Women 101—A Mind at (House)Work


Writing about political pioneers such as Victoria Woodhull and Belva Lockwood, it struck me that they were professional pioneers as well, breaking ground in careers new to women with their work in finance and the law. So I decided that I would dedicate some of this 2018 series to entrepreneurs and businesswomen. One avenue for women to succeed in business were industries and inventions related to the home, in which they could be seen as having insider knowledge and authority. Another avenue was in the related fields of beauty, health, and fashion, which I will explore next time.

Mary Ellen Pleasant, “Mother of Civil Rights in California”

Mary Ellen Pleasant (c. 1814–1904)
Mary Ellen Pleasant, abolitionist and entrepreneur, is one of those people I only know about from Drunk History. This, despite the fact that the smallest park in San Francisco, which is just a few blocks from my home, is named after her. In my defense, the park is really just a couple of eucalyptus trees she once planted in her yard.

Like so many female pioneers, not much has been confirmed about Pleasant’s early life. According to her autobiography, she was born a slave in Georgia but, after a series of twists and turns, ended up as an indentured servant on Nantucket, where she spent her early teens with a Quaker family. Since she was very light-skinned, she began passing for white and worked as a clerk in a general store and then as a tailor’s assistant in Boston. At some point, she met and married James Smith, a wealthy merchant and plantation owner of mixed race who also passed for white. Smith was actively involved with the Underground Railroad and Pleasant, already a strident abolitionist due to the influence of her adopted Quaker family, helped him with this work. After her husband’s death in the mid-1840s, Pleasant was left a wealthy widow and continued working as an abolitionist and slave rescuer until she had to flee west. She arrived in San Francisco in April 1852.

Since Pleasant had no official papers, she used multiple identities to avoid capture under California’s Fugitive Slave Act. As Mrs. Smith, she worked as a white cook and caterer in some of the most exclusive eating establishments in the city. With a secret partner, banker Thomas Bell, she opened a variety of businesses including restaurants, laundries, and boarding houses. As Mrs. Pleasants, she continued her involvement with the Underground Railroad, using her Mrs. Smith contacts to settle and employ new black arrivals. She also bankrolled and supported abolitionists, even leaving the city briefly to return to the East Coast and assist John Brown. Along with Bell, she amassed an incredible fortune. It is estimated that they were worth $30 million in 1875 (and, yes, that is $30 million in 1875 dollars).

In 1863, in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation and the revision of the testimony laws in California, Pleasant declared her race openly. After being ejected from a streetcar in 1866, she fought for the rights of blacks to ride the local trolley system. Eventually her case ended up at the California Supreme Court and Pleasant v. North Beach & Mission Railroad Company outlawed segregation in the city’s public conveyances. Ultimately the courts proved to be her undoing, as she lost her reputation and her fortune in a series of court battles, first with the family of Thomas Bell and later when she bankrolled Sarah Althea Hill in her divorce lawsuit and appeals against Senator William Sharon, one of the greatest scandals of its day. Pleasant died in poverty in 1904.

Seriously, the Underground Railroad? Gold Rush San Francisco? John Brown? Where is this movie?!?

I’d rather be a corpse than a coward.

—Mary Ellen Pleasant

Josephine Cochrane (1839–1913)
Speaking of fine eating establishments, Josephine Cochrane was the inventor of the first commercially successful automatic dishwasher. Cochrane, née Garis, grew up in Indiana in a family of inventors and engineers (her grandfather was awarded a steamboat patent). In 1858, she married William Cochran, who would go on to be a well-to-do merchant and local politician in Shelbyville, Illinois. The Cochrans entertained frequently and Cochrane was supposedly inspired to invent the dishwasher to save her precious heirloom china from careless hands. After her husband died in 1883, she was finally motivated to do something about it and designed her invention in a shed behind her house. George Butters, a railroad mechanic, assisted her in constructing the first model, which used a fixed rack and water pressure (instead of scrubbers) for the cleaning action. Cochrane received a patent for the device in 1886. She installed one in her kitchen and her friends also used them, but Cochrane had very little success breaking into the home market—in addition to requiring a hot water heater to work, her dishwasher was also expensive and noisy. So she made some adjustments to configure it for professional use. Through her social contacts, she sold one to the Palmer House in Chicago, and then obtained a second contract by cold-calling the management of the Sherman Hotel. Finally, she showed her invention in Machinery Hall at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where it was also used by the restaurants. She soon began receiving orders for machines from hotels, restaurants, and department stores, and founded a manufacturing company for their production in 1897. Cochrane herself oversaw installation and performed hands-on training for her customers. After her death, the Garis-Cochran company was bought by the Hobart Corporation, the manufacturer of Kitchen Aid mixers.

Josephine Cochrane’s 1886 patent

Melitta Bentz (1873–1950)
Born in Dresen, Germany, Melitta Bentz, née Liebscher, was the inventor of the coffee filter. Like Josephine Cochrane, Bentz was a housewife who came to her invention through dissatisfaction with existing options for brewing coffee. Percolators, the common method, had a tendency to over-brew the beverage, while espresso machines left coffee grounds in one’s cup. Linen bags resulted in good coffee, but were hard to clean. So Bentz began experimenting. Her final successful trial used her son’s blotting paper and a pot perforated with a nail to create the first drip-brew coffee filter. Bentz was granted a patent in 1908 and founded a company bearing her name, contracting with a tinsmith to make the pots and producing the paper filters with her husband in their apartment. After some initial success at the 1909 Leipzig Fair, Bentz recruited her husband and two sons to be employees. While her husband demonstrated the product in stores, Melitta hosted home coffee parties. Production was interrupted with the onset of World War I due to both paper and metal rationing as well as the halting of coffee bean imports. One of the things I most admire about Melitta Bentz is her treatment of her workers: She was known for being a progressive and fair employer, offering competitive salaries, Christmas bonuses, increased vacation days and time off on weekends, as well as a social aid fund for employees. After Melitta and her husband retired, her sons took over the company, and they were responsible for subsequent improvements to their mother’s invention, including a new design—this is when the filter took on its traditional cone shape. The grandchildren of Melitta Bentz still control the Melitta Group, which has approximately 3300 employees today.

Ida Annah Ryan (1873–1950)
From the designers and inventors of two ubiquitous household items, we move to Ida Annah Ryan, a designer of actual households. Ryan was the first woman to earn an M.S. degree from MIT and also the first woman in the United States to receive a master’s degree in architecture. She set up the first female architectural firm in the United States in her hometown of Waltham, Massachusetts, and was soon joined by fellow MIT graduate and suffragist Florence Luscomb. Together they designed both public and private buildings, including many of the finest homes in Waltham. With the onset of World War I, Ryan offered her services to the government and was the first woman to be employed by the War Department. With the housing slump that resulted from the war, Ryan moved to Orlando, Florida. There, after a short period of employment in an established firm, she formed an architectural practice with Isabel Roberts, who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. They designed many landmarked buildings still in Orlando today.

And so we come to the woman who inspired this post…

Lillian and Frank Gilbreth with their children circa 1924

Lillian Gilbreth (1878–1972)
Lillian Gilbreth, née Moller, was an efficiency expert, industrial engineer, and organizational psychologist who is nevertheless best known as the mother in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950). Born in Oakland, California, she graduated from UC Berkeley in 1900 with a degree in English literature. In fact, she was their first female commencement speaker. She later pursued graduate work at Columbia University, Berkeley, and Brown University. In 1904, she married Frank Gilbreth, whom she met while passing through Boston on her way to the Grand Tour. Frank was an MIT dropout who had gone on to become an apprentice bricklayer, eventually forming his own construction company, and engineering and patenting numerous labor-saving devices.

Frank respected Lillian’s obvious intelligence and welcomed input from her in all his business affairs, and, despite wanting to have a dozen children, saw his marriage as a true life and business partnership. When Frank became interested in the new field of scientific management, he encouraged Lillian to get a degree in industrial psychology. They both attended the very first conference on scientific management, even though Lillian was nursing her first child at the time. In the early years, much of Lillian’s work was published under her husband’s name for credibility reasons, even though she was the one with a doctorate and he hadn’t finished college. Among other techniques, the Gilbreths pioneered the use of video playback to analyze worker motion. However, unlike Taylorism, they believed the human element and morale were critical to any improvement in efficiency. Perhaps it is unsurprising that much of their work carried over to their home life and they ran their increasingly large household using a parliamentarian system with family meetings and household committees for purchasing, utilities, etc. When there were extra chores to be done, the children had to submit bids to be able to complete them.

After her husband’s early death in 1924, Lillian turned to the areas of domestic management and home economics. If you currently have a “work triangle” in your kitchen, you can thank Lillian Gilbreth. With General Electric, she worked with thousands of women to design the ideal height for stoves, sinks, and other kitchen appliances. Gilbreth is also credited with the foot-pedal garbage can, refrigerator door shelves (including egg and butter compartments), and wall light switches. She filed numerous patents, including one involving improvements to the electric can opener. Gilbreth served as a marketing research and management consultant for Johnson & Johnson and Macy’s, who used her public image as a mother and modern career woman to build employee and customer trust.

Oh, and she actually has a g*ddamn movie!

Myrna Loy and Clifton Webb star in Cheaper by the Dozen

To read more about these incredible women:

  • Susheel Bibbs, Heritage of Power: Marie Laveaux to Mary Ellen Pleasant (2012)
  • Lynn Hudson, The Making of Mammy Pleasant: A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth Century San Francisco (2002)
  • Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the Dozen (1948)
  • Jane Lancaster, Making Time: Lillian Moller Gilbreth — A Life Beyond Cheaper by the Dozen (2004)

Podcast episodes:
History Chicks: Four Inventors
HerStory: Ida Annah Ryan
History Chicks: Lillian Gilbreth

For previous posts in this Women 101 series, click below:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air
Wasps and Witches
Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War
Soldiers and Spies in World War II
Adventurers and Explorers
From A to Z for Realz
Strange Bedfellows


Women 101—Strange Bedfellows


In this first installment of Women 101, the 2018 edition, I present politicians and political wives, specifically presidential candidates and first ladies. One of the main reasons I started this series last year was because of the deeply ingrained misogyny revealed by the 2016 presidential election and so it seems only fitting to take a look at how women and their involvement in presidential politics and elections have fared in the past. I had hoped to post this on International Women’s Day but I’m afraid a different civic duty—namely, jury duty—intervened.

Foundational Support

Abigail Adams (left) and Dolley Madison (right), portraits by Gilbert Stuart

In terms of presidential politics and policies, two women stand out among the Founding First Ladies: Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison. In one sense, they represent diametrically opposed visions of the First Lady role, with Abigail Adams as the intellectual policy wonk advisor to her husband (à la Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton) and Dolley Madison as the consummate hostess and savvy socialite (à la Jackie Kennedy). Of course, the real story is likely much more nuanced. Unfortunately, unlike for Abigail Adams, I could not easily find serious, reputable works on Dolley Madison that might tell us more about this fascinating woman.

Abigail Adams (1744–1818)
Abigail Adams, née Smith, is likely the best known of the women whose short biographies I will be presenting here. Wife of John Adams, the second U.S. president, and mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth, she is one of the few women commonly recognized as one of the founders of the United States. Although she received no formal education, Adams came from a family active in Massachusetts politics and New England society and this afforded her the opportunity and resources to pursue a more intellectual life than was common for women of her day. As anyone who has watched the HBO mini-series John Adams (based on the book by historian David McCullough) knows, Abigail was a close advisor to her husband and their correspondence is a treasure trove of information about the American Revolution, the formation of the U.S. government, and other political matters.

While there seems to be some dispute about how “feminist” Adams actually was, she certainly advocated for better educational opportunities for women as well as laws in their interest. In this regard, her March 1776 letter to her husband, requesting that he “remember the ladies” while at the Continental Congress, is often cited. What is less well known about Adams is that she was an extremely savvy investor (although sometimes ethically questionable), speculating in both bonds and land. Since her husband was often away from home, first due to his law practice, and later to his political activities, Adams managed both the family farm and finances, investing so wisely that some argue she is largely responsible for the family’s wealth. For anyone interested in learning more about this aspect of Abigail Adams’s life, check out the Ben Franklin’s World podcast listed below, or the work of historian Woody Holton.

It is really mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to… Nay why should your sex wish for such a disparity in those whom they one day intend for companions and associates. Pardon me, sir, if I cannot help sometimes suspecting that this neglect arises in some measure from an ungenerous jealousy of rivals near the throne.

—Abigail Adams to John Thaxter, 15 February 1778

Dolley Madison (1768–1849)
Dolley Madison, née Payne, was the wife of James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and fourth president of the United States. Raised as a Quaker, Dolley had grown up on a slave plantation in Virginia; however, in the wake of the Revolution, her father emancipated his slaves and moved the family to Philadelphia. It was in Philadelphia that she met and married her first husband, John Todd, in 1790. Todd was a Quaker lawyer who quickly provided Dolley with two sons but who unfortunately contracted yellow fever in the summer of 1793 and died, along with their younger son, in October of that year. In 1794, she married Madison, at the time a bachelor of long standing and seventeen years her senior. Since Madison was not a Quaker, Dolley was expelled from the Society of Friends for marrying him. Just a few years later, Madison retired from politics and moved back to Montpelier, the Madison family plantation in Virginia. However, his retirement didn’t last for long, and he was called back to public service by President Thomas Jefferson to serve as his Secretary of State.

As the first presidential wife to occupy the White House for an extended period of time (and having often served as official hostess for the widowed Jefferson), Dolley did much to define the role of what would come to be called the First Lady, including helping to refurnish the White House after the original building was almost completely destroyed by fire during the War of 1812. She is also credited with making sure that the famous Lansdowne portrait of George Washington was saved from the fire. In contrast to her serious and reserved husband, Dolley was known for being a charming hostess who could bring politicians of all stripes together. She was extremely popular in Washington and, to this day, is the only citizen to have received an honorary seat in Congress. Unfortunately, her son Payne was a bit of a wastrel and was responsible for the family’s money troubles later in life. After her husband’s death in 1836, Dolley would organize and copy his papers in the hopes of selling them to Congress to raise money, but was eventually forced to sell Montpelier to pay off outstanding debts.

Blazing the Trail

Victoria Woodhull (left) and Belva Lockwood (right), portraits by Mathew Brady

As we leap ahead to the late nineteenth century, we come to two different women who ran for president: Victoria Woodhull and Belva Lockwood. In other words, we have come to the portion of this post where I start screaming about wanting a movie about someone. Because why have I never really heard of these women before? Woodhull, especially, is utterly fascinating, but both these trailblazers should have multiple books, historical monographs, and films dedicated to them.

Victoria Woodhull (1838–1927)
I think one reason Victoria Woodhull, née Claflin, is sidelined in the historical record in favor of other more prominent suffragists is that she was just too darn controversial. She had a shady background complete with a con-man father and her first “career” was as a medium under his tutelage. As a candidate, she spoke about “radical” reforms such as public education and welfare for the poor as well as taboo subjects like marital rape and free love (by which she meant free will and partnership in marriage, not the hippie variety, but was nevertheless scandalous for her day). At the same time, Woodhull was quite the rags-to-riches story. This was due in large part to her connection to Cornelius Vanderbilt, whom she met in the company of her sister Tennessee in the context of their work as a spiritualist and a “healer” respectively. It is rumored that Vanderbilt both had a long-standing affair with Tennessee and gave Victoria the stock tips that provided her with the income necessary for the two-part campaign she planned to wage. Phase One was to achieve financial stability along with respectability, since it hadn’t escaped her notice that other suffragist leaders were from the educated, leisure classes. Phase Two was to become President of the United States.

The first phase was set in motion when the stock market crash of 1869 enabled Woodhull to buy up stocks on the cheap. Again with help from Vanderbilt, who invested $7000 dollars in the sisters, Victoria and Tennessee became the first women in the country to own and operate a Wall Street brokerage firm. In this effort they were supported and assisted by Woodhull’s husband, James Blood, who was trained as an accountant. Just months after opening their firm, in April 1870, Victoria bought a mansion on the right side of the tracks and declared in the New York Herald her intentions to run for president. One month later, the sisters became the first women to found a weekly newspaper, which Victoria used to champion her causes and candidacy, including granting women the right to vote. (This was on the heels of the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment.)

To further her cause, in 1871, Woodhull became the first woman to speak before Congress, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee regarding women’s suffrage. There, she presented the argument that under the Fourteenth Amendment, as persons born in the United States, women were citizens, and, as citizens, under the Fifteenth Amendment, they already had the right to vote. In this fight, she was initially supported by other suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. However, Victoria’s interest in a broader progressive platform and her tendency to attract scandal led to a break with these leaders. Eventually, Woodhull ran for president of the United States in 1872 as the candidate for the Equal Rights Party. Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was nominated as the vice-presidential candidate, although he did not attend the convention and never acknowledged the nomination. Some question whether Woodhull should be granted the status of first woman to run for president because, at the time, she was only thirty-four years old, i.e., not the constitutionally mandated age of thirty-five. Nor did she appear officially on the ballot. Regardless, the press treated her as a legitimate candidate. Unfortunately, just days before the election, she was arrested on obscenity charges for publishing an account of Congregationalist minister Henry Ward Beecher’s adulterous affair. So Woodhull could not even attempt to vote for herself in the election. She won no electoral votes and only a negligible amount of the popular vote. Dogged by scandal, she eventually moved to England, where she led a relatively quiet life, living to see women gain suffrage in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

You know you have made it when there is a nasty political cartoon about you. In “Get thee behind me, (Mrs.) Satan!” Thomas Nast depicts Woodhull as a devil trying to tempt a hard-working woman, who claims “I’d rather travel the hardest path of matrimony than follow your footsteps.”

I ask the rights to pursue happiness by having a voice in that government to which I am accountable.

—Victoria Woodhull, February 1871

Belva Lockwood (1830–1917)
Belva Lockwood, née Bennett, is the other woman who might rightfully claim the title of first woman to run for president. Born on a farm in upstate New York, by the age of 14, Belva was teaching at the local school. By 18, she had married a local farmer. In 1853, her husband died of tuberculosis and, needing to support herself and her daughter, she decided to go to college. Suffice it to say, most of her friends and family thought this was a crazy plan since most schools did not even admit women at that time. Nevertheless, she persisted. That persistence paid off and she managed to convince Genesee College (now Syracuse University) to admit her; she graduated with honors in 1857. She planned to make a career in teaching and administration, however, once she found out that women were paid half of what men in the same positions were paid, she turned her sights on the law. This turn was also likely influenced by meeting Susan B. Anthony.

In 1866, Lockwood moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue this new avenue. Two years later she married Reverend Ezekiel Lockwood, a minister and dentist twenty-nine years her senior who shared her progressive values and supported her ambition. Because of her gender, Belva struggled to gain admittance to law school, and later would even struggle to get the diploma she earned, without which she could not be admitted to the bar. After appealing to President Ulysses S. Grant, she did get the piece of paper and was admitted to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia in September 1873, becoming one of the first female lawyers in the United States. However, upon her application for admission to both the United States Court of Claims and the U.S. Supreme Court, she was denied access on account of her gender. So what did she do? She drafted an anti-discrimination bill to have the same access to the bar as male colleagues and, for the next five years, lobbied Congress to pass it. In 1879, President Hayes finally signed the law, allowing all qualified female attorneys to practice in any federal court. On March 13, 1879, Lockwood became the first woman to be admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court and, the next year, became the first women to argue a case there. Intersectional before intersectionality was cool, she later sponsored Samuel R. Lowery to the Supreme Court bar; Lowery would go on to become the first black attorney to argue a case before the Court. Lockwood would later advocate on behalf of the Eastern Cherokee in United States v. Cherokee Nation (1906), eventually winning them a $5 million judgment for treaty violation. I mean, damn, girl.

Not content with all her legal activism and advocacy for women’s issues, and angered with the refusal of both major parties to include an Equal Rights plank in their platforms, Lockwood ran for president in 1884 and 1888 on the Equal Rights Party ticket. Her platform included such issues as balanced marriage and divorce laws, citizenship for all Native Americans, and a policy that favored peace over aggression. Lockwood knew that as a third-party candidate without women’s suffrage she had no chance of winning (in the end, she received about 4100 votes), but she was able to parlay this exposure into a lucrative career and progress on numerous pet issues, particularly peace and disarmament.

The Unbossed

Patsy Mink (left) and Shirley Chisholm (right)

Two women I learned about primarily through editing an American Government textbook (and seeking to add photos of women and people of color wherever I could) are Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Mink, who were both among the fifteen people to officially declare their candidacy for the 1972 Democratic Party presidential nomination. I’m sorry I didn’t learn more about these women when I was younger—they did so much for the cause of civil rights and are such great role models for anyone looking to be a catalyst for change. In any case, I was quite happy to see Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) announce on Tuesday that they are co-sponsoring a bill to have Chisholm recognized with a statue in the U.S. Capitol.

Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005)
Shirley Chisholm, née St. Hill, was born in New York City, and, although she spent some of her childhood living with her grandmother in Barbados, spent most of her life in Brooklyn as an educator and activist and eventually as a congressional representative. After paying her dues in the local political arena and state legislature, in 1968, Chisholm ran for U.S. Congress in New York’s newly created 12th District with the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed” and became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, eventually serving seven terms. She was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus. During her time in Congress, Chisholm only hired women for her office, half of whom were black. While there, she worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor, educational programs and other social services, equal rights for women, and anti-discrimination laws. She opposed American involvement in Vietnam and the draft.

In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination (Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine had run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964). Chisholm had difficulties gaining ballot access, but campaigned or received votes in primaries in fourteen states and won twenty-eight delegates during the primaries process itself. She received little support from the Democratic establishment, including black male colleagues. Nevertheless, Chisholm won a total of 152 first-ballot votes at the national convention, or fourth place in the roll call tally. She was initially supported by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, but the politics of “who can actually win” eventually reared its ugly head and, in the convention battle between Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern, McGovern came out on top. Of course, McGovern then went on to lose the general election in spectacular fashion, winning only seventeen electoral votes.

The Constitution they wrote was designed to protect the rights of white, male citizens. As there were no black Founding Fathers, there were no founding mothers — a great pity, on both counts. It is not too late to complete the work they left undone. Today, here, we should start to do so.

—Shirley Chisholm, speaking on behalf of the ERA, 10 August 1970

Patsy Mink (1927–2002)
Oddly enough, Chisholm was not the only woman to run for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. That same year, Patsy Mink, née Takemoto, a representative from Hawaii, also announced she would run, primarily as an anti-war candidate. In so doing, she became the first Asian American to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Unfortunately, because she had to focus on her reelection in Hawaii due to a conservative Democratic challenger, her campaign was much more limited than Chisholm’s—she only stood in the Oregon primary and did not receive any delegates.

Mink seemed destined for politics from an early age: In high school, she managed to win her first election, to become student body president. How was this unusual? She was the first female candidate ever. She was Japanese American. The election was a month after Pearl Harbor. Later, she graduated as class valedictorian. After first attending college in Hawaii, she eventually transferred to the University of Nebraska, where she created a coalition that successfully lobbied to end the school’s segregation policies. Stymied in her attempts to attend medical school while female, Mink chose to attend law school at the University of Chicago instead. There she met her husband John Mink and earned her J.D. in 1951. The family soon moved back to Hawaii, where Mink became the first woman of Japanese descent to practice law in Hawaiian territory. Soon she became involved in local politics.

After Hawaii became a state in 1959, Mink served as a Hawaiian delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention, where she gave a powerful speech about civil rights. In 1965, Mink became the first Asian American woman to be elected to Congress. She would serve a total of twelve terms. Mink was the author of numerous laws in favor of equal rights but is best known as a co-author and sponsor of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act. After her sudden death in 2002 from complications arising from chickenpox, this act was renamed in her honor to be the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

It is easy enough to vote right and be consistently with the majority. But it is more often more important to be ahead of the majority and this means being willing to cut the first furrow in the ground and stand alone for a while if necessary.

—Patsy Mink, 8 October 1975

As I often feel after these write-ups, I’m sad I didn’t learn more about these women earlier in my life. But I suppose better late than never. Is this just me? Did you know much about any of them? If so, where did you learn what you learned?

To read more about these incredible women:

  • Thomas J. Fleming, The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers (2009)
  • Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (2006)
  • Natalie S. Bober, Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution (1995)
  • Woody Holton, Abigail Adams (2009)
  • Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (2007)
  • Cari Carpenter (ed.), Selected Writings of Victoria Woodhull: Suffrage, Free Love, and Eugenics (2010)
  • Mary Gabriel, Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored (1998)
  • Lois Beachy Underhill, The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull (1995)
  • Jill Norgren, Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President (2007)
  • Ellen Fitzpatrick, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency (2016)
  • Shirley Chisholm, Unbought And Unbossed (1970)

Podcast episodes:
Ben Franklin’s World: Abigail Adams: Revolutionary Speculator
Election College: Abigail Adams
History Chicks: Abigail Adams; Abigail Adams Feminist
Election College: The First First Lady: Dolley Madison
HerStory: Dolley Madison
History Chicks: Dolley Madison
HerStory: Victoria Woodhull
History Chicks: Victoria Woodhull
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Victoria Woodhull
History Chicks: Belva Lockwood
History Chicks: Shirley Chisholm
Stuff Mom Never Told You: Fighting Shirley Chisholm

For previous posts in this Women 101 series, click below:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air
Wasps and Witches
Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War
Soldiers and Spies in World War II
Adventurers and Explorers
From A to Z for Realz
For the next post in this series, see A Mind at (House)Work.

Oscar Blitz 5: Stories



For my final Oscar Blitz post of 2018, I concentrate on those artists most responsible for shaping the stories we see on screen: writers, directors, and editors. Then I turn to the biggest feature film award of all, Best Picture.

Before I do that, I wanted to note that this year I’ve decided not to go into the specialized feature film categories in any detail, mostly because I haven’t managed to see any of the animated or foreign language nominees, and I have only seen one of the documentaries (Faces Places). However, I wanted to report the odds in each of these categories for those people preparing to fill out their Oscar Pool ballots. In the Animated Feature category, the odds overwhelmingly favor Coco. The other two categories each have two relatively close top contenders, with A Fantastic Women leading The Square for Best Foreign Language Film, and Faces Places with a slight edge over Icarus in the Documentary Feature category.

I fell totally in love with [Chile’s] A Fantastic Woman. I didn’t know anything about it going in. This will make me sound completely daft, but I didn’t know it was about a transgender guy [actually, a transgender woman] until very far into that film. It helped me, a straight guy who’s pretty open-minded, to really understand what it must be like in the LGBTQ world. It was honest. I loved it. To me, that was one of the most powerful movies I saw all year.

—Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #1

With that said, let’s look at some of the best storytellers of 2017.

The nominees are…

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Call Me By Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly’s Game

This is one of those “lock” categories, with Call Me By Your Name an almost certain win. In addition to being considered an “unadaptable” novel, the screenwriter is longtime Oscar favorite James Ivory. Its chances are also increased by the fact that there is just not much competition in this category because it was an incredibly weak year for adaptations. Since I’ve read Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, I can say that it is a very good adaptation of the novel and they made interesting, personal choices with the material, but that film just isn’t getting much Oscar love. Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game might have had more of a chance if it had relied less on voiceover—I feel that this writing category favors poetic or snappy dialogue, not interior monologues.

Will Win: Call Me By Your Name

Should Win: Call Me By Your Name

Should Have Been Nominated: Lady MacBeth instead of Logan

Best Original Screenplay:
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Original Screenplay category is the opposite of the Adapted Screenplay category. There are probably at least ten scripts that deserve to be here. In fact, this is one of the closest races in terms of the odds, with Get Out having a slight edge over Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and then Lady Bird not far behind. This award is often given to a writer-director who is most likely not going to win Best Director, in which case, I think the odds are dead on.

Will Win: Get Out

Should Win: Get Out

Should Have Been Nominated: Ingrid Goes West instead of The Shape of Water

Best Film Editing:
Baby Driver
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is one of the most interesting lists, and shows that the Film Editors branch is not much swayed by what is in the air. Of course, I’m not sure how the politics of who is actually editing these films works either, so maybe this is simply a question of career longevity or reputation. In any case, the odds favor Dunkirk, but Baby Driver isn’t too far behind, and I’m pretty much fine with that. However, I think that I, Tonya probably had the most difficult beyond-the-script editing job. I also thought that Lady Bird had superior editing to either The Shape of Water or Three Billboards so I’m sorry it is not on this list.

Will Win: Dunkirk

Should Win: I, Tonya

Should Have Been Nominated: Lady Bird instead of The Shape of Water

This was a hard category. Dunkirk was my least favorite — the editing was confusing, maybe because there were too many stories going on and everyone but Harry Styles looked the fucking same to me. Three Billboards wasn’t edited badly, it just wasn’t my movie. I loved The Shape of Water, but there was nothing extraordinary about its editing. There was complexity to the editing of Baby Driver and I, Tonya, and I just liked I, Tonya more—they took a lot of risks, like cutting in people speaking to the camera and breaking other rules, and it fucking worked.

—Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #1

Best Director:
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

This is another category which is apparently a lock, with Guillermo del Toro the favorite by a mile, which is bullshit. The Shape of Water is perfectly fine and I don’t begrudge him winning per se, but this race should be much closer than it is (Nolan is a distant second in the odds and Greta Gerwig is a dark horse with a better chance than either Peele or Anderson). At least the fact that anyone here would be a first-time winner is nice.

Will Win: Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water

Should Win: Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: Sean Baker for The Florida Project and David Lowery for A Ghost Story instead of Jordan Peele for Get Out and Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread

Christopher Nolan got involved with a huge undertaking [Dunkirk], but he made a confusing film, so he failed. [Jordan Peele’s] Get Out is well done, but let’s not get carried away. Paul Thomas Anderson made a really good movie [Phantom Thread], but the story is limited in scope. [Lady Bird’s] Greta Gerwig is a great writer and director, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. But Guillermo del Toro just ruled by making a genre film into a movie that speaks on every fucking level—and he did it with a limited amount of words, which is the most impressive kind of filmmaking.

—Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot #2

Best Picture:
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This is another incredibly tight race. I have absolutely no idea who is going to win this one. Unfortunately for those Get Out fans out there, the race is really between Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. Get Out and Lady Bird are neck-and-neck for dark horse status. The latter two should not be counted out, however, since preferential voting in this category can mean that second and third choices that are uniformly liked can sneak into the running quite easily. The voters rank their top five and my ranking would probably put Lady Bird at the top, followed by Phantom Thread, Three Billboards, Get Out, and Dunkirk.

Will Win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Should Win: Lady Bird

Should Have Been Nominated: A Ghost Story and The Florida Project instead of Call Me By Your Name and The Post.

Which of these stories would you like to see take home one of these golden boys tomorrow? Come on, people, I know you have opinions!

2018 Oscar Series
Oscar Nominations: 90 Degree Angle
Oscar Nominations: Breakfast of Champions
Oscar Blitz 1: Sound
Oscar Blitz 2: Sight
Oscar Blitz 3: Stars
Oscar Blitz 4: Shorts

Women 101—From A to Z for Realz


Abigail Adams, second First Lady of the United States

Abigail Adams, second First Lady of the United States

Last year, I decided to create a series for Women’s History Month, highlighting lesser-known women from all walks of life—abolitionists and activists, adventurers and explorers, soldiers and spies, and professional pioneers. My posting plans were very ambitious and I didn’t quite manage the twice-a-week schedule I laid out for myself. What’s worse, I didn’t manage to cover either Abigail Adams or Zenobia anywhere.

This year, I will be aiming for a more modest schedule of once a week, starting next week after the Oscars are over and done with. To make sure I don’t repeat my error from last year, my first post will be on politicians and political wives and my final post of the month will be on warrior queens.

So, tune in next week for Strange Bedfellows!

In the meantime, check out my previous posts in this Women 101 series:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air
Wasps and Witches
Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War
Soldiers and Spies in World War II
Adventurers and Explorers

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers (1725) by Giambattista Tiepolo

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers (1725) by Giambattista Tiepolo

Oscar Blitz 4: Shorts



In this penultimate post before the big event, we look at the nominated shorts. I usually see these with La Maratonista, but since she has left me for the wilds of Atlanta, I was all on my own this year. I miss you, Maratonista!

The nominees are…

Best Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

I have to say, I didn’t look at the odds before I saw these films and I was stunned to realize that Dear Basketball is the clear favorite. I guess because it’s Kobe Bryant and lots of people have seen it and L.A. voters love him? I don’t know, it’s just not that good. And it seems like such a vanity project. Lou, this year’s Pixar entry, is second in the running. It’s a typical Pixar short—sweet and charming with a bit of nostalgia. My favorite of the five is probably Garden Party; it’s very clever and the animation is stunning. Negative Space is simple and poetic, but I didn’t love the animation style. Revolting Rhymes is this year’s Gruffalo, but, you know, good. After all, it’s Roald Dahl.

Will Win: Dear Basketball (I think this depends on whether voters still have to see all five films to be able to vote in this category.)

Should Win: Garden Party

Best Live Action Short Film
DeKalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
The Silent Child
Watu Wote/All of Us

This was a very heavy program with multiple guns in the mix. The only levity to be found was in the Australian nominee, The Eleven O’Clock, which is about a psychiatrist whose patient thinks he is a psychiatrist—a real delight. Three of the dramas were based on true stories and, while I liked all three, I feel like that is cheating somehow. The only one that has a chance, and is in fact the front-runner, is Dekalb Elementary. It is very tense and emotionally affecting. If academy members saw these collections in the last few days of voting, this will most definitely win. My favorite was The Silent Child, which somehow managed to be heartwarming and rage-making at the same time. And the little girl, played by deaf newcomer Maisie Sly (pictured above), was absolutely adorable.

Will Win: DeKalb Elementary

Should Win: The Silent Child

Best Documentary Short Subject
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

I haven’t seen any of the documentary shorts. I don’t usually see that program because it runs very long and, in any case, this year it didn’t seem to be playing near me. In the odds, there are three front-runners (Edith+Eddie, Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Heroin[e]) and two long shots (Knife Skills, Traffic Stop). I’m not sure anyone in L.A. thinks heaven actually is a traffic jam on the 405, so I’d stick with the front-runner by a nose, Edith+Eddie.

Will Win: Edith+Eddie

Should Win: ?

Have you seen any of the nominated shorts? Which ones would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?

2018 Oscar Series
Oscar Nominations: 90 Degree Angle
Oscar Nominations: Breakfast of Champions
Oscar Blitz 1: Sound
Oscar Blitz 2: Sight
Oscar Blitz 3: Stars