Saturday, May 10, 2014

222: The Self-Empowered Woman: Bring Back Our Girls

Dear Followers,
Today, I'd like to remind everyone about the tragic event that took place in Nigeria almost a month ago, on April 15th. That's when Abubakar Shekau, the deranged leader of a militant Islamic splinter group in Nigeria, Boko Haram (which means "Western education is a sin") kidnapped close to 300 girls.
The students were asleep in their dormitory at one of the few girls' boarding schools still open in Nigeria. Dozens of heavily-armed terrorists jumped out of buses, trucks and vans in the middle of the night, and herded the girls into their vehicles. A handful of girls escaped when one of the trucks broke down, but 278 girls are still missing and presumed to have been taken to the neighboring countries of Cameroon and Chad.
That's where, according to sketchy intelligence reports, they are either being forced to "marry" their abductors or being sold off as "brides" for about $12.00. In a country where (in some areas) over 90 percent of girls don't finish high school, these girls were training to become accomplished young women. And, as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has often argued, "The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones but from girls with schoolbooks."
Billions of tweets in support of the kidnapped students have been sent, and celebrities from Malala Yousafzai (see above) to Angelina Jolie and Hillary Clinton have joined the civilian movement to rescue the girls. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and Boko Haram has been terrorizing the entire area for years.
In February, a boys' school was burned and 50 students died, and only last week hundreds were killed during a daylight attack by Boko Haram on a shopping mall. Critics deplore the fact that Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan was slow to act, and his wife argued that protestors were simply trying to damage his reputation.
Other countries have finally responded to the massive international concern about the kidnapped girls. And it's important to remember (almost immediately) that millions of dollars have been spent in an effort to find the 275 people who were lost on the Malaysian airliner...
#BringBackOurGirls highlights, once again, the sad fact that it is still acceptable--in far too many places and for way too many people--to devalue women. After all, the brave Pakastani girl pictured above is still recovering from injuries inflicted because she wanted to go to school, and countless girls in Afghanistan have had acid tossed in their faces because they wanted an education. Aren't we lucky to live in America?
Looking forward to your comments...

Monday, May 5, 2014

221: The Self-Empowered Woman: Ida Tarbell

Dear Followers,


Last month, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Bully Pulpit, and meet her afterwards. Naturally, the moment I got home I immersed myself into her joint biography of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. Since my father was born in 1903, the events in her book were of special significance to me--I even have Daddy's original teddy bear, the popular childhood stuffed animal from that era named in honor of President Roosevelt's concern for wildlife.

Part of what made this book so interesting for me was Goodwin's layered portraits of three amazing women of that era--the two first ladies, of course, and the subject of today's blog, journalist Ida Tarbell. Born in a log cabin in Western Pennsylvania on November 5th, 1857, the majority of Tarbell's life story has more in common with that of a modern-era woman than with those of her bygone era.

Her father, Frank Tarbell, first built oil storage tanks, but really began to prosper after he got into the production and refining end of the business. The family was prosperous until Standard Oil Company managed to crush smaller companies, and emerge as a powerful oil monopoly. Ida's father--an independent refiner--was financially ruined (1: No Paternal Safety Net) in what was known as "the oil war of 1872," which allowed John D. Rockefeller to defeat anyone who didn't join him.

Ida was only 14 when her once-affluent family was thrown into near bankruptcy. From that date on, she knew what her life's purpose would be (2: An Early sense Of Direction). In her words, "There was born in me a hatred of privilege, privilege of any sort. It was all pretty hazy, to be sure, but it still was well, at 15, to have one definite plan based on things seen and heard, ready for a future platform of social and economic justice if I should ever awake to my need of one" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Ida graduated at the top of her high school class (10: The Critic Within), and when she was 19, she went to Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. When she graduated in 1880, she was the only woman in her class. Ida soon realized that she wanted to be a writer, and accepted an editing job for a teaching publication. Eventually, she was promoted to managing editor, and at the age of 32 decided to make a huge lifestyle change. With no guarantee of employment, she moved to Paris with the idea of sending freelance articles back to American publications (11: Risk Addiction). It was the first of several times in her life when she would choose to drastically leave behind one lifestyle in favor of another (14: Selective Disassociation).

Ida's original plan was to do postgraduate work in Paris, and write a biography of Madame Roland, who had a powerful salon during the French Revolution. But her "American in Paris" articles caught the eye of Samuel McClure, the publisher of that era's most influential and popular "muckraking" magazine. He persuaded her to return to America and join his staff of investigative journalists. His belief in her talent changed her life from a struggling expatriot writer to one of America's first female high-profile journalists and authors (4: Supportive Someone).

Tarbell was a suffragist, and truly believed that women deserved the right to vote. She made a conscious choice to not marry and, instead, pursue a career as a journalist and writer (15: Forget About Prince Charming). She wrote a 20-part series on Abraham Lincoln that was so popular that it doubled McClure magazine's circulation (13: More Than Meets The Eye). The series was later turned into a best-selling book.

In 1900, she began to research the Standard Oil company, and waded through thousands of documents to make her case. She spent five years on her research, and was merciless when it came to portraying Rockefeller as "a living mummy," "a hypocrite," and "money mad" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

Her determination to rectify Standard Oil's negative impact on Pennsylvania 40 years earlier became both a personal and professional priority. After all, it was Rockefeller's monopoly that had damaged her father and scarred her childhood. Between 1902 and 1904, 19 installments of her thoroughly researched articles about Standard Oil appeared, and Tarbell earned fame as "The female investigative journalist who brought down the world's greatest tycoon, and broke up the Standard Oil monopoly" (8: Turning No Into Yes). The book that contained her articles, The History Of The Standard Oil Company, has been listed by New York University as number five on a list of the top 100 works of 20th century American Journalism.

Ida Tarbell died of pneumonia  on January 6th, 1944, after a two-month hospitalization. In 1993, 50 years after her death, the Ida Tarbell House was declared a National Historic Landmark. And in 2000, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. On September 14th, 2002, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring her as part of a series of four stamps honoring women journalists.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

220: The Self-Empowered Woman: Lupita Nyong'o

Dear Followers,

Have you seen the current issue of People magazine? Lupita Amondi Nyong'o is on the cover, and labeled as the world's Most Beautiful Woman.  In the magazine's 25 years of bestowing that honor, she is only the third black woman to be chosen--Halle Berry was the first in 2003, and BeyoncĂ© was in 2012.  You may remember the 31 year old actress for her starring role in 12 Years A Slave, for which she won an Academy Award, and her unusual life and rise to fame definitely has a fairytale aura.
She was born on March 1st, 1983, in Mexico City, where her father was a visiting lecturer in political science at the Colegio de Mexico. At the time of her birth, her family had been living in Mexico for three years, but before that her father had been the former Minister for Medical Services with the Kenyan government. Lupita is the second of six children.
When she was an infant, her parents moved briefly to New York before they returned home to Kenya. She has described her childhood there as "middle class, suburban." She attended an all girls school, where she acted in school plays--her first acting experience was a minor role in a school production of Oliver Twist. As a youngster, she was "...teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest), but by the time she was fourteen she had made her professional acting debut with a Nairobi-based repertory company called the Phoenix Players (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
When she was 16, her parents sent her back to Mexico for a seven-month intensive language program, and today she currently holds both Kenyan and Mexican citizenship. She is fluent in her native language of Luo, as well as English, Swahili, and Spanish.  She attended college in the U.S. at Hampshire College where she received a B.A. in film and theater studies. Work as part of the production crews for a variety of films gave her behind the camera exposure to the world of movies.
One of those films was The Constant Gardener, which starred Ralph Fiennes. She had originally been inspired by Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, but also credits Fiennes as a real inspiration to pursue a professional acting career (4: Supportive Someone).
She began to get roles in short films, and in 2008, returned to Kenya where she starred in a TV series. The next year she wrote, directed and produced a documentary, In My Genes, about how albinos are treated in Kenya. It won first prize at the Five College Film Festival. She also directed a Wahu music video which was nominated for the Best Video Award at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2009 (11: Risk Addiction).
After having lived in Mexico. Kenya, Amherst and New York (and then Kenya again) she enrolled at the Yale school of drama for her masters degree in acting. She appeared in a variety of stage productions, and during the 2011-12 academic year won the Hershel Williams Prize, which is awarded to an acting student with outstanding ability (10: The Critic Within).
Immediately before her 2012 Yale graduation she was cast in 12 Years A Slave, in the role of Patsey (a slave who works next to Solomon Northrup at a cotton plantation). In addition to BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, she won The Oscar. She became the 15th actress to win an Academy Award for a debut performance in a feature film. She also became the sixth black actress to win, the first African actress to win, the first Mexican actress to win, and the first Kenyan to win (13: More Than Meets The Eye).
Earlier this year, at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon she gave a speech and talked about how (when she was younger) she used to pray every night that god would make her skin lighter (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Pageant). She told the audience that she used to feel "unbeautiful," but now she is celebrated as a fashion icon, and has just been hired by LancĂ´me cosmetics as its first African spokeswoman (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Looking forward to your comments...

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...