Saturday, April 12, 2014

219: The Self-Empowered Woman: Idina Menzel

Dear Followers,

 First of all, thanks to everyone who has been casting votes on my behalf for the NMEDA contest for a new handicap accessible van.  Just in case you need the link (since voting lasts until May 8th), here it is:
Now, let me introduce you to one of the entertainment world's most talented Self-Empowered Women.
You may have seen her on Broadway in Rent or Wicked, or you may have watched her on TV's Glee, or you may have heard her voice in the animated hit movie Frozen, or you may have heard her sing at this year's Academy Awards when John Travolta accidentally mangled her name. The bottom line is that if you've had any contact at all with the entertainment world during the past two decades, you've probably heard Idina Menzel's amazing voice.
Born on May 30th, 1971, in Queens, New York, she is the only Tony Award-winning actress to ever record a song (Let It Go) that has reached the top 10. Her grandparents were Russian/Eastern European immigrants, and her mother (Helene) is a therapist and her father (Stuart) worked as a pajama salesman. When she was 15, her parents divorced (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and she began working as a wedding and bar mitzvah singer (2: An Early Sense Of Direction). Her family is Jewish, and she attended Hebrew school, but didn't have a bat mitzvah (3: Belief In The Unbelievable)
She attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, and earned an BFA in drama before being cast in the rock musical Rent. She was nominated for a Tony Award, but didn't win. Instead, she recorded her first solo album (Still I Can't Be Still), and performed in a variety of other Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
In 2003, she and Kristin Chenoweth starred on Broadway in Wicked, and Menzel won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. When the play opened in London, she was the highest-paid female performer in the West End--earning $30,000 per week. In 2003, Menzel married the actor Taye Diggs, a fellow performer in Rent. Racist protesters were angered by the couple's interracial marriage, and both received threatening letters. When Menzel was in Wicked, a threat was made against her life because Diggs is black and Menzel is white and Jewish (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest), but the theater provided heavy security and no additional incidents occurred.
Menzel has appeared on PBS programs, at the 1998 Lilith Fair, and in a variety of movies including Just A KissKissing Jessica Stein, The Toll Booth and Water. In 2008, she performed on the M&M Candies Float as part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In 2009, Menzel and Diggs had a son, Walker Nathaniel Diggs, and she has admitted "I didn't know how much your heart would feel...there is so much love" (16: Intensive Motherhood).
In 2010, Menzel founded "A Broader Way Foundation," to help support financially-needy young people in the arts with camp programs, scholarships, educational programming, and opportunities to experience professional performances. The following year, she ran a ten-day performing arts camp in Lenox, Massachusetts where young girls were able to collaborate with Broadway artists (7: Magnificent Obsession).   
Four years ago, Menzel performed at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama. Last year, after ten years of marriage, Menzel and Diggs separated (15: Forget About prince Charming). In light of the record-breaking success of Frozen ($1.1 Billion as of this writing), Menzel's role as Queen Elsa has elevated the 43 year old singer to superstar status.
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

218: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dorothy Thompson

Dear Followers,

As man of you know, I'm in the middle of a month-long national competition for a handicapped-accessible van. The more votes I can get the better, and I'm competing against a number of people who have large organizations (i.e., big voting blocs) behind them. This is a shameless request for three minutes of your time today to vote on my behalf, and then one minute each day until voting end on May 8th. The link--is below--and if you answer the daily question correctly, I'll get two votes!

Thank you so much for your support--and if you can think of any friends, Facebook members, or anyone else who could join the cause that would be terrific! Here's the link

Now, let me introduce you to another amazing American woman...


As a journalist, I should have been aware of Dorothy Thompson's work, but I just learned about her last week. Born on January 9th, 1893 in Lancaster, New York, she is widely considered to be the "First Lady of American Journalism."

Her father (Peter Thompson) was a Methodist preacher (3: Belief in the Unbelievable), and her mother (Margaret Thompson) died when she was seven years old. Her father quickly remarried, but Dorothy and her stepmother did not get along. When she was 14, her father sent her to Chicago to live with his two sisters (1: No Paternal Safety Net). She graduated from Syracuse University (where she majored in politics and economics) in 1914, and was acutely aware that she--unlike most women at that time--had been fortunate to receive a quality higher education. This awareness prompted her to work on behalf of women's suffrage, which later developed into a life-long passion for political justice (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In 1920, she moved to Europe (14: Selective Disassociation) to pursue a career in journalism. That same year, while in Ireland, she became the last person to interview Sinn Fein leader Terence MacSwiney before his arrest, imprisonment, and death. The Philadelphia Public Ledger appointed her as their Vienna correspondent, and she worked diligently to become fluent in German (10: The Critic Within). Five years later, her newspaper promoted her to Chief of the Central European Service, which was an amazing development in the male-dominated newspaper world of the 1920s.

A few short years later, The New York Post made her the head of its Berlin bureau in Germany, where she witnessed the rise of the Nazi party (11: Risk Addiction). During this time, according to her biographer (Peter Kurth), she was "The undisputed queen of the overseas press corps, the first woman to head a foreign news bureau of any importance" (13: More Than Meets The Eye). She wrote a book about the dangers of Nazism  (I Saw Hitler), and in August 1934, the National Socialists expelled her from Germany (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). She was the first journalist--male or female--to be kicked out of the country.

Back in America, in 1936, she began writing "On the Record," which became an incredibly successful national newspaper column. It was read by over 10 million people, and appeared in over 170 papers. She also wrote (for 24 years!) a monthly column for the Lady's Home Journal, Additionally, NBC hired Thompson to become a news commentator with a program called "On the Record." The wide popularity of her radio program made her one of the most successful public speakers of her time. Being expelled from Germany catapulted her career into a new level (8: Turning No into Yes).

Thompson's life was full of risk-taking, but one event in particular caught the public by surprise. After writing a column about how hard it was to find flattering clothes, she accepted a challenge from Vogue magazine to do a makeover. And since she was a size 20 (when the average woman of that era was a size 12), the whole experience was out of her comfort zone (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Contest). 

Naturally, her private life was unconventional. She was married three times (15: Forget About Prince Charming), and in 1930, had a son, Michael, with her second husband, Sinclair Lewis. It was a well known fact that she adored her only child (16: Intensive Motherhood). In 1939, Time Magazine reported that she was the second most influential woman in America after Eleanor Roosevelt.

The 1942 hit movie, Woman of the Year, which starred Katharine Hepburn, was based on Thompson's life. The author of 18 books, she died on January 30th, 1961, in Lisbon, Portugal.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

217: The Self-Empowered Woman: Did You Know?

Dear Followers,

As Women's History Month comes to a close, I thought I would share a few "reminders" about the progress we've made, and the changes that have come our way. So, did you know that...
  • Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to get a medical degree in America in 1849.
  • Fifteen years later, Rebecca Lee Crunpler became the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree.
  • In 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull became the first female presidential candidate as a member of the Radical Reformerist Party.
  • In 1874, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling that women should be denied the right to vote.
  • Madame CJ Walker became the first African-American female millionaire by developing hair products and employing 3,000 workers in 1905.
  • Mary Davenport-Engberg became the first woman to conduct a symphony orchestra in Bellingham, Washington in 1914.
  • In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • In 1932, the Federal Economy Act forbade more than one member of the same family from working for the government. This law was enforced until 1937, and caused many woman to lose their jobs.
  • The first woman to serve as a Director of a major American company (Coca-Cola) was Lettie Pate Whitehead in 1934.
  • In 1947, the Supreme Court ruled that women could serve on juries.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that married couples could use birth control in 1965.
  • Sally Ride became the first woman in space in 1983.
  • In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that in order for schools to receive Title IX funding, equal numbers of men and women must participate in sports.
  • Mothers are now the top earners in 40 percent of U.S. households. In 1960, that number was only 11 percent.
  • In 2013, 19.7 percent of Fortune 500 Companies had 25 percent or more women executive officers--in 2012, the number was 20.1 percent.
  • Experts estimate that American women make or influence 80 percent of all consumer spending decisions.
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

216: The Self-Empowered Woman: Misty Copeland

Dear Followers,

Everyone knows that I like stories about women who enjoy being groundbreakers. Misty Copeland, who was born on September 10th, 1982, is one of the few African-American female soloists dancing for a leading classical ballet company. She is actually the third African-American soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, and the first in two decades with that company. Copeland is often referred to as the "Jackie Robinson" of classical ballet.
Copeland has written an autobiography (Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Touchstone, $24.99) in which she describes her challenging childhood. She and her five siblings were raised by their mother, who had four marriages and a number of boyfriends (1: No Paternal Safety Net). She writes that from the age of two "...our family began a pattern that would define my siblings' and my childhood: packing, scrambling, leaving--often barely surviving" (12: Hard Times).  
One of the things that makes her so special is that she rose to stardom in spite of not starting her ballet studies until she was thirteen years old (2: An Early Sense of Direction). And within three months of beginning her classes, she was allowed to dance en pointe. Her drill team coach, Liz Cantine, at Dana Middle School in San Pedro, California, recognized her innate talent; Copeland was the team captain. And after she saw a ballet class at her local Boys & Girls Club, Copeland enrolled for the free ballet classes. That's where she met Cynthia Bradley, who helped shape her talent (4: Supportive Someone).
Bradley provided transportation for dance school classes, and Copeland soon moved in (during the week) with the Bradleys, who lived a two-hour bus ride from her mother's home (where she spent weekends), which was a motel room. After only eight months of study, Copeland danced as Clara in The Nutcracker, and the media took note of the huge jump in ticket sales for those performances, as well as her appearance in Don Quixote (13: More Than Meets the Eye).
When she was only 15, Copeland won first place in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards, and began her studies at the Lauridsen Ballet Center. Soon after, she was offered workshop grants from six major dance companies, and selected to study with The San Francisco Ballet School. Throughout her junior year in high school, she also maintained a 3.8/4.0 GPA (10: The Critic Within).
After her time in San Francisco, where she learned about a minor's right to file emancipation, Copeland chose to stay with the Bradleys (14: Selective Disassociation). But a fierce battle began, and a judge finally ruled in her mother's favor. By the year 2000, she had joined Ballet Theater's Summer program, and joined the senior troupe the next year. Within four years she realized that because of her race it would be difficult for her to win the classical parts that her peers received. "Suddenly I felt aware of being black..." (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).
But in 2007, the five foot two inch dancer was promoted to soloist, and received principal roles in La Bayadere, Le Corsaire and The Firebird (8: Turning No Into Yes).  In addition to her dancing, Copeland has begun to enter other fields as well. She became a spokesperson for Project Plie, an initiative to broaden leadership within the ballet community, has written two books, starred in a documentary, filmed a music video--and performed on stage--with Prince, and marketed calendars and dancewear under the name of M by Misty (11: Risk Addiction).
Susan Jaffe, is the Dean of dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and a former Ballet Theater ballerina. According to her, Copeland "...wants to do the big classical roles, and she can, because she is very strong and clear, with an incredible amplitude. But I think she is a new kind of dancer. There is so much untapped potential there. With the right choreographer, she could do anything."
Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

215: The Self-Empowered Woman: Tatyana McFadden

Dear Followers,

I’m not sure how many of you have been following the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, but I’d like to introduce you to one of my personal heroines—Tatyana McFadden. It’s easy for all of us—able-bodied and otherwise—to feel sorry for ourselves now and again. But McFadden’s story is so inspiring that you can’t help but look at your own life and realize a) how truly lucky you are, and b) how much more you could accomplish if you were as motivated as she is.

 McFadden was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on April 21st 1989. Unfortunately, she was born with a congenital disorder—spina bifida—which left her paralyzed from the waist down. Her birth mother took her to an orphanage (1: No Paternal Safety Net) that was so poor it had no wheelchairs, and didn’t even have crayons for children to play with. The operation to repair her spine should have been done immediately, but hers wasn’t done for three weeks. Some people consider it miraculous that she managed to live at all. For the first six years of her life the orphanage was her home, and she was forced to use her arms as legs and her hands as feet in order to have any mobility at all (12: Hard Times).

In 1995, Debrah McFadden who was visiting Russia as a Commissioner of Disabilities for the U.S. Health Department (and had been immobile and wheelchair dependent from age 23 to 27 due to a viral infection) happened to be at the orphanage. She fell in love with Tatyana, and even though doctors said that the little girl had very little time left to live, McFadden (as a single mother) adopted Tatyana and brought her to America.

She couldn’t speak English, but kept saying “Ya sama,” which literally translates as “I, myself.” Those who know the 24 year old today believe that what she was trying to convey was “I can and will do anything and everything.” Her American Mom, who lived in Baltimore, enrolled her in a variety of sports programs—first swimming, then gymnastics, wheelchair basketball, sled hockey and track and field—to help strengthen her muscles. McFadden began wheelchair racing at the age of eight (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

The moment Tatyana sat in a racing wheelchair was transformative. In her words, “I just fell in love…I always wanted to do more, I always wanted to get faster” (10: The Critic Within). When she was in high school, she was not allowed to race at the same time as able-bodied athletes, so she and her mother filed a controversial lawsuit (5: life is Not A Popularity Contest), which ultimately required schools to give students with disabilities the opportunity to compete in interscholastic athletics. 
In 2004, she was the youngest member of the U.S. Track and Field team when—at 15—she competed in the Summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece, and came home with both silver and bronze medals. And at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing she won three silver medals and a bronze; her coach at the University of Illinois is Adam Bleakney, a veteran wheelchair racer (4: Supportive Someone). In addition to her Olympic medals, she became the first athlete to win six gold medals at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championship in Lyon (13: More Than Meets the Eye). 
Tatyana is the only person to ever win four major marathons—Boston, Chicago, London and New York—in the same year. Plus, she has won every race from 100 to 5,000 meters, which means that she is both a sprint and a marathon champion (8: Turning No into Yes). After winning ten Paralympic medals in multiple Summer Paralympic games, she surprised everyone by developing an interest in Nordic skiing (11: Risk Addiction). This wheelchair sport includes both cross-country skiing and biathlon events. Even though she’d only been able to train on snow for 50 days, she earned a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic team, and came in 5th at Sochi.
Last year, she gave the commencement address at the University of Illinois (in addition to all the athletic training, she also earned her college degree), and now her goal is to help critically ill children as a child-life specialist in a hospital. She will intern before the fall marathon season begins, and then training will start in preparation for the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio (7: Magnificent Obsession).

 Looking forward to your comments…


Friday, March 7, 2014

214: The Self-Empowered Woman: Zonta Yellow Rose

Dear Followers,

Almost two years ago, I had the honor of being a keynote speaker at a Zonta event in Fort Collins, Colorado. I'm ashamed to admit it today, but back then I was unfamiliar with the amazing work that this organization does both here in the U.S. and around the world. Saturday, March 8th, is the official International Women's Day, and it is also the day known as Zonta Rose Day. The goal is to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges that face women worldwide. Fortunately, Zonta advocates for and generously supports projects and organizations that a) improve the status of women, b) promote human rights, and c) uphold justice.
Zonta was established in Buffalo, New York in 1919, and its earliest members were among the first generation of college-educated, voting, employed women in America. The group's founder, Marian de Forest, wanted to create an organization that could (and would) help women reach their potential. Within one year there were nine Zonta clubs with 600 members. Today, there are 1,200 clubs in 65 countries and 30,000 members worldwide.
On Saturday, countless women who have worked hard to help others (in both big and small ways) will receive a yellow rose as a token of appreciation for their efforts. Zonta's goal is to advance the economic, educational, health, legal, political and professional status of women. Zonta international has supported projects in 57 countries, and provided scholarships as well as awards to women around the globe.
In cooperation with the United Nations and its agencies, Zonta has worked hard to raise awareness of (and improve education about) violence against women and children. This effort includes implementing (and enforcing) local laws that protect women and victims of violence--including providing legal, medical, rehabilitation and reintegration services for survivors of violence. 
To learn more about Zonta, email Isn't it good to know that we all can make a positive difference in the lives of women and girls both in our own communities as well as around the world?
Looking forward to your comments.

Monday, February 24, 2014

213: The Self-Empowered Woman: Monuments Men

Dear Followers,

Are you one of the millions of moviegoers who has watched the movie Monuments Men? In America, as of yesterday, the film has grossed close to $60 million dollars. I wanted to devote this blog to the largely unrecognized contributions of the women who worked alongside the men portrayed in George Clooney's latest hit.
In the film, Cate Blanchett portrays a female art historian (Rose Valland) who helped rescue over five boxcars worth of valuable artwork. She later received three of France's highest honors for her work, and she is one of the most-decorated women--ever--in French history. She was also awarded America's medal of Freedom; Valland died in 1980, at the age of 82.
But the photos above are of Anne Olivier Bell, who is the last surviving woman to have been a part of this daring art escapade. Currently 97 years old, this Englishwoman was part of a multinational group of women who risked their lives to protect artistic treasures from being destroyed by the Nazis. The group included (among others) Americans Edith A. Standen and Ardelia Ripley Hall, as well as the French Valland and the British Bell.
In November 1945, Anne Olivier Bell was approached by a young man at a party and asked if she would like to work for the Museum, Fine Arts, and Archives branch of the Allies Control Commission. In her words, "I was concerned about all the bombing and the destruction and the horror and the moving about the pictures and so forth. And I knew that I had something of use and value to offer." She was given the civilian rank of Major.
The art-hunting team actually had several hundred people in it, but there were only a few dozen women included in their ranks. Almost everyone was a dedicated scholar, and their bravery is unquestioned. The movie is based on a variety of books, including 2009's The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and The Rape of Europa, a 1994 book by Lynn H. Nicholas as well as Sara Houghteling's 2009 novel Pictures at an Exhibition
The Monuments Men Allied section operated in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. And it included architects, curators and scholars, as well as workers like Ms. Bell, who handled logistics for the team in Germany. She helped coordinate the rescue and return of thousands of Medieval Church bells that the Nazis had seized and were planning to melt to use for weapons.
It took decades after the war to restore and return the "saved" artwork, which included everything from work by Leonardo, Raphael, Onyx altar pieces and two massive rose granite lions that had been taken from the Louvre. To give you an idea how vast the looting was, in France alone from April 1941 to July 1944, 4,174 cases of artwork were shipped to Germany. The same sort of theft took place in Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy and Poland.
In addition to her art-rescue work, Anne Olivier Bell, these days, is best known as a scholar who has made a life's career out of editing Virginia Woolf's diaries.
Looking forward to your comments...