Jane Hunt and the Formidable Five by Linda Harris Sittig

While many people recognize the name of Elizabeth Cady Stanton as one of the early activists in the Women’s Rights Movement, Jane Hunt’s legacy is often overshadowed by the more prominent founding  members. The original group of five women who launched the movement included Jane Hunt, Mary Ann M’Clintock, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martha Wright.

In July of 1848 Jane Hunt, living in Waterloo, New York, hosted a parlor tea for four of her like-minded friends. The purpose of the tea was not merely to discuss the inequities of the laws regarding women, but to devise a plausible plan of action on how to get those laws changed. The five women had a lot in common. They were all married, had children, and were firmly opposed to slavery. Four of them were Quakers.

United in purpose, they became a ‘Formidable Five’.

A misconception about the group lingers, that a woman’s right to vote was their solitary goal. In actuality, voting rights was one of the pinnacles of the Woman’s Rights Movement, but the overarching goal was for women to become legally equal to men in all aspects of the law.

To understand the political and social climate of the 1840s one must remember that slavery was still legal in many parts of the country and women of all races were relegated to second class status. At that time, most women could not vote, hold office, attend college, make contracts, sue for divorce, get custody of their own children, own property, or work in any profession other than as a teacher, seamstress, factory worker or a domestic. In several states husbands were still allowed to beat their wives with a stick, as long as it was no thicker than the man’s thumb.

For female slaves, there were no rights at all.

When the Formidable Five met in Waterloo on July 9, 1848 at Jane Hunt’s house, they decided to host a convention in nearby Seneca Falls where they would present their ideals about women’s rights to the public at large. They recognized the need for their sentiments to be put in writing and labored for several days composing a document based upon the same principles as the Declaration of Independence.

They called this document The Declaration of Sentiments and it began: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …” In the document they demanded equality in property rights, education, employment, religion, marriage and family, and the right to vote.  Those very thoughts were a radical notion to many Americans and the Formidable Five must have prepared themselves for serious opposition.

They ran an advertisement in the Seneca County Courier about the planned convention to be held July 19 – 20 in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, and worried that perhaps only a few women might attend.

However, on the morning of July 19, 1848, wagon loads of women descended upon Seneca Falls and approximately 300 women and a handful of men crowded into the Wesleyan Chapel to hear the Declaration of Sentiments read aloud.  After lengthy discussions on the first day of the convention some minor amendments were attached. On the following day all attendees were invited to come forward and sign the document. One hundred signatures were attached, including noted abolitionist Frederick Douglas who was in attendance.

It was only the beginning. After the success of the Women’s Rights Convention, as it is now known, the Formidable Five continued to champion for women’s rights. Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the most notable spokesperson for the national movement. Lucretia Mott went on to help establish the women’s college of Swarthmore in Pennsylvania. Martha Wright became friends with Harriet Tubman and the Wright house in Auburn New York evolved into a safe haven for escaped slaves. Mary Ann M’Clintock eventually moved back to Philadelphia with her husband where they worked diligently with the American Anti-Slavery Society.

What about Jane Hunt? She spent the rest of her life quietly involved with the Underground Railroad and turned the carriage house on her property into a safe station for runaway slaves.

It should be noted that all of the Formidable Five were married to husbands sympathetic to the ideals of equality. While their wives were ridiculed in the newspapers in many parts of America, the men still offered their moral and financial support to help further the cause.

Not one of the Formidable Five would live to see women get the right to vote. That landmark legislation did not fully occur until August 26, 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was put into law. But Jane Hunt and her four friends each had helped to sow the seeds.

At one point Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives but as nouns.”

I would like to amend that: “I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives, but as verbs.”

Jane Hunt and her friends were surely strong women of action.

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Aranka Siegal by Linda Harris Sittig

I usually only profile women from the past, but with Aranka Siegal I am making an exception.

Aranka Siegal is a writer, a Holocaust survivor, and a woman of passion and perseverance. Her mission for the past seventy years has been to teach about the deadly consequences of prejudice.

The fifth of seven children, Aranka grew up in a small town that at times has belonged to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and/or the Ukraine. She spent her childhood summers at her grandmother’s home deep in the Carpathian Mountains, where life was full of traditions. The memory of those traditions eventually helped Aranka to survive the horrors of the Holocaust.

In 1939 when Aranka was nine years old she first heard the name, Adolf Hitler. Suddenly life began to change. By the age of twelve she was no longer allowed to attend school in her village because she was a Jew. Next, her father was taken away by the Hungarian soldiers. The family never saw him again. Then when Aranka turned thirteen, the soldiers came back. This time they announced that Aranka’s mother and the four children still living at home were to pack up and leave the house, immediately. Aranka remembers her mother grabbing only a blanket and one or two necessities; leaving behind the small tin container of yeast dough that would have been the starter for their weekly bread.

The family and their Jewish neighbors were herded into packed cattle cars and transported continuously for two long days into Nazi occupied Poland. When the train finally stopped Aranka gazed up at the gates of the concentration camp called Auschwitz. It was at Auschwitz that her concept of home would be destroyed, her family would evaporate, and her compelling story of survival would begin.

As her family entered the camp terrified and confused, a thin emaciated prisoner sidled up to Aranka and whispered, “Tell them you are sixteen.”  “But I am thirteen,” she replied. The prisoner hissed, “Say you are sixteen!”  The soldiers approached and asked Aranka her age. She replied, “Sixteen, and my sister is seventeen.” Then as Aranka watched, her mother and the younger children were marched off toward one building as Aranka and her older sister were herded to a different location. They never saw their mother and siblings again, who perished that day in the crematorium.

For months Aranka and her sister, now each wearing only a threadbare shift and with heads shaved, worked in Auschwitz. Deprived of all human dignity and witness to unspeakable atrocities, they were provided with only the barest amount of food. Each lost significant weight as their health deteriorated. Late in 1944 the two girls were marched for days, along with other prisoners, from Auschwitz to another concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen.  Here they both contracted typhoid, and saw a young Anne Frank die of the disease. Despite all odds, Aranka and her sister managed to cling to life.  When the British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945, Aranka was too sick to walk out of the camp. She weighed only 58 pounds.

Seeing that the Allies marked some of the survivors with a red cross on the forehead and then transferred those prisoners to stretchers, Aranka’s sister used spit and perhaps blood to draw crosses on their brows as well. The girls were quickly transported to a hospital and after many weeks of medical care were sent on to Sweden for further recuperation. By the time that Aranka and her sister found passage to America, Hitler had ordered the killing of 6 million Jews. Aranka promised herself that she would find a way of honoring not only her own family, but all those who died.

As an adult, she enrolled in New York University, married, and started a family. Then she began to write. Her emotionally packed books, Upon the Head of the Goat, Grace in the Wilderness, and Memories of Babi, all applaud the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. As her books gained in popularity and were translated into multiple languages, Aranka was asked to tell her story to audiences. She agreed, hoping that her message might help create a world where a Holocaust can never reoccur.  It is her gift back to mankind, because she survived.

I recently watched Aranka, now 84 years old, standing by herself on stage and telling her story to a packed college auditorium. Diminutive and fashionably dressed, her eyes filled with tears as she recounted the events of her life. When she was finished speaking she simply said, “Thank you for listening. I hope that you young people will now understand the deadly power of prejudice and always fight against it.”  She received a standing ovation.

In the words of George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is why I continue to write about strong women in history, so that each reader of this blog and my website www.lindasittig.com  will gain an understanding of how even one person can make a difference.

If you know of a particular woman who deserves to be featured on this blog, please email me:  linda@lindasittig.com.  My two criteria are that the woman be deceased and that her exploits are not well known to modern readers.

Also, if you have not already signed up on the right hand sidebar to become a follower of this blog, please do that before leaving this page. Thank you!

~ Every woman deserves to have her story told.

 

 

 

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Emily Roebling by Linda Harris Sittig

One of the most iconic silhouettes of New York City is the majestic Brooklyn Bridge, suspended more than one hundred feet above the East River and linking the borough of Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn. Designed by German engineer, John A. Roebling, this ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ owed its final completion to Roebling’s daughter-in-law, Emily Warren Roebling.

Manhattan is situated less than half a mile west from the borough of Brooklyn, but across the cold murky depths of the East River. Before the bridge existed, the only way to get across the river was on a passenger boat churning through choppy water.

By the 1860s John Roebling had already built other bridges, but no one before him had ever dared conceive of building a cable suspension bridge that would span half a mile over water. Plans were drawn, money was secured and then in 1869 when construction was about to start, Roebling had his foot crushed in a freak accident. Tetanus set in, and he died three weeks later.

His son, Washington Roebling, also a first rate engineer, took up the project.

The distance to be covered and the necessity of setting the bridge foundations in sandy soil along the river shore posed the greatest challenges. After many setbacks and accidents, Washington Roebling and several of his workers suddenly became ill with caisson disease, or ‘the bends’ as it is known today.  The men had to enter underwater caissons (pressurized compartments) deep below the East River to ensure that the construction process was being followed correctly. Today we know that after breathing compressed air under water, one must return slowly to the surface to prevent gas bubbles from forming in the bloodstream. In 1871 this scientific knowledge had not yet been discovered and so although Washington Roebling survived numerous bouts of caissons disease, the after-effects left him a permanent invalid.

His wife, Emily Warren Roebling, instantly took on the role as his nurse, and then quickly became his professional assistant and secretary. Already well versed in mathematics and science, she insisted that her husband teach her every necessary component about the bridge engineering. She wrote out his construction directions, helped with his drawings, and together they discussed the various technical issues involved with the bridge. Each day she met with the contractors on the building site and came home to report on the progress. The original concept may have been her father-in-law’s, and then taken over by her husband, but Emily Warren’s dedication to the dream was unwavering and she became her husband’s virtual foreman.  She attached herself to the project with such fervor that some newspaper reporters speculated that she was the real engineer behind the venture.

Although Washington Roebling remained in poor health for the rest of his life, he watched the progress of the mighty endeavor with his binoculars from their home in Brooklyn Heights. By May of 1883 the bridge was complete, having taken 14 years from conception to completion. A few days before the official opening, a horse driven carriage approached the bridge carrying a sole occupant. As the carriage pulled closer to the entrance, workers all along the route stood and removed their caps in respect to Emily Roebling, who had been awarded the honor of being the first passenger to travel the marvel linking the island of Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn.

A few days later on May 24, 1883 tens of thousands of New Yorkers crowded both shores and flotillas of boats paraded in the East River. American President, Chester A. Arthur, along with New York Governor, Grover Cleveland and Franklin Edson, Mayor of New York City, led a delegation of dignitaries to walk across the span. When they reached the Brooklyn tower, it was Emily Roebling who greeted them and walked with them into Brooklyn. Later the dignitaries attended a party at the Roebling home, orchestrated by Emily, so that her husband could revel in the achievement started decades ago by his father, and helped to completion by his own wife.

During the years that Emily worked with her husband to ensure the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, she became more desirous of a college education. She enrolled at New York University and in 1899, at the tender age of 56, graduated with her law degree. ‘Savvy’, must surely have been her middle name.

In a twist of fate, Emily died of stomach cancer four years later at the age of 60, while her husband lived on for an additional 23 three years.

In a rare instance in the Victorian Age of giving credit where it is due, a plaque on the Brooklyn Bridge commemorates the three people whose intelligence, perseverance, and fortitude made it a reality: John Roebling, Washington Roebling, and Emily Roebling.

Thank you to Glenda Childs, owner of the Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA for alerting me to Emily Roebling.  If you know of a particular woman who deserves to be featured on this blog, please email me:  linda@lindasittig.com.  My two criteria are that the woman be deceased and that her exploits are not well known to modern readers.

Also, if you have not already done so, please sign up on the right hand sidebar to become a follower of this blog. Thank you!

Appreciation always goes to Dixie Hallaj, who proofreads the blog before it is postedJ

~ Every woman deserves to have her story told.

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Elizabeth McIntosh and the Strong Women of the OSS by Linda Harris Sittig

Before the CIA, there was the Office of Strategic Services, known as the OSS. Composed of both civilians and military, nationals and foreign correspondents, it constituted an army of men and women dedicated to penetrating the world of foreign intelligence.

It would be impossible to select only one strong woman among all those involved, because the collective females of the OSS were a group of extraordinary women living in extraordinary times. Their niche in history was to play a vital part in America’s war against the major Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

The OSS was authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt during June 1942. It would eventually grow to over 21,000 members, hundreds of whom were women serving overseas. The overseas female agents were all trained to engage with local resistance groups, forge documents, slip behind enemy lines, and help with sabotage in any way possible. While many OSS women lived dangerous lives in occupied areas, the majority of the force remained stateside cataloging the immense amount of intelligence information channeled back to America; which needed to be both decoded and forwarded on to proper channels.

All of the OSS female recruits were well educated and many of them were still in their twenties. They all signed an oath of secrecy along with their commitment, understanding that the price of freedom is always wrought with danger. Most of these valiant women are now deceased, but in tribute, here are just a few snippets.

Julia Cuniberti’s job in Washington D.C. was to set up files, transfer them to SI (Secret Intelligence), then promptly forget anything she had just read. Which worked until the day she read intelligence files from a mountainous area of Italy, designating the exact home the Nazis had just commandeered to establish their secret headquarters. The residents had been ordered to live as virtual prisoners in the attic. The home belonged to her aunt and uncle. Julia had to pass this intelligence on to her superiors, but could not contact her family because it would involve an obvious breach in security. Powerless to help, she prayed daily for their survival. The family did survive.

Evangeline Bell, an agent stationed in London, endured the war-torn conditions of living in a city under bombardment. Along with the other members of the OSS stationed there, she dealt with the food rationing of 4 ounces of meat once a week along with 1 ‘reconditioned’ egg, no fruit, but a plentiful supply of potatoes. Existing on this diet, her station became responsible for printing the false documents needed for the new identities of the agents working undercover in Europe. Evangeline and her group also had to help these agents assimilate into the foreign culture. To illustrate how detailed the cover had to be, one agent was discovered by the Germans when he threw away his French cigarette, which had not been smoked all the way down to the stub – as was the local custom. The Germans knew immediately that the man was obviously not French, and the cover was blown.

Virginia Hall operated an underground railroad in rural France for downed Allied pilots to co-ordinate their escape with the French Resistance. Virginia posed as a French peasant. In reality she was arranging drop zones for money and weapons for the Resistance Movement and recruiting certain locals to establish safe houses for the downed pilots. What made her feats all the more heroic is that Virginia only had one fully operating leg; the other one was fitted below the knee with an artificial appendage. She eventually had to flee, on foot to Spain, and was arrested at the border. Contact with the Spanish Consulate in Barcelona was finally arranged, via the kindness of a prostitute with whom she had shared a jail cell. The Consulate procured Virginia’s release.

Amy Elizabeth Thorpe was quick thinking on the job, as all intelligence agents were trained to be. One of her most daring feats was to help arrange an illegal break-in at the Vichy France Embassy in Washington. She was to pose as the lover of one of the French attachés and as such, gain entrance to the inner rooms of the embassy. The assignment was to steal the French Naval Code Books, rush them to a nearby safe site where they could be photocopied, and return the books before any suspicions might be aroused.  Everything had to happen within a tight four hour time frame.  And perhaps everything would have gone off without a hitch except that the regular night guard was replaced that evening. The new guard did not know her as ‘the lover’, so when he became suspicious and briskly walked the hall toward the room where the documents were stored, Amy quickly disrobed. When the guard broke into the room she was wearing nothing but a string of pearls, feigning surprise that the ‘love nest’ had been compromised.  The guard left, the books were photocopied and returned, and after the war Amy actually married the attaché.

There were so many women, and men, whose contributions helped to change the course of World War II. After the war many of the women in the OSS married, and some like Julia McWilliams became remembered more by her married name: Julia Childs.

The 70th anniversary of D-Day, will occur this June 6th, 2014.  When it does, please stop for a moment and give a silent salute to the memory of those who fought, so we could all live free.

I am hugely indebted to former OSS operative, Elizabeth P. McIntosh, who served in the western hills of China during the war, came back home, and penned her memoirs. Her book, Sisterhood of Spies is available on Amazon.com.  Thank you, too, Jean Farnsworth of Philadelphia, who first showed me the stories in Elizabeth McIntosh’s book.

Every woman deserves to have her story told ~

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Katie Hall Underwood by Linda Harris Sittig

Katie Hall Underwood would probably shake her head in disbelief to find her name on a blog about strong women. But make no mistake, Katie Hall Underwood was a woman who empowered herself to bring new lives into the world on a remote coastal Georgia island. She was a strong woman in every fiber of her being.

Born as a descendent of enslaved ancestors on Sapelo Island, Georgia in 1884, Katie Hall became a midwife on the rural island which is now one of the last vestiges of Gullah/Geechee culture left intact along the Atlantic seaboard.

The Gullah/Geechee people came to America back in the 1800s from various ethnic groups in west and central Africa. All of them arrived as slaves. Because they lived their lives in forced isolation on the barrier Sea Islands and nearby Low Country mainland, they were able to retain their African customs. Their isolation also enabled their unique culture to survive, connecting them back to their African roots and allowing them to become a distinctive ethnic unit.

Technically speaking, Katie Hall was Geechee, Saltwater Geechee to be exact. The Gullah people were located in the Carolinas and the Geechee people settled in Georgia and northern Florida.

When Katie Hall was born, Sapelo Island had only been owned by the one family of Thomas Spaulding who purchased the island in 1802 and through the labor of 400 slaves coaxed the production of Georgia Sea Island cotton and sugar cane to unimagined productivity. Today the land still sports tidal salt marshes, upland maritime forests draped with Spanish moss, and sandy sea dunes bordering the Atlantic Ocean; the same topography for hundreds of years.

After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, Sapelo Island was no longer home to a productive cotton plantation due to the lack of available labor. The former slaves set up scattered free settlements with unique names like Hog Hammock, Raccoon Bluff, Shell Hammock, and Lumber Landing. It was to these communities that Katie Hall would serve her life’s purpose.

While Katie Hall had only a rudimentary education, she had also acquired a learning passed down from the generations before her about birthing babies. She became a legendary midwife on the island, delivering her first baby in the early 1920s and continuing to deliver babies until 1968, the year she turned eighty-four and electricity came to the island. Why I admire Katie Hall Underwood is that without modern drugs, electricity, or any medical education, she taught herself to use natural remedies to ease a woman’s labor in pregnancy. In her entire forty plus year career she delivered over a thousand babies and according to local lore, never lost one infant or mother; all this on an island largely forgotten to the outside world.

Katie recorded with diligence the name and date of every baby she helped to birth, in order to preserve family records. With the only means of transportation on the island to be by mule cart or on foot, Katie often walked miles from family to family helping to deliver babies. One account records the birth of two babies on the same day, where Katie walked the seven miles between the two families and then set about helping the second mother with her delivery.

Because cash was always in short supply, Katie – like many rural doctors, was often paid in the form of goods: food, or hand-sewn items, or possibly even hand-woven sweet grass baskets. As was her custom, she stayed for a meal with the family after delivering a baby and would often stay overnight if the weather was bad.

She did not become a midwife to gain recognition; she chose to become a midwife because there was a need to help the women of her island. Even after marrying William Underwood, Katie worked diligently to bring healthy babies into the world of Sapelo.

Today the over 8,000 acres of Sapelo Island are managed by the state of Georgia through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The island is still home to approximately 70 residents, mostly all descended from the enslaved Africans of 200 years ago, and whose homes are located within Hog Hammock on 434 private acres bequeathed to them by their ancestors. It is in Hog Hammock that you can find the resting place of Katie Hall Underwood in Behavior Cemetery; where the graves face east towards Africa, the ancestral homeland retold in story and in song.

Long ago she ferried babies into this world and placed them in the loving arms of their mothers. Today, the only visible recognition to Katie Hall Underwood is the ferry named after her that carries the commuters, school children, and tourists to and from Sapelo Island. The island is still only accessible by boat.

As the sun dapples the water and a dolphin breaks through the surface of Doboy Sound, the ferry passengers watch as his fin dips in and out of the water, perhaps in tribute to the last midwife of Sapelo Island.

** On a different note, you can read the New York Times article, http://tinyurl.com/mq8je7s about the present crisis facing the residents of Hog Hammock whose property taxes have jumped as much as 500% in the last two years. While McIntosh County, Georgia, claims the increased tax is justifiable, most of the residents can not afford the ludicrous increase and could be in danger of losing their homes. If this happens, could Hog Hammock eventually become another Hilton Head?

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Happy Birthday, Blog! by Linda Harris Sittig

The month of April will mark the beginning of my third year writing this blog and paying tribute to an amazing array of strong women; each of whom pursued her dream to make this world a better place.  In celebration of their collective achievements I am offering two free Strong Women bookmarks to anyone reading my blog.  Just email me at linda@lindasittig.com. Put the word BOOKMARK in the subject line of the email. Then send me your name and address and I will mail you two bookmarks, one for you and one for a friend.  Your address will not be shared with anyone. Happy reading!

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Elizabeth Kenny by Linda Harris Sittig

Born in 1880 New South Wales, Australia, Elizabeth Kenny grew up as a tomboy preferring to spend her time outdoors. Always empathetic to the injured and the sick, she eventually dedicated her life to nursing; but because her only medical training came from apprenticing herself to a local doctor, the British medical system would not recognize her as a legitimate nurse.

At the age of eighteen Elizabeth went to the bush area of Australia to help provide medical assistance to the rural residents. She stayed for several years, and it would be this experience that propelled her into a lifelong career of ministering to the sick. In 1909 she went to live in Nobby, Queensland, Australia and supported herself by setting up a business where she brokered agricultural produce from farmers to metropolitan markets. From the success of that business, she was able to use the proceeds to set up her first ‘cottage hospital’. Knowing she lacked official credentials, she asked a tailor to fashion a nurse’s uniform so she would appear more authoritative, and perhaps ease patients’ anxieties. Shortly after setting up the clinic, she met a few children who had become sick with a disease that often progressed to paralysis of the legs. There was no known cure, but it did have a name – polio.

Not understanding exactly how the disease started, or how to prevent it, Elizabeth concentrated instead on helping its young victims possibly regain the use of their immobilized leg muscles. Her approaches were un-orthodox, but she began to see amazing results. She taught mothers how to wrap their children’s afflicted legs in moist warm rags, gently stretch the legs, and massage the damaged muscles. Day after day she worked side by side with the mothers to coax the children’s injured muscles back to life. Slowly, many of the children resumed mobility.

World War I broke out and Elizabeth offered her services as a volunteer nurse. Even though she had no certified medical training, nurses were in short supply and she was chosen to serve on transport ships that carried supplies to England and brought wounded soldiers back to Australia.

Returning home after the war, she resumed her battle against polio. She wrote locally about the success of her treatments with the hope that doctors might implement some of her techniques. But the British government refused to promote her treatments because the current practice was to immobilize the afflicted leg in plaster casts or splints for months at a time.

Word of her success with polio patients slowly spread, mostly by her own self-promulgation and the parents who had  hailed her techniques as life altering. It is said that mothers wept when they saw their children walk again.

We now know that polio, or poliomyelitis as it is medically known, is an acute viral infection spread by human contact through ingested feces’ particles. Only a tiny trace is needed to transmit the virus. Depictions of people crippled with the disease appear in ancient Egyptian art, so we know the illness has been around for several millenniums. Polio began to reach epidemic proportions during the mid-19th century in Europe when thousands of people flocked to the cities for work and found themselves living in overcrowded tenements coupled with unsanitary surroundings and contaminated water. By 1910 there was a dramatic increase in polio world-wide and it was noted that the disease would peak during the summer months. Suspecting that contaminated water might carry the disease, public swimming pools were shut down during the worst epidemics.

One of the most dreaded diseases of childhood, the polio virus took only 2 – 10  days to penetrate the bloodstream and lodge in the spinal cord. Paralysis began to attack the muscles, most often in the legs, and left the victim either unable to walk or saddled with a withered limb.

Between 1935 and 1940 Elizabeth traveled extensively in Australia helping to organize clinics that would utilize her methods. Then in 1940 the government of New South Wales funded a trip for Elizabeth to speak to American doctors. She settled in Minneapolis where the University of Minnesota recommended that their doctors attend her lectures. Elizabeth stayed on in America for 11 years, promoting her unorthodox treatments of warm wraps and muscle massages and exercises. ‘Kenny clinics’ sprang up across the country with parents desperate to try Elizabeth’s techniques. Meanwhile, doctors around the world raced to find a cure.

Often perceived by the British Medical Association as a quack, and seen as a ‘fame-seeker’ by those who were rankled by Elizabeth’s outspoken manner, she none-the-less persevered in her fight against polio. Elizabeth died back home in Australia in 1952, right before Jonas Salk’s team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh developed a vaccine against polio that provided 99% immunity. Ten years later Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine which became the gold standard and still used world-wide today.

But it was Elizabeth Kenny’s techniques that alerted the world to the possibility of new methods to fight an old disease. Her principles of stretching and exercising injured muscles eventually became the foundation for today’s rehabilitative science of physical therapy. Thousands of children walked again because of her methods. As one adult survivor of polio noted, he leads a full life today because his mother exercised his legs daily in the method established by Elizabeth Kenny. That survivor is actor Alan Alda.

In spite of all our modern medical technology, there is still no cure for polio, only immunization.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. Sometimes it takes a strong woman to pursue innovations of treating a sick child.

As always, thank you to Dixie Hallaj for proofing and editing this blog.

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