Courageous Claudette

Happy Women in History Wednesday! Our WCW for this week is Claudette Colvin!

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Claudette Colvin

Born on September 5th, 1939, Claudette Colvin grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. She was an intelligent student, and became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council while in high school. Colvin noticed and experienced the harsh effects of racism in her neighborhood, and wanted to work for change.

Riding home from school on a public bus on March 2nd, 1955, Colvin sat in the middle of the bus and was told to move to the segregated back section as the bus got full. Colvin refused, repeatedly saying that it was her right to sit anywhere after buying a ticket to ride. The bus driver called the police, who forcibly dragged her off the bus and arrested her for disturbing the peace and violating segregation laws. Colvin spent several hours in jail, being verbally abused by the guards, before her mother and pastor arrived to bail her out. Colvin pleaded not guilty in court, but was still convicted and put on probation. In 1956, she and three other women who had experienced similar events challenged the Montgomery bus system’s segregation in the Browder v. Gayle case, and the segregation policies were ruled unconstitutional.

Now, you might be saying, “Allie, we’ve already heard a story like this, but it was Rosa Parks.” Parks was working as the secretary for the NAACP during this time, and was well known for her organizing and protest skills. The NAACP didn’t think that putting a teenager like Colvin at the head of the public transport desegregation movement would look respectable. Additionally, Colvin got pregnant during the summer of 1955, and having not just a teenager but an unwed and pregnant teenager wasn’t going to bring the attention that the NAACP wanted. So about nine months after Colvin’s refusal, arrest, and imprisonment, Parks was tasked with repeating the event and raising awareness of her own experience with the unjust segregation of public transport and facilities, effectively kicking off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Only within the past decade has Colvin’s story become known.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Claudette Colvin

While Colvin was originally praised by her community for her bravery, she was ostracized for her pregnancy. In 1958, she moved to New York and began working at as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home in Manhattan. She had one more son, but never married. Colvin retired in 2004, and still resides in the Bronx.

All my fellow youngin’s out there: I hope you take away a feeling of encouragement from Colvin’s story. She was a teenager when she challenged authorities and stood up for what’s right. We are not too young to make a difference – Colvin paved the way for a major part of the Civil Rights movement. If you want to make a difference, to drive change, go for it!

To learn more about Claudette Colvin’s recently uncovered life story, check out these NPR, bio., and Famous People articles.  Additionally, a book titled Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose was published in 2010. I have yet to read it, so if you beat me to it, let me know what you think! There is also a great Drunk History episode about Colvin, which I hate to say is how I first heard about her.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Truth About Truth

Hello and happy Wednesday! I missed a couple weeks, but we’re back and moving forward. I meant for this piece to be at the start of February…obviously it’s not, but I still want to start by giving a quick background on Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the whole month of February in the United States. In 1915, Carter Woodson and Jesse Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, to foster research and recognition of achievements by black Americans. The group held its first “National Negro History Week” on the second week of February in 1926, a week which falls concurrent to the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and famed orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the founding of the NAACP. By the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, cities nationwide recognized the celebration and many schools extended the week into the entire month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month, and we’ve been celebrating it ever since. Now into Women in History Wednesday – our WCW for this week is Sojourner Truth!

sojourner-truth

Born Isabella Baumfree around 1797 in Ulster County, New York, Truth and her family were slaves at a Dutch plantation. She was separated from her family at some point in her childhood, and sold to several different and increasingly abusive owners. In 1815, she fell in love with a slave from a neighboring farm, Robert, and the two had a daughter. Truth’s master at the time was furious, as any child that Truth bore with a man from another farm would not become one of his slaves, and forbade Truth from seeing Robert or their daughter. In 1817, the master forced Truth to remarry one of his slaves, Thomas. The couple had three or four children, but all except the youngest daughter were almost immediately taken from Truth and sold. A year before slavery was abolished in New York, Truth took her daughter and escaped the plantation in 1826, fleeing to a Quaker settlement New York City where they could find refuge.

Now a freewoman, Truth changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Isabella Van Wagener, after the Quaker family she was living with. She worked as a house keeper for several families in the city, most notably those of evangelist Elijah Pierson and cult leader Robert Matthews. In 1829, Truth learned that one of her children that was taken from her was sold illegally, and thus she could sue her former master for custody of her son. She won the case, becoming the first black woman to successfully challenge a white man in a US court. Truth won another case a couple years later for slander that was committed against her while she worked for the cult leader.

During the 1840s, Truth converted to Methodist Christianity, changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and decided to dedicate her life to becoming an itinerant preacher and social reformer. In addition to the scripture, Truth spoke passionately about abolition, freedmen’s rights, temperance, prison reform, ending corporal punishment, pacifism, and women’s rights, especially in regards to suffrage. She became friends with other renowned reformers of the time, including Frederick DouglasWilliam Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but was often considered radical because she encouraged an intersectional approach to solving social issues. In one of her most famous and most misquoted speeches*, “Ain’t I a Woman?”, Truth says that women’s rights should not be racially exclusive, which was a point that some suffragettes and early feminists and even feminists today let fall through the cracks.

(*It was unlikely that Truth would have used the Southern colloquial “ain’t” as a New Englander whose first language was Dutch. Also, the original transcript of the speech never had that exact phrase – it wasn’t until a printing in a Southern newspaper a couple decades later that the changes were made, and because that version spread to a wider audience, the changes stuck.)

During the American Civil War, Truth turned her focus from speeches and preaching to the Union’s war efforts. She recruited black soldiers in the northeast, and met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss abolition and her own experiences as a slave several times. When the war ended, Truth took on the task of finding accommodations and job opportunities for freed peoples, working closely with the Freedman’s Bureau in Washington, D.C. During the Reconstruction, she avidly advocated for desegregation, especially in regards to public transportation, and for government grants for land ownership by freed peoples, as she wanted to avoid indentured servitude in the form of sharecropping and other Jim Crow systems of debt.

“It is hard for the old slaveholding spirit to die, but die it must.”

Truth continued giving speeches and working for changes in the legal system until she died of old age and leg ulcerations on November 26th, 1883. Her funeral, held in Battle Creek, Michigan, was attended by over one thousand people. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, and is remembered today memorial statues and plaques across the country. Truth released a novel in 1850 about her life titled The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave, which is commonly read in high schools today and keeps her legacy alive.

I could tell you one thing that I find inspiring about Sojourner Truth, but her accomplishments and efforts shouldn’t be reduced to a couple words. If you search for why Truth is a significant historical figure, the result is simply “her work against slavery,” but that does not do her story justice. Sojourner Truth was a leading abolitionist, and almost every social reform that happened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be traced back to work that she started. She fought for freedom, equal rights, desegregation, prison reform, justice, and so much more, with obstacles and opposition as a black woman in the era of slavery and segregation. Sojourner Truth did it all, and even though she could have been bitter about the atrocities she faced, she did everything with humor and hope.

To learn more about the incredible life of Sojourner Truth, check out these pages from the National Women’s History Museum, History Channel, and bio.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays! I’ll try to be more punctual next week, and will make up for the missed posts.

Be heard!

The Terror of South China

Hello and thanks for joining me for another Women in History Crush Wednesday! Our WCW for this week is legendary pirate Ching Shih.

ching-shih

Ching Shih, also known as Zhéng Yi Sao, Zhéng Shí, and Shil Xiang Gu, was born in the Guangzhou providence of China in 1775. Very little is known about her childhood, but by the time she was in her early childhood, Shih was working as a prostitute in a floating brothel. In 1801, Shih married a small but successful pirate, Zhéng Yi. There’s controversy about whether Zhéng Yi had his men abduct Shih or if he went himself to her after meeting once, but before Shih agreed to marry him she made a deal; Shih would marry Yi only if she got an equal share of the plunder of and power over his Red Flag Fleet. Following their marriage, Shih co-commanded the fleet’s sailors, but focused most on building alliances with other pirates. Within six years, Shih tripled the size of fleet and spread a reputation of the Red Flag Fleet as being unstoppable and aggressive. In 1807, Shih lost her husband to storms at sea. Shih didn’t want to lose her position in the fleet, so soon married Yi’s first mate, Chang Pao, to ensure her hold as commander.

With Pao now upholding the fleet’s reputation, Shih took over the business and military side of administration. Shih again tripled the size of the fleet, and, now with over 18,000 ships, split into the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets flying under the Red Flag banner. Shih assigned each group of ships its own mission – some pillaged coastal cities and forced them to pay tribute, others ran a kind of toll system for passage through the South China Sea, and a few even helped run a spy network within the Qing dynasty.

Shih’s method of managing a crew of over 80,000 sailors was brutal. Before I go into some of the details, I suggest that anyone not okay with reading about gruesome punishment please skip the rest of this paragraph. She came up with her own code of behavior that covered the delegation of plunder, treatment of female captives, and “protection” of tribute-paying cities and towns, and if any rules were broken or she thought they were being broken, the offender would be beheaded and thrown into the sea. Opposing pirates, if they didn’t not form an alliance with her fleet, would be nailed to the deck and flogged. Deserters would get their ears cut off before also being nailed to the deck and flogged.

ching-shih

Her domination of the South China Sea and alleged interference with the government lead to issues with the Chinese navy. The Chinese had to enlist the help of both the British and Portuguese navies after a few months, as Shih’s fleets won battle after battle. After two more years of battles, during which the navies kept losing and Shih’s fleets only grew stronger with conscriptions of defeated sailors, the Chinese government offered Shih amnesty if she would call off the fighting and retire. Displeased with the offer, Shih went directly to the governor general of Guangzhou and renegotiated. Shih demanded full amnesty, allowance to keep her loot, and legal protection as a member of the aristocracy for herself and amnesty and the loot ownership for all her sailors. The Chinese government conceded on everything for all but three hundred of Shih’s men, who were punished or executed for other crimes. So, in 1810, Shih retired from her life at sea and returned to Guangzhou, where she opened and operated a gambling house until her death in 1839. At some point, she had a son and later grandchildren, but there is little recorded about her retired life.

While I don’t aspire to become a ruthlessly powerful pirate, I think there’s something unconventionally inspiring about Shih’s career. She used her wit and business skills to build up and command a fleet of ships voluminous and powerful enough to rival three major navies, all within the span of nine years. She accomplished more in an nine-year career than most pirates were able to do over a lifetime, and then to top it all off, she retired as a wealthy aristocrat with government protections.

To learn more about Ching Shih’s fast and furious life, check out these Today I Found Out, Ancient Origins, and Atlas Obscura pages. Yo ho ho, and all that stuff.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays.

Be heard!

La Reina de la Salsa

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve recovered enough from the political whirlwind that was the beginning of this week, because it’s time for another Women in History Crush Wednesday! This week’s WCW is the Queen of Salsa herself, Celia Cruz.

celiacruz

Born Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21st, 1925, Cruz grew up in Havana, Cuba. She began singing almost as soon as she could talk, and would sing for her family, neighbors, and tourists at every chance. At her father’s advice, Cruz considered a life of teaching and enrolled in a teachers’ college, but dropped out to follow her passion. Throughout her early twenties, Cruz performed at night clubs and studied music theory at the Cuban Conservatory of Music. In 1950, she joined La Sonora Matancera orchestra as the lead singer and toured the Americas with them for fifteen years, experimenting with a few Afro-Caribbean genres and defining the genre of salsa. Cruz married Pedro Knight, the trumpet player for the group, and following Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1960, the two left Cuba to live and make music and America.

In 1965, Cruz left La Sonora Matancera to pursue what became a thirty-eight-year solo career. Cruz made changes to her musical style over the years, but gained the most acclaim and was a pioneer of salsa music, which explains her nickname as the “Queen of Salsa.” Besides her actual music, Cruz was known for her energetic stage presence at live shows; to excite her audiences, Cruz would call out “Azúcar!” and encourage dancing. Cruz released over seventy albums and had parts in around ten movies and television shows, all in Spanish. Some of her most notable collaborations were with Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, the Fania All Stars, Patti La Belle, Wyclef Jean, La India, and David Byrne.

celia-cruz

In 2002, Cruz and her husband, Knight founded the Celia Cruz Foundation. Beyond preserving her legacy by providing extensive resources about Cruz’s life, the foundation raises money for cancer research and provides scholarships for young Latino music students. On July 16th, 2003, Cruz died in Fort Lee, New Jersey after battling brain cancer. Funerals were held for her in New York City, New York, and Miami, Florida, each attended by thousands of fans. Knight continued working with the foundation until his own death in 2007. The couple is buried together outside of New York City.

“I have fulfilled my father’s wish to be a teacher as, through my music, I teach generations of people about my culture and the happiness that is found in just living life. As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar.”

Both in life and since her death, Cruz received countless awards and recognitions. She won three Grammys and four Latin Grammys, and was nominated for more. The University of Miami, Florida International University, and Yale University recognized her with honorary degrees and doctorates. Cruz was awarded the President’s National Medal of Arts, lifetime achievement awards from the Smithsonian Institution and several recording labels, and even the title for the Guinness World Record for the “longest working career as a salsa artist.” She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as others at walks in Florida, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Venezuela.

To learn more about Celia Cruz’s vibrant life, check out these Celia Cruz Foundation, AllMusic, bio., and Interesting Things for ESL Students pages. Additionally, her entire discography can be found online.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Fearless Fannie

Welcome back to my blog and happy new year! I’m going to skip the usual apologies and promises to post more even though I hope to be better at posting this year and just jump right in. It’s the first WCW of 2017, so we’re going to start off strong with the incredible Fannie Lou Hamer.

fannielouhamer

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the youngest of twenty children in the Townsend family. Hamer began picking cotton at the age of six and dropped out of school before seventh grade to help her family full time with their plot on a sharecropping plantation. Hamer contracted polio when she was sixteen. Due to her physical challenges after catching the virus and her ability to read and write, Hamer was promoted to the position of book keeper. In her late twenties, Hamer married Perry “Pap” Hamer, one of the tractor drivers at the plantation.

The couple wanted but was unable to have kids; Hamer was told that a uterine tumor was affecting her fertility and that she needed to have it removed. During surgery and without her consent, the doctor performed a hysterectomy. Hamer was rightfully furious when she came out of the procedure, and after finding out how common the eugenic practice was, began to speak out against and raise awareness for what she coined “Mississippi appendectomies.” Now completely unable to have children, Pap and Fannie Lou adopted two daughters.

Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 when she attended a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting about voting rights. The meeting inspired her to take a trip to a nearby city to register to vote with about twenty other students. However, the group was immediately barred from registering – except for Hamer and one man, who were given but failed a literacy test. On the drive back, the group was unlawfully stopped and harassed by police. No one was hurt, but the extreme difficulties Hamer faced over the course of the whole event inspired her to dedicate her life to advocating for desegregation and voting rights. Once home, the plantation owner that Hamer worked for kicked her and her family off the property; they struggled with debt and finances for several years after, which drove Hamer to add economic security for all to her advocacy list. Gaining in renown and protest inspiration, she and the SNCC travelled around the southern US for several months on a speech circuit. Hamer and a group of protesters made a stop at a café in Winona, Mississippi in 1963, and made a political statement by sitting at a whites-only counter. They were immediately arrested and were subject to many brutal beatings while imprisoned; injuries to her eyes, kidneys, and leg stuck with Hamer for the rest of her life. Following her release, Hamer’s reputation grew, and she became a national speaker for civil rights.

In 1964, Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDR) to oppose the pro-segregation democrats. The party struggled to gain support until later that year when Hamer ran for Congress; she lost, but put the MFDR in the national eye. At the Democratic National Convention in the same year, Hamer made a speech challenging the Mississippi representatives and advocating for integration. Her speech was so incendiary that President Lyndon B Johnson launched an emergency press release in an attempt to interrupt her broadcast. His plan backfired, as the excitement around the speech and interruption raised American interest in Hamer’s work. After the drama of the convention, Hamer returned to Mississippi, where she worked for over a decade organizing protests, training volunteers, helping with relief work, registering voters, and instituting agricultural co-ops and Head Start programs for low income families and children. One of Hamer’s trademark protest techniques was the use of hymns and spirituals to encourage marchers and spread hope for change.

fannie_lou_hamer_

Throughout the late 70’s, Hamer was widely recognized for her efforts. She was awarded honorary doctorates from four universities, received the National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service Award, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Hamer passed away on March 14th, 1977 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi due to complications from cancer and hypertension. Inscribed on her tombstone is one of her most well-known quotes “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said when asked why she continued fighting for equal rights when all the odds were stacked against her.

To learn more about the inspiring life of Fannie Lou Hamer, check out these PBS, American Public Media, History Channel, and Howard University pages. Additionally, you can find several albums of her top songs online. My personal favorite is her rendition of Wade in the Water (which unfortunately isn’t on YouTube), but she’s best known for This Little Light of Mine – both and all the rest are wonderful and I really hope you can take a second to listen.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Art of Arte

It’s been another couple weeks of absence in favor of my grades, but I’m here again so let’s do this! Happy Women in History Crush Wednesday! About a month ago now, my friend Rummel Medina suggested that I look up this “really awesome feminist painter from the 1600’s,” and I wasn’t disappointed. Today’s leading lady is one of the earliest recorded popular female artists in European history, and while we don’t know many specifics about her, several of her public and legal papers still survive today, giving us some insight into her life. Introducing this week’s WCW, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Artemisia Gentileschi

Born on July 8th, 1593 in Rome, Italy, Gentileschi was the daughter of accomplished painter Orazio Gentileschi. Not much is left in regards to her childhood, but at the age of seventeen Gentileschi began painting under the instruction of her father. Around this same time, one of Orazio’s friends and colleagues, Agostino Tassi, who often spent time at the Gentileschi’s house to socialize with Orazio, raped Gentileschi. Because Tassi refused to marry Gentileschi following the assault, Orazio pressed charges, and an investigation that cost Gentileschi her local reputation and resulted in her being further violated for evidence began its long trial, the transcripts for which can still be read today. Tassi was convicted and imprisoned, but was released quickly; within a year of his release, Orazio again often hosted him at their house as a close friend. A month after the trial, the pregnant Gentileschi married Pietro Antonio di Vicenzio Stiattesi.

Gentileschi’s career as a painter took off following the trial, as she moved to Florence and turned to art as her main form of expression. In 1613, she completed her first portrait (below) of her most painted subject, Judith, and gained massive renown for it and the many paintings that followed. By 1616, Gentileschi became an official member of the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts, an honor few women of the time received. Cosimo de’ Medici, of the Italian banking family, was Gentileschi’s first patron and played an integral role in boosting her reach – by the late 1620’s she had worked on commissions for likes of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Henrietta Maria of France. Following an illustrious run of paintings of scenes and other events, Gentileschi retired to Naples in order to focus on self-portraits.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Artemisia Gentileschi

Many art historians have speculated that while initially Gentileschi felt destroyed by her rape trail, she also felt some alleviation from social expectations, which inspired her paintings. Using chiaroscuro techniques, Gentileschi often painted female protagonists in biblical history; as few else chose such subjects, some consider her choices as her rebellion against the norm of topics with the hopes of finding her own strength in her heroines. Influences from her colleague Caravaggio can be found in many of her works, as they often worked together. Gentileschi became well known for her depictions of violence of dark, tumultuous color schemes, both of which were considered uncharacteristic of paintings by women.

The exact date is unknown, but Gentileschi died sometime between 1652 and 1653 in Naples. Little is known of her life following her retirement, but some of her self-portraits and a series of works about David and Bathsheba made during that time can still be seen today. So much can be taken away from our limited knowledge about the life of Gentileschi and what’s left of her collected works, chiefly, in my opinion, that it is possible, it is important, to be brave even at the darkest points in our lives. With every one of her paintings, Gentileschi portrayed that females are strong as hell (which coincidentally is one of my favorite catchphrases from the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

To learn more about Artemisia Gentileschi’s arduous rise within the patriarchal world of Renaissance art, check out these bio., Art History Archive, Brooklyn Museum, and Britannica articles.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Lady

Happy Wednesday! I’m really excited about today’s Women in History post, as today we’ll focus on one of my biggest inspirations. I first learned about this woman briefly in the summer world geography class I was in before freshman year; when we were released that day I went home and immediately got on the computer to research her for hours. The first biography I ever read by choice was about her. Even now, I have a poster of Shepard Fairey’s “Freedom to Lead” print up on my wall, a constant reminder to strive for the good and rights of my fellow humans. Let’s get started, before I get too gushy about how amazing I think she is; this week’s WCW is Aung San Suu Kyi.

I lied – quick side note first. If you’re at all familiar with Suu Kyi, you probably know that her efforts have been focused on the people and country of Burma or as it’s known today, Myanmar. Before we get going too far, I need to clarify that I’ll be referring to the country as Burma, as that is what Suu Kyi prefers it to be called (explanation at 2:48 here). I understand that it’s globally accepted as Myanmar, but for this post, we’re calling it Burma. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th, 1945 in Rangoon, Burma to an extremely politically involved family; her father, General Aung San, was the prime minister of British-held Burma then led the Burmese independence movement, and her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, was the diplomatic ambassador to both India and Nepal. After General Aung San’s assassination in 1947, Khin Kyi, Suu Kyi, and her two siblings moved to India, where Suu Kyi attended Methodist East High School. Following graduation, Suu Kyi studied politics at Lady Shri Ram College until her graduation in 1964, then moved to the University of Oxford to earn a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics at St Hugh’s College by 1969. Suu Kyi met Dr. Michael Aris during her time at Oxford, and the two wed in 1971 and later had two sons. For the next three years, she worked as a budgetary writer for the United Nations. In 1985, Suu Kyi enrolled in a research program at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, graduating with a masters’ of philosophy in 1987. In order to take care of her mother, who had suffered a stroke, Suu Kyi moved back to Burma in 1988 – upon seeing the state of nation, which was brutally run by a military junta, Suu Kyi reentered the political sphere as a voice for basic human rights and freedoms.

Suu Kyi began her work by giving public speeches against the government’s inhumane treatment of the Burmese citizens and soon caught the attention of authority figures suspicious of her growing following. On September 27th, 1988 she founded the National League for Democracy (DNL) based on the principles of Buddhist teachings and the nonviolent protests of Mahatma Gandhi, in the hopes of increasing her presence in regards to human rights and the freedoms possible with democratic governments. Ten months later, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for “her treasonous speeches,” beginning her twenty-one year stretch as a political prisoner; between 1989 and 2010, Suu Kyi spent a little over fifteen years total under house arrest. For this first offense, she was released in less than a year, in time to run in the Election of 1990, the first democratic style election ever in Burma. At first, the election went extremely well for Suu Kyi, as the DNL won a majority of the seats in parliament and she looked to be the leading prime minister candidate. However, upon seeing these results, the junta nullified the election and again placed Suu Kyi under house arrest until 1995 for “undermining community peace and stability.” While detained, Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov and the Nobel Peace Prizes in 1991, which one of her sons had to collect for her because she was imprisoned. Between arrests in 1996, Suu Kyi was traveling with a group of NDL leaders and members when a violent 200-man assault rained down on them, killing several and injuring more. Suu Kyi and members of the NDL were punished for this episode, and Suu Kyi spent the next several years in and out of house arrest – starting in 2003, her sentence was simply renewed annually. Throughout the mid 2000’s, the United Nations attempted to intervene in favor of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, at one point even issuing an updated Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it was not accepted by the Burmese government. Finally in November of 2010, after much negotiation between the junta and leaders from around the world, all political prisoners in Burma were freed.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Aung San Suu Kyi

With Suu Kyi back and stronger than ever, the junta grew nervous. In 2010, legislation was passed that made anyone one with a criminal background or anyone related to a non-Burmese bloodline ineligible to run for prime minister, effectively barring Suu Kyi from office. In response, the NLD didn’t register as a party that year as an act of solidarity. The legislation remained in 2011, but the party reregistered and Suu Kyi set her goals on being elected into a parliamentary seat. In May 2012, she accomplished this feat, and was sworn in on the 2nd of the month. During this term, Suu Kyi was able to take her first trip out of Burma since 1988, and so visited her family and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and also made a stop in Norway to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. Later that year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, becoming the first person to win it for their efforts while imprisoned. Suu Kyi was also awarded many honorary degrees, doctorates, and fellowships from universities across the globe.

This is not generally the norm, but as Suu Kyi is still politically active, we’ll touch on really recent events. I originally meant to put out this post in November, when the Burmese elections were being held, but I’m glad I didn’t, because now I can somewhat talk about how things turned out. The Burmese government has changed since 2011 – the military rule has greatly reduced its autocratic rule, and the government is now more civilian-run than it has been in the last half century. However, the legal requirements are still in place, so Suu Kyi couldn’t run for president, but she re-won her seat in parliament. As of this moment, over half of the seats in parliament are held by the NLD, making Suu Kyi the opposition leader. For more about the results, check out this BBC article.

To learn more about Aung San Suu Kyi’s revolutionary life, check out these bio., Famous People, Britannica, and CNN posts. Additionally, a movie about Suu Kyi titled “The Lady” came out in 2012 – I’ve yet to see it, but from the looks of the trailer it seems intense and fairly accurate. I’ll try to get a hold of and review it soon, but if you beat me to it, let me know what you think! Speaking of “The Lady,” before we finish, let me quickly explain that title. Up until about 2010, even mentioning Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma could get you in heaps of legal trouble, so people would refer to her as “The Lady” to avoid punishment. And that’s a wrap!

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Quaker Who Never Quaked

It’s the first Wednesday of the year and you know what that means – today’s another Women in History Crush Wednesday! Earlier this week you may have noticed that the Google doodle featured a group of women with a “votes for women” sign, and if you didn’t notice it then, you may notice now that the same cartoon adorns the top of this article. At the front of the pack stands our woman of the week holding a banner with her motto “deeds not words,” which we’ll touch on later. Now, without further ado our first WCW of 2016, Alice Paul.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Alice Paul

Born on January 11th, 1885 in Mt Laurel, New Jersey, Alice Paul was raised on her family’s farm in Paulsdale. I don’t generally mention the ancestors of our WCWs, but Paul was related to some big names, including William Penn, John Winthrop, and one of the founders of Swarthmore College. Raised a Hicksite Quaker, Paul grew up following a tenet of equality, which taught that men and women were equal in every sense of the word. This principle, along with the women’s suffrage meetings that Paul attended with her mother during her childhood, spurred the interest in equal rights-based activism that she carried with her for her whole life.

Paul graduated high school at the top of her class, then in 1905 earned a degree in biology from Swarthmore College. For the next two years, she conducted graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy (presently the Columbia School of Social Work) while pursuing another degree, this time in sociology, from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1907, Paul moved to Birmingham, England to study social work and gain experience as a case worker at the Woodbrooke Settlement. While in England, Paul befriended leaders of the British suffrage movement Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, and from them learned radical activism, an extreme form of protest that includes using approaches from non-violent picketing to window smashing in order to be heard. It was with the Pankhursts that Paul began living by “deeds not words,” as to her this meant to actually work for the cause instead of just talking about it. When Paul returned to Pennsylvania in 1910, she brought these lessons with her and with them reinvigorated the American suffrage movement.

While working for her doctorate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, which she completed in 1912, Paul served as the leader of the Washington D.C. chapter of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. On March 3rd, 1913, Paul and fellow activist Lucy Burns organized the largest parade the nation’s capital had ever seen – over eight thousand women marched to the White House advocating for the right to vote. Though the parade was initially peaceful, groups of onlookers soon began physically attacking the suffragettes, while police stood idly by. The conflict didn’t hurt the suffrage campaign but rather strengthened it, acting as justification for the necessity of the movement.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Alice Paul

After several years with the NAWSA, Paul felt in 1916 that she needed to increase the pressure on policy makers and so founded firstly the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in order to lobby for suffrage, and secondly the National Women’s Party to maintain presence picketing at the White House. Many of these “Silent Sentinels” were arrested over their eighteen month stint for obstructing traffic, although there is speculation that some arrests were made out of frustration because the women were “bothering President Wilson during wartime.” Paul herself spent seven months in jail, during which she organized several hunger strikes and wrote about the abusive treatment of older suffragettes within the prison, the latter of which helped gain public support for the movement. Finally in 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified, and women were allowed to vote in the United States.

Following her success with women’s suffrage in the US, Paul went back to school and received three law degrees, then spent several decades traveling to Europe and South America to advocate equal rights. Beginning in 1923, Paul worked on an amendment for absolute gender equality, first known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, then the Equal Rights Amendment, and sometimes referred to during the mid twentieth century as the Alice Paul Amendment. Though she and others worked on passing this document for over fifty years, such an amendment has yet to be ratified and added to the Constitution. In 1938 she founded the World Women’s Party, which often worked with the League of Nations for including gender equality in their agenda. Additionally, Paul led a successful campaign to include a sexual discrimination clause to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul continued speaking out about equality internationally until well into her eighties.

 “I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that it isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it.”

Paul died on July 9th, 1977 in Moorsetown, New Jersey. Eight years later, the Alice Paul Institute was founded to honor her and the equal rights movement. To this day, the institute runs programs to teach young women how to be leaders, as well as acting as a museum of women’s history.

To learn more about Alice Paul’s incendiary life, check out these National Women’s History Museum, History Channel, and Alice Paul Institute pages. Paul’s perseverance and dedicated work ethic in regards to equal rights remain as something to admired, and personally I’m in awe of and inspired by her scholarly achievements and success politically.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Two Spooks, One Stone

Happy Wednesday and welcome to the third day of our Halloween countdown! Today’s post will cover both this week’s Woman in History Crush and the 13 Days of Halloween; the first bit will be the actual history, and the latter will follow with how it ties to the holiday. This week’s WCW is Queen Mary I of England, and our spooky subject is the legend of Bloody Mary.
Women in History Crush Wednesdays - Mary I of England

Mary Tudor was the daughter of Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon, born on February 18th, 1516 in Greenwich, England. While Mary was recognized as the first child of Henry, she was declared illegitimate when Henry divorced Catherine on the grounds of incest. A quick refresher on King Henry VIII: he was the monarch who separated England from the Roman Catholic Church and into the Anglican Church mostly in order to divorce Catherine because she hadn’t borne him a male heir, and ended up marrying five other women but had only one male heir, Edward VI, to show for it. After being illegitimatized, Mary was made Princess of Whales as a formality, but Henry never intended for her to gain the thrown.

Mary resided at Ludlow Castle in Whales for most of her youth and young adult life. There, she was educated and excelled at singing and linguistics. As Henry’s wives came and passed and more daughters were added to the lineage, Mary grew angry at both her father and her half-sisters, most notably her first sister and eventual successor, Elizabeth I. With Henry spending most of his time in search of a male-rearing wife for himself, he didn’t devote much of his time to arranging a marriage for Mary. One or two were discussed, like the dropped proposal from Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but Mary did not marry until 1554, when she wed Philip II of Spain.

Like her mother before her, Mary had problems with childbirth. She didn’t marry Philip until her late thirties when the period of safe birth had already passed, but this didn’t stop her from trying to have children, to no avail. Twice, Mary subconsciously willed herself into a false pregnancy, a pseudocyesis, and when it was announced to the people of England that no child existed, her humiliation and stress nearly killed her. Mary eventually gave up on trying to conceive, saying that her inability to reproduce was caused by her toleration of heretics.

Following Henry’s death in 1547, the only male heir was the son of Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour, Edward VI. He took the throne at the age of nine and ruled until he was fifteen, when he died from terminal illness. After his death, his mother seized control of the throne for nine days, until Mary, the rightful heir, gained control. Mary led a five year reign over Catholic England, gaining her nickname “Bloody Mary” when she persecuted Protestants. During the largest persecution that she ordered, some three hundred Protestants were captured and burned at the stake for their religious dissent of Catholicism. Other than the religious aspects of her reign and her overturning of the edict that declared her a bastard child, Mary did little to change or influence the English government or nation.

On November 17th, 1558, Mary died from either ovarian or uterine cancer, along with that year’s strain of influenza. Her half sister Elizabeth, who she had imprisoned due to suspicion of treason, succeeded her rule. Today, we only really remember Mary’s rule when discussing those of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Now to the legend. Due to television and movies, Bloody Mary has taken a more definite story line within the past century – a person looks into a mirror in a poorly lit room at night and repeats “bloody Mary” thrice, and a ghostly and extremely malicious woman, presumably a Mary, appears in the mirror or as an apparition and physically maims or kills the speaker. However, this isn’t how the legend has always been, and is definitely not how it began.

13 Days of Spooks: Two Spooks, One Stone

As far as I could find, the earliest records of mirror-based (not including a broken mirror) superstitions date back to the late eighteenth century. A commonly held belief was that if a young woman walked up to a mirror backwards, candle in hand, then turned and gazed into the mirror, the face of her future spouse would appear. But if she looked for too long, the devil or a demon would appear. The story altered as it was passed from generation to generation, until the common story of today began circulating at teenage parties in the late 1970’s. Youths attempted to summon the ghost of any woman killed in a malicious manor, generally who held some resemblance to the woman in the Spanish legend of La Llorona, by chanting either “bloody Mary,” “I believe in Mary Worth,” or “I stole/killed your baby, Mary.” This last one may sound unfamiliar; it relates back to Mary I’s pseudocyesis, as it aims to provoke the spirit by bringing up her failure to have a child. Regardless of what incantation is used, the basic outline of the story remains the same, making it one of the most popular urban legends.

To learn more about the scandalous life of Mary I of England, check out the English History, bio., and Tudor History sites, and for more about Bloody Mary, go to this About or Wikipedia page. I’ll also informally cite my European History class (thanks again, Coach Patterson!) for my understanding of the Tudor family, as we recently discussed their lineage.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays and the 13 Days of Halloween countdown!

Be heard!

In the Spirit of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Another Wednesday, another Woman in History Crush! This past Monday, the U.S. observed the Columbus Day holiday. At this point in time, Columbus Day is highly controversial, as it celebrates a man who as we now know was terrible to the indigenous people of the Americas, one of his most noted cruelties being basically starting the enslavement and trade of captive Native Americans in the late 15th century. Within the last few years, many activist and university groups have protested the observance of Columbus Day, and the city of Seattle in Washington now celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. So in the spirit of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, today’s WCW is Lyda Conley.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Lyda Conley

Born in 1869 in Ohio, Eliza Burton “Lyda” Conley was of mixed European and Wyandot descent. For clarification, the Wyandot tribe originates from the St Lawrence Valley region in Canada, and shares some similarities with the Iroquois tribe. Conley grew up on a sixty five acre farm in Kansas with her three older sisters, with whom she remained close throughout her adult life. In 1902, Conley graduated from the Kansas City School of Law, and became the first woman admitted to the Kansas bar.

Before we get too far into the main court case of Conley’s career, it’s important to understand a brief history of the Kansas Wyandot tribe. Starting in the mid-1850’s, some Wyandot members accepted U.S. citizenship. The tribe’s land holds were soon divided among only the newly declared citizens, so the tribespeople who didn’t become citizens migrated to Oklahoma both to retain land and because they were forced to do so as non- citizens during the carrying out of the Indian Removal Act. While tribal structure suffered with the parting of ways, the Wyandot held continued legal authority over the communal burial grounds, the Huron Indian Cemetery. But in 1906, the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma approved the sale of the cemetery to the United States government without holding a vote for the descendants of the tribe in Kansas City.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Lyda Conley

When Conley and her sisters found out about the deal made without half the tribe’s consent, they were enraged, and vowed to protect the land their ancestors were buried in from development. The sisters immediately built a structure on the burial grounds in which they lived and stood guard with muskets and “no trespassing” signs. In 1907, Conley petitioned to the Kansas District U.S. Circuit Court for injunction against the sale authorization. Following rejection in the Circuit Court, Conley appealed the case to the Supreme Court. During the appeal, Conley was the first female Native American lawyer admitted to speak directly before the Court. The Court supported the rulings of the lower courts, but this didn’t discourage Conley or her sisters. The three women advocated and gained support for their cause, preserving native lands with native peoples, in women’s clubs and small organizations. Around 1913, Conley was actually arrested for shooting a policeman who attempted to remove her from the cemetery. This publicity was what their cause needed; it attracted the aid of Senator Charles Curtis (later Vice President under Herbert Hoover), who three years later introduced legislation to Congress to turn the cemetery into a protected park. Curtis’ bill passed, and the cemetery was safe from urban developers.

The Conley sisters continued acting as guardians over the burial grounds after gaining its’ legal protection, and would provide food for the birds and squirrels inhabiting the park. In 1937, while fending off people from the cemetery, Conley was again arrested, this time for disturbing the peace. Conley served ten days in jail for her sentence, and then was virtually forgotten about until her death on May 28th , 1946. Following her death, Conley was buried alongside her ancestors at the Huron Cemetery.

Despite several years of American history courses in school, I’ve learned more about Native Americans in history this week than ever before. I was inspired to read up on the lives and accomplishments of notable indigenous people after reading the article about Seattle that I mentioned earlier, which is how I learned about Lyda Conley. I think Conley’s story is inspirational; she believed in the preservation of her tribe’s lands and culture so fervently that she took both unconventional and common approaches to advance her cause, and continued appealing and fighting for it until a change was actually made.

There isn’t much recorded history about Lyda Conley, especially between 1937 and 1946, but to find out more, check her out these GroupThink, and Wikipedia articles.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays! I should soon be posting my thoughts about both the last GOP and yesterday’s Democratic debates, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Be heard!