BARBARA TUCHMAN trailblazer

Tuchman-portrait
Daylife.com

One of the most respected historians of the twentieth century and the only woman to win a Pulitzer Prize twice, Barbara Tuchman has written first-rate chronicles accessible to readers from every walk of life. The core of her theory of history is that true understanding comes from observing the patterns that are created through an aggregation of details and events. Tuchman has covered topics from the Trojan War to the Middle Ages, the leaders of World War I, and the United States’ problematic involvement in Vietnam. All of her books are known for their narrative power and for her portrayals of the players on the world stage as believable individuals.

Born in 1912, Barbara Tuchman attended Radcliffe College and, after graduation, took her first job as a research assistant at the Institute of Pacific Relations in New York and Tokyo. She began writing articles for several periodicals and went on to work as a staff editorial assistant at the Nation and a correspondent for London’s New Statesman. From 1934 to 1945, Tuchman worked for the Far East News Desk and Office of War Information. Here, she got firsthand experience of researching and writing about history as it happened.

Tuchman put this invaluable wartime experience to good use with her immense study of the pivotal events prior to World War I, The Guns of August, published in 1962. This thoughtful and thorough history of the thirty days leading up to the first global war spanned all of Europe, detailing the actions of key players in London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Paris. Her book was met with thundering critical praise and acceptance from popular readers and historians the world over—she received her first Pulitzer Prize for this powerful exposé.

Barbara Tuchman’s other books include A Distant Mirror, which explores everyday life in fourteenth-century France, and The March of Folly, an analysis of four conflicts in world history that were mismanaged by governments, from the Trojan War to Britain’s loss of her colonies to Vietnam. Her second Pulitzer Prize was for a biography of US General Joseph Stilwell: a probing look at the relations between China and the United States through the personal wartime experiences of Stilwell.

To be a bestseller is not necessarily a measure of quality, but it is a measure of communication.

Barbara Tuchman

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

ROSA PARKS: THE FIRST LADY OF CIVIL RIGHTS

Rosaparks
USIA / National Archives and Records Administration Records of the U.S. Information Agency Record Group 306

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.

NANNIE HELEN BURROUGHS: THE PRACTICAL PROPHET

Nannie_Helen_Burroughs
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b46093.

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.

Gabriela Mistral: Voice of the People

Gabriela_Mistral_1945
By Anna Riwkin (1908-1970) – http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1945/mistral-bio.html, Public Domain, Link

The first Latin American woman to win a Nobel Peace
Prize in literature, Gabriela Mistral was born in the
Chilean village of Montegrande in 1889. Her mother, Basque Petronila Alcayaga, was a teacher and her father
was Jeronimo Villanueva. A teacher and a gypsy poet of
Indian and Jewish birth, Jeronimo was overfond of wine
and not quite so attached to his duties as a breadwinner
and father; he deserted the family when Gabriela was
three. As a schoolgirl, Gabriela discovered her call to
poetry and also her own stubborn independence, switching
her birth name, Lucila, for her choice, Gabriela. Several
years later, as an adult, she chose a fitting surname, Mistral,
hinting of a fragrant Mediterranean wind.
Her first love was a hopelessly romantic railroad worker
who killed himself when the relationship faltered after
two years. Her first book of poetry, Sonetas de la Muerta
[Sonnets of Death] was written as a result of her sadness,
guilt, and pain over the death of her ex-lover. When
Gabriela published three of the Sonetas in 1914, she
received Chile’s top prize for poetry.

In the late 1920s, a military government seized power
in Chile and offered Mistral an ambassadorship to
all the nations of Central America. Mistral refused to
work for the military state and made a scathing public
denouncement of the government machine. Her pension was revoked and, sheroically, Mistral had to support
herself, her mother, and her sister through her writing.
She lived in exile in France, eventually moving to the
United States where she taught at Middlebury, Barnard,
and the University of Puerto Rico.

She received the prestigious Nobel Prize in 1945. Upon
accepting the revered award, Gabriela Mistral made a
sharp contrast with dashing Sweden’s King Gustav in
her plain black velvet. Pointedly, she didn’t accept the
prize for herself, but on behalf of the “poets of my race.”
Mistral died in 1957, mourned by her native Chile where
she was revered as a national treasure. A poor, rural
schoolteacher of mixed race, Gabriela Mistral achieved
the top posts and honors in her mountainous country.
She was the “people’s poet,” giving voice to the humble
people to whom she belonged, the Indians, mestizos,
and Campesanos, and scorning the rampant elitism and
attempts at creating a racial hierarchy in Europe and in
her beloved Chile.

“I consider myself to be among the children of
that twisted thing that is called a racial experience,
or better, a racial violence.”
— Gabriela Mistral

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

ISADORA DUNCAN: DANCING FOR HER LIFE

Isadora Duncan portrait cropped.jpg
By Isadora_Duncan_portrait.jpg: Dover Street Studios, 38 Dover Street, Mayfair, London, UK. Active 1906–c.1912.[1] Distributed in the U.S. by Charles L. Ritzmann, photographer and importer of celebrity images.derivative work: Gobonobo – This file was derived from: Isadora Duncan portrait.jpg:, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21336909
Isadora nee Angela Duncan was born in San Francisco on
a summer’s day in 1877. Brought up in the manner of
fallen aristocracy by her poor mother, a music teacher, young
Angela studied classical ballet, but soon discarded the rules in
favor of her own freer, interpretive dance.
Her public debut of this new style of dance was a total flop in
New York City and Chicago, so she scraped together some savings and headed for Europe on board a cattle boat.

In London, she studied the sculptures of pagan Greece and
integrated the sense of movement from these classical
remnants into her dance practice. A grande dame of the
British stage, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, became the young
American’s patron and set up private dance salons for
Isadora at the homes of the most cultured creme de la
creme. Soon, snooty Brits couldn’t get enough of the
barefoot and beautiful young nymph, dancing her heart
out in a dryad costume that left very little guesswork as
to Duncan’s anatomy. Soon she was packing theaters and
concert halls all over the continent. In 1905, she toured
Russia as well.

Isadora Duncan was not only the dance diva of her day,
but a woman who dared to flout social convention, bearing
children out of wedlock (wedlock was a notion utterly
repugnant to Duncan and her pack) to stage designer
Gordon Craig and Paris Singer, of the sewing machine
dynasty. But her life was not all roses—Duncan lost her
two babies and their nurse when their car rolled into the
Seine and all three drowned. Duncan tried to sublimate her
grief with work, opening dance schools around Europe and
touring South America, Germany, and France.

In 1920, she received an invitation to establish a school
in the Soviet Union, where she fell in undying love with
Sergey Aleksandrovish Yesenin, a respected poet half
her age. The two married, despite Duncan’s abhorrence of
the institution, and were taken for Bolshevik spies as they
traveled the globe. Upon being heckled mercilessly at a
performance in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Isadora Duncan
bid her homeland adieu forever: “Goodbye America,
I shall never see you again!” She was as good as her
word; the honeymooners scuttled back to Europe, where
their relationship crashed against the rocks of Yesenin’s
insanity. He committed suicide in 1925 and Duncan lived
the remainder of her life on the French Riviera, where
another auto accident ended her life. One of her dramatic
Greek inspired scarves got tangled in the wheel of her car
and she was strangled.

Though her life was sad and messy, Isadora Duncan’s real
triumph was her art. She changed the dance world forever,
freeing the form from Victorian constriction to allow more
natural movement. Duncan believed in celebrating the
sculptural beauty of the female body and that dance, at its
zenith, was “divine expression.” Duncan is regarded by
many to have been the chief pioneer of modern dance. She
was a free spirit for whom “to dance is to live.”

“If my art is symbolic of any one thing,
it is symbolic of the freedom of woman and
her emancipation.”
— Isadora Duncan

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

KATHE KOLLWITZ: TORN FROM HER SOUL

Kathe Kollwitz 1919.jpg
By Unknown – General Research Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17991941

German lithographer Kathe Kollwitz’s art became the
vehicle for her protest of the senselessness of war. She
couldn’t have found a more effective way to express her
sentiments. The body of work she produced moved art
historians the world over to classify Kollwitz as one of
the four most important graphic artists of the twentieth
century. Tragically, a great deal of her work was destroyed
by the Nazis and by bombings in World War II, but what
has survived is a record of her power. It is not only her
powerful graphic technique that has provided lasting
fame, but her subject matter—almost always a peasant
woman with a strong body, often surrounded by children,
different from the typical passive, sexualized women
found in male-dominated art.

Born in 1867, Kollwitz became the first woman to be
elected to Berlin’s prestigious Academy of Art and became
director there in 1928. She was also the only female of
the fin de siecle group of left-wing liberal artists who
founded To the Secession, an organization dedicated to
opposing artists affiliated with the German establishment.
When her son died in World War I, the focus of her art
became graphic depiction of the effects on women and
children of the social and political events of her lifetime.
Her piece entitled “To the Weaver’s Rebellion” portrayed
the nightmarish conditions of the poor, along with the
sequel of lithographs in “To the Peasant War” about the
harsh lives of the working class in Germany. In her print
“Outbreak” from this series, she created a portrait of
a woman, “Black Anna,” who singlehandedly started
a revolution. “Raped” is one of the first pictures in
Western art that dared to show the war of violence waged
on women.

She was kicked out of the Academy of Art by the Nazis
in 1933 who regarded her as a pariah—a political artist
depicting poverty, reality, and less-than-uber-ideal
peasantfolk! She died penniless and homeless in 1945,
having been stripped of her sheroic lithographic art.
Amazingly, her surviving son discovered a diary she kept,
describing her inner emotional life and her struggle to
make art at the turn of the century, as a woman, a wife,
and mother. Her entries, published as To the Diary and
Letters of Kathe Kollwitz are a fascinating delineation of the
emotional price women often have to pay to be creative, to
be political, and to break new ground.

Her surviving art continues to affect people worldwide. In
the cemetery in which she is buried there is a note in the
visitors’ book dated September 22, 1996: “God bless you
Kathe. And all your children. We carry on what you have
wished. Signed, A former enemy.”

“It always comes back to this, that only one’s
inner feelings represent the truth. I have never
done any work cold; I have always worked with
my blood, so to speak.”
— Kathe Kollwitz

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

MARY STEVENSON CASSATT: MAKING AN IMPRESSION

Mary Cassatt photograph 1913.jpg
By Durand-Ruel – http://digitalcollections.frick.org/digico/#/archive/Archives/Images%20of%20Artists%20CollectionImages of Artists Collection. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives., Public Domain, Link

Mary Cassatt was the one American artist to be
acknowledged and accepted by the French Impressionists.
Born to privilege in Pennsylvania in 1844, Mary was lucky
to have the opportunity to live abroad. Her father was
president of the Pennsylvania Railroad; he relocated his
family and lived in Germany so Mary’s brother Alexander
could study engineering. Later, they stayed in France.
Mary was especially struck by Paris, and although she was
self-identified as an American, she really did most of her
work in the French capital. Her family wasn’t supportive
of her decision to be an artist. They tried to talk her out
of studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine
Arts; her father’s reaction to her stated desire to pursue
a career as an artist was “I’d rather have you dead!”
(Although Father Cassatt’s comment was extreme, it’s
important to remember that women simply weren’t going
off to foreign countries in 1865. Shero Mary did just that,
helping knock down one more barrier for womankind.)

Cassatt was nothing if not persistent and managed to
talk her difficult father into allowing her to study the Old
Masters abroad. She made tracks for Spain, Italy, and then
alighted in Paris for serious application of her training.
by 1868, Mary had a painting accepted at the Paris Salon,
to whom she submitted work until 1877 when Degas took
a personal interest in her painting, asked her to join the
Impressionist School, and encouraged the young woman
to take up photography and Japanese print-making.
Although Cassatt has her own distinctive style, she
credits Degas as having been a wonderful encouragement,
inspiration, and influence on her art. As a counterpoint
and reality check, Degas’ remark upon seeing Cassatt’s
work for the first time should be kept in mind: “I am not
willing to admit that a woman can draw well.”
As if being the only woman Impressionist and the only
American Impressionist weren’t enough, Cassatt’s
contribution to art her story is even more heroic in her
choice of subject matter—young women and girls,
mothers and their children. She approached her subjects
with simplicity and directness, going about painting her
models with no intent to glorify or sentimentalize. Unlike
some of her fellow Impressionists, Mary drew her subjects
prior to the application of pastels or oils. Her work has, to
a certain degree, a great clarity because of this.

Although some historians speculate that the relationship
between Cassatt and Degas might have gone beyond
platonic, Mary lived a very discreet public life, dedicated
to her art, her family, and her independence. Toward
the end of her life, she enjoyed hosting young would-be artists from America at her chateau with whom she
passionately discussed art. She lived in France until her
death in 1926, having accomplished more than she (or her
doubting Thomas father) ever envisioned.

“Now I could work with absolute independence
without considering the opinion of a jury. I had
already recognized who were my true masters. I
admired Manet, Courbet, and Degas. I took leave
of conventional art. I began to live.”
— Mary Cassatt

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

CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN : HER LAND IS YOUR LAND

Charlotte Perkins Gilman c. 1900.jpg
By C.F. Lummis (Original copyright holder, presumably photographer)Restoration by Adam Cuerden – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs divisionunder the digital ID cph.3c06490.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

Niece of Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe,
Charlotte Perkins Gilman also felt, in her own words,
“the Beecher urge to social service, the Beecher wit and
gift of words.” Born in 1860, Charlotte attended the Rhode
Island School of Design and worked after graduation as a
commercial artist. Exposed to the “domestic feminism”
of the Beechers, the extremely sensitive and imaginative
young woman had resolved to avoid her mother’s fate
of penniless desertion by her father and assiduously
avoided marriage, but after two years of relentless
wooing, Charlotte reluctantly agreed to marry artist
Walter Stetson. After she bore her daughter Katherine,
she had a nervous breakdown that inspired her famous
story The Yellow Wallpaper and subsequent nonfiction
accounts of her struggle with manic-depressive episodes.
She wrote The Yellow Wallpaper for humanistic reasons: “It
was not intended to drive people crazy,” she said, “but
to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.”
Attributing her emotional problems in part to women’s
status in marriage, she divorced her husband and moved to
California with her daughter (later, when Walter remarried,
she sent Katherine to live with her father and stepmother,
a move that was considered incredibly scandalous).

Although she suffered weakness and “extreme distress,
shame, discouragement, and misery,” her whole life,
Charlotte’s accomplishments are more than that of most
healthy folks. A social reformer who wrote in order to
push for equality for women, she lectured, founded the
Women’s Peace Party with Jane Addams in World War I,
and wrote her best-known book, Women and Economics
in only seventeen days. At one point, she undertook a
well-publicized debate in the New York Times with Anna
Howard Shaw, defending her contention that women are
not “rewarded in proportion to their work” as “unpaid
servant(s) merely a comfort and a luxury agreeable to
have if a man can afford it.” Gilman was unbelievably
forward-thinking for her time, even going so far as to
devise architectural plans for houses without kitchens to
end women’s slavery to the stove so they could take up
professional occupations.

Perkins Gilman wrote five more books pushing for
economic change for women, a critically acclaimed
autobiography, three utopian novels, and countless
articles, stories, and poetry before her death by suicide
after a long struggle with cancer in 1935. With the passing
of time, Charlotte Perkins Gilman is usually remembered
only for The Yellow Wallpaper and for her feminist utopian
novel Herland, in which three American men enter
Herland, an all-female society that reproduces through
parthenogenesis, the development of an unfertilized
egg. Less known is her impact as a nationally recognized
speaker, political theorist, and tireless champion of
women’s causes at the turn of the century. She lived an
unconventional life and suffered for it, revealing through
her writing the often grim realities behind the Victorian
ideals of womanhood and how it was possible to change
the way men and women related to one another.

“I knew it was normal and right in general,
and held that a woman should be able to have
marriage and motherhood, and do her work
in the world, also.”
— Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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

ALISON STEELE: SONG OF THE NIGHTBIRD

AlisonSteele

Alison broke important ground for women in radio when she took wing on the airwaves in the 1960s as the first female disc jockey at a major radio station. “I listened to her faithfully,” says author Joan Steinau Lester. “She was absolutely fantastic. At the time, I only knew I liked her and the show. It was only years later that I realized she’d broken ground for women in a male-dominated industry.”

Progressive rock radio was becoming the hottest sound across the nation, and WNEW was one of the top stations in the nation. Alison was well on her way to a very Mary Tyler Moore-type career in TV, starting by leading a morning exercise program and climbing her way up the ladder to “weather girl.” When AM and FM radio stations split apart instead of simulcasting, competitive radio stations were forced to hire another staff to man the FM stations, putting many in a bind for salaries. Alison recalls that the standard rate for AM jocks at the time was $150,000 a year, while the FM scale was a mere $125 a week. Management at WNEW figured they could hire an all-woman FM crew and stay within the standard FM pay scale.

Alison and her companion women disc jockeys, mostly actresses and models, made their debut on July 4, 1966. Alison was nearly the only one with any previous experience in any realm of broadcasting. By September 1967, the all-woman stable of jocks was out of a job for a reason that Alison herself puts most succinctly, “America, New York, was not ready for lady DJs!” Thanks to creativity and experience in the world of entertainment, Alison wasn’t let go—the only woman to have survived. She had been experimenting within her on-air time, trying angles that kept the listeners’ interest high— theater reviews, celebrity interviews, and lots of high energy personality. When management found in a pre- purge survey that 90 percent of listeners knew her name and enjoyed her show, they made the smart decision to keep her on board.

Along with drastic personnel changes, the station management also made a format change to progressive rock. Alison was out of familiar terrain with rock music, as was the remaining all-male staff and the all-male management. When Alison asked for guidance, she was given the precise and, as it turned out, appropriate advice to simply “do her thing.” They gave her the graveyard shift, too—midnight to 6:00 A.M. The ever- intrepid Alison figured her nighttime listeners were a special breed of insomniacs, lonely people, and assorted other nocturnal types. “I felt that night was a very special time.” She knew from personal experience that emotions intensify at night—loneliness, depression, and illness. Alison’s sensitivity to people paid in spades; she reached out and connected to her listeners by creating this special persona, The Nightbird, and the listeners responded overwhelmingly. “I felt that if I could make this bond visible between people who are feeling things at night, then I’d have something going.” She put all of her creativity into her alter ego with high drama, fantasy, and many completely unique elements the likes of which nighttime radio had never heard. Listeners were hooked after her jazzy intro with the sound of softly fluttering wings and the poetic intro Alison had written ending with “as the Nightbird lifts her wings and soars above the earth into another level of comprehension, where we exist only to feel. Come fly with me, Alison Steele, The Nightbird at WNEW-FM until dawn.”

The phones at the station rang off the hook that first night. Station management told her that she had a “little hit” and then her male boss told her he would tell her how to do it. Instead of being congratulated for originality and the instant popularity of her new show, Alison was treated like a loose cannon, and they tried really hard to mold her and her show into something less unique and more like the shows all the other DJs, men at this point, were doing. Alison stuck to her guns and refused to change the Nightbird, only to be buried even further into the night hours, beginning at 2:00 A.M.! Alison’s stories include the station’s refusal to buy a step stool so she could reach the records on the top shelf. The response to the most popular DJ at the station was a threat to hire “a taller person.”

Alison went on to win Billboard’s “FM Personality of the Year” in 1978, the first woman to receive this honor. Although she was enormously popular, she was regarded with resentment by many of her fellow jocks. In fact, the station made very little effort to clue Alison in to just how important she was to the station. WNEW was
the top station in the country in the hot new category of progressive rock. They were also beloved in their own backyard of New York and began doing public appearances, including one at a concert in Madison Square Garden. This was really the eye-opener. Alison loves to tell this story, “I was the last person be introduced. So they were all on stage when they introduced Alison Steele, ‘The Nightbird,’” The six male DJs who had been introduced before her had to stand there and eat crow while the entire crowd stood and cheered and screamed and clapped for their favorite DJ, Alison, The Nightbird.

Sheroes don’t always get to reap the rewards of their actions during their lifetimes. For Alison, this standing ovation from 20,000 fans who adored her courage and creativity was music to her ears. For proof of Alison Steele’s popularity, look no further than the 70’s TV show, “B.J. and the Bear,” which boasted a female trucker character named Angie who worked as a radio DJ at night with the air name of “The Nightingale.”

“It was my moment of glory, I worked hard for it. I took a lot of s*** over it. And I enjoyed every minute of it.”

— Alison Steele

 

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.