Triangle Mill Sisters: hostel life for West Yorkshire textile workers 1920 to 1970

 - by whnadmin

Cotton and wool processing mills were abundant in the beautiful Calder valley in the last century. The demand for women’s low paid labour was so great that employers recruited from all over the UK and often housed relocated workers in special hostels. This collective out-of-hours life is an unexplored aspect of British industrial history. The Triangle Mill Sisters exhibition is the first time, seemingly, that hostel women’s personal experiences have been revealed.

William Morris and Sons had a worsted wool fibre processing factory (demolished in 1987) at Triangle, next to the mill owner’s house, Stansfield Grange. In 1921 the Morris family vacated their home to create a hostel for 100 women to service their factories at Triangle and Sowerby Bridge.

‘We shared everything.’ says Vera F. ‘We were sisters, not friends – sisters.’ Many married and settled locally. Hundreds became godparents and ‘aunties’ to each others’ children and remained life-long friends.


Forty ex-hostel women attending the exhibition’s opening event

Ruth Beazley photographer


BBC ‘Look North’ cameras filming the opening lunch party

Ruth Beazley photographer

I conceived the twenty-six-panel exhibition three years ago when Ted Fenton of Sowerby Bridge happened to show me 200 photographs he had collected informally. Ted was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and had access to the hostel while he was courting one of the hostel women, whom he subsequently married in the 1950s. I subsequently used many of these images in my multimedia art work. Inspired by story fragments, I then undertook seven oral interviews and further archive research to find voices of women for each decade of the fifty-year period.

The exhibition generated a lot of interest and a range of funding and support from bodies such as the Community Foundation for Calderdale, Accent Housing Group (who now own the ex-hostel) and Calderdale libraries. Audiences of many hundreds have attended the touring exhibition and slide show. The exhibition is currently circulating Calderdale libraries and slide show talks are being presented to local organisations such as the Ripponden History Society and Halifax Rotary club.

Morris’s mills managers targeted the north east of England to recruit their workers. Out-of-work coal mining families needed income and Morris’s needed ‘hands’. Anxious parents felt happier if their daughters, some as young as fourteen years old, were looked after in a safe ‘home-from-home’, and mill owners could control their labour force better if they were housed in an attractive well-supported community.


TriangleSisters4 (3)

Hostel women posing for studio portrait photos. These were exchanged as Christmas gifts

Ruth Beazley photographer 

Two types of photos narrate the stories. To demonstrate their new-found independence many young women had their portraits taken at Gledhill’s photographic studio in Halifax. These images, carefully staged, represent the economic migrants as composed fashionable and successful young women. In contrast, dozens of informal snapshots, mostly taken by Ted and the subjects themselves, offer a less guarded picture. These show vividly the women’s exuberance and energy, sunbathing in the gardens, on holiday at Butlins, Filey and Blackpool, taking part in charity events, dancing and drinking in local milk-bars and dance halls, and getting married.

TriangleSisters5 (3)

TriangleSisters6 (3)

Hostel women enjoying their leisure c1950

Ruth Beazley photographer

In popular memory now Morris’s hostel was full of music, song and dance. Jean S sang at a local club on Friday nights. And, in 1940s, the young women put on a variety act which went round mills in Bingley and Bradford. Vera F wrote poems and Mary M did the sewing. She described one dress, inspired by Seven Brides for Seven Brothers that ‘everybody [who could get into it] wore.’ For the exhibition I used recycled materials, as in the original, to reproduce the dress.

Like nurses in a nurse’s home, many of the hostel women were the object of class prejudice, sexual disapproval, scandal stories and rivalry. Local peoples’ stories augment the women’s own versions of themselves in the exhibition panels.



Hostel women working in Morris’ s Mill c 1950

Ruth Beazley photographer 

The ‘sisters’ grapevine sprang into action last year. Those who contributed delighted in a sunny lunch party on their old lawn. And forty more ‘sisters’ attended the opening event and tea party. There they told their stories again and again and were feted by hundreds of local people who still remember ‘the hostel girls’.

Triangle Mill Sisters, the exhibition, is displayed at Elland library, West Yorkshire, until the end of May 2015. It will go to other Calderdale venues such as Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden later in the year.

Venues wishing to enquire about the exhibition should contact 01422 823110 A web-based resource is projected.



Two digital prints merging images of hostel women from the past

into present day ex-industrial settings

Ruth Beazley photographer

Ruth Beazley (c) May 2015

Ruth Beazley is an artist and reminiscence collector living in a small Pennine village near Halifax. Her most recent exhibition describes the life of mill workers who lived in a women’s hostel at Triangle, Sowerby Bridge, during the final 50 years of the woollen textile industry in West Yorkshire.

10 people like this post.

WALKING WITH WOMEN – Aberdeen’s Women’s Trail …

 - by whnadmin



In 2011,  GirlGuiding Scotland set up The Big Name Hunt.  This was a year long project for girls to find memorials to women in their area, research them, and post them onto a website.  At the end of the year, the website was taken over by Glasgow Women’s Library in conjunction with Women’s History Scotland, with the continued support of GirlGuiding Scotland.

The website – Mapping Memorials to Women ( )  – has gone from strength to strength. Over five hundred memorials have been mapped to date, with new additions appearing regularly.

In February 2013, at the request of Aberdeen Women’s Alliance, Glasgow Women’s Library held an outreach meeting in Aberdeen’s Central Library to encourage more people to add to the site. All those present were enthusiastic, but the Women’s Alliance noticed that few memorials had been added as a result of the workshop.  They contacted the attendees and discovered a lack of confidence about researching memorials and the women they commemorate. As a result, a series of events was organised, introducing women to the City Council archives, Aberdeen University archives and the local studies section of Central Library. For many of those attending, this was their first visit to e.g. the University library, or the first time they had met an archivist.

From this evolved the idea of presenting research to the public in the form of a Trail.  Glasgow Women’s Library, which has produced several Women’s Trails, gave invaluable advice. Aberdeen City Council provided funding.

The first difficulty soon became apparent – Aberdeen had produced far more interesting women than could be included in a single Trail!  The decision was made to concentrate on a small area in central Aberdeen.  Other issues, such as access to toilets and accessibility for wheelchair users, had to be addressed.   A route was chosen, starting and finishing at the Town House.  The route included the historic Castlegate area.

Aberdeen Town House (accessed 17 April 2015)


Trail leaflets were produced and distributed round libraries and other public buildings.

After several practice walks, to finalise timings, the Trail was launched on International Women’s Day, 8th March 2014. For the first walk, costumes were hired and the volunteer Guides wore a variety of outfits. Since then, some of the volunteers have created their own costumes, which may be worn if requested.

The group led walks through the summer, with appreciative audiences. The walks were free of charge, but tickets had to be booked through Eventbrite, in order to ensure that numbers remained manageable.  Health and Safety was always paramount.  An arrangement was made with  Shopmobility Aberdeen,  to provide wheelchairs and other mobility aids, if requested in advance.

The Trail has twelve stops.  As more than one woman is connected to some stops, twenty one women are included.  These women’s lives span over four hundred years, although the majority died in the twentieth century.  Within the Trail it became apparent that there were themes, such as health and civic life.  At the site of the former Children’s Hospital (stop Four) four women are commemorated:  Clementina Esslemont who founded the Aberdeen Mother and Child Welfare Association in 1909, Fenella Paton who founded the first birth control clinic in Aberdeen in 1926,  Dr Agnes Thompson who pioneered services to children and Dr Mary Esslemont (Clementina’s daughter)  who worked, inter alia, as a gynaecologist at the hospital.  Pioneering speech therapist Catherine Hollingsworth’s story is told at stop Six.  At the site of the former General Dispensary (stop Eleven), Maggie Myles, author of  a Textbook for Midwives, which has been in print continuously since 1953, is commemorated.

Civic life (stops One, Five and Twelve) includes two C17th benefactors, Lady Rothiemay and Lady Drum, who founded a school for girls, and a home for “aged virgins” respectively, Hilda Wernham, pioneered “wet” shelters for homeless people who were unable to access night shelters if they presented themselves while drunk.  Isabella Fyvie Mayo (the first woman to hold an elected post in Aberdeen), Isabella Burgess( Aberdeen’s first female councillor) Margaret Farquhar (First female Lord Provost) and Margaret Smith (first female leader of the Council). The last two women are still alive and both attended the launch of the Trail.

Dancing with the Devil (accessed 15 April 2015)

Other stops include the site where witches were accused of dancing with the devil in the late C16th,  as a result of which Janet Wishart was burned in 1597, and other witches were strangled then burned (stop Three).  The spot at which the last woman to be publicly hanged in Aberdeen, Katherine Humphry, met her end in 1830 is stop Two.   The site of the now-demolished hotel where the Female Chartists met between 1839 and 1841 is stop Eight.

However, we realised that the majority of the women on the trail had one thing in common – they recognised a problem, and they worked to solve it.  In every case, solving the problem was more important than their own self-aggrandisement, which may partially explain why most of these women have been forgotten.

Some of those going on the walks were able to add to our knowledge of the women, for example we were delighted to have Dr Agnes Thompson’s niece on one walk. Several women recollected Annie Inglis children’s classes, and some older walkers recollected Miss Moffat and Miss Walker, who founded the St Catherine’s Club (stop Seven). Many women were familiar with Myles Textbook for Midwives, but had no idea the author had been born and brought up in Aberdeen.

Most of those involved in the creation of the Trail had no previous experience of, or involvement in, Women’s History.  Instead, the project grew organically from the initial outreach workshop by Glasgow Women’s Library.  Future projects are now planned, to further develop Women’s History at grassroots level in Aberdeen.

 Alison McCall (c) April 2015

Alison McCall is a member of WHS (originally Scottish Women’s History Network), attending her first conference, Gender, Families and Relationships in Scotland in November 2002.  Her major academic interest is in women with careers in Victorian Scotland.  Most of the women she has studied have been teachers, a profession replete with a plentiful and rich variety of original source material. She also has an historical interest in nurses, clerks, journalists and translators. A side interest is in the life and work of poet and translator Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle (1863-1933), a trained teacher and probably Scotland’s best Victorian lesbian poet. Please get in touch if you’d like to read some of her poems.

See: Alison McCall, Guest Blogger, (accessed 15 April 2015)

On Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle see: ‘LGBT History Month – Elizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle (1863-1933), (accessed 15 April 2015)

In The Morning
Love, I am here.
Wild words passed yesterday ‘twixt me and you,
My careless hands wrought the deep wrong I rue,
You swore I should repent it.  Was it true?
Close, come more near.
Shuddering and white?
Why?  Let your lips press close and warm to mine.
Ah, sweetheart! has my beauty lost its shine?
Was not this woman pledged for ever thine
Who died last night?
So.  Turn away.
We did not think to meet again like this.
A lover’s quarrel should end in after-bliss:
Last night our lips were hungering for a kiss,
Give it today!
Eizabeth (Bessie) Craigmyle

9 people like this post.

Courtship and Communication – Early American History vs Today

 - by whnadmin


Phone calls, texting, emails, and social media. Today’s technology has made communication almost instantaneous, thus greatly impacting the way relationships are formed.

In early colonial America, the only way to reach someone distant was to write letters. We would have to wait days or even weeks to receive a reply and hope our letters even made it to their doorstep. To some people today this method may seem antiquated, but are there some benefits to hand-written letters we no longer experience today?

John and Abigail Adams are known to have written numerous letters back and forth long before they were married. Luckily, many of those letters have survived today and we can gain an inside look into their courtship and how letters played a huge role in their relationship.

Letter writing was seen to be an important daily task in early American history and many, including John Adams, actually found it pleasurable. However, John Adams found writing to his beloved to be the most rewarding part of his day.

He states in one of his letters to Abigail, “Now Letter-Writing is, to me, the most agreeable Amusement: and Writing to you the most entertaining and agreeable of all Letter-Writing.”

In today’s society, one could argue that although we greatly appreciate every text or email received by someone with whom we are romantically involved, we do it with such quick mindlessness that it doesn’t hold as much value as a hand-written letter that took hours to write. Thorough these long letters, both men and women could tell how much thought and effort went into each one and appreciate, not only the long-awaited arrival of such a message, but the person who sent it as well.

Thoughtfulness is not the only benefit to hand-written letters. Many women of that period felt that letters were a way to express themselves without the fear of being judged and criticized by their neighbors.

Abigail Adams wrote in one of her letters to John, “My pen is always freer than my tongue. I have wrote many things to you that I suppose I never could have talk’d.”

Letters gave the women the confidence to openly speak their mind and form a more genuine connection with their significant other. Although today’s forms of communication also provide women with that opportunity, in early American society, this chance was much more treasured and desired.

Regardless of the form of communication, relationships have all been molded around the way we reach each other. Today’s technology allows us to instantly reach one another so relationships can build more rapidly, but when we take a moment to look back on the art of hand-written letters, we see that although old-fashioned, it may be worth giving a chance.

Jessica Bourke (c) April 2015

Jessica Bourke is a junior at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL. As a part of her history seminar, she is writing short pieces on Martha Washington’s and Abigail Adams’ handwritten letters. This blog is one of those written for her history seminar.

Images of letter writing from (accessed 17 April 2015)

Images of Abigail Adams from (accessed 17 April 2015)

16 people like this post.

Writing Fairy Tales for Australia: Beatrice Wilcken (c. late 1830s/early 40s-1910)

 - by whnadmin

AND why not fairies in Australia? Why should not our innumerable ferny glades, romantic valleys, mountainous passes, and lonesome glens, be peopled with fays and elves? Why should not Robin Goodfellow be found sitting jauntily astride the gorgeous waratah, or chasing the laughing jackass from its favourite bough? But all in good time. In the generations yet to come, unless the State schools make the little ones too learned, we shall have Australian fairy tales, stories in which goblin, kangaroos and emus, graceful sprites, and bearded magicians, will be found on every Fairyland in Australia.

Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier, 18 December 1880, p. 3


In early Australian children’s literature the appropriation of old-world fairies and their adaption to the new and unique landscape in fairy tales began with a small group of writers in the 1870s, of whom Beatrice Wilcken was one. With the exception of Ethel Pedley who wrote Australia’s first animal fantasy, Dot and the kangaroo (1899), that became an Australian classic and is still in print today, the early fairy tales (1870-1910) remain largely unknown. Of the men and women who wrote the first Australian fairy tales, many like Gumsucker (Charlotte Rowland), Desda (Jane Davies), Olga Ernst and Beatrice Wilcken published only one book. While single copies of their books were once confined to special collections, inaccessible to the general public, they are now available to a global audience through digitisation. The possibility exists for a new readership for those women writers who have been long forgotten.

Encapsulating aspects of the traditional fairy tale genre, the early Australian fairy tale writers, placed their tales in the Australian landscape, amid its distinctive flora and fauna, and transformed traditional motifs into an adaptation of old-world fairy tales that were unique to Australia. The adversaries of European fairy tales, wizards, witches, goblins and trolls managed to feel enough at home in the bush to create mischief and mayhem.  The ‘customised’ fairies adapted their magic to the Australian environment and understood the plights and challenges of a harsh and often unforgiving landscape intervening to assist the hapless hero at opportune moments. The adaptation of motifs, plots, literary references and the abundance of emigrant fairies that appeared in the emerging Australian fairy tale reflected the beliefs and principles generated by the social, political and historical contexts in which they were written.

Beatrice Wilcken (née Ivichich) was born in the late 1830s or early 1840s into minor?Austro-Hungarian aristocracy. A musician, she trained at the Hamburg Conservatoire remaining associated with this institution for five years and writing and performing her own compositions. Wilcken, with two sons, was widowed while still quite young. One son Anton settled in England while the other Ludolf migrated to Australia moving between the colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania due to business interests. Travelling extensively between England, Australia and New Zealand Wilcken’s income was supplemented by giving musical recitals and teaching piano wherever she was staying. Though there are appreciative reviews of the recitals and concerts she gave in the colonies it is her small book of fairy tales that is her most important legacy.

It is not surprising that Beatrice Wilcken chose to write fairy tales rather than the ‘Australian real-life in the bush’ tale that was prolific at the time. Although overshadowed by the success of Grimm’s Kinder-und Hausmärchen, German women had made a significant contribution to the fairy tale genre and over two hundred fairy tales collections by women were published in German-speaking countries in the nineteenth century. Wilcken’s fairy and mythological creatures are found settled easily in Australia, mainly located in the colony of New South Wales.

While the number of fairy tale books published between 1870 and 1900 were few, many fairy tales appeared in newspapers, often in children’s sections. Wilcken’s first fairy tale ‘The Fairy Cave’ was published in The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (29 March 1890, p. 703) re-appearing as ‘A Legend of the Fairy Caves in the Blue Mountains’ in her book Fairy Tales, Fables and Legends.

Wilcken suggested that she had been encouraged by her Tasmanian hosts to self-publish her fairy stories with a modesty that perhaps reflects the expectations of women writers at that time, and publication protocols of the era, than her character. Travelling unaccompanied to Australia and remembered as a ‘larger than life’ person who insisted her grandchildren address her as Madame Wilcken; a painting of Wilcken in later life portrays her as an imposing middle-aged woman dressed in jewels and finery. On her death her personal papers were found to contain many letters from important people in political and social life in England. However, the rhetoric of humility is captured in her dedication:

I have whiled away some happy leisure hours in writing these little stories. They were not originally intended for publication, but I have been strongly urged by many kind friends to have them printed. (Wilcken, 1891)  

The newly discovered Jenolan Caves[1] and the Blue Mountains formed the backdrop for many of her fairy tales as Wilcken creates literary ‘Origin’ stories to explain specific cave and mountain formations. It is her appreciation of the natural geography of the area and its influence on the characters that are drawn to it that is one of the most important features of her writing and infuses an Australian setting with which readers can identify.

Jenolan Caves – New South Wales (accessed 15 March 2015)

Within these locales Wilcken created fairy queens and sprites of traditional fairy beauty. Her tales are filled with romance and the tensions and consequences created by human men and their love of female fairy creatures. Wilcken speaks of the folly of love and her fairies are cautioned that ‘Men are a false race. They rush in at a moment’s pleasure and break the hearts of those who trust them’. In ‘The Jenolan Caves, N.S.W’, Wilcken’s hero discovers a traditional fairy, a ‘beautiful girl…her hair a mass of golden curls; her eyes of the deepest blue’.  Falling in love, ‘passionate thoughts overtake him and though the fairy does not reciprocate, when he steals a kiss she is turned to stone.  The consequences are a warning and a lesson to all maidens in the colony to be guarded and wary of men and their lust.

Like Wilcken most of the early Australian fairy tale writers (pre-Federation, 1901) wrote only one fairy tale book[2] but collectively the reclamation of their books allows an appreciation of their quest to ensure that ‘the merry children of the fair South may revel in dreams of their own Fairy Lore’ (Gumsucker, 1870, Rosalie’s Reward, preface), a scrutiny of the ideologies of the era, and their quiet contribution to early Australian children’s printed literature.

Robyn E. Floyd (c) March 2015

Access Wilcken’s fairy tales


Biography: Robyn E. Floyd is a Primary School Deputy Head. Robyn’s PhD thesis examines the creation of a bush identity in early Australian fairy tales. She is a Foundation Member of the Australian Fairy Tale Society.

The AFTS is a national not-for-profit society focused on collecting, preserving, discussing, sharing, and creating Australian fairy tales with the aim of encouraging academics, writers, artists, performers and enthusiasts from around the country to network and share all things fairy tale through a national website and annual conferences.

[1] In the 1880s, Jenolan began to emerge as a genuine tourist destination.

[2] Fairy tales, fables and legends by Beatrice Wilcken can be accessed online

All illustrations from (accessed 16 March 2015)

16 people like this post.

A Century of Feminist Foreign Policy – Looking Back for Help Today

 - by whnadmin



In April of 1915, in hopes of stopping World War One, 1,300 feminists from twelve countries representing both sides of the conflict held a historic summit at the Hague – raising their voices against the unbelievable carnage taking place at that moment 104 miles away in Ypres, Belgium.  After mourning the young men who had lost their lives on the battlefield, Dutch physician and key coordinator of the conference, Aletta Jacobs said, “we feel that we can no longer endure in this twentieth century of civilization that government should tolerate brute force as the only solution of international disputes.”

Out of this meeting the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, now celebrating it’s 100th Anniversary) was born – with a vision of holistic peacemaking through full rights for women, world disarmament, racial and economic justice, an end to all forms of violence, and the establishment of political, social, and psychological conditions which can assure peace, freedom, and justice for all. They immediately sent delegations of women to several countries to plead for an armistice and mediation, and their final resolutions are often credited with influencing Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points.

For a century, the women of WILPF have been actively influencing local and foreign policy and inspiring generation after generation of new feminists. WILPF’s first International President Jane Addams, who dedicated her life to fighting for women’s suffrage and world peace, was ultimately received by President Woodrow Wilson and became the first American woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 for her determination and global impact. Emily Greene Balch, WILPF’s first International Secretary, received the same prestigious award in 1946 in part for warning against fascism, and criticizing the western democracies for not attempting to stop Hitler’s and Mussolini’s aggressive policies.

Since those formative years, WILPF has organized dialogues between women in the Middle East, sent delegations of women to North and South Vietnam to oppose the Vietnam War, and worked closely with the UN nearly 15 years ago to establish the first women, peace and security resolution (UN Security Council Resolution 1325) to ensure women’s full participation in all conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction processes.

Today, the organization counts thousands of members in 36 countries, acting as a unique hub for not only women of different cultures, but also activists concerned with militarism, human trafficking, violence against women, the environment, and more. It is this union of diversity that creates WILPF’s unique perspective that holistically understands the causes of conflict and what’s needed for peace.

With the centennial celebration upon us, it’s time to shine a light on the exceptional collective efforts of the women of WILPF. Events will be taking place around the world, but the main centennial event will be held where it all began, at The Hague from April 27 – 29, 2015 with an international conference during which WILPF’s International global campaign, Women’s Power to Stop War, will be launched. Featured speakers include the following inspirational global leaders:

  • Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Laureate whose efforts in the Liberian peace movement helped end the war and enable a free election in 2005, won by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
  • Radhika Coomaraswamy, Lead Author of the UN Global Study on Women, Peace and Security who was previously the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. Watch her comments on WILPF’s 100 years of work, made during her keynote address ‘Women Confronting Isis; Local Strategies and States’ Responsibilities’.
  • Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of WILPF since 2010 who previously served as the Head of Office in Bosnia with the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights and later as the Head of Women’s Rights and Gender Unit of OHCHR.
  • Cynthia Enloe, a Professor and leading researcher in gender and international politics, interested particularly in the interactions of feminism, women, militarized culture, war, politics and globalized economics.

At The Hague event, WILPF members will also be presenting and voting upon an inspiring 16 page Manifesto, which declares:

“Violence is not inevitable. It is a choice. We choose nonviolence, as means and as end. We will liberate the strength of women and, in partnership with like-minded men, bring to birth a just and harmonious world. We will implement peace, which we believe to be a human right.”

Since WILPF’s inception, the world has experienced 224 wars. During that same timeframe, women won two important struggles for human rights. The first, of course, was the right to vote in 1920; the second, the right to reproductive freedom in 1972. Jacobs, and the group that formed out of the Hague conference insisted then, and we insist now, on a third human right —the right to be at the peace table; to be part of the decisions to make war or keep the peace.  Fewer than one in 40 of the signatories of major peace agreements since 1992 have been female, according to the UN development fund for women. This needs to change.

Today, there are 50 ongoing violent conflicts resulting in 50 million refugees around the world, and untold death and destruction. The international trade of lemons and toothbrushes is regulated, but not guns and other weapons. Would the adoption of more feminist foreign policy and an increase in women’s participation in peace negotiations put an end to arms and conflict? Probably not. But the point is not to end conflict, but to resolve it without recourse to military violence. The world is missing a powerful opportunity for creating sustainable peace when it turns to military solutions and restricts the participants at peace negotiations to the men with guns.

Now that there is such widespread dismay at the inability of the United Nations to protect people from violence, perhaps it is time to rediscover some of the visions for world government and world law nurtured by feminists and pacifists from the early part of the 20th century – to raise women’s awareness of themselves as an important force for de-militarizing international relations and achieving peace, stability and prosperity for all.

Mary Hansen Harrison (c) April 2015)

Mary Hansen Harrison is President of the U.S. Chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, celebrating its 100th anniversary in the month of April.


19 people like this post.

Throwing the First Punch for Battered Mothers

 - by whnadmin

OnLine Images, (accessed March 2015)

When investigating cases of domestic abuse in which custody of a child is given to the perpetrator rather than the victim, one may work towards 1.) understanding how the judges of these cases came to the conclusion that the victimized mother is less capable of parenting the child than is the abusive parent (think about how terrible and irrefutably unethical that conclusion sounds when worded slightly differently: the abusive parent is more capable of parenting the child than is the victimized parent) and 2.) being well aware of the negative consequences the child may suffer when given to the parent who has proven to be abusive. After thoroughly exploring the two aforementioned approaches, we would like to provide a call-to-action by imparting some current changes that provide hope to mothers who are abused and fighting what may seem like a hopeless battle for custody of their child.

To begin putting a stop to the previously described injustice towards abused mothers, we must try to understand the rationale behind a judge’s decision to grant child custody to an abusive parent. Judges are trained to be skeptical of abuse allegations during a divorce case. Some cases of child custody/domestic abuse are filed as “unfounded” meaning the allegations were investigated and discovered to be “based off of falsities”. Some of these “unfounded” cases are later learned to not have been investigated at all. Because cases are sometimes claimed as “unfounded” even though they have not even been investigated, judges believe that they were investigated and found to be “based off of falsities”. These judges lose compassion for the non-abusive parent which makes it a lot easier for them to find for the perpetrator without feeling guilty about denying the non-abusive, victimized parent seeking child custody. One may think that judges have no incentive to grant child custody to the abusive parent. It is sometimes alleged that if a judge is knowledgeable as to which law firms pay their lawyers well and the judge plans on changing their profession from judge to lawyer in the near future, they will have a motive to do whatever is necessary in order to stay on the well-paying law firm’s good graces. If the well-paying law firm is defending the perpetrator, the judge will grant child custody to the perpetrator whether or not they actually believe that this decision was proper and/or ethical (Moewe).

Aware of why judges may decide to grant custody to the child’s abusive parent, we can now become familiar with the negative consequences that the child must endure as a result of the judge’s decision. Jeffery Edleson stated in his article “Emerging Responses to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence” that “children exposed to domestic violence, when compared to non-exposed children, exhibit more aggressive and antisocial as well as fearful and inhibited behaviors, show lower social competence and have poorer academic performance.” Regarding emotional health, children who witness domestic violence scored similarly to children who were victims of physical abuse (Edleson).

The negative influence that witnessing domestic abuse imprints upon children is not temporary. Many studies and surveys have concluded that “there is an association, not causation, of exposure as a child and perpetration or victimization as an adult (Ortega). This association is supported by the claims of social learning theory (Edleson) which, simply put, say that children will behave according to how they have seen others behave. Also supporting the idea that witnessing domestic violence may lead to one engaging in domestic violence is research that has found that “men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and adult domestic violence as children were 3.8 times more likely than other men to have perpetrated domestic violence as adults (Edleson). Postmus and Ortega’s article “Serving Two Masters: When Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Overlap” provides some statistics that make it seem like witnessing domestic violence and engaging in it are heavily correlated.  In one study, “89% of the supervisors believed that children who witness abuse would themselves become abusers. Likewise, 89% of the supervisors believed that children who witness domestic violence would become victims of intimate partner violence” (Ortega).

Now that the negative consequences of granting custody to the child’s abusive parent have been discussed, lets investigate the flip side of the situation and see what positive consequences may arise from granting custody to the victimized mother of the child. Edleson mentions that “battered mothers appear to experience significantly greater levels of stress than non-battered mothers. This stress does not always translate into diminished parenting.” In fact, many battered mothers are “compensating for the violence by becoming more effective parents” (Edleson). In addition to the non-abusive mothers of the children who have witnessed domestic abuse, protective adults such as “relatives, neighbors, and teachers, older siblings and friends may all play protective roles in a child’s life” (Edleson). The more sources of positive parenting and caretaking a child’s environment includes, the fewer lasting effects of witnessing domestic violence the child’s going to endure (Edleson).

We’ve talked about the advantages of granting child custody to the non-abusive parent, the disadvantages of giving the child to the abusive parent, and the reasons why judges may decide to grant custody to the perpetrator. There are modern advances in the judicial system that give abused mothers fighting for child custody a reason to believe that change is coming. In 2004, the State of Wisconsin’s Legislature passed a law that “instructs judges to make domestic violence their top priority by stating that ‘if the courts find that a parent has engaged in a pattern or serious incident of interspousal battery, or domestic abuse, the safety and well-being of the child and the safety of the parent who was the victim of the battery or abuse shall be the paramount concerns in determining legal custody and periods of physical placement” (Edleson). Another case that provides hope to mothers who have been the victim of domestic violence occurred in New York: the child protective agency of the city of New York was discovered to have “unconstitutionally removed children from the custody of their non-abusive battered mothers after substantiating mothers for engaging in domestic violence” (Edleson). Although this may not seem like hopeful news in itself, the fact that this injustice was revealed is a step in the right direction.

It seems like awareness of child custody being granted to an abusive parent is spreading, and people are being proactive in putting an end to such cases. However, one instance of such a case is one too many. We as an audience, as thinkers, as knowers, as people fueled by passion for justice can’t stop fighting for these abused mothers until they are treated in a way that can only be described as “fair,” the term towards which we strive.

 Ofelia Torres, Jasmine Harris and Kristie Robinson (c) March 2015)

 Ofelia Torres


Jasmine Harris


Kristie Robinson


Works Cited

Edleson, Jeffrey L. Emerging Responses to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence.

October 2006. PDF File.

Moewe, M. C. “Judge: I Gave a Child Molester Custody of His Daughter.” Stop Abuse    

Campaign. N.p., 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Ortega, Debora. Postmus, Judy L. “Serving Two Masters: When Domestic Violence

and Child Abuse Overlap”.  Families in Society. 2005. PDF File.  

17 people like this post.

Discrimination – A Coat of Many Colors

 - by whnadmin

March is Women’s History Month. In honor and celebration of Women it is important for us to stop and recognize all the freedoms we take for granted. Once upon a time women were nothing more than chattel to be owned, sold, and traded. Since then women have had to fight and negotiate for every privilege taken for granted by white men. Similarly, not all women of all classes, all races, and all orientations have been granted these rights equally. With that in mind, let us look at what we have accomplished and what we still need to accomplish.

Revolutinary Life Black Panther Women Tribute

Revolutionary Life: Black Panther Women Tribute (n.d.) from

In 1976 five African American women took General Motors to court. General Motor’s “last hired-first fired” policy led to the termination of all but one female African American employee. These women looked around and realized that this was not a company-wide hit, it was not even a significant hit for African Americans within the company; this large lay-off was a devastating blow for female African Americans. These women sought to sue General Motors (GM) not for discrimination against females nor discrimination against African Americans, but discrimination against female African Americans. This sort of discrimination has been coined sex-plus discrimination because they identified as women plus African American.

Unfortunately, as the law stood at the time and still in most cases today, discrimination may only call for action in instances of “race discrimination, sex discrimination, or alternatively either, but not a combination of both.”  With that being said, it was up to these women and their legal counsel to identify either discrimination of African Americans or discrimination of women within GM’s “last hired-first fired” system. GM was able to provide evidence of hiring white women, even years prior to the enactment of the Civil Rights Acts, which countered their claim for sex discrimination. According to the courts, the race of the women hired and promoted within the company was not of importance-only that GM was not discriminating against women as a whole. Similarly, GM was not found to be guilty of racial discrimination because they could provide evidence of hiring and promoting African American males. In order to claim sex and race discrimination, the courts would have had to recognize a new minority classification, African American females. The court opposed the creation of any new classifications proposing that, “the creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, [would] clearly raise[*] the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora’s box.” If the women had been able to show that they had been victims of discrimination because they were black or because they were women they would have had a case, but because GM was not discriminatory against white women nor black men, the women had no legal case.

Because society largely refuses to acknowledge the multiple facets of one person’s identity, these women’s efforts went unrecognized and unrewarded. These women were more than just women and more than just African Americans. These women could not be understood as simply African American nor simply as women; these women were who they were because they were African American and women.

According to the double jeopardy hypothesis persons who identify with multiple subordinate-groups experience the prejudices and setbacks of both minorities (e.g., being black and a woman or being Latino and gay). The women attempting to sue GM, not only had to face the difficulties and prejudices of being African American (i.e. characterized as dirty, lazy, subordinate, etc.) but also the prejudices of being a women (i.e. intellectually inferior, subordinate, hysterical, etc.). A study conducted in 2006 found that minority women experienced more frequent and severe harassment overall than white males, minority males, and white females further supporting the double jeopardy hypothesis. Because these people do not represent the popular stereotype for either minority, they experience intersectional invisibility. They go on to explain intersectional invisibility as the marginalizing of these non-prototypal individuals within already marginalized groups which creates an acute social invisibility. It is because of this social invisibility that many sex-plus discrimination cases have not had greater successes. In DeGraffenreid v General Motors, the women were not protected under the Civil Rights Act due to their dual enrollment to two minority groups. As the legal discrimination frameworks currently stand in the United States, those with a single disadvantaged identity are more protected than those with two or more disadvantaged identities.

Almost thirty years later and sex-plus discrimination lawsuits are still being denied. March should be a time where as women, as activists, and as Americans, we look back and rejoice for the causes we have won and appreciate the sacrifices that have been made. It should also be a time where we reflect on what still needs to be done and how we plan to approach the future. DeGraffenreid v General Motors should remind us that feminism is not simply about women’s rights and equality, but about the equality for all permutations and combinations of people. Equality has not been reached, but instead is still an ideal to be sought after and worked towards.

Rachel McDonough, Christine Sheppard and Cierra Jonik (c) March 2015

Rachel McDonough


Christine Sheppard


Cierra Jonik

‘Feminism is worthless without intersectionality and inclusion’×414.png

16 people like this post.

Margaret Sanger – Fighting for Reproductive Rights

 - by whnadmin


Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger – The Brownsville Clinic Trial

Margaret Sanger was a leader in the reproductive rights movement. She made leaps and bounds in the fight for birth control and helped form the American Birth Control League, which was the predecessor of Planned Parenthood (“American Experience: Margaret Sanger”). Their goals and initiatives were to keep women safe and well informed. Sexual and reproductive health were issues that were not at the country’s forefront, and for that reason, 1/3 to 2/3 of mortality was connected with pregnancy. Planned Parenthood became essential to “maternal well being” (“Planned Parenthood”).

Planned Parenthood supports the fundamental right that each individual has to manage his or her fertility. Their mission is to provide reproductive health care services, as well as information about sexual and reproductive health. They advocate public policies that strengthen the rights individuals have to their own reproductive health. In a similar path to Sanger’s, Planned Parenthood wants to educate and inform people about human sexuality and provide educational programs to do so.

Sanger devoted her life to legalizing birth control and making it universally available for women. Starting in the 1910’s, she actively challenged federal and state Comstock laws to bring birth control information and contraceptives to women. Her ambition was to find the perfect contraceptive to relieve women from the horrible strain of repeated, unwanted pregnancies.

Sanger’s commitment to birth control sprung from a personal tragedy. One of eleven children born to a working class Irish Catholic family in Corning, New York, at nineteen Sanger watched her mother die of tuberculosis. Only 50 years old, her mother had wasted away from the strain of eleven childbirths and seven miscarriages. Determined to escape her mother’s fate, Sanger fled Corning to attend nursing school in the Catskills. Eventually, she found work in New York City as a visiting nurse on the Lower East Side. Sanger saw her personal tragedy in the lives of poor, immigrant women. Lacking effective contraceptives, many faced unwanted pregnancies, and resorted to five-dollar back-alley abortions. It was after these botched abortions that Sanger was called in to care for these women. After experiencing many women’s trauma and suffering, she began to shift her attention from nursing to the need for better contraceptives.

In her line of work, Sanger treated many women who had illegal and dangerous abortion procedures. She fought for birth control information and contraception to be made available, and found it essential to women’s health for this information to be legal (“Margaret Sanger”). It was very dangerous for Sanger to provide her services and information and she often risked jail time in order to help women.

In 1914, Sanger began The Woman Rebel, a feminist publication. She wanted to provide women with information about contraception. Sanger openly challenged the state and federal Comstock Act, which criminalized contraceptives (“American Experience: Margaret Sanger”). In 1916, Sanger was arrested for opening the first birth control clinic in the country. She worked toward better forms of contraception other than the diaphragm, which was expensive. Sanger helped with the creation of Enovid, the first oral contraceptive (“American Experience: Margaret Sanger”).

‘The Woman Rebel’


In 1915, Sanger wrote the article “Birth Control in America.” She wrote in relation to how the topic of birth control was treated in America:

But in a country where there is the latest scientific invention, and the most up-to date machinery, if there exists by its side laws which execute ideals, and burn at the stake those who dare to speak and act for freedom, then it is time such places were exposed, and their much-boasted freedom and liberty challenged.

Sanger’s efforts helped push to legalize contraception in the United States. The first birth control clinic she opened helped establish the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is iconic in the movement for reproductive rights and helped pave the way for many changes in women’s health.

Planned Parenthood is rooted in the courage and persistence of American women and men willing to fight for women’s health, rights, and equality.

Recent articles have reported on an unearthed video from 1947 of Margaret Sanger demanding “no more babies” for 10 years in developing countries. A couple of years ago, Margaret Sanger was named one of Time magazine’s “20 Most Influential Americans of All Time”. Given her enduring influence, it’s worth considering what the woman who founded Planned Parenthood contributed to the eugenics movement.

Margaret Sanger shaped the eugenics movement in America and beyond in the 1930s and 1940s. Her views and those of her peers in this movement contributed to compulsory sterilization laws in 30 U.S. states which resulted in more than 60,000 sterilizations of vulnerable people, including people she considered “feeble-minded,” “idiots” and “morons”.

Margaret Sanger presented at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1926 in Silver Lake, NJ. She recounted this event in her autobiography:

I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of Ku Klux Klan … I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses … I was escorted to the platform, introduced, and began to speak. In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose.

In a 1957 interview with Mike Wallace, Sanger revealed:

I think the greatest sin in the world is bringing children into the world , that have disease from their parents, that have no chance in the world to be a human being practically. Delinquents, prisoners, all sorts of things just marked when they’re born. That to me is the greatest sin, that people can commit. (Sanger)

Despite her involvement with eugenics, Sanger was a forerunner in the fight for women’s reproductive rights. She was the spark that put women’s health on the nation’s radar. Her efforts and activism played a large role in the reproductive rights movement and broke tremendous ground for women to take control of their own bodies.

Gay Johnson and Anisa Ismailaj (c) March 2015

Gay Johnson is majoring in Health Policy Studies at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, with a concentration on Health Behavior and Education. Holding an Associate of Science Degree from Wayne County Community College, she transferred to the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Gay Johnson’s interests include traveling, volunteering and reading. Her daughter is a senior, graduating in Spring 2015 from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Anisa Ismailaj enjoys writing and reading and has an interest in health policy and women’s rights.


Works Cited

“Birth Control: We All Benefit.” Planned Parenthood. 27 January 2015.

“42 Years After Roe v. Wade, Abortion Rights Still Under Attack.” Malin, Joan. Huffington Post. 21 January 2015.

“Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.” InfoBase. Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn.     FactsOnFile. American History Online. 2000. 2014.

“Planned Parenthood.” The Living Age (197-1941). ProQuest. Mar 1940. 2 Feb 2015. Norton,      Ray. American Periodicals.

“Margaret Sanger at her Brownsville clinic trial – 1917″  30 Jan 1917. 7 Feb 2015. Bain News Service. Wikimedia Commons.

“American Experience: Margaret Sanger”. 6 Feb 2015. PBS. American Experience.

“History & Successes.” Planned Parenthood. 2014. 5 Feb 2015.

“Margaret Sanger.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 7 Feb 2015.

“Birth Control in America,” Freedom. 5 June 1915. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division. Collection: Margaret Sanger Papers.

“GROSSU: Margaret Sanger, racist eugenicist extraordinaire.” The Washington Times. Grossu, Arina. 5 May 2014.

18 people like this post.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – A History of Equal Pay

 - by whnadmin


“If I were a girl,” Mattie McIntosh writes in the January 1888 volume of Woman’s Work, “I would have an aim in life.”  So many ideas rush to mind when looking at this statement.  Out of all of them, the most prevalent is probably this question: Were girls really not supposed to have aims in the late nineteenth century?  It’s strange to think of a time when girls weren’t encouraged to seek out a lucrative career or a passion that would translate into one.  However, now that we’re in the position where girls have mostly equal consideration rights, there are still problems of sexism that arise in the workforce. The worst is that women aren’t paid as much as their male counterparts for equal work.

That probably sounds like one of those statistics we hear once and then sweep under the rug.  We might not even believe it.  Nonetheless, it’s worth pondering. When American women aren’t paid as much as American men, the rate of female poverty increases.  But women everywhere are bringing attention to this gap.  As women from Michigan, we are proud to report that the Michigan Partners Project is working to teach women about their economic rights, and to provide resources and support.  One of the aspects they are most focused on is remedying the fact that in Michigan, women only get 48 months of cash assistance when the national law states 60.  The injustice of unequal pay for women was recently brought to the country’s attention by Lilly Ledbetter, a former Goodyear employee who noticed she was paid less than her male colleagues.  In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which says that employees have the opportunity to sue on account of pay discrimination and acquire reimbursement for it (Meyerowitz).  While Lilly Ledbetter might not be as famous as powerful female characters who share her double initials, like Lois Lane and Lana Lang (Superman’s empowered ladies), she’s going to be just as legendary.

Ledbetter follows a great tradition of women workers who insisted they be treated as economic equals to men.  The female workforce, which swelled by millions during World War I and World War II, brought the disparity between men and women’s pay to the forefront.  Replacing male workers in war manufacturing plants, women were struck by the fact that they were doing the exact same work as men, yet receiving less pay.  Individual states had been giving attention to women’s pay since Michigan and Montana passed equal pay laws in 1919, but these laws were often limited to specific industries, or they specified either the public or private sector but not both (Anonymous).  American women needed widespread wage protection at the federal level, and such changes were on the horizon.

The sweeping civil rights legislation of the 1960s addressed multiple types of discrimination, including women’s fight for pay parity.  The Equal Pay Act of 1963 focused on preventing wage discrimination for women, but it lacked a mechanism of enforcement. The much broader Civil Rights Act laid out the necessary mechanism the next year: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Title VII of the Act established the EEOC, which was intended to redress pay discrimination for any of the Act’s protected categories.  However, sex discrimination was not anticipated to be the Commission’s main focus: sex as a protected quality had been hastily thrown into the Act by an opponent, expecting that its inclusion would delay the Act’s passage (Fuentes).  A lawyer with the EEOC during its infancy, Sonia Pressman Fuentes, says dryly, “[T]he EEOC expected few [sex discrimination] complaints […, but w]ithin the first year of operation, 37% of the complaints filed alleged sex discrimination.” (ibid.)   Such numbers indicated a great need for anti-sex discrimination laws in the workplace, though true equality is still an ideal for which we continue to strive.

Ledbetter began her career with Goodyear Tire in 1979, and she was eventually promoted to become one of the first women in a management position. Her eight year battle started with a little note she found in the women’s bathroom at work. The note ranked her salary alongside the much higher salaries of three male tire-room managers, and Ledbetter was shocked to see that her male peers were making $14,000 and more per year than she was.  “I’d worried about being paid less than the men who were doing the same work I was,” Ledbetter records in her memoir, but she never had evidence to prove her suspicions (5). Armed with this alarming new information, Ledbetter took action and sued Goodyear for pay discrimination.

The federal court took Ledbetter’s side, and the jury ordered Goodyear to pay her three million dollars. When Goodyear failed to pay out, she took her case to the Supreme Court.  In a surprising reversal of the federal court’s decision, the Supreme Court ruled that she was outside of the 180-day statute of limitations when she reported the discrimination, despite the fact that the pay discrimination against Ledbetter had been going on for years while she was unaware of it. After this setback, Ledbetter stated, “I refused to take this unjust ruling lying down. I owed that much to myself but to all of America’s women and girls, who deserved a fighting chance” (Ledbetter 215). She took her fight to Congress, seeking legislation to change the law.

Her efforts paid off, and the resultant bill was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, “which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by reinstating that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing a pay discrimination lawsuit resets with each new discriminatory paycheck” (Ledbetter 219).  The bill effectively removed the time constraint on how long people are entitled to file a pay discrimination claim. Ironically, Ledbetter never received a dollar from Goodyear, where she was employed for nineteen years, despite winning her federal case and helping pass a major piece of legislation. Ultimately, Ledbetter says that it wasn’t about the money. Rather, it was about, “making a difference for the women who came after her” (146(c) March 2015


Lilly Ledbetter

Shalayna Mulrenan, Alison Osborn, and Blue Profitt (c) March 2015

Authors’ Note

As three students teaming up with the Michigan Partners Project, an organization dedicated to teaching women their rights about equal pay, we were excited to write about Lilly Ledbetter and what she has done for the cause. We hope you enjoy what we have put together …!


Shalayna Mulrenan, Alison Osborn, and Blue Profitt

Shalayna Mulrenan is a junior at the University of Michigan – Dearborn.  She is pursuing an education in communications  with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She will be turning twenty-five this year and excited to continue her journey in college to obtain her bachelors degree.  She had tons of fun contributing to this blog, and she hopes everyone will enjoy this post.

Alison Osborn majors in Behavioral Sciences and minors in Women’s and Gender Studies at University of Michigan Dearborn.  A voracious reader and pop culture junkie, she loves female-driven and feminist media, be it books, television, web series, blogs, or more! She hopes to eventually work as a speech pathologist.

Blue Profitt is a sophomore at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, where she studies English and political science.  On the side, she is a contributing writer for and Legendary Women, Inc., where she writes on female characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Liz Lemon.  Her ultimate aspiration is to write for late night TV, and she would like to believe she is getting there.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “The Long, Long History of Equal Pay.” National Business Woman 36.7 (1957): 15-16. The Gerritsen Collection – Women’s History Online, 1543-1945. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.

Brady, Dorothy S. “Equal Pay for Women Workers.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 251, Women’s Opportunities and Responsibilities (May 1947): 53-60. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.

Fuentes, Sonia Pressman. “THE EEOC, NOW, AND ME: My Work in Women’s Rights.” Iris.34 (1996): 13. ProQuest. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.

Ledbetter, Lilly, and Lanier Scott Isolm. Grace And Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond. 1ST ed. New York: Three Rivers, 2012. Print.

Lilly Ledbetter and the Fight for Gender Equality. Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio, 2009. ProQuest. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

Meyerowitz, Steven A. “LL: Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Linda Lee, Lori Lemaris, and Lilly   Ledbetter.”  Employee Relations Law Journal.  Vol. 35. Issue 2. Autumn 2009. 8 February 2015. Web.






16 people like this post.

Marie Curie – Celebrating an Inspirational Woman

 - by whnadmin

WHNMarie Curie

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Marie Curie is an inspiration to women aspiring to STEM fields, which are currently at critically low levels in America (“Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities”; Beede et. al.). She is best known as the first woman to ever be honored with a Nobel Prize, and won twice for her work in the fields of physics and chemistry (Pasachoff). The current crisis of women in STEM seems surprising given the fantastic accomplishments of women in these fields, but is nevertheless the harsh reality. In the field of computer science alone, the percentage of women earning Bachelor’s degrees is down from 29.6% in 1991 to 18.2% in 2010, despite women attending college in greater numbers (“Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities”). This short biography of Marie Curie can serve to celebrate her life, and raise women’s awareness of their potential for success in STEM fields.

Marie Sklodowska Curie was born Maria Sklodowska in 1867 in Warsaw Poland, and grew to be a smart young woman instilled with a strong sense of Polish identity (E. Curie 33). Two national qualities held dear to the Polish people are pride in the struggle for a national identity, and pride in intellectual achievement – both of which Marie personified (Reid 13). Her family was strongly involved in the Polish pro-independence movement from the Russian Tsars, and both her parents were teachers (Reid 14). Marie’s background wasn’t necessarily a privileged one- because her parents earned little money in their profession, her family frequently took in young students as boarders, and her mother died from tuberculosis when she was only ten (Reid 19). Throughout her schooling, Marie was also made acutely aware of the Russian oppression of the Polish people through her contact with despotic Russian officials who inspected schools in order to police any pro-independence sentiment (E. Curie 33).

After graduating high school, Marie moved to Paris to pursue further education, and was eventually able to study (with financial help from her father) at the Sorbonne in the University of Paris (Pasachoff). There Marie earned the equivalence of two master’s degrees with distinction in both physics and math in only 3 years. She expressed great happiness for being able to explore “the ardent desire I had so long cherished of carrying on advanced studies in science” (M. Curie 35). In 1894 while pursuing work relating magnetic properties of several steels to their chemical compositions, she met her future husband Pierre Curie. Their initial friendship grew into a deep fondness for each other, and their shared dreams for science were very noble. They became official companions in life July of 1895, and continued to live in France. They had two daughters, Irene (born 1897) and Eve (born 1904).

Marie Curie’s work that earned her Nobel Prizes started in 1898, with her professorial thesis topic on the study of rays emitted by uranium compounds (Pasachoff). This work expanded on the phenomenon accidentally discovered by French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896. After this study, Marie observed that “My experiments proved that the radiation of uranium compounds … is an atomic property of the element uranium” and depended not on external conditions such as temperature (Pasachoff). By the end of 1898, Marie and Pierre discovered two new radioactive elements- radium and polonium, the former which she named after her beloved Poland. In 1903, Marie published and defended her thesis “Research on Radioactive Substances,” coining the term “radioactivity,” and by December Henri Becquerel and the Curies were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for “their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel” (“The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903″). In her subsequent teaching positions, she was almost always the first female professor at the University (Pasachoff).

In April of 1906, Pierre died in a traffic accident (Pasachoff). Afterwards, Marie struggled with depression and grief, but did not give up on her and her husband’s dreams. In the four years after his death, Marie took over Pierre’s teaching position and opened the Radium Institute at Sorbonne, isolated radium metal (which took over 3 years), published a comprehensive textbook on radioactivity, and defined the curie—the international standard for measuring radium emissions—for use in industrial and medical applications (Pasachoff). In 1911, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry “in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element” (“The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911″). During this time, a fabricated scandal was brewing over personal letters published by a right-wing news source that were exchanged between Marie and Paul Langevin, a brilliant former pupil of Pierre’s seated in an unhappy marriage. Marie Curie’s fellow scientist Albert Einstein felt deep outrage on her behalf over this ordeal, and wrote her a letter proclaiming his support:

“I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels … If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated” (Einstein 6).

Marie Curie was a superb scientist. Her work has a powerful and strong legacy. During World War I, she traveled around in an x-ray van with her daughter Irene to help find shrapnel and broken bones in wounded soldiers. Sadly, this was found to be a chief cause of her death- overexposure to x-ray radiation incurred during the war effort (Pasachoff). Today, the further study of radiation science has produced safe and extremely effective methods of implementing medical imaging and radiation therapy. Women like Marie Curie demonstrated historical brilliance in the study of science, technology, engineering and math, and revolutionized the world with it; whatever the cause of the gender gap, there is no question that women belong in STEM.

Lauren Gaber, Heather Simpson & Allison Wilke (c) February 2015


Lauren Gaber is a University of Michigan – Dearborn student majoring in Computer Science and contemplating a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She is an active member of several organizations on campus, including the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and holds the position of vice president of the University’s Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE) computing disciplines honors society chapter. She also volunteers with the campus CiViC leadership organization. Lauren’s current goals are to earn her bachelor’s degree in computer science and promote programs that revolutionize media and aim to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM careers.

Heather Simpson is a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn majoring in Psychology, Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies. Additionally Heather works as the On Campus Coordinator of the Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) Program. This program works with other community based organizations and among other community and activist work, puts together the annual Take Back the Night on campus. Heather has a passion for LGBTQ activism and aspires to become a relationship therapist specializing in LGBTQ couples.

Allison Wilke is a University of Michigan-Dearborn student majoring in Communications and minoring in Women & Gender Studies. She is an active member of the Blueprints Leadership Program at UMD, which strives to build leaders in areas of social change. Her current project within this program involves developing a campaign of awareness that will “bridge the gap” between modern day feminism and Christianity. Aside from this, Allison is a devoted volunteer for the student ministry at her church, and leads a small group within that department. Allison is looking to finish her program at University of Michigan-Dearborn, and carry on her education by pursuing an MA in Public Administration, to eventually build a nonprofit to promote the betterment of women. 



Works Cited

Beede, D. et. al. “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation Executive Summary.” Office of the Chief Economist. Economics & Statistics Administration. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>

Curie, E. Madame Curie. Internet Archive. 1938. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>

Curie, M. S. Pierre Curie. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1963 (originally printed 1923). Print.

Einstein, A. Volume 8: The Berlin Years: Correspondence, 1914-1918 (English translation supplement). Princeton University: Einstein Papers Press. 1911. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>

Pasachoff, N. Marie Curie: First female chemistry Nobelist owes much of her success to fierce professional and personal determination. [89.26 p.66-70] Chemical and Engineering News. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>

Reid, R. Marie Curie. New York: Saturday Review Press / E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1974. Print.

“The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911″. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>

“The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903″. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>

“Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2013”. National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. National Science Foundation. 2013. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <>


17 people like this post.