Women’s History Month New Book Recommendations

For those of you interested in women’s history in book form, I have four recommendations of new releases, two nonfiction and two novels.

First, the nonfiction.

I’ve been talking about this book for a while now, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m leading with Pamela Toler’s Women Warriors: An Unexpected History. It’s smart and funny and very much worth your time.

The other, released today, is She the People by Jen Deaderick. It’s an illustrated history of the women’s rights movement, and it, too, is very smart.

Now the novels.

Also released today is Greer Macallister’s Woman 99, described as a historical thriller, about a woman determined to rescue her sister from an asylum.

Finally, for anyone interested in women’s rights history, there’s Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. The story focuses on Maud Gage Baum, who married the man who would write The Wizard of Oz, and whose mother was the famous women’s rights activist Matilda Gage.

Next up, the life of an African American artist.

 

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Looking Backward by Laura E. Foster

Laura Foster Looking Backward 1912(Library of Congress)

In 1912, Life magazine published this anti-suffrage illustration by Laura E. Foster. A well-known artist and illustrator, Foster was born in 1871 in San Francisco, where she first began doing newspaper drawings. After the 1906 earthquake, she moved to New York City, where her career continued to grow and thrive, and where she married Donald Monroe, a stockbroker about eleven years her senior.

This drawing is a stark reminder that the suffrage movement was not a straightforward march toward progress. It had begun in the late 1840s, and in 1912, when Life published Foster’s illustration, it was on the cusp of an infusion of radicalism by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. This drawing attempted to convince women that love and marriage were incompatible with a career and “professional triumph.” The higher a woman climbed toward fame, the more riddled she would become with loneliness and anxiety. And suffrage was right near the top, contributing to those negative attributes.

Women’s suffrage was written into the Constitution with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, the same year Laura Foster died. Nearly one hundred years later, many women will still find the message of her illustration familiar.

 

Women’s History Month 2019

Since March 1 rarely brings any indication that spring is on the way, the ultimate consolation prize is that it’s always the beginning of Women’s History Month.

Image result for snow in wisconsin 2019

I also think of it as What I Do For a Living Month. My academic career focused on women’s history as does my current writing career. Right now I’m four chapters into a book on Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

https://history.army.mil/news/2016/images/gal_maryEdwardsWalker/gal_drMaryEdwardsWalker_moh1.jpg(Army Center of Military History)

Dr. Walker was a dress reformer (notice she’s wearing trousers), temperance advocate, abolitionist, suffragist, and pacifist. As such, she fits squarely within this year’s theme for Women’s History Month:

Mary Walker had a grand vision of a world in which everyone was equal. Throughout March, I’ll be posting compelling images that reflect the concerns of visionary American women like Mary Walker. Next up, a commentary on the suffrage struggle.

 

 

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, just before closing time, a fire started in the upper floors of the Asch building at 23-29 Washington Place in Manhattan.

File:Triangle Factory fire 004.jpg

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company’s non-union shop employed about 500 workers, mostly young immigrant women from Italy and Eastern Europe.

trianglehbo.JPG HBO photo

They worked long hours under unpleasant conditions for minimal wages making shirtwaists, a popular clothing item of the New Woman of the early twentieth century.

Image result for shirtwaist

The fire, caused by a carelessly tossed match or cigarette, spread quickly through the various combustible materials on site. Many workers had no easy avenue of escape. Windows didn’t open properly, doors were locked, fire escapes didn’t function. In less than twenty minutes, 146 people died; all but 17 were women.

Image result for triangle shirtwaist factory

The best online resource about the Triangle Fire is the one maintained by the ILR School at Cornell University. It provides an informative historical overview and contains numerous primary sources, including photographs, oral histories, and a transcript of the criminal trial of the factory’s owners.

There are several good nonfiction books about the fire, including:

And there is one fine work of historical fiction about the fire:

In fact, Weber’s book is on my list of all-time favorite novels. It’s the very model of historical fiction for the way in which it evokes time and place while delivering memorable characters.

So pick up any one of these books to learn more about the fire. I recommend starting with Weber’s.

 

 

Women’s History Month 2018

This year’s theme is wonderful, both timely and historical:

Image result for women's history month 2018

One of the 2018 honorees is a woman I admire very much, the lawyer/activist Pauli Murray. Here’s what the National Women’s History Project website has to say about her:

Pauli Murray was a civil rights and women’s rights activist decades ahead of her time. Facing lifelong discrimination based on her race and sex, she persisted and become an accomplished attorney, author, activist, academic, and spiritual leader.

Pauli Murray was extremely bright as a child, she finished first in her class at Howard Law School where she was the only female student. Despite her academic prowess, she was denied admission to UNC graduate school in 1938 due to her race and denied a fellowship to Harvard Law in 1944 due to her sex. She went on to be the first African-American awarded a law doctorate from Yale (1965) and later became the first African-American woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest (1977).

Murray was a critical figure in both the civil rights and women’s rights movements. In 1940, fifteen years before Rosa Parks, Murray was arrested for sitting in the whites only section of a Virginia bus. She coined the term “Jane Crow” referring to the intersecting discrimination faced by African American women and was highly critical of sexism within the civil rights movement. JFK appointed her to the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (1961) and she was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. Many of Murray’s legal theories were decades ahead of their time and she is considered a pioneer of women’s employment rights. Her papers while a Howard law student arguing against segregation were used over a decade later in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case (1955). Similarly, in the early 60s she argued that the 14th amendment forbade sex discrimination, a full ten years before the U.S. Supreme Court came to the same finding in Reed v. Reed (1971).

Pauli Murray died in 1985. The Episcopal Church honored her as one of its Holy Women in 2012. In 2016 Yale University announced it would name a residential college after Murray, and that same year her family home in Durham, NC was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

To learn more about Pauli Murray, I recommend:

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