Saturday, November 30, 2013

203: The Self-Empowered Woman: Whoopi Goldberg/Moms Mabley

Dear Followers,

I don't know how many of you watched Whoopi Goldberg's amazing HBO special on Moms Mabley, but it was a real eye opener. Mabley was the first successful female comedian, and she paved the way for women to be both financially secure and funny. So today's blog will take a brief look at both of these talented women.

 Whoopi Goldberg's real name is Caryn Elaine Johnston, and she and I both share a November 13th birthday. Some records indicate that she was born in 1949, while others say her birth year is 1955. Her mother was a nurse and a teacher whom Whoopi has described as "stern, strong and wise." Her father was a clergyman, but left the family, which meant that Whoopi was raised by a single mother (1: No Paternal Safety Net). 

When her career was in its early stages, she was trained by acting teacher Uta Hagen, and later she was "discovered" by director Steven Speilberg (4: Supportive Someone). During her varied and impressive career she has earned a reputation for creating controversy--especially when it comes to gender, personality or political issues (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

Whoopi has had a bumpy love life--with three divorces and two high-profile romances--Ted Dansen and Frank Langella (15: Forget About Prince Charming). When she was 18 years old, she and her then-husband had a daughter (Alexandrea), and Whoopi became a grandmother at the age of 34, when her first granddaughter arrived on her November 13th birthday. She has three grandchildren, and has always lived near them (16: Intensive Motherhood).

Whoopi's amazing career has involved almost every aspect of popular entertainment, and she is one of only a handful of entertainers to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. In 1993, when she made Sister Act 2, she was one of Hollywood's highest paid movie actresses (13: More Than Meets The Eye). These days, she is best known for her appearances on The View.

Goldberg is the first African American actress to have received Academy Award nominations for both "best" and "best supporting roles." She has continually pushed herself to excel in almost every aspect of her life from activism (comic relief, LGBT, acting, directing, producing and writing(10: The Critic Within). Since the age of eleven--When she was supposed to go see The Nutcracker, but she went exploring instead (11: Risk Taking).

Now here's some information about Moms Mabley, who was born in 1897 and died in 1975.  She was a star at Harlem's Apollo Theater, and also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  She was born in North Carolina, had 15 siblings, and her father--who was a volunteer fireman--died when a fire engine exploded when she was only eleven years old (1: No Paternal Safety Net).  When she was 18, her mother was run over by a truck while returning home from church on Christmas day.

By the time she was 14 years old, she had been raped twice and had two children who were given up for adoption (12: Hard Times).  When she was 27, and working as a comedian on the Chitlin' Circuit of African-American vaudeville, she came out as a lesbian and wore male clothing (11: Risk Addiction). 

Her brother, Eddie Parton, helped her polish her routine and become more popular (4: Supportive Someone).  At her most successful, she was making $10,000 a week, and recorded more than 20 albums of comedy routines.  She became famous for her stage persona--where she wore a baggy house dress, a floppy hat, and removed her false teeth (6: Life Is Not A Beauty Contest).

When she was 75 years old, Moms Mabley became the oldest person to ever have a U.S. top 40 hit with her recording of "Abraham, Martin and John" (13: More Than Meets The Eye).  She died in 1975, and is credited as being the first successful female American stand up comic.

Looking forward to your comments...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

202: The Self-Empowered Woman: S. Josephine Baker

Dear Followers,

When most of us hear the name "Josephine Baker" we think of the exotic cabaret dancer who set Paris on fire decades ago. But I'd like to introduce you to S. Josephine Baker, who changed the face of public health medicine. Born on November 15th, 1873, to a wealthy Quaker family (3: Belief In The Unbelievable), as a young teenager she had planned to accept a scholarship to attend Vassar. But when she was 16, both her brother and her father died of typhoid (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and she decided to pursue a career in medicine (2: An Early Sense of Direction).  
Her family did not support her decision to become a physician (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream), but in spite of their skepticism about female doctors, she enrolled in the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1894. This school had been founded by America's first female doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Baker was able to meet other inspiring women doctors. After her graduation in 1898, she interned at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. That is where she first understood the connection between poverty and poor health, which became her life-long passion (7: Magnificent Obsession).
In 1899, she opened a private practice in New York City, and also worked as a medical examiner for the New York Life Insurance Company. She also worked part-time as a medical inspector for New York City, and by 1907, was made assistant commissioner of health. Dealing with small pox vaccination was part of her responsibility during this time, and she had a major role in identifying "Typhoid Mary," a cook who had unknowingly spread typhoid throughout the city.
In 1908, Baker was appointed director of the new Bureau of Child Hygiene, where she developed important public health programs. She started the Little Mothers League, which was a program that helped siblings care for younger brothers and sisters so that mothers could go to work and help support their families. In 1917, she told an interviewer that babies born in The United States faced a higher mortality rate (12%) than American soldiers fighting in French trenches in World War I (2%). During that time 1,500 babies routinely died of diarrhea every week during the summer. That same year she became the first woman to earn a doctorate in public health from NYU (13: More Than Meets The Eye).
Baker met with a great deal of resistance, and at one point several dozen Brooklyn doctors petitioned the mayor to shut down her agency. But she was widely credited with saving the lives of 90,000 inner-city children, and soon other cities began to follow her suggestions. By the time she retired from city government (in 1923), all 48 states had a bureau of child health patterned after Baker's (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Baker was the driving force behind helping educate inner-city immigrants, distributing formula to infants and milk to children, preventing gonorrhea-created infant blindness, licensing midwives, and placing nurses in schools. Because so many male doctors were hostile (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest) to both Baker and her work (she was in charge of supervising a staff that included many dismissive male doctors), she eventually went out of her way to wear clothes that minimized her femininity.
Baker died in 1945, and if you'd like to learn more about her contributions to the world of public health, Fighting for Life (her autobiography, originally published in 1939) has just been reissued by New York Review Books.         
Looking forward to your comments...