Category Archives: Women’s History

Meridel LeSueur’s words ring true at ESFL

A good civilization gives the greatest possible scope to the common passions and makes them intelligible among the great number of people ~ Meridel LeSueur

Meridel LeSueur would embrace the vision and endorse the vision of the East Side Freedom Library (ESFL).  She would no doubt have some helpful suggestions for programs and outreach strategies, but she would embrace the idea!

The feeling is mutual. The vision and words of Meridel resonate in the essence of ESFL In fact, the mission of ESFL is to “give the great possible scope to the common passions and make them intelligible among the great number of people.

Though Meridel died in 1996 her spirit lives, captured in her own words, in the memories of colleagues and in film/video – not to mention in the lives of those who felt her influence. Her spirit is needed at this hour.

To underscore that point, ESFL is sponsoring a Labor Movie Night, starring the spirit of Meridel.  My People Are My Home is a 45-minute creative documentary produced in 1976 by a Twin Cities women’s film collective.  The documentary follows the text of several of Meridel’s writings “woven with images of Midwestern people, especially working class women.  It fulfills Meridel’s vision of making “common passions…intelligible among the greatest number of people.”

Following the film there will be a discussion of the film and of the life and work of Meridel LeSeuer.  The discussion will be led by Neala Schleuning who has written about Lesueur, including for this MNOpedia entry (http://www.mnopedia.org/person/le-sueur-meridel-1900-1996)   Members of the women’s collective that created the film will be on hand to participate in the exchange of ideas.

The film showing and discussion are Tuesday, August 1, 7:00 p.m. at ESFL 1105 Greenbrier Street, St Paul 55106.   Free and open.

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Mother King – A life, a movement, an inspiration for these times

Before you read on, pause to view this short YouTube story about Alberta Williams King: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVp8Tj7h6GM  Then read a bit about the death of MLK’s mother here: http://www.atlantamagazine.com/civilrights/the-murder-of-alberta-king/

You will want to know and to think more about the life and influence of this grand woman.

The beautiful fact is that the story of Alberta Williams King is now immortalized in an opera that premieres this month.   Mother King, produced by OperaWorks52, opens next weekend at the Public Functionary in Northeast Minneapolis (https://www.facebook.com/events/1390516824378444/) 

Mother King is described as a “conceptual Black opera” that interprets the story of the slain activist. The libretto is based on a series of poems by Venessa Fuentes (https://www.linkedin.com/in/venessa-fuentes-00b49b9/) and the musical score is the work of Dameun Strange. (http://www.dameunstrange.com)

Through the words and music of  Mother King six local vocalists, including Liz Gre in the title role, share the story of “Black birth, Black resilience, and Black joy.” Joining Gre on stage are local vocalists Michael McDowell, Sarah Greer, Roland Hawkins, Kevin Moore, and Ava McFarlane.  They are accompanied by a twelve-member instrumental ensemble.

This is the first production of OperaWorks52, a collaboration formed by Fuentes and Strange.  The partners describe theirs as “a music and story-telling partnership that aims to highlight overlooked narratives, including the stories of individuals of color, Native people, women and those in the LGBTQ community.” (https://www.facebook.com/operaworks52/ )

Mother King is produced through a partnership between OperaWorks 52 and Public Functionary, an art exhibition and “social space” in Northeast Minneapolis.  Public Functionary is also the venue for the premiere production. (http://publicfunctionary.org)

Read a great interview with Fuentes and Strange in this recent issue of Twin Cities Arts Reader.  (http://twincitiesarts.com/2017/07/10/interview-venessa-fuentes-dameun-strange-mother-king/)

Performances for Mother King are at 7:00 p.m. July 20-22 and 27-28 at the Public Functionary, 1400 12th Avenue Northeast in Minneapolis.  Tickets are available online at Brown Paper Tickets ($8 students and elders; $12 general admission)

UPDATE:  https://www.tcdailyplanet.net/dameun-strange-and-venessa-fuentes-create-mother-king-for-black-audiences-to-see-themselves-in-opera/

 

 

Lessons for today from the Woman Suffrage Movement

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.  Winston Churchill

Recently I posted on this blog a spate of brief and preliminary backgrounders about the forthcoming celebration of the centenary of ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.  Celebration of the ratification is simply a point in time; what’s important is that we capitalize on the occasion to learn from and share the lessons that can be gleaned from the long and volatile struggle known as the Woman Suffrage Movement.

The hallmarks of the Woman Suffrage Movement were vision, commitment, resilience, collaboration and persistence – virtues demanded by these troubled times.  Fortunately, the tools to understand and share those stories are both rich and relevant. These are the links to these recent posts:

The earlier posts identify resources that cover the Woman Suffrage Movement from a national perspective. They suggest the broad perspective, what was happening at the national level, the leaders and key supporters of the Suffragettes.

Still it is often more meaningful to tackle complex issues such as ratification of the 19th Amendment from a local perspective, the context of  one’s personal experience.  The Woman Suffrage Movement may be best understood as the struggle evolved and involved individuals “close to home” – with whom we have some connection in terms of  geography or experience

Fortunately, the record of Minnesotans’ involvement in the Woman Suffrage Movement is robust and readily accessible.

For a quick and easy guide to Minnesota’s ratification, start with the Minnesota House Record posted here:   (http://history.house.gov/HouseRecord/Detail/15032436205)  The archives  include a replica of the original ratification document – an inspiring first step on the journey to trace the roots of the movement. (http://history.house.gov/HouseRecord/Detail/15032436205)

For an excellent overview of the history of Minnesota’s steps to ratification there is no better than Eric W. Weber’s excellent piece on the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association  posted in MNOpedia.  (http://www.mnopedia.org/group/minnesota-woman-suffrage-association).  Weber’s essay  was reprinted by MinnPost in 2012 (https://www.minnpost.com/mnopedia/2012/09/minnesota-woman-suffrage-association-fought-womens-right-vote)

The MNOpedia entry leads to treasure troves of excellent resources including these:

These sources provide a firm foundation to appreciate the work of historian Jane Curry who has toured the state with her delightful one-woman show “Samantha Rastles the Woman Question.” It’s a powerful production that tells the story of the Woman’s Movement in a most delightful way!  Learn more here: (http://www.usfamily.net/web/dllund/jac/samantha.htm)

Though these posts may seem premature, consider the prolonged struggle for the Woman Suffrage Movement.  The parallel with today’s challenges offers a powerful model of resistance, collaboration, persistence and resilience, qualities that serve us well both individually and collectively in these difficult times.

She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails ― Elizabeth Edwards

Learning and Sharing Stories of the Suffrage Movement

The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.  ~ Carl Jung

The story of the Suffragette Movement is the story of resistance, persistence – and ultimate triumph.  The long struggle to ratify the 19th Amendment that guaranteed women’s right to vote is a uniquely American story worthy of retelling in these times.

The June 2019 centenary of passage of the 19th Amendment offers an opportunity for us to study the story of the Suffragettes in depth, to analyze and emulate the vision and tactics of the Movement.  This is a powerful story of American patriots who shared a vision and marshalled their talents, strength and unstinting hope to pursue a common purpose.

The centenary of their success, June 4, 2019, invites the nation to research the records, remember and retell the story.  There is time to honor the unstinting courage of the Suffragettes by doing a deep dive into the history of the Woman Suffraqe Movement — then sharing the stories with contemporaries and future generations.

Though it may seem like overkill, when tackling an historic issue of national scope a good place to start is with our nation’s repositories of recorded history –the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration.  Not the magnificent buildings in Washington, DC but the very accessible digital libraries that open the historic record to armchair searchers wherever they may be.   In recent times LC and the Archives have created digital repositories that breathe life into the story of the Suffragettes Movement.

Librarians and archivists responsible for preserving the record of the nation have taken a lead to harness digital technology to share the intellectual treasures of the nation.  They are committed to crafting useful tools that guide the remote searcher along the digital path to learning about the country’s legacy.  Their mission is to share the personal stories of real people whose recorded legacy is now accessible through digitized letters, scrapbooks, songs, photos, and diaries –  real life stories that share the thoughts and situations of those individuals and institutions that shaped this nation..

A couple of  starting points will guide the seeker’s path to the Suffragettes’ stories:

Library of Congress:

Though the physical Library of Congress is elegant it is beyond overwhelming; and yet a digital dive into the treasures is manageable. LC resources are even organized by grade/age level to suggest their appropriate audience, even  the youngest learner.  Some basic tips:

  • A good strategy is a dip into the primary documents digitized by LC – – it will inspire even the recalcitrant searcher to press on! Among the treasures are the files of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony as well as countless photos, letters, diaries that capture the stories, the images and voices of the suffragettes.   All that little stuff gives life to real people who worked for years to resist the human forces that impeded their struggle to reach a mighty goal. https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/19thamendment.html
  • And here’s a great photographic complement to the primary documents collection. https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/076_vfw.html
  • For a timeline of American women’s road to assuring their voting rights, click here: https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/076_vfw_timeline.html

Each of these launch points will lead the searcher to treasure troves of stories waiting to be told.

National Archives:

The resources of the National Archives and the Library of Congress complement each other.   Staffers at the Archives  join  colleagues at LC in their commitment to expand digital access.  Of the many navigational tools here are some useful starting points:

These digital options for understanding the long struggle for passage of the 19th Amendment provide a logical first step on the research path; they offer a door to a world of stories!   The challenge is to realize and document this pivotal era in our nation’s history.  If we are to honor the labor and vision of the Suffragettes we must take to heart the priority for us to learn and tell the stories of the women and men who pressed on for decades to achieve what we now take for granted.  For us, the mission must be to study the true facts that capture the essence and describe the forces that emboldened the Suffragettes to speak truth to power for decades leading up to passage of the 19th Amendment.    The quest to learn, then tell, the stories deserves time, discussion, reflection.

Some other starting points:

For a really quick overview of the Suffragettes’ struggle, click here:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-passes-the-19th-amendment

For a broader view of American women’s rights, including but not limited to the Suffragette Movement, this Congressional publication provides a good overview.  http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/

For authoritative information regularly updated, these are major – and very helpful –  sources:

These are simply suggestions; resources and perspectives abound.  Exploring, then telling, the story of the Woman’s Movement offers a focus and a challenge to examine strategies that emboldened the Suffragettes to resist and persist.  We are not the first Americans to face a mighty challenge.  We have much to learn from those who set the pace a century ago:

When you walk with purpose you collide with destiny. Bertice Berry

 

 

Rekindling the vision of the 19th Amendment: A centennial challenge

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

That’s it – that’s the full text of the 19th Amendment, words crafted with care by suffragettes Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The proposed Amendment was first introduced in 1878, ultimately passed decades later.

Yesterday, Sunday June 4, 2017, marked the 98th anniversary of Congressional passage of the 19th Amendment.  The House of Representatives voted 304-90 and the Senate voted 56-25 in favor of the Amendment — which was then sent to the states for ratification.  Most times the reminder would have inspired a flicker of awareness; in light of the times, the occasion ignited a call to action!

The times demand that we embrace the centenary of this monumental moment in the nation’s history.  Women and their male supporters earned the right to vote in the face of bullying, misogyny, alternative facts (i.e. lies), money and mockery.  They resisted, collaborated, and kept a steady eye on the mission.  They understood that this democracy depends on the will of an informed electorate.  They spoke truth to power – and they succeeded.

On June 4, 2019 the nation will commemorate the centenary of Congressional passage of the joint resolution that led to passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, aka the Woman’s Suffrage Amendment, to the Constitution.   Recognition of the centenary of the 19th Amendment has the potential to expand our knowledge and appreciation of our roots and hone our collaborative strategies. If we seize the possibilities, awareness of the 19th Amendment can fuel a movement based on bipartisanship and acceptance of the fact that thoughtful policy has the power to trump pernicious prevarication and the over-rated glories of wealth.

June 4, 1919 was a pivotal step in the very long struggle.  A robust centennial campaign has the potential to magnify the import of the Amendment we take for granted a century later.  It seems to me that the best way to honor our forebears is to learn about their struggle, their strategies, their commitment to honor policy over politics.  It may seem early to celebrate – it’s certainly not too early to plan.

Though most long-range planning projects focus on a budget, the coin of the realm in this instance is the truth of history.  The work begins with serious research, the raw material of which is already on library shelves or in the digital stratosphere.  Recognition of the day is a moment in time; the real story lies in digging into the true facts and forces that shapedthe suffragette movement.  The mission, hopes, tribulations and ultimate success of a powerful crusade are recorded in carefully-chosen  words and photos that capture the era and rekindle the spirit that imbued the suffragettes.

This early mention of the forthcoming commemoration is simply a starting point – with special reference to the struggle for equality as it played out in Minnesota.   Future posts will focus on the immense archival records, literature, photos, memorabilia and other resources that make the movement for women’s right to vote  come alive. My hope is that the efforts of those who fought for women’s rights will inspire us to get up and do what needs to be done to assure that the vision and labors of the suffragettes inform and inspire us to value and protect an engaged and informed electorate that makes democracy work.

The principle of self-government cannot be violated with impunity. The individual’s right to it is sacred – regardless of class, caste, race, color, sex or any other accident or incident of birth ~~ Susan B. Anthony

 

Equal Pay Day – In case you thought we’d solved that problem

A reminder before you get decked out for work that Tuesday, April 4 is Equal Pay Day 2017.  This is the symbolic day when women’s earnings catch up with men’s earnings from the previous year.  Some would have the public believe that the wage gap has been closed – these are the people who look at high paid female corporate executives, not at clerical workers or even long-term professional women whose lifetime incomes are affected by a host of obstacles to equal pay.

The early day reminder is that many women will decide to wear red on Equal Pay Day to emphasize how long it takes women to catch up.

It’s also worth remembering that it’s been over a half century since the Equal Pay Act became law.  After 54 years’ women now make an average of 82 cents for every dollar a man earns; at this rate, it could take at least 70 more years before the gap closes.

It’s generally assumed that the pay differential results from women’s choices, particularly to interrupt their careers by taking time to rear their families.  Still, Olivia Mitchell, director of the pension research council at the Wharton School, avers that this does not recognize other significant contributors including women’s lack of negotiating skills and the bias women face from employers – in other words, the “penalty” of childbirth and rearing are a biased excuse for a discriminatory situation.  I agree with Dr. Mitchell’s analysis – and would add a host of other reasonable explanations of what is a thorough explainable – and inexcusable – disputation.

A small sampling of resources for more on Equal Pay Day:

http://www.refinery29.com/2017/04/147705/what-is-equal-pay-day-gender-wage-gap-facts?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email_share

https://www.pay-equity.org/day.html

http://fortune.com/2017/04/03/equal-pay-day-2017-wage-gap/

Definitely check the excellent resource guide prepared by the American Association of University Women – a more systemic approach to a systemic problem.  http://www.aauw.org/resource/how-to-equal-pay-day/

For the lark of it, see how far you get with Cheryl Sandberg’s 20% counts campaign.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/04/03/lean-in-sheryl-sandberg-20-percent-counts-campaign-to-close-gender-pay-gap/99841634/

In any event, no matter where you fit into the world of work and pay for work, take time to think about the inequity of unequal pay and the impact of low for women not only on individuals but on families and on the long-term welfare of older women.

 

UPDATE: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-pulls-back-obama-era-protections-for-women-workers/ar-BBzink0?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=UE01DHP

UPDATE: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/04/trump-just-revoked-protections-women-workplace

 

 

Speaking Truth to Power-Black Women Journalists Who Showed the Way

This post is actually an harmonic convergence — in part necessitated by a technology glitch that curtailed writing, more important inspired by these facts:   1) African American History Month ended before this post got written;  2) we are beginning Women’ History Month, and 3) the demonization of the American press calls for positive resistance, including some real facts about some of the nation’s most powerful journalists.  

The disrespectful treatment of April Ryan actually propelled this quest  to learn more about the role that African American women journalists have played in speaking truth to power.  What I have found is a wealth of strong women whose names are little known and whose stories I am eager to learn and share through Women’s History Month posts.

Great as she was, challenged to face a digital age in which social media are the information source of choice, Gwen Ifill built on the strength of her forebears.  These are but a few of the African American women who have paved a road that Ifill, April Ryan, Charlayne Hunter-Gault,  Joy Reid and countless others are challenged to walk in the digital age.

What I have learned inspires confidence in the strength of journalists supported by the prevailing power of the First Amendment and the essential role of this nation’s free press.  I’ve also learned that women have played an unheralded role as supporters of all Americans’ right to know.

Following are just some of the African American women journalists about whom I’m learning.  They are posted in no particular order — except for the first entry who gets dibs because she’s a Minnesota native.

Marvel Cooke (1903-2000) was born in Mankato!  Her family eventually moved to Prospect Park where they were the first African American neighbors in this Minneapolis community.  She was the first African American woman to work at a mainstream newspaper.  In the 1930’s she helped to create The Newspaper Guild, a labor group that actually conducted a lengthy strike at the Amsterdam News.  Cooke described her experiences working as a domestic in white homes under the title, I was a slave.  There is a helpful entry about Marvel Cooke on MNOpedia http://www.mnopedia.org/person/cooke-marvel-jackson-1901-2000  (note: I don’t understand the inconsistency of dates, but I’m working on it…)

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) was a lawyer, suffragist and journalist whose family fled to Canada after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.  There she edited a Canadian newspaper, the Provincial Freeman for Black refugees who fled to Canada.  As an advocate for suffrage for African American women  Cary founded the Colored Women’s Progressive Franchise Association in DC in 1888 a forebear of the women’s club/sorority movement. As the first woman student at Howard University Law School she was not permitted to graduate because DC did not admit women to the bar; she returned to Howard a decade later to receive her law degree at age 60.

Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879) was a speaker/preacher before she was a journalist.  An ardent supporter of  African-American exceptionalism, always with religious theme, Stewart befriended William Lloyd Garrison, famous leader of the anti-slavery movement.  Garrison published several of her “Meditations” and speeches in The Liberator, the anti-slavery journal to which Stewart became a regular contributor.  One indication of Stewart’s legacy is the fact that the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church USA commemorates her contributions, along with those of William Lloyd Garrison, every year on December 17.

Delilah Leontium Beasley (1871-1934) was a native of Cincinnati, Ohio.  She was a newspaper columnist for the Oakland Tribune.  Beasley was the first African American women to be published regularly in a major metro newspaper.  Beasley told the story of early California’s African American leaders  in The Negro Trail-Blazers of California, published in 1919.

Charlotte Bass (1874-1969) was the first African American women to own and operate a newspaper in the US.  Incidentally Bass was the first African American women to be nominated for Vice President of this country.   She was born on Valentine’s Day in 1874  and died at age 95 in 1969.  It is likely that she was the first African American woman to own and operate a newspaper, the California Eagle, from 1912 until 1951.  In 1952 she was nominated for VP as a candidate of the Progressive Party.

Alice Allison Dunnigan (1906-1983) was the first African American woman correspondent to receive White House credentials and the first Black female member of the Senate and House of Representative galleries.  Her story is told in her autobiography, Alice A. Dunnigan: A Black Woman’s Experience.

Ethel L. Payne,(1911-1991) “combined a passionate concern for the rights of Black people in all parts of the world with a talent for investigative reporting and writing.”  Granddaughter of a Pullman Porter  Payne’s early life in Chicago was fraught with financial concerns and racial discrimination.  In time she began writing for the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper published as an expose of immoral and illegal practices within the U.S. military.  In time Payne traveled the world, reporting on African American troops, particularly in Vietnam.  She also worked for CBS as both a radio and TV commentator.

My hope is to learn and share more about these and other Black women journalists during Women’s History Month.  I would be grateful for readers’ suggestions of other women whose stories should be must be recorded and shared.