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Archive for the ‘Historical Women’ Category

Hidden Figures – This video is the remarkable true story of women who crossed racial and gender lines to contribute important work to NASA.

Katherine Goble. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are some of the many forgotten women, especially black women, who achieved amazing things in spite of the prejudice and road blocks thrown at them. All extremely brilliant women, they were the brains behind the launch of John Glenn into space in the 1960’s space race. Their work helped our country to put a man on the moon.

The movie is great and I hope you will see it. It does a pretty good job of telling what the women went through – early childhood and education, what they suffered in order to be accepted in society, and obstacles they encountered at work. The extras in the special Blu-Ray edition relate more of the many achievements of these incredible women. Here are a few highlights (some of the information obtained through my further research):

Katherine Goble Johnson

Katherine was a math prodigy who graduated from West Virginia State College summa cum laude at only age 18. She married and had three children. Sadly, Mr. Goble died of a brain tumor. Later she remarried.

Katherine was an aerospace technologist. She verified the computer’s numbers for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth in 1962, calculated the historic Apollo 11 trip to the moon, and worked on the calculations that helped bring Apollo 13 safely back to earth after it malfunctioned in 1970.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

Dorothy received her training at Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1929. She married Howard Vaughan and they had six children. In 1943, Dorothy went to work at Langley as one of the African-American women who were hired due to President Roosevelt’s executive order forbidding racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination in the defense industry as he sought to fill the jobs needed for the war effort. Dorothy was one of the countless female human “computers” who did the math for the space industry.

Later when IBM introduced digital computers to replace the human computers, Dorothy was smart enough to figure a way to keep her job and the jobs of all of the other women. She taught herself and them the Fortran programming Language for the IBM 704 mainframe computers that NASA was installing. (Just look at that room full of machines in the movie and realize that your cell phone has more computing power than all of that!!)

Mary Jackson

Mary graduated from Hampton Institute with bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and physical science. Frustrated and unhappy about the discrimination against her in the work place, Mary almost resigned. However, her supervisor, Kazimierz Czarnecki encouraged her to train as an engineer. Mary had to fight racial prejudice but she successfully finished the course and was promoted to aerospace engineer in 1958 at the age of 37. She wrote many papers and studied data that helped to improve US planes. Mary achieved the most senior rank in the engineering department, but took a demotion to become a human resources administrator until her retirement in 1985. She spent her time helping other women and minorities to advance their careers.

One of the things that is downplayed a bit in the movies is the tremendous religious faith of these three wonderful women. They all just wanted to succeed and were willing to put up with the prejudice against them. In that era, blacks were often just happy to have a job. Their gratitude for what they had should put those of us who have never encountered their obstacles to shame. They are an inspiration!

It is finally time after 55 years that Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are recognized for their achievements. Though things have changed a lot since the 1940’s and 50’s, there is still a struggle for full racial and gender equality. The stories of these women will go a long way to erase the idea that women, especially black women are inferior.

Here is a trailer to the movie:

http://www.ign.com/videos/2016/08/15/hidden-f

 

 

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Through love and faith and determination I have been persistently facing obstacles, small and large, and I have made them stepping stones upon which to rise.          Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune is remembered as an educator and an activist. Mary was born with three strikes against her – she was poor, black, and female. This indomitable woman who believed that “Love, not hate, has been the fountain of my fullness” spent her life building a better world.

Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10, 1875 near Mayesville, South Carolina. This was during the period of ‘reconstruction’ in the South. Tempers often ran as hot as the weather and as the nation adjusted, unfair anti-black violence escalated. Through it all many black men and women maintained their faith in God. There was a strong belief that education would raise the status of black people in the perceptions of others and would result in better jobs.

Originally Mary trained at Moody Bible Institute (as it is called today) to become a missionary to Africa. It seems incredible to us now, but she was told that black women were not allowed to go on the missionfield. This didn’t stop Mary for long. Realizing that this setback was only a ‘stepping stone upon which to rise’ she put her heart and soul into educating poor black children, starting with girls. Mary believed that as the mothers in the homes, girls would grow up to have a profound impact on their children’s education.

Mary married Albert McLeod Bethune in 1898. They had one son. Sadly, due to disagreements that couldn’t be reconciled Mary and Albert ended the marriage in 1907.

Mary founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida in 1904. She started with only five students but the school grew to over 250 students in only a few years. Mary remained the president and leader until 1942. In 1923 the school combined with the Cookman Institute for Men. The newly combined school, called the Bethune-Cookman College, was one of the few places where African-American students could get a college degree.

Besides her important work at the school, Mary also became politically involved. She was president of the Florida chapter of the National Association of Colored Women for many years.  Mary worked with presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt to improve life for African-Americans. She served on many committees and started up her own organization – the National Council of Negro Women. In 1936 President Roosevelt appointed her to be the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. In this position Mary was able to help young people find jobs. At this time Mary also served as an advisor to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In 1942 Mary retired from Bethune-Cookman college. She moved to Washington DC and lived there for several years. She was an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In the early 1950’s, President Truman appointed her to be the official delegate to Liberia for the inauguration of their new president.

Eventually Mary returned to Florida to retire. She passed away on May 18, 1955.

Before she died Mary wrote “My Last Will and Testament.” She wanted to leave her people with a legacy of serving. Here are her ‘bequests’.

             I leave you love.
             I leave you hope.
             I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another.
             I leave you a thirst for education.
             I leave you a respect for the uses of power. (This power should be placed on the side of human justice.)
             I leave you faith.
             I leave you racial dignity.
             I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men.
             I leave you finally a responsibility to our young people.

Faith Courage, brotherhood, dignity, ambition, responsibility – these are needed today as never before. We must cultivate them and use them as tools for our task of completing the establishment of equality for the Negro.

If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. As I face tomorrow, I am content, for I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood and Love.

 

In 1973, eighteen years after her passing,  Mary McLeod Bethune was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1974, a seventeen-foot bronze sculpture commemorating Mary’s work in education was erected in Lincoln Park, Washington DC. It is the first statue ever dedicated on federal land to honor either an African-American or a woman.

 

The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor in 1985.

 

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site was opened in 1994.

 

 

 

I found a wonderful video production of Mary’s life on YouTube. It is in three parts totaling a little over 26 minutes. It gives great historical background and contains many contemporary photos. I highly recommend it!!

 YouTube:

  1.  Mary McLeod Bethune Part One desktop, Jan. 24, 2009, Brian Stewart 9:42

https://youtu.be/CTEYr8cd1us

2. Mary McLeod Bethune Part Two desktop, 9:46

https://youtu.be/-6zHh9U8ZYI

3. Mary McLeod Bethune Part Three desktop, 6:44

https://youtu.be/encR1RbFk3w

 

 

 

 

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Born in 1892 in a poor black community in Atlanta, Texas, Bessie Coleman was not encouraged to follow her dreams. At the time, colored*** children were not expected to finish school, let alone have the ambition to fly. But nothing could stop Bessie. She worked hard and became the first woman of color to obtain an international flying license. She would go on to become famous nationally for her feats in an airplane as well as her fierce determination and integrity.

Bessie had to work to have the money to go to school. When her funds ran out she moved to Chicago to join her brothers in 1915. Her brother fought in WWI and returned home with stories of French female pilots. Bessie was intrigued and tried to enroll in pilot school. No one would take a black woman as a student.

She saved her money and took French classes. With the help of Robert Abbott, publisher of the most famous African-American newspaper in the United States, Bessie went to France. She was accepted at one of the country’s top flight schools. Though she was the only black woman in her class, she was determined to succeed.

Bessie knew that flying was dangerous. She saw planes crash, but that didn’t stop her. On June 15, 1921, Bessie received her international pilot’s license. She flew in air shows all over Europe. Then Bessie returned to the United States.

She was sure she could find work as a pilot with her prestigious license but few people were willing to hire black females. Bessie went back to Europe for more training. She learned how to do stunt flying and daredevil feats that would become known as ‘barnstorming’. She became famous for her aerial maneuvers – multiple loops, spins, barrel rolls and dives across the sky. By the time Bessie returned to the United States in 1922 she was quite famous.

Bessie had her first air show in America on Labor Day, 1922. The following year she was hurt badly in a crash. The indomitable “Queen Bess” was flying again three months later. Also nicknamed ‘Brave Bess’, she continued to cause a sensation with her flying for the next five years.

Bessie wanted to do more than just amaze people with her flying ability. She wanted her life to show the world what women of color could do. Bessie traveled around the country lecturing audiences in churches, theaters and schools about flying. She showed films of her work to encourage colored people to follow their dreams.

Using her popularity as leverage, Bessie refused to appear in places where there was segregation. She insisted for example, that white and colored be allowed to use the same entrances to the shows. She insisted that the show promoters treat everyone the same. Bessie also wanted to open a flight school for colored people.

Bessie’s story ended tragically and much too soon. In 1926, only 34 years of age, Bessie and another pilot, William D. Wills were flying to Orlando, Florida to attend an air show when Williams lost control of the plane. Bessie had unbuckled her belt so she could scout the area better and she fell to her death from 3500 feet in the air. Wills was also killed as the plane crashed.

Over 10,000 people came to pay their respects at Bessie’s funeral in Chicago. Black pilots from the Chicago area instituted an annual fly over of her grave on the anniversary of her death, April 30. This year’s flyover, 2017, will be the 38th.

In 1929 William J. Powell founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Club. In 1977 the Bessie Coleman Aviators Club was founded. Bessie is remembered as a woman who persevered against great odds to fulfill her dream. She is a great role model for young people to follow their dreams.

***At the time, black people were referred to as ‘colored’. The term ‘African-American’ did not come into being until a few decades later.

You can see some wonderful pictures of Bessie on the following YouTube sites:

1.Bessie Coleman on youtube.com

https://youtu.be/HPmMHuO5XSY

2. Bessie Coleman – An American Hero ( many great pictures! )

https://youtu.be/jYYy-dT4498

The YouTube site below has some video of that period of time showing some aerial stunts:

Bessie Coleman – Smithsonian Channel   VIDEO – “The First Female African American Pilot”

https://youtu.be/wckEiKzCBqc

A great little book, written for young readers is:

Bessie Coleman: Trailblazing Pilot, from Scholastic, Inc., Rookie Biographies Series, 2016. Written by Carol Alexander.

 

 

 

 

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OUR PEOPLE: The remarkable story of William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army

William Booth started out as a traveling evangelist. The Booths were very poor and seldom had a home of their own. Then one night as William was coming home from a meeting he passed the doors of a gin palace in East London. This was the part of London where unfortunate people lived – alcoholics, criminals, and prostitutes. William had been preaching in places like West London, where upper class people lived – people who could put enough money in the hat when it was passed to put at least some food on the table at the Booth household.

 

On that fateful night, William thought he heard an urgent voice speaking to him, a voice that would ask a great sacrifice from him and Catherine. The voice asked, “Where can you go and find such heathen as these, and where is there so great a need for your labours?” William knew the answer, “These will be our people.”

Catherine believed that they should answer this call, though she knew that they would never be able to ask the East-Enders for money as they had been able to before from their “respectable” audiences. This was huge step of faith and William and Catherine trusted the Lord to take care of them.

For William and Catherine their work was all about the glory of God and the salvation of souls. And so the little Whitechapel mission would turn into the Christian Mission and eventually into what we know today as the Salvation Army.

The video: OUR PEOPLE: The remarkable story of William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army, tells the story of how William and Catherine Booth took God’s love to the poor. This is a very inspirational documentary.

It is not a live action production. The story is told using over 500 images and interviews with 11 historians and storytellers. The many beautiful pictures of 1800’s London makes the story very interesting. There is beautiful background music of familiar hymns. There are live interviews with two of the Booths’ grandchildren.

I really appreciated the account of the now forgotten social work of William and Catherine Booth. Today ‘human trafficking’ is much talked about. Many do not realize however that girls as young as 13 years of age were being trafficked in Britain in the 1800’s because the age of consent was 13. The Booths and Catherine’s friend Josephine Butler worked for many years to get the age of consent raised even to 16. William and Catherine rescued 100’s of young girls and women out of prostitution. They opened homes for them and helped them get other employment. The ‘Army’ was to make caring for the poor their main ministry even to this day.

There is so much more and I think you will really be blessed when you watch this video. It is easily found on the internet. It also features some bonus material – interviews with historians.

Remember how much good those cheerful bell ringers have done over the last 150 years when you see them next Christmas!!!

 

 

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Nearly 500 years ago, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. This began the start of the period in Church History known as the Reformation.

In honor of this anniversary, many books on Luther and Calvin and other Reformers are hitting the bookshelves this year. But did you know that these great men had wives? Yes, and both men would thank God publicly for the blessing of their wives. The video I recommend this week will tell the story of one of the humblest, yet loved women of the Reformation.

This month is Women in History month. Many women have come to love the story of Katherine Luther as an example of courage and the meaning of the sacredness of everyday living. I highly recommend a video that documents Katie’s life from early childhood until her untimely death. The video – “The Morning Star of Wittenberg: The Life of Katie Luther” – was produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is distributed by Vision Video. (easily found on the internet)

It was often thought that only vocations in the church were sacred – being a priest or a nun. But Martin and Katie became heroes of everyday people when they showed the holiness and godliness of a beautiful, loving marriage and home life. Today many pastor’s wives model their lives after Katherine von Bora Luther.

 

 

This video features the insights of Dr. Kirsi Stjerna, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and author of “Women and the Reformation”.

 

 

German theologian Dr. Martin Treu, Curator of the Luther Museum in Wittenberg, gives us interesting historical background to the places and events in Katie’s life. The production is beautifully done and the story leaves you wanting to hear more about Katherine. I would suggest Dr. Stjerna’ book.

 

Katherine contributed much to her husband’s ministry.  She certainly helped with his understanding of marriage, love, and family life. By doing this, she contributed much to the spread of the Gospel. She modeled the ideal Christian woman.  By being a Proverbs 31 woman, her husband’s ministry was expanded further. Because she could manage everything on the home front, including the Black Cloister, Luther was able to be away on long journeys, preaching and teaching, knowing that he could come home to a restful, well-ordered, spiritually invigorating home – even one that had some of the best beer around!!

 

Katherine loved Christ. She lived her life to the fullest. She showed us how to live the Christian life in our marriages, families, and communities. It takes a lot of courage to face the daily mundane tasks of cooking, cleaning, and mending. As we contemplate on the life of Katherine von Bora Luther, I hope it will give us renewed strength to find joy in whatever calling God has given us.

 

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This week I would like to recommend a beautifully done video:

“Francis & Clare of Assisi”

It is an ‘Oriente Occidente Production’ distributed by Vision Video.  You can find it easily on the web. It is 30 minutes long.

This video is not a re-enactment. Instead it relates the story of Francis and Clare of Assisi through narration. The photography is beautiful! The producers take you to the places that were frequented by Clare and Francis. The music is original and fits the medieval times. I especially loved all of the visuals of the medieval art. You will find it warm and inspiring.

 

 

Francis of Assisi turned away a wealthy inheritance and went to live among the poor. He took a vow of poverty. He also strove to reform the church. He and his followers spent their time caring for the poor and sick. He believed that he was following more faithfully in Jesus’ footsteps. A time-honored saying that is attributed to him goes, “Preach the Gospel always, and if you must, use words.” His message of reform spread all across Europe and the East. St. Francis is still honored today for his example of love and care to even the lowest, most forgotten people.

Clare was a beautiful Italian woman born into nobility. Even as a young girl she was known for her piety and her kindness. A story is told that she used to hide the food from her plate so that she could later give it to the poor.

When she was sixteen years old, Clare heard Francis of Assisi preach. She had been promised in marriage to a wealthy man but she refused a life of ease. Instead she put on sackcloth and went out to care for the poor.

Other women began to follow Clare including her mother and sister. Francis of Assisi built a little cloister for them near the Church of St. Damian. In 1215 Clare founded the order of Poor Clares. They devoted themselves to prayer, penance and service. The Poor Clares also took vows of poverty and renounced property ownership.

Clare never left her cloister but did maintain her friendship with Francis of Assisi and many others. In spite of being bedridden for the last twenty-eight years of her life (probably due to severe fasting) her influence was great. She and the group of women serving with her were responsible for extending the reforms started by St. Francis to the church and to society.

The Poor Clares spread beyond Assisi to other towns in Italy, England, France, Germany, and Bohemia. Today the Poor Clares number over 20,000 sisters in 70 countries.

Clare died on August 11, 1253 of natural causes. In 1255 Clare was canonized as St. Clare by Pope Alexander IV.

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“Don’t be afraid, because a kind providence is watching over you, and – you’ll see – everything will work out in the end.”     St. Josephine Bakhita

st-josephine-bakhitaSlavery is supposed to have been abolished, but today, millions around the world are enslaved, victims of human trafficking. Traffickers prey on the helpless, most often women and children. Even poor men are used and exploited for the benefit and gain of others, and some spend their entire lives never knowing the basic human freedoms that we so often take for granted.

Our story this week is about a woman who was trafficked as a child – St. Josephine Bakhita. God brought this daughter through many trials and her story of courage and grace is very inspirational.

“My family lived in the middle of Africa…” Josephine knew precisely where she was born though not exactly when. Due to the years of torture she endured “Bakhita” did not remember her original name either. However, she always held in loving memory her home in a village called Al-Qoz in Darfur. The name means ‘Sandy Hill’ and it is at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.[1]

Her father was a landowner overseeing a large staff of field laborers and herdsmen, and the village head man was her uncle. Her family was well-off, but most importantly, they were loving and close. Josephine recalls, “It was made up of father, mother, three brothers and three sisters, plus four others whom I never knew because they died before I was born. I had a twin sister; I’ve no idea what became of her or of any of them, after I was stolen. I was as happy as could be, and didn’t know the meaning of sorrow.”

Josephine’s story shows one of the most tragic things about human trafficking: the way it also destroys families. One day when she went out to play with a friend, Josephine was suddenly kidnapped by Arab slave traders. She was about 9 years old.

For the next 12 years Josephine would be bought and resold many times. One slaver gave her the name ‘Bakhita’. It means ‘Lucky’ and was a very common name for slaves. Lucky for the slave owners, but not for Josephine. She and another girl attempted to escape one time. How she longed to find her way home. But Bakhita was quickly found and brought back. The slaver eventually brought them to a market for sale.

Her treatment as a slave varied from one owner to the next. Her first owner was a wealthy Arab who gave her to his daughters as a maid. This went fairly well considering the circumstances until she angered the owner’s son. “He immediately seized a whip to flog me. I fled into the other room to hide behind his sisters. I should never have done that! He flew into a rage, dragged me out of there, flung me on the ground and with the whip and with his foot gave me so, so many blows. Finally, a kick to my left side made me lose consciousness. The slaves had to carry me to my sleeping mat, where I lay for over a month.”

When Bakhita recovered she was put to other temporary work and then resold. Worse torture was still in store for her. A Turkish general bought her. His wife ordered her to be scarred. It was a custom of that culture for slaves to show honor to their masters by wearing tattoos. These were given in a very cruel way. Indeed, Josephine Bakhita would eventually suffer a total of 114 scars from this abuse.

She remembered, “A woman expert in this cruel art arrived. She took us to the porch, while the mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour fetched, and another of salt, and a razor. She ordered the first one (of three girls. Josephine’s turn was last.) to lie down on the ground and two of the strongest slaves to hold her, one by the arms and the other by the legs. Then she bent over the poor girl and, using the flour, began to trace on her belly about sixty fine marks. I stood there, watching everything, knowing that afterwards they were going to perform the same torture on me. Once the marks were completed the woman took the razor and swish, swish, sliced along each mark she’d traced, while the poor girl groaned, and blood welled up from each cut. When this operation was finished she took the salt and rubbed it as hard as she could over each wound, so that it would go in and enlarge the cut, and keep the edges open. The agony and torment! The victim was writhing in pain, and I was shaking in anticipation.”

When her turn came, Bakhita received cuts on her chest, belly, and right arm. She kept thinking, “’This is it: I’m going to die,’ especially when she rubbed the salt into me.” She and the other two girls were left on mats, unable to move for over a month.

Later Bakhita was sold to the Italian Vice Consul, Calisto Legnani, who proved to be a kinder master. When he decided to return to Italy, Bakhita begged him to take her along. He agreed and when they got to Italy she was given to another family. There she served as a nanny.

Her new mistress wanted to travel to be with her husband and left her child, Mimmina, and Bakhita in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There Mimmina could get some education while her mother traveled. While they were there, Bakhita learned about God.

Josephine later said that she had always known about the God Who created all things, but did not know Who He was. The Sisters answered all of her questions and Bakhita made a decision to follow Christ. She desired to remain at the convent when her mistress returned.

Her mistress tried to talk her out of it and Josephine admitted that she would really miss Mimmina, but she believed that her decision was a call from Christ. The sisters believed it too and tried to make a way for her to stay.

The case went to court, and thankfully, it was discovered that slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before Josephine was born. Therefore, she could not lawfully be made a slave. Now Josephine was free to live her own life. She chose to remain with the Canossian Sisters.

She was baptized on January 9, 1890 and took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata. Fortunata is the Latin translation for the Arabic ‘Bakhita’.

Josephine became a novice and then eventually took her final vows on December 8, 1896 with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. She was assigned to a convent in Schio, Vicenza. For the next 42 years of her life Josephine served as a doorkeeper and cook at the convent. She also traveled and spoke. She helped many nuns who were training to be missionaries in Africa.

Josephine was kind to children and was known to have surreptitiously lifted her sleeve to show mother_bakhitathem her scars. At first the Italian children were in awe of her because they did not see many black sisters, but they soon grew to love her and call her ‘Black Mother’.

Gentle and quiet with a ready smile she became known affectionately as the “little brown sister”. After some years she was honored with the title “Black Mother”. When people would ask her story and then offer sympathy, Josephine would sometimes say that she should thank her kidnappers. Though God brought her to Himself in such a difficult way she was thankful for Jesus Christ. She told others that they should serve and love God no matter what. Her words really carried some weight!!

Josephine lived through two world wars and many other trials but always remained firm in the belief that God was watching over her. She was an encouragement to thousands and thousands throughout the rest of her life.

Josephine went to be with her Savior on February 8, 1947. Josephine is the patron saint of Sudan.

 

 

[1] All quotes from the booklet by Jean Olwen Maynard, “Josephine Bakhita: A survivor of Human Trafficking”, Catholic Truth Society, 2015.

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