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 Beyoncé 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 Lancôme 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...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

215: The Self-Empowered Woman: Tatyana McFadden

Dear Followers,

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

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

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

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

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

 Looking forward to your comments…


Friday, March 7, 2014

214: The Self-Empowered Woman: Zonta Yellow Rose

Dear Followers,

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

213: The Self-Empowered Woman: Monuments Men

Dear Followers,

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

212: The Self-Empowered Woman: Valentine's Day

Dear Followers,

Happy Valentine's Day! My creative friend, Sonia Cooper, assembled this graphic as part of her tireless efforts to help promote The Self-Empowered Woman. I thought it was so pretty that I wanted to share it with all of you as my way of saying "Thank You" for being so supportive over the years.

This afternoon, I spoke to a South Florida group of National Association of Professional Women about the 17 traits of high-achieving women. The group's leader ended the meeting by urging all the women in the room to make sure that their loved ones remembered to treat them "like a Queen" on this special day. An experienced woman at my table, who has a busy career as a life coach, loudly commented (in a humorous way) "Better yet, ladies, instead of waiting for another person to make you feel special, treat yourself like the Queen you are. And if you do have someone special in your life, make sure that he treats you like royalty every day, not just on February 14th."
My wish for you is that your Valentine's Day is full of happiness, inspiration and serenity!

Friday, February 7, 2014

211: The Self-Empowered Woman: Beatlemania

Dear Followers, 

Do you plan to watch CBS's 50th anniversary tribute to the Beatles this Sunday night?
Like millions of other 15 year old girls, I was glued to the Ed Sullivan Show when the Beatles made their first American TV appearance in 1964.  (In fact, 45% of Americans who had TVs were watching.) At the time, I attended a private all girls high school in Southern California, where we wore plaid pleated skirts, white blouses and dark green blazers/cardigans—as well as the obligatory lace-up shoes with ankle socks.
I was a page editor for our school newspaper who was also a confirmed bookworm,  so I had no opportunity to meet—much less get to know or (gasp) date—boys. At that point in my incredibly awkward and sheltered youth, they seemed like creatures from another planet. Perhaps that’s why it was so easy to channel all those mixed-up emotions into Beatlemania.
If anyone had told me back then that I would grow up to become a journalist who lived in London, I would have been dumbstruck. And if they’d told me I would visit Paul McCartney at his Apple music office, and interview him over coffee and cookies, I’m sure I’d have fainted on the spot. But that’s exactly what happened in 1985, and I’m happy to say that (unlike many celebrities I’ve met during my career) the experience exceeded my expectations.
Sir Paul (he received his Knighthood in 1997) went out of his way to welcome me to his private office—complete with a giant Wurlitzer Jukebox. Our morning meeting flew by, but fortunately our time together was captured by my newspaper’s trusty photographer. Thanks to his good-natured willingness to spend a few hours with me, I now have unbeatable bragging rights among all my former high school classmates. Lucky, lucky me. 
Marilyn Murray Willison


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

210: The Self-Empowered Woman: Amy Tan

Dear Followers,


Are you one of Amy Tan's loyal fans? Millions of readers have turned her books--novels, non-fiction and children's books--into instant best sellers. Tan was born in Oakland, California on February 19th, 1952. Her parents--Daisy and John--were Chinese immigrants, and she is the second of three children. Her father was an electrical engineer and a Baptist minister (3: Belief In The Unbelievable). When Amy was fifteen years old, her older brother (Peter) and her father both died of brain tumors within the same year (1: No Paternal Safety Net).
Amy's mother moved her and her younger brother (John, Jr.) to Switzerland, which is where Amy finished high school. During this time she and her mother did not get along, but this is when Amy first learned about Daisy's earlier heart-wrenching life in China. The story of Daisy's first marriage to an abusive man, the birth of her children, and the fact that she had to leave those children behind in Shanghai (when she escaped on the last boat to leave before the Communist takeover in 1949). Her mother's life events served as the basis for Amy's first best-selling novel, 1989's The Joy Luck Club (8: Turning No Into Yes).
Amy's mother had wanted her to attend a Baptist college, and study to become a doctor. Instead, she chose to study English and linguistics (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream). Amy received her bachelor's and master's degrees (in those subjects) from San Jose State University, and then worked on her doctorate in linguistics--first at UC Santa Cruz, and then at Berkeley (10: The Critic Within).
In 1976, she took a job as a language development consultant, where she directed a training project for developmentally disabled children. Next she started a business writing firm, and created speeches for corporate executives and business salesmen. She then began working as a business writer, and finally started writing short stories (11: Risk Addiction). Amy's short fiction earned the attention of magazines like Seventeen and literary agent Sandra Dijkstra.
As a child, Amy's parents had forced her to study piano, and as an adult she switched to jazz piano. As a successful author, she became part of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of authors with varying musical skills. Her band mates included Dave Berry, Stephen King and Barbara Kingsolver  (9: Music). 
In 1989, The Joy Luck Club (which had received a $50,000 advance from G. P. Putnam's Sons) was completed in a little over four months. It spent eight months on The New York Times bestseller list, and the paperback rights were sold for $1.23 million. The book has been translated into 17 languages, and in 1991, she finished The Kitchen Gods Wife. Her other novels include Saving Fish From Drowning, The Hundred Secret Sentences, The Bonesetter's Daughter and The Valley of Amazement.
She has also written two children's books (The Moon Lady and The Sagwa), and an autobiography titled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings, as well as several other non-fiction books. She has received a variety of writing awards, from the National Endowment for the Arts, to the American Library Association and the Academy of Achievement (13: More Than Meets the Eye). 
In 2003, she wrote about her struggle with Lyme disease, which went undiagnosed for years and left her with physical pain, mental impairment and seizures. She now suffers from epilepsy as a result of the 16 lesions in her brain that developed due to the disease. During her struggle with Lyme disease, she was unable to read or write until (four years later) she found a doctor who prescribed a course of antibiotics that currently keep her symptoms at bay (12: Hard Times).
Looking forward to your comments...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

209: The Self-Empowered Woman: Olga Kotelko

Dear Followers,

Every day each of us is getting older. But thanks to my good friend Karen Bayless, I was lucky enough to learn about a fascinating new book (What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson, Henry Holt, 256pp, $25.00) that examines the life of an amazing 94 year old track star.
Olga Kotelko didn't start competing in track and field events until she was 77 years old, but now she is the only woman in the world over the age of 90 who still competes in long-jumping and high-jumping competitions. Plus, she holds over 23 world records in track and field, 17 of which are in her current 90-95 category.
Experts are studying Olga's habits, diet and exercise routine because researchers now believe that longevity is probably about 70-75 percent lifestyle. In other words 25 percent of our health and well being is what we have inherited, and the other "three-quarters is determined by how you play the hand you were dealt."
Here are six lessons from Olga that can help us extend and enrich our lives:

  • Stay physically active--Olga played baseball until she was 75, and then she began participating in track and field events. New evidence indicates that exercise helps us both mentally and physically.
  • Stay on your feet--The more hours you spend sitting, the worse your overall health will be. Many office workers now use stand-up desks to effortlessly burn off extra calories, and improve their circulation. For the majority of her life, Olga never had a desk job, and she still climbs stairs and rarely sits for long periods of time.
  • You are what you eat--Olga avoids processed and fast foods, but (occasionally) enjoys everything from bread to beef to a baked potato--and she has a sweet tooth. She eats very little in the evenings, and works hard to have a balanced--but natural--diet.
  • Be a creature of habit--Good habits make it easy to stay disciplined. Olga has many regular rituals--stretching every morning, bowling every Tuesday, the same bedtime every night, etc. Establishing a regular routine can be like having a healthy safety net.
  • Embrace improvement--Whether it's our career, our relationships or our hobbies, we all want to feel like we're making progress rather than backsliding. But after mid-life--when the body naturally begins to get slower and weaker--we need to "refrain" our progress in order to still feel as if we are improving.
  • Keep emotions under control--It's harmful to our health to get upset over little things. When asked about how she stays so even-tempered, Olga replied (regarding getting upset) "Honestly, I don't have the time." All of this falls under the category of don't sweat the small stuff.

Olga, who is only five feet tall, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada and was the seventh of eleven children. She was a school teacher (grades 1-10) in a one room schoolhouse, married (the wrong man) when she was young, had two daughters, and in 1957, moved to British Columbia with her girls. As a single mother, she earned her bachelor's degree at night.
Her track and field career was helped when she found a trainer--a strict Hungarian woman who demanded the best out of Olga. She began going to the gym three days a week for up to three hours each time doing everything from planks to Roman chairs, bench presses and squats. Today she still does three sets of ten push ups, three sets of 25 sit-ups, and runs intervals. Deep breathing, massage, reflexology and stretching are part of her regular routine. 
Recently, Olga told an interviewer that she has the same energy today that she had when she was 50. The reason may be that researchers have found that exercise can stimulate the production of telomerase, the enzyme that maintains and repairs the little caps on the end of our chromosomes that keeps genetic information intact when cells divide. This means that older athletes our more cardiovascular fit than their sedentary counterparts, and they are also more free of age-related illness in general.
Obviously, Olga is a great inspiration to anyone (especially Baby Boomers) who don't want to look or feel their age!
Looking forward to your comments...                     

Sunday, January 19, 2014

208: The Self Empowered Woman: Sarah Grimke

Dear Followers,

Sue Monk Kidd
Sarah Grimke
Many of you may have either read her novels, or watched the film versions of Sue Monk Kidd's novels. The Secret Life of Bees (which starred Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning) was shown in movie theaters and The Mermaid's Chair aired on the Lifetime channel. Today's posting is about her new novel, The Invention of Wings, which was just released last week and is a featured selection of Oprah's Book Club 2.0.
As many of you know, I am passionate about the stories behind Self-Empowered Woman, but I really enjoy sharing information about the lives of women who were born before 1900. From my perspective, they faced even greater challenges while they struggled to be heard and respected. At any rate, here's the story behind The Invention of Wings. 
The novel--which is based on the life of Sarah Moore Grimke, who was born in South Carolina in 1792 (16 years after Jane Austen was born) is a fictionalized version of one of America's most impressive (but unrecognized) women. She was the eighth of fourteen children (the second daughter), and her father was a rich plantation owner who was also an attorney and judge. As a little girl she was annoyed by the fact the her brothers received a classical education, but hers was limited to tutored lessons on "appropriate subjects for young women." The combination of this inequality and her observations of how the slaves lived changed her life forever. From the time she was twelve years old, Sarah spent her Sunday afternoons teaching Bible lessons to the young slaves on the plantation (2: An Early Sense Of Direction).
The family attended the Episcopalian Church (3: Belief In The Unbelievable), and Sarah's mother volunteered to help the poor in the area as well as female prisoners. Sarah had two goals as a young girl, but because of the values of her time and her parents' rules, neither could be fulfilled. First, she dreamed of becoming an attorney, and she also longed to teach the slaves how to read so they could study the Bible for themselves. Teaching slaves to read had been against the law in South Carolina since 1740, and when her father caught Sarah secretly teaching her personal slave how to read and write her father had the young girl whipped. Sarah stopped the tutoring lessons in order to protect Hetty (who was nicknamed "Handful"), but never stopped working to help the slaves (17: Dreaming Your Own Dream).
Sarah's brother, Thomas, left to attend law school at Yale, and whenever he returned home for a visit he would secretly tutor her on the importance of both law and religion (2: Supportive Someone). When she was 27, Sarah travelled to Philadelphia with her dying father, the rigid man who had controlled her and prevented her from getting a good education. While they were there, he died (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Afterwards, she became more independent and self-assured, and decided to remain in Philadelphia where she was introduced to Quakerism. She decided to leave both the Episcopal Church and Charleston (14: Selective Disassociation), and become a Quaker minister.
This is where she encountered even more discrimination. The male members of the Quaker community felt, as did most people of that time, that women should be subservient and limited to the domestic arena. In 1836, Sarah published a pamphlet "An Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States," which denounced slavery. And by 1837, both she and her sister (Angelina) were being attacked because they bravely but (for that era) scandalously spoke publicly in front of "mixed audiences" (men and women). They also dared to debate men who held anti-abolitionist positions (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).
In 1838, Sarah wrote "Letters on the Equality of the Sexes" to argue that the rights and liberties of both African-Americans and women were one and the same. It's hard to imagine how much courage it must have taken (during that long-ago discriminatory era) to have publicly--and simultaneously--denounced both slavery and discrimination against women (7: Magnificent Obsession).
Later that year Angelina married the Abolitionist Theodore Weld, and with Sarah they moved to New Jersey where they opened a school. During the Civil War they lectured and wrote in support of Abraham Lincoln. After the war, the three moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, where the two sisters campaigned for women's rights for the rest of their lives. Sarah died on December 23rd, 1873.
Looking forward to your comments...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

207: The Self-Empowered Woman: Martha Beck

Dear Followers,


I truly hope that 2014 has started out on a great note for each of you--optimism certainly seems to be in the air where I live.

Today I'd like to talk about author/columnist/life coach Martha Beck. If you're like me, you first learned about her while reading her column in the pages of O, The Oprah Magazine--I've always been amazed that--regardless of the topic--I feel more centered and upbeat when I finish her column than when I start. Or, if you're not a magazine person you may have seen her during one of her guest appearances on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."  Ms. Beck is the author of ten books, and also runs a thriving business training life coaches. She's in demand for corporate training sessions and coaching weekends for both personal and professional growth at her ranch near San Luis Obispo, California. Her coaching business has trained over 1,300 people in the "Martha Beck method," and has become so successful that in 2012 it grossed $1.9 Million.

Beck was born on November 29th, 1962 in Provo, Utah, and was the seventh of eight children. Her father, Hugh Nibley was a professor at Brigham Young University, and was considered by many to be one the leading authorities on Mormon teaching (3: Belief In The Unbelievable). Beck created a firestorm of controversy when she publicly accused her father of sexual abuse during her early childhood. Her seven siblings and the Mormon community at large have condemned her accusations (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

When she was about nine years old, Beck was also sexually assaulted by a teenaged neighbor who had barricaded her in his room. She called the event "extremely traumatizing," and--combined with her father's abuse--it created a challenging childhood. As a youngster she suffered from anorexia, depression and despair, which she says was the result of being ritualistically raped by her father (12: Hard Times). 

Beck earned a Bachelor's degree in East Asian studies as well as a master's and a Ph. D. in sociology from Harvard (10: The Critic Within). While there, she married John Beck whom she'd known since high school and who was also a Mormon. The couple had three children, but their second child was diagnosed with Down Syndrome before his birth. The Beck's returned to Utah to be closer to their family support system, and  in 1999 she wrote Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic (which became a best-seller) about her decision to give birth to and raise their physically-challenged son (16: Intensive Motherhood).

After the birth of her third child, Beck was a part-time faculty member at Brigham Young University, when several faculty members were excommunicated from the LDS Church because their writings were considered too critical. In 1993, upset by the controversy, Beck and her husband decided to leave the Church (14: Selective Disassociation). Afterwards, she and her husband both came out publicly as gay individuals, but stayed together for the sake of their three children.

In 2003, the couple separated, and they divorced the following year (15: Forget About Prince Charming). These days, Beck lives on her ranch in California with her son Adam, who is now 25, her domestic partner, Karen Gerdes, and two other coaches. There is no shortage of people who want to attend her seminars, buy her books or sign up for her life coach training, but some experts are either confused by or skeptical of her "positive energy talk." If Beck has a common theme, according to The New York Times, it is "You will have all the happiness and money you need if you can just find what you're just supposed to be doing and just do it."

Looking forward to your comments...