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September 9

Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
who is solely responsible for its content.
This version of Women of Achievement has been taken
from the 1998 email distribution of Women of Achievement and Herstory.
The full text of this episode of Women of Achievement and Herstory
will be published here in the future.

Herstory: Women and the Law


QUOTE by Dale Spender.

Women and the Law

Because of the way history is taught in schools, most women are unaware that women did not have many "human, aka men's rights" even 30 years ago - and certainly their grandmothers had even fewer. Historians write about the various liberties won by "mankind," but they fail to mention that women, especially married women, did not share in most of the extended rights. Mankind really meant guys only. Even as late as World War II, men could claim their wives' paychecks and into the 1980s, physical abuse of wives and children was considered a private, family matter that was not to be interfered with by the police or the courts. This supremacy of men's rights over women's existence is cited as the reason so many ultra-rightwing conservative men want to return to what they term traditional family values. Read on for what women experienced as those "heartwarming" family values of the "good ole days":

"Some legal scholars have noted a similarity between women and slaves under Common Law. In many instances married women under the law were treated, not as persons, but as property belonging to their husbands. [Although they did not live as slaves] the husband who chose to abuse his wife encountered few legal obstacles. In the [late] 1800s when feminists assailed the Common Law system, it was not the criminal code to which they objected, but with its civil code.

"With the exception of the right to vote and the right to sit on a jury, single women were treated more or less as men. The reasoning that since women had no man to protect her property, the law must. Married women, on the other hand, had the same legal rights as idiots and children - virtually none. In Common Law a married woman was known as a femme coverte, meaning her legal rights were covered by the husband. The basis for the coverture was the belief that husband wife are one flesh, one unit, one person. It was clearly understood, however, that the "one person" was the husband."

            -- excerpted from Leon Kanowitz, Women and the Law. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1969.

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B. 09-09-1806, Sarah Mapps Douglass Douglass, free Afro-American Quaker teacher and abolitionist who influenced Lucretia Mott and the Grimké sisters. Raised under comfortable circumstances in Philadelphia, SMDD opened a school for Afro-American girls. When it was about to close for lack of money, the Female AntiSlavery Society stepped in to underwrite it. Members of the FAS included Mott and the Grimk, sisters.
      As a sister Quaker, SMDD expressed the heartache that segregation caused her in that so-called classless religion. In solidarity, the Grimkés sat with their friend on the "colored only" bench at the next Friend's meeting. They were censured.
      The anti-black sentiment was running so high in the Philadelphia of that day, that riots broke out. The rioters even burned Pennsylvania Hall where the women's AntiSlavery society was to meet. (Undaunted, the women met at each other's homes instead.) SMDD's life is well documented because of the Grimké sisters and the extant letters of the other women of the antislavery society. Her experience throws a unblinking spotlight on the prejudices that still haunt Afro-Americans in U.S. churches.

DIED 09-09-1846, Mother Teresa, Irish-born U.S. nun. Sent to the U.S. in an attempt to keep her from the nunnery, Alice Lalor befriended two widows on the boat and together they formed an informal sisterhood that did various charitable works. Later they opened a school and were chartered by the pope as the first American group of Visitation nuns.

B. 09-09-1849, Lucy Jane Riden Meyer, U.S. physician who became a major figure in the American Methodist Church deaconess program that enlisted lay women for home visitations and social services. The women deacons served without vows or compensation. She and her husband formed a religious school in Chicago that graduated more than 5000 people trained in religious and charitable work.

B. 09-09-1864, Rebekah Bettelheim Kohut, Hungarian-born, U.S. social welfare leader and educator. An amazing woman, RBK did her finest work while raising eight stepchildren after her husband, a rabbi died.
      Born into a traditional family in which the eldest son became a rabbi, and the highest glory for a woman was marrying a rabbi, as a young woman RBK developed volunteer Jewish women's organizations, collected money for the poor and devoted long hours in hands-on aid. Her mother encouraged her to seek an education that was not encouraged for women and to fight for equal rights.
      Her father disagreed with the leaders of his orthodox religion in Hungary, moved to the U.S. and changed into a Reform rabbi.
      RBK married a German-speaking rabbi with eight children who was 22 years her senior. In addition to the huge household duties, she translated his sermons into English for publication and became active in the New York Women's Health Protective Association that campaigned for city sanitation (sewers, etc.).
      RBK also became active in the lower East Side of New York with immigrants, helping them adjust to American ways.
      Needing money to raise her stepchildren after her husband died, KKK taught classes for young Jewish girls. She was very active in volunteer Jewish women's groups and even founded a school for girls. As her financial condition increased, she donated funds to Yale University as well as her husband's extensive library. She established a fund and research fellowships in her husband's name.
      Her most important work came during World War I when she formed a clearinghouse to find women to fill jobs left vacant by men going into the army. Woodrow Wilson soon tapped her to head the United States Employment Service and the National League for Women's Service.
      After the war she was unstinting in European relief work. In 1923 she was elected president of the World Congress of Jewish Women. RBK exhorted women to take an active and guiding role in society, no longer limiting themselves to social organizations that only sewed and raised money to be spent by men.
      Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York named her to the group that developed unemployment insurance for workers. She was active in relief work during World War II and remained active almost until her death at 87. Her autobiography is My Portion (1925).Truly one of the great, under recognized women of the U.S.

B. 09-09-1868, Mary Hunter Austin, wrote poignantly of women's conflict between her sense of self, her career, and marriage. In A Woman of Genius (1912) there is an exchange where her lover asks her to marry him. Her answer, "If you marry my work." Of course he wants a husband-centrist wife and marries another. Earth Horizon (1932) is an autobiographical chronicling her life, feminism, the problems of a woman's sexual energies outside of marriage, and the oppression of women.
      Known as a mystic, she specialized in preserving Native American cultures and is much honored for her short stories about the American desert southwest. She also wrote essays, plays, and poetry. Her writings on the desert and the native Indians are ranked with those of naturalists, John Muir and John Burroughs and yet are seldom recommended anymore.
      Critics - usually male - denigrate her fiction as unreadable, perhaps because of her feminist stances. In spite of the criticisms, her first book The Land of Little Rain (1903) is considered a classic. She also wrote under the name Gordon Stairs. Her family homesteaded in the Joaquin Valley, CA. In later years she settled in Santa Fe and took a hand in the preservation of the local handicrafts and way of life.
      It was at her Santa Fe house that Willa Cather wrote Death Comes for the Archbishop.
      H.C. Wells called her the most intelligent woman in America during a visit to England where they ranked her with the leading British writers of the day.

B. 09-09-1878, Adelaide Crapsey, U.S.poet who developed the cinquain verse form. Her teaching career was limited because of recurring ill health. She was often forced to bed rest on weekends but she continued to teach at Smith college. Most of her noted poetry was written in the year before her death. She was a student of accent and her masterful, but uncompleted A Study in English Metrics was published after her death of tuberculosis in 1918.

B. 09-09-1890, Julia Sarsfield O'Connor Parker, American labor leader and organizer. JSOP was elected president of the telephone operators after the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers set up an autonomous department for women. The men unionists were afraid of "petticoat rule" and wouldn't allow women into their union from 1918 to 1938.
      From 1939 to 1957, JSOP was an organizer for the American Federation of Labor. Although she did not get the publicity of as one of labor's greats, she played a major role in organizing union workers and gaining better working conditions.

Event 09-09-1893: Frances Cleveland, wife of President Grover Cleveland, gave birth to a daughter, Esther, in the White House; it was the first time a president's child was born in the executive mansion.

B. 09-09-1899, Theodora Mead Abel, influential American clinical psychologist and educator who was director of the Center for Mental Health, post-graduate, in New York City 1947-71. She was an advocate of studying various mental and intelligence test results in the light of cultural influences.

B. 09-09-1903, Phyllis Whitney, amazingly prolific U.S. writer of mainly gothic/ mystery novels and children's literature. She sometimes producing two best-selling novels a year. Her Thunder Heights (1960) and The Mystery of the Hidden Hand (1963) won Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America.

B. 09-09-1914, Marjorie Lee Browne, department chair of North Carolina Central University from 1951-1970. In 1949 she became one of the first African-American women to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics.

B. 09-09-1922, Jane Greer, U.S. actor.

B. 09-09-1922, Ruth Alexandra Barber, Australia's administrative liaison officer, Australian High Commission Ottowa, Canada.

B. 09-09-1934, Sonia Sanchez, Afro-American poet and editor. Much of her poetry deals with her anger with the treatment of blacks in America which she labels neoslavery: the socially and psychologically unfree. She was resident poet at Temple University.

B. 09-09-1952, Angela Cartwright, U.S. actor.

B. 09-09-1962, Kristy McNichol, U.S. actor. Her successful acting career evaporated when it was revealed she was a lesbian. She was a regular on a hit TV series at the time of the outing and she was quickly replaced.

Event 09-09-1989: Kristin Baker becomes the first woman Brigade Commander and the First Captain of the corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Event 09-09-1991: Boxer Mike Tyson was indicted on a charge of raping a beauty-pageant contestant. He was convicted, served a jail sentence, and returned to boxing in several multi-multi-MULTI-million dollar fights. He was finally suspended from the "sport" after he bit the ear of one of his opponents.

Event 09-09-1996, The controversial Young Woman's Leadership School in East Harlem, New York City, was opened. Although a public school, it has an all-girl student body, a system that has proved on the college level to be advantageous to women's self esteem IF the same curriculum is taught. However, from experience, many cite the all-girl schools of the 19th century which taught housekeeping and feminine roles rather than equal academics. It is also feared that the school will open the way to dual schools with male schools again getting the most in academic and sports funds. Proponents cite the high pregnancy and drop-out rate for minority girls in mixed schools.

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      "We need to know how patriarchy works. We need to know how women disappear (in history), why we are initiated into a culture where women have no visible past.... we need to know how to break the closed circle... which permits men to go on producing knowledge (and history) about themselves, pretending that we do not exist."
            -- Spender, Dale. Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them. London: Pandora, 1988.

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