Category Archives: history

Women Whose Statues Should be in the Town Squares

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Laurie and Debbie say:

For those of us who are in agreement that the world needs fewer (or no) statues of Confederate “heroes” and slave owners, what do we want in their place?

For starters, how about some statues of women who are being honored for what they did, not how they looked?

We got the idea from Transgriot, who lives in Houston. She suggests three Houston politicians. They are all excellent choices; the one we’ll focus on here is Barbara Jordan.

Here’s Transgriot’s reasoning:

She became in 1967 the first (and sadly so far) only Black woman elected to the Texas Senate and the first Black Texan to be elected to the Texas Legislature since Reconstruction.  

She then made history again by getting elected to the US House of Representatives in the newly created 18th Congressional District in 1972.   She … made two historic keynote speeches to Democratic national conventions in 1976 and 1992 and was the ethics advisor for Gov Ann Richards.

She made history even when she died in 1996.   She became the first Black Texan to be interred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

A staunch warrior for civil rights throughout her lifetime, Jordan spoke in favor of impeaching Richard Nixon.

 

Far too few people remember Barbara Jordan at all, or could tell you anything specific she did or said. Even fewer people remember–or ever knew–that she was a Lesbian, though she chose to keep that fairly quiet. Here’s Corinne Werder, writing about Jordan as a queer woman history forgot:

Though Jordan wasn’t out as a lesbian, she made no secret of her life companion Nancy Earl, an educational psychologist. The couple met in the most lesbian of ways: on a camping trip in the late 60s. According to the Jordan Rustin Coalition, “Jordan never publicly acknowledged her sexual orientation, but in her obituary, the Houston Chronicle mentioned her longtime relationship with Earl. After Jordan’s initial unsuccessful statewide races, advisers warned her to become more discreet and not bring any female companions on the campaign trail.” 

The “Jordan Rustin Coalition” also honors Bayard Rustin, who deserves a whole post (and a lot of statues) of his own.

(The University of Texas does have a statue of Barbara Jordan, which they’ve displayed since 2009. However, universities are very different from public squares, and the woman certainly deserves more than one statue.)

In this week’s reading, we came across another woman whose statue we’d like to see. We don’t know if Portland has any “racist hero” statues it needs to take down, but in the unlikely event that it doesn’t, the city can still put up a memorial to Marie Equi.

Stephanie Buck tells Equi’s story at Timeline.

She carried a banner. “Prepare to die, workingmen,” it warned. “J.P. Morgan & Co. want preparedness for profit. Thou shalt not kill.” It was June of 1916, and the country was headed for war. The town of Portland, Oregon, was holding a preparedness parade, a show of patriotic unity and an effort to drum up support. Then Marie Equi, a lesbian anarchist and abortionist, showed up with her banner.

“The lawyers attacked me first, then the Knights of Columbus,” she recounted later that night at the police station. A group of men marching in the parade approached her car and tore the sign to pieces. One struck her with a staff and a scuffle ensued. Equi was bruised and her hand bloodied. Then another man offered her an American flag. “I was perfectly calm. I said, ‘Very well, brave American gentlemen, your flag is no protection to me,’” and she tore it up.

Equi got her medical degree around the turn of the last century. She was an open Lesbian, in a relationship with a brewing heiress whose family kept trying to disinherit her. Around 1915, the couple adopted a daughter (that must be an interesting story in itself!).

In 1913, she attended a Portland cannery strike where female laborers (and some of her patients) argued for better wages, with some making only five cents per hour. Especially during summer, conditions in the factory were dangerous: Despite the heat, floor bosses locked the doors to keep workers productive and union organizers outside.

One day, the strike turned violent and Equi clashed with counter-protesters. Then she watched as a police officer struck and forcibly dragged a pregnant woman to jail. It was the last straw. She declared herself an anarchist and a socialist, and publicly supported the radical labor union Industrial Workers of the World. Days after the strike, she climbed onto a chair in the middle of Portland’s city hall and threatened to “shed blood” if anyone stood in the way of the cause. Her weapon, she snarled, would be a poisoned hat pin to cause a “slow and lingering death.”

She was friends (and perhaps lovers) with Margaret Sanger, and also a close ally of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. And yet, her name is even further from being a household word than Jordan’s is. Between us, we know a lot of women’s history — and queer women’s history — and neither of us had heard of Equi until we found Buck’s article.

Lesbian photographer and activist Tee Corinne always spoke up for Lesbian history, and for remembering the sexual orientation of both women who had to keep their choices quiet to survive or thrive, and women who lived openly in dangerous times and places.

We’re rooting for a statue of Jordan in Houston and a statue of Equi in Portland. And we’re also imagining a whole sculpture garden of women who changed the world for the better–we know many more we can write about in future blogs.  Let’s put up the statues where lots of people can come and appreciate the amazing things these women have done and, for a change, remember them.

Four African American Women: Nineteenth Century Inventors

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In 1888, in Chicago, Sarah Goode applied for and was granted a patent. Goode had just conceptualized what she called the “cabinet-bed

Laurie Says:

These four Black women inventors reimagined the technology of the home: By designating the realm of technology as ‘male,’ we overlook key inventions that took place in the domestic sphere.

Leila McNeill’s fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine discusses  African American women inventors in the domestic sphere in the latter part of the 19th century. Their accomplishments against overwhelming odds are rarely noted in part because inventions that improve domestic life are rarely recognized as important. And obviously, the endemic racism of the 19th century would never recognize that these women could have valuable ideas.

McNeill makes a point of saying that these are the only four African-American women inventors of this time period that we can identify, though there were certainly more. Following Goode, Mariam Benjamin invented the “gong-signal chair,” whose occupants could signal when service was needed. Benjamin thought about it for invalids, but even more for legislators in session. Sarah Boone is responsible for the iconic curve in the ironing board, making it more useful for sleeves and curved waists. And Ellen Elgin invented a widely successful clothes wringer, but made no money off it because she sold the patent rights.

Aside from her information about these individual women, McNeill examines the overall situation they faced:

Disenfranchised groups often participated in science and technology outside of institutions. For women, that place was the home. Yet although we utilize its many tools and amenities to make our lives easier and more comfortable, the home is not typically regarded as a hotbed of technological advancement. It lies outside our current understanding of technological change—and so, in turn, do women, like Goode, Benjamin, Boone, and Elgin, who sparked that change.

When I asked historian of technology Ruth Schwartz Cowan why domestic technology is not typically recognized as technology proper, she gave two main reasons. First, “[t]he definition of what technology is has shrunk so much in the last 20 years,” she says. Many of us conceptualize technology through a modern—and limited—framework of automation, computerization, and digitization. So when we look to the past, we highlight the inventions that appear to have led to where we are today—which forces us to overlook much of the domestic technology that has made our everyday living more efficient.

The second reason, Cowan says, is that “we usually associate technology with males, which is just false.” For over a century, the domestic sphere has been coded as female, the domain of women, while science, engineering, and the workplace at large has been seen as the realm of men. These associations persist even today, undermining the inventive work that women have done in the domestic sphere. Goode, Benjamin, Boone and Elgin were not associated with any university or institution. Yet they invented new technology based on what they knew through their lived experiences, making domestic labor easier and more efficient.

One can only guess how many other African American women inventors are lost to history because of restricted education possibilities and multiple forms of discrimination, we may never know who they are. This does not mean, however, that women of color were not there—learning, inventing, shaping the places in which we have lived. Discrimination kept the world from recognizing them during their lifetimes, and the narrow framework by which we define technology keeps them hidden from us now. 

There’s lots of fascinating information about these 4 women and their inventions in the article. Read the whole article!