Saturday, April 24, 2010

59: The Self-Empowered Woman: Edith Holden

Dear Followers,

Today I'd like to introduce you to an artistic woman who was born during Queen Victoria's reign, died in 1920, and half a century after her death became known around the world for her posthumously published book "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady."

Edith Blackwell Holden was born in 1871, and her family consisted of four sisters and two brothers. Her mother, a Unitarian, wrote two little religious books for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Before her marriage she had been a nanny, and encouraged all her children to read and pursue artistic hobbies. Both she and Edith's father had strong "spiritualist" beliefs, including "automatic writing" (3: Belief in the Unbelievable).

Edith and her siblings grew up near Birmingham, England, and they often walked in the countryside with their father to collect wildflowers that they would take home as gifts to their mother, whose health (after seven pregnancies) was frail. Flowers were a special delight for Edith's mother, and her enthusiasm for nature inspired her (already artistic) daughters (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

By the age of thirteen Edith was ready to enter the Birmingham School of Art, where she earned the highest grade available in freehand drawing, and by 19, her pictures were being accepted for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists' Autumn Exhibition. During this time she decided to specialize in plant and animal painting, and spent hours exploring the countryside to find her models in their natural surroundings.

When she was 20, she moved to Scotland to study with Joseph Denovan Adam at his art school called "Craigmill." It was the first time she had been away from home and family, but it was the perfect environment to perfect her art.

For most of her adult life, Edith either worked as a part time art teacher or illustrated magazine articles or books. When she taught at the Solihull School for Girls, her students ranged from 14 to 17 years old. Edith encouraged her students to draw or paint flowers, twigs or berries and she "demanded" high standards from her students (10: The Critic Within).

In an era where most women were financially dependent on their father or their husband, Edith (and two of her sisters) became "self-supporting" artists.

When she was 39 years old she married Ernest Smith, a sculptor, who was seven years her junior. One spring morning in 1920, while gathering branches near Kew Gardens Walk, Edith fell in a backwater of the Thames and drowned. She was 49 years old.

Published in 1977, "The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady" was on the U.K. bestseller list for an amazing 203 weeks. It has sold over three million copies in thirteen countries, and over two million English-language copies. How wonderful that a quiet, introspective, nature-loving female artist had a positive impact on millions of people decades after her death.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

58: The Self-Empowered Woman: Statistics

Dear Followers,

For a change of pace, today there will be no "profile" of a woman worth getting to know. Instead, I'm going to share a few thought-provoking statistics (thanks to Betsy Towner)....

  • From 1479 till 1458 B.C. a female Pharaoh (Hatshepsut) reigned in Egypt

  • The first woman to earn a medical degree, in 1849, was Elizabeth Blackwell

  • Over 10 million women own businesses in the U.S.

  • Women outrank men when it comes to earned college degrees by 58% to 42%

  • In the 1900 Census, over one million women listed their occupation as "servant"

  • In 2008, the highest paid woman in America was Safra Catz, the president of Oracle, who earned $42.5 million

  • The different average weekly pay scale for a woman with only a high school diploma and one with a bachelor's degree or higher is $335.00

  • In 1879, Belva Ann Lockwood was the first woman to practice law before the Supreme Court

  • Almost 2 million women have served in the U.S. Military

  • Women today earn 8o cents for every dollar earned by men for the same work

  • In 2008, Ann Dunwoody was named the first four-star general

In closing, here's a quote from Greg Mortenson (more about him in blog # 38) the author of "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools": "We can drop bombs, surge troops, put in roads, computers or electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society will never change."

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

57:The Self-Empowered Woman: Mu Sochua

Dear Followers,

In recent blogs, we've met astronauts, authors, a singer, a nurse and a nun, and today I'd like to introduce you to a remarkable woman whose life experiences have taken her from Cambodia to California, Paris, Italy and back to Cambodia to work as a political activist on behalf of women.

Mu Sochua, who is the most prominent female member of Cambodia's Parliament, was born in Phnom Penh in 1954, and was sent to California in 1972 (after her high school graduation) in order to escape the war and genocide in Cambodia. But when the Khmer Rouge (whose mass killings took 1.7 million lives) came to power in 1975, her parents (who had stayed in Cambodia) disappeared like so many others.

Mu Sochua earned a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology in San Francisco State University and a Master's Degree in Social Work from UC Berkley before returning home in 1989.

She has formed Cambodia's first organization for women (Khemara) and worked to stop human trafficking and domestic violence. In a country where women are expected to be subservient, she has broken the mold (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

For six years she was a minister of women's affairs, and campaigned against child abuse as well as the exploitation of female workers. The 55 year old advocate is responsible for a new Cambodian word ("gen-de") because people are finally aware that women have rights. Fighting for women is a cause that is at the center of her life (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Right now, Mu Sochua is in a risky war of defamation suits with Hun Sen, Cambodia's domineering Prime Minister (11: Risk Addition) because he called her "cheung klang" ("strong legs"), which - for a woman in Cambodia - is very insulting. She sued him for defamation, he sued her back, her suit was dismissed, and she was fined $4,000 which she refuses to pay.

In 2005, she was one of 1,ooo women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and Thailand. And filmmaker Oliver Stone has paid homage to the anti-child trafficking documentary "The Virgin Harvest," in which she appears.

She and her American husband (who works for the United Nations) have three grown children, and have lived in Cambodia since 1989.

Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

56:The Self-Empowered Woman: Wilma Mankiller

Dear Followers,

One of the things that I love about The Self-Empowered Woman project is that the members are so diverse. One day I'm learning about a woman in Zimbabwe, the next I'm researching a novelist in London, then I'm learning about a Hollywood director or a South American activist. Today, I'd like to honor an amazing woman who died this week in Oklahoma at the age of 64.

Wilma Mankiller was the first female cheif of the Cherokee nation. During the ten years (1985-1995) that she was their leader, the membership grew from 68,000 to 170,000. Today, the total tribal membership is 290,000; only the Navajo tribe is larger.

The sixth of eleven children, Mankiller's mother was of Dutch-Irish descent and her father was a full-blooded Cherokee. Until the age of eleven, she and her family lived on the "Mankiller Flats" property, which was part of the government's settlement for moving the Cherokee to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Their home had no electricity, no indoor plumbing and no telephone.

In 1956, due to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the family was relocated to San Francisco. During that time, Mankiller learned that she was different from the children in her new neighborhood. In her autobiography (Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, St. Martin's Press, 1993) she wrote about her school days and how the other kids laughed at her name and the way she spoke and dressed (5: Life is Not a Popularity Contest).

In 1977, she received her first job with the Cherokee nation, and began her life's work of getting as many native people as possible "...trained at the university level of Environmental Science and Health, and then to help integrate them back into their communities. This became her (7: Magnificent Obsession).

By the mid 1980s, she had been elected deputy chief, and when Chief Swimmer resigned to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C., many critics were sure that "with a woman in charge" the Cherokee nation was doomed (13: More Than Meets the Eye). But she was so successful that she was re-elected twice and the tribe prospered.

Mankiller endured a long list of physical challenges (12: Hard Times) that include lymphoma, myasthenia gravis, kidney transplant and an auto accident that required 17 operations and years of physical therapy.

In 1998, President Clinton awarded Ms. Mankiller the Medal of Freedom (8: Turning No Into Yes), which is the nation's highest civilian honor.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

55: The Self-Empowered Woman: Discovery's Women

Dear Followers,

As those of you who read the Epilogue in The Self-Empowered Woman (which you can find on know, five decades ago I wrote to NASA because I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. The reply I received (which I wish I'd kept) informed me that girls couldn't be astronauts.

Tomorrow, however, outer space will experience what some observers are calling "a female population explosion." Currently, one woman (Caldwell Dyson) is in a Russian capsule (a Soyuz rocket from the Kazakhstan) with two Russian men headed for a six month stay on the international space station. And early (6:21 AM) Monday morning three more women (and four men) will spend thirteen days in space.

Twenty-seven years ago Sally Ride became the first American female astronaut, and two of Monday's crew members (Naoko Yamazaki from Japan and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger) will become the 53rd and 54th women to fly in space. The Soviet Union's first "spacewoman" was Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. The third woman to enter space Monday morning is Stephanie Wilson, who will be making her third shuttle flight and, four years ago, became the second black woman in space.

In what would have been an unimaginable scenario only a few decades ago, Yamazaki's husband quit his job as a space station flight controller to help his wife's career and help care their seven year old daughter.

Looking forward to your comments...