drastic call for drunkenness to be recognized as a legal basis for divorce. Reviled during her lifetime, she learned to live with the taunts and heckles; critics claimed, among other traits, that she had “the proportions of a file and the voice of a hurdy-gurdy.” Nonetheless, the “Napoleon” of the women’s rights movement, as William Henry Channing called her, tirelessly lectured around the country for women’s rights until her dying day in 1906.

Although she didn’t get to realize her dream of voting rights for women, the successors she and Stanton trained did finally win this landmark victory for the women of America. Of the 260 women who attended the foremothers’ historic first women’s rights convention in 1848, only one woman lived long enough to see the passing of the victorious 1920 amendment grating women the right to vote— Charlotte Woodward. She declared at the time, “We little dreamed when we began this context that half a century later we would be compelled to leave the finish of the battle to another generation of women. But our hearts are filled with joy to know that they enter this task equipped with a college education, with business experience, with the freely admitted right to speak in public—all of which were denied to women fifty years ago.”

“Failure is impossible.”

— Susan B. Anthony
This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Daisy Bates: Fighting the System and Winning!

By Source, Fair use, Public Domain.

The image of an eight-year-old black girl in her perfectly starched blouse and skirt walking through a gauntlet of hatred to go to school was etched in the minds of every American in the sixties. Everyone was touched by the grace and dignity shown by the young girl who was spat at and heckled, as cameras shoved in her face recorded it for all posterity. Activists for integration won a huge victory that day and with an even greater strength and resolve went on to flatten every segregation wall that presented itself.

Daisy Bates was one of the civil rights warriors who were first called into action in the fight for desegregation. Born in 1920, Daisy was adopted into a loving family in Little Rock, Arkansas, and never knew what happened to her birth mother until the taunts of schoolchildren made the eight-year-old question her adoptive mother. On that day, she found out that her mother had been raped and murdered by three white men who then dumped her body in a pond. Her father left town to escape having the crime pinned on him.

When Daisy was twenty-one, she married L.C. Bates, a black man who had been educated as a journalist. Together, they took over a Little Rock newspaper, the Arkansas State Press, and turned it into a platform for “the people,” reporting crimes committed against blacks that the white paper ignored. Daisy worked as a reporter, covering with complete honesty, for example, the cold-blooded murder of a black soldier by military police. The white business community was outraged over the State Press’ coverage: They feared the army would leave their town and withdraw all advertising. However, the Bates’ brave courage in the face of brutality to blacks curtailed these crimes, and Little Rock became a more liberated town despite itself.

Then the movement toward desegregation heated up, with Daisy Bates right in the thick of things. The Supreme Court had declared segregation of schools unconstitutional in May of 1954, giving Southern schools the chance to describe how and when they would make the required changes. The local school board had responded by saying that they would take on the notion of integration “gradually.” Little Rock’s black community was up in arms about the foot dragging and after butting their heads in the many stony-faced meetings, they opted to take matters into their own hands. The state and local NAACP decided that they would try to enroll the students into the segregated schools and build up cases of denied admission in order to create a true challenge to the policy of gradualism. Daisy Bates, as president of the NAACP in Little Rock, worked with the State Press and other papers to publicize this flouting of the Supreme Court’s ruling. Finally, in 1957, they decided to integrate the high school, come hell or high water. The children who would put their bodies on the line would become famous overnight as “Daisy’s children” and suffer personal agony for the cause of racial injustice.

When nine children were selected to attend the “whites only” Central High School, Daisy acted as their escort and protector. Answering a poll screened by school officials, the group of young heroes and sheroes consisted of: Carlotta Walls, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Ernest Green, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray, Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford. When Little Rock school superintendent Virgil Blossom decreed that no adults could accompany the black students, Daisy called all of their homes and told them there would be a change of plans.

Elizabeth Eckford’s family had no telephone, so she showed up on opening day—to be faced by an angry white mob who also attacked the reporters and photographers. The mob siege lasted seventeen days until 1,000 paratroopers showed up in response to orders from the White House to carry through the order of legal integration of the school.

However, the students were on their own once inside, prey to taunts, shoving, and threats of violence. Daisy Bates continued to protect and advise the children throughout the ordeal, accompanying them to every meeting with a school official when racial incidents happened. The struggle at Little Rock was only the first in a round of actions that ultimately led to full legal desegregation. Though difficult, the victory was entirely to Daisy and her “children” who showed the nation that you could stand up to hatred and ignorance with honesty and dignity. You can fight a losing battle and win.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Rosa Parks: The First Lady of Civil Rights

By Unknown – USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306, Public Domain.

Rosa Parks gave a human face to the civil rights movement. She showed how the issues addressed in all of the speeches affected a woman’s life in the course of an ordinary day. The woman was Rosa Louise McCauley Parks; the day became an extraordinary day that rocked the nation and changed history.

Born in 1913, Rosa grew up in Pine Level, Alabama, with her schoolteacher mother, Leona. She helped her mother take care of her sickly grandparents and run the household, because Rosa’s father had gone to work up north and effectively disappeared from their lives. Later, she moved in with her aunt Fanny and enrolled in the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private school, where she was exposed to the liberal ideals of teachers raised in the north. Rosa took her teachers’ lessons to heart, as well as the stories her elderly grandparents told about the evils of slavery, sparking a sense of justice that would only grow.

Rosa vacillated between following in the footsteps of her mother and becoming a teacher and pursuing her own dream of training to be a nurse. Then in 1932, she met and married Raymond Parks, who had struggled up from an impoverished background where he wasn’t allowed to attend school because of his color. To augment her husband’s income from barbering, Rosa dabbled in many lines of work, including maid, seamstress, and secretary.

Her involvement in civil rights grew. She was the first woman to start attending the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and also worked in the effort to register blacks to vote. Rosa often walked home from work to avoid the “back of the bus” issue until December 1, 1955, when she was returning home from a long day of sewing at a Montgomery department store. The buses from downtown were always fairly crowded and had a section designated for blacks behind the ten rows of seats in the front for white folks. Rosa was sitting in the first row of the “blacks only” section when the white section filled up, leaving a white man without a seat. The tacit understanding was that, in such a scenario, the black person was supposed to stand and let the white person have the seat. The white bus driver called for the four black people in the front row of the black section to get up and let the white man have the row. Rosa refused and the driver called the police.

Her solitary action started a firestorm of controversy, including a bus boycott and protest march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. A fascinating footnote to the incident is that Rosa had been evicted by the very same bus driver twelve years before. Though there had been several incidents on Montgomery buses, Rosa stuck to her guns and became the pivotal legal case for the burgeoning civil rights movement’s attack on segregated seating. Upon going to trial and being found guilty, she refused to pay her fine and appealed the decision. Her actions cost Rosa and her husband dearly; they both lost their jobs and were the recipients of threats to their lives. Undaunted, Rosa worked with the carpooling efforts that enabled blacks to continue their 381-day boycott of the bus system.

The sacrifices of the black community were not in vain, because the U.S. District Court ruled segregated seating to be unconstitutional. However, due to the controversy, Rosa, the shero who started the battle by keeping her seat, couldn’t get a job anywhere in Montgomery. Rosa, Raymond, and Rosa’s mother moved to Detroit and started a new life there, Rosa working as a seamstress and for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She ultimately found a career in U.S. Representative John Coyner’s office. Rosa Parks’ courage in that split second moment when she made her decision is at the very crux of the victorious struggle for African Americans. Rosa worked diligently for the good of her community, traveling and speaking on behalf of the NAACP. She loved to talk to young people about the movement, for the work has truly only begun. Rosa Parks has become a symbol of fearlessness and fortitude. In 1980, Rosa was honored by Ebony magazine as “the living black woman who had done the most to advance the cause of civil rights.”

“You didn’t have to wait for a lynching. You died a little each time you found yourself face to face with this kind of discrimination.”

—Rosa Parks

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.


Annie Easley: Girls Who Code

By NASA Science and Engineering Newsletter – Fagowees, Public Domain.

Annie Easley was an African-American computer scientist and mathematician as well as an actual rocket scientist. After joining NASA in 1955, she became a leading member of the team that wrote the computer code used for the Centaur rocket stage. Easley’s program was the basis for future programs that have been used in military, weather, and communications satellites. After taking college courses first one and then two or three at a time, she had to take three months of unpaid leave in 1977 to finish her degree; NASA normally paid for work-related education, but every time she applied for aid, she was turned down. But once she finished her bachelor’s degree, personnel decided she had to take yet more specialized training to be considered a “professional,” despite this discrimination. Easley continued as a NASA research scientist until 1989, making contributions in many areas, including hazards to the ozone layer, solar energy and wind power, and electric vehicles. She also worked concurrently as NASA’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer, a position where she could address discrimination problems in the agency and work for more fair and diverse employee recruitment.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Christine Darden: When You Hear a Sonic Boom, Think of Her

By NASA – http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_CDarden.html, Public Domain.

Racial and gender discrimination in hiring practices at NASA hadn’t improved much by the time Christine Darden applied for a position in the late 1960s. Darden, despite her master’s degree in applied mathematics, which qualified her for a position as an engineer, was instead assigned to the segregated female “human computer” pool, the same as numbers of other black female scientists. She approached her supervisor, asking why men with the same education as she had wider opportunities, and gained a transfer to an engineering job in 1973, becoming one of a tiny number of female aerospace engineers at NASA Langley. In this role, she worked on the science of sonic boom minimization, writing computer test programs as well as more than 50 research articles in the field of high lift wing design. In 1983, Darden earned a doctorate, and by 1989 she was appointed to the first of a number of management and leadership roles at NASA, including that of technical leader of the Sonic Boom Team within the High Speed Research Program, as well as director of the Program Management Office of the Aerospace Performing Center in 1999. She worked at NASA until retirement in 2007.

“I was able to stand on the shoulders of those women who came before me, and women who came after me were able to stand on mine.”
— Christine Darden

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Mary Jackson: A Pioneer Both in Research and Ending Discrimination at NASA

By NASA – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”https://images.nasa.gov/details-LRC-1979-B701_P-07085.html”>NASA Image and Video Library</a>, Public Domain.

Mary Jackson, born in 1921, was an African-American mathematician who rose to the position of NASA’s first black female engineer. She had earned double-major bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physical science in 1942, but worked as a schoolteacher, bookkeeper, and clerk for nearly the next decade before being recruited in 1951 to the gender and color-segregated “human computer” department by NACA, NASA’s predecessor as an aerospace agency. A couple of years later, she took another NASA position with an engineer working on the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel; she was encouraged to do graduate-level physics and math studies so she could be promoted to an engineering position. These UVA night courses were given at an all-white high school; she had to petition the city of Hampton, Virginia, her home town, for special permission to attend classes with white students. But nevertheless she persisted, and in 1958 became an aerospace engineer at what was now renamed NASA, researching airflow around aircraft.

While her contributions to aerodynamic studies were significant, after many years Jackson took an in-depth look at the inequalities built into the agency and saw that she could have the greatest impact in a formal human resources role. In 1979, she took on a new role as an affirmative action program manager and federal women’s program manager at NASA, taking a cut in pay to do so. In that position, she was able to make changes that empowered women and people of color, and helped managers to see the capabilities of their black and female employees. Even at the point that NASA administrators were finally forced to acknowledge black women’s work at the agency, the public generally had no idea about the contributions of the black women of NASA. Mary Jackson, together with two other veterans of the “human computer” segregation of women of color at the agency, inspired Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Female Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, which was recently adapted into an acclaimed motion picture.

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Barbara McClintock: Gene Genie

By <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”https://www.flickr.com/people/25053835@N03″>Smithsonian Institution</a>/Science Service; Public Domain.

When geneticist Barbara McClintock presented her findings about morphing genes in 1951 after a ten-year scientific study, the result was what is commonly known as a “roof job.” Her peers just didn’t get it; it went right over their heads. A pack of rabid Darwinists, her colleagues preferred to keep to the accepted notions of the day, that genetic change was random in the evolution of a species. Undeterred, Barbara went back to the drawing board and the sixty-hour-a-week lab schedule she set for herself. She preferred the relative peace of her lab to people, preferred corn to fruit flies (the research subject du jour) and she preferred to not publish her work, figuring it would be too much for her uptight colleagues to handle. As it turns out, Barbara McClintock was right an awful lot of the time.

Even as a young child, Barbara McClintock was content in her own company, pursuing her own interests. An avid reader, she was also quite a tomboy, preferring cards and engines to dolls and pots and pans, having no truck with other little girls and the sugar and spice routine. She quickly found her thing—science—and pursued it with a single-minded relentlessness that served her well through the years. Despite the displeasure of her parents, Barbara chose agricultural science as her field of study at Cornell. She performed brilliantly and was asked to stay on for the graduate program in genetics, where she earned a PhD.

She then began to teach and do research, so far ahead of the pack that she became one of only a handful of scientists in the world to first realize chromosomes were the foundation of heredity and to work from this vantage point and understanding. Indeed, she was the scientist to discover the nucleolar organizer within the structure of the chromosome that was the indicator of order during cell division. It would be thirty years after her discovery before science was able to explain her finding in terms of molecular biology. Despite this remarkable beginning to her career and an outstanding record as a genetic researcher, Barbara was never given a promotion while at Cornell. She left for Cold Harbor Laboratory, where her work so impressed everyone that she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1944 and went on to become president of the Genetics Society of America. The first woman to do so!

Not one to rest on her laurels, Barbara McClintock continued with her groundbreaking work, racking up all kinds of awards, prizes, and firsts. She became the first woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine, and has been called the most important geneticist of the late twentieth century. She worked at Cold Harbor until her death in 1983 in the lab where she discovered what everyone wasn’t ready to see.

“It might seem unfair to reward a person for having so much fun over the years.”
— Barbara McClintock

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Margaret Mead: Coming of Age in America

By Smithsonian Institution from United States – Margaret Mead (1901-1978)Uploaded by Fæ, No restrictions, Public Domain.

Margaret Mead still stirs controversy in some circles for her pioneering work in social anthropology. Like Rachel Carson, she wrote a scientific study that crossed over into the general population and became a bestseller. For this, she received derision from the academic community. But that didn’t bother the free spirit, who was one of the first women to earn a PhD in anthropology. Margaret was fortunate to be born in 1901 into a family of academics who disregarded convention and put learning and involvement in the world ahead of society’s rules. The firstborn of five children, Margaret’s parents were Edward Mead, a professor at Wharton School who taught finance and economics, and Emily Fogg Mead, a teacher, sociologist, and ardent feminist and suffragist. Margaret was homeschooled by her very able grandmother, a former teacher and school principal.

Margaret didn’t fall too far from the tree when she started The Minority, an antifraternity at DePauw University, where she was attending. Bored, she transferred to Barnard College where the academic standards were more in accordance with her needs. Originally an English major, Margaret attended a class in her senior year given by anthropologist Franz Boas, a virulent opponent of the school of racial determinism. She also met Ruth Benedict, then Boas’ assistant, who encouraged Margaret to join Columbia under Boas’ instruction. Margaret agreed and went on to graduate school after marriage to a seminary student, Luther Cressman. Soon after, true to her heritage as a free-thinking Mead, Margaret went against her mentor Boas’ urgings to do field work with America’s Native peoples, a pet project of his; instead she followed the beat of her own different and, as it turns out, tribal drums, setting off for Polynesia to explore the island culture. She reasoned that they were better subjects because they had been less exposed and, therefore less assimilated than Native Americans. She was absolutely right, writing up her field studies after living with and working alongside the Samoans for three years. The date was 1926. Divorcing Luther, she married Reo Fortune, and a mere three years later, published Coming of Age in Samoa, a ground-breaking work that shocked some circles for its frank and completely objective report of, among other things, sexual rituals and practices among the Samoans. Nearly overnight, Margaret was a superstar, fairly rare for anthropologists and even rarer for twenty-six-year-old female anthropologists!

After a stint in the American Museum of Natural History, Margaret got the jones for another field study, so she and Reo headed to New Guinea. Her resulting book, Growing Up in New Guinea, was another huge hit in both academic and popular circles. While in New Guinea, Margaret met and fell in love with fellow anthropologist Gregory Bateson; after her second divorce, she and Gregory married and she gave birth to her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. They worked together in New Guinea, but ultimately Gregory claimed that she was stifling his creativity and they divorced in 1943.

Margaret Mead spent the rest of her life working full-tilt in the field of anthropology, publishing forty-four books and over one thousand articles and monographs, and working as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History between trips to the field. She also sought to support and finance the work of young anthropologists. At the core of all her work was an analysis of childhood development (she was the first anthropologist ever to study childrearing practices) and gender roles, overturning many time-worn assumptions about personality and place in society for both sexes. Over and over, her studies demonstrated that there is nothing natural or universal about particular “masculine” or “feminine” roles; rather they are culturally determined. Detractors damn her fieldwork as being “impressionistic,”but Margaret Mead’s success in a male-dominated scientific field was a wonderful contradiction to the typical role for an American woman of her day and age. With forty-four books, she became a household name, made anthropology available for the masses, and blazed a trail for shero scholars of future generations.

“I have spent most of my life studying the lives of other peoples, faraway peoples, so that Americans might better understand themselves.”

— Margaret Mead

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Bonnie Blair: Speed Racer

By John Mathew Smith from Laurel Maryland, USA – Skater Bonnie Blair, CC BY-SA 2.0, Public Domain. 

Bonnie Blair has skated her way into the hearts of America. She comes from an entire family of skaters; Bonnie is the “baby” of the family, born in 1964. She was skating with ease by the age of two and was a competitor by four! When Bonnie was seven, her family moved from her birthplace of Cornwall, New York, to the Midwestern town of Champaign, Illinois. She won the state speed skating championship for her age group that same year.

In Illinois, Bonnie was fortunate to hook up with a great coach, Cathy Priestner, an Olympic champion herself. Cathy directed her toward Olympic-style speed skating and away from the pack racing that had been her strength. Age sixteen was certainly sweet for Bonnie when she skated 500 meters in 46.7 seconds at her debut as a potential Olympian. This gave her a taste of what it could be like to be the fastest woman on skates. However, Bonnie had some bumpy ice ahead—she didn’t make the cut in the actual trials later. Another stumbling block that nearly felled her was money problems; the grueling expense of travel expenses and coaching was more than the Blairs could handle. But Bonnie’s hometown rose to the occasion, and the local police force ran a ten-year campaign to raise funds to pay for their Olympic hopeful through sales of bumper stickers and t-shirts. Their generous spirit paid for Bonnie’s training with the U.S. men’s speed skaters in the Big Sky country of Butte, Montana.

Bonnie first came into global view in the Sarajevo games in 1984. She finished quite honorably, ranking eighth in the 500-meter speed skating race, but Bonnie knew she could do better. For the next Olympics, she focused even harder and increased the difficulty of her regimen—weight-training, running, biking, and roller-skating, all over and above the intense skating. Pushing herself was key for Bonnie. She started breaking world records in 1986 and took the U.S. championship every year from 1985 to 1990. In a power sport, Bonnie actually measured in as much smaller and lighter than many of her rivals from around the world.

After adopting her new style of training, 1988 was the first Olympics Bonnie participated in. She took a gold medal in the 500-meter race and set a world record of 39.10 seconds, beating out a German skater in the first place who had just set a world record. Bonnie didn’t stop with that and took home the bronze for the 1,000-meter sprint. Bonnie became the best speed skater in the world in Calgary that day and kept her title at the 1992 games in Albertville, France, with two more gold medals. Bonnie also started winning hearts with her friendly, open manner and lack of pretension.

Odds were somewhat against veteran Bonnie in Lillehammer in 1994, but she did what no other woman has done and took two more gold medals. The emotional highlight of the games that year was not the other drama queen figure skaters—Harding and Kerrigan—but Bonnie Blair. Half the world cried with her as she took her gold and cried while the national anthem played during what was to be Bonnie’s last Olympics. Bonnie Blair: the first woman to earn gold medals in three straight Olympic games and the first American woman to win five gold medals in the history of the Olympics.

“…I’m in this because I love what I’m doing.”
—Bonnie Blair

This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.