Women’s History Month: Maria Stewart, Groundbreaking Activist

By Katia Milazzo

Maria Stewart is well known for her work as a women’s rights activist. In her early years, she lost her parents at a young age. She was forced to become a servant for a white household. She didn’t have the opportunity to have a proper education, but she did learn from the books in the household in which she was living. After several years there, she left and married to James Stewart, a veteran of the War of 1812. He died and left money for Maria. After her husband died, this resulted in her going back to being a household servant.

In 1831, Stewart wrote several essays for William Garrison to publish in the Liberator. Stewart’s twelve-page essay called Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality called African Americans to rally against slavery and resist the cruel actions that were inflicted on them. One of her famous quotes, “How long, shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?” Stewart was a woman of faith and she encouraged other women to be faithful, but she also called for them to stand up for their rights. It’s refreshing to hear that a woman of faith not only valued her faith, but she didn’t let that stop her from supporting women’s rights. Stewart started to make public appearances, giving speeches that would carry on for decades. She was the first woman to ever speak in public places about women’s rights and politics. She joins powerful women such as Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth in advocating for what’s right. Stewart later used some of the money from her husband’s pension to publish new editions of her essays and writings. Stewart died at the hospital she worked at in 1879. Her legacy proves that her work would last years and years later. In reference to words of Hamilton the Musical, she planted seeds in a garden of freedom and equality that not only grew then but continues to grow now and the years to come.

 

Women’s History Month: Dr. Mabel Ping Hua-Lee

By Morgan Clark

When we think of women’s suffrage leaders we usually think of Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and maybe Ida B. Wells. But no one speaks about Dr. Mabel Ping Hua-Lee, who had the same amount of influence in the movement. Born in Hong Kong, Mabel Lee and her family moved to America in 1905 after she won a scholarship that provided her and her family visas. They settled in Chinatown in New York City where she attended Erasmus Hall Academy in Brooklyn.

At the age of 15, Mabel Lee was a figure in the New York City suffragist movement. She helped lead a parade for women’s rights, attended by up to ten thousand people. In 1912 she began her studies at Barnard College, an all-women’s school. She began to write essays on feminism for The Chinese Students’ Monthly.  One of her popular essays was “The Meaning of Woman Suffrage” in which she argued that suffrage would lead to a successful democracy. In 1915 Lee was invited to give a speech at the Women’s Political Union. In her speech “The Submerged Hall” she advocated for education for girls and civic participation from women in the Chinese community. The 19th Amendment passed in 1917 allowing women to vote— white women. Mabel Lee and others were not able to vote because of the color of their skin and laws that stopped women of color from voting.

After graduating from Barnard College, Lee pursued her Ph.D. in economics at the Columbia University, becoming the first Chinese woman to do so. After school Dr. Mabel Lee published her research in book form, naming it The Economic History of China. Dr. Mabel Lee became the director of the First Chinese Baptist Church of New York City after the passing of her father. She founded the Chinese Christian Center a little bit after, providing classes for English and health clinics. She dedicated her life to the Chinese Community until her death in 1966.

Women’s History Month: Zitkala-Ša

By Mia Lukic

“Gertrude Kasebier Photo of Zitkala Sa, Sioux Indian and activist” by National Museum of American History is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Zitkala-Ša was an empowering activist who fought for native rights and played a role in the fight for suffrage. She was born on February 22, 1876 on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota. At only eight years old Zitkala-Ša was taken from her home and placed in White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute, a residential school that, like many others across the country, forced assimilation on native children. Here, Zitkala-Ša was given the name Gertrude Simmons, her beautiful and meaningful long hair was chopped off and her personal beliefs dismissed as she was forced to pray as a Quaker.

The school impacted Zitkala-Ša greatly, in positive and negative ways. She loved school and learning, especially learning to play music and she went on to become a music teacher at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Carlisle was an assimilation school like Zitkala-Ša had attended herself, a place where native children were taken to after being ripped away from their homes and forced to accept and act in ways that were favorable to the white teachers. The founder of Carlisle is quoted to have said “kill the Indian in him, and save the man”, in reference to what they did at the school.

The assimilation attempts and disconnect from her culture and heritage left her feeling stuck in a limbo between worlds. She tried multiple times to return to the reservation she was from, but was too upset by both the personal separation the school had made and the state of the reservation after years of white settlers occupying the land and the negative results of those actions.

A talented writer, Zitkala-Ša started writing for magazines about her experiences and her heritage. She wrote out against assimilation and boarding schools that tore children away from their families and communities. She even wrote down many stories from her tribe and culture to share with the white communities as means to humanize and share the rich cultures native people have, in an attempt to slow the push for assimilation. Zitkala-Ša even wrote the first native written opera, based on a sacred Sioux dance that was illegal in the eyes of the United States Government. The opera was a piece of art that expressed her feeling of being caught between two worlds, and her desire to connect the two.

She eventually went on to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Society of American Indians where she fought hard for native rights, against assimilation, and lobbied for American citizenship. She argued that as the original people of America, indigenous people had a right to be citizens and be represented in government with the right to vote. Zitkala-Ša moved to Washington DC and fought for what she believed in even after the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act passed. While this act granted citizenship it did not prevent states from deciding who had a right to vote and who did not. Zitkala-Ša devoted her entire life to fighting for native rights and was incredibly passionate about suffrage, creating voting registration drives and working to make voting accessible for all natives. She died in 1928 and the last state granted natives the right to vote thirty-four years later in 1962. Even then, much like the Jim Crow laws that were used against Black voters, natives faced literacy tests and taxes and general discouragement.

Zitkala-Ša was a driven and passionate woman who fought for native rights and the right to vote for all. Her role in the suffrage movement is not nearly as covered by the media nor textbooks but it was and is incredibly important and powerful.

Sources

https://www.history.com/news/native-american-voting-rights-citizenship

https://www.nps.gov/people/zitkala-sa.htm

 

 

Celebrating Women’s History

By Elise Wantling

March is National Women’s History Month, a time for focusing on the rich history of women here in the United States and around the world. This year’s celebrations are particularly special because this year, 2020, marks 100 years since the passage of the 19th amendment which officially granted some women the right to vote in elections in the United States (it wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed racial discrimination in voting, that all women were granted the right to vote). Here at the Women’s Center, we are hoping to use our platforms this Women’s History Month to uplift lesser-known or often forgotten women of the revolution. My personal goal as the social media intern and head of the Women’s History Month programming is to teach you about at least one new event or woman of history that you did not know about prior to this month.

For example, did you know the first female mayor was elected more than 30 years before women were legally allowed to vote in elections? Her name was Susanna M. Salter, and not only was she the first female mayor, but also the one of the first women in the US to hold any form of elected office. She was elected mayor of her small town in Kansas in 1887. A group of men trying to undermine the women’s rights movement put her on the ballot as a prank.  But upon finding out she was on the ballot, she said she would accept the duty if elected. She won and served for a year, before choosing not to seek re-election.

Then there is Shirley Chisolm, another barrier-breaking woman I feel does not get enough recognition. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to Congress. She also put in a serious bid to run for President of the United States, making her the first black candidate to represent a major party in the Presidential race and the first woman to run for president on behalf of the Democratic party. In 2015 she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we will be holding a whole week of trivia on our Facebook and Instagram from March 9th to March 13th. Each day we will post a new trivia question and whoever answers correctly will be entered into a daily drawing for a prize. Then, on Wednesday, March 11th, we will have a trivia table in Royall Hall, where we will be asking trivia questions and offering prizes to those who answer correctly. The trivia table will be from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm, so come on out and join us!

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal

By Tatiahna Turner

Born September 21, 1965, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal is known as an American politician and activist. She currently serves as the U.S. Representative from Washington’s seventh congressional district. She is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jayapal was born in Chennai, India and was raised in Indonesia and Singapore. She immigrated to the United States in 1982, at the age of 16 to attend college. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and her master’s degree from Northwestern University.

After the September 11 attacks, Jayapal founded Hate Free Zone as an advocacy group for immigrants. Hate Free Zone registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform and related issues. The group successfully sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis across the country. The name of the group was changed from Hate Free Zone to OneAmerica in 2008. In May of 2012, Jayapal stepped down from her leadership position in the group and in 2013 was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”

Jayapal also served on the Mayoral Advisory Committee that negotiated Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, and co-chaired the Mayor’s police chief search committee, which resulted in the unanimous selection of the city’s first woman police chief. After State Senator Adam Kline announced his retirement, Jayapal entered the race to succeed him. She went on the win in the race for Senator against Democrat Louis Watanabe in November of 2014.

In January of 2016, Jayapal announced her candidacy for Congress in Washington’s seventh congressional district. In April of 2016, she received an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, and on August 2, 2016, Jayapal finished first in the top-two primary, alongside state representative Brady Walkinshaw. In the end, Jayapal won the election with 56 percent of the vote.

The Legacy of Berta Càceres

By Korrien Hopkins

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was a Honduran activist of the Lenca people. 

She was born March 4, 1973 and grew up witnessing the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980’s. Her mother, Austra Bertha Flores Lopez, was a great role model for humanitarianism. She was a midwife and social activist who took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people. Austra Flores served as two-term mayor of their hometown of La Esperanza, as a congressional representative, and as a governor of the Department of Intibucá

With the great influence of her mother, Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, at the age of 19, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging. This organization fought for their territorial rights and to improve their livelihoods.

In 2006, community members from Rio Blanco came to COPINH asking for help. They had witnessed an influx of machinery and construction equipment coming into their town. They had no idea what the construction was for or who was behind the project and asked Cáceres to investigate. What they did know was that there was a threat against the Gualcarque river which was a place of spiritual importance to the Lenca people and viewed as sacred land.

Cáceres responded to this threat by filing complaints with government authorities, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and by appealing to businesses that were funding the dam to withdraw support. Those efforts proved unsuccessful, however, and in 2013 Cáceres organized a human blockade of the road to access the construction site. The blockade stayed in place for more than a year, and protests continued to take place thereafter. Criminal charges were filed against Cáceres, and she and other activists were routinely threatened with kidnap and murder. After one protest leader was killed in 2013, Sinohydro, the Chinese partner of the Honduran company building the Agua Zarca Dam, withdrew from the project, and the International Finance Corporation later withdrew its support. Cáceres was later murdered in her home due to a fatal gunshot wound.

Despite her tragic death, Cáceres continues to be a great inspiration to many. She was a prominent figure in a very strong movement. Looking at current events like the protest at Standing Rock, we can see the attacks against indigenous tribal lands continue to rise. The fight that indigenous people continually face is a reminder that Cáceres was one person who has moved thousands, a single life turned into countless calls for justice.

Berta no murió. Se multiplicó. Berta didn’t die. She multiplied.

 

Isabel González

By Tatiahna Turner

Isabel González was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When the island came to be under ownership of the United States through the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, González still resided on the island. One condition of the treaty was to transfer allegiance of the islanders to the United States. Under the Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico was classified as “unincorporated territory” which meant that citizens of Puerto Rico did not have the protection from the United States Constitution that Americans did, including the right to United States citizenship. In short, the island belonged to the United States but was not a part of the United States. There were many factors that played a part in why the United States was not granting Puerto Ricans citizenship, one reason was the belief that the Puerto Rican population was considered to be racially and socially inferior to Americans. An 1899 letter published in the New York Times described Puerto Ricans as, “uneducated, simple-minded and harmless people who were only interested in wine, women, music and dancing.”

González’s fiancé, Juan Francisco Torres traveled to New York City in 1902, leaving her behind, pregnant and with another child from a previous marriage. He left with the intention of finding a job in a factory in Linoleumville, Staten Island. González was to join her fiancé there and they were to marry after he found a place to live. In August of 1902, González traveled from San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York. Normally the steamship she boarded would dock at the Port of New York, but during her travels the United States Treasury Department’s Immigration Commissioner, General F. P. Sargent issued new immigration guidelines that changed Puerto Ricans status to “aliens”. As a result, when González arrived on August 4, 1902 her and other passengers were taken to Ellis Island. González was detained upon arrival by the Immigration Commissioner as an “alien immigrant” with the intention of deporting her. When immigration officials learned of her pregnancy the Board of Special Inquiry opened a file on her.

The next day a hearing was held for González. Her uncle, Domingo Collazo, and her brother, Luis González joined her. During the hearing her family had to answer questions that vouched for her character and independence in a manner that would convince the court that she would not be a burden to the state’s welfare system. These attempts failed and her fiancé’s absence (due to work requirements) played a part in the court’s decision to stop González from being allowed to enter into the United States. After her loss, González appealed her case to the Supreme Court and focused on the issue that all Puerto Ricans were citizens of the United States, and as a result shouldn’t be detained, treated as aliens, or denied entry to the United States. The case, which became known as Gonzáles v. Williams, was argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on December 4 and 7 of 1903. González, who was out on bond, secretly married her fiancé and thus became “a citizen of this country through marriage” and acquired the right to remain stateside. She could have ended her appeal, but she instead decided to press her claim that all Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. On January 4, 1904, the Court determined that under the immigration laws, González was not an alien, and therefore could not be denied entry into New York. The court, however declined to declare that she was a U.S. citizen. The question of the citizenship status of the inhabitants of the new island territories, and their situation remained confusing, ambiguous, and contested. Puerto Ricans came to be known as something in between: “noncitizen nationals.” However, in 1917 triggered by the efforts of Isabel González, Congress extended citizenship to Puerto Ricans.

Through her determination and perseverance, Isabel González helped pave the way for the rights of Puerto Ricans. She died on June 11, 1971 and is buried with her husband at Holy Cross Cemetery in New Jersey. Her legacy continues through her great-granddaughter, Belinda Torres-Mary, who actively pursues information regarding her great-grandmother’s history and immigration struggles.

Mona Hanna-Attisha and the Flint Water Crisis

By Dasha Matthews

Mona Hanna-Attisha is a first generation Iraqi immigrant, pediatrician, and public health advocate whose research exposed the Flint Water Crisis, revealing that children were being exposed to dangerous levels of lead in Flint, Michigan. Her research began after speaking with a friend who was a former employee for the Environmental Protection Agency in the Ground Water and Drinking Water Department. He told her that his team of Flint Water Study researchers found high levels of lead in Flint residents’ homes. After learning of this Dr. Hanna-Attisha began conducting her own research. Even though she was not provided the data she sought from the state of Michigan, she used hospital electronic medical records as data for her study.

On September 24, 2015, Dr. Hanna-Attisha revealed in a press conference at Hurley Medical Center that children’s lead levels doubled after the water was switched from the Detroit River to the Flint River in April of 2014. At the press conference she urged residents, particularly children, to stop drinking the water, to end Flint River as a water source as soon as possible, and urged the city of Flint to issue a health advisory. A day after Dr. Hanna-Attisha released her study, Flint issued a health advisory that suggested residents minimize exposure to Flint tap water. The water source was switched back to the Detroit river on October 16, 2015. Later, the city of Flint, the state of Michigan and the United States made emergency declarations.

Hanna-Attisha’s role in exposing the Flint Water Crisis has been broadcasted nationwide with appearances on CNN, The New York Times, and other media outlets. She also gave a TEDMED talk, entitled “Flint’s Fight for America’s Children” on November 1, 2016. She was also named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2016, stating, “Edwards and Hanna-Attisha were right, they were brave, and they were insistent. Flint is still a crime scene, but these two caring, tough researchers are the detectives who cracked the case.”

Ava DuVernay: Director, Producer, and Screenwriter

By: Korrien Hopkins

There’s something very important about films about black women and girls being made by black women. It’s a reflection as opposed to an interpretation.

Ava DuVernay is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. DuVernay was born on August 24, 1972 in Long Beach, California. She was raised by her mother, Darlene, an educator, and her stepfather, Murray Maye. She grew up in Lynwood, California near Compton and graduated in 1990 from Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood. She attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and double majored in English Literature and African-American studies. During her summer vacations, she would travel to the childhood home of her stepfather, which was not far from Selma, Alabama. DuVernay said that these summers influenced the making of Selma and her successful career in film.

Prior to her filmmaking career, DuVernay worked as a publicist and marketer for 14 years. The award-winning firm she worked with provided strategy and execution for more than 120 film and television campaigns for acclaimed directors. These included directors such as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann, and Bill Condon. DuVernay is also the founder of ARRAY, a grassroots distribution and advocacy collective dedicated to strengthening films by people of color and women. DuVernay sits on the boards of both Sundance Institute and Film Independent and in 2017, DuVernay was named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest World Leaders and TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the U.S. Directing Award Dramatic for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, and was the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma in 2014, DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With Selma, she was also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th in 2016. DuVernay’s latest film premiered March 9, 2018. The groundbreaking fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time, had a budget exceeding 100 million dollars, making her the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size. DuVernay was the first of many, setting the bar high and opening the door for future women of color filmmakers like myself. She continues to inspire many and displays what it is to be a phenomenal woman of history by using her power to share stories of those like us.

Fannie Lou Hamer: Civil Rights Activist

By Tatiahna Turner

You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.

The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer was born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. From the age of 6 Fannie picked cotton with her family. She was allowed to attend the plantations’ one-room school house where she discovered her love for reading and poetry. However, at the age of 12 Fannie had to leave school to support her parents. She continued picking cotton and it said that at the age of 13 she could pick 200-300 pounds of cotton daily despite having a disfigured leg as a result of polio. She continued to develop her reading skills in Bible Study at her church, and in 1944, when her plantation owner found out that she was able to read and write, he selected her as the plantations’ time and record keeper. That same year, Fannie married a tractor driver on the plantation. Perry “Pap” Hamer and Fannie remained married for the next 18 years. Later, In 1961, while having surgery to remove a tumor Hamer was given a hysterectomy without consent by a white doctor. This was part of the state’s compulsory sterilization plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state and blacks in general. She is credited soon after for coining the phrase, “Mississippi appendectomy”.

Hamer became interested in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s when she heard leaders in a local movement speak at the annual Regional Council of Negro Leadership. In 1962, Hamer learned about the right to vote from volunteers at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting. After this meeting, she began taking action in the civil rights movement. On August 31, Hamer traveled to Indianola, Mississippi to attempt to register to vote. She was not successful in this endeavor and when she returned home to the plantation she was fired by the plantation owner who had warned her against trying to register. Hamer’s husband was required to stay on the plantation until the end of the harvest season. On September 10, while staying with a friend, Hamer was shot at 16 times by the Ku Klux Klan. In fear of further retaliation, Hamer and her family moved to Tallahatchie County the next day where they stayed for three months. On December 4, Hamer returned to her hometown to take the literacy test but failed and was turned away. It is said that she told the registrar, “You’ll see me every 30 days till’ I pass.” Fannie said about the event, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

After being hired as a field secretary by the SNCC in 1963, Hamer attended a citizenship conference in Charleston, South Carolina. On the way, the party stopped in Winona, Mississippi where they were refused service inside of a local café. Shortly after, a highway patrol man came into the establishment with a bat and intimidated the activists to leave. As one of the members of the group was jotting down the license plate number of the officer’s car, a police chief entered and began arresting anyone that was with the party. Hamer and her colleagues were arrested and taken to a local jail where they were beaten and brutalized. Hamer was taken to a cell where the inmates were instructed to beat her with a baton. The police made sure that she was held down during this almost fatal attack. Hamer was released on June 12, 1963. It took her more than a month to recover, and she was still left with injuries. She sustained a blood clot over her left eye and permanent damage to one of her kidneys. When Fannie returned to Mississippi she organized a voter registration drive.

Hamer died of complications of hypertension and breast cancer on March 14, 1977. She was buried in Ruleville, Mississippi. Her tombstone was engraved with one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”