Posts Tagged ‘women’

On this day in 1906, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri and christened Freda Josephine McDonald by her mother, Carrie McDonald.  Homeless at the age of 12, she was discovered dancing on a street corner three years later and recruited to join the St. Louis Chorus.  She is perhaps best remembered for her performances at the Folies Bergères in Paris throughout the 1920s where she danced in her iconic banana skirt and often appeared on stage with her pet cheetah, Chiquita.  Through the 1930s, she rose to fame as a singer, dancer, and actress.  In 1937 she became a French citizen, and as World War II progressed, she shifted her focus toward supporting the underground resistance movement.  After the war, she often returned to the United States where she was active in the American Civil Right Movement, speaking at the 1963 March on Washington and famously refusing to perform before segregated audiences.

Josephine Baker with the Nobel Prize winning political scientist, Ralph J. Bunche, ca. 1960. Image courtesy of the UCLA Special Collections via Calisphere, the Online Archive of California.

You can find more primary sources about activists and entertainers of the twentieth century through Opening History.


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On November 29, 1832, Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, PA.  She shared a birthday with her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, an American educator and transcendentalist.  Her family moved to Massachusetts when she was two years old, and she spent her childhood surrounded such family friends as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  Alcott embarked upon her own literary career with a selection of stories called Flower Fables in 1849, and she gained critical recognition in 1863 for Hospital Sketches, a collection of her letters home to Massachusetts while serving as a nurse in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.  She is, of course, best known today for her semi-autobiographical novel, Little Women, a celebrated classic of children’s literature.

Home of Louisa May Alcott in Concord, Massachusetts. Image courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Library at The University of Utah.

In addition to her literary career, Alcott was also an outspoken abolitionist and later became an advocate for women’s suffrage.  You can learn more about Alcott’s life, philosophy and politics at Opening History where several of her lesser known works are available through University of Pennsylvania’s A Celebration of Women Writers Collection.

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On October 18, 1773, Phillis Wheatley was emancipated from slavery in the wake of her first publication, a book of poetry entitled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.  Wheatley was the first African-American poet and the first African-American woman ever to publish.  The broadside below is an elegiac poem in honor of George Whitefield, composed by Wheatley at age 17.

Elegiac poem, on the death of that celebrated divine, and eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the reverend and learned George Whitefield. By Phillis, a servant girl, of 17 years of age, belonging to Mr. J. Wheatley of Boston... Image courtesy of Connecticut History Online.

More poetry by Phillis Wheatley may be found through Opening History in A Celebration of Women Writers, American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera, and Connecticut History Online.

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On October 11, 1884, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born to Elliott and Anna Hall Roosevelt at 56 West 37th Street in New York City.  She was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt and the fifth cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  She met Franklin in 1902, and the couple was married three years later.  In 1933, Eleanor became the First Lady of the United States, following her husband’s Presidential inauguration.  During that time, she set a precedent for public engagement: traveling on speaking tours, working as a newspaper columnist, and developing a presence in the media.  In 1945, President Harry Truman appointed her as a delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations where she played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  She remained politically active until her death in 1962 at the age of 78.

Eleanor Roosevelt speaking in Meany Hall at University of Washington, Seattle, March 1938. Image courtesy of King County Snapshots.

Opening History documents many of Roosevelt’s speaking tours across the United States through its local history collections.  The above photograph is drawn from King County Snapshots: A Photographic Heritage of Seattle and Surrounding Communities.  Complementary items may be found in the LA Examiner Digital Archive, Connecticut History Online, and the Western Waters Digital Library, to name a few.  Correspondence between Roosevelt and Henry Lehman may also be found in the Lehman Special Correspondence Files.

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On this day in 1879, birth control activist Margaret Sanger was born in Corning, New York.  Sanger (née Higgens) was  the sixth of eleven children, and her mother’s poor health and early death, due in part to her 18 pregnancies, influenced her attitudes toward childbirth and women’s health.  In 1912, Sanger began working as a nurse with poor women on the East Side of Manhattan who were suffering from multiple childbirths and self-induced abortions, and, as a result of these experiences, Sanger soon gave up nursing and devoted her life to advocacy for family planning and sex education.  In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League, which later became Planned Parenthood, and she worked tirelessly throughout her life to promote its mission by establishing clinics, embarking on speaking tours, and disseminating publications.  When the birth control pill was newly available in the 1960s, Sanger (then in her 80s) was its most outspoken advocate.

Image of Margaret Sanger courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Through Opening History, images of Sanger from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress may be found alongside her many publications, which have been made available through the Women Working, 1800-1930 and Immigration to the United States (1789-1930) collections at Harvard University Library.

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March 8 is International Women’s Day, celebrated in many different ways in countries across the globe. The holiday has a rich history, beginning in 1911 when it was established by the Socialist Party and celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland as a recognition of women’s rights and role in the labor movement. Celebrations gained popularity across eastern Europe, and after the Bolshevik Revolution Vladimir Lenin declared it a national holiday in the newly-formed Soviet Union.

In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day, focusing on a broad definition of women’s achievements in many fields and on the rights of women globally. The fall of the Soviet regime encouraged many countries to stop observing a holiday closely intertwined with communist power, but today some of those countries and many others in six continents continue the celebration, often as a day of appreciation much like Mother’s Day. While International Women’s Day is not widely observed in the United States, March is generally known as Women’s History Month.

An International Women's Day march at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Opening History offers many resources related to women, both in the United States and elsewhere. Writers and artists are represented in the Willa Cather Archive at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the Dorothea Lange Collection through Museums and the Online Archive of California, and the Mitsuye Yamada Papers in the California Digital Archive. Other notable collections include Women Working, 1800-1930, through Harvard University, and interviews with women in Oral Histories of the American South, through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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The IMLS Digital Collections and Content project celebrates Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month by uploading to its Flickr photostream the images from the Wing Luke Asian Museum digital collection (part of the larger King County Snapshots digital collection). Three photographs below are from Wing Luke Asian Museum (King County Snapshots) Flickr photoset.

Japanese Pavilion at the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition, Seattle, 1909

Seven Chinese American women and one Caucasian woman, Seattle, ca. 1920

Four Boy Scouts, Seattle, August 1935

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