Posts Tagged ‘civil rights’

Catherine of Siena

(1347-1380)

Italian Saint, mystic, activist

Like many female saints, Catherine of Siena had visions of the heavenly kingdom, but she was also influential in earthly ones. A consecrated virgin since the age of seven and a Dominican lay-affiliate at sixteen, Catherine began to see images of Christ, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory in her late teens. Many medieval women were inspired by visions to withdraw from the world, but not Catherine. Her visions first told her to aid the sick and poor, and then to enter the political arena. Catherine wrote many letters to powerful individuals, begging for peace between the divided territories of Italy and for the return of the papacy to Rome from its location in Avignon. She had a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI regarding the ladder, and was sent as the Florentine ambassador to make peace with the Papal States. Though the process failed, Catherine so impressed the Pope tht he agreed to return to Rome, ending the infamously corrupt Avignon Papacy. In addition to being canonized, Catherine became a patron saint of Europe and the first woman to be honored as a Doctor of the Church.

Florence Chadwick

(1919-1995)

Long-distance swimmer

Florence Chadwick swam the English Channel four times, making history each time. On August 8, 1950, she bested the record set by Gertrude Ederle (the first woman to swim across the channel), crossing from France to England in 13 hours, 20 minutes and managing an amazing sixty strokes per minute in the first part of the swim. “I lost five pounds during the crossing,” she told reporters, adding that it was “a good way to lose weight fast.” In 1951, Chadwick swam the more difficult England to France crossing in 16 hours, 22 minutes, becoming the first woman to complete the passage both ways. She would swim the English Channel the hard way two more times, setting records both times, and also successfully swim the Catalina Channel, the Dardanelles, the Bosporus, and the Straits of Gibraltar.

Versatile in the use of her talent, Chadwick was featured in the movie Bathing Beauty, taught and coached swimming, and encouraged young women to become athletes. When she retired from professional sports, she became a stockbroker and a business executive.

May Craig

(1889-1975)

Journalist

War correspondent, founding panelist on television’s Meet the Press, and iconic hat-wearer, May Craig spent nearly four decades as one of the most prominent personalities in the Washington, DC, press corps. Craig began reporting on the nation’s capital in the 1930s, and by the end of her career she had covered five presidential administrations. The little woman with the ostentatious hats was known for asking tough questions. Adlai Stevenson prepared for an appearance on Meet the Press with a written plea to Craig: “Please be merciful.” Craig advocated famously for a larger female presence within the male-dominated world of news, securing the installation of a women’s restroom in the congressional press gallery and becoming the first female correspondent allowed aboard a naval ship at sea. President Kennedy once quipped that the establishment of the Commission on the Status of Women was simply an effort to placate her. In 1962 Eleanor Roosevelt paid tribute to Craig in her “My Day” column: “No other lady of the press has waged a longer or more persistent battle for the rights of women than has May Craig.”

Ruth Elder

(1902-1977)

Aviator, Actress

When Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, Ruth Elder determined that she would be the first woman. Assailed by critics who felt the “gentler sex” was not fit to pilot a plane- one German newspaper called her plan “over-whelming presumptuousness” and “crazy sensationalism”- Elder and copilot George Haldeman nonetheless took off from Long Island on October 13, 1927, in the American Girl. They survived some 2,600 miles of stormy weather before the plane’s oil pressure failed and they were forced to land in the ocean 300 miles off the Portuguese coast. During their rescue, the American Girl went up in flames, inspiring a popular song of the times, “Flaming Ruth.” Although she did not reach her goal, Elder’s feat was celebrated; a ticker-tape parade awaited her in New York. The publicity also garnered her the lead in the 1928 silent movie Moran of the Marines. Elder continued to fly, participating in air races and joining a group of licensed female flyers, the Ninety-Nines, who proved that women in aviation were here to stay.

Myrlie Evers-Williams

(b. 1933)

Civil Rights Activist

“You can kill a man but you can’t kill an idea,” said Myrlie Evers-Williams, a tireless advocate for civil rights both before and after her first husband, Medgar Evers, was assassinated in 1963. Medgar had been Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Myrlie was his secretary. Together they worked for an end to segregation in the southern United States. After Medgar’s murder, two trials against his killer, Byron de la Beckwith, ended in hung juries, but Myrlie’s persistence persuaded Mississippi state attorneys to reopen the case nearly thirty years later; Beckwith was finally convicted in 1994. Evers-Williams also forged her own identity, notably as the first African American woman to serve on the Los Angeles Board of Public Works. From 1995 to 1998 she served as the NAACP’s board chair-person- the first woman to hold that position. “I…battled mightily to preserve Medgar’s memory,” she wrote in a 1999 memoir, “and, at the same time, to be seen as myself, as Myrlie- as a woman and not simply as ‘the widow of.'”

Trixie Friganza

(1870-1955)

Actress, Suffragist

As a young girl, Cincinnati-native Delia O’ Callaghan, known to her friends as Trixie, worked as a cashier to help support her family. Convinced she could be a breadwinner in a more compelling career, she successfully auditioned for a chorus role in The Pearl of Pekin in 1889, adopting her mother’s maiden name, Friganza. An enthusiastic and gifted thespian, she progressed from the chorus to feature roles and was best loved for her musical comedies and vaudeville acts. Friganza was famous for her crowd-pleasing comic styling, which often centered on her portly, “perfect forty-six” figure and turbulent love stories. Although she poked fun at herself onstage, she was considered by her contemporaries to be a self-assured and confident woman. She used her celebrity to champion social issues, such as women’s suffrage and access to art for the economically depressed. Shown in this 1908 photograph, when she spoke at a suffrage rally in New York City, Friganza proclaimed, “I do not believe any man- at least no man I know- is better fitted to form a political opinion than I am.”

Source: Women Who Dare, from the Library of Congress

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