Happy Anniversary Strong Women in History!

This April marks when Strong Women in History moves into its fourth consecutive year of paying tribute monthly to a variety of extraordinary women who accomplished amazing feats in their lifetime. Every woman I choose to highlight should have become famous, but remained without the accolades she deserved.

In celebration of the success of this blog, now being followed in 51 countries, my publisher is offering a Kindle sale for the novel, Cut From Strong Cloth. The research I did for that novel and the woman who inspired the book, Ellen Canavan, also led me to create this blog.

The Kindle sale is one week only! Ending at midnight April 4th. Here is the link for purchasing the 5 star reviewed story at only $1.99. http://www.amzn.com/1940553024.

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Mary Harris Jones by Linda Harris Sittig

~No, I am not related to Mary Harris Jones, just in awe of her.

Born in County Cork, Ireland in 1837 to a tenant farmer and his wife, Mary Harris moved with her family to Toronto, Canada, and then to Michigan while still a child.

In her twenties, she relocated to Chicago and then Memphis, Tennessee where she met and married George Jones. Jones was a member of the National Union of Iron Moulders and introduced her to the concept of an organized group of laborers who fought for improved job benefits. While her husband worked with the iron moulders, Mary Harris Jones worked as a seamstress in a dress shop, and took care of their four small children.

Tragedy struck in 1867 during one of America’s epidemics of yellow fever. Within the span of weeks she lost her husband and all four of their children to the disease. Devastated, she left Memphis and returned to Chicago where she persevered in establishing a small dressmaking business that catered to women of means.

When the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out over three square miles of downtown, it also took her shop, her belongings, and all her savings. Almost destitute and completely alone once again at the age of thirty-four, Mary Harris Jones sought out a group where she thought she might find some kindred spirits—the Knights of Labor.

Established in 1869, The Knights of Labor started in Philadelphia with a few garment workers and soon grew to a membership of 28,000. Their main goal was to petition for a 8 hour work day (instead of 10-12) and the elimination of exploiting child labor.

Mary Harris Jones believed in those same goals, and also believed she could convince other workers to join the organization. By 1886 however, the Knights of Labor had slowly dissolved due to internal politics. Four years later, a new group—the United Mine Workers— would emerge as a fledgling union and Mary Harris Jones would be ready to assist them in  their efforts.

Committed to using her skills as a charismatic speaker, she spoke out tirelessly to miners–encouraging them to lobby for better working conditions. She especially wanted to see an end to child labor where children as young as 8 were already committed to a life of drudgery in mines and mills alike. By 1892 she worked her way up in the United Mine Workers Union by being a dynamic organizer and educator for the workers.

Standing at only 5 feet tall and always dressed matronly in black with lace at the collar and wrists, she would slightly adjust her black hat decorated with lavender ribbons, smooth her hair, and then march out on stage.  Her performances were riveting. A passionate speaker whose energy could whip a crowd into action, she truly believed in the cause of helping the downtrodden and the underrepresented. Arrested more than once and jailed on multiple occasions, she went right back to campaigning for miners’ rights as soon as she was released, and soon earned the nickname of ‘Mother Jones’.

As if her persona on stage was not enough, in 1903 she led 100 children on a march from the teeming textile mills of Philadelphia all the way to Oyster Bay, New York, the hometown of President Theodore Roosevelt. The children carried placards which read, “We want to go to School!” Although the President did not meet with her, the crusade of marching children garnered the amount of publicity she had hoped for.

From the late 19th century onward, strikes among the nation’s coal mines led to unprecedented violence with miners always caught in the middle between the union and the coal companies. Mary Harris Jones was always there, on the forefront, urging the miners not to back down, but to fight for their rights.

At the age of 87, she took up the cause for working women as well. In one of her last public acts, she went to Chicago to strike alongside the female dressmakers who had been black-listed because of the discrimination grievances they had brought to light.

No records exist about her exact birth date, but it is believed that she died at the age of 93. The facts do stand that she died in November of 1930, already having voiced her desire to be buried with the miners from the 1898 riots in Virden, Illinois.

Child labor was abolished eight years after her death by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he signed the Fair Labor Act in 1938. To this day, the United Mine Workers Union still campaigns for the safety rights of American miners, honoring the over 100,000 American coal miners who died in work related accidents in the 20th century alone.

****

I paid tribute to another strong woman, Ellen Canavan, in my new novel Cut From Strong Cloth, which has garnered outstanding five-star ratings on Amazon. I would be delighted if you choose to read Ellen’s story. It  may be ordered at www.amzn.com/1940553024.

And as always, if you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, you may do so over on the right side bar. Over 435 readers have already subscribed, and they come from 51 different countries! My goal is 500 subscribed readers in 2015!

~ Linda ~

 

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Marjorie E. Doremus by Linda Harris Sittig

Little is known about the background of Marjorie E. Doremus, of Glen Rock, New Jersey. She never married, spent her entire professional career teaching third grade, and taught while sitting behind her desk.

But, if you ask any of her former students, many of whom are now senior citizens, they all say, “Of course I remember Miss Doremus.”

Why?

Because Marjorie E. Doremus was crippled, just like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like him, she also wore formidable leg braces painfully strapped to each leg and propelled herself forward by the use of two canes. Unlike FDR, she never tried to hide her disability.

She had a commanding presence, and took total control over her classes of 20 pupils. Pity was a word none of her students knew and certainly never felt toward her. Instead, she instilled in them admiration and affection.

Her teaching career began at Richard E. Byrd School after WWII and continued until her retirement many decades later. The school was, and is, a lovely old two-story brick building with a central foyer and large windows in every room. Back in the 1950s when the American Disabilities Act was only a future dream, Marjorie Doremus learned how to compensate for her lack of mobility and became a vibrant teacher in spite of her paralysis.

She seemed to have two passions: one was for every child in her class to become a self-sufficient reader, and two was to instill in every student the foundation of compassion and self-esteem.

Because of her disability everyone in the class was selected at one time or another to help with a physical task she was incapable of completing on her own. For example, when the afternoon grew New-Jersey-humid-crazy, she would choose two students to go over and pick up this incredibly long stick with a hook on the end, almost like a harpoon, and reach the hook into the cavity of the window sash and push up, thereby raising the massive window to allow any breeze to enter.

Or, if there was an assembly, one lucky child would be asked to be her escort and accompany her down the hallway. Since everyone walked home for lunch (no cafeteria), she would dismiss her students from the classroom door, and no one ever dared run down the hallway and thereby disgrace her.

Marjorie Doremus wanted to instill a love for reading in each of her students. We had a small library at the school, but Miss Doremus got it into her head that each of us should have our own town library card. The village library was another beautiful old brick building, up the main road about a half mile from the school. We did not have school buses, and most of the families only owned one car that the father usually drove to work. Therefore, the only way she could transport all of us to the town library was to walk.

On a robin-egg blue sky morning we all assembled in the hall and several volunteer moms arrived to walk with us. Miss Doremus had to be pushed in a wheel chair, but along with us she trekked the sidewalks of the main road, across two railroad tracks, and right up to the library’s front door.

The adult section was upstairs and the children’s section was down in what must have been a basement. How they maneuvered her into the basement I do not have a clue, but I do remember that she sat right at the checkout counter and watched as each of us signed up for our first public library card.

There is another memory of Miss Doremus, but it was my parents’ memory—not mine. Two months into the school year Miss Doremus called our home, expressing a concern about my difficulty with learning to read. My parents had assumed my education was progressing normally because neither the first grade nor the second grade teacher had indicated any serious problem. Miss Doremus went on to say that she had moved my desk up to the front row near her, which seemed to help my concentration, but when we met in small groups I struggled to sound out words.  She had two suggestions: one was that she was sending home flash cards of words for me to memorize.  Two was that my parents needed to take me for a specialized hearing test and she gave the name of a doctor.

I remember none of this. What I do remember is that I went to a nice doctor who explained that something called my adenoids were completely diseased and causing me to have a mild hearing loss. He explained that he would need to take them and my tonsils as well; but not to worry because at the hospital I would be allowed to eat all the vanilla ice cream I wanted, after the operation.

Here is what else I remember. When I came to after the ether wore off, my father was sitting on the edge of my hospital bed holding a book. It was a Nancy Drew book, one Miss Doremus had recommended my parents give me as a gift. Staunch advocates of the public library system, my parents usually borrowed books instead of buying them. That book became the first one I was ever to own.

I regained my hearing, grew up, and went on to become a lifelong reader, author, and educator—all because of one teacher who saw a child that needed her attention.

That fact that Miss Doremus was disabled, never even entered the equation.

**

I paid tribute to another strong woman, Ellen Canavan, in my new novel Cut From Strong Cloth, which has garnered all five-star ratings on Amazon.  See for yourself at www.amzn.com/1940553024. I would be honored if you choose to read Ellen’s story.

And as always, if you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, you may do so over on the right side bar. Over 425 readers have subscribed, and they come from 51 different countries!

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Molly Craig Kelly and Doris Pilkington Garimara by Linda Harris Sittig

On Christmas Eve I watched my almost 4 year–old granddaughter add a few extra cookies to the plate set out for Santa. When I asked her why, she replied, “Because Mrs. Claus works hard too.”

I was amazed that in her innocence she had already considered that strong women deserve their own recognition. I am happy to report that over 400 other like-minded people now subscribe to this blog:)

Welcome 2015! For January I am paying tribute to a mother-daughter team, Molly Craig Kelly and Doris Pilkington Garimara.

In order to appreciate their story, you need to be aware of some twentieth century Australian history.

Both Molly and Doris were Aboriginal women who were born in the mid-northern part of Western Australia. Here the land occupies one-third of the continent and is peppered with desert and tenuous living conditions. The laws that would forever change Molly’s and Doris’ life however, were enacted by the government on the complete opposite side of the continent, in the south-eastern state of Victoria.

Starting in 1871, the Aboriginal Protection Act allowed state agents to remove Aboriginal children from their families. Government officials, often aided by Christian missionaries and local police forces, were permitted and encouraged to take Aboriginal children from their homes and place them in state-run institutions where the children could learn a working trade. Most of the children taken were light skinned girls, in the belief that perhaps they would eventually help to breed out the Aboriginal strain of population. Hardly any of the children were ever returned to their families.

This practice continued legally for 100 years, and the children became known as ‘the stolen generations’.

In 1931 fourteen-year old Molly Craig asked her mother once again about her father. She was told that he had been an English fence inspector who worked on the Rabbit Fence. Then her mother pointed to the section of the fence that ran near their village. She explained to Molly that the fence was built to keep rabbits out of the Western territory, and that it ran from the northern edge of the country all the way to the southern ocean.

Several weeks later Molly and two girls from her family were kidnapped by a government agent. They were taken to a relocation settlement 1,000 miles from their home where they met other relocated children and learned the truth–that they were expected to live in this settlement from now on. Anyone caught trying to leave would be severely punished. Being the oldest of the trio Molly perhaps realized that the longer they stayed, the harder it would be to escape.

The next day in a bold move, Molly took the two girls with her while supposedly emptying slop buckets. Instead, the three of them took off running through the woods. Molly’s goal was to find the Rabbit Fence, figuring it would eventually lead them home.

The girls left with only the clothes on their backs and no food at all. During the night a powerful storm lashed the earth with torrents of rain and washed away the girls’ muddy footprints. It was a rare piece of luck.

With only their knowledge of nature as a navigation tool, the girls walked in the direction of north. The trek became more difficult with each passing day as the girls traversed the untamed wilderness. They foraged for food; sometimes resorting to stealing from farms and other times being given mutton sandwiches by kind and generous strangers. No one asked them where they were going, and the girls were reluctant to carry on conversations with outsiders. Weeks went by. Their clothes were torn, their bodies scratched by brambles and bitten by insects, and they lost a considerable amount of weight. But once they found the Rabbit Fence, it became their lifeline.

Almost two-thirds of the way home, the older cousin gave up. She turned herself in to the nearest government station in the hopes that they would return her to her mother. No one ever saw her again.

On and on Molly pushed, sometimes carrying the younger child. They were terrified of being caught, even as they battled the effects of malnutrition and constant hunger. Against all odds, they stumbled into their village nine weeks after leaving the relocation center; having walked the entire 1,000 miles. Their families were overjoyed.

Molly’s story did not end there, nor did it have a happy ending.  Molly did manage to elude recapture and continued to live near the village, eventually marrying and having two daughters of her own, Annabelle and Doris. When the girls were toddlers, both were abducted and ‘relocated’. They were told that their mother had abandoned them. Decades later Doris and her mother Molly were reunited; but Annabelle did not want to see the mother she believed had deserted her. They never met face to face again.

It was not until Doris was in her forties did she hear the full account of her mother’s amazing 1,000 mile journey.  In tribute to her mother’s bravery and also as a way of bringing the stolen generations their recognition, Doris wrote a book, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, which was later made into a movie.

One result of the book and movie was a world-wide recognition of the travesty done to Australia’s Aboriginal families throughout the twentieth century. The policy of taking Aboriginal children for relocation was supposedly stopped in the 1970s, although the law of Aboriginal Relocation was not repealed until the 1990s. The official statement was that the policy had been aimed at saving Aboriginal children from a life of poverty and ignorance.  Hmm. Those same children were the ones trained to become domestic servants in the homes of the well-to-do white Australians. The general estimated figure of the stolen generations is approximately 100,000 Aboriginal children.

In 2008 the Australian government issued a formal apology ‘for the laws of successive parliaments that inflicted profound grief, suffering, and loss on fellow Australians’. Because of Doris Pilkington Garimara’s book, and the movie, Australians began to talk about the uncomfortable topic of the stolen generations and what could be done in present time to improve the education and living standards for aboriginal people..

Both Molly Craig Kelly and her daughter Doris Pilkington Carimara are now deceased. But by their actions they proved that strong women continue to have a profound effect on subsequent generations.

They each deserved extra cookies on the plate.

Thank you to Sandra Pantall who alerted me to these two strong women.

You can sign up on the right sidebar to become a regular follower of this blog, and also catch me on Twitter @LHsittig or on my webpage: www.lindasittig.com.

Thank you to each person who has read my novel, Cut From Strong Cloth and posted a review on Amazon. If you are reading the book now, please make a New Year’s Resolution that you will post a star rating and a short review www.amzn.com/1940553024. Reviews help sales:)

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Margaret Higgins Sanger

(Psst! My novel, Cut From Strong Cloth, is out and selling well in both print and Kindle. Here is the Amazon link:  http://amzn.com/1940553024)

Margaret Higgins’s life goal was to become a successful nurse, and after several years into the practice she assured herself that she had chosen a worthy career. But then a patient died without Margaret being able to save the woman’s life. That episode led Margaret Higgins to change her goal; she decided instead to do everything possible to prevent other women from dying unnecessarily… from self-induced abortions.

Born in Corning, New York, in 1879, Margaret Higgins was the sixth of eleven children in a large Irish family and spent most of her childhood helping to care for her younger siblings. When Margaret’s mother died at the age of 49, Margaret noted that her mother had had 18 pregnancies within 22 years, and only 11 children survived.  Perhaps it was this family background that led Margaret into the field of women’s health.

By 1911 she had married William Sanger, given birth three times, and had begun to work as a visiting nurse in the slums of the Lower East Side of New York City. Her husband was an architect and painter and they counted among their acquaintances reformed-mined people like the novelist Upton Sinclair and art supporter Mabel Dodge.

Margaret wanted to help the poor women of the East Side prevent unwanted pregnancies, but she was vehemently opposed to abortion because she believed that life should not be terminated after conception. However, this was a time in America when women were prohibited from gaining access to information about contraceptives, on the grounds of obscenity written into the 1873 Comstock Law.

In 1912 Margaret launched a campaign to challenge the governmental censorship of contraceptive information because it violated freedom of speech.  She began an underground newsletter which she distributed throughout Greenwich Village in Manhattan calling for an action to challenge the federal anti-obscenity laws.

Threatened with arrest, none-the-less, Margaret persevered and began lecturing in women’s clubs, churches, homes and theaters about a woman’s right for access to information about contraception. Several countries in Western Europe were already dispensing both information and contraceptive devices to their female citizens, and Margaret wanted American women to have those same privileges.

In October 1916, Margaret opened a family planning and birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY; the first of its kind anywhere in the United States. Nine days later she was arrested for breaking a New York state law that prohibited the distribution of contraceptives. She would be arrested numerous times more.

Then in 1918 Judge Frederick E. Crane of the New York Court of Appeals issued a ruling which allowed doctors to prescribe contraceptives, in the state of New York for a medical necessity.

Margaret took her campaign then to other states as well. In 1921 she founded the American Birth Control League which eventually became The Planned Parenthood Federation. Noting that doctors could only prescribe contraceptives for medical reasons, she founded the Clinical Research Bureau in 1923 to exploit the wording of ‘for medical reasons’. The CRB became the first legal birth control clinic in the U.S. with one of the major financial contributors being John D. Rockefeller.

But Margaret didn’t stop there. On and on she campaigned for the right of every American woman to have access to legal contraceptives. And every woman, meant not just white women, but all women. Margaret collaborated with African-American community leaders to help establish a clinic in Harlem, New York City, which opened in 1930 and was staffed by black doctors.

Margaret was opposed to censorship in all forms, which often led to her arrests for expressing her views during a time when speaking in public about contraception was still illegal.  In one widely publicized event, city officials of Boston threatened to arrest her if she spoke to an audience. So she climbed up on stage, tied a gag over her mouth, and handed her speech to Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. to read aloud. He did.

One of Margaret’s crowning achievements in the 1950s was that she procured financial backing for biologist Gregory Pincus to continue his research. He eventually developed the birth control pill.

Finally, in 1965, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Griswold vs. Connecticut allowed birth control to become legal in every state in America, 53 years after Margaret had started her campaign.

Margaret died a year later, knowing that her life goal had been met.

Just coincidently, the superhero character of Wonder Woman that debuted in 1941 was created by William Moulton Marston and inspired by the real life character of Margaret Higgins Sanger. But that is another story.

Thanks to Luigi Perini who alerted me to Margaret Higgins Sanger, another incredible strong woman.

If you are new to my blog, please sign up on the right sidebar to become a registered blog follower. My goal is to reach 400 by Dec. 31st and I am only 4 readers away from that goal!

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Ellen Canavan – part two, by Linda Harris Sittig

postcard It was in the summer of 1998 that I stood in front of my mother’s family mausoleum in New Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia. The cemetery is located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, once the textile epi-center of the United States, but now fallen on harder times. Clutched in my hands I had the print out from the Archdiocese Cemetery Office as to who was actually buried in the vaults.

There were twelve souls, ten adults and two children. I read through the names, as memories of my mother’s stories resurfaced from my childhood. There was my great-grandfather, James Nolan and my great-grandmother, Sarah Jane Brady, and a woman named Mrs. James Nolan – whoever that was. In the descending rows were James Nolan’s children: Daniel and Catherine, with spouses and various in-laws. The last two vaults were children.

I reread the paper and began to wonder, who was the mysterious ‘Mrs. James Nolan’ and why wasn’t she buried with her own name?

Contacting the Archdiocese Cemetery Office, I was dismayed that all they could tell me was the date the woman had died, her age, and the cause of death. She had been young, just twenty-nine when she succumbed to tuberculosis in January, 1873.

So, who was she? I found that for some strange reason this unnamed woman began to lay claim to my waking moments and visited my nighttime dreams.  I finally hired an archivist, Christine Friend, from the Philadelphia Historical Archdiocesan Research Center to help me.  Weeks later a letter arrived at my house stating, ‘Her name was Ellen Canavan. She was your great-grandfather’s first wife.’ First wife? Whoa!

With my mother deceased, I called my father. He knew nothing about a first wife. As far as anyone knew, James Nolan had only had one wife—Sarah Jane Brady.

The plot thickened when we remembered that it was supposedly his wife who had helped him with the idea of creating a unique blended cloth for soldiers’ uniforms; the very cloth that had brought him a great deal of wealth during the Civil War.

Hmm. Which wife? Ellen or Sarah?

I became a blood hound hot on the trail of Ellen Canavan’s life. Months literally turned into years as I researched each and every piece of evidence I could find about her. I even traveled to Ireland in search of her roots. Back in Philadelphia, I found the marriage record stating that James Nolan had married Sarah Jane Brady in 1874, with his profession being listed as a ‘Gentleman’.  I knew then it had been Ellen Canavan who had helped him achieve his wealth and good fortune during the Civil War, and most likely Ellen’s idea for the blended cloth.

I delved deeper into Ellen’s life and eventually amassed a thick notebook detailing everything I had learned about her and her birth family, the Canavans. The picture that emerged was one of a strong young immigrant woman who wanted to become involved in the textile industry, but without money, connections, or education had to enlist the help of James Nolan in order to achieve her dream of success. Her quest would take her from the factory floors of Philadelphia to the cotton wharves of Savannah, and just when she realizes she has fallen in love with James Nolan, the Civil War will tear them apart.

It took over three years to compile all the research and write the novel inspired by Ellen’s real story. In the process I realized how many of my mother’s stories had been true all along. Although Ellen falls in love, Cut From Strong Cloth is not a romance novel, it is the story of a young woman who risked everything in order to change the status quo during an era when women were still considered second class citizens.

On December 1, 2014 Cut From Strong Cloth will be released by Freedom Forge Press and be available from their website store and also on Amazon.com, as well as in some stand alone bookstores. The novel tells the family saga of courage and determination, tragedy and love, all exploding on the cusp of the Civil War. If you would like an audio sneak preview of the story, email me at linda@lindasittig.com and I will send you the link to hear the opening scene read aloud. Pre-orders for the novel can be taken now at www.freedomforgepress.com/store, the paperback will sell on their website for $15.00. In December it will also be available on Kindle www.amazon.com.

Ellen Canavan was my first ‘strong woman in history’, the inspiration for my blog and the story behind my motto: Every woman deserves to have her story told.

You may also click on this link to my web page www.lindasittig.com to find out about my other writing activities. And please do forward this blog to your friends and encourage them to sign up as followers. My goal is to have 400 followers by New Years. Thanks!

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