The All-American Girl’s Baseball League: Backward and In High Heels

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Fair Use

For the briefest time in the 1940s, women had a “league of their own.” And while it was not intended to be serious sports so much as a marketing package, the All-GirlsBaseball League stormed the field and made it their own.The league was the brainchild of chewing gum magnatePhillip K. Wrigley, whose empire had afforded him thepurchase of the Chicago Cubs. He came up with the concept of putting a bunch of sexy girls out on the field in short skirts and full makeup to entertain a baseball- starved population whose national pastime was put on hold as baseball players turned fighting men.

He was right—the gals did draw crowds, enough to
field teams in several mid-sized Midwestern cities. (Atthe height of its popularity, the league was drawing a million paying customers per 120 game season.) A savvy businessman catering to what he believed were the
tastes of baseball fans, Wrigley had strict guidelines for his “girls”—impeccable appearance and maintenance,
no short hair, no pants on or off the playing field.Pulchritude and “charm” were absolute requirements forplayers. Arthur Meyerhoff, chairman of the league, aptlycharacterized it as: “Baseball, traditionally a men’s game, played by feminine type girls with masculine skill.” For Meyerhoff, “feminine type” was serious business and he kept a hawkeye on his teams for the slightest sign of lesbianism. He also sent his sandlot and cornfield trained players to charm school to keep them on their girlish toes. Although the rules seemed stringent, the players were eager to join these new teams called the Daisies, the Lassies, the Peaches, and the Belles because it was their only chance to play baseball professionally. Pepper Pair put it best in the book she and the other AAGBL players are profiled in, “You have to understand that we’d rather play ball than eat, and where else could we go and get paid $100 a week to play ball?” After the war, men returned home and major league baseball was revived. However the All-Girls league hung on, even spawning the rival National Girl’s Baseball League. With more opportunity for everyone, teams suddenly had to pay more money to their best players in order to hang on to them, and both leagues attracted players from all around the U.S. and Canada.

Penny Marshall’s wonderful film, A League of Their Own, did a credible job portraying the hardship and hilarity of professional women athletes trying to abide by the rules and display feminine “charm” while playing topnotchbaseball. Ironically, the television boom of the fiftieseroded the audience for the AAGBL as well as many other semi-pro sports. The death blow to the women’s baseball leagues came, however, with the creation of the boys- only Little League. Girls no longer had a way to develop their skills in their youth and were back to sandlots andcornfields, and the AAGBL died in 1954.

“The fans thought we were the best thing that ever came down the pike.”
— player Mary Pratt

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

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas: Patron Saint of the Everglades

 

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By Friends of the Everglades

Although not native to the southernmost state, Marjory Stoneman Douglas took to the Florida Everglades like a “duck to water,” becoming since 1927 the great champion of this rare habitat. She was born to lake country in Minnesota in 1890, during one of her father’s many failed business ventures, which kept the family moving around the country. On a family vacation to Florida at the age of four, Marjory fell in love with the Floridian light and vowed to return.

Marjory escaped her unstable home life in the world of books. An extremely bright girl, she was admitted to Wellesley College when higher education for women was still quite uncommon. Her mother died shortly after her graduation in 1911. Feeling unmoored, she took an unrewarding job at a department store, and shortly thereafter married a much older man, Kenneth Douglas, who had a habit of writing bad checks.

Leaving for Florida with her father for his latest business pursuit seemed like the perfect way to get away from her petty criminal husband and sad memories. Frank Stoneman’s latest ideas, however, seemed to have more merit: founding a newspaper in the scruffy boom town of Miami (the paper went on to become the Miami Herald). Marjory eagerly took a job as a cub reporter. Opinionated, forward-thinking, and unafraid to share unpopular views, both Stonemans found their niche in the newspaper trade. One of the causes they were in unswerving agreement on was Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward’s plan to drain the Everglades to put up more houses. Father and daughter used the paper as their soapbox to cry out against this ghastly idea with all their might.

Roused to action, Marjory educated herself about the facts surrounding the Everglades issue and discovered many of the denizens of Florida’s swampy grassland to be in danger of extinction. The more she learned, the more fascinated she became. When decades later she decided to leave the newspaper to write fiction, she often wove the Everglades into her plots. Marjory learned that the Everglades were actually not a swamp, but rather wetlands. In order to be a swamp, the waters must be still, whereas in the Everglades water flows in constant movement. Marjory coined the term “river of grass” and in 1947 wrote a book about this precious ecosystem entitled The Everglades: River of Grass.

More than anything else, Marjory’s book helped people see the Everglades not as a fetid swamp, but as a national treasure without which Florida might become desert. After the publication of her book, Harry Truman designated a portion of the Florida wetlands as Everglades National Park. The triumph was short-lived, however. The Army Corp of Engineers began tunneling canals all over the Everglades, installing dams and floodgates. As if that weren’t enough, they straightened the course of the Kissimmee River, throwing the delicate ecosystem into complete shock.

At the age of seventy-eight, Marjory Stoneman Douglas joined in the fight, stopping bulldozers ready to raze a piece of the Everglades for an immense jetport. Almost blind and armed with little more than a big floppy sun hat and a will of iron, Marjory founded Friends of the Everglades, going on the stump to talk to every Floridian about the devastation to this rare resource and building the organization member by member to thousands of people in thirty-eight states. “One can do so much by reading, learning, and talking to people,” she noted. “Students need to learn all they can about animals and the environment. Most of all, they need to share what they have learned.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas and “Marjory’s Army” as her group came to be known, stopped the jetport in its tracks, garnered restrictions on farmers’ use of land and chemicals, saw to the removal of the Army’s “improvements,” and enjoyed the addition of thousands of acres to the 

Everglades National Park, where they could be protected from land grabbing developers. In 1975 and 1976, Marjory was rewarded for her hard work by being named Conservationist of the Year two years in a row. In 1989, she became the Sierra Club’s honorary vice president. Protecting the Everglades became Marjory’s life work, a job she loved. She never considered retiring and continued living in the same house she’d been in since 1926 and worked every day for Friends of the Everglades until her passing in 1998 at 109 years old. She saved millions of acres. 

“Find out what needs to be done and do it!”— Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Join Marjory’s Army! You can contact Friends of the Everglades and continue her work: http://www.everglades.org

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

Rachel Carson : “The Natural World Supports All Life”

Rachel-Carson
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service

World famous ecologist and science writer Rachel Carson turned nature writing on its head. Before she came along, notes Women Public Speakers in the United States, “the masculine orientation [to the subject] emphasized either the dominant, aggressive encounter of humanity with wild nature or the distancing of nature through scientific observation.” By creating a different, more feminine, relationship to nature, one which saw humans as part of the great web of life, separate only in our ability to destroy it; Rachel Carson not only produced the first widely read books on ecology, but laid the foundation for the entire modern environmental movement.

Rachel inherited her love of nature from her mother, Maria, a naturalist at heart, who took Rachel for long walks in woods and meadows. Born in 1907, Rachel was raised on a farm in Pennsylvania where the evidence of industry was never too far away. By the beginning of the 

twentieth century, Pennsylvania had changed a great deal from the sylvan woodlands named for colonial William Penn. Coal mines and strip mines had devastated some of the finest farmland. Chemical plants, steel mills, and hundreds of factories were belching pure evil into the air. As she grew, Rachel’s love of nature took an unexpected turn toward oceanography, a budding science limited by technological issues for divers. The young girl was utterly fascinated by this particular biological science, and though she majored in English and loved to write, she heard the ocean’s siren song increasingly. While in college at Pennsylvania College for Women in the middle 1920s, she changed her major to biology, despite the overwhelming advice of her teachers and professors to stay the course in English, a much more acceptable major for a young woman. Her advisors were quite correct in their assertions that women were blocked from science; there were very few teaching positions except at the handful of women’s colleges, and even fewer job prospects existed for women.

However, Rachel listened to her heart and graduated with high honors, a fellowship to study at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory for the summer, and a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins in Maryland to study marine zoology. Rachel’s first semester in graduate school coincided with the beginning of The Great Depression. Her family lost the farm; her parents and brother came to live with her in her tiny campus apartment. She helped make ends meet with part-time teaching at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, while continuing her studies. In 1935, Rachel’s father suffered a heart attack and died quite suddenly. Rachel looked desperately for work to support her mother and brother only to hear the same old discouragements—no one would hire her as a full-time university science professor. Brilliant and hardworking, Rachel was encouraged to teach grade school or, better yet, be a housewife because it was “inappropriate” for women to work in science.

Finally, her unstinting efforts to work in her field were ultimately rewarded by a job writing radio scripts for Elmer Higgins at the United States Bureau of Fisheries, a perfect job for her because it combined her strength in writing with her scientific knowledge. Then a position opened up at the Bureau for a junior aquatic biologist. The job was to be awarded to the person with the highest score: Rachel aced the test and got the position. Elmer Higgins saw that her writing was excellent, making science  accessible to the general public. At his direction, she submitted an essay about the ocean to the Atlantic Monthly, which not only published Rachel’s piece, but asked her to freelance for them on a continuing basis, resulting in a book deal from a big New York publishing house.

By now, Rachel was the sole support of her mother, brother, and two nieces. She raised the girls, supported her mother, and worked a demanding full-time job, leaving her research and writing to weekends and late nights. But she prevailed nonetheless. Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, debuted in 1941 to a bemused and war-preoccupied public. It was a completely original book, enacting a narrative of the seacoast with the flora and fauna as characters, the first indication of Rachel’s unique perspective on nature.

Rachel’s second book, The Sea Around Us, was a nonfiction presentation of the relationship of the ocean to earth and its inhabitants. This time, the public was ready, and she received the National Book Award and made the New York Times bestseller list for nearly two years! The Edge of the Sea was also very well received, both critically and publicly. Rachel Carson’s message of respect and kinship with all life combined with a solid foundation of scientific knowledge found a real audience in postwar America. However, shy and solitary Rachel avoided the spotlight by accepting a grant that allowed her to return to her beloved seacoast, where she could be found up to her ankles in mud or sand, researching.

As her popularity rose and her income from book royalties flooded in, Rachel was able to quit her job and build a coastal cottage for herself and her mother. She also returned the grant money, asking it be redistributed to needy scientists. In 1957, a letter from one of Rachel’s readers changed everything for her. The letter came from Olga Owens Huckins, who was reporting the death of birds after airplanes sprayed dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, DDT, a chemical then in heavy use. Rachel Carson was keenly interested in discovering DDT’s effects on the natural habitat. Her findings were shocking: if birds and animals weren’t killed outright by DDT, its effects were even more insidious—thin eggshells that broke before the hatchlings were fully developed. It was also suspected of being carcinogenic to humans.

Rachel vowed to write a book about the devastating impact of DDT upon nature “or there would be no peace for me,” she proclaimed. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with cancer. Despite chemotherapy, surgery, and constant pain, Rachel worked slowly and unstintingly on her new book. In 1962, Silent Spring was published. It was like a cannon shot. Chemical companies fought back, denied, and ran for cover against the public outcry. Vicious charges against Rachel were aimed at what many of the captains of the chemical industry viewed as her Achilles heel—her womanhood. “Not a real scientist,” they claimed. She was also called unstable, foolish, and sentimental for her love of nature. With calm logic and cool reason, Rachel Carson responded in exacting scientific terms, explaining the connections among DDT, the water supply, and the food chain.

Ultimately, President John F. Kennedy assigned his Science Advisory Committee to the task of examining the pesticide, and Rachel Carson was proven to be absolutely correct. She died two years later, and although her reputation continued to be maligned by the chemical industry, her work was the beginning of a revolution in the responsible use of chemicals and serves as a reminder of the reverence for all life.

“Perhaps if Dr. Rachel Carson had been Dr. Richard Carson the controversy would have been minor…The American technocrat could not stand the pain of having his achievements deflated by the pen of this slight woman.”

— Joseph B.C. White, author

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

Dorothea Lange: Activist Photographer

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By Rondal Partridge – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID fsa.8b27245. Public Domain.

“The discrepancy between what I was working on in the printing frames and what was going on in the street was more than I could assimilate,” wrote Dorothea Lange of the reason she quit her job as a society photographer to record the misery of the Depression of the 1930s. Lange’s sympathy for human suffering shines through in her luminous photographs, including her famous “Migrant Mother” and “White Angel Breadline.” Her compassion came under attack later, however, when she was viewed as being overly empathetic with the Japanese Americans’ internment during World War II. Though she was hired to record this event for posterity, the photographs were impounded and not shown until 1972, seven years after her death. Nonetheless, Lange was not deterred from her personal mission to capture the essential and universal humanness shared around the world. Her genius was in documenting that which might be ignored if not for her artistic eye compelling us to look.

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

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Wikipedia

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.

Mary Jackson: A Pioneer

Mary Jackson at Work NASA Langley
By NASA Langley Research Center, 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” group 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.

Rocket Woman

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By NASA ROBERT MARKOWITZ – Great Images in NASA Description, Public Domain

Ever since she was a little girl, Eileen Collins wanted to be a pilot. She attended Corning Community College in New York and then completed her B.A. in mathematics and economics at Syracuse University in 1978. After Syracuse, she was chosen along with three other women for Air Force pilot training at Oklahoma’s Vance Air Base; her class was one of the base’s first to include women. After earning her wings in 1979, she stayed on for three years as a T-38 Talon pilot instructor before being transferred to Travis Air Force Base in California for cross-training in the C-141 Starlifter. She earned a master’s degree in operations research at Stanford in 1986, followed by a second master’s in space systems management from Webster University in 1989.

That same year, Collins was accepted at the competitive Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. In 1989, she became only the second woman to graduate as a test pilot. She rose to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force before being being selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 1990. In 1995, Collins became the first female astronaut to pilot a space shuttle mission, serving as second-in-command of the shuttle Discovery. She piloted a second mission on the space shuttle Atlantis in 1997. After having logged over 400 hours in space, she was chosen by NASA to command the space shuttle Columbia on a mission in 1999, and became the first astronaut ever to pilot any of the shuttles through a 360 degree pitch maneuver, as well as the first American woman ever to command a space shuttle. In 2006, Collins retired from NASA to pursue other interests and spend time with her family. Since her retirement, Collins has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and has made appearances as a commentator covering space shuttle flights for CNN.

“My daughter just thinks that all moms fly the Space Shuttle.”

Eileen Collins

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