Elisabeth Koenigsberger Bing by Linda Harris Sittig

Take a deep breath, pushing your stomach out as you inhale. Now exhale slowly to the count of six. Welcome to the techniques of Lamaze, natural childbirth, and relaxation.


Although most women would not put childbirth and relaxation together in the same sentence, that is exactly what Elisabeth Koenigsberger believed should happen and she helped to revolutionize how American women experienced childbirth.

Born in 1914 in Berlin to parents of Jewish heritage, she was forced to quit college two weeks into her freshman year when the officials discovered her ethnic background. Her two older brothers were dismissed as well.

Elisabeth then immigrated at the age of 18 by herself to England and began to study physical therapy while working in a hospital with multiple sclerosis patients. Her job was to teach them how to exercise their limbs. At the end of each day she would go to the maternity ward and voluntarily give massages to new mothers. Her experience with these postpartum women led her to develop an interest in obstetrics.

In 1942 after reading British physician Grantly Dick-Read’s book on natural childbirth, she resolved to learn all she could about his ideas. Her goal was to teach women how to take a more active and prepared role in birthing their babies.

This coincided in an era when women in labor were almost always completely sedated and expectant fathers were left alone in the hospital waiting room to pace the floor. Recuperation for new mothers was normally a stay of ten days.

Elisabeth decided to pursue additional formal training in obstetrics, but WWII complicated that dream and prevented Elisabeth from achieving her objective. She remedied the situation with self- education; reading all the newly published research she could find on natural childbirth.

In 1949 Elisabeth moved to Illinois. A chance encounter with a local obstetrician led to a unique professional friendship between the two. It wasn’t long before the doctor invited her to become involved in his practice, teaching women how to exercise and relax in preparation for childbirth.

Two years later while in transit from New York City to a visit in Germany, Elisabeth met Fred Max Bing; they married the following year. Now living in New York City, Elisabeth began offering informal workshops in childbirth preparation.

As her name spread, she found a powerful ally in Dr. Alan Guttmacher, the head of Obstetrics at Mt. Sinai Hospital. He invited her to teach some workshops at the hospital’s newly opened maternity ward.

Around this same time, Dr. Fernand Lamaze was changing France’s perspective on childbirth. Dr. Lamaze advocated childbirth education classes, relaxation and breathing techniques, and continuous emotional support from both the father and a trained nurse. His methods became quite popular as French women using his techniques experienced childbirth with less fears.

With Dr. Guttmacher’s approval, Elisabeth began to incorporate some of Dr. Lamaze’s techniques into her seminars at Mt. Sinai; she found the classes filling up quickly.

Her next step was to ask Mt. Sinai to send her to France so that she could meet with Dr. Lamaze and learn his techniques first hand. The hospital cited a lack of funding and denied her request. In 1958 Elisabeth then turned to Marjorie Karmel, whose book, Thank You Dr. Lamaze, had become a best seller.

Elisabeth and Marjorie met, and became professional colleagues. In 1960 they co-founded the organization now called Lamaze International.

While fame and ego could have gone to her head, Elisabeth K. Bing always gave credit to Dr. Lamaze for his groundbreaking work. She also was quick to admit that natural childbirth is not always possible, and that drugs still had validity in certain deliveries.

The era of the 1960s launched the beginning of the women’s movement, and also helped to solidify Elisabeth’s passion that every woman deserves to be educated as to the choices involved in giving birth. Elisabeth used the term Prepared Childbirth, instead of Natural Childbirth, to emphasize the active participation of the mother.

She died recently at the age of 100, after having taught childbirth classes focused on the Lamaze techniques for over 50 years.

Breathe in deeply; now exhale slowly to the count of eight. Ah…..relaxation is beginning to seep in.

Thank you, Elisabeth K. Bing.

~ Linda~

Since August is my birthday month, please give me the gift of sending this blog on to a friend who may not know about Strong Women in History. Thank you.

You can also catch me on Twitter @lhsittig, my webpage LindaSittig.com, or on Amazon at amzn.com/1940553024.

Thank for sharing my journey, celebrating women whose passions led them to live life fully, and in so doing, benefited the lives of others.

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Clara Shortridge Foltz by Linda Harris Sittig

Amidst the gentle rolling plains of central Indiana, Clara Shortridge was born in 1849. Her family then moved to Iowa where Clara had the unusual opportunity to attend a coeducational school and receive a basic education. By the age of fifteen she fell in love with a local Civil War soldier, Jeremiah Foltz, and they eloped. Babies came quickly and they  often moved in order for him to find work.

Then in 1876 her husband abandoned her.

Living near her parents, now in San Jose, California, Clara Foltz found herself a single mother with five children to support on her own. She took in sewing, she took in boarders, and she began to study the rudiments of law with her father’s help. She decided to become a lawyer because the pay would be steady, the job was respectable, and she would be in a position to help other women.

The only problem was that women in 1876 were not allowed to take the bar examination in California. That privilege was reserved for white males. The only other requirement to become a lawyer in California at that time was a six month residency.

In 1878 Clara tried to get The Woman Lawyer’s Bill introduced into the state legislature. It would give women the right to take the state bar exam; however, it had been relegated to a slush pile, where it would die. Clara went straight to the Governor of California and appealed to his sense of fairness, begging him to reconsider. Just before the midnight deadline, the governor retrieved the bill and signed it into law.

Clara sat for the exam and passed, becoming the first female in California to be admitted to the state bar.

Next, she applied to California’s only law school, Hastings School of Law, in order to solidify her understanding of judicial process. She was denied admission due to her gender.

So Clara, along with her friend Laura Gordon, sued the school on the issue of gender equality, argued their own case, and won.

Her next residence was San Francisco, where she began practicing as an attorney, and tried cases in court at a time when women were not allowed to even serve on a jury. Clara became intensely involved with the field of Women’s Rights. She sought to protect the property rights of women, and she actively campaigned for a woman’s right to vote.

Her trailblazing legal career would span a total of 56 years and include many milestones. It was Clara Foltz who introduced the idea of a public defender where even the poorest criminal is entitled to legal representation in court. At the time, her idea was looked upon as a radical notion but in 1965 the Supreme Court of the United States adopted the constitutional right to counsel for any criminal defendant.

She continued to fight for equal rights, for both men and women, and helped to establish the California Parole Board. Often highlighting the plight of justice for all, she went on the lecture circuit to heighten awareness of her views. After finishing an invigorating legal career, she ran for Governor of California, at the age of 81; ten years after women finally received the right to vote.

Asked how she had overcome adversity and became a beacon to other women who wanted to achieve their own dreams, her purported answer was, “I believed in myself.”

According to the Center for Research on Gender Equity, in 2012 women accounted for 33% of all lawyers in the United States, but less than 20% reach the equity partnership level. If Clara Foltz were alive today, she would be campaigning for those rates to be higher.

Strong women have the ability to enact change.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please sign up on the right side bar to become a follower of the blog, along with over 525 people from 51 countries. You can also catch me on Twitter @LHSittig or on my webpage at LindaSittig.com. If you enjoy reading about strong women, then check out my novel, Cut From Strong Cloth, on Amazon at www.amzn.com/1940553024. Thank you.

~ Linda ~

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Katherine G. Johnson by Linda Harris Sittig

The next time you look up at the night sky and are smitten by the pale opalescence of the moon, I don’t want you to think of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, or Michael Collins, the astronauts of the historic Apollo 11 space flight that landed mankind on the moon. I want you to think of Katherine G. Johnson, the woman who calculated the trajectories necessary for the success of that historic flight.

Born in 1918, the youngest of four siblings in an African-American family in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Katherine had an aptitude and fascination with numbers from her earliest years. While her family walked to services, Katherine counted each and every step between their house and the church. By the time she entered school at the age of six, she was put into second grade due to her reading and mathematical abilities. Later she was promoted from 4th grade directly to 6th grade, based upon her outstanding academic performance. At home she would always finish arithmetic work quickly, and then offer to help her older siblings with theirs.

Because the local public schools provided only an 8th grade education for black students, Katherine’s father moved the family 125 miles away to the Charleston, WVA area. There, all four of his children enrolled in the West Virginia Collegiate Institute, a black institution that allowed students to complete a high school education and then transition into the college.

Katherine was ten when she entered the high school and fourteen when she started college with a full academic scholarship for room, board, and tuition.

While in college she came under the tutelage of W.W. Schiefflin Claytor, the third African-American to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Recognizing her incredible aptitude with numbers, he counseled her to take every course in math that the school offered and then he set up a special class in analytical geometry; Katherine was the only student.

By the time she graduated summa cum laude with a dual Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and French, Katherine was well prepared for a career in analytical math. The problem was that no such job existed for black females in 1936. Deciding she could encourage young people to pursue their talents, she became a teacher for the next sixteen years.

In the early 1950s the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor to NASA, opened up applications for African-American females to work as human computers in their Guidance and Navigation Depart. Katherine applied and was accepted. She, and her husband James Francis Goble and their young daughters, moved to the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She would make her mark there, calculating the mathematical equations necessary for successful space projects. Her career at Langley lasted for the next thirty-three years.

Math may have come easy to Katherine Johnson, but life did not. She experienced racism and sexism both in everyday life and in her career, but she persevered. She lost her first husband to brain cancer, but stayed busy with work and her family. Eventually she married Colonel James Johnson, a Korean War veteran. All along, she continued to push at NASA to be included in top level meetings within her department, and finally began to be recognized for her skill in analytical geometry by the male engineers.

In May 1961 when astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American to travel in space, it was Katherine Johnson who had calculated the computations for the launch window, including his successful return splash down.

In 1962 mechanical computers were used for the first time to calculate an astronaut’s orbit around the Earth, and the engineers at NASA asked Katherine to verify their numbers before John Glenn was sent into space.

During the mid-1960s Katherine worked on a NASA project to plot backup navigational charts to allow astronauts to guide their space ships by the stars, in case of any electrical failures.

In July 1969 when Neil Armstrong made his historic ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ by walking on the surface of the moon, it was Katherine Johnson who made the calculated trajectories for the Apollo 11 flight.

Think of Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s movie, Apollo 13. One of his classic lines was “Houston, we have a problem.” The spacecraft had malfunctioned and the astronauts were in peril of not being able to return to Earth.  In real life, those words are attributed to astronaut Jim Lovell; but it was Katherine Johnson’s work on the backup procedures and her charts that helped guide the astronauts safely home.

During her lifetime, she co-authored 25 scientific papers, wrote one of the first textbooks on space flight, and received 11 prominent awards in her field. Yet when we think of the U.S. Space Program, we seldom think of the people like Katherine Johnson who worked for decades behind the scenes in order for the program to succeed.

The next time you look up at the night sky and find the Man in the Moon, look again; it might just be a woman.

Katherine Johnson was a scientist, a physicist, a mathematician, and definitely a strong woman. As a trailblazer she opened pathways for every woman who has dreamed of achieving success—pathways that can lead to the moon and beyond.

Thank you to Jennie Blumenthal for alerting me to the amazing story of Katherine Johnson, and to Dixiane Hallaj for proofreading my blog entries.

If you have not yet signed up to become a follower of this blog, you may do that on the right sidebar. You can also catch me on Twitter @LHSittig or my webpage www.lindasittig.com.  My fiction appears on Amazon at www.amzn.com/1940553024.

As always, thank you for reading about the many extraordinary women who deserve to have their stories told.

~ Linda ~

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Ann Seton Chase by Linda Harris Sittig

In the small town where I grew up, there was a unique rite of passage for preteens. Once you reached your twelfth birthday, and had a letter from a parent, you were allowed entrance into the hallowed halls of the town’s public library.

Prior to that momentous occasion children were limited to choosing and checking out books from the children’s library, housed in the lower level of the town’s municipal building.

The public library occupied the upper floor of the municipal building, which loomed on the horizon like an ancient sanctuary. Four massive white columns stood as stately sentinels to the entrance of the red brick multistory edifice. One had to walk up a spacious set of white stairs to get to the front portal. Not that I, however, had ever traversed those steps because the door to the children’s library had its own set of descending steps.

I remember  looking up at the windows of the town library, probably feeling elated that I would finally be allowed upstairs with the ‘real books’. No longer would I be relegated to Lad, A Dog or Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. This day would be my big chance to see what the grown-ups read.

Inside, the adult library was large compared to the cozy space I had been accustomed to downstairs with its child-friendly bookcases and furniture. Trying to look like I belonged, I held my head up high and marched right over to the check-out desk, holding my mother’s letter as proof that I could now enter the ranks of adult bibliophiles.

A short while later with my newly inked library card in hand, I sauntered around the stacks and glanced at the books. To my surprise there was not one author I recognized.  Undaunted, I slipped over to the fiction section and perused the titles there. Again, no success.

So I tried a new tactic. I moseyed over near the circulation desk where a pushcart filled with  newly returned books was poised, waiting for a librarian to re-shelve the contents. I spied a title that looked intriguing, called The Turquoise.

To this day I am not exactly sure what made me pick it up, but it must have been karma.

I thumbed through the first few pages and saw that the story took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico during the 1800’s, a place and time that promised to be exotic reading compared to my non-eventful suburban childhood. The author was Anya Seton, but I had never heard of her. Regardless, I took the book to the check-out counter and handed it along with my library card to the librarian.

She flipped through the novel and then with penetrating librarian-eyes asked, “Does your mother know this is the book you’re checking out?”

This threw me into in a quandary. It was my first experience ‘upstairs’ and I wanted that book, even more so now because of the librarian’s admonishment. So I lied. I told her my mother had agreed I could check out any book I wanted. With pursed lips, she stamped the date card, and told me I had two weeks before it was due back.

Bursting out into the brilliant late afternoon sunshine I held that book as if it was a treasure. Little did I know it would change my life.

With The Turquoise, author Anya Seton introduced me to the genre of Historical Fiction, and my reading habits would never be the same again.

I did not simply read the book, I devoured it. Yes, it was adult in nature, the love story of a strong young woman who married for security, but always loved another man. Love story aside, it was also the tale of beguiling New Mexico and fashionable New York City in the century before I was born. I drank in the geographic details as if they were an elixir.

In time I would go on to read every book Anya Seton (Ann Seton Chase) wrote; as her research combined with travel brought an authenticity to her settings. Through the language and lives of her characters I learned about Anglo-Saxon England, Tudor England, Medieval England, Colonial America, the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, and the strong women around whom she penned each story.

While some girls read magazines in their spare time, I found myself reading historical novels. As a college freshman I eagerly became a history major and years later started to travel, always to places where some historic event had occurred. Several destinations were the settings I had read about in Anya Seton’s novels.

Born in New York City in 1904, Anya Seton (Ann Seton Chase) was the child of two authors; her father was a nature writer and her mother composed travel articles. Anya’s first successfully published book came out through Houghton Mifflin when she was 37; later she went on to write a dozen novels. Although The Turquoise did not win any awards or bring her acclaim, it still remains my favorite.

Who knew that a book read by a skinny little girl would one day propel her to become a writer of historical fiction herself? I was that little girl and my debut series, “Threads of Courage”, centers on strong young women from the past who overcome monumental obstacles in order to carve out a life where integrity triumphs over injustice.

The first book in the series, Cut From Strong Cloth, is available from Freedom Forge Press and Amazon.

Thank you, Anya Seton; books really do change lives.

If you are new to this blog, then please sign up as a follower on the right side bar. Thank you for believing in strong women.

~ Linda ~

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Elisabeth Oesterlein by Linda Harris Sittig


Education was always a priority in our family. My father pursued a B.S. in Accounting from New York University because as a World War II Veteran he could attend under the G.I. Bill. After graduating from high school, my mother enrolled herself in the Katherine Gibbs School of Philadelphia. By the time I was sixteen, my parents sat me down and told me I would go on for a higher education. It was simply a given, although there were geographic and financial stipulations. I chose Grove City College in western Pennsylvania and honestly never gave a thought to the fact that American women didn’t always have the privilege of being admitted to a college or university.

For that opportunity we need to look back to a small rural area in North Carolina and the day that Elisabeth Oesterlein arrived in town.

A small village had been settled by the Moravians, a Protestant society sometimes referred to as the Brethrens. Their group migrated from Pennsylvania in the mid 1700s to the wild frontier of North Carolina, where they established the settlement of Salem—now a part of the modern town of Winston-Salem. What set the Moravians apart from most other groups of their time was their belief that women should have a comparable education with men.

In 1770 Elisabeth Oesterlein wanted to go help the Moravians in Salem, but there was a slight obstacle. Elisabeth lived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 500 miles away. She rounded up a group of  Single Sisters, and together the sixteen females walked their way from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, often sleeping in barns, or out under the stars.

Elisabeth was seventeen years old.

She arrived in Salem at a time when the Moravians were working to establish a school for young girls, and Elisabeth was the perfect candidate to become the first teacher. In April of 1772 Elisabeth rang the bell for opening day of school, housed temporarily inside the Congregation Meeting House. Three girls were enrolled. The school had originally been intended for Moravian daughters but Salem had grown into a trading center with non-Moravians  coming into town for shopping and supplies. As fame about the school spread, other families wanted their daughters to apply for an education as well.

By 1786 the school was running smoothly. During that year there were now thirty-three Single Sisters working in Salem. They lived together in a large house built specifically for their needs, and became a small communal unit of their own. Elisabeth was a vital part of that unit.

In 1802 the school became designated as a boarding school where young females of various religions could be educated in both academic and practical pursuits. Within three years a brand new red brick building was constructed and while Elisabeth and the other teachers were completely capable of offering instruction, the elders of the church wanted a man to become the principal of the school. A minister from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was hired.

He did not walk the 500 miles.

As the school progressed, more girls arrived. By 1826 the first Native American girl was enrolled, a member of the Cherokee tribe.

For the price of twenty tuition dollars, girls would receive instruction in reading, arithmetic, writing, history, geography, and German. For an additional sum they could also receive training in music. While only families with financial means could afford to send their daughters to Salem, the school continued to thrive even in tough economic times.

During the 1860s when the Civil War tore the nation apart, the Salem School did not shut down their classes as many other Southern institutions did. Instead, the teachers continued to instruct their female students with the belief that an educated woman would make for a better contributing member of society.

By 1866 the school was now called the Salem Female Academy and by 1890 it conferred its first college degrees to seven women. This institution dedicated to educating females was by then already 118 years old.

Today, Salem College is acknowledged as the oldest women’s school in the United States. Each year one graduating senior is presented with the Oesterlein Award given in memory of Elisabeth Oesterlein who devoted her life to insuring that women could receive an equal education to that of men.

Remember that my parents put a geographic limit on my choice of college? It was my mother’s belief that only schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line could offer a decent college education for young women. Obviously she did not know of Salem’s reputation. I did receive my college degree and I salute Elisabeth Oesterlein who paved the way for me.

Thanks to Dr. Cort Johns of the Netherlands for pointing out another strong woman.

If you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, please do so on the right sidebar. Strong Women in History is now in its fourth year and I am only 4 followers away from hitting the 500 mark:)



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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 6th. 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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