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Laura Bridgman

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Half a century before famed Helen Keller, the "Original Helen Keller," Laura Dewey Bridgman, became the first deaf and blind person to learn a language. By the time that Keller became famous in the early twentieth century, Bridgman's story had faded and been forgotten -- but like Keller, Bridgman moved souls around the world by triumphing over her multiple disabilities.

Laura Dewey Bridgman was born in the expansion period of the United States on December 21, 1829, just shy of President Andrew Jackson's message to Congress to relocate the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River.  With her parents, Daniel and Harmony Bridgman, Laura resided in Etna, New Hampshire, just a few miles east of Vermont.  Although Native Americans had moved from that area decades earlier, it remained rural.

 

When she was two, Laura contracted scarlet fever, which eradicated both her hearing and her sight, while seriously damaging her senses of taste and smell.  Touch was the only one of the five senses that was not impaired.

Her early means of communication and expression were through imitation by touch. Laura learned to perform tasks by following her mother’s hands; she even learned to sew that way. However, it was Asa Tenny, a local handyman, who taught her to begin communicating using a system of signs.  That attracted the interest of a professor at Dartmouth College, nearby in Hanover, New Hampshire, and he wrote a newspaper article about Laura.

 

Dr. Samuel Howe, head of the Perkins School for the Blind, read it and was eager to try to teach her.  Even though educational experts believed that a deaf and blind student could simply not be taught such abstractions as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Howe – the husband of feminist and writer Julia Ward Howe -- was a progressive person willing to delve into new challenges. 

 

On October 4, 1837, when she was almost eight years old, Laura left New Hampshire to live at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston.  There she would learn how to read and write using grooved paper.  Dr. Howe used an innovative method:  he had her feel items – a spoon, for example -- and then ran her fingers over a label with raised letters that spelled “spoon” to her touch.  Laura did this with various items and words for several weeks, but the association between the item and the written word seemed beyond her comprehension.  But one day, Dr. Howe wrote, her face “lighted up with human expression… [as] this truth dawned upon her mind.”

After having lost the most valuable of human senses, Laura Bridgman learned to use the sense of touch to replace her sight and hearing.  She first “read” words, and then, in the opposite of the usual approach, went backwards to learn the alphabet and numbers.  By age ten, she could write her name.  She moved on to keeping a journal, in which she recorded her thoughts and what she had learned that day.  To be able to write, as well as read and otherwise communicate with people, was truly miraculous.   It was clear that the fever had not destroyed the thinking part of her brain and that this girl was extraordinarily intelligent.

 

https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/laura-bridgman/

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Hattie (Gray) Austin Moseley (circa 1900-1998)

Company: Hattie’s Chicken Shack
Started: 1938

Hattie Austin Moseley was newly widowed in 1938, living in Saratoga Springs, New York and looking for a way to provide for herself during the difficult years of the Great Depression. Born in Louisiana, Moseley, whose mother died in childbirth, had held jobs as a domestic and restaurant worker. Using her savings, she launched Hattie’s Chicken Shack, a food stand serving southern-style fried chicken, biscuits and other treats that was open 24 hours a day, to cater to the horse-racing and night life scene that made the town famous. Her food and sense of humor drew crowds; within a year, she earned enough to expand to a full-scale restaurant, frequented in its history by such celebrities as Jackie Robinson, Cab Calloway and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Moseley continued to work until age 92, when she sold the restaurant. As of 2013, it remains a popular and historic restaurant that still uses Hattie’s original fried chicken recipe, named best by Food and Wine magazine.

“Whenever anybody comes to the door, give ‘em something to eat. That may be Jesus.”

 

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Victoria Claflin Woodhull (1838-1927)

victoria woodhull

In many ways Victoria Claflin Woodhull was ahead of her time and was an important trailblazer for women generations after her.  Born in 1838 in Homer, Ohio, like many women of her era, Woodhull married very young.  Her marriage took place when she was 14 years old and lasted 11 years after which time she divorced and then remarried two years later.  She helped support her family by working as a spiritual medium and fortuneteller.  In 1868, she and her family moved to New York City where Woodhull and one of her sisters became spiritual advisors for railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.  Vanderbilt in turn helped the sisters become the first women stockbrokers in history when they opened their own brokerage house in 1870 called Woodhull, Claflin & Company in 1870.  That same year the sisters started their own paper called Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly in which they promoted woman suffrage and labor reforms. 

The following year, Woodhull became a trailblazer in another area as the first woman to run for president representing the Equal Rights Party.  Woodhull’s presidential platform showed her foresight as she supported issues like an eight-hour workday, graduated income tax, new divorce laws, and social welfare programs that we enjoy today.  While many trade unionists, women’s suffragists, and socialists supported Woodhull, she was unable to gain the funds for an effective campaign and could not receive votes from her female supporters as women did not yet have the right to vote. 

 

Woodhull advocated for equal education for women, woman’s right to vote, and women’s right to control their own health decisions.  She criticized the Victorian ideal of women’s place being first and foremost in the home as full-time wives and mothers.

 

After divorcing and remarrying a wealthy banker, Woodhull lived out the rest of her days in England with her family, remaining active in the suffrage movement and various charities, giving lectures, and running a newspaper called Humanitarian.  Woodhull died in 1927 in London.

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Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1964)

Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry was an African American writer born in Chicago to a wealthy family. Her parents were activists who challenged the Jim Crow Laws. She often saw Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Dubois and other civil rights leaders as a child who helped her understand the civil rights issues of the time. She attended the University of Wisconsin but left school to go to New York where she found a job as a reporter for Freedom, a progressive black newspaper. She was in her 20’s when she wrote her best known work, the play “ A Raisin in the Sun” which dealt with race issues of the time.  The title of the play was from a work by Langston Hughes poem with the line that says, "What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun, / Or does it explode?” The play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Hansberry was the 5th woman, the youngest, and the first black woman to win it.  Sadly, she lost a bout with cancer and died at age 34.

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Zora Neale Hurston (c. 1891-1960)

ZORA HURSTON

Author, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston was born in Natasulga, Alabama, in 1891. Hurston attended school at Howard Prep School and Howard University in Washington, D.C. She then won a scholarship to Barnard College in 1925 where she received a degree in anthropology while studying under famed anthropologist Franz Boaz .

Hurston then did field research recording the folklore of African Americans, from Harlem to Florida and other areas of the South in the late 1920s. During the Depression, she helped folksong collector Alan Lomax document the folk music of Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas. She worked with the Federal Writer's Project interviewing Floridians about their lives and culture and recording and collecting the diverse folk song of the state. Hurston studied folklore in other places too, such as Haiti and Jamaica, and studied black communities in Central America. She wrote Tell My Horse (1938) based on information she gathered about Haitian and Jamaican voodoo.

Hurston was very active in the Harlem Renaissance. Between the 1930s and 1960 she was one of the most prolific black woman writers in the United States. She published and edited books and numerous short stories, magazine articles, and plays. Her most famous work was Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

To fund her education and to supplement her writing career, over the years Hurston worked as a manicurist, a librarian, a dramatic coach with the Works Progress Administration Theatre Project, a story consultant at Paramount Pictures, a maid, and a teacher.

 

In 1960 she died in St. Lucie, Florida, having suffered a stroke the previous year. At the time she was virtually unrecognized and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973 author Alice Walker rediscovered Hurston’s grave and marked it with a tombstone. In 1975 Walker published ‘In Search of Zora Neale Hurston’ in Ms. Magazine, sparking a Hurston revival. Hurston is now recognized as one of America's great writers and Eatonville, Florida, where she grew up, is now the home of the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities and numerous seminars and symposia on her life and work.

 

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Nellie Bly Biography

Journalist (1864–1922)
 
Nellie Bly was an American journalist known for her investigative and undercover reporting. She earned acclaim in 1887 for her exposé on the conditions of asylum patients at Blackwell's Island in New York City, and achieved further fame after the New York World sent her on a trip around the world in 1889.
 
Synopsis

Born Elizabeth Cochran on May 5, 1864, in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania, journalist Nellie Bly began writing for The Pittsburgh Dispatch in 1885. Two years later, Bly moved to New York City and began working for the New York World. In conjunction with one of her first assignments for the World, she spent several days on Blackwell's Island, posing as a mental patient for an exposé. In 1889, the paper sent her on a trip around the world in a record-setting 72 days. Bly died on January 27, 1922, at age 57, in New York City.

 

Early Life

Famed investigative journalist Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran (she later added an "e" to the end of her name) on May 5, 1864, in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania. The town was founded by her father, Michael Cochran, who amply provided for his family by working as a judge and landowner. Her grandfather had immigrated to America from Ireland in the 1790s. Bly's mother was Michael Cochran's second wife, Mary Jane Cochran; their marriage produced five children, the third of which was Bly. (Prior to their union, Michael and Mary Jane were both widowed. Michael had 10 children by his first wife; Mary Jane had no children from her first marriage.)

 

Bly suffered a tragic loss in 1870, at the age of 6, when her father died suddenly. Amidst their grief, Michael Cochran's death presented a grave financial detriment to his family, as he left them without a will, and, thus, no legal claim to his estate.

 
Journalistic Career Begins

In an effort to support her now-single mother, Bly enrolled at the Indiana Normal School, a small college in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where she studied to become a teacher. However, not long after beginning her courses there, financial constraints forced Bly to table her hopes for a higher education. After leaving the school, she moved with her mother to the nearby city of Pittsburgh, where, together, they ran a boarding house.

 

Bly's future finally began to look brighter in the early 1880s, when, at the age of 18, she submitted a racy response to an editorial piece that had been published in The Pittsburgh Dispatch. In the piece, writer Erasmus Wilson (known to Dispatch readers as the "Quiet Observer," or Q.O.) claimed that women were best served in the home, conducting domestic duties such as raising children, cooking and cleaning, and called the working woman "a monstrosity." Aghast by Wilson's sexist statements, it didn't take long for Bly to craft her fiery rebuttal. Bly's letter grabbed the attention of the paper's managing editor, George Madden, who, in turn, offered her a position.

 

Working as a reporter (beginning in 1885) for The Pittsburgh Dispatch at a rate of $5 per week—and taking on the pen name by which she's best known, after the Stephen Foster song "Nelly Bly" [sic]—Bly expanded upon the negative consequences of sexist ideologies and emphasized the importance of women's rights issues. She also became renowned for her investigative and undercover reporting, including posing as a sweatshop worker to expose poor working conditions faced by women. However, Bly became increasingly limited in her work at The Pittsburgh Dispatch after her editors moved her to the paper's women's page, and aspired to find a more meaningful career.

 

In 1887, Bly relocated to New York City, where she began working for the newspaper New York World, the publication that would later become famously known for spearheading "yellow journalism."

 

Asylum Exposé

One of Bly's earliest assignments at the paper was to author a piece detailing the experiences endured by patients of the infamous mental institution on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island) in New York City. In an effort to most accurately expose the conditions at the asylum, she pretended to be a mental patient in order to be committed to the facility, where she lived for 10 days.

 

Bly's exposé, published in the World soon after her return to reality, was a massive success. The piece shed light on a number of disturbing conditions at the facility, including neglect and physical abuse, and ultimately spurred a large-scale investigation of the institution as well as much-needed improvements in health care. Later in 1887, Bly's series was later reprinted as a book, Ten Days in a Mad-House, published in New York City by Ian L. Munro.

 

Led by New York Assistant District Attorney Vernon M. Davis, with Bly assisting, the asylum investigation resulted in a number of changes in New York City's Department of Public Charities and Corrections (later split into separate agencies, the Department of Correction and the Department of Public Charities), which oversees the city's hospitals; these changes (per the recommendations of jury members in 1888) included a larger appropriation of funds for the care of mentally ill patients, additional physician appointments for stronger supervision of nurses and other health-care workers, and regulations to prevent overcrowding and fire hazards at the city's medical facilities.

 

Bly followed her Blackwell's exposé with similar investigative work, including editorials detailing the improper treatment of individuals in New York jails and factories, corruption in the state legislature and other first-hand accounts of malfeasance. She also interviewed and wrote pieces on several prominent figures of the time, including the likes of Emma Goldman and Susan B. Anthony.

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Elizabeth Seton (1774-1821)

 

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton began the Sisters of Charity, the first religious community of women founded in the United States.  She was born into a prominent Episcopalian family in New York City, August 28, 1774.  Her father, Dr. Richard Bayley, was a physician, professor of medicine, and one of the first health officers of New York City.  Her mother, Catherine Charlton Bayley, daughter of a Protestant Episcopal minister, died when Elizabeth was only three years old.

Elizabeth married William Magee Seton, scion of a wealthy New York mercantile family with international connections, January 25, 1794, at the home of her sister, Mary Bayley Post.  Five children were born between 1795 and 1802, Anna Maria, William, Richard, Catherine, and Rebecca.  As a young society matron, Elizabeth enjoyed a full life of loving service to her family, care for the indigent poor, and religious development in her Episcopal faith, nurtured by the preaching and guidance of Rev. John Henry Hobart, an assistant at Trinity Church.

 

As the eighteenth century drew to a close, a double tragedy visited Elizabeth.  Political and economic turmoil took a severe toll on William Seton's business and on his health.  He became increasingly debilitated by the family affliction, tuberculosis.  Hoping to arrest the disease, Elizabeth, William, and Anna Maria embarked on a voyage to Italy.  On their arrival in Leghorn, they were placed in quarantine; soon after, December 27, 1803, William died.  Waiting to return to their family, Elizabeth and Anna Maria spent several months with the Filicchi brothers of Leghorn (Livorno), business associates of her husband.

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Name: Sylvia Rivera

Age: 50

 

Roots: Puerto Rican – Venezuelan

 

How She Changed the World: Orphaned at the age of 3, Rivera learned how to take life’s punches at an early age. The transgender activist fought for the LGBTQ community and organized plenty of protests fighting for gay rights in the 1970’s in New York City. Her legacy is still strongly felt within the community and she has been honored in the musical,

Sylvia So Far.

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Name: Hilda Solis

Age: 55

Roots: Mexican

 

How She Changed the World: Solis knows how to work it! The former labor secretary, who has degrees from California State Polytechnic University, Ponoma, and the University of Southern California, won recognition from labor unions for pushing wage and hour laws, and also job safety regulations. “Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader,” she said in a statement.

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Dolores Huerta

Age: 82

Roots: Mexican

 

How She Changed the World: Along with Cesar Chavez, Huerta co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which eventually became the United Farm Workers (UFW), in order to unite farmers into a union that fights to protect their rights. She is a labor leader and civil rights activist who has also advocated for immigrants’ and women’s rights, earning her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

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