Tag Archives: Women’s History Month

Jane Goodall’s Adventure Story

The following blog post was written by Danielle Blackmore.

Jane Goodall is someone many of us recognize for her work with chimpanzees, but the significance of her work in the scientific community and for women is something people are less familiar with. However, after learning more about her and her work, I think that her accomplishments warrant a closer look not only for the gains she made for science, but also for the path she helped pave for other women scientists to come after her. So, in the following post I share the importance of Jane Goodall’s accomplishments in the hope that her work for science and for women can be better appreciated.

Jane grew up in England in the 1930’s, and at the age of 26 began observing chimpanzees in Tanzania. During this time, she took unconventional routes to conducting research that challenged previous scientific findings. Instead of numbering chimps for example, she gave them names and observed them to have unique and individual personalities. At the time it was believed that naming chimps would take away from the observer’s ability to be objective, but in Goodall’s case it added to her findings. Jane for instance, found there are more similarities that exist between chimps and humans than just in our genetic makeup- we have emotions, intelligence, and family and social relationships in common. She also made other findings that challenged longstanding beliefs at the time, such as the belief that only humans could construct tools and that chimps were vegetarians.

Before she initially took the trip to Tanzania to conduct this work, a lot of people doubted Goodall’s abilities because she didn’t complete her degree and lacked a formal science education. Furthermore, Jane Goodall conducted this work at a time when women were fighting for rights in the third wave of feminism, and encountered challenges deeper than scientific credibility.

In her current life, Jane Goodall travels around the world giving talks at college campuses and advocates for animal and human rights issues. She mentioned that since her time in science, the field has definitely changed, but that there are still a lot of misconceptions about women and science. For example, Goodall explained that in a trip to China, she met a young woman who was studying pandas but didn’t believe she could become a scientist due to her gender.

However, the girl told Goodall that after she read a book Jane wrote about her experiences in the field of primotology, it gave her the confidence she needed to pursue her dream of studying pandas.

Fun Facts about Jane:

☆ Her favorite books growing up were Tarzan and Dr. Dolittle (she said herself she knew she’d be a much better jungle companion for Tarzan than that other Jane).
☆ She is still alive and active today, speaking to groups of students, meeting with government officials to discuss conservation issues, sitting before television cameras for interviews, and meeting with donors to raise money for the Jane Goodall Institute- which is a global nonprofit that empowers people to make a difference for all living things.

Did you Know…

Jane Goodall is a vegetarian and advocates for others to take up a vegetarian diet for ethical, environmental, and health reasons.

She has an affinity for working with young people and is determined to use just about every minute she has working to save chimps and to empower people- young and old- to do what they can for a better world.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A “***Flawless” Figure

The following was written by Becky Celestina, League Intern

3527cd41287ab9d66473e112dbd339c6e515ef38_1600x1200Though you may not know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by name, you may know her by voice; Beyoncé, in her popular song “***Flawless,” sampled a talk on feminism that Adichie gave. The feminist principles that Adichie discusses as well as her influence as a writer makes her a woman worth talking about this Women’s History Month.

Adichie was born in Nigeria, and moved to the United States when she was 19. She is an acclaimed short story and novel writer and has won a variety of awards for her writing. She has also given two TED talks, one about the concept of the “single story” and one on the importance of being a feminist.

In Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of a “single story,” she states that the idea of a “single story” flattens groups of people and values certain narratives over others. This concept of one story or one version of a story is a something we see all the time in movies, television shows, books, etc.

As a storyteller, Adichie defines this concept in relation to our predispositions about other people, specifically, saying that it, “[shows] people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” She says that:

“How they [stories] are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told are really dependent on power. Power is the ability to not just tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person”

Power dictates what stories we hear to the point that we expect people from other countries to fit the stories we hear about them. The reality, however, is that people cannot be compacted into such rigid and small boxes. Adichie calls for more diverse stories to be published as well as for more diverse voices to tell their stories. She says that the single story, “creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” We need to hear many stories to avoid these incomplete stereotypes.

I admit, I found out about Adichie from Beyoncé’s song — I was struck by what Adichie spoke about in the sample (which came from her talk on why everyone should be feminists) and after watching both of her TED talks in full, I knew Adichie had an interesting perspective on feminism, gender roles and the value of diverse storytellers.

As someone coming from a media background, I’m constantly looking at films and television shows with a critical lens and after watching Adichie’s talk on the single story I started to see how problematic the single story is in practice. I would see it in television shows that rely on stereotypes of specific groups of people and in movies that never show anyone other than cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white people. I saw the single story in action.

The single story takes away what makes someone’s culture so valuable and interesting. Adichie writes about her life as an African and as a feminist; she’s telling another story, her own story.

I wanted to include Adichie in a blog post for Women’s History Month because she’s encouraging people to tell their own stories and take control of their identity. Adichie writes honestly and candidly, not feeling hesitant because her stories don’t conform to what people say “African literature” should conform to.

I am passionate about Adichie’s call for the expansion of the single story because, looking at my own life and experience with stories, I realize if I did not actively seek out diverse stories, I would never hear them. These stories fill in cultural gaps and help me to see people as real living beings with important lives, even if I’ve never met them.

So whether you diversify your exposure to stories through TED talks or Beyoncé songs, realize that every new story you hear broadens your sense of your own world. Adichie wants people to tell their own stories, and I think she’s pretty “flawless” for that.

Conclusion: Women’s History Month, Intersectionality, and Ella Baker

All month long, I’ve had the opportunity to highlight female leaders throughout history and sectors of society. I’ve written full posts about Anna Howard Shaw, Christie Whitman, Sonia Sotomayor, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve called to memory New Jersey-specific pioneers: Molly Pitcher, Marie Hilson Katzenbach, and Alice Paul; while also commemorating the efforts of national and international leaders: Sheryl WuDunn, Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama, Carrie Chapman Catt, Sally Ride, and Dorothy Irene Height. I’ve had the chance to reflect on some of my favorite fictional female characters from books, movies, and TV: Leslie Knope, Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennet, and CJ Cregg.

It has been an inspiring journey, especially prescient for me personally, as I prepare to complete my Master’s Degree this May and enter the world of politics, nonprofits, and advocacy. I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to all of the women I have highlighted this month.

While each woman’s story represents a unique thread of the broader tale of women’s advancement and quest for true equality, I’ve come to realize one major central theme among them all: being a woman is only one aspect of the identity of each of these women. It is only one piece of what drove them to greatness. Identity is a tricky thing, wrought with complex layers and changing constantly as contexts change.

Many of these women faced more than “just” a gender barrier. They were racial or ethnic minorities, LGBT, students, came from a different background or geographic region, or in a field not very receptive to those outside a particular mold. In academia, we call these varying identities “intersectionality,” and I think intersectionality defines the face of feminism today and the future of where it will go.

And so, I offer as my last blog post of Women’s History Month, a truly intersectional figure: Ella Baker. Born in 1903, Ella Baker’s grandmother was a slave. Baker was smart and hard working, graduating as valedictorian of her class from Shaw University in North Carolina in 1927. From there, she moved to New York City and got involved with civic associations focused on advancing the social and economic status of African Americans and women (Are you keeping track? Baker represents women, African Americans, members of the GI Generation, and first generation college students, so far)

In 1957, Baker was tapped by MLK to help organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where she stayed for three years before leaving in 1960 to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She believed in the power of educated young people to create social change, and the NSCC attempted to tap their collective power to tackle the issues of the day.

Like the League of Women Voters, Baker believed in the power of voting and that true freedom cannot be achieved without both voting rights and voter participation. She believed in servant leadership and shared leadership, and the need for an organization’s capacity to be strong enough to survive its first transfer of power, proving that it is sustainable even when the first strong leader abdicates. She was a facilitator and a work horse, often behind-the-scenes, so that the end result of her work could be strong and impactful. After all, community organizing requires organization. These beliefs allowed her to leave a strong institutional legacy. It was also these beliefs that contributed to her nickname: “Fundi,” which is Swahili for “a person who teaches a craft to a younger generation.” (The Child Defense Fund even has the Ella Baker trainers program built around her ideals and work ethic!)

Ella Baker died on her 83rd birthday in 1986. While she wasn’t necessarily the flashiest, big-name, in-front-of-the-cameras figure, she was a major force in the Civil Rights movement practically from its inception. She lived through a period of rapid transformation of the social and political fabric of our nation, and she was at the center of it all, bringing with her all the aspects of her identity. Ella Baker is the perfect capstone to this Women’s History Month series, and we thank her today.

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(sources: http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian-wright-edelman/ella-baker-my-civil-right_b_5052112.html)

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Modern First Lady

No list of famous or influential women would be complete without an homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was a remarkable woman who led a remarkable life. Born in 1884, Eleanor was educated in Europe and returned to America to be a debutante. She married her fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1905; at the wedding, she was given away by then-President Theodore Roosevelt. She had six children before FDR came down with polio in 1920, and she tended to him while he recovered and encouraged him to pursue his political ambitions despite his illness. It was during this time that she began her own political involvement, joining the League of Women Voters, serving as Vice President of Legislative Affairs!

FDR was inaugurated in 1933, and while he conducted a landmark Presidency, Eleanor transformed the role of First Lady. She became a visible public figure, travelling the country and writing a daily syndicated newspaper column. For the first time, the First Lady held her own press conference. In true Eleanor Roosevelt style, she only allowed female reporters to attend. As First Lady, she was actively involved in New Deal efforts, travelling to work sites and living locations for the relief efforts. She became a fierce advocate for the poor and disadvantaged.

After her husband’s death and a brief recusal from public life, Eleanor was appointed by President Truman to the US delegation to the United Nations. There, she served on the Human Rights Commission and helped author the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR was adopted and is still used regularly in international law today. Eleanor developed a strong relationship with President Kennedy, who reappointed her to the UN. He also appointed her to the National Advisory Committee of the Peace Corps and as Chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women.

Eleanor Roosevelt remained active in public life and humanitarian causes until shortly before her death in 1962.

Many tout the Kennedy Administration for transforming the Presidency, turning the office into a public affair with images of the First Family living an “ordinary” life in the White House. I contend, however, that this change could not have happened if Eleanor Roosevelt had not first transformed the office of the First Lady. She was not only an ardent supporter of the work her husband did, but also conducted herself independently as First Lady, championing her own causes and performing her own citizen outreach. Since Eleanor Roosevelt took on the causes of the poor, disadvantaged, and human rights, First Ladies Nancy Reagan took on drug abuse, Hillary Clinton took on health care, and Michelle Obama is promoting healthy nutrition and exercise choices for children and families.

We have much to thank Eleanor Roosevelt for, and today we honor her. May we all attempt to live out her legacy; after all, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”!

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From the South Bronx to the Highest Court: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

ImageAny assessment of the historical makeup of the Supreme Court sends a clear message: the only people qualified to ascertain the true nature of American law are old, white men. The nine-member court only admitted a woman (Sandra Day O’Connor) to its ranks in 1981, well behind the tide of the wave of feminism that had been sweeping the nation since the 1960’s. Sure, the Court is meant to be isolated, austere, and unswayable, but accepting diversity isn’t a trend and shouldn’t be treated as such. It wasn’t until the nineties that the Court saw two women serving concurrently, with the appointment of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But then O’Connor retired and we were back to one—that is, until Sonia Sotomayor came along.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by President Obama in 2009, and ultimately was appointed as the first Hispanic and only the third woman on the Supreme Court. Described by virtually all of her classmates  as exceptionally bright, Sotomayor was Valedictorian of her high school, a Pynes Award winner at our own PrincetonUniversity, and ultimately attended Yale Law.

Sonia Sotomayor was raised in a single-parent home in a South Bronx public housing project. Her parents met after her mother returned from the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, and her father died when Sonia was nine. The strongest figure in Sonia’s life was her mother, followed only by Nancy Drew, the crime fighting girl who starred in Sonia’s favorite book series. These women—real and fictional—were super important in forming her identity both as Latina and female, and she breached both the gender and ethnicity barriers in every phase of her career. (Career, by the way, is something she talks to Abby about on Sesame Street)

Prior to ascending to the bench, Sotomayor was a consistent advocate for the underprivileged and underrepresented while she worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and served on the New York State Mortgage Agency. In 1992, she was nominated to the Federal District Court by Governor Cuomo and President Bush. Six years later, she was nominated by President Clinton to sit on the Federal Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. During this phase of her career, Sotomayor developed a reputation as a tough judge and boss, but one who is also well integrated in the Bronx community.

When President Obama had to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court, he sought justices who not only were incredibly intelligent and have a strong understanding of the law, but also those with certain experiences— he considers Sotomayor’s identity as Latina and female as assets to her on the bench. Sonia Sotomayor celebrates her identity and is a radical departure from the old, white men wearing powdered wigs that we often think of when we think of the Supreme Court. Sonia Sotomayor is a trailblazer in more ways than one, and we thank her today.

My First Role Model: Christie Whitman

The following post is written by Megan Dunne, spring intern for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

This is the second post in a series highlighting and celebrating female pioneers throughout history. Some of these women have been largely overlooked, others celebrated, but I feel that all of these inspiring women have made important contributions to the state of women today.

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Okay, so that’s a bit of a misnomer; my first role model was my mom. But right around when I was eight or nine years old, Governor Christie Whitman came to my elementary school and talked to us. This was the first moment I was aware of politics, and it’s pretty awesome that my first association of politics was with a woman. I often think back to the impression Whitman had on me, especially now as I am on the precipice of completing my Master’s Degree in Political Science.

Why did I think she was the coolest? Well, she was. Christine Todd Whitman was elected New Jersey’s first female governor in 1993, also making her only the 13th female governor in US history. Not only did she win, but she beat an incumbent—a rare feat in politics. As governor, she appointed many women to important posts, including the first female Chief of Staff, the first female Attorney General, and the first female Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. A Republican, Whitman cut income taxes, business taxes, and reduced the size of government. She was moderate on social issues and championed environmental causes.

Whitman won reelection but ultimately resigned in 2001 to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. Currently, Whitman sits on a variety of nonprofit and corporate boards, started the Whitman Strategy Group, and was part of the initiative to bring the Super Bowl to New Jersey this year. She also wrote It’s My Party Too, a book supporting her vision of a Republican party that is fiscally conservative but socially tolerant.

All Christie Whitman had to do to inspire child-me was to show up at my school, smile, speak confidently, and hold the title “Governor.” I was a kid, I didn’t need to know anything about her policies or politics. I didn’t know what “Democrat” or “Republican” meant; come to think of it, I think I knew who Christie Whitman was before I knew who the President was.

The effect Governor Whitman had on me demonstrates the effect of female leadership: being there empowers others to aspire to be there. What I mean by this is that Christie Whitman taught me at a very young age that a woman can be whatever she wants. This woman was in charge of the entire state when my entire world was encompassed by my one-square-mile town.

I now know that my former idol and I would disagree on certain things if we ever were to meet again. But that doesn’t matter to me. She worked hard to ascend to where she did, and she brought along more strong women with her, paving the way for more women behind them all.

When I was a kid, I idolized Mia Hamm, Nala from The Lion King, and the Olsen twins. But I didn’t become a soccer player, an actress, or a lion (though it was a sad day when I realized that wasn’t possible). I went into politics, and in my job experience and my undergraduate and graduate courses, I’ve been surrounded by a healthy mix of men and women. So thank you, Christie Whitman, for pushing at that glass ceiling. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.

(Sources: http://governors.rutgers.edu/njgov/whitman/whitman_biography.php , http://www.christiewhitman.com/biography; Image Source: http://www.christiewhitman.com/biography)

The Case for Making a REAL Anna Howard Shaw Day

The following post is written by Megan Dunne, spring intern for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

This is the first post in a series highlighting and celebrating female pioneers throughout history. Some of these women have been largely overlooked, others celebrated, but I feel that all of these inspiring women have made important contributions to the state of women today.

I have to be honest, the first reason Anna Howard Shaw came to my mind when I was developing a list of influential women was because of Liz Lemon on 30 Rock. Liz was trying to avoid the pressures of Valentine’s Day by scheduling dental surgery for that day and commenting that, on February 14th, she celebrates the birth of Anna Howard Shaw, not Valentine’s Day. “Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day!” she yelled across the studio. I never learned about Anna Howard Shaw in school, and I had no idea what her contribution to feminism was, but I nonetheless took this opportunity to look into her life.

As Liz correctly noted, Anna Howard Shaw was born on February 14th, 1847. She lived through a series of important historical moments in America’s story: her family emigrated from England to America when she was a child in 1853, and later embarked out to the American frontier. Her family ultimately settled in Michigan. Despite discouragement from her family and friends, she continued her education, graduating from Albion College in 1872. Then she went even further, attending the Theological School of Boston University in 1878, where she was the only woman in her class.

Higher education for women, at the time, was well outside of social norms. Anna was denied ordination from the Methodist Episcopal Church when she applied, despite having the proper qualifications. However, she did go on to become the first female minister ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church in 1880. While preaching in East Dennis, MA, Anna went to Boston University Medical School, getting her MD in 1885. This was an incredibly smart, driven woman.

Her story so far is fascinating on its own, trailblazing so that more women could go to college and any women could get graduate degrees, but its where the story goes that makes Anna Howard Shaw such a pioneer for women in society.

So here is Anna Howard Shaw, a highly educated pastor and doctor. She could easily have stayed in that already unique combination of occupations. But she began to notice something. Shaw writes, “Around me I saw women being overworked and underpaid, doing men’s work at half men’s wages, not because their work was inferior, but because they were women.” Shaw went to join the Massachusetts Women’s Suffrage Association, and joined with like-mined women to start the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. This doctor and preacher suddenly became more politically active than many of us will ever be.

Shaw was so effective in Massachusetts that she ultimately became president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association—precursor organization to the League of Women Voters! During Shaw’s term from 1904 to 1915, membership grew tenfold; the budget grew threefold; and the discussion of women’s rights changed from a state-by-state approach to a national campaign for the federal level of government.

Shaw went on to be involved with the war effort during World War I and was a proponent of the League of Nations, and a cause for which she was campaigning when she passed away in 1919. She died one year before women got the right to vote.

As a pastor, Anna Howard Shaw refused to perform marriage ceremonies in which the word “obey” was used; as a citizen, Shaw refused to pay property for income taxes because she could not vote, thereby making her taxes “taxation without representation.” Anna Howard Shaw was a trailblazer and a true pioneer for the women who followed in her footsteps, and I surely believe that she would have joined the League had she been around at it’s inception.

Today we remember and thank Anna Howard Shaw for advancing women’s rights and helping to create a world where women can study whatever they want, however long they want! May every day be, as Liz Lemon says, Anna Howard Shaw Day.

(Sources: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0214.html     http://www.biography.com/people/anna-howard-shaw-9480841)