Thursday, December 27, 2012

174: The Self-Empowered Woman: Rudolph and Robert L. May

Dear Followers,

Sorry to  have not posted a blog during most of December, but--as a good friend just reminded me--the holiday season has a timetable of its own. Now that all the celebrating and socializing have come to an end, I wanted to share a special story with you.

Everyone who knows me is well aware of my fondness for "underdog" stories. I love nothing more than seeing overlooked or underestimated people triumph (13: More Than Meets The Eye).  So when I received this story from my (wonderful) late father-in-law's widow, Helen Willison, I just had to share it with all of you.  Even though the Christmas china had already been packed away and the Season's photos placed in the album, reading this story made everything feel like Christmas Eve all over again.  Hope you enjoy this as much as I did...

** True Story of Rudolph**

A man named Robert L. May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.

His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing because Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her Dad's eyes and asked, "Why isn't Mommy just like everybody else's Mommy?"
Bob's jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears because her question brought waves of grief, as well as anger. It had been the story of Bob's life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports, and he was often called names he'd rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in.

Bob did complete college, married his loving wife, and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl, but it was all short-lived. Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings, and now Bob and his little daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.

Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938, and Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn't even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined a make one – a special storybook!

Bob had created an animal character in his own mind, and he told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. .Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about?

The story that Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit, outcast just like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.

But the story doesn't end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. The store went on to print, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus at their locations. By 1946, Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May.

The book became a best seller, and many toy and marketing deals followed. Bob May—now remarried with a growing family—became wealthy from the story he’d created to comfort his grieving daughter.

But the story doesn't end there either.

Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was released in1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White Christmas."

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn't so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.

Looking forward to your comments…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

173: The Self-Empowerred Woman: Sally Field

Dear Followers,

The new movie "Lincoln" is already receiving a lot of Oscar buzz, and Sally Field's performance as the troubled Mary Todd Lincoln (for which she gained 25 pounds) has been called "unforgettable."  So what better time to take a look at one of Hollywood's legendary Self-Empowered Women?

Sally Field was born in Pasadena, California, on November 6, 1946. Her mother (Margaret Morlan Field) was an actress in B movies, and her father (Richard Dryden Field) was a captain in the U.S. Army. They divorced in 1950 (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and her mother later married actor and stuntman Jock Mahoney.  Her stepfather was volatile (and she was afraid of him), but Sally has credited Mahoney with forcing her to learn how to survive.

Sally described her unsettled childhood to Oprah Winfrey this way: "...we were working class....It was an insecure existence, we lived in the Valley, but one day someone came and took all our stuff away....My stepfather never came to grips with the idea that what you have today might not be here tomorrow."

Sally attended Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, California, where she was a cheerleader.  Her class voted her "Class Clown," and one of her fellow was Michael Ovitz, who later became her agent.  Her career began when, as a teenager she was chosen to star in the TV series "Gidget" (1965-66), which was about a teenage girl who lived alone with her father. Next came "The Flying Nun" (1967-70), which Sally didn't want to do, but her stepfather warned her that if she didn't accept the offer she'd never work again.

During this time, Field sang "The Flying Nun" theme song, and she made it to the Billboard Hot 100 with her single "Felicidad." She also sang on the soundtrack for "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning" (9: Music). 

In 1968, she married Steven Craig, and they had two sons, Peter and Eli. At this point, Field struggled to break into movies but she had been typecast as merely a "cute" actress.  Talking about her looks, she told Playboy magazine "...I was raised to think that a certain type of woman was sexy and any other kind was not.  It took me a long time to understand that my sense of myself is sexy, and that is doesn't have to be like Jessica Lange's...Jessica is the kind of woman who used to make me feel how unsexy I was.  It took me a long time not to be intimidated by her kind of sexuality" (6: Life is Not a Beauty Pageant).

As an indication of how her "industry" respect has risen, consider that in 1965 she was paid $500 per week for filming Gidget.  For The Flying Nun (1967) she earned $4,500 per episode.  For the 1984 movie Places in the Heart, she earned $1,500,000, and for each episode of Brothers and Sisters , she earned (at least) $100,000 (8: Turning No Into Yes).
When Sally's agent told her that she wasn't "good enough for movies," she fired him, and she also divorced her husband (14: Selective Disassociation).  She got angry that producer after producer wouldn't audition her, so on a dare she auditioned for the bad-girl role in "Stay Hungry," and the rest is history (13: More Than Meets the Eye).  Her list of hit movies spans from Sybil (1976) to Forrest Gump (1994) to this year's Lincoln.  She has won two Academy Awards, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress, and been honored at the Cannes Film Festival.  She will be honored by the Palm Springs International Film Festival with its Career Achievement Award January 5, 2013.

She has starred with James Caan, Michael Caine, James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Hanks, Mark Harmon,  Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Robin Williams and, of course, Daniel Day Lewis.  For years after her first divorce she was romantically involved with Burt Reynolds.  But in 1984, she married film producer Alan Greisman; they had a son, Sam, in 1987, and divorced in 1993 (15: Forget About Prince Charming). 

Just like her character Nora Walker on TV's Brothers and Sisters (2006-11), Sally has been a deeply involved mother, and received the 2012 Human Rights Campaign Ally for Equality Award for her efforts on behalf of gay rights issues.  The presenter was her youngest son, Sam Greisman, who is openly gay.  She once spoke about what loving fathers her two older boys are, and commented: "To raise children who go on to be great parents is an accomplishment--that's the Oscar moment in life" (16: Intensive Motherhood)

Obviously, Sally has cared deeply about the art and craft of acting.  She explained her "You like me" Oscar speech (for 1984's Places in the Heart) by saying "...I'd achieved what I'd always wanted--which was to do good work and have that work be recognized" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, November 23, 2012

172: The Self-Empowered Woman: Malala Yousafzai

Dear Followers,

I hope that everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving Day, whether it was a huge gathering or only a quiet one-day vacation from the normal stresses of modern life. One of the things that I was most thankful for was the fact that I grew up in a country that enabled and encouraged me to enjoy the fruits of an advanced education. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the pretty little girl pictured above.

Malala Yousafzai is the 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot during an assassination attempt by the Taliban on October ninth of this year. Malala's crime is that she loves going to school and believes that girls are entitled to the same level of education as boys. The fact that she has been vocal about this right has angered the Taliban--a terrorist organization that believes females should not receive an education.

The Taliban has focused its attention on repressing and subjugating women in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Former First Lady Laura Bush wrote an editorial for The Washington Post in which she described their atrocities: "Women were not allowed to work or attend school. Taliban religious police patrolled the streets, beating women who might venture out alone, who were not dressed 'properly' or who dared to laugh out loud. Women could not wear shoes that made too much noise, and their fingernails were ripped out for the 'crime' of wearing nail polish."

Malala's father, Zia Yousafzai, was one of the last teachers in their area (Swat) to stop teaching girls due to pressure from the Taliban. Their family was forced to flee to Abbottabad, the city where Osama Bin Laden was killed last year. He has always supported his daughter's campaign for the rights of all girls to be educated.

Malala is well known in Pakistan because she wrote a blog protesting what the Taliban had done in Swat. That blog became part of the BBC's Urdu-language service, and readers around the world read an eleven year old girl's first-person story about hiding school books under her scarf and being afraid to wear a school uniform. She later became the focus of several media documentaries by The New York Times. In 2011, she was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize, and she won Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize.

The attack happened on a Tuesday afternoon when Malala and her 15 classmates were riding home in a small school bus. A masked gunman boarded the bus, asked for Malala by name, and then shot her in the head and neck. She was air-lifted from Pakistan to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England for extensive surgical care. Experts expect her recovery to include surgeries, rehabilitation and counseling that could last for years. Her family remains at her bedside, and--for once--the Taliban has inadvertently given the world a modern-day heroine whom some are comparing to a Middle Eastern Anne Frank.

Later this month, Taliban members plan to gather at Islamabad's notorious Red Mosque, where Malala will be denounced as an apostate who has turned her back on Islam. She and her family have already received death threats, even before this latest "fatwa" was planned.

Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

171: The Self-Empowered Woman: Rachel Carson

Dear Followers:

The next time you shop at Whole Foods and/or buy organic produce, you'll be honoring the legacy of the woman pictured above, Rachel Carson.  Born in 1907, in Spingdale, Pennsylvania, she was a shy (but brilliant) nature advocate and award winning author.

She grew up on a small (65 acres) family farm, and spent much of her childhood exploring the outdoors.  An avid reader, she wrote her first animal story when she was eight years old, and her first story was published when she was eleven (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Carson graduated from high school at the top of her class of 45 students, and enrolled at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) where she first majored in English, but later switched to Biology.  In 1929, she graduated magna cum laude (10: The Critic Within).

Financial pressures plagued her, and she had to postpone attending Johns Hopkins University because she didn't have enough money.  When she finally was able to attend graduate school, she was only able to be a part-time student because she had to work to earn money for tuition.  She received her master's in Zoology in 1932, and had planned to work on her doctorate, but had to look for a full-time teaching position to help support her family.  In 1935, her father died suddenly and Carson had to care for her aging mother (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

She took a temporary job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and was responsible for writing radio copy about aquatic life and fish biology.  In order to be eligible for the first full-time position within the bureau, she sat for the civil service exam and outscored all the other applicants.  In 1936, she became only the second woman to be hired for a full-time position by the Bureau of Fisheries (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

Money remained an issue when, in 1937, her older sister died--this meant Carson was responsible for her mother and her two nieces.  To augment her salary, Carson wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. One of those articles turned into her first book, Under the Sea Wind, which was published in 1941.

Although she wouldn't publish anything about DDT until 1962, she began studying the effects of the "insect bomb" in 1945.  Her second book, The Sea Around Us, became a huge hit--it was on the New York Times best seller list for 86 weeks, and won the 1952 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

In 1957, one of the nieces she had cared for in the 1940s died at the age of 31, leaving a five year old orphaned son.  Carson adopted the little boy while continuing to care for her mother.

In 1957, the U.S.D.A. began a "fire ant eradication program," which involved aerial spraying of DDT and other pesticides mixed with fuel oils.  At the same time, the "Great Cranberry Scandal" was the result of toxic herbicides ruining the 1957, 1958 and 1959 crops of American cranberries.  Carson argued that pesticides were really "biocides" because they affected entire Eco systems. 

Carson knew that her findings were based "on an unshakable foundation," but she was also aware that powerful forces would demonize her.  Friends warned her that she was playing with fire, but (in her words) "Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent" (11: Risk Addiction).

When Silent Spring was published in 1962, there was strong opposition from DuPont and other chemical manufacturers.  The former Secretary of Agriculture wrote a letter to Dwight D. Eisenhower suggesting that Carson was "probably a communist"  (5:Life is Not a Popularity Contest).  In spite of all her critics, President John F. Kennedy appointed a committee to study the effects of pesticides. 

As if Carson did not have enough struggles with her family obligations and her controversial scientific findings, she also faced a barrage of medical issues.  She had an ulcer, pneumonia, a staph infection, and phlebitis in her legs as well as two tumors in her left breast--one of which was malignant and spread to her lymph nodes and her liver (12: Hard Times).

By 1970, the Federal Government created the Environmental Protection Agency, and ten years later she was given (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Freedom (8: Turning No Into Yes).  She died in 1964, when she was only 56 years old.

2007 was the centennial of Carson's birth, and Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland planned to submit a resolution honoring her "legacy of scientific rigor coupled with poetic sensibility."  The resolution was blocked by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma who said "The junk science and stigma surrounding DDT--the cheapest and most effective insecticide on the planet--have finally been jettisoned."

Looking forward to your comments...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

170: The Self-Empowered Woman: Daniele Delpeuch

Dear Followers,

Last month the Weinstein company bought the American rights to a French film that is receiving a lot of attention on the other side of the Atlantic. Titled "Les Saveurs du Palais" ("The Tastes of the Palace" in French, but movie titled "Haute Cuisine" in English), it is based on the story of the first female chef to work in the Elysee Palace, and prepare food for French President Francois Mitterand.

Today, Daniele Delpeuch is 70 years old, and enjoying a new sense of recognition for her groundbreaking role as the first female chef to work in the Palace kitchen. Although she is considered to be an authority on the cuisine of the Perigord, she was actually born in Paris. But her father died when she was twelve years old (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and she moved with her mother to live on her grandmother's farm in a 700-year old stone farmhouse.

Her grandmother's way of life introduced her to the value of fresh, hearty, simple French cuisine (2: An Early Sense of Direction), and by the time Delpeuch was 25 years old, she was married and the mother of four children. In 1974, she began working at the farm where her skill in the kitchen attracted foodies and American tourists to visit, eat and stayAfter becoming the supplier to a number of  famous French chefs, she became famous for her foie gras. She worked so hard to revive the near-extinct industry that she became known as "the queen of foie gras" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Soon after she opened the first cooking school in the Perigord, travelled to the US to teach cooking classes, became friends with Julia Child, and even lived for a short while in Paris. By 1980, the French agricultural industry (no doubt impressed by her rich harvest of truffles from the farm's acres of oak trees) awarded her Chevalier du Merite Agricole, its highest honor. She was one of only a handful of women to receive the decoration (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

One of  the chefs who had purchased her foie gras for years recommended her for the job of personal chef for President Mitterand, who had asked his Culture Minister to find someone who could prepare dishes the way his grandmother had. At the time, Delpeuch was divorced (15: Forget About Prince Charming), and her children were grown, so she decided to take the chance, move to 55 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in Paris, and go to work in the Palace's kitchen (11: Risk Addiction).

The other (all-male) chefs were not welcoming. When the kitchen staff had their first (and only) lunch together they made fun of her, in part because of her "no frills" food and in part because of her gender. They gave her nicknames like "Countess du Barry" (who had been the favorite mistress of King Louis XV), and "Mamie Nova" (a brand of dairy products whose logo is a grandmother) (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

Delpeuch singlemindedly focused all her attention on keeping the President's taste buds happy (10: The Critic Within), but in the process alienated a lot of people. Some even referred to her as "a self-righteous Joan of Arc of the kitchen," because she ignored the nutritionists hired by the Presidents doctor, insisted on buying ingredients from her own suppliers, and often went over budget.

After working for the President for two years, Delpeuch had had enough of her hostile kitchen environment, and resigned. In her words "I turned the page quickly" (14: Selective Disassociation). Her next adventure was to move to the Antarctica, where she worked as a cook for 60 people at a French scientific research station. She was very well paid, but food deliveries were only made once every four months.

Since her departure, she has written a cookbook and is enjoying her new found fame on the big screen. She still bristles at the idea that the French, in general, expect cooking in the home to be done by a woman, but consider male chefs to be "artists of the kitchen." Unfortunately, Palace chefs are still male, but--after all--French women didn't receive the right to vote until 1944.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

169: The Self-Empowered Woman: Elizabeth Warren

Dear Followers,

The picture above was taken on September 5th at this year's Democratic National Convention, when Elizabeth Warren spoke just before Bill Clinton delivered his 48-minute speech. She told the audience that this was the first National Convention she had ever attended, and that she'd never dreamed that she would be the "opening act" for President Clinton (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Elizabeth Warren is receiving a lot of attention these days because she is in the middle of a tight Massachusetts Senatorial campaign against Senator Scott Brown. She hopes to unseat him for the office that was held for so many years by Senator Ted Kennedy.

Warren was actually born in Oklahoma, and during her speech she spoke poignantly of her family's life "on the ragged edges of the middle class." She had three older brothers, and her family never seemed to enjoy any sense of financial security. Her father had been a self-taught pilot who worked as a civilian instructor during World War II, but after the war he lost his life savings to a business partner in a car dealership.

 The bad luck continued and when Elizabeth was twelve years old, her father (who then worked as a janitor) had a heart attack, which changed everything--for the worse--for the entire family. It's a story--much like Starbucks' Howard Schultz's life story--about how one unexpected medical event can have a long-lasting negative ripple effect on an otherwise productive (if struggling) family.

Warren's father was unable to work the same hours he had before the heart attack, so his salary was cut (1: No Paternal Safety Net). When the medical bills were added to his pay cut, the family lost its air-conditioned bronze Oldsmobile, used an old off-white Studebaker instead, and Warren's mother became a telephone catalogue order employee at Sears. Those (and other) sudden lifestyle changes were the only way for them to hold onto the family home.

Warren's family (like most of their community) was deeply religious, and her mother taught Sunday school at the local Methodist Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable).

To this day, Warren remembers the discomfort she felt because her family was so much less financially secure than her classmates'. That sense of financial worry (i.e., the fear of not having enough) left a deep impact on her value system. As one observer noted, " has, in her mind, always been much more than dollar bills. It has been shorthand for security, acceptance, and family stability" (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

Fortunately, Warren managed to channel her energies into scholastic achievement, and she even skipped sixth grade (10: The Critic Within), which made her a year younger then her other classmates. She brought the same sense of discipline and achievement to the debate team, and by the age of 16 had been named "Oklahoma's top high-school debater." Her hard work paid off when she won a full debate-team scholarship to George Washington University.

She only attended GWU for two years before marrying, and transferring (with her husband) to the University of Houston. By 1970 she had graduated with a degree in speech pathology and audiology, and worked with children with disabilities. The next move was to New Jersey (for her husband's work), and a two-year stint as a stay-at-home mom. In 1976 she received a J.D. from Rutgers School of Law, Newark, and then she began to teach law. She and Jim Warren--the parents of Amelia and Alexander--divorced in 1978 (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

In 1980, Elizabeth married Harvard Law professor Bruce Mann, and continued teaching at various universities. She has lived in (or been on the faculty of schools in) Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington, DC (14: Selective Disassociation).

Warren has devoted her professional career to the concept of economic inclusion, and has written several books on the subject as well as serving on a variety of commissions that focus on financial issues (7: Magnificent Obsession). Her commitment to protecting consumers has ruffled feathers among financial institutions and several Republican members of Congress who feel that she is engaging in "class warfare" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). Below is an excerpt from her most famous pro-middle class speech:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own--nobody....You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless--keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

168: The Self-Empowered Woman: The Glass Ceiling

Dear Followers,

Stephanie Coontz recently wrote an article in The New York Times about the "Myth of the Male Decline," which argued that a variety of new "females today have all the power" books (with titles like The Richer Sex and The End of Men) are both misguided and misleading. Below are some of the arguments she makes regarding "the glass ceiling" and financial (i.e., professional) progress for women in America today:

  • Women make up only 17 percent of Congress.
  • Women make up almost 40 percent of full-time management workers, but the median wage of female managers is only 73 percent of what male managers earn.
  • Only 4 percent of the CEOs in Fortune's top 1,000 companies are female.
  • As of this June, men had regained 46.2 percent of the jobs they lost in the recession, but for women that number was 38.7 percent
  • The percentage of female electrical engineers doubled in each decade during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But since 1990, it has increased by only a single percentage point, meaning women comprised only 10 percent of the total.
  • Gender segregation in any field means that as occupations gain a higher percentage of female workers the pay for these jobs goes down relative to wages in similarly skilled jobs dominated by males. 
  • Coontz argues that it's important to remember that earning more than a man with less education is not the same as earning as much as an equally educated man.
  • Never-married childless 22 to 30 year old metropolitan area working women (with the same educational credentials as men earn less in every category according to a Boston University study.
  • A 2010 Catalyst study found that female MBAs (on average) were paid $4,600 less than men in starting salaries, and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth throughout their careers even if they remain childless.
  • The wife earns half or more of the family income in only 20 percent of all married-couple families.
  • In 35 percent of marriages the wife earns less than 10 percent.
  • Educationally, women today earn almost 60 percent of college degrees, up from about 30 percent in 1960.
  • Among families in the top 25 percent of earnings distribution, women lead men by 13 percent in graduation rates, but among the lowest-income families women have only a 2 percent advantage.
  • Between 1970 and 1985, women's share of computer and information science degrees rose from 14 percent to 37 percent. But by 2008, women had fallen back to only 18 percent.
  • Women get a smaller payoff then men for earning a high school degree, but a bigger payoff for completing college.
  • A Pew Research Center 2011 poll revealed that 77 percent of Americans now believe that a college education is necessary for a woman to get ahead in life today, but only 68 percent think this is true for men.
  • Today, men account for only 2 percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers, 3 percent of dental assistants and 9 percent of registered nurses.
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

167: The Self-Empowered Woman: Harriet Tubman

Dear Followers,

I recently read an item about a new movie project that will profile the life of Harriet Tubman, legendary Abolitionist and Civil War spy. The actress Zoe Saldana has been chosen to portray the woman who helped so many slaves reach freedom via the Underground Railroad, but several critics felt that Saldana is too light-skinned and pretty to accurately portray the brave woman who had been given the name "Moses" because she'd "never lost a passenger." Reading about the controversy surrounding the movie piqued my curiosity about this 19th century American heroine.

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1820. Her maternal grandmother had arrived in America on slave ship from Africa, and her mother worked "in the big house" as a cook while her father was a skilled woodsman who managed the timber work on the plantation where he lived. Harriet had eight siblings, and by the age of six she was assigned to work as a nursemaid for an infant. Once, when the baby cried, Harriet was whipped and later (as a youngster) she was lashed--before breakfast--so cruelly that she carried the scars on her back for the rest of her life. She often wore extra layers of clothes to protect herself from beatings, and one time she even ran away for five days.

As an adolescent, she was once sent to a store for supplies, and while there she saw a slave who had left the fields without permission. When she was told to restrain the young man, she refused, and the furious overseer threw a two pound metal weight at him--but, instead, it struck her head instead. Bleeding and unconscious, she was returned to the plantation, but received no medical care. Her boss said she was worthless, and her owner was unable to sell her. She began having seizures, would appear to fall asleep without warning, and suffered from mental "episodes" (which included headaches, narcoleptic attacks and seizures) for the rest of her life (12: Hard Times).

Harriet was a devout Christian, in part because--as an illiterate child--her mother had told her countless Bible stories. She, however, rejected the idea that slaves should be obedient, and preferred the Old Testament stories of deliverance (3: Belief In The Unbelievable). One abolitionist wrote, "I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul. Throughout her life she felt that the dreams and visions she experienced after the attack were revelations from God."

In 1849, Harriet and her brothers (Ben and Harry) had been "hired out" to a different plantation owner and escaped.  After a reward of $100 had been posted, the three returned because Ben and Harry wanted to go back. But Harriet soon left again, and was able to warn her friends of her escape plans by singing coded messages that seemed like gospel songs. She later used spirituals to warn fellow travellers on the Underground Railroad of danger ahead or to signal a clear path (9: Music).

Using the Underground Railroad (which was organized by free and enslaved blacks, Quakers and white abolitionists), the 90 mile journey to Pennsylvania probably took close to two weeks because she could only travel at night--guided by the North Star. In December 1850, Harriet bravely returned to Maryland, where she was able to help other family members escape (11: Risk Addiction). Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison named her "Moses" because in the book of Exodus the prophet "led the Hebrews to freedom from Egypt."

In 1851, she returned to Dorchester County with the plan of helping her husband, John Tubman, escape. She had saved money and purchased a suit that he could wear on the way to Philadelphia. But she learned that he had married another woman, was happy with his life, and had no interest in going North with Harriet (15: Forget About Prince Charming). Tubman used the opportunity to lead another group of slaves into Pennsylvania instead.

During this time, Fredrick Douglass became her strongest supporter. In a letter to her he wrote, "most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day--you in the night...The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism" (4: Supportive Someone).

During her trips to Pennsylvania she carried a revolver because slaves were not allowed to change their mind or turn back. She did not hesitate to point a gun at a man's head and say, "You go on or die" (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). There was a large ransom (or bounty) for the five foot tall disabled former slave, but she was never captured--nor were any of the slaves she guided to freedom (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

In 1863, while the Civil War was raging, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and Harriet began to work for the Union Army under orders from Secretary of War Edwin W. Stanton. At that time she became the first woman to ever lead an armed assault during the Civil War, and her efforts helped over 700 slaves escape (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Tubman was eventually able to purchase a home in Auburn, New York, but during a train ride after the Civil War a conductor told her to move back to the smoking car. She refused and cited her government service, but he became angry and grabbed her, while enlisting the help of two other passengers to force her to move. During the scuffle her arm was broken, she suffered other injuries, and passengers cursed her while urging the conductor to kick her off the train. So even though she was regarded as a heroine by many, there was no shortage of people who saw her as a troublemaker.

Tubman's last years were spent in Auburn, where she worked various jobs and took in boarders so she could care for her elderly parents, other family members, and local people in need.  One of her boarders was a bricklayer named Nelson Davis who was a Civil War veteran.  Although he was 22 years younger than she, they married in 1869 and spent the nest 20 years together; in 1874, they adopted a baby girl named Gertie.
After her death in 1913, she was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery, and Booker T. Washington paid tribute to her groundbreaking work. At the end of the 20th Century she was named as one of the most famous civilians in American history before the Civil War--third only to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere. In 1944, the SS Harriet Tubman became the first Liberty Ship to be named for a black woman. And in 1978, The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in honor of her as the first in a series honoring African Americans. Her name has been included on a list of the 100 greatest African Americans, and two movies (A Woman Called Moses and The Quest For Freedom) have already been made (8: Turning No Into Yes).

Looking forward to your comments...

Friday, September 14, 2012

166: The Self-Empowered Woman; Muslim Brotherhood

Dear Followers,

Muslim Brotherhood

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens

This week, after the tragic death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others at the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, all eyes have been on the current unrest in the Middle East. Anti-American protests have erupted in Yemen and Egypt, and some believe it was due to outrage over an "inflammatory" YouTube video while others believe it was a Taliban 9/11 "reminder."

Before the demonstrations began last week, I had been planning on blogging about what I consider to be an alarming situation in Cairo. A botany professor at the University of Cairo, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been holding "premarital counseling" classes that are a clear indication of how women in that part of the world are regarded.

The workshop is called "Bride and Groom Against Satan," and is sponsored by Family House, a charity financed by the Brotherhood. Family House also offers financial support to those in need, a matchmaking service, and group weddings for low-income couples.

The new President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, was a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even though the "Arab Spring" protests included many women, the chances of females faring well in Egypt's future social agenda are looking pretty grim.

During his lectures, Mr. Abou Salama asks his class, "Can you, as a woman, take a decision and handle the consequences of your decision?" Then, he lectures, "No. But men can. And God created us this way because a ship cannot have more than one captain." During the seminars men sit at the front of the room, and women sit in the back. The overall message is that women were created to be "obedient wives and mothers while men were created to fend for their families."

Since Mr. Morsi was elected in June, Family House's social outreach programs have grown dramatically, and in less then a year they have gone from one office to 18 different branches all around Egypt. They are encouraging all young couples to attend these seminars.

When Mr. Morsi was elected, he told voters that he would protect the rights of women, include them in political decision making, and appoint a female Vice President. Instead, his 21-member team of aides included only three women--one of whom has been a member of the Brotherhood
since 1981. She told The New York Times that "A woman can work as much as she wants, but within the framework of our religious restrictions."

The new President's political program (called "The Renaissance") has placed heavy emphasis on a woman's "Authentic role as wife, mother and purveyor of generations." It's worth noting that during the former Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed.

Walaa Abdel Halim, the coordinator who organizes the Family House's youth counseling workshops, has said "Shaping a religious individual leads to shaping a righteous family, and by shaping a righteous family, you get a righteous society that can choose a righteous leader."

The vast majority of women in Egypt already cover their hair and stay separate from men in coed environments. They sit quietly in Mr. Abou Salama's classes, and appear to understand and agree with him when he tells them "I want you to be the flower that attracts a bee to make honey, not the trash that attracts flies and dirt."

Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

165: The Self-Empowered Woman: Elizabeth Blackwell

Dear Followers,

Today, most of us take going to a female physician for granted, but the photo above will serve as an introduction to Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first (English born) woman in America to receive a medical degree. Born in Bristol, England in 1821, she was the third of nine children and grew up in an unusual family. Her father (a sugar refiner) was what was then called a "dissenter," because he refused to accept the authority of the Church of England. Because of his strongly Quaker (3: Belief In The Unbelievable) politics, his children were not accepted at public school and had to be tutored at home. Against English tradition, he gave his daughters the same education that his sons received, and his wife tutored the children in music and literature (9: Music).

When Elizabeth was eleven years old, a fire destroyed her father's business and the family moved to New York. But when the economy faltered in 1837, he lost most of his wealth so they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. As Quakers, they valued that Ohio was against slavery, and they hoped to rebuild their business. Unfortunately, within only a few months he died of biliary fever, which left the family in a precarious financial position (1: No Paternal Safety Net).

During these difficult years, Elizabeth and her sisters supported the family by operating a boarding school for young women. When she was 21 years old, she accepted a teaching position in Kentucky, in order to earn money for medical school--but she only stayed one year because the racial attitudes there offended her strong Abolitionist (and Quaker) beliefs.

When she returned to Ohio, a friend who had undergone treatment for a serious gynecological disorder told Elizabeth that she wished she could of had a female doctor treat her because it would have spared her enduring "an embarrassing ordeal." Even though, at first, Elizabeth rejected the idea of studying medicine, it soon became her only goal. Even though there were no female doctors (friends suggested that she travel to France and disguise herself as a man to get into medical school), the study and practice of medicine soon became the most important thing in her life (7:Magnificent Obsession).

Three years later she moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where she taught school. She lived (and studied medicine in her spare time) at the home of Doctor John Dickson, where she had access to his medical library. The next year she moved to Charleston, South Carolina, to teach at a girls school and continue her medical studies with Dickson's brother, Samuel (4:Supportive Someone).

Determined to become a doctor, she applied to 29 different schools, but was rejected by all of them. Finally, in 1847, she was admitted to the Geneva New York Medical College, but learned later that she had been admitted as a "practical joke" because no other woman had ever even tried to gain admittance to a medical school (11: Risk Addiction).

At first, denied permission to attend classroom demonstrations, and most of the people who heard about her goal considered her to be either immoral or crazy (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest). Fortunately, her quiet personality and strong work ethic turned her classmates and teachers into fans. When (in 1849) she graduated at the head of her class as the first woman in the United States to ever earn a medical degree, it made news on both sides of the Atlantic (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Unable to find a job or work at a hospital, she moved to Paris, France and continued her training at La Maternite Hospital. While working with young children there who had conjunctivitis, she contacted the eye disease purulent ophthalmia. As a result, she was left blind in one eye, was forced to have it removed, and replaced with a glass eye. This put an end to her hopes of being a surgeon (12: Hard Times).

She returned to New York City, but again was rejected whenever she applied for work as a doctor. So in 1857, she and her sister, Emily, opened a private practice in a rented room; their dispensary, which was originally called The New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, later became The New York Infirmary and College for Women. Located near Tompkins Square, it was unique for being a practice "operated by and for women."

In 1856, she adopted Katherine "Kitty" Barry, an orphan, who became her devoted companion for the rest of her life (16: Intensive Motherhood). There is no record that Blackwell ever fell in love or married (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

As a Quaker, Blackwell (and her entire family) was active in the anti-slavery movement. One of her brothers married suffragette Lucy Stone, and another married Antoinette Brown, who was also important to the struggles of women's rights movement at that time. When the Civil War broke out, Doctor Blackwell organized a unit of female nurses/field doctors to help the Union Army. By 1868, she was able to establish a Women's Medical College at the infirmary.

In 1869, she left her sister in charge of the college and returned to England. With Florence Nightingale she opened the Women's Medical College and also taught at the London School of Medicine for Women. In addition she also opened the first training school for nurses in the U.S. in 1873, published a number of books about hygiene, diseases, and women's issues, and became the first female physician in the U.K. Medical Register (13: More Than Meets the Eye).

In 1907, she was injured in a fall and never fully recovered. After a stroke, she died at her home in Hastings, England, in 1910.

Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, September 6, 2012

164: The Self-Empowered Woman: Lisa Murphy

Dear Followers,

Today I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite people, Lisa Murphy. A little over a year ago, Lisa contacted me because she needed help telling a story that was extremely near to her heart. She had heard, through the South Florida literary grapevine, that I often helped aspiring authors "structure and polish" their book projects. Some of my writers call me their "Book Doctor," and others have nicknamed me "Coach."

Since I've started working with other people on their projects, several of these (very different) books have happily made their way into print. Naturally, I get deeply invested in these manuscripts, and so far my fingerprints (and red-ink scribbles) have been all over two cookbooks, two advice books, two memoirs, one biography and one novel. But Lisa's project, which turned into With An Open Heart, is a book that has touched me as no other collaboration has. 

Lisa's goal was to write a loving book about the profound effect that her adorable, little adopted son from China, Daniel, had on everyone he met. Even though Daniel only lived with his loving American family for four short months, his death saddened--literally--what seemed like half of South Florida's population. (Not to mention the out-of-state and Internet friends and family who had grown to love this adorable toddler who just happened to have an ailing heart.)

Every week, without fail, Lisa would arrive at my house (a 45-minute drive each way) with a new chapter in need of "doctoring." Some sessions would be devoted to tempo, some to syntax, and others to simply finding the best way to tell the story of a family denied its dream of giving unlimited love to an orphaned little boy. Along the way, the project helped Lisa pay tribute to Daniel, and taught me that the most heroic heart I'd ever met was buried deep inside the facade of an outwardly ordinary 46 year old housewife. 

As all of you know, for decades I've been fascinated by accomplished women who have chosen to live "unusual" or "unorthodox" lives, and have (usually against all odds) achieved some level of "success" while doing so. So imagine my surprise to discover that Lisa Murphy, whose only dream was to give a loving home to children in need, would develop--during our weekly sessions--into one of my most-admired Self-Empowered Women. 

Perhaps it's because I'm adopted (or maybe because Lisa never even tried to mask the kaleidoscope of feelings that her book project brought to the surface), or maybe because her words made Daniel's spirit come alive on each and every page she brought to our book sessions. Whatever the reason, I became Lisa's biggest fan--both personally and professionally.

With An Open Heart has just been published, and I hope that you will support Lisa's endeavor by ordering a copy for yourself and/or someone else who loves children. The link to her beautiful, inspiring book appears above. For anyone who has lost a child, considered adoption, or wondered what it's like to travel to China as a couple and then make the trip back home as a parent, this lovely book is nothing less than required reading.

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

163: The Self-Empowered Woman: Emilie du Chatelet

Dear Followers,

The last few blogs have focused on modern-day high achievers. So, for a change of pace I'd like to introduce you to an amazing woman who was born in 1706, and is considered to be the first (and much-admired) female mathematician and physicist. She also translated Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica into French; although it was published ten years after her death in 1759, her translation is still considered the standard French edition of Newton's work.

Gabrielle Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Chatelet was born on the 17th of December, 1706, in Paris. She was the only daughter of six children, but only three of her brothers lived to adulthood. Her father was a member of the lesser French Nobility, and was responsible for introducing foreign ambassadors to King Louis XIV. Every Thursday writers and scientists attended his private salon, and researchers believe that it was this exposure that helped Emilie develop an interest in and aptitude for the sciences.

By the time she was ten years old, her father recognized that Emilie was a gifted child, and he encouraged her sense of intellectual curiosity (4: Supportive Someone). He arranged for a member of the French Academie des Sciences to visit their home and tutor Emilie about astronomy (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

Obviously, her childhood was very different from that of most young girls of that time. In addition to exposing her to adult scientific conversation, he also made sure that she took part in physical activities like fencing and horseback riding. A variety of tutors were brought to the house to continue her education, and by the time she was twelve years old she was fluent in Latin, Italian, Greek and German, in addition to (of course) French. At the same time, she was being tutored in literature, mathematics and science, which she loved. Historians say that her mother strongly opposed her father's desire to have a well educated daughter, and tried to have Emilie sent to a convent as a way to stop her education (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream). 

In addition to all of her other activities, Emilie also liked to dance, played the harpsichord, and sang opera (9: Music). And when she was a teenager, in order to get more money for books that she wanted to buy, but couldn't afford, she even used her mathematical skills to create successful strategies for gambling (8: Turning No into Yes).

Obviously talented, Emilie was not considered a great beauty. One of her cousins wrote about the awkward teenager, "She was a colossus in all her limbs--a marvel of strength and a prodigy of clumsiness. She had terrible feet and formidable limbs." (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Pageant)

In 1725, the 18 year old Emilie married the 30 year old Marquis - who remained her husband for life, and the father of their three children. Their third child was born in 1733, when she was 26, and after his birth she reentered society and returned to her mathematical studies. She was tutored in algebra and calculus by Maupertuis before her marriage, and by the brilliant Clairaut after 1735 (4: Supportive Someone). 

Emilie was not allowed to sit in the King's library at the Louvre because she was female, and she was also denied entrance to Gradot's coffeehouse, where scholars met to discuss science and mathematical information. Determined to be included, she dressed like a man, and because the others admired her brilliance she was allowed to join their discussion (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Emilie and her husband (like many couples of their rank and era) had an open marriage. She had met Voltaire in 1729, but four years later their friendship developed into something much deeper. With her husband's approval, Emilie and Voltaire lived together in her country home where they both studied physics and wrote scientific articles. In 1937 she published a paper about the science of fire, and even predicted what is known today as "infrared radiation." In 1740, her book Lessons In Physics was written as an introduction to science and philosophy for her thirteen year old son.

At one point in her life, she lost 84,000 francs (more than one million dollars in today's currency) while gambling in a card game (11: Risk Addiction). In order to pay back the debt she devised a financial arrangement much like our modern derivatives, which was unusual for that time.

Early in her marriage, Emilie had an affair with the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, possibly because she spent much of her time in Paris while her husband was away on Garrison duty. Then, in 1748, perhaps disillusioned by both her husband and her arrangement with Voltaire (15: Forget About Prince Charming), she began an affair with a poet and became pregnant. She confided to a friend that she feared she wouldn't survive the pregnancy, and a week after her daughter was born, she died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 42. Her daughter died 18 months later.

In addition to her famous translation of Newton's work, she wrote and translated a wide variety of articles and monographs (7: Magnificent Obsession), from Oedipus Rex, Fable of the Bees, Institution de Physique and Discours sur le Bonheur. In a letter she wrote to Frederick the Great of Prussia, she said "Judge me for my own merits, or my lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage...I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do...when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one."

Looking forward to your comments...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

162: The Self-Empowered Woman: Helen Gurley Brown

Dear Followers,

Helen Gurley Brown

"My" issue

This week, Helen Gurley Brown, one of America's most controversial Self-Empowered Women died. As The New York Times reported, "She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger."

Before I tell you about her life, let me share with you how she touched mine. The magazine cover you see above, is from February 1980, and the words by the model's left elbow ["The Diary of a Woman Whose Husband Left Her (for Another Woman). Some Horror Stories, but a Happy Ending"] refer to the serialization of my first book. Diary of a Divorced Mother had just been published, and by including it in her magazine (with a mention on the cover!), Helen Gurley Brown changed my world overnight.

Born in Green Forest, Arkansas, her mother was a former teacher and her father (also a teacher), served on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission before he was elected (when Helen was a baby) to the Arkansas State Legislature. After his election, the family moved to Little Rock, where in 1932 (when she was ten years old), he died in an elevator accident (1: No Paternal Safety Net).  

Although her "goals" were not clear cut, even as a child Helen made no secret of the fact that she had big dreams. In her 1982 book Having It All, she recalled her dislike of the family's Arkansas roots "I never liked the looks of the life that was programmed for me--ordinary, hillbilly and poor--and I repudiated it from the time I was seven years old" (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).

After her father's death, her mother, older sister (Mary) and Helen moved to Los Angeles in 1937. Shortly afterwards, Mary contracted Polio and remained paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life. With a depressed and financially burdened mother, as well as a disabled sister, it was obvious that Helen was going to be the family breadwinner (12: Hard Times).

In high school, she was the valedictorian of her class (10: The Critic Within), but there was no money for her to complete college at Texas State College for Women (now Texas Woman's University.) So she returned to Los Angeles, and graduated from secretarial school in 1941.

During this time, when she was 19 and anxious to earn more money for her family, she answered an ad looking for "young women for social evenings." She thought she could earn $5 for simply having dinner with "a gentleman," but learned that there was more to the job than she'd expected. She only had one dinner, one $5 bill, and one very disappointed escort.

Helen went on to work at 17 different secretarial jobs (14: Selective Disassociation), and didn't mind flirting with bosses if it helped her support her family. Finally she became a successful (actually, one of the country's highest paid) advertising copywriter, but--in an era when an unmarried 23 year old was considered an old maid--she always felt somewhat stigmatized by her humble beginnings.

She later wrote that she never felt pretty, and suffered from uncontrollable acne. She coined the word "mouseburger," which she used to describe women like herself who were "physically unprepossesing with little money and few prospects." Mouseburger became for women what milquetoast was for men.

Perhaps to compensate for her lack of confidence about her looks, she overcompensated regarding the things she could control. At 5 foot 4, she kept her weight at 100 pounds, which she claimed was 5 pounds heavier than her ideal weight. And she spoke candidly about her nose job, breast augmentation, face and eye lift as well as silicone and fat injections (6: Life is Not A Beauty Pageant).

When she was 37, she married David Brown, a former managing editor of Cosmopolitan who had become a Hollywood producer. (His later hits included The Sting, Jaws, Cocoon and Driving Miss Daisy, among others.) In 1962 (the year before Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique) Helen published Sex and The Single Girl, which was designed to tell single women how to look their best, get men to love (and eventually marry) them, and have fun while doing so. The book became a runaway best seller, and Helen Gurley Brown became a household name. In 1964, a movie of the same title (starring Natalie Wood) was released, and the Brown's moved to New York.

Even though Helen had never been an editor, the Hearst Corporation asked her to take over Cosmopolitan, which was floundering. From her first issue in July 1965, she turned the formerly staid publication into a magazine that told women that sex could be recreational, and could even be used to acquire the right husband, the right career and the right designer labels. She was 43 when she became editor and admitted that the Cosmo Girl was the young women she had dreamed of being two decades earlier--a child of the Ozarks, indeed (8: Turning No Into Yes).

But her sexy magazine covers and advice on "seducing" men weren't always appreciated. In 1970, Kate Millett and a group of angry feminists staged a sit-in at Helen's office, and even in 1988 (and later) the magazine's stance on AIDS and sexual harassment met with disapproval (5: Life is Not A Popularity Contest).

Helen worked as Cosmopolitan's editor-in-chief from 1965 until 1997, and when she left, Cosmo ranked sixth in sales at newsstands, and for the 16th straight year was first in sales at bookstores on college campuses. Overall declining circulation, however, indicated to management that she might have lost touch with younger readers, and she was replaced by Bonnie Fuller. Because the magazine had been the focus of her life for four decades, Helen stayed on as editor of Cosmopolitan's 59 international editions (7: Magnificent Obsession).

In 2008, Slate Magazine named her as the 13th most powerful American over the age of 80; when she died, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "Today New York City lost a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry, but the nation's culture. She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print." This year she donated $30 million to Columbia and Stanford Universities (both of which her husband attended), to create the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation (13: More Than Meets The Eye).

Looking forward to your comments...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

161: The Self-Empowered Woman: 2012 Olympic Females

Dear Followers,

Claressa Shields
Ibtihaj Muhammad

Marlen Esparza
Since this year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX (the 1972 law that increased opportunities for women in sports in America), we all have a great deal to be thankful for. That's why I thought, as the 2012 Olympics come to a close, we should revisit some of the record-breaking events that deserve a moment of celebration.  Here a few  thought-provoking bullets:
  • Women won two-thirds of the U.S. team's gold medals, and over 50% of the overall medals
  • U.S. women won  29 gold and 58 total medals
  • Female athletes competed in 23 events at the London Olympics, but from 1896 until 1924 there were no women competitors at the Olympics
  • This was the first time ever that American women athletes  outnumbered their male counterparts at the Olympics (269 to 261)
  • Kayla Harrison won the first U.S. medal ever in judo
  • This year was the first time that women's boxing was included at the games; American teenager Claressa Shields won gold, and Marlen Esparza (whose career win percentage is higher than Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson) won bronze
  • Ibtihaj Muhammad (a 25 year old Muslim fencer) from Maplewood, New Jersey, competed while wearing a hijab (head scarf), as did Saudi runner Sarah Attar - the first time hijabs were seen at Olympic competition
  • Skeet shooter Kim Rhode became the first American to win a medal in five consecutive Olympic games
  • The women's  basketball team won its fifth straight gold medal
  • Both women's volleyball and soccer teams won their third straight gold medal (Athens, Beijing, London)
  • Serena Williams won two gold medals in tennis; she and her sister won Olympic doubles gold for the third time
  • As of yesterday, American women had won 26 gold medals (almost 25% of the total amount of gold won by women in London)
  • Swimmers Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and (15 year old) Katie Ledecky all brought home gold medals
  • Sanya Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix won five golds between them in women's track
  • This was the first Olympics ever where every country had a female representative; 45% of the 10,800 athletes were women
 I could go on like this for hours, but I think you get the idea. We have quite a few remarkable female athletes doing their best to bring home medals for the U.S.A.  There is a lot for all of us to be proud of (and grateful about), athletically and otherwise.

This seems like an appropriate time to pay homage to former Olympian Ann Curtis, who died one month before London's opening ceremonies.  She was considered one of the world's greatest groundbreaking swimmers; she won two gold medals at London's 1948 Olympics and 34 U.S. championships.  She was so gifted that she broke five world as well as 56 American swimming records, and could compete from the shortest championship distance (100 yards) to the longest (1500 meters).

After the 1948 Summer Olympics, she married her college sweetheart, and together they opened a swimming school in San Rafael, CA, which she managed into her seventies.  She was 86 years old when she died from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Looking forward to your comments...