Women’s History Trivia: First Female African American Physician

The New England Female Medical College (Image Source: Wikipedia Commons)

By: Alyssa Bradley

Trivia Question: Rebecca Lee Crumpler was the first African-American woman to become a _______ (occupation) in the United States. 

Answer: Physician

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler is recognized for becoming the first African-American woman physician in the United States. As a young girl, she grew up in a house with her aunt who took care of the ill. Rebecca was always considered a “special student” and was allowed to attend many prestigious private schools because of her intellect.

Later in life, she pursued her shared family passion for medicine.  During 1860, Crumpler applied and was accepted into the New England Female Medical College. This institution was founded in 1848 and had only started accepting its first female student, a class of 12, in 1850. The women at this college faced ridicule from male physicians who derided the institution. They complained that women “lacked the physical strength to practice medicine”. Others thought that women were incapable of understanding a medical curriculum and that the topics taught were inappropriate for their “sensitive and delicate nature”.

In 1860, there were only 300 women out of 54,543 physicians in the United States–and none of them were African American. Despite the discouraging odds, in 1864 Crumpler became her school’s only African-American graduate.

After completing her schooling, Crumpler relocated to Richmond, Virginia where she found her calling. She discovered “the proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children.” It was here she worked under the Freedman’s Bureau, an agency dedicated to helping newly freed African American slaves.

Throughout the rest of her practice, Rebecca faced daily issues of racism and sexism from her colleagues, pharmacists, and many others. Rebecca Lee Crumpler continued to practice medicine and even wrote a book called A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts. She passed in 1895. Crumpler achieved many things in the name of gender and women’s equity and paved the way for many of those who continue to defy adversity.

A Brief History of Women in the U.S Military (Part 2)

By: Sierra Voorhies

Trivia Question: True or False? Army and Navy nurses, all of whom were women, weren’t given veteran’s benefits and equal rights in the military until 1947, when they were granted officer’s status. 

Answer: True

World War II (1939-1945)

In WW2, all branches of the military accepted women into their organizations. Their role expanded from clerical jobs to driving, repair persons, lab workers, operators, parachute riggers, and air combat trainers (USO). 68,000 women served as nurses across the Army Nurse Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps – sometimes working on front lines, and sometimes being killed or taken as prisoners of war. Black women served as nurses overseas and stateside, and were continuously used as auxiliary forces that were called in so men could serve on the front lines when needed. In 1948 Truman signed an Integration Act that desegregated women in the Army and the Organized Reserve Corps where Black women had been serving without official recognition. 

Interesting Fact: Aesthetically, in WW2, uniforms were skirts, and having hairdos, makeup and nail polish was emphasized, this is different from today when makeup, nail polish and skirts are not allowed (USO). 

In 1948 (Before the Korean War) Truman signed an Act that allowed ‘women to serve as full, permanent members of all branches of the Armed Forces.” (USO) Truman also issued an executive order to desegregate the military and allow Black women equal service (USO).

Vietnam War- Present
  • In the Vietnam War, women were allowed to command units that included men. 
  • Since the 80’s progress continued to be made, including women becoming fighter pilots, rescue swimmers, and four-star generals in the Army (USO).
  • In 1991 Operation Desert Storm started, and an estimated 40% of women serving were Black women (NABMW).
  • In 1994 Clinton got rid of the “Risk Rule” which let women be in any position besides direct ground combat roles (USO). 
  • In 2015 Women would be allowed to serve in direct ground combat roles, meaning almost every role in the armed forces is now open to women (USO).

In conclusion, Black women continue to face intersectional issues in the Armed Forces, but those who have served and volunteered since pre-colonialism paved the way for those who serve with full recognition and benefits now. Proportionately, Black women serve at a higher rate (in noncommissioned officers) than White women or Black Men, meaning they tend to stay in the service longer. The military can be a place of opportunity that civilian careers might not equal in the eyes of some Black women today (NABMW).

Like in every other aspect of life, the United State’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism plays an important role in the way Black women serve. But all the same, women will persist. 

Note: I would love to write a part two about the history of queer people in the military, but as this is so long, I will refrain from including it in this blog. Stay tuned! 

Women of Color in the Essential Workforce

By: Adriana Miranda 

Trivia Question: _______ __ _______ (demographic) are more likely to be doing essential jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic than anyone else.

Answer: women of color

Did you know women of color are more likely to be doing essential jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic than anyone else?

“Of the 5.8 million people working healthcare jobs that pay less than $30,000 a year, half are nonwhite and 83 percent are women.” says the New York Times.  Also, according to Think Global Health, “one in every three jobs held by women has been deemed essential, and women of color are more likely to have essential jobs”.

We as an entire global population are relying on healthcare workers and service workers to keep our lives semi-normal and semi-functioning. While these roles have always been important, and we should always treat others with respect regardless of their job being “essential”, these past two years have REALLY shown us that these essential workers are truly the backbone of our everyday lives. They keep our groceries stocked, they keep our public spaces clean, they keep our families alive. They are also more likely to be women of color.

Not only are things like racism and misogyny facing women of color every day, but they are also more likely to be putting themselves in danger of getting COVID to keep our communities running, AND very often being overworked and underpaid for it.

It’s time we start acknowledging how crucial women of color are to our workforce and our lives.

Next time we’re out getting groceries, picking up takeout, getting a COVID test, shopping, trying to make our lives feel a little normal during a global pandemic, let’s be grateful for the people who risk their well being every day to keep this country running.

America Ferrara: Latina Trailblazer

By: Jetzel Chavira

America Ferrara is a trail blazing Latina in Hollywood. For over twenty years, Ferrara has been breaking stereotypes on screen and has become a role model to all Latina women. Throughout her career she faces criticism from not only people from Hollywood but also her family. She recalls a time where a family member told her, “Actresses don’t look like you. You’re brown, short, and chubby” (America Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures )

Ferrera always went for roles where the characters that were relatable and it landed her first major roles including the character Ana in “Real Women Have Curves” (2002). Since then, she has been countless other movies and TV shows not only as an actress but as a director and producer. Her latest project, “Gentefied” a bilingual dramedy on Netflix is about a Mexican America family that is being pushed out of their home, Boyle Heights California, due to gentrification.

Ferrera wants to represent Latinos not only on screen but behind the scenes. In her words, “Making TV is hard, period. Making Latino TV by Latinos for Latinos is nearly impossible.” Ferrera continues to fight for basic representation and is continuously fighting for this simple ask.

Image Source: Ryan Lash/TED

5 Black Artists Bringing Excellence to the KC Art Scene

By: Emma Sauer

Kansas City has more to offer than barbecue and sports teams. This is a thriving city teeming with talent, innovation, and excellence, and the city owes much of that to the Black community. From the American Jazz Museum to the AAAC (African American Arts Collective), Black artists have an established presence in Kansas City. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of five Black creators who make incredible art.

Meeks Me Smile Studio

@meeksmesmilestudio Instagram

Shawanna Meeks founded Meeks Me Smile to offer unique, and stylish handbags. One night while getting dressed for a night out with her friends, she realized she didn’t have the right handbag to match her fun night. So, she made her own. The shop offers small accessories, wallets,  clutch bags, totes, handbags, and more–all with cute and colorful prints. Considering these bags are all handmade, they’re marked at a remarkably affordable price. Costs range from $15 to $155 (not including shipping). Meeks Me Smile Studio also dabbles in furniture design and acrylic paintings.

Sonia Sanchez

Source: Creative Commons, John Mathew Smith, https://www.flickr.com/people/36277035@N06

Sonia Sanchez is a poet, playwright, author, and activist. A major influence in the Black arts movement, she’s received both the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award. Her poetry is known for its mixing of musical elements and traditional poetry. Through her poems she celebrates the art of Black English. Sonia Sanchez’s 16 books have moved readers since her first collection of poems, Homecoming, in 1969. Not much of her poetry is free to read online, but you can check out her books at your local library or purchase them.

Arie Monroe

“Block and Delete”, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

If you like comics or pop art, you’ll love Arie Monroe’s colorful and expressive art. Her comic Tornado Alley, starring Mainasha and her cat Socks, is a wacky take on the Wizard of Oz, but it’s also been a way for Monroe to to communicate her struggles as a black woman, according to her caption statement on “Block and Delete”, a piece currently on display in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. She also specializes in caricature art. On Redbubble, she has merch available featuring caricatures, the Tornado Alley crew, and other illustrations.

Whitney Manney

@WhitneyManney Instagram

Whitney Manney is both a fashion designer and her independent ethical fashion label of the same name. WM’s clothes are bold, taking inspiration from street art and urban culture. Whitney Manney aims to make clothes that are more than clothes; they make ready-to-wear wearable art. As for the artist herself, she’s showcased her work at over a dozen galleries and runway shows, including the UMKC Gallery of Art. She’s also done teaching partnerships with the HALO foundation (a foundation dedicated to helping homeless KC youth), and other schools around the area.

NedRa Bonds

Image Source: Connie Fiorella Fitzpatrick, Creative Commons

NedRa Bonds is an activist, quilt artist, and retired teacher in Kansas City, Kansas. Her vibrant, collage-like quilts often make strong statements about the social issues she’s passionate about. Her artwork has been directly inspired by issues of human rights, social justice, race, and environmentalism, to name a few. Bonds also often incorporates elements of satire and political commentary into her art, echoing her principles as an activist. She’s made over 100 quilts since 1989, many that have been shown at different art shows and exhibits in KC. If you’ve spent some time at the Women’s Center, her art may look familiar: for the Women’s Center’s 40th anniversary, she led the creation of our Women’s Equity Quilt!

 

 

 

 

Lavinia Fontana: Renaissance Woman

By: Emma Stuart

The Renaissance was a time of rebirth in Western art, culture, politics, and the economy. There were many things changing at that time and one of the most notable things being art. When most people think about Renaissance-era artists a few select names come to mind: Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Jan van Eyck, to name a few. These are all phenomenal artists who changed thescope of the art world forever. However, there is a name that is often left out of this list.

That name is Lavinia Fontana. She is considered to be the very first working female artist. She was born in Bologna Italy in 1552 to a family of prestigious painters. Her father, Prospero Fontana was a teacher at the School of Bologna which was an important art school at the time. Her artistic talent was nurtured by her father from an early age. This great talent served her very well in life, and when she desired to be married her skills were used as a sort-of dowry. She was married to an amateur artist and merchant who greatly regarded her skills.

The two went on to have a happy/successful marriage with 11 children. She continued to work on her craft even as a mother and her career excelled. In a very scandalous change from the status quo of the Renaissance era, Lavinia was the breadwinner for her family and her husband worked as her studio assistant. Lavinia was one of the original female powerhouses of the art world, she was able to pave the way for some of the other female artists that we know and love. As her work continued to excel and her career to soar, she gained a very prestigious list of patrons. These patrons include Italian Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, Spanish Cardinal Francisco Pacheco, The King of Spain Phillip II, and many members of the nobility across Europe.

Portrait of a Noble Woman, ca. 1580, by Lavinia Fontana. National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Her specialty was portraiture and was highly sought after by female nobles in Italy as she was able to capture the splendor of their dress alongside their dogs, who they wished to be included in the portraits. This type of portraiture showed a juxtaposition of the stiff attire of the noblewoman and the playfulness of an excited puppy.

Minerva Dressing. 1613, by Lavinia Fontana. Galleria Borghese.

Another one of her great accomplishments was breaking into the boy’s club scene of church painters. She was commissioned to paint an altar piece for the new cathedral dedicated to Saint Hyacinth of Poland. She was able to leave her mark in one of the oldest and most highly venerated churches in Rome. Lavinia was making waves in the art community in more ways than one. She was also known for being the first woman to paint a female nude in the history of art.

This magnificent story of hers is often untold because she was not supposed to have succeeded in the boy’s club that was the Renaissance art scene, but against all odds she pursued her dreams and make a sizeable impact on the world of art. She was able to have a star-studded career and also have a family who encouraged her work. Lavinia Fontana was a magnificent woman, artist, and mother and her story deserves to be heard.

The Lasting Legacy of Henrietta Lacks

 

Source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, © 2017 Kadir Nelson ,https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2018.9

By: Emma Sauer

As you may know, February is Black History month– and this year’s theme is Black Health and Wellness. This extends to the legacy of African Americans not just in medicine and academia, but also as mid-wives, doulas, naturopaths, counselors and therapists, public health activists, and more. With a theme so all-encompassing, I thought it a fitting time to talk about an African American woman who, despite her huge contributions to cancer and leukemia research, cloning, and development of vaccines, will never see or know just how profoundly she changed the world.

Henrietta Lacks was a person much like you or me. She was a mother, a wife, a friend. She loved cooking, her children, and never the left the house without a coat of red nail polish. She was born in Roanoke, Virginia, on August 1, 1920. She married David Lacks in 1941, and together they raised five children: Lawrence, Elsie, David Jr., Deborah, and Joseph.

10 years flew by. One wonders how Henrietta spent those ten years. What memories did she make with her family? What hardships did she experience? What people did she meet? What made her laugh, smile, or cry? Time has robbed us of the answers to these questions. The bulk of what we know about Henrietta’s life is her last months.

The year was 1951, and Henrietta Lacks was feeling unwell. For some time, she’d had a strange pain in her womb area. She described to her cousins like a “knot”. After experiencing vaginal bleeding, she visited John Hopkins Hospital, the only hospital in the area that would treat black patients. She was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer, and by October 4 of that year, she died. She was just 31. Before she succumbed to the disease, she underwent a biopsy in which her cancerous cervix cells were snipped and sent to the lab of Dr. George Gey. Researchers were amazed by what they found. Henrietta’s cells were incredibly unique. They had the capacity to survive and multiply at a rate far above ordinary cells. Her cells doubled every 20-24 hours, where other cells died. Effectively, her cells were immortal.

Without the knowledge of Mrs. Lacks or her family, John Hopkins Hospital shared her cells widely with other scientists, biotech companies, and institutions. These cells were called HeLa cells, and were the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory. Her family was not made aware of this for 20 years.

Both the way Henrietta Lacks’ cells were obtained and used is appalling, but at the time, it was completely legal. Unfortunately, it was not the first or the last time an African American would be exploited by the medical community. For example, 12 years before Henrietta was born, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study began. Forced sterilization policies targeted African Americans and other minority women, lasting until the 70s. The historical context of how scientists acquired the HeLa cells is one steeped in centuries of racism. I can go on and on all day about how wrong this was, but what’s done is done. HeLa cells have been in use longer than Mrs. Lacks even lived. Her descendants continue to tell her story, and as recently as October 2021, they are currently suing Thermo Fisher Scientific for commercialization of HeLa cells.

Henrietta Lacks’ story is disturbing and sad, but her legacy lives on.  She has contributed to modern medicine and science in countless ways. HeLa cells have helped scientists understand more about the human genome, leukemia treatment, and vaccines. Her cells have even been used to test the effects of gravity in space. HeLa cells have saved lives, and my intention is not to take away from that. Rather, if you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve sparked some interest in you to learn more about Henrietta Lacks. She’s much more than a cell.

 

One Hundred…Tampons in Space

By Morgan Clark

I recently saw a TikTok that made me laugh, but was actually kind of disappointing. In this TikTok the creator made fun of NASA for sending one of their female astronauts into space with 100 tampons… for just a single week!! Yup…100 hundred tampons. I could not help but laugh at that. NASA–a company that takes pride in having intelligent scientists and making ground breaking, world changing discoveries–sent this woman with a surplus of tampons for only a week. I had to look further into this.

In 1983 America sent up their first female astronaut, Sally Ride. This was a huge deal because many NASA scientists did not believe women were suited to be astronauts. Prior to Ride, there were requirements that specifically excluded women from becoming astronauts. These requirements included things like: having an engineering degree and graduating from jet pilot programs, which, during that time, the military did not allow women to do. This meant that by default, in order to be an astronaut, you had to be a man. This was challenged in the 1960’s by the Woman in Space Program, a privately funded project founded by two scientists who believed women were a better fit for space because they were able to fit more comfortably in the small, cramped spacecraft. Soon this project was turned into a program that resulted in 13 trained women who passed NASA’s selection test. Unfortunately, the program was abruptly canceled in 1962 which stopped the 13 qualified women from actually becoming astronauts.

It was in 1978 when Sally Ride and five other women were chosen to join NASA’s class of ’78. (After the suspicious shutdown program in 1962). Although Ride and her other female classmates were officially invited by NASA to take part in the program and go to space, they were met with some hesitation from the older astronauts. Being the first time that many of them had female co-workers it’s not all that hard to imagine why the men would be a bit put off. The new girls on the scene made it work though, and those like Sally Ride, pushed right on through to the top.

Ride was deployed to space with four crewmembers in June of 1983 on the Space Shuttle Challenger on mission STS-7. It was during this launch that NASA recommend sending 100 tampons with her for the week-long journey, and it they weren’t joking. When Ride was interviewed after her voyage she was mainly asked about the make-up she took into space with her. “Everybody wanted to know about what kind of makeup I was taking up. They didn’t care about how well-prepared I was to operate the arm or deploy communications satellites.” Sally stated in her 1983 interview with Gloria Steinem. Although Ride faced many obstacles regarding her sex, she went on to become a well-known astronaut. Not only for being the first American woman in space, but also by assisting in the investigations of the Columbia and the Challenger shuttle disasters. She also aided NASA in strategic planning and continued to do so until she retired. After which she became a physics professor and author. Ride passed away in 2012 leaving behind a legacy that is still inspiring young women everywhere.

It’s a Celebration!

By Morgan Clark

November 7th, 2020 was an historic day for many people, including me. It was the day that a woman, a BLACK woman, was elected as the next Vice President of The United States. Kamala Harris has made history, not only by being a woman in the office, but being a woman of color elected by America. That statement alone feels so powerful to me. When I sat down and analyzed her win and what it means, it moved me to tears. America has not always been kind to people who look like Kamala Harris or who are darker than she is. Just a few months ago we were in the streets protesting to arrest the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor, which is not the first unarmed black woman who has been killed by the police. During slavery, we were not even considered humans. We were forced to breed children instead of creating them. Children were taken from mothers and mothers were forced to breastfeed children that weren’t theirs. After emancipation, slaves were considered freed, but still faced oppression. During the 1800s women were not even able to vote. Many women fought against that law until the 19th amendment was passed. Women were able to vote, they just had to be white. Even during the fight for women’s rights Black women were over looked. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed in the 60s that Black women were able to vote. This was also the time of the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans were advocating for the end of Jim Crow laws and equality. When it came to the important decisions the Black women were pushed aside, even though they were putting in as much work as their male counter-part. Even those in our communities have pushed us aside and tried to silence us. And although America has made progress in treating Black women better there is still a lot of work to be done.

So, you can see why having a Black woman in the Office moves a Black woman like me to tears. America has always tried to put women in a corner. Overlooking and overshadowing us, especially those of us with color. We are told that we are not capable of leadership roles because we are too emotional. And when they are in leadership positions, some play safe so they won’t come off as a b*tch. For black women, we are considered angry when we speak up in the work field. We must be the best versions of ourselves and live up to other people’s standards to get some of the same opportunities that those more privileged and sometimes even less qualified than us get handed. And that’s exactly what Kamala Harris did. She fought and worked hard and got all the way to the top. Her becoming the first Black Vice President in America sends a message to others out there. It tells young women that there is room for us at the table. It tells young Black girls that they are worthy and capable, no matter what she looks like. It tells me that there is some hope in America and the progression we have made over the past few years. Today I celebrate all Black women in America and let them know that I do see you.

Looking Deeper at our Phenomenal Feminist: Mindy Kaling

By Morgan Clark

Mindy Kaling is a 41-year-old American actress, best known from the very popular TV show The Office. In the show she plays Kelly, a boy crazy, airhead, customer service representative. Kaling was born Vera Mindy Chokalingam, and she has made her way up in Hollywood in her own way without and despite not sticking to society’s standard. Kaling is the daughter of two Indian immigrants who met in Nigeria and moved to the United States in 1979. She grew up watching sketch comedy television which helped develop her humor. Shows like “Living Color” and “Saturday Night Live” were some of her biggest influences.

In 2001 Kaling graduated from Dartmouth College with a B.A. in theatre. After graduating she moved to Brooklyn, there she shared an apartment with a woman named Brenda Wither. Together they created a satire named “Matt &Ben”, which went on to win the best overall production at New York International Fringe Festival in 2002. Their play had two years of success in Los Angeles, and it was Kaling’s door to The Office. The producer of the show Greg Daniel recruited her to help write for the show when it began and from there she ended up playing Kelly from 2005-2013. She also directed many episodes and became executive producer of The Office after many years. She did eventually leave the show that brought her up into the Hollywood scene, when she did she went on to become the first Indian American woman to ever write and star in her own show when she wrote and produced The Mindy Project, a show, in which she stars, about a doctor who is obsessed with finding a man. The show was on for five years before ending in 2017.


Throughout her career Kaling has spoken out about feminism and women’s right. She’s stated that The Mindy Project is “unconsciously feminist” because she is a feminist. (The character is loosely based on her). Even when it came to hiring she made sure to keep her staff diverse with a talented group of women. She has spoken out about her opinions regarding Hollywood and feminism, including how she feels women should not be applauded for doing their job in Hollywood because it should already be expected. Her platform just continues to grow, as she has gone on to be in many movies such as Ocean 8, Late Night, and A Wrinkle in Time. And now she has written two books which detail her own life, and in doing so empower women to be strong and, most importantly, to be themselves. She has and will continue to speak up for women’s rights, especially within the entertainment industry.