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September 23

Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
who is solely responsible for its content.

Vienna Boys Choir headed by Woman

A Feminist Dictionary Defines "Feminism"


QUOTES by Dorothy Uhnak in False Witness, and Victoria Woodhull.

Agnes Grossman and the Vienna Boys Choir

In 1997, the first female director in the 500-year history of the Vienna Choir Boys was named. Within two years the first girls were admitted to the famed choir system.
      The entire Vienna musical tradition which includes the Vienna Symphony has been under attack by women who objected to its male-only policies. Feminists in the U.S. picketed several American performances and threatened boycotting. The U.S. tour of the Vienna Symphony is the group's main fund raiser.
      How the monumental changes in the traditional patriarchal choral musical tradition in Austria are occuring was witten about in the November 20, 1998 article in the Christian Science Monitor. Writer Julia Meehan explained how Agnes Grossman
"is working to ease the wellknown militaristic approach to training the young boys. And ... girls will be admitted to the choir's kindergarten and primary school for the first time."
      Grossman came from a talented musical family and was closely attached to the Vienna vocal tradition all of her life. Grossman explained to Meehan, "At three and one-half years of age] I started playing the piano. By four I had already decided I wanted to become a pianist."
      It was natural for her since her father was Ferdinand Grossman, who for 30 years directed the Vienna Choir Boys as well as the Vienna State Opera Choir. He and his wife saw to it that she was protected from the pitfalls of the child prodigy, perhaps by having seen firsthand the problems that develop with so many young musical geniuses.
      She and her musical genius were raised in a guiding and creative enviornment rather than the regimentation of "practice for four hours day," Grossman told writer Meehan.
      Both father and mother encouraged her piano career and she graduated from Vienna's famous Hochschule fur Musik. She won the acclaimed Mozart Interpretation Prize in Vienna. She toured the U.S. and Canada. World fame was beckoning her and then tragedy struck. Her right hand became disabled.
      With amazing courage, she turned to conducting, studying both choral and orchestra for many years. Then she was back in Canada, this time as a conductor.
      In 1996 she was approached to become musical director of the Vienna Choir Boys. The invitation was totally unexpected in the paternalistic traditions that date back to, as Meehan said,
"medieval times when churches prohibited singing by women and girls."

The first thing she did was end the military-like discipline of the students, making sure the boys had personal lives as well as musical education. She involves parents.
      The results are obvious to the trained observers. Many had commented that the choir which had become almost mechanical in its expression and now was richer and fuller with excellent dynamics.
      Not only has the musical quality become more modern, but she is also changing the repertoire to include more of today's music, even including jazz, rock, and selections from contemporary musicals.
      She doesn't think that musically she will be able to create mixed choirs of boys and girls because of their voice differences but she does believe that girls choirs will come into their own.
      Meehan quotes Grossman as saying with confidence,
"give me a little bit of time, and I will show you what girls can do.''

Agnes Grossman's statement is an echo of what Louisa May Alcott said a little over a hundred years ago: "Let us hear no more of 'woman's sphere' from the State House or pulpit - no more twaddle about sturdy oaks and clinging vines. Let woman find out her own limitations, but in heaven's name, give here a chance! Let the professions be opened to her. Let fifty years of college education be hers. And then we shall see what she can do!"

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A Feminist Dictionary

Recommended: According to one of the classic, basic feminist texts, A Feminist Dictionary, by Cheris Kramerae and Paula Treichler:

"[Liberal feminism] advocates such reforms as legal equality between the sexes, equal pay for equal work, and equal employment opportunities, but who denies that complete equality requires radical alterations in basic social institutions e.g. the capitalist economic system, the biological family, monogamous marriage, biological motherhood... or the presumption that most childrearing must be done by women... John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell remain the greatest philosophical proponents of liberal feminism..."

Kramerae and Treichler define other groups which have slightly differing philosophies, but which are all under the feminist banner. For example:

"[Radical feminism recognizes]... that no single element of our society has evolved free from male definition, so that to practice radical feminism means to question every single aspect of our lives that we have previously accepted as normal/ given/ standard/ acceptable and to find new ways of doing things where necessary - which is most places."

A Feminist Dictionary is a fascinating book that's well worth the trouble to locate.

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DIED 09-23-1780, Marie de Vichy-Chamrond Deffand, Marquise du - Parisian letter writer and social leader. Born in 1697 into a noble family, she married at 21 and then left her husband when she was 24 when she was said to be living a dissolute life by becoming the mistress of the French regent Philippe II. She managed a famous salon in Paris that attracted all the top social, artistic, and political leaders of the day. Her excellent letters to friends are valuable historical documents that illuminate the times.

B. 09-23-1823, Grace Greenwood (Sara Jane Clarke Lippincott) - U.S. author. Although described as primarily a moralistic writer of magazine articles, she was also a sharp observer of current events and wrote a number of well-received books. She reported on events in Europe for more than ten years. Immensely popular, her Haps and Mishaps of a Tour in Europe (1854) stayed in print for 40 years.

Born 09-23-1838, Victoria Claflin Woodhull -U.S. activist (opportunist) for women's rights and free love. In 1872 under the banner of a small group of women that she organized and called the Radical Reformers Party she was the first woman to be nominated for president of the United States. Although many feminists today big deal of the action, it really meant nothing since it did not include a broad base of women. The man she nominated for vice-president even refused to acknowledge the "honor."
      This brilliant but controversial woman started off in a family-run spiritualism show with VCW as the star. Through it she met tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt who was interested in spiritualism as a way to communicate with his dead wife. He set VCW and her sister up in a brokerage house in New York. It is believed many of her "tips" came through pillow talk from Wall Street brokers to her courtesan friends. She published a radical feminist magazine which openly talked about such things as abortion, prostitution and venereal disease. It also advocated equal moral standards for men and women.
      However, since she openly lived her philosophy of free love and then lost the support of Vanderbilt she was shunned in the United States. She finally moved to England where she remarried very well and was received by London society. She wrote a number of books including The Human Body the Temple of God (1890).
      Excerpts from her noted speech on free love and women's rights to a packed hall in 1871 may be found at the end of this 09-23 episode. One might be surprised at some of the feminist gems Woodhull spoke that modern feminists are credited with. Feminism is NOT a modern doctine!

B. 09-23-1839, Helen Almira Shafer - astounding U.S. mathematics professor and president of Wellesley College. After teaching mathematics in high schools, her reputation was so awesome she was appointed chair of mathematics at Wellesley College. There she instituted such high standards for the women mathematics students there that they were judged better than the male students at Harvard. In 1888 she succeeded the legendary Alice E. F. Palmer as president of Wellesley and took the college into the modern era with elective courses and the liberalizing of the women's social life, i.e., they were allowed to live as adults with freedom of actions not subject to stringent controls.

B. 09-23-1863, Mary Church Terrell - U.S. community leader, social reformer, author, educator, lecturer and suffragist. MCT was the first president of the Association for Colored Women and charter member of the NAACP. She picketed the White House for the vote in 1919 and at age 90 led civil rights demonstrations to desegregate Washington, D.C. lunchrooms. MCT was the first black woman to serve on the District of Columbia Board of Education. Her autobiography is A Colored Woman in a White World (1940).

B. 09-23-1865, Baroness Emmuska Orczy - Hungarian-born British novelist. EO is the author of one of the most famous novels of all times that has been translated into every language, been dramatized on radio, film, and TV innumberable times: The Scarlet Pimpernel.

B. 09-23-1900, Louise Nevelson - Russian-born American sculptor. LN's genius was in the further development of pre-Columbian art in which she turned sculpture into composition. Her black boxes are perhaps her most popularly known works although her Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Saint Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City may be her pinnacle. Her intricate wall assemblages grace many museums. She endured years of poverty while following her muse.
      LN did not begin to get recognition and income of any size until she was in her 50s. Fortunately she lived to be 88, continuing to work and basking in success and critical respect.

B. 09-23-1865, Suzanne Valadon - French painter. SV is noted for her bold colors and strong figures. Forced to live on her own at a very early age, she did any menial work available and eventually became an artists' model. She learned painting by observing the painters who hired her to pose such as Toulouse-Latrec and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Edgar Degas proved to be a good friend as well as a teacher. She developed a distinctive technique using bold line work and broad colors. She is one of the great painters of her era. Representations of her work are in a number of museums including the Women's Museum in Washington, D.C.

B. 09-23-1901, Katherine Wigmore Eyrem - U.S. author.

B. 09-23-1903, Jarmila Novotná -Novotn(á), Czechoslovakian-American soprano and actor.

B. 09-23-1907, Dominique Aury (Anne Desclos) - French author and translator. DA had a distinguished career as a leading literary light in France but she is known for proving a point to her lover Jean Paulhan. He had claimed no woman could write a truly erotic novel and she proved him wrong by penning Mistoire d'O (1954 - The Story of O) that was translated into 20 languages (none of which picked up the nuances and subtleties of the French) and became the most popular French novel in history on the international market.

B. 09-23-1938, Romy Schneider - Austrian-born actor. RS was noted for her portrayals of elegant and sophisticated European beauties in a film career that spanned almost three decades. As a teenage darling of German cinema in 1950s, she portrayed the "poor little princess" in succession of light romances. She shed the "Shirley Temple" image in 1961 with a startling performance in Boccaccio '70. She moved to Paris and became an actor of solid competence where she won the César, the French equivalent of the American Oscar.

Event 09-23-1947: In a speech, Eva Perón, the wife of dictator Juan Perón of Argentina, said:
"The nation's government has just handed me the bill that grants us (women) our civil rights. I am receiving it before you, certain that I am accepting this on behalf of all Argentinean women, and I can feel my hands tremble with joy as they grasp the laurel proclaiming victory."
      Many resented Eva Perón, better known as Evita, for taking center stage for the government action. The landed gentry (the oligarcy) resented her as a woman speaking out and pressing the issue and the Argentinian feminists resented Evita's claim of making the victory announcement. The feminists felt that Evita got credit (somewhat deserved?) and the long history of women's battles for suffrage was ignored.
      Alicia Dujovne Ortiz in her excellent biography of Eva Perón says the suffrage/women's rights history dated back to September 1900, when Cecilia Grierson, the first female doctor in Argentina founded the Women's Council. She had discovered that the law prevented her from practicing her profession!
      The question is was Evita a feminist activist in the accepted sense?
      Absolutely not.
      Ortiz calls her a "visceral" or gut feminist. She was a woman who lived and suffered in a man-dominated, macho society which made women nothing unless they had a man to take care of them. She is a sterling example of basic women's rights activism that dates back as far as the stone ages.
      Ortiz offers a startling example that "historians" have ignored regarding her visceral feminism that made such a difference to the women of her country. Previous to the woman-suffrage enactment, in 1946, the Perón government had abolished the word illegitimate on birth certificates. When the Catholic church's Cardinal Caggiano objected, Evita - born without her father having married her mother - stated:
"One of two choices: we do as I say, or we write on the father's documents: 'Illegitimate father.' "
      [The author of WOA is fascinated with Evita. A woman who raised herself from disgrace and total social stigma (illegitimate and using men to move up the social and professional ladder) to the true leader of her country. She was a complete contradiction in actions, spending millions and millions of dollars to better the terrible conditions of the poor and spending millions on herself - and perhaps helping her husband embezzle more millions.
      See more under B. 05-07-1919, Eva Peron.]
      Ortiz, one of Eva Perón's better biographers, said that Evita was not content with giving things, she committed the unpardonable sin of trying to awaken and change the poor's basic attitudes.
"You must want!" Evita would say. "You have the right to ask! You must desire." She surrounded the poor with luxuries and, of course, they would destroy them. When people in power objected, Evita said "rebuild and rebuild again" because "To convince oneself that one has the right to live decently takes time."
      [This could also be the motto of women who are content with fewer rights than other human beings and object to feminism: To convince oneself that one has the right to all human rights takes time.]

B. 09-23-1948, Mary Kay Place - U.S. actor-singer.

Event 09-23-1970: the first Virginia Slims woman-only tennis tournament is held. All other professional tennis tournaments were held in conjunction with men's events because conventional wisdom said no one would attend a woman's tournament without the draw of men players. Conventional wisdom was, an usual in the case of women, wrong.

Event 09-23-1972: It was announced that for the first time in U.S. history, the birth rate dropped to 2.1 children per family.

Event 09-23-1988: The French government officially announced that the RU486 - the so-called abortion pill - would become publicly available through hospitals and clinics under medical supervision. On October 26, 1988 the manufacturer, Roussel said it was taking the pill off the market after vigorous opposition by the Roman Catholic Church explaining "we didn't want to get into a moral debate."
      Under medical pressure and a backlash against religious fanaticism by French citizens, on October 28,1988, the French Health minister ordered the pill back on the market, "out of concern for the public health and what this pill means to women." A little known fact is that 36% of Roussel is owned by the French government. Also, the Catholic riots caused at least one death and the backlash against the church's violence forced its silence.
      The Bishops of the United States Catholic Church are recognized as the main financial backers of the anti-abortion movement in the U.S. and Europe.
      In spite of its so-called religious freedom and women's almost equal rights in the U.S., RU486 is not available in America. Several years ago a conditional approval for the use of RU486 was issued in the U.S. by the FDA under prodding by the Clinton administration. However, even though Roussel has given the U.S. patent to feminist forces, RU486 will not be available to American women until the 21st Century - if then. The fault for the latest delays lies with feminist leaders and not the U.S. government. Roussel transferred ownership of RU486 to an American population association several years ago to forestall the boycotting of its other products and that organization had botched the situation to such an extent that it borders on irresponsible, incompetent criminality. [Read more on RU486]

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      "I am of the generation of women who were raised not to trust 'girls'; not to confide in them too much, not to put too much faith in their intelligence, reliability, integrity; to remember at all times that they are always and forever potential rivals for... rare place[s] in the man's world.
      "If I insisted on revealing my intelligence, it should be only to a secure and influential man in a position to realize that [she's] all right; she thinks like a man.
      "This is what I will forever hold against men in general: that they have carefully selected out and inoculated intelligent women with a sense of specialness: you're not like the other girls. Damn, for a woman, you sure are bright as hell."
            -- Dorothy Uhnak in False Witness.

      Excerpts from Victoria Woodhull's 1871 speech before a packed auditorium in New York City:

      "And to those who denounce me for this I reply:
      " 'Yes, I am a Free Lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but, as a community, to see that I am protected in it. I trust that I am fully understood, for I mean just that, and nothing less!' "

      "Until women come to hold men to equal account as they do the women with whom they consort; or until they regard these women as just as respectable as the men who support them, society will remain in its present scale of moral excellence. A man who is well known to have been the constant visitor to these women is accepted into society, and if he be rich is eagerly sought both by mothers having marriageable daughters and by the daughters themselves. But the women with whom they have consorted are too vile to be even acknowledged as worthy of Christian burial, to say nothing of common Christian treatment.
      "I have heard women reply when this difficulty was pressed upon them, 'We cannot ostracize men as we are compelled to women, since we are dependent on them for support.'Ah! here's the rub. But do you not see that these other sisters are also dependent upon men for their support, and mainly so because you render it next to impossible for them to follow any legitimate means of livelihood? And are only those who have been fortunate enough to secure legal support entitled to live?
      "When I hear that argument advanced, my heart sinks within me at the degraded condition of my sisters. They submit to a degradation simply because they see no alternative except self-support, and they see no means for that. To put on the semblance of holiness they cry out against those who, for like reasons, submit to like degradation; the only difference between the two being in a licensed ceremony, and a slip of printed paper costing twenty-five cents and upward.
      "The good women of one of the interior cities of New York some two years since organized a movement to put down prostitution. They were, by stratagem, to find out who visited houses of prostitution, and then were to ostracize them. They pushed the matter until they found their own husbands, brothers and sons involved, and then suddenly desisted, and nothing has since been heard of the eradication of prostitution in that city. If the same experiment were to be tried in New York the result would be the same. The supporters of prostitution would be found to be those whom women cannot ostracise.
      "The sexual relation must be rescued from this insidious form of slavery. Women must rise from their position as ministers to the passions of men to be their equals. Their entire system of education must be changed. They must be trained to be like men, permanent and independent individualities, and not their mere appendages or adjuncts, with them forming but one member of society. They must be the companions of men from choice, never from necessity."
            -- Excerpts from Victoria Woodhull's 1871 speech on women's rights and free love.

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