history

#RWHPmission

Long-term readers may know that I stole the idea for the “Radical Woman of the Day” posts I do every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday directly from the Radical Women’s History Project. Because March is Women’s History Month, RWHP founder Shelby Knox has asked readers to contribute the names of radical women unnoticed by history.

My mission — I will not call it a challenge because it shouldn’t be one! — this month is to, for one post per day, step outside of the RWHP model of date specific facts and histories of radical women and simply profile a radical woman each day that should be known to history but is not. The goal is to populate Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter with radical histories that must be seen. And I need your help!

You can post your contributions to the organization’s Facebook page or tag tweets with #RWHPmission to bring them to Shelby’s attention.

Radical Woman of the Day: Jeannette Rankin

On this day in 1917 Jeanette Pickering Rankin was sworn in as the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives, representing Montana. Already a suffragist who had participated in successful campaigns to bring women the vote in Washington and Montana, she took office in Congress at a time when many women in the United States were still disenfranchised.

One of Rankin’s first major acts in Congress was voting against the United States’ participation in World War I. A lifelong pacifist, she was one of only 50 representatives who voted against the war resolution, saying, “I felt the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war she should say it.” During her later second term in office, Rankin also voted against the country’s entrance into World War II, and in this case she stood alone amongst the entire Congress and had to call congressional police for an escort when an angry mob followed her home after the vote.

Rankin held a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Montana and briefly attended the New York School of Philanthropy. She left her property in Georgia to be used for helping “mature, unemployed women workers”, and her surviving friends used the money from her estate to found the Jeannette Rankin Women’s Scholarship Fund, which has given away over $1.8 million in scholarships for women’s education. A statue of her stands in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Tattooed Ladies

I’ll bet you thought that title would turn out to be some kind of metaphor, didn’t you? Nope! This post is about the history of tattooed ladies in circus sideshows.

Tattoos on women aren’t new to us, and they really weren’t new to the ladies of the circus sideshows either. Tattooing and women have a long history, which twists and turns with changing ideals about adornment, modesty, independence, and function.

Twists! Turns! Exotic stories! Semi-nudity gawked at openly by otherwise decent people! Step right up, folks.

Radical Woman of the Day: Hattie Caraway

Born in 1878, Hattie Caraway was appointed to a temporary position in the U.S. Senate in 1931, when her husband Thaddeus Caraway, who had been occupying the seat, died in office. She won the special election for the seat in January 1932, completing the remainder of Thaddeus’ term as the first woman ever elected to the Senate.

Deciding that “the time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept there only while someone else is being groomed for the job”, Caraway ran for re-election in 1932 and won. She supported the New Deal but, unfortunately, opposed an antilynching bill—she was a resident of Arkansas—put forward by the Roosevelt administration.

Caraway held a reputation for integrity among the Senators but rarely made speeches, preferring not to “take a minute away from the men. The poor dears love it so.” Despite her historic position, she maintained that homemaking and child-rearing should be a woman’s primary responsibilities. She did, however, co-sponsor the Equal Rights Amendment in 1943, becoming the first female legislator to do so.

She lost her seat in the 1944 election, but President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed her to the Employees’ Compensation Commission. After an appointment by President Harry Truman to the appeals board of the Commission in 1946, she served there until suffering a stroke in January 1950 and died in December of that year.

Hattie Caraway was honored with a 76¢ Distinguished Americans series postage stamp in 2001.

Via the Radical Women’s History Project.

Radical Woman of the Day: Simone de Beauvoir

On this day in 1908 was born Simone de Beauvoir, author of the seminal second-wave feminist book The Second Sex.

Born and educated in France, she studied mathematics and philosophy, eventually ranking second in a national post-graduate examination on philosophy, being narrowly judged runner-up to the well-known existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who became her lifelong lover and literary partner. They read each other’s works before publication and co-edited Les Temps Modernes, a political journal Sartre co-founded.

An open bisexual, Beauvoir had a number of younger female lovers, some of whom she shared with Sartre. At least two of these relationships began when the women in question were her students, leading to accusations of exploitation that eventually resulted in the loss of Beauvoir’s license to teach in France.

Despite her moral failings, in 1949 Beauvoir made a significant contribution to the feminist movement when she published the first chapters of what would become The Second Sex. In the book, she argues that men have historically “othered” women, imbuing them with an aura of “mystery” used to stereotype them and place them lower in a societal hierarchy. In this she pre-dated similar concepts found in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Beauvoir died in 1986 at the age of 78 and was buried next to Sartre.

Via the Radical Women’s History Project.

Radical Woman of the Day: Fannie Farmer

I have decided to start an ongoing series of posts on important women from history, shamelessly stealing from Radical Women’s History Project. Every day I post, I will select one of the women mentioned in their summary for that day, read about her briefly on Wikipedia (or wherever I can find information), then pass on a few facts to all of you lovely people.

Today: Fannie Farmer, author of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Prevented by a paralytic stroke at the age of 16 from attending college, which her family wanted her to do (in the 1870s!), Farmer began learning to cook while convalescing at home. She then attended the Boston Cooking School.

Farmer trained at the school until 1889 during the height of the domestic science movement, learning what were then considered the most critical elements of the science, including nutrition and diet for the well, convalescent cookery, techniques of cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and household management.

She became the Principal of the school in 1891, and in 1896 published her famous cookbook, which sold so well and became so ubiquitous that people started referring to it simply as “Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook”. You can still buy it today.

Although she expected to be remembered most for her contributions to the art of preparing food for the sick and convalescent, her most lasting gift to us was the use of standardized measuring cups and spoons. She explicitly assured readers that “a cupful is a measured level” at a time when other cookbooks suggested measurements such as “a piece of butter the size of an egg”.

As someone who has never been comfortable eyeballing measurements and likes to know I’m following a recipe exactly, I thank her.

Via Radical Women’s History Project.

The Masculinization of the Garage

Tristan Bridges of Inequality by (Interior) Design traces the sociological roots of the man-cave.

Industrialization and suburbanization brought about fantastic transformations in family life and gender relations. Men and women began to rely upon one another in new and unprecedented ways. Divisions between work and leisure became more pronounced for men and this same boundary was probably blurred more than ever before for women. The same forces that led Lasch to call the family “a haven in a heartless world” were inequitably distributed between family members. This fact is reverberated in our design and use of home architecture.

Reading over this for the second time, I can’t help thinking how men in our culture have lost their identity as patriarchy collapses. Clinging to the trappings of old-fashioned masculinity ultimately only delays the inevitable need to redefine what it means to be a man.

We Thought Modesty Made Us Timeless

Sierra of The Phoenix and Olive Branch recalls what it was like to grow up wearing “holiness”:

We told the comprehensive history of feminine apparel along these lines:

  1. God clothed Eve in the Garden.
  2. Women wore long robes, like men (but, crucially, not the same kind of robes).
  3. Women wore lots of fabric until the 20th century.
  4. From 1920 on, increasing amounts of sin in society caused women to strip off gradually.
  5. Eventually women will return to being naked, like in the Garden before God intervened, but without the innocence.

Except that narrow trajectory, in which clothing becomes simply skimpier and skimpier, doesn’t jive [sic] with actual history. The only real constants in the history of fashion are its tendency to change and its reflection of social hierarchies.

Sierra challenges her former—and many people’s current—narrative about modesty by simply showing us pictures of 20th-century dress.

Beate Gordon, Feminist Heroine in Japan, Dies at 89

Great obituary of an amazing woman.

Her work—drafting language that gave women a set of legal rights pertaining to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance that they had long been without in Japan’s feudal society—had an effect on their status that endures to this day.

“It set a basis for a better, a more equal society,” Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, said Monday in a telephone interview. “By just writing those things into the Constitution—our Constitution doesn’t have any of those things—Beate Gordon intervened at a critical moment. And what kind of 22-year-old gets to write a constitution?”

Just read it.