How could I have forgotten the Elizabeth Cady Stanton bicentennial?


Belated bday

Thanks for the reminder! Ms. Magazine.

Well, not only have I been too busy to blog, but the Elizabeth Cady Stanton bicentennial came and went on November 12th. I barely remembered to send my Dad a birthday card, much less remember Stanton’s!  Fortunately, Women’s Rights National Park remembered and threw a party for her.  Sorry, Elizabeth.  I’m going to show the Ken Burns’ documentary “Not for Ourselves Alone” in class today in your honor!

My Celebrity Sighting at #Berks2014

I have a new post up at Nursing Clio about the Berkshire 2014 conference.  Since the post was getting rather long, I had to condense my celebrity sighting story.  Here’s the full version for others who might find it interesting:


The high point for me came on the last day of the conference on Sunday morning.  I feel sympathy for those assigned the Sunday morning time slots: they are usually sparsely attended because people are in the process of leaving, have already left, or are sleeping in after the big Saturday night dance.

[Yes, there is a dance at the Berkshire Conference.  As @Leah Wiener tweeted, “ is where you dance with the people you cited for your comprehensive exams.”]

My roommate was chairing a Sunday session on “Exploring the History of Abortion Through Film,” so skipping the session would have been a major faux pas.  Before the session started I made a trip to the washroom.  This being a conference where female attendees far outnumbered male ones, there was a long line outside the women’s room (and yes some of us did invade the nearly empty men’s room).  I engaged in small talk with the young woman ahead of me in line. I knew I recognized her from somewhere but couldn’t quite place her.  Perhaps she was a former student or someone I met at another conference?  Once I saw her name tag it all came together.  Here’s a picture of her (via the conference website):

66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Yes, that’s right, I was in line with   I’ve been a fan of hers for quite some time — I especially loved her luminous performance in “My Life Without Me.” Rather than being a total geek, I kept my cool and said, “oh you’re the filmmaker, that’s why you look so familiar.” She said modestly, “yes, that’s right, I’m trying to make a session on the history of abortion” — the very same session my friend was chairing! [BTW, this was not the first time I spotted a celebrity in the women’s room — back when I was in graduate school, I saw Natalie Merchant prior to a performance by 10,ooo Maniacs.  That time I said nothing since she was about to go onstage and clearly did not want to be sidetracked by a fan!.]

Polley was at the conference for a screening and Q & A for her film “Stories We Tell.” Unfortunately I missed the screening in order to attend a friend’s session.  According to the Berkshire Conference backchannel on Twitter (#Berks2014), the screening was a huge success.  Here are some tweets from @BerksConference:

“Polley: because the film is about storytelling, I thought it was important to include my process as a storyteller.”

“Polley introduces the film, thanks us for applauding at news she’s adapting [Margaret] Atwood’s “’Alias Grace.’”

I can’t wait to see what Polley does with this book.  Atwood is one of my favorite authors and Alias Grace is one of her best works. Based on what I’ve seen of her previous work, I’m certain Polley will do a better job of adapting that novel than Volker Schlöndorff did with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  Let’s hope Polley’s film version of Alias Grace is ready for the next Big Berks Conference.

Now, Polley could have been a prima donna: she easily could have made an appearance for her film screening and then left. Instead, she decided to be a real conference participant.  She stayed for the whole thing and attended other sessions, including one on Sunday morning featuring another feminist filmmaker. Because that’s what feminists do.  They support each others’ work. I think this is a sign that the Berkshire Conference has succeeded in its efforts to reach beyond the academy and appeal to a wider audience interested in women’s history.

Why this women’s historian doesn’t support the National Women’s History Museum (for now anyway)

via New Republic, where historian Sonya Michel observes, “The National Women’s History Museum Apparently Doesn’t Much Care for Women’s Historians.”

Michel writes that in the midst of Women’s History Month, ” Joan Wages, the president and CEO of the National Women’s History Museum, abruptly informed me and my fellow historians on the museum’s Scholarly Advisory Council that our services were no longer needed. For three years, we had been trying to help Wages’ nonprofit organization develop an overall vision for the institution it hopes to build on the National Mall. Oddly, this move came just as the NWHM is about to win the preliminary congressional approval for the project it has been seeking for sixteen years. But the enabling legislation, which will set up an exploratory commission, offers no guarantee that scholars who have built the field of women’s history will have a role in the institution. Both Wages and lawmakers seem to think that a women’s history museum doesn’t need women’s historians. Without them, however, historians fear that the exigencies of congressional politics and day-to-day fundraising will lead to the creation of a museum that seeks to be as non-controversial as possible—whatever the cost to its scholarly reputation.”

This dismissal of scholars, says Michel, “followed yet another example of a museum offering that embarrassed those of us who were trying to ensure that the institution was adhering to the highest standards in our field. In mid-March, the museum announced that it had launched a new online exhibit, “Pathways to Equality: The U.S. Women’s Rights Movement Emerges,” in conjunction with the Google Cultural Institute. Never informed that the exhibit was in the works, much less given an opportunity to vet it, we were appalled to discover that it was riddled with historical errors and inaccuracies. To pick just one example: Harriet Beecher Stowe was described as having been ‘born into a family of abolitionists’ when, from the time of her birth through her young adulthood in the 1830s, her family actively opposed the abolitionist movement. ‘Pathways to Equality,’ noted Kathryn Kish Sklar, the nineteenth-century specialist who pointed out the error, ‘could have been written by a middle-school student.’”  [actually I think this is too kind.  Middle school students in Connecticut wouldn’t make these mistakes!]

This article confirms my general impressions of the NWHM “virtual” museum — although it’s okay for basic information (most of the time anyway) it’s definitely lacking in depth and sophisticated analysis.

I read Michel’s article a month after attending an excellent session on “Gender: Just Add Women and Stir?” at the National Council on Public History meeting in Monterey. The session reported on a 2013 study trip to historic sites in and around Boston hosted by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.  The participants in the study trip “were struck by the wide variety of ways they saw gender and sexuality interpreted — or in some cases, not interpreted at all.”  The session discussed the question of “how do we move beyond the ‘just add women and stir’ model of gender interpretation?”

It seems to me that the NWHM needs to ask the same question.  Is having a women’s history museum on the Mall simply going to be a monument-size version of “just add women and stir” history? Right now, things don’t look good.

A few years ago I agree to be a “charter member” which involved a relatively modest donation. For now, though, I’m throwing their renewal invitations in the trash. I’m also taking the advice of Kristen Ann Ehrenberger who reported on the Women Historians of Medicine listserv,  “I wrote to my Congresspersons as a historian, woman, and voter and urged them not to support HR 863 / SB 399 as currently written. I would like to see historians speak up for substance over donors so this does not become an example of simplistic, populist history overtaking the careful, nuanced work of actual scholars on American women.”  This sounds like a fine idea to me.

Update:  On Facebook, I asked the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites what they thought of all this and their reply was:  “The NCWHS Board has not taken a formal position on the National Women’s History Museum, but various board members are deeply concerned that respected scholars in women’s history express reservations about the absence of serious commitment to historical scholarship. We share your admiration for this piece by Dr. Sonya Michel….

Another update:  Here’s is the National Women’s History Museum’s reply to Michel’s article and Michel’s rejoinder.





President Obama’s visit to #CCSU, annual women’s history month proclamation

Happy Women’s History Month readers!   Tomorrow, the President will be visiting my campus.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky few to get a ticket.  So, I’ll be watching it online instead.  Meanwhile, here’s the President’s annual Women’s History Month Proclamation:


Presidential Proclamation —
National Women’s History Month, 2014


Throughout our Nation’s history, American women have led movements for social and economic justice, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries, enriched our culture with stunning works of art and literature, and charted bold directions in our foreign policy. They have served our country with valor, from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War to the deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan. During Women’s History Month, we recognize the victories, struggles, and stories of the women who have made our country what it is today.

This month, we are reminded that even in America, freedom and justice have never come easily. As part of a centuries-old and ever-evolving movement, countless women have put their shoulder to the wheel of progress — activists who gathered at Seneca Falls and gave expression to a righteous cause; trailblazers who defied convention and shattered glass ceilings; millions who claimed control of their own bodies, voices, and lives. Together, they have pushed our Nation toward equality, liberation, and acceptance of women’s right — not only to choose their own destinies — but also to shape the futures of peoples and nations.

Through the grit and sacrifice of generations, American women and girls have gained greater opportunities and more representation than ever before. Yet they continue to face workplace discrimination, a higher risk of sexual assault, and an earnings gap that will cost the average woman hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of her working lifetime.

As women fight for their seats at the head of the table, my Administration offers our unwavering support. The first bill I signed as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination. Under the Affordable Care Act, we banned insurance companies from charging women more because of their gender, and we continue to defend this law against those who would let women’s bosses influence their health care decisions.

Last year, recognizing a storied history of patriotic and courageous service in our Armed Forces, the United States military opened ground combat units to women in uniform. We are also encouraging more girls to explore their passions for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and taking action to create economic opportunities for women across the globe. Last fall, we finalized a rule to extend overtime and minimum wage protections to homecare workers, 90 percent of whom are women. And this January, I launched a White House task force to protect students from sexual assault.

As we honor the many women who have shaped our history, let us also celebrate those who make progress in our time. Let us remember that when women succeed, America succeedsAnd from Wall Street to Main Street, in the White House and on Capitol Hill — let us put our Nation on the path to success.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2014 as Women’s History Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2014, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. I also invite all Americans to visit to learn more about the generations of women who have left enduring imprints on our history.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.


Signal Boost: Speakout against age restrictions on over-the-counter #emergencycontraception #fem2

MAP flyer final-2via National Women’s Liberation.  The New York chapter of NWL will hold a speakout on January 22, 2013, in front of the Health and Human Services office at 26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY, to demand unrestricted access to the Morning-After Pill.  According to their press release, “we are holding our speakout on the anniversary of Roe v Wade because we believe that all women and girls should have access to all tools that enable us to control our reproductive lives.”

Members of this group have been fighting against age restrictions on over-the-counter emergency contraception since January 2004, when they “led the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy Coalition to show the injustice of the restriction on the MAP and to show that woman are the real experts when it comes to birth control.  On February 15, 2004, we began a civil disobedience campaign where 4,500 women signed a pledge promising to give a friend the MAP in defiance of the FDA’s prescription only requirement.  In January 2005, nine if us were arrest’s at the FDA’s headquarters as part of a larger protest of the FDA’s inaction.”

It’s nice to see the return of this group of activists. As I describe in my book.  the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy was inspired by the grassroots activism of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s: In an interview, one of the group’s founders, Annie Tummino said,  “We speak out and engage in civil disobedience. Our goal is to send the message that women are the experts on our bodies and lives.” MAPC used a variety of direct-action techniques to protest the FDA and the Bush Administration’s stance on emergency contraception. They held consciousness-raising sessions; speak outs in major cities; and committed various acts of civil disobedience including passing along emergency contraceptive kits to women without a prescription.

march4-04fMost emblematic of their ties to Second Wave feminist organizing were their actions at the March for Women’s Lives Washington, DC on April 25, 2004. The group held a mini-rally where a dozen women “testified about rushing around trying to get the Morning-After Pill after a condom broke during sex, about the prohibitive costs associated with a doctor’s visit, and about the tragicomic idea that anyone can get a doctor’s appointment in twenty-four hours, especially starting on a Friday or Saturday night.” In defiance of “unjust” prescription laws, the group flung boxes of Plan B® into the crowd. They also invited spectators “to join them in signing the Morning After Pill Conspiracy pledge to defy the prescription requirement (and break the law) by giving a friend the Morning-After Pill whenever she needs it.”

A group of physicians from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals’ Reproductive Health Access Project contributed to this display of feminist direct action by bringing their prescription pads and freely writing prescriptions for emergency contraception for any woman who wanted one. According to MAPC member Jenny Brown, these doctors “were illustrating a point which was repeated over and over in the FDA’s advisory hearings–no physical evaluation or instruction from medical professionals is needed to safely and effectively use this medication.” Members of MAPC declared they “were proud to follow in the footsteps of feminists like Margaret Sanger, who passed out information on birth control when it was illegal to do so, and suffragists who were arrested for voting, to showcase how unjust the laws were.” Like the feminist activists who protested against the abuse of women subjects during the 1970s, MAPC members held a sit-in at FDA headquarters in January of 2005, where nine of their members were arrested for blocking access to the FDA, “just like they were blocking women’s access to birth control.”

Members of the MAPC members then filed a lawsuit, Tummino, et al. v. Hamburg with the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.  From the lawsuit and feminist organizing, the FDA agreed to approve Plan B for women 18 and older without a prescription, in August 2006.  In March 2009- the FDA was ordered to make Plan B available to 17 year olds and to review its decision to deny a “Citizen’s Petition” filed by 60+ women’s health and rights organizations.  In February 2012, the MAPC took the FDA back to court based on its continued failure to act on removing scientifically unsupported restrictions on the MAP.

To support these efforts of NWL, you can attend the rally, sign their petition demanding the FDA and HHS to stop carding for emergency contraception, “like” them on Facebook, and forward their press release to other activists.

Signal Boost: Barbara Sicherman on the Persistence of Little Women



via UNC Press Blog

November 29th was the 180th anniversary of Louisa May Alcott’s birth.  In honor of this occasion, UNC asked Barbara Sicherman, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Institutions and Values Emerita at Trinity College and author ofWell-Read Lives: How Books Inspired a Generation of American Women, to write a guest post on how Little Women has influenced other women writers since its publication. Sicherman begins, “What do Simone de Beauvoir, Cynthia Ozick, Ann Petry, and Patti Smith have in common? The French existentialist, Jewish American author, African American novelist, and punk rock star are all celebrated writers. Beyond this, each woman has acknowledged the importance of Little Women, and its heroine Jo March, in their imaginative lives and their identities as artists and intellectuals. They are not alone.

Numerous women, some famous, most not, have vouched for the novel’s appeal since its appearance in 1868-69 (initially in two parts). As early as 1875, fifteen-year-old Jane Addams, future settlement leader and Nobel Peace prize winner, anticipated the formulaic pattern of rereadings when she observed: “I have read and reread ‘Little Women’ and it never seems to grow old.” Even friends growing up in the 1940s and 1950s claim they read the novel yearly when they were young and returned to it periodically as adults.”

I was one of those who grew up reading and loving Alcott, identified totally with Jo, and was thrilled when my grandmother took me and my sisters to visit Orchard House.  I’ve continued my fascination with Alcott into adulthood.  For those interested in finding out more, I highly recommend Eve LaPlante’s new books on Alcott and her mother, as well the book and film, Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women.

I asked my women’s history students if they had read and/or seen any film adaptations of Little Women.  Alas, most had not.  So, I showed the opening of the 1994 film version and walked through the first two chapters with them in class.  They also read Alcott’s riveting account of her work as a Civil War nurse, Hospital Sketches.

Many agreed with Sicherman’s suggestion that “Alcott, who modeled Jo in her own image, created a character that continues to appeal. As J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books and herself a “Jo,” observed: ‘It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a bad temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.'” Nearly all of the students were familiar with the Harry Potter books and films and could easily see how Jo helped inspire Rowling to create the brainy tomboy Hermione Granger.

Historiann asked her readers to give their thoughts and recollections of Little Women, so I invite my readers to do the same.

Michelle Obama’s speech at #DNC2012 reminded me of Black Women’s Club Movement

via History News Network, which quotes the best line in Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC convention: “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

HNN traces this view to the Progressive Era, which spread the message that “Lack of success was a sign of failure not by the individual but by societal structures and institutions that limited the individual’s opportunities, no matter how hard he or she worked. . . in the Progressives’ view, the helping hand had to be extended by the body politic as a whole. And the obvious agent of the body politic is government.”

Excellent points.  Furthermore, I think  the First Lady’s remarks harken back to a specific organization that originated in the Progressive era and continues today — the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.  The organization’s motto — “Lifting As We Climb” — reflected their belief that their work didn’t end with self-improvement: they had a duty to uplift their communities as well as themselves.

Now, Michelle Obama didn’t mention race in her speech.  Perhaps, as Sophia Nelson has argued, she didn’t need to. Still, it’s worth placing her words within a longer tradition of black women’s activism.