This Week in Feminist History

Guest Post, · Categories: Feminist History

femhistory 7-25 to 7-31

Welcome to another week full of wonderful historical women! Weirdly, this week’s edition features mostly New York women. This is either just an odd coincidence or there is possibly something in New York that helps create extra awesome women, somehow.

On July 25th in 1871…

Margaret Floy Washburn was born. The first woman to earn a PhD in Psychology, she was a leading psychologist who worked in motor theory development and animal behavior. She was born in NYC to a mother from a prosperous local family, and to a father who was an Episcopal priest. Margaret was an only child, raised in Harlem until her family moved to Ulster County when she was nine. She graduated high school in 1886 and entered Vassar College that fall at the age of sixteen. It was here that she developed an interest in the field of psychology as well as an interest in philosophy. It wasn’t until after she graduated in 1891 that she attempted to begin her studies in Psychology at Columbia University’s new psychological lab. The university admitted her only as an auditor because Columbia had not yet admitted a female graduate student. Eventually she attended Cornell University’s Sage School of Philosophy, entering into an experimental study of “the methods of equivalences in tactual perception” which led to her earning her Master’s degree in absentia from Vassar College. In June of 1892 she gave an oral presentation of her master’s thesis on the same subject and became the first woman to receive a PhD in psychology. (Mary Calkins was the first woman to try to earn the same degree, only to be denied because she was a woman.)

Margaret spent the next six years as the Chair of Psychology, Philosophy, and Ethics at Wells College in New York before her two years as the warden at Sage College of Cornell University, followed by an assistant professorship of Psychology at the University of Cincinnati. Her final job was as Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College until a stroke required her to retire in 1937. She was integral to the development of psychology as a field. Part of her experiments and studies involved animal behavior and the idea that their mental events were both legitimate and important; at the time, psychologists believed that mental behaviors and events were not observable and as such couldn’t be studied scientifically. She never married, choosing to focus on her career (and taking care of her parents), and died in 1939.

On July 26th in 1926…

… was the birth of Ana María Matute, a well-known Spanish writer from the posguerra, the period following the Spanish Civil War. After almost dying from chronic kidney infections at four years old, Ana was sent to the small mountain town of Mansilla de la Sierra to live with her grandparents. She credited the villagers she met there as a strong influence on her writing, seen in her portrayal of similar settings as well as in her writing from that period. The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 when Ana was ten years old; she grew up during the conflict and during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco which followed (and lasted for thirty-six years). These influences are highly present in her work, which features themes like the loss of innocence, misery, violence, and alienation. Her first story, “The Boy Next Door”, was published when she was 17. She developed several novels, many featuring poignant and sympathetic stories about children and teenagers, often with elements of the supernatural, fairy tales, and fantasies. Her novel Olvidado Rey Gudu was a massive folk epic covering four generations and involving witches, rulers, and other magical creatures set in a mythical medieval kingdom. She also traveled as a lecturer to numerous countries, including the United States. She was the third woman to receive the Cervantes Prize for her literary work, was an honorary member of the Hispanic Society of America, and won the Premio Nadal (a Spanish literary award) for her book Los Mercaderes. She died in 2014 in Barcelona.

On July 27th in 1841…

… was the birth of Linda Richards, the first professionally trained nurse in the United States. Richards created the first patient medical records system. She was born Malinsa Ann Judson Richards in West Potsdam, New York, the youngest of three daughters. Her father, a preacher, named her after a missionary in hopes she would follow in the woman’s footsteps. After her father’s death from tuberculosis in 1845, the family moved to Vermont and settled on a farm. When her mother caught the disease, Linda became her primary nurse until her mother’s death in 1854. Though she originally trained and worked as a teacher for several years, she was never truly happy with that career. She married a man who was injured in the Civil War and nursed him until his death in 1869, which motivated her to change her life to follow her own dreams. She moved to Boston to become a nurse. After her three month period at Boston City Hospital involved almost no training, she was the first student to enroll in the American Nurse’s training school’s inaugural class, run by Dr. Susan Dimock of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. For her training Linda cared for six patients as part of her ward, often working day and night. After graduating she worked as the night supervisor at Bellevue Hospital Center. There she created a first-of-its-kind patient records system that would go on to be used in the U.S. and the U.K. She worked at the Boston Training School, reorganizing and improving the failing program until it was recognized as the best of its kind. She trained for numerous years in England under Florence Nightingale before returning to found and superintend nursing training schools in the U.S. and Japan. Before she retired in 1911 at the age of seventy, she spent years establishing special institutions for people with mental illnesses. Her book about her experiences, Reminiscences of Linda Richards, was first published in 1911 and was published again in 2006 as America’s First Trained Nurse. After a stroke in 1923 she was hospitalized until she died at the age of 88 in 1930.

On July 28th in 1874…

… was the birth of Alice Duer Miller, an American feminist satirical writer. Her work includes the collection of poems titled Are Women People?, and the novel Come Out of the Kitchen. Though wealthy at the time of her birth, her family had lost nearly all of their fortune by the time she entered into New York City society. She attended Barnard College in 1895 studying astronomy and math. She helped pay for her education by selling short essays and novels, including a book of poems jointly published with her sister Caroline. After graduation she married Henry Wise Miller, with whom she moved to Costa Rica in a failed attempt to develop rubber cultivation. After their return to the U.S. she campaigned for women’s suffrage. The title of her series of satirical poems, Are Women People?, became a catchphrase within the suffrage movement and was followed by a sequel collection called Women Are People! Her 1916 novel Come Out of the Kitchen was her first big success; it was made into a play and a film, as were numerous of her other short novels. In 1940 she wrote a verse novel called The White Cliffs, about an American girl in London. The protagonist marries an Englishman who dies in WWI, leaving her alone with her son. This widow worries that her son will follow in his father’s footsteps and die in WW2. The poem was popular in the U.S. and in England, eventually selling over a million copies, something no verse book had ever done. It was made into the film The White Cliffs of Dover in 1944 and is said to have been one of the influences that brought the U.S. into WW2.

On July 29th in 1974…

… the Episcopal Church of the U.S. ordained the first eleven women priests, known as the Philadelphia Eleven, two years before the General Convention officially authorized the ordination of women into the priesthood. Prior to this ordination, despite no canon law against it, the Episcopal Church ordained only men. The church called women who managed to be ordained “deaconesses” instead.  The church treated these ordained believers differently by requiring them to wear blue habit-like garbs that gave them the appearance of nuns, and required them to remain celibate. The church denied these women the right to be ordained as priests. The General Convention of 1970 eliminated the differences between male and female deacons, including freedom to marry, thanks to the work of women in the Church. The General Convention also approved women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate, but the House of Deputies did not pass it. In 1971 a group of church women (deaconesses, church workers, and seminarians) met and formed the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, working nationally to plan for women’s ordination. When the cause failed to pass in the 1973 General Convention, however, they tried a different route. In December of 1973 five female ordained deacons presented themselves at a priestly ordination in New York, but walked out in protest along with the majority of the congregation when the Bishop in charge refused to lay his hands on their heads and ordain them. Finally in July of 1974 three retired bishops agreed to preside over an ordination service where eleven women, the Philadelphia Eleven, presented themselves and were ordained as priests: Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Schiess, Katrina Swanson, and Nancy Wittig. Though an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops first declared their ordination invalid, Bishop Arthur Vogel objected and persuaded the House of Bishops to change their position and declare them “irregularly ordained,” merely as a matter protocol deviation. They were not officially recognized as priests until the General Convention in 1976, where women’s ordination was officially approved.

On July 30th in 1893…

… the birth of Fatima Jinnah, one of the founders of Pakistan. She was known for her philanthropy, her support of civil rights, and her support of her brother; the first Governor General of Pakistan. She was the youngest of seven children, closest to her brother Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who became her guardian when their father died in 1901. The following year she joined the Bandra Convent in Bombay, but she lived with her brother as his companion until 1918, when he married Rattanbai Petit. In 1919 the highly competitive University of Calcutta admitted her as a student, where she joined the Dr. R. Ahmed Dental College. After graduating she operated a dental clinic in Bombay until 1929 when she returned to her brother’s home to take charge after the death of his wife. Fatima’s role wasn’t just within his home, however. She was present at every public appearance as his associate and advisor. She was deeply involved during the transfer of power during the Partition of India in 1947, which created the new country of Pakistan. She formed the Women’s Relief Committee, which became the All Pakistan Women’s Association. She also helped with the settlement of migrant Muhajirs in the newly created country and otherwise assisted her brother as he became the Governor General of Pakistan.

After his death in September of 1948 she retreated somewhat from politics, but returned to the forefront in 1965when she ran for president against Ayub Khan, whom she described as a dictator. Crowds called her Madr-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation). Her 293 mile train ride between rallies in Dhaka and Chittagong was known as the Freedom Special. Men at each station pulled the emergency cord and pleaded for her to speak, putting her 22 hours behind schedule. Despite winning the popular vote, she lost the election by a narrow margin in the electoral college. The military allegedly rigged the election in favor of Ayub Khan. She died of heart failure in 1967, though rumors persist that she was murdered by the military. Her own people consider her one of the greatest of all Pakistani women, and a source of the awakening of women’s rights in that country.

On July 31st in 1831…

… was the birth of Sarah J. Tompkins Garnet, the first African-American female school principal in New York public schools and an active suffragist. She was born the oldest of eleven children in Brooklyn, NY. Some of her siblings were also trailblazers. Her sister Susan McKinney Steward was the first African-American woman in NY to earn a medical degree (and the third in the U.S.).

Sarah taught in racially segregated NY schools, beginning in 1954 with the African Free School of Williamsburg. When she took over as principal of Grammar School Number 4 on April 30, 1863, she became the first African-American principal in the state. Also involved in the suffrage movement, she founded the Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn in the late 1880s and was superintendent of suffrage for the National Association of Colored Women. Her husband was Henry Highland Garnet, a noted abolitionist. In 1911 Sarah traveled with her sister Susan to the first Universal Races Congress in London (also attended by W. E. B. Du Bois), where her sister presented the paper “Colored American Woman”. Shortly after they returned home Sarah died at the age of 80. She had served as a teacher and principal for over 50 years.


biopicAmy might have studied Literature, but she’s always had a penchant for the past, and frequently wondered just why popular history involved so many boring white men. These posts and her blog, Today in Feminist History, are an attempt to do something about that. She lives in Connecticut where she has too many books, several cats, and lots of tea. She often wishes there was a way to look like snapchat filters in real life.

15 Responses to “This Week in Feminist History”

  1. burningupasun says:

    Fun fact: I have written three of these columns so far and each one of them has been written on a different computer, because I am cursed and break all the computers I touch, apparently.

    I hope you all enjoyed this week! My "I didn't know that!" of this week was learning that it was a woman that created the first patient records organization system.

    • silverandsnow says:

      Amazing, isn't it, that we have no idea how many women were pioneers and major contributors in their fields. Funny how the contemporary and history books written by men don't cover that…

      I enjoy your column every week – thanks for this!

      • burningupasun says:

        Oh yes, that is pretty much how I feel every time I write these columns and the daily ones on my blog. Also the frustration over it, like, how did I not know all about these amazing women?

  2. Onymous says:

    It's not a this week but a last week but a woman named Ursala Franklin died on the 22nd. I didn't know about when she was alive but even just a brief scan of Wikipedia shows that she was a damn amazing person.

    • burningupasun says:

      It's always a bit sad when you find wonderful people after they die! Whether it's around that time or decades later.

  3. Heathered says:

    I am so delighted by "Are Women People?" that I'll have to come back and try to read the rest with focus. (And I do think there's something about NY that lends itself to excellence/badassery. Possibly the higher quality bagels)

    • burningupasun says:

      I know, when I saw that I was like okay, I NEED to write about her! (Interesting, let's propose a study on the connection between high quality bagels and badass women.)

      • bookwormV says:

        I first saw extracts from "Are Women People?" on The Hairpin, and I have loved it ever since. It's so great.

  4. Rillquiet says:

    Ana Maria Matute! There's a name I've not heard for a long time, but she was a big part of the high school Spanish lit curriculum back in my youth. Her language was easier to parse than, say, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz's, but the themes were indeed pretty grim. In retrospect, I would've advised my teen self not to read Matute's stories without a couple of Prozac nearby just in case; the Guerra Civil's scars ran deep in the text, and happy endings were in damn short supply.

    • burningupasun says:

      I had actually never heard of her (s/o to super white euro-centric Literature curriculum!) but I am a bit tempted to delve into some of it now, although maybe when I'm less upset at the world and can handle the grimness.

      • Rillquiet says:

        Yeah, Matute's very into beauty and meaning in the world being illusions, youth being crushed, dreams being shattered, everything is awful and whatever someone loves will turn out to be both hideous and inimical to the lover's spirit. (I'm a little bitter. It seems like we had to read more of her work than was consistent with mental wellness in angsty teens.) Anyway, she was a white lady from Spain, so maybe the people who designed the curriculum were trying to spare you the grimness. Elena Poniatowska was more my cup of tea; she leavens the social messages of her work with a bit more hope and humor.

  5. aqueousmedium says:

    What a fascinating group of women! As always, thank you for putting these together.

  6. bookwormV says:

    Men at each station pulled the emergency cord and pleaded for her to speak, putting her 22 hours behind schedule.
    I love this.

  7. telzeyamberdon says:

    Thank you for writing this! Looking forward to future posts!

  8. dreamingintrees says:

    Yes! NY just brings out the awesomeness in women. (clearly, I'm not biased at all 🙂 )

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