Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

National Catholic Sisters Week 2018

Possibly I was too wrapped up in Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day to remember that March also heralds the special recognition of some of the strongest women of all.  I have just realized that this week, March 8-14, is also National Catholic Sisters Week http://www.nationalcatholicsistersweek.org

In the interest of sharing that time-sensitive message without delay I am taking the liberty of quoting the website description of this major initiative:

Created to honor women religious, it is a series of events that instruct, enlighten and bring greater focus to the lives of these incredible women. It’s our chance to recognize all they have done for us. It’s also our hope that as more young women learn about women religious, more will choose to follow their example. 

 National Catholic Sisters Week, a branch of National Catholic Sisters Project headquartered at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisc., is headquartered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., and is held in conjunction with Women’s History Month.

For a not-quite-recent update on today’s women religious this 2011 article in the National Catholic Reporter offers a brief history of the contributions of women religious to the history and values of this nation. https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/grace-margins/us-women-religious-have-earned-place-american-history

I am also taking the liberty of noting some past Poking Around posts that give a sense of the unique missions and roles of women religious in this region:

These posts are a minimal sampling of the myriad articles and books that reflect the leadership of individual women and communities of women religious in Minnesota.  In the interests of piquing the interest of readers, I presume to note just a smattering of the stories that record the work of strong committed women who have shaped the state’s health, education, political, social movements and intellectual life.

Minnesota Women’s Press has published several articles about women religious; following are links to just a couple:

A quick skim of MNOpedia disclosed these articles about women religious – there are, and will be, more but these offer a taste of the research that has been and needs to be undertaken, recorded and shared:

On my personal bookshelf I found these books that record the work of the women religious in Minnesota.  The shelf is tilted to the contributions of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet because the CSJ’s were my teachers throughout high school and college:

  • They came to teach; The story of Sisters who taught in parochial schools and their contribution to elementary education in Minnesota. Annabelle Raiche, CSJ and Ann Marie Biermaier, OSB. Published by North Star Press, St Cloud in 1994.
  • Eyes Open on a world: The challenge of change. A collaboration by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St Paul Province. Published in 2001 by North Star Press, St. Cloud.
  • On Good Ground, The story of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. by Sister Helen Angela Hurley. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, 1951.

By any measure this is a sadly incomplete listing.  My last-minute effort is to share the message that we are now celebrating National Catholic Sisters Week.  Much more important, this post is intended to spark and encourage scholars’ interest in learning and share more stories.  The archives of the religious communities and academic institutions (of which there are many!) are robust, meticulously preserved, and open to serious students of the history of these too-often under-recognized powerful women of faith and vision.

I am interested in and will post other publications – please share ideas, suggestions, stories and publications that fill in the gaps in the role that women of strength and wisdom have played of Minnesota’s and the nation’s history.

National Catholic Sisters Week, March 8-14 2018


Women on the Homefront – Classic WWII Posters at the Library


Grow your own Cana Your Own

Grow your own Cana Your Own

It was a poster from the Kittleson Collection on exhibit in the Minneapolis Central Library Hosmer Collection that spurred my reflections. The World War II-era posters depicts a loving mom and daughter, their gentle exchange as they plant their Victory Garden, the little girl‘s optimism as they work together to support the War effort. Peaceful, full of life and hope.

That, I realized, was the contribution of my mother and millions of other women to the War effort. Though we know the stories of the 36% of American women who shouldered heavy labor during the War, we overlook the fact that those women were also rearing families alone while their husbands and sons were fighting overseas

Even further buried in time are the stories of the two-thirds of American moms and wives whose legacy remains unheralded. Theirs was the day-to-day life of feeding, clothing, caring for a family, often an extended family, during the war. American women on the home front were valiant contributors to the War effort in subtle, domestic, ordinary ways that escape the notice of war historians and of the federal agencies that take a lead in promoting March as Women’s History Month. All during WHM I have found myself reflecting on their contributions.

At the outset of the War an article published in the New Republic advised readers that “For the coming year, at least half our productive effort must be spent making things that citizens cannot eat, wear, or live in – making things for military use.” (1)

Writing directly to homemakers, the popular magazine Good Housekeeping advised their readers that “every item of our apparatus…is now at our Government’s command.” Then GH calmly assured homemakers that “There is another obligation that we will recognize: that of being anti-hysterical.…We will try to remember that entertainment and instruction and homely advice must continue….While we are fighting to win, we shall try to know that love will stay in the world;…that life in American homes must go on and will go on.” (2)

GH need not have worried; these ladies definitely did not resort to hysteria. And they didn’t just cope. Women became active learners – learning to garden, to cook creatively, to sew, to sell not apparel but war bonds, to operate canteens, and to do those domestic tasks that had heretofore been classified as “men’s work.” The exercised creative heroism in an environment in which tools and household basics were at a premium and the local handyman was fighting for his country.

Historian Doris Weatherford writes that American women made “rationing a topic of daily conversation thereby educating themselves rapidly” largely cooking, sewing, shopping, rationing, gardening, and other getting-by tricks of the homemaker’s trade..



Rationing was both a puzzle and a mighty challenge. Food rationing was a daily reality – sugar, coffee, meats, fats including butter, fish, cheese are just some of the basics that were rationed. Substitute foods such as dried powdered eggs and liquid paraffin to replaced cooking oil were the order of the day. Meat, poultry and fish were all in short supply – even with the introduction of Spam to the American diet. Dependable refrigeration was poor and replacement was unthinkable, so most food was preserved in recyclable tin cans.

Rationing also covered tires, gas, bicycles, shoes, rubber, including rubber pants, the precursor of disposables, fuel oil and kerosene. Though milk was never rationed, canned milk became the household staple for families that lacked refrigeration when steel, not milk, was rationed. Ration coupons were the coin of the realm and penalties were strict.

Conservation recycling altered virtually every daily routine. Since plastic was not yet the bête noire of environmental conservation, the challenge was more basic – crushing and recycling tin cans to be turned into munitions, bottles returned to the milkman for reuse, saving cooking fat to make soap.

Victory gardens were not just for the natural food purist but the basic source of produce for the family dinner table. At one point during the War fifty percent of the nation’s vegetables were grown in victory gardens. To lighten the load women created competitions for the gardens and for recipes that featured produce from the backyard of community garden.

The War Production Board became the nation’s premier clothing consultant. They influenced the appearance of civilian apparel by dictating the conservation of cloth and material, changing the style, especially women’s garments. Weatherford writes that “adult clothing made its wartime adjustment primarily in the promotion of fashions that used less fabric, heedless of the implication that new fashion guidelines implied new clothes.” One story is that fabric rationing led to the design of women’s two-piece bathing suits which Neiman Marcus was quick to market as “patriotic chic” beachwear.

Women also led the volunteer front. The Red Cross, the Office of Civilian Defense, serving at recreation centers and canteens, and constantly pitching war bonds were just one of women’s routine tasks.

In spite of the fact that women bore the brunt of fighting the War on the home front, they had little or no say in the regulation-making process. Women ‘s involvement in the decision-making didn’t begin until the rules were in place and women were brought on board as volunteers to deal with the public and otherwise implement the rules.

Though my reflections on women on the home front will continue, my goal was to make the Women’s History Month deadline. Still, I’m eager to learn more about the stories that that those posters, preserved in the Kittelson Collection, dredged to the surface.

I’m now on a quest to learn more about a topic that has had such an influence on my personal life as well as the role of women. Doris Weatherford’s book, American Women and World War II, of which I read just the chapter on “The Normal Housewife in Abnormal Times” is my starting point. From there I plan to explore the rich collection of resources compiled by the librarians and researchers at the Minnesota Historical Society who have prepared a helpful guide to “Women and the home front during world war II, an excellent introduction to women’s changing role in the workplace and in the home.

Save Freedom of Worship.  Buy War Bonds.

Save Freedom of Worship. Buy War Bonds.














(1) “Rationing: Democracy’s Test” New Republic,(February 9, 1942), quoted in Weatherford.
(2) “Good Housekeeping and the War,” Good Housekeeping (February 1942, p.19) quoted in Weatherford.

Mary Colter, Minnesota Architect, Remembered During Women’s History Month

Though no one asked, I  humbly submit an ex post facto nomination for a distinguished Minnesota woman who would fit comfortably on the list of honorees named by the National Women’s History Project.   As an architect she is surely to be numbered among the women who set a pace within the NWHP’s 2013 theme “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination.”  Her work epitomizes innovation through imagination.

My introduction to Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (1870-19580 was through a lovely article written by Diane Trout-Oertel and appearing in the Winter 2011 issue of  Ramsey County History.  Title of that article was “We Can Do Better with a Chisel or a Hammer.”  There I learned that Mary Colter spent much of her youth in St. Paul but that, during those same years, her family moved often and traveled widely.  As a very young girl she experienced the adventure of the expanding West and the migration of settlers and tourists alike to the grandeur of the mountains.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Mary Colter left her teaching post at Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul to travel west and to leave her mark throughout the vast land.  A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright she created a string of hotels for the Santa Fe Railroad and the Grand Canyon.  She also decorated the exteriors of train stations in St Louis, Los Angeles and Chicago.  One of her lasting hallmarks is her inclusion of Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Mexican symbols in her work.  Her biographer, Virginia Grattan, wrote that “Her buildings fit their setting because they grew out of the history of the land.  They belonged.”

On Friday, March 8, Diane Trout-Oertel will present a Women’s History Month talk on “Mary Colter: Pioneering Minnesota Architect.”  The free and open talk is at 1:30 p.m. at the Landmark Center, Room 430.  Free and open to the public.    If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, to Winslow, AZ or scores of other Western sites, you may want to get out your slides to find the legacy of Mary Colter – though the quest may be difficult; because Mary Colter was a woman she often failed to receive the recognition accorded her male contemporaries and colleagues.  You may also want to listen to a two-part series about the legacy of Mary Colter, produced by National Public Radio and featuring Susan Stamburg celebrating the life of this noted architect whose indelible mark has brought joy to millions of tourists.  Her time is now.



Ideas Abound for Celebrating Women’s History Month 2013 – and Beyond

The time is right to get organized for Women’s History Month – 2014.  The wealth of materials available – and the great ideas ready for WHM 2013, are truly overwhelming and exciting..  With absolutely no pretense of offering a comprehensive calendar of events, here are a few random samples of what’s going on in Minnesota.  With apologies for all the great projects overlooked, here’s a potpourri of ideas in place for this year’s observance:

  • March 6 – Women’s History Month Recital, Winona State University Performance Arts Center Recital Hall.  Songs and instrumental pieces by women composers from the 17th through the 20th centuries – 12:00 p.m.  Free.
  • March 7 – Dakota Women: Keepers of the Village, 7:00 p.m. Ramsey County Library-Roseville.  Free.
  • March 8 – Mary Colter, Pioneering Minnesota Architect, presented by Diane Trout-Oertel, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Landmark Center, Room 430. Free.
  • March 8 – The Austin MN AAUW will announce the winners of the Women’s History essay contest sponsored by AAUW and Austin High School.
  • March 9 – The Minnesota Historical Society will offer a special tour of the State Capitol.  Focus will be on the role of Minnesota women involved in the suffrage movement, particularly at the state level.  11:00-1:00.  Various fees.
  • March 10, Ethel Stewart, Ramsey County Historical Society Founder, presented by Steve Trimble, 1:00-2:00 p.m., Landmark Center, Room 320.  Free.
  • March 14 & 15 – Women’s History Month: The Historical Comedybration.  Bryant Lake Bowl,, 7:00 p.m.  $12 day of show, $10 in advance.
  • March 17 – Women United to Win – annual women’s appreciation event focused on ending domestic violence (focus of International Women’s Day 2013)
  • March 19 – Quilting for the Cause – Ramsey County Library, New Brighton, 6:30 p.m. Free.
  • March 21 – Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam, 7:00 p.m. Ramsey County Library Roseville.  Free.
  • March 22, Mary Hill, Family Matriarch, presented by Eileen McCormack, 10:00-11:00 a.m, Landmark Center, Room 320
  • March 23, Women of Mill City, Mill City Museum.  Portrayers of Ann Pillsbury, Mary Dodge Woodward, Eva McDonald Valesh and Gratia Countryman. 1:00-4:00.  Various prices, associated programming.

Armchair Options:

  • KUMD at the University of Minnesota-Duluth is working on yet another series of daily tributes to women who have made Minnesota history.   Keep up with this amazing series by clicking here.
  • The Minnesota Department of Human Rights produces and maintains a resource about human rights events and people – a great resources f or this month.  Snippets of stories and pictures of events and individuals including such Minnesota heroines as Nellie Stone Johnson, Clara Ueland, Martha Ripley and Rosalie Wahl.
  • The National Park Service will take you inside a stately mansion you’ve driven by a hundred times, the Elizabeth C. Quinlan House at 1711 Emerson Avenue South in the Lowry Hill Neighborhood of South Minneapolis.
  • See what the librarians at the New York Public Library have pulled from the print and digital stacks of that vast resource.
  • Gather a group of virtual or on-site friends to test your knowledge of women’s history with the Women’s History Month Quiz created by Margaret Zierdt, National Women’s History Project Board member.

In sum, the point is to look for programs, books to read, speakers, media productions live or streamed that share the stories of women who have made a difference.  And start thinking about how to observe Minnesota Women’s Month next year.  Time is fleeting and the stories are everywhere.

Women’s History Month 2013 – Lots to Learn, Leaders to Honor

The roots of today’s Women’s History Month run deep, the ideas and energy nurtured by the same energy that burst forth over a century ago with the first International Women’s Day, celebrated in 1911.  Imagination, commitment and collaboration have created what is now a national traditional in this and other nations, observance of March as Women’s History Month.

In the late-20th Century, as the women’s movement advanced and women’s studies gained recognition, schools, academic institutions, women’s organizations and states created local Women’s Week initiatives to promote further study and awareness of women’s contributions.  In 1981 Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representative Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution establishing Women’s History Week.  By 1989 the observance expanded to a month.  And, as happens with Congressional resolutions, the wheels of the bureaucracies began to turn; stories emerged as researchers dipped into the archives, libraries strengthened their collections, educators produced curriculum and support materials, events and activities engaged students, and whole communities in learning the stories of women’s contributions.  In 2011 the Obama Administration released a report on fifty years of progress in honoring Women’s History.

Today, responsibility at the federal level rests with a number of agencies to continue the work of exploration and celebration.   A host of federal agencies play a role: The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art,  National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and numerous other agencies, including the Department of Defense, have a contributing role in providing resources and sponsoring programs that focus on the contributions of women.  Resources abound – and just reading about the resources is great fun.

A key player at the federal level is the National Women’s History Project highlighted here.  A priority of he NWHP is to select a theme for the year – not to exclude but to highlight outstanding accomplishments within specific fields.  Recent themes have been “Writing Women Back into History” (2010), “Our History Is Our Strength” (2011) and “Women’s Education-Women’s Empowerment” (2012).  Based on the annual theme, states and local groups are encouraged to develop their own unique programming and approaches.

The 2013 theme for national Women’s History Month is “Women Inspiring Innovations through Imagination:  Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” (STEM).  In preparation for Women’s History Month 2013 the NWHP identified an astounding list of women nominated for special commendation. From the nominees the selectors named a cohort of eighteen women chosen as “extraordinary visionaries and role models” in the STEM fields where, the selectors note, women are still noticeably underrepresented.”  The list of eighteen women covers decades, geography, fields of interest and affiliation.  Reading the accomplishments listed for each honoree expands one’s very comprehension of the depth and breadth of the paths they have chosen – and in which they have succeeded.  Very briefly, the list of honorees includes:

  • Hattie Elizabeth Alexander, 1901-1968 – Pediatrician and Microbiologist
  • Marilyn Barrett, 1954-                    K-12 STEM Educator
  • Patricia Era Bath, 1942 –                    Ophthalmologist and Inventor
  • Elizabeth Blackwell, 1821-1910, Physician
  • Katharine Buss Blodgett, 1898-1979, Physicist and Inventor
  • Edith Clarke, 1883-1959, Electrical Engineer
  • Rita R. Colwell, 1934-      Molecular Microbial Ecologist and Scientific Administrator
  • Diane Fossey, 1932-1985, Primatologist and Naturalist
  • Susan A. Gerbi, 1944-    Molelcular Cell Biologist
  • Helen Greiner, 1957- Mechanical Engineer and Robotocist
  • Grace Murray Hopper, 1906-1992, Computer Scientist
  • Olga Frances Linares, 1936-    Anthropologist and Archaeologist
  • Julia Morgan, 1872-1957, Architect
  • Louise Pearce, 1895-1959, Physician and Pathologist
  • Jill Pipher, 1955-      Mathematician
  • Mary G. Ross, 1908-2008, Mechanical Engineer
  • Susan Solomon, 1956-      Atmospheric Chemist
  • Flossie Wong Staal, 1946-     Virologist and Molecular Biologist

The list of names and professions inspires the uninitiated to learn more. Brief bios of each of the honorees are published here.

The NWHP planners went on to identify the names, dates and affiliations of all of the 115 nominees.  There are teachers and writers, a couple of astronauts, physicians, inventors, and women who were at the pinnacle of fields I could neither pronounced now explain.  That full list is also included here.

Without a chart or a footnote we know that most of these women inherited a vision of the possibilities by learning from and working with their forbearers.  We know, too, that younger women and girls have some mighty – if dainty – footsteps in which to follow.  The list itself suffices to start even this unreconstructed liberal arts major to further explore, possibly understand, the nature and impact of their contributions.

More to follow on the contributions of one pioneer Minnesota woman who cut a wide swath in the pre-STEM world of engineering and architecture.  More, too, on some of the ways in which Minnesotans are carrying on the tradition of Women’s History Month.