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...