Belva Ann Bennett McNall Lockwood: See How She Ran

BelvaLockwood-engraving
By Unknown – 1883 publication, Public Domain.

Victorian powerhouse Belva Lockwood was the first woman to plead before the U.S. Supreme Court and the first woman to run for president of the United States. After being blocked from the law department of Columbian College (Now George Washington University) for fear that her presence would distract the male students, this widow and former school teacher applied to the brand new National Law School. Upon her graduation in 1869 at the age of forty-three, Belva was refused her degree and took this affront to the attention of President Ulysses S. Grant, who arranged for the due delivery of Belva’s diploma.

This was just the beginning of her struggles to be allowed to practice law. Admitted to the District of Columbia bar, Belva was barred from speaking to federal courts due to her gender. Not willing to take the exclusion lying down, she then rammed a bill through Congress allowing women lawyers in the federal courts, becoming in 1879 the first woman admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. Proving that Belva wasn’t just in it for herself, she took up many cases for the underdog—championing, for example, the first southern black lawyer to argue before the Supreme Court. And in her most spectacular case, she won a famous $5 million judgment (an unheard of amount in the nineteenth century) for the Cherokee Indians, forcing the U.S. government to pay them for their land. This spectacular victory prompted opposing lawyer Assistant Attorney General Louis A. Pratt to designate her “decidedly the most noted attorney in this country, if not in the world.”

With her brilliant legal mind, Belva figured that, “If women in the states are not permitted to vote, there is no law against their being voted for, and if elected, filling the highest office in the gift of the people” and decided to run for president as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party in 1884 and 1888, with a hefty platform espousing rights for all minorities (including voting rights for women) along with temperance, peace, and universal education. Interestingly, she was opposed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who urged her to endorse the Republican candidate, James Blaine (he was in favor of women’s rights). Both Blaine and Lockwood lost out to Grover Cleveland, but Lockwood surprised everyone by getting thousands of votes! Throughout her life, she continued to work and speak on behalf of her favored causes—women, peace, and minority rights—attaining a national reputation as a brilliant and powerful speaker. In her later years, she threw her energies into the Universal Peace Union, a precursor to the United Nations that advocated arbitration as a solution to internal conflicts. In 1912, she reflected back on her lengthy career and remarked, “I never stopped fighting. My cause was the cause of thousands of women.”

“Were I a voice—a still small voice—an eloquent voice, I would whisper into the ear of every young woman, improve and exercise every talent that has been given to you; improve every opportunity, obey your inspiration, give no heed to the croakings of those narrow minds who take old hide bound and musty customs for religion and law, with which they have no affiliation, and who tell you with remarkable ease that these professions were never intended for women.”
— Belva Ann Bennett McNall Lockwood

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

Nannie Helen Burroughs: The Practical Prophet

Nannie_Helen_Burroughs
By The Rotograph Co. – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID cph.3b46093, Public Domain.

NAACP pioneer William Picken described Nannie Burroughs this way: “No other person in America has so large a hold on the loyalty and esteem of the colored masses as Nannie H. Burroughs. She is regarded all over the broad land as combination of brains, courage, and incorruptibleness.” Born in the Gilded Age in 1879, Nannie Burroughs was fortunate to be born into a family of ex-slaves who were able to establish a comfortable existence in Virginia, affording young Nannie a good education. Nannie applied for a job as a domestic science teacher and wasn’t hired because she was “too dark.” Later, she was turned down for a job as a government clerk because she was a black woman.

Nannie began dreaming of a way to prepare black women for careers that freed them from the traps of gender and bias. Nannie worked for the national Baptist Alliance for fifty years, starting as a bookkeeper and secretary. In her spare time, she organized the Women’s Industrial Club, providing practical clerical courses for women. Through the school she founded in 1909, the National Training School for Women and Girls, she educated thousand of black American women as well as Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and South Africans to send them into the world with the tools for successful careers. Her program emphasized what she called the three Bs: the Bible, the Bath, and the Broom, representing “clean lives, clean bodies, and clean homes.”

An advocate of racial self-help, Nannie worked all her life to provide a solid foundation for poor black women so they could work and gain independence and equality. She practiced what she preached. At one point, she wrote to John D. Rockefeller for a donation to her cause. He sent her one dollar with a note asking what a business-woman like her would do with the money. She purchased a dollar’s worth of peanuts and sent them to him with a note asking him to autograph each one and return them to her. She would then sell each one for a dollar.

She founded the Harriet Beecher literary society as a vehicle for literary expression and was also active in the antilynching campaigns. She gave Sojourner Truth a run for her money with dramatic speech-making and stirring lectures such as her headline-making speech in 1932: “Chloroform your Uncle Toms! What must the Negro do to be saved? The Negro must unload the leeches and parasitic leaders who are absolutely eating the life out of the struggling, frightened mass of people.”

One of her students once said that Nannie considered “everybody God’s nugget.” Nannie Burroughs’ pragmatic “grab your own bootstraps” approach to racial equality offered that chance to everyone who came into her purview.

“The training of Negro women is absolutely necessary, not only for their own salvation and the salvation of the race, but because of the hour in which we live demands it. If we lose sight of the demands of the hour we blight our hope of progress. The subject of domestic science has crowded itself upon us, and unless we receive it, master it and be wise, the next ten years will so revolutionize things that we will find our women without the wherewithal to support themselves.”
 — Nannie Helen Burroughs
This excerpt is from The Book of Awesome Women by Becca Anderson, which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.

Shirley Jackson: Black Brainiac

Shirley_Ann_Jackson_World_Economic_Forum_2010
By Shirley_Ann_Jackson_-_Annual_Meeting_of_the_New_Champions_Tianjin_2010.jpg: World Economic Forum (Qilai Shen)derivative work: Gobonobo (talk), CC BY-SA 2.0, Public Domain.

Shirley Jackson is a highly-regarded physicist and the first black woman to earn a PhD from MIT. Her doctoral research project was in theoretical particles. Shirley has gone on to not only receive numerous awards and the highest praise for her work in elementary particles, but also for her advocacy of women and minorities in the science field. In 1995, Vice President Al Gore celebrated her contributions and her drive to be the best at her swearing in as chairman of America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Gore told the audience that a four-year-old Shirley Ann Jackson informed her mother that one day she was going to be called “Shirley the Great.” Shirley made good on her promise as she pushed down barriers of segregation and bigotry to become one of the top scientists in the nation.

“I had to work alone…at some level you have to decide you will persist in what you’re doing and that you won’t let people beat you down.”
— Shirley Jackson

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

NASA_Science_and_Engineering_Newsletter_Annie_Easley
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.

KATE MILLETT: THE “LAVENDER MENACE”

Kate_millet_1
By Linda WolfContact us/Photo submission, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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.