Due to technical incompetence—and mental fatigue—there will be no blog posts for the next few weeks. Stay tuned for the return announcement.
First the rant: When I started researching this blog, all I found was a history of paid employment. I’m not alone in bemoaning the fact that women’s household contributions, care for household members, kitchen gardens, work on family farms, etc. is largely discounted, and vastly undervalued!
According to Investopedia, in 2019, Salary.com put a dollar value on the work of a stay-at-home-parent. Depending on the size of the house, family, pets, and numerous other conditions, a stay-at-home parent may work upwards of 96 hours per week, providing services worth a median annual salary of $178,201!
Analysis from Oxfam in 2020 reported on stay-at-home women (who still outnumber men) doing unpaid labor in the U.S. Using minimum wage per hour for its calculations, their unpaid labor in 2019 was worth $1.5 trillion.
Unfortunately, no matter how valuable the unpaid labor, it remains unpaid. When women enter the paid labor force, the job is typically in addition to the unpaid labor.
In 2018, 57.1 percent of all women participated in the labor force. This was about the same as the 57.0 percent who participated in 2017, and about 3 percentage points below the peak of 60.0 percent in 1999.
In 2019, there were 76,852,000 women aged 16 and over in the labor force, representing close to half (47.0%) of the total labor force. 57.4% of women participated in the labor force, compared to 69.2% of men.
Women are now making 83% of what men earn for the same job. (The gap is even wider for women of African or Latin American heritage.) This isn’t a perfect number, but it is improving — thanks to women in the workforce.
By striving to obtain more education, women have a better chance of finding jobs, getting better opportunities and entering fields that were previously male-dominated.
“The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries changed the nature of work in Europe and other countries of the Western world. Working for a wage, and eventually a salary, became part of urban life. Initially, women were to be found doing even the hardest physical labor, including working as “hurriers” hauling heavy coal carts through mine shafts in Great Britain, a job that also employed many children.”
Wikipedia, Women in the workforce.
During the 19th century, the number of women working in factories drastically increased. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the most common form of employment for women in Europe and North America was piecework, which involved needlework (weaving, embroidery, winding wool or silk) that paid by the piece completed. It was poorly paid and involved long hours, up to 14 hours per day to earn enough wages to survive.
According to the 7th Earl of Shaftsbury, employers often preferred to hire women, because they could be “more easily induced to undergo severe bodily fatigue than men.” Pregnant women worked up until the day they gave birth and returned to work as soon as they were physically able. In particular, employers liked to hire married women: “They are attentive, docile, more so than unmarried females, and are compelled to use their utmost exertions to procure the necessaries of life.”
The 1870 US Census was the first to count “females engaged in each occupation” and provides a snapshot of women’s history in the workplace. Women workers showed up in interesting places. The majority of women working outside the home held typically “feminine” positions, such as childcare, dress-making, millinery, and tailoring. Two-thirds of teachers were women.
Women were 15% of the total work force (1.8 million out of 12.5). They made up one-third of factory “operatives.” Women could also be found in relatively unexpected places.
- Iron and Steel Works (495)
- Mines (46)
- Sawmills (35)
- Oil Wells and Refineries (40)
- Gas Works (4)
- Charcoal Kilns (5)
- Ship Rigger (16)
- Teamster (196)
- Turpentine Laborer (185)
- Brass Founder/ Worker (102)
- Shingle and Lathe Maker (84)
- Stock-herder (45)
- Gun and Locksmith (33)
- Hunter and Trapper (2)
Education was a major driver toward equality, both among the lower classes and for girls in particular. At the turn of the 20th century, attitudes towards educating girls were changing. Women in North America and Western Europe were more educated, largely due to the efforts of women to further their own education, defying opposition by male educators.
Many women organized “dame schools” for local children, teaching elementary literacy and arithmetic to students who probably would not have learned otherwise.
By 1900, four out of five colleges accepted women and the concept of coed education was becoming more accepted.
In the United States, the rise in demand for production from Europe during World War I (among other economical and social influences) facilitated the entry of women into the workforce.
In the first quarter of the century, women mostly occupied jobs in factory work or as domestic servants, but as the war came to an end they moved on to other jobs: salespeople in department stores, clerical, secretarial, and other so-called, “lace-collar” jobs. Broadening telegraph and telephone networks provided appropriately ladylike work in operation centers.
Towards the end of the 1920s, married women exited the work force less often. Labor force productivity for married women 35–44 years of age increased from 10% to 25%. There was a greater demand for clerical positions and, as the number of women graduating high school increased, they began to hold more “respectable,” steady jobs.
World War II created millions of jobs for women.
Thousands of American women joined the military:
- 140,000 in the Women’s Army Corps (United States Army) WAC
- 100,000 in the Navy (WAVE)
- 23,000 in the Marines
- 14,000 in the Navy Nurse Corps
- 13,000 in the Coast Guard
Although almost none of the women in the military saw combat, they replaced men in noncombat positions and got the same pay as the men would have on the same job!
One of the most interesting (and often overlooked) units of the US military during World War II was the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. It was the only all-female, all-African American Army unit. The “Six Triple-Eights” was an entirely self-contained unit, not attached to any male unit. Major Charity Adams led her troops to the European Theater of Operations (being bombed twice just getting there) to sort the problem of years’ worth of mail sent to the front. The 6888th Battalion was given six months to sort out and deliver the warehouses full of letters and parcels that had been untouched for more than two years; they had everything sorted in three.
As 16 million men left their jobs to join the war in Europe and elsewhere, even more opportunities emerged for women to join the job force.
Although two million women lost their jobs after the war ended, female participation in the workforce was still higher than it had ever been. In post-war America, women were expected to return to private life as homemakers and child-rearers.
Nevertheless, jobs were still available to women.
They were mostly what are known as “pink-collar” jobs such as retail clerks and secretaries.
The Quiet Revolution
Transition Era refers to the time between 1930 and 1950, when the discriminatory institution of marriage bars—which forced women out of the work force after marriage—were eliminated. Additionally, women’s labor force participation increased because there was an increase in demand for office workers. However, women did not normally work to fulfill a personal need for a fulfilling career or social worth; they worked out of necessity.
From 1950 to mid-to-late 1970s, the movement of women into the workforce began to show signs of a revolution. Women’s expectations of future employment changed. They began to see themselves going on to college and working through their marriages, even attending graduate school.
Many had brief and intermittent work force participation, without necessarily having expectations for a “career.” Most women were secondary earners, and worked in “pink-collar jobs” as secretaries, teachers, nurses, and librarians.
The fourth phase of the “Quiet Revolution” began in the late 1970s and continues today. Beginning in the 1970s women began to flood colleges and grad schools. They began to enter profession like medicine, law, dental, and business. More women were going to college and expected to be employed at age 35, as opposed to past generations that only worked intermittently due to marriage and childbirth. These women defined themselves prior to a serious relationship.
Research indicates that from 1965 to 2002, the increase in women’s labor force participation more than offset the decline for men.
Some scholars have attributed this big jump in the 1970s to widespread access to birth control pills. While “the pill” was medically available in the 1960s, numerous laws restricted access to it. By the 1970s, the age of majority had been lowered from 21 to 18 in the United States (largely as a consequence of the Vietnam War), which affected women’s right to make their own medical decisions.
Since it had become socially acceptable to postpone pregnancy even while married, women had the option of pursuing education and work.
Also, due to various labor-saving devices, women’s work around the house became easier leaving with more time to pursue school or work. Due to the multiplier effect, even if some women were not blessed with access to the pill or , many followed by the example of the other women who entered the work force for those reasons.
The Quiet Revolution is called such because it was not a “big bang” revolution; rather, it happened and is continuing to happen gradually.
Still Not a Bed of Roses
Working women get carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, anxiety disorders, stress, respiratory diseases, and infectious diseases due to their work at higher rates than men. Women’s higher rates of job-related stress may be due to the fact that women are often caregivers at home and do contingent work and gig work at a much higher rate than men.
Another significant occupational hazard for women is homicide, which was the second most frequent cause of death on the job for women in 2011, making up 26% of workplace deaths in women.
Nevertheless, women are at lower risk for work-related death than men, probably (at least partially) due to their lower proportion of workers in certain high-risk job such as lumberjacks and garbage collectors.
Even so, personal protective equipment is usually designed for typical male proportions, which can create hazards for women who have ill-fitting equipment.
Immigrant women are at higher risk for occupational injury than native-born women in the United States, due to higher rates of employment in dangerous industries.
Women overall are at higher risk for occupational stress, which can be exacerbate by balancing roles as a parent or caregiver with work.
Many job opportunities for women are still limited. For example, skilled workers who train by getting apprenticeships with certified professionals (such as electricians or plumbers) include few women—and these are high paying jobs.
Bottom Line: The history of women’s work is still being written.
Once upon a time, women didn’t wear underwear. There are no written records of those times, but I can’t imagine that when humans first donned clothing—i.e., something to cover their bodies—their first priority was underwear. Going commando is not a new thing! And I’m not talking nudists here. Keep reading.
Advantages of not wearing panties
- Reduced risk of developing yeast infections
- Reduced vaginal odor
- Keep genitals drier by allowing sweat to evaporate
- Reduce chafing
- Eliminate the tight underpants risk to the labia of irritation, injury, bleeding, or infections
- Protects against allergic reactions to dyes, fabrics, or chemicals
So why did women start wearing underwear in the first place? Warmth, protection against scrapes and abrasions, and as a source of announcing status and meeting the current cultural standards of beauty—which, of course, change over time.
Consider the debate over “open-drawers” from the end of the 19th century, both written by Canadian physicians.
- Is it not ridiculous, not to say criminal, for us to take the position that the corset is harmful and the open drawers is not? I hold that infection takes place as frequently in this as in any other way on account of the delicate organ being unprotected. (Dr. E. R. Palmer, 1892)
- A free circulation of air by open drawers is wholesome to the parts, as well as a deodorizer. (E. R. Shepherd, 1882)
Underwear Of The Ancients (753 BC – 476 AD)
Very few women in the ancient world wore what we would consider panties today. Men frequently wore variations of loincloths for support, but women in most cultures simply wore a garment like a slip made of soft material, if they wore anything at all. Depending on the climate (and local definitions of modesty), undergarments might double as outer garments for members of the lower classes in a society.
Historians disagree about whether Greek women regularly wore any form of undergarments. In Minoan society, circa 4th C BCE, which flourished on the Greek peninsula before the Greeks, acrobats have been depicted in frescoes and mosaics wearing a type of loincloth, a perizoma. Both male and female acrobats were painted on the Bull-Leaping Fresco at Knossos wearing a perizoma while flipping over bulls, but some sources indicate the perizoma was only worn by men.
Lower class Egyptian women seldom wore undergarments because of the heat. The most common garment for Egyptian women of any class was a kalasiris, a simple linen tunic that could be worn as underwear, as outerwear, or on its own. Wealthy women who did wear undergarments wore figure-shaping garments similar to the Greeks and Romans (“tunica” and “strophium”), which emphasized the ideal feminine figure of small chest and large hips.
Roman women (and men) wore subligaculum beneath their tunics and togas. This was a loincloth, typically made of linen, that was wrapped as shown in the diagram. The subligaculum could also be made from goatskin leather, which I imagine would be very uncomfortable during a Roman summer.
When worn by slaves or grape treaders, these same garments were called limus.
The word ‘kimono’ in Japanese translates simply as ‘things to wear’ but has come to mean a specific category of wafuku: traditional style garments of silk worn in layers, each of which has specific purposes and symbolism. The outermost layer is more specifically called the nagagi. Layers of undergarments (juban) served to protect the elaborate (and very expensive) nagagi from being dirtied by the skin.
Directly next to the skin is the hadajuban, made to absorb oil and sweat, keeping the more elaborate (and harder to wash) nagagi clean. The hadajuban is cut close to the body and cannot be seen then the nagagi is on. A second layer of underclothing is sometimes worn in colder areas or for particularly formal occasions. This nagajuban is more elaborate than a hadajuban, the edges of the hems can usually be seen beneath the edges of a nagagi. Sometimes, the juban would also contain padding to give the wearer the desired body shape.
Nei-Yi refers to garments worn close to the body for both men and women. However, very few historical records exist of women’s underpants. References to women’s Nei-Yi generally include only the top. There is some evidence to suggest that women wore a form of modified loincloth for hygiene purposes during menstruation. Otherwise, the only form of underwear worn by traditional Chinese women was a form of chemise or half-slip worn by very wealthy ladies to protect elaborate gowns.
South and Central America
Both women and men in the Aztec Empire wore loincloths of hemp, leather, bark fiber, and other materials. Depending on the occasion and the status of the wearer, the loincloth might be worn under other clothing or worn alone, decorated with beads, feathers, and colorful weaving.
Europe and European Influences
Middle Ages (500 – 1500 CE)
Woolen hosiery was worn under dresses and chemises. Teasingly, wealthy women would wear bracelets to match their unseen garters.
Renaissance (1300 – 1700 CE)
The favored female silhouette featured a pushed-up bust and wide hips emphasized with a full skirt. Laced corselets and stiffened bodices were worn to achieve this specific shape. Skirts grew and shrank in width, depending on the time and location. Petticoats, hoops, ruffles, and bustles went in and out of fashion as methods of making skirt fuller.
1500 – 1600
Wealthy women wore a frame of wire or whalebone called a farthingale under their dresses. The farthingale shaped the female form by cinching a woman’s waist and spreading the skirts wide, creating highly exaggerated hips.
Although prostitutes began wearing them during this time, panties were not yet adopted by the mainstream as they are today. Their only underwear was a long linen garment like a nightgown called a chemise or shift, worn over a dress.
One function that corsets provided was to help disperse the weight of the crinolines, petticoats, and skirts, which may have been as much as thirty-five pounds. Following the onset of crinoline in the 1850s, women wore trouser-like undergarments that extended to below the knee.
Women began to wear drawers (so called because they were drawn on). A pair of separate legs was joined at the waist.
Knickers were loose-fitting trousers gathered at the knee or calf.
1849: Amelia Bloomer advocated loose trousers for women that were called bloomers. Later, all women’s underwear has sometimes been called bloomers.
1860s: Women began to wear colored drawers.
1881: Women’s underwear in Britain were called knickers.
In the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, the character Mrs. Van Buren orders revealing corsets and undergarments from Esther. Because the undergarments Esther created were so luxuriant, they became a stand-in for some of the characters’ repressed feelings. Mrs. Van Buren says she feels like a “tart from the Tenderloin”—an expression of forbidden desire.
In the undergarment industry, enterprising women found opportunities in design, production, and management not readily available to them in other clothing manufacture.
In 1900, poor women in Britain made nickers from flour bags. I suspect this happened in the U.S. as well.
1908: In the U.S., women’s underwear was called panties. The term never caught on in Britain. (If you want to try an exercise in hilarious humiliation, try talking to a British person about their “pants!”)
With the progress of women’s suffrage in 1920, many young women embraced a new sense of freedom and created an androgynous silhouette that featured bobbed pageboy-style hair and flattened busts with boyish hips. Flappers did away with pantaloons in favor of “step-in” panties. As hemlines rose, panties became shorter—down to mid-thigh other than down to the knee!
Panties became still shorter and briefs were fashionable. During WWII, women in Britain used parachute silk to make knickers.
1949: Gertrude Morn played tennis at Wimbledon wearing frilly panties.
The popular bikini brief was introduced. The “Pin-up Girl” exemplified an overt acceptance of women pictured in lingerie. These models showed off the latest underwear trends (seamed stocking, bustiers) and embraced the curvy female figure.
In 1959, Allen Gant introduced pantyhose (called tights in Britain). Previously, stockings were separate pieces for each leg, held up by garters and/or a garter belt.
Victoria’s Secret was introduced to the world as a destination retailer of women’s premium lingerie.
In 1981, thongs were introduced in the U.S.
“Underwear” became “outerwear” and was worn by stars such as Cher in her infamous g-string bodysuit.
In 1984, Depend products for adults were introduced. From incontinence pads, the line has evolved to include panties. Now such panties are available in colors and in reusable/washable designs.
Thongs became popular.
Spanx, a slimming underwear brand, was introduced and quickly became a modern day shapewear essential.
Recent years have brought a shift towards more diversity and body positive thinking in lingerie.
HISTORY OF THE BRASSIERE
Until recently, the vast majority of the female world dealt with “the girls” in one of three ways: wrapping to press them flat to the ribs, wrapping or pushing to lift and support from underneath, or simply letting everything sway where it will.
Advantages of not wearing a bra
- Better breast skin health
- Better circulation
- Improved muscle tone (and possibly breast shape)
- Increased comfort over time
In Minoan society, circa 4th C BCE, women wore a form of chest support called an apodesmos. This was a length of wool that was wrapped around the breasts and pinned in the back. There is some archaeological evidence to suggest that the apodesmos was worn in earlier Mesopotamian society to emphasize the breasts rather than for support or modesty.
In Greek society, active women might wear an apodesmos under their chiton to stabilize and support their breasts. The strophion was a wide band of wool or linen wrapped across the breasts and tied between the shoulder blades.
Roman women wore strophia (also known as amictorium and mamillare) over their inner tunic. Unlike in Greece, Roman strophia were usually made of leather. In the latter half of the Roman Empire, this was often referred to as a mitra.
Part of a formal kimono ensemble includes an intricately folded and tied belt called an obi. In addition to holding the layers of robes closed, a woman’s obi provided breast support from below. Women’s obis are generally wider than men’s and are often stiffened with inserts or starch.
People’s underwear, which was first called du dou in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was a piece of cloth that covered the front of one’s chest. It often had four strings, being fastened behind one’s neck and back. Men, women, and children all wore it.
Some du dou had pockets for people to store small valuable things, such as rings and necklaces. People also put spices and herbs in the layers of their du dou to stay healthy.
“Du Dou” literally means “abdominal support”.
In India, the first mention of the bra dates back to literature from the reign of King Harshavardhana, who ruled from 606 to 647 C.E. A kanchuka could be either a tightly-wound bodice, similar to a Greek apodesmos, or a type of armor worn to shield the torso of soldiers in battle.
In some parts of India, there has sometimes been a mulakkaram, a tax women had to pay for the privilege of covering their breasts. The amount of the tax was based on a woman’s caste and on the size of her breasts.
A choli is a form of outerwear that provides the support of a brassiere. It is a short garment that covers the chest and ties in the back. It is often worn with a sari, sometimes with long or short sleeves.
The kemben has been worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bali, and Java for centuries. A piece of kain (cloth) is wrapped tightly around the torso and folded, tucked, and tied with a small rope or string behind the wearer’s back. Today, it can be held in place with ties, buttons, or zippers. A kemben is traditionally made of batik silk or cotton, but modern variations can be velvet, rayon, linen, or any other material available.
Europe and European Influence
Women wore corset-like outerwear to enhance their figures. The bodice laced tightly under the breasts to provide support but usually did not cover them. Bodices were often lavishly embroidered and decorated as a sign of wealth and status.
The favored female silhouette featured a pushed-up bust and wide hips emphasized with a full skirt. Laced corselets and stiffened bodices were worn to achieve this specific shape.
Corsets made their first real appearance during this period. Women wore corsets made of whalebone or willow covered with fabric.
The 1700s corset was long-waisted and in the shape of an inverted cone, imposing an even more constricting shape. The wealthiest and most fashionable women had corsets that pulled together their shoulder blades so closely that they would nearly touch.
Such tight corsets signified the wearer’s status in several ways. A lady would be unable to lace up her own corset and would need to hire assistance. The constriction of the lungs and restriction of movement made them impractical for wear if a woman needed to do any activity more strenuous than serving tea and practicing a bit of dancing.
The corset took on a new shape and was used to emphasize the hourglass shape with a very small waist. Corsets were made in beautiful colors with silks and satins and included garter clips at the bottom.
United States patent #40,907 issued to Luman L. Chapman in 1863 may be the first recorded design in America for a brassiere.
1893: Marie Tucek filed for a US patent for what might be called the first underwire bra. She called it a “breast supporter.” In addition to having separate pockets for each breast, this early “underwire” had a metal plate below the breasts. Shoulder straps helped support what looks like a very heavy piece of clothing sticking on a woman’s chest.
The corset was still an essential part to a woman’s wardrobe, but also started to be thought of as standalone lingerie as much as an essential part of an outfit. The corset took on an extremely exaggerated “S-curve” shape, which created a very feminine shape. Silk became a popular fabric for corsets during this period.
In the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, Mrs. Van Buren orders revealing corsets and undergarments from Esther and says she feels like a “tart from the Tenderloin”—an expression of forbidden desire.
1913: Mary Phelps Jacobs (a.k.a. Caresse Crosby) is often credited with inventing the modern bra, but there are several other contenders for this title. Olivia Flynt, Marie Tucek, Caroline Newell, and Gabrielle Poix Yerkes also filed for patents for brassiere designs and adjustments.
“Brassiere” came into vogue around 1904. The term “brassiere” became widespread in English-speaking nations within a few years, but the French have maintained their designation of soutien-gorge (literally “bosom supporter”).
After WWI, the corset’s popularity began to decline. Rather than the S-curve or hourglass figure that fashionable women in past decades achieved with tight corsets, a rectangular, boyish silhouette became the desired figure. Flappers wore simple bust bodices or tight bandeaus to restrain their chest when dancing. The lack of curves of a corset promoted a boyish look.
Adding an even more boyish look, the Symington Side Lacer was invented and became a popular essential as an everyday bra. This type of bra was made to pull in the back to flatten the chest.
In 1947 Frederick Mellinger introduced the padded bra. (Previously, rows of tiny, tight ruffles sewn to bras enhanced the silhouette.)
1948: Frederick Mellinger introduced the push-up bra.
A major shift in women’s undergarments brought the focus to the bust instead of the waist. This can be seen in popular images of “Pin-up Girls” posed to bring attention to the bust, butt, and legs. These models showed off the latest underwear trends (seamed stocking, bustiers) and embraced the curvy female figure.
In 1963, the forerunner of the WonderBra was invented in Canada by Louise Poirier.
1969: Bras ablaze! The “bra-burning feminist” became something of a legend during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the late 1960s. There are no actual records of women burning their bras, but the symbolism of such an act was so powerful that it became part of apocrypha of the time. A group demonstration at the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City called on participants to throw their bra, high heels, cosmetics, and girdles into a “freedom trash can.” Nothing was actually set on fire.
In 1977, Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith were very uncomfortable trying to compete in college sports while wearing regular brassieres. Wearing no brassiere was even worse. To solve this problem, they sewed together two jockstraps from the men’s athletic wear section, crossed the straps in the back, and invented the sports bra. It was first called the “jockbra” but quickly renamed to “jogbra.”
The “Wonder bra” became popularized with a push-up design intended to enhance sex appeal.
Nearly all outlets and experts agree that you should replace your old underwear with new underwear once every 6-12 months.Jul 8, 2020
Underwear experts can’t seem to agree on how much underwear one should own to allow for an optimal washing and wearing schedule. (Retailers tend to skew toward advising people to purchase more, of course) As a good rule of thumb, a three-week supply of panties offers a happy medium. This nearly month-long supply adds up to about 20 pairs of underwear.
According to “most experts,” underpants should be replaced every 6-12 months. (Take this with a grain of salt.)
Don’t wear a pair of underpants for more than 24 hours.
“You really should sleep without underwear if you’re prone to vaginal issues,” Dr. Nancy Herta, an OB-GYN, told Glamour. As mentioned before, underwear can trap moisture and that type of wet environment is where bacteria grows and causes yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.
According to a Glamour article from 2009, women had 16 bras on average. According to the Daily Mail, in 2016, the average was 8. Are American women cutting back, or is it a U.S./Britain difference?
Women should wash their bras after every 2 to 3 wears, or every 1 to 2 weeks if not wearing the same one every day.
“Experts” recommend replacing bras every 6 months, or after about 180 wears. I say, use common sense: check for stretched-out elastic, stains, and holes.
There is an old (mostly unused now) saying in Tagalog that a man should not walk under a woman’s underwear: nasa ilalim ng saya ng nanay. It means that a man should not take a woman’s advice, because doing so would have made him appear weak in a traditionally patriarchal society.
Bottom Line: Though not as immediately visible as hats or jewelry, women’s undergarments provide plenty of information about the wearer’s age, class, status, etc. Wearing the wrong item, or not wearing a “required” item can cause serious trouble for a woman. Historical settings as well as modern can make use of clues provided by undergarments to tell readers a story all by themselves.
What do you—female or male—think and feel about women’s underwear?
As you might imagine, writing stories about the same characters for fifty years can get either very repetitive or very complicated. When those characters don’t age and generally don’t stay dead, a reader trying to track their biographies is likely to get lost in a maze of changing identities, regenerations, spousal roulette, mind control, evil clones, and anything else that might keep things interesting. The serial format of most comic stories lends itself to story arcs with plenty of resets.
As the popularity of female superheroes grew, writers began to realize that their characters needed more than scandalous costumes to keep going. Heroines started to develop actual personalities (if somewhat one-dimensional) to go along with their witty flirtations.
One of the biggest changes to the characters in comic books came after the publication in 1954 of Seduction of the Innocent. According to Frederic Wertham, the author comic books were causing juvenile delinquency and spreading homosexuality. Along with proving they were not spreading Communism, writers of comic books had to prove there was no question that every character was completely heterosexual. Romantic subplots and superhero couples drastically increased after 1954. Female characters were more common but less independent and well-developed.
- Black Cat
- Linda Turner’s father was a Hollywood stuntman and amateur detective, and he taught his daughter everything he knew, including expertise with a lasso and horses. She has a black belt in Judo and is skilled in other hand-to-hand combat styles. As an actress, Linda realized her director was a Nazi spy, hiding state secrets and propaganda in the script. To stop him, she became the vigilante Black Cat. She is listed as a member of the Super Friends but never shows up in their comics.
- Linda adopted a young acrobat when his family was killed in a burning circus tent. When the boy discovered her identity as Black Cat, she allowed him to become her sidekick Black Kitten.
- This Black Cat is not related in any way to Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat of Marvel’s universe, who debuted in 1979.
- Phantom Lady
- Her real name was Sandra Knight, daughter of U.S. Senator Henry Knight. Using projection technology (a blacklight gun), she could blind her enemies and make herself invisible. Although she had no distinctive super powers, she was a smart fighter and fared well against ordinary human enemies. Despite not wearing any mask or disguise, no one ever recognized the Phantom Lady as famous socialite Sandra Knight.
- The Phantom Lady’s costume changed several times, but it was always quite skimpy. She explained that it was a distraction technique to disrupt male foes’ concentration.
- Miss Fury
- Marla Drake was a character establishing the rise of vigilantes. She was rich girl who didn’t have much to do, so she made a classic catsuit to fight crime. Originally called the Black Fury, her name was changed to Miss Fury—perhaps to distinguish her from Black Cat. She fought all sorts of evil. Her skintight suit came under a lot of scrutiny.
- Elsa Lesau was the creator of Spider-Queen, a heroine who debuted in The Eagle #2. Sharon Kane technically had no superpowers, but she created a set of bracelets that could shoot a gluey substance that worked just like a spider’s webbing. With tip-offs from a police detective she was dating and hand-hand combat skills, Spider-Queen fought crime by swinging about and tying up criminals.
- Wonder Woman
- First in comics, then on TV, and later in the movies, Wonder Woman is the immortal, super-strong, and magical genius daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta. She came to the world of mortals as an emissary of the Amazons but ended up fighting solo for justice and equality. She was a founding member of the Justice League. She has a magic lasso and an invisible airplane, though she also fights with sword and shield and with a bow.
- Batwoman was originally created for the sole purpose of being Batman’s love interest, to prove he wasn’t gay. In her first appearances, Batwoman didn’t join Bruce Wayne in his vigilante activities. She waited for him at home.
- In 2017, Batwoman was reintroduced in the form of Kate Kane, the niece of the original Batwoman and an openly lesbian superhero. She returned to Gotham to take over for the absent Batman and save the city.
- Making her first appearance in 1959, Supergirl is Superman’s cousin who fights for truth and social justice. She foils all kinds of threats, from time-traveling supervillains to authoritarian Martians. Like Superman, her superpowers are flight, invincibility, laser vision, etc. By day, Supergirl is disguised as Kara Danvers, top-notch journalist. Supergirl first met Wonder Woman in 1965.
- Jean Grey/ The Phoenix
- Jean Grey is arguably the most powerful telepath and telekinetic mutant in the X-Men. She was the first female member of the X-Men team and one of the best-developed, complex characters in comics. While studying with Professor Xavier to hone her abilities, she reached a level of the astral plane where she first reached her Phoenix persona. The Phoenix is so powerful that Jean Grey frequently loses control of it. The chaos and destruction the Phoenix unleashes is one of the major causes of mental illness for Jean Grey, along with the dissociation. Over the course of the series, Jean Grey has had name changes, died and been regenerated several times, married and divorced, and overtaken and been overtaken by the Phoenix.
- Captain Marvel
- There are several characters in the Marvel Comics Universe with the name Captain Marvel. The first of these (in 1967) was an alien sent to observe Earth, Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree Military.
- Carol Danvers was first introduced as an officer in the US Air Force in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 in 1968. It wasn’t until 1977 that she gained superhuman abilities. An exploding “Psyche-Magnetron” melded her DNA with that of the Kree Captain Mar-Vell. This is the source of her superhuman abilities, including strength, stamina, durability, agility, flight, speed, healing, and immunity. In case that isn’t enough, Captain Marvel can also use her “Seventh Sense” to warn her of future dangers and tap into the photonic energy of a “white hole.”
- When she is not being Captain Marvel and maintaining peace throughout the galaxy, Carol Danvers fights for feminism and equal right for women on Earth. Even her first name, Ms. Marvel, was a nod to the feminist movement’s focus on independence.
- Ororo Munroe was the first major female comic character of African descent. Storm was the daughter of Kenyan sorceress, first appearing in the special edition of Giant-Size X-Men in 1975.
- As the descendent of sorceresses, student of magicians in the Serengeti, object of worship by the people of Wakanda, and Omega level Mutant X-Man, Storm has very impressive skills. Her primary abilities revolve around her atmokinesis, the control of weather. Storm can change the temperature and pressure in the atmosphere, creating winds, precipitation, fog, lightning, and any other imaginable offshoot of these. A side effect of her weather control gives Storm the ability to fly and to hide herself in dense fog.
- Storm started as Xavier’s ingénue, became a seasoned hero, rose through the ranks, and ended up as headmistress of Professor Xavier’s school and leader of the X-Men.
Bottom Line: Some characters can be reinvented and adapted as long as the writer can keep up with demand. Some characters should be allowed to retire before they pass their “sell-by” date. Which of these methods do you prefer? What sort of changes can keep a character fresh?
Note: There are many more female superheroes and action heroes than I’ve discussed here. Many independent publishers have printed stories of lesser known but equally fantastic female heroes (check out Faith, Miss America Chavez, Medusa, Boodikka, Wolfsbane).
I’m sure there are many people out there who know a lot more about superheroes than I do. Before researching this blog, I would have been pressed to name any beyond Wonder Woman, possibly coming up with Bat Girl and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Like so many things on the internet, seek and ye shall find!
The Golden Age of creating these female superheroes seems to have been 1940-1941. Subsequently, many of them made it to both the small screen and the big one, and—like James Bond—appeared and reappeared. (See those marked with *.)
Here, in chronological order, are a few of the very first female superheroes who might interest you as a reader and/or a writer. This is Part 1 of 2, covering female comic stars who debuted through 1940. Heroic ladies who debuted in 1941 and after will be covered on Tuesday, March 23rd.
If your character has a superhero interest, who and why? What superpowers might they wish for? How about a secret superhero crush?
- Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
- Sheena debuted almost four years before Wonder Woman. She was the guardian of the jungle, with numerous superpowers: superhuman strength, the ability to talk to animals, and expertise with several weapons, mostly blades. Sheena was one of the most powerful superheroes.
- The “Mystery Lady of the Jungles” was the protector of the entire continent of Africa. Fantomah was a supernatural being with superhuman abilities, including telekinesis and the ability to turn into a blue-skinned monster. Her origins were never revealed, nor was the reason she had fair skin and had blond hair.
- Initially, Fantomah was almost identical to Sheena. As she developed, Fantomah became nearly omnipotent, creating some truly bizarre punishments for slavers, poachers, thieves, and others she decided to punish. At one point, she became the queen of a lost civilization descended from the Egyptians. The writers got tired of that storyline, and the civilization became lost again.
- *Hawkgirl/ Hawkwoman
- Depending on the comic run, Hawkgirl is either the reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian princess or an alien police officer from planet Thanagar. Or she is both at the same time but in parallel universes. Or maybe she is the reincarnated spirit of an Ancient Egyptian priestess who is actually the avatar of a goddess who is now inhabiting the body of a winged alien police officer. The writers kept changing their minds.
- However she came by her powers, Hawkgirl has superhuman strength, speed, durability, and advanced healing. Her wings are incredibly strong for their size and let her perform extreme acrobatic flight maneuvers.
- In her first appearance in Batman #1, Selina Kyle was simply known as The Cat. Originally, she was either an orphan who learned thievery to survive on the streets or a former flight attendant with amnesia who turned to crime with no memory of any former skills. An enduring love interest of Batman, Catwoman was recently (partially) reformed from her more criminal activities. She’s an expert cat burglar with acrobatic prowess. She prefers to rely on her brains and a whip. She prowls the streets helping those who need her most, but she also steals from the evil rich to help those in need and fill her own coffers.
- *Catwoman was reintroduced in 1989, but this time she was portrayed as either a prostitute or a dominatrix who was inspired to become a costumed cat burglar after watching Batman’s antics.
- Lady Luck
- Brenda Banks was the very rich daughter of wealthy Irish mine owners who simply got bored and decided to put on a disguise and fight evil. She was aided by her chauffeur (sometimes a burly Italian man and sometimes a woman trained in martial arts). Lady Luck has no superpowers (other than being Irish), but she was a terrific fighter. The storyline revolved around her being in love with the Chief of Police.
- Golden Girl
- Making her first appearance in the world of Captain America, Elizabeth “Betsy (originally Betty)” Ross became a costumed hero in her own right after impressing Allied intelligence forces. She started out as a WAAC officer and FBI agent before she became part of the SSR project to create supersoldiers. After World War II, Ross put on a bulletproof cape and joined the third Captain America as Golden Girl. Because of her various careers (soldier, spy, teacher, dancer, etc.), Golden Girl had many talents, but no superpowered abilities. Her intelligence kept her in the ranks of superheroes.
- This Betty/ Betsy Ross is not related to Betty Ross, the romantic interest of Bruce Banner/ The Incredible Hulk.
- Red Tornado
- Abigail Mathilda “Ma” Hunkel was initially intended to be a parody of the superhero comic genre, but the Red Tornado grew so popular that she became a regular co-star in the Scribbly Jibbet comics. A shopkeeper and housewife in Brooklyn, Ma Hunkel stood up to a gang harassing her neighborhood by taking inspiration from her son’s obsession with the Green Lantern. She became a caped vigilante by wearing a t-shirt over red long-johns, a black cape, and a cooking pot with eye holes. The Red Tornado was extremely strong and durable but not superhuman (she was sometimes mistaken for a man). She eventually had two sidekicks, her daughter and niece, Sisty and Dinky. Additionally, Ma Hunkel was a fantastic cook and honorary member of the Justice League.
- *Black Widow
- Claire Voyant, created in August, 1940, by Timely Comics (later known as Marvel Comics), might be the first female superhero to be possessed by a mystical being. She and her family were murdered, and she made a deal with the devil in order to return to seek revenge. Her superpowers: she could use psychic powers, defy physics, curse enemies with severe bad luck, and kill people instantly with a touch. Black Widow was resistant to disease and aging, and could suppress and/or replace memories.
- During World War II, she helped the Allies by spying and by killing Nazis to send their souls to Satan. In the Battle of Berlin, Black Widow was captured by Nazi scientists and put in suspended animation with several other superheroes. The Twelve were found and woken up in the 21st Century to continue working for the US government.
- She is not related to the Black Widows created by the Soviet Red Room program.
- The Woman in Red
- She first appeared in March 1940 in Thrilling Comics. Along with Lady Luck she was one of the first vigilante female superheroes. Peggy Allen donned red after getting fed up with criminals manipulating the legal system and avoiding justice. Her real job was as a police officer specializing in undercover work, so one might label her a rogue cop. The Woman in Red had no special superpowers, but was highly skilled in hand-to-hand combatant and a brilliant tactician.
- There were essentially three versions of the Woman in Red, depending on the writer.
- Initially, Peggy Allen was taller and stronger than most men, knew a bit of jiu-jitsu but quite a lot about shooting her pistol, and was not trusted by the police.
- In the middle of 1941, Peggy Allen became a woman of average size and strength, a very good detective, and an ally of the police.
- The Peggy Allen of 1943 had near superhuman strength and agility, was a skilled martial artist and pilot, and worked with the police, who knew her secret identity. In 1943, the Woman in Red also got a costume change before disappearing.
- There were essentially three versions of the Woman in Red, depending on the writer.
Bottom Line: Long as the list is, these female superheroes are just the beginning! Check back on the 23rd for more pioneering superheroes. There is much more information online. For example, the wrap.com/female-superheroes-badass-memorable-batwoman-supergirl/. Also, gamesradar.com/best-female-superheroes/. And car.com/female-superheroes-created-before-wonder-woman/
Like so many professions, psychology has been male-dominated. Asked to name a psychologist, men like B. F. Skinner, John B. Watson, Stanley Milgram, and Sigmund Freud are likely to be mentioned —even though Freud was actually a medical doctor who founded psychoanalysis. But many of the most important movers and shakers in psychology were women. Here—in no particular order—is a brief introduction to just a few of them. I’m not including references; they are available on line in many forms.
(3 December 1895 – 9 October 1982)
Anna Freud was born in Vienna, the sixth and youngest child of Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays. She is reported to have had an unhappy childhood, and she did not have a close relationship with her mother. Her older sister Sophie was the family beauty; Anna the one with brains. She may have suffered from depression, and she went to health farms to rest, exercise, and gain weight, implying eating disorders. At the same time, Anna was a lively child with a reputation for mischief.
Contrary to other members of her family, she had a close relationship with her father—something both of the psychoanalytic Freuds must have had thoughts about! Anna made good progress in most subjects, apparently mastering English and French and basic Italian easily.
Anna left her teaching career to care for her father. Sigmund Freud was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw in 1923. He underwent many operations and required long-term nursing assistance, which Anna provided. She also acted as his secretary and spokesperson, notably at the bi-annual congresses of the International Psychoanalytical Association, which her father was unable to attend.
Ultimately, she followed in her father’s footsteps into psychoanalysis. Alongside Hermine Hug-Hellmuth and Melanie Klein, Anna Freud may be considered the founder of psychoanalytic child psychology. She is credited with expanding interest in child psychology.
Anna expanded on her father’s work. Although Sigmund Freud recognized the id, ego, and superego, Anna’s work emphasized the importance of the ego. Among her many accomplishments, my favorite is her development the concept of defense mechanisms.
Anna Freud never married. Her only partner of record (as far as I know) was Dorothy Burlingham.
Mary Salter Ainsworth
(December 1, 1913 – March 21, 1999)
Mary Dinsmore Salter Ainsworth was an American-Canadian feminist, army veteran, and developmental psychologist who specialized in child psychology. Ainsworth devised an experiment called the “Strange Situation” in reaction to John Bowlby’s initial finding that infants form an emotional bond to its caregiver.
In Ainsworth’s experiments, the infant was placed in scenarios with or without the mother as well as with or without a stranger. The child’s behavior was observed in these “anxious” conditions. Ainsworth stated that infants react in 4 different attachment patterns (secure, ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized) based on the extent of their bond to their primary caregiver.
The eldest of three daughters, Mary Dinsmore Salter was born in Ohio to Mary and Charles Salter. Although he possessed a master’s degree in history, her father worked at a manufacturing firm in Cincinnati. Her mother, who was trained as a nurse, was a homemaker. Both valued education highly. In 1918, her father’s manufacturing firm transferred him to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Salter spent the rest of her childhood.
Salter was a precocious child. She began reading by the age of three. Similarly to Anna Freud, she was close with her father, who tucked her in at night and sang to her. Also like Anna Freud, Salter did not have a warm relationship with her mother.
Mary Salter excelled in school, and decided to become a psychologist at the age of 15. She began classes at the University of Toronto at age 16, where she was one of only five students admitted to the honors course in psychology. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1935, her master’s degree in 1936, and her PhD in 1939, all at the University of Toronto.
Salter’s dissertation, “An Evaluation of Adjustment Based on the Concept of Security,” shaped her subsequent professional interest. Her dissertation stated that “where family security is lacking, the individual is handicapped by the lack of a secure base from which to work.”
In 1942, Salter left teaching to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. She left the military in 1945 with the rank of Major. She married Leonard Ainsworth, a graduate student in psychology, in 1950. They divorced in 1960.
While working at Johns Hopkins, Ainsworth did not receive the proper treatment considering her skills and expertise: she was paid less and had to wait two years for an associate professor position even though her qualifications surpassed the job description. At the time, women and men had to eat in separate dining rooms, which ultimately meant women could not meet powerful male faculty members in the same informal way men could.
She eventually settled at the University of Virginia in 1975, where she remained until her retirement in 1984. As a professor emerita she remained active 1992.
Ainsworth received many honors, including the G. Stanley Hall Award from APA for developmental psychology in 1984, the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Child Development in 1985, and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association in 1989. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992. She died of a stroke on March 21, 1999 at the age of eighty-five.
Mamie Phipps Clark
(April 18, 1917 – August 11, 1983)
Mamie Phipps was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas and died of cancer in New York City in 1983. She was the first Black woman to earn a degree from Columbia University, and the second Black student to earn a doctorate (after her husband Kenneth).
She entered Howard University in 1934 to study math and physics. While still an undergrad, she met her future husband. Kenneth Clark was a master’s student in psychology and urged her to switch to psychology. Both her B.A. and M.A. degrees were from Howard. After graduating magna cum laude, she worked in a law office for a time before matriculating at Columbia. Before graduating in 1943, she had had two children!
While working as a testing psychologist at an organization for homeless Black girls, Clark noted how limited mental health services were for minority children. In 1946, Clark and her husband founded the Northside Center for Child Development, which was the first agency to offer psychological services to children and families living in the Harlem area of New York City. Mamie Clark served as the Northside Center’s director until her retirement in 1979.
In her now-classic experiment, the Clarks showed Black children two identical dolls, one Caucasian and one Black. The children were then asked a series of questions including which doll they preferred to play with, which doll was a “nice” doll, which one was a “bad doll,” and which one looked most like the child.
The researchers discovered that not only would 59% the children identify the Black doll as the “bad” one, nearly 33% selected the white doll as the one they most resembled. Her research was central to demonstrating that separate is not equal.
Yes, she faced prejudice based on both her race and sex, but she went on to become an influential psychologist. She developed the Clark Doll Test as a tool for her research on racial identity and self-esteem. Her research on self-concept among minorities was ground-breaking. She played a role in the famous 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case.
Clark’s work on racial discrimination and stereotypes were important contributions to developmental psychology and the psychology of race. Her effort on the identity and self-esteem of Blacks expanded the work on identity development.
Clark is not as famous as her husband. It has been noted that she adhered to feminine expectations of the time and often took care to “remain in the shadows of her husband’s limelight.” She often seemed shy. She achieved professional success while maintaining a fulfilling home life. She received a Candace Award for Humanitarianism from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1983.
Leta Stetter Hollingworth
(May 25, 1886 – November 27, 1939, of abdominal cancer)
An early pioneer in U.S. psychology, Leta Stetter Hollingworth made her mark by her research on intelligence testing and giftedness. In particular, contrary to her contemporaries beliefs in genetic determination, she believed that education and environment were important factors.
Important as that work was, I admire her especially for her research on the psychology of women! At the time, women were believed to be inferior to men, and their intellect and emotions were at the mercy of their menstrual cycle. Hollingworth’s research demonstrated that women are as intelligent and capable as men, no matter where they are in their monthly cycles.
When her mother died giving birth to her third child, her father abandoned the family. The children were reared by their mother’s parents for a decade, until her father reclaimed the children and forced them to live with him and his new wife. Stetter later described the household as abusive, plagued by alcoholism and emotional abuse. Her education became a source of refuge.
Stetter left home when she graduated high school in 1902, at the age of 16, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Leta completed her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in 1906 and married Harry Hollingworth in 1908. She moved to New York so that her husband could pursue his doctoral studies. Originally she planned to continue teaching, but New York did not allow married women to teach high school at that time!
As a prime example of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” she enrolled at Columbia University and earned a master’s in education in 1913. Leta Hollingsworth took a position at the Clearing House for Mental Defectives where she administered and scored Binet intelligence tests (testing for IQ). She completed her Ph.D. in 1916 and took a job at Columbia’s Teachers College, where she remained for the rest of her career.
She is also known for her work in the first two decades of the twentieth century that contributed in a small way to changing the views toward women that led to women having the right to vote in a nation that had too long denied them that right. One of her students who became well known is Carl Rogers.
Although she died at age 53, her influence on psychology has been impressive.
(30 March 1882-22 September 1960)
Melanie Klein was a psychoanalyst who was pivotal in developing play therapy. Working with children, she observed that they often utilize play as one of their primary means of communication. Play therapy is commonly used today to help children express their feelings and experiences. Young children aren’t able to participate in some of the more commonly used Freudian techniques, such as free association. Klein used play as a way to study children’s unconscious feelings, anxieties, and experiences.
Note: This was a major disagreement with Anna Freud, who believed younger children could not be psychoanalyzed. Today, Kleinian psychoanalysis is one of the major schools of thought within the field of psychoanalysis.
At the age of 21 Melanie Reizes married an industrial chemist, Arthur Klein, and soon after gave birth to their first child; subsequently, she had 4 more children. She suffered from clinical depression, and these pregnancies taking quite a toll on her. This and her unhappy marriage led Klein to seek treatment. She began a course of therapy with psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, during which she expressed interest in studying psychoanalysis.
In 1921, Klein moved to Berlin and joined the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society under the tutelage of Karl Abraham. Even with Abraham’s support for her pioneering work with children, neither Klein nor her ideas received general support in Berlin. As a divorced woman who did not even hold a bachelor’s degree, Klein was a clear outsider within a profession dominated by male physicians. Nevertheless, Klein’s early work had a strong influence on the developing theories and techniques of psychology.
As I said in the beginning, these are just a few examples of women who deserve more recognition and credit. There are many.
For example, Mary Whiton Calkins attended Harvard without being formally admitted. Although she had completed all of the requirements for a doctorate, Harvard refused to grant her the degree on the grounds that she was a woman. Even so, she became the first female president of the American Psychological Association in 1905.
Similarly, Christine Ladd-Franklin studied at John Hopkins and completed a dissertation, but the school did not grant women Ph.D.s at the time. Finally, in 1926, nearly 44 years after completing her degree work, John Hopkins awarded her a doctorate.
Bottom line: Choose any profession that interests you, look for members who made significant contributions to that profession but are under appreciated, and you will find women!
Editor’s Note: One of the reasons women are under appreciated for their work is that they are missing from the historical record. To correct that problem, Suw Charman-Anderson declared the second Tuesday of every October to be Ada Lovelace Day, an opportunity to raise the profiles of women in STEM fields. One of the ways everyone can participate is by creating or improving the Wikipedia pages of significant women who are not as well-known as they should be.
You may be aware by now that March is Women’s History Month. This year, it is also Lent in most Christian faiths, nearly Passover by the Jewish calendar, and almost Ramadan in Islam. I thought it a good time to focus on a female scholar of Abrahamic religious history who has had a great deal of impact on me (and on the entire field of religious study: Elaine Pagels (pronounced Pay-gulls).
I grew up in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, but by the time I reached high school science courses, I had concluded that the entire King James Bible couldn’t be literally, factually true. In addition, I resisted many biblical teachings about women and women’s roles in the world and in the family. And I started doubting that the words of the bible were the words of God.
I first became aware of Elaine Pagels (pronounced Pay-gulls), née Elaine Hiesey, by reading her book The Gnostic Gospels. This groundbreaking book examines the divisions in the early Christian church, and the way that women have been viewed throughout Jewish and Christian history.
- Adjective: relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge.
- Noun: focused on eradication of ignorance.
I came away with many questions, some of which I haven’t resolved to my satisfaction to this day:
- What role did the patriarchal cultural and political structures of the time affect which of the various early Christian” books” would be brought together to become “the Bible”?
- How many women were among the early followers and disciples of Jesus?
- To what extent are the names attached to the books of the Bible accurate? (Except for Paul, little is known about any of the presumed authors.)
- How much do the English translations of the Bible truly reflect the original language?
- When whole panels of historians and scholars gather to make a revised Bible (e.g., The New Revised Standard Version), how can people believe that the Bible isn’t open to interpretation?
Modern Library named The Gnostic Gospels as one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century.
Elaine Pagels, née Hiesey (born February 13, 1943), is an American religious historian. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Pagels has conducted extensive research into early Christianity and Gnosticism. She started to learn Greek when she entered college, and read the Gospels in their original language.
She was part of the International Committee for the Nag Hammadi Codices, a team studying the Nag Hammadi Library manuscripts, also known as the “Chenoboskion Manuscripts” and the “Gnostic Gospels.” The thirteen papyrus codices were found sealed and buried outside the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945. They contained several works written by members of the early Christian church and directly contradicted parts of the Bible that had been officially accepted doctrine for centuries.
Pagels received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981 for her work with the Nag Hammadi research and how it related to the development of early Christianity. With archaeological evidence, she demonstrated how controversies over scriptural interpretation relate to certain social and political situations. She has published widely on Gnosticism and early Christianity, and continues to pursue research interests on topics that include sexuality and politics, visions, and the origins of Christian anti-Semitism.
- The Johannine Gospel in Gnostic Exegesis, Monograph Series of the Society for Biblical Literature (1973)
- Paul the Gnostic: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters (1976)
- The Gnostic Gospels (1979)
- Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity (1988)
- The Origin of Satan: How Christians Came to Demonize Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (1995)
- Created Equal: Exclusion and Inclusion in the American Dream (2004)
- Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003)
- Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity (2007)
- Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012)
- Why Religion?: A Personal Story (2018)
Elaine Pagels’s most recent book is very different from her publication. Why Religion? A Personal Story is a description of her own relationship with religion and how it changed over time. She discusses what originally led to her questions of faith in 7th grade and how studying religion helped her get through the loss of her young son and husband. With her own story, Pagels confronts questions of religion’s place in modern society and how religious traditions shape personal experiences.
In 2013 she received an honorary law degree from Harvard University, her alma mater. Elaine Pagels was awarded the National Medal for the Arts by President Barack Obama in 2016.
Pagels deserves attention during Women’s History Month because she has led so many to separate scholarship, belief, and doctrine, and to examine the role of each.
Because this is Women’s History Month, women will be the focus of all my March blogs. Unfortunately, COVID isn’t yet history—but it will be! And history may fail to note some of the lesser-known side-effects of the pandemic.
All of the examples of non-medical pandemic side effects are from women I actually know.
Newly Discovered (or Re-Discovered) Interests and Skills
2 & 3) Sisters who have undertaken plant therapy, focusing on (obsessing about) caring for their houseplants.
- Why the Christmas cactus leaves are yellow and how to fix it.
- Why the leaf edges are crispy.
- The best placement for each plant in terms of light, heat, and moisture.
- Also buying new plants
- Western fern
- Garden croton
- Ponytail palm
- Stag horn fern
- Air plants
- Plant containers and accessories, such as ceramic pots, macramé holders for hanging plants and geometric air plant holders.
6) She found working from home in yoga pants to be so comfortable that she decided never to wear regular waistbands again.
7) She has started creating digital learning modules for elementary grades as a way to help students whose parents are not able to stay home and supervise their children’s online classes.
8) She’s taken up needlework and sewing.
9) She plays online games and crossword puzzles.
Certain Habits (Obsessions?) That Reassure Some Women That They Are “Still Okay”
12) She makes a point of wearing a clean T-shirt every day.
13) She set herself a strict schedule and sticks to it, eating, working, cleaning, etc. at the same time every day.
14) She gets fully dressed every day, including a complete array of jewelry.
15) She bought 23 masks so she can coordinate them with her outfits.
16) Every day, she has a video chat with at least one friend or family member, and they talk about anything except work, the pandemic, and politics.
Side Effects of Being Home All Day, Every Day
19) She spends extra time training her dog, going way beyond basic obedience. They can do dance routines together now.
20) She’s going through the house room by room and getting rid of things. In the kitchen, it’s old herbs, spices, and condiments plus everything past its “best by” date. In the bathroom, it’s old OTC products and half-used grooming supplies. She’s purging the bookshelves of 1/3 of the books. You get the idea.
23) She painted all the woodwork, refinished the stairs, replaced the drafty windows, and more home improvements are on the horizon.
24) She is having both bathrooms and the kitchen remodeled.
25) Pulling every single weed in the flowerbeds, deadheading every couple of days, pruning, etc.
26) Every time she cooks, she makes double and freezes half so the family won’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking in case someone in the family gets sick or has to quarantine.
Self-Soothing Behaviors (i.e., Doing Things to Reduce Anxiety) Can Get Out of Hand
28) She makes soup, sometimes having five different kinds in the refrigerator at the same time.
29) She walks 3 miles around the neighborhood every morning.
30) Compulsive shopping on-line.
31) Baking elaborate (or simply large) chocolate desserts and eating the entire result by herself.
The media have made clear that smoking, drinking, drugs, and other bad habits are up during the pandemic. Fortunately, I don’t personally know anyone relying on these bad habits.
Bottom Line: changing behaviors because of COVID often lead to changes that seem totally unrelated.
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, ESL teacher, luthier, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and female of the species.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to tell you a story of how one woman sparked a series of interactions that led to rock stars! And none of these interactions would have been possible without women pioneers making history.
Alice Chalifoux, the “godmother to the Harp World” was the principle harpist with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra from 1931 to 1974. For decades, she was the only woman in the Orchestra. Because she couldn’t share the dressing room with her male colleagues, she used to shut herself in her harp’s traveling case to change into concert dress.
Way back in the 1990s, there was a little girl who took harp lessons at her local middle school. She rented a small harp over the summer and brought it home to practice.
That little girl was my neighbor and a few years older than me. She was the absolute coolest person I knew (as all the Big Girls were). Not only did she let me listen to her practice, she let me play a few notes!
Mary Jane D’Arville, in addition to teaching harp in public schools, founded the Virginia Harp Center. With locations up and down the East Coast now, the Harp Centers provide rental harps for students who could not otherwise afford them. Not content with being a superhero to every harpist with a bent stand or broken string from Boston to Miami, she also composes and arranges music for harp and harp ensembles, teaches privately, performs, and organizes music festivals.
Obviously, the best way to be as cool as The Big Girls is to copy what they do. As soon as I was able, I joined the same harp program through our school system.
Talented, determined women (and a few men) have created harp programs in public school systems all over the country. Velma Froude in Detroit, Anne Williams and Jackie Pates in Richmond VA, Robbin Gordon-Cartier in East Orange NJ, and Lou Anne Neill in Los Angeles CA are just a few of the ladies who have made the harp available to kids who never would have seen one otherwise.
Playing the harp was so much fun that I decided to keep it up in college. The only problem with the college I’d chosen was that there was no harp program and no harp teacher.
In addition to chairing the School of Music and conducting the orchestra where I studied, Dr. Oeida Hatcher is a leading researcher in methods of joining computer science and music education. She is a guest conductor and lecturer, presenting her findings all over the world.
Fortunately, the Chair of School of Music where I studied liked the idea of a harp program at school. She found a qualified harp teacher in the area, convinced her to drive an hour to the college to teach me, and then informed me that I would be declaring my major as Music Performance.
I was the best student in the harp program! I was also the worst student in the harp program. As far as I know, I am still the only student to have been in the harp program! My new teacher was from Los Angeles, and her style was unlike anything I’d ever played. She taught me to play whole new genres of music as well as the business of being a musician. (For example, if you’re driving down the LA Freeway with your harp in the passenger seat of your convertible, make sure to buckle it in securely.)
Dorothy Ashby was one of the first musicians to see the potential of the harp as more than a background, classical instrument. She was possibly the most influential jazz harpists of all time, establishing the possibilities of the harp in bebop, jazz, jazz improv, and blues.
My glamorous Hollywood harp teacher had lots of glamorous Hollywood friends, one of whom worked for a sound engineering firm. Her job was to connect filmmakers with people who create music for films. Without music, movies are surprisingly boring. Without that 2 note foreboding theme in the background, “Jaws” is just a big fish with extra pointy bits.
Ruth Brown earned the titles “Miss Rhythm” and “Queen of R&B” as one of the best-selling singers and songwriters of the century. She leveraged her fame to force the recording industry to acknowledge the rights of musicians in negotiating royalties. She created the Rhythm and Blues Foundation to assist other musicians who were in need of assistance in negotiations.
This woman who knew everyone involved in making music in Hollywood came to visit my harp teacher one day. The woman in charge of all music at my college invited her to present a lecture on the business of music in film.
It was a fascinating lecture. The presenter talked about how directors and producers choose the composer for a film, how music is played and recorded for films, how editors match musical timing to visual timing, and how sound engineers adjust the soundtrack, dialogue, sound effects, and background noise so that each scene creates the desired aural effect.
After the lecture, a student hung around to talk to the presenter. She was a computer science student, and she was interested in the possibilities of sound engineering, particularly for live shows. They exchanged business cards and contact information.
My glamorous Hollywood harp teacher later told me that the computer science student who came to that lecture had gone to Los Angeles. She was interning with a sound design company, learning how to create the perfect sound in huge concert venues for rock stars.
Bottom Line: An amazing chain of events can be set in motion by the simplest things, such as a little girl practicing on a rented harp.
In March of 2018 I posted “Unwritten History of a Thriver,” a Women’s History Month homage to my paternal grandmother, one of the strongest and most influential people in my life. Much of what follows was included then, but with a couple of factual corrections. I always think of her on March 1, because that was the day she was born in 1903.
Margaret Louisa Butcher, the ninth of twelve children, was born on Yost Branch in Johnson County, Kentucky. Some of her siblings couldn’t pronounce that name and thus she was known as “Lucy” from her infancy on.
She married Allie Howard Parker and from then on was officially Lucy Butcher Parker. For many decades they lived at the head of old House Creek in Rowan County, Kentucky.
This picture of Granny, my father, Granny Butcher, and me was taken in the yard there. The Old Home Place (as everyone in the family called it) was four rooms and two porches. The front porch was for rocking, swinging, and whatever work could be done outside.
The back porch was for churning butter and washing clothes. Eventually there was a wringer washer, but before that it was a washboard and two tubs. Washing on the washboard was so laborious that Granny would note in her diary how many items of clothes she washed in a day.
The house had electricity by the time I knew it but no running water or indoor plumbing of any sort. The well was in the backyard and the outhouse sat over a little tributary to Old House Creek.
Granny cooked on a cast iron, wood-burning stove, and two of the other rooms were heated with potbellied wood/coal burning stoves, similar to those pictured below. Cornbread and biscuits were staples.
Of course the cook stove had no temperature indicators. Granny stuck her hand into the oven to determine the degree of heat by how long she could hold it there.
I used to play on the stacked wood behind the kitchen stove, where it was warm and close to where Granny worked. On the wall above me were strings of dried apple rings and leather britches beans (dried green beans).
One time I sneaked a snack of dried apples and it tasted so good that I ate the whole string. Then, being really thirsty, I drank dipper after dipper of well water. Granny didn’t punish me for the apples. She said the apples would punish me for her. As the apples rehydrated in my stomach, I thought I was going to burst and hurt something awful. Once the stomach ache passed, I had diarrhea so bad I had to run to the outhouse again and again.
From my adult perspective, I marvel at how Granny could be so cheerful given her arduous daily labor. She had a vegetable garden, the harvest followed by canning, drying, and root-cellaring for the off-season. She kept chickens and milk cows, requiring tending every day, regardless of weather.
Churn, butter, churn.
Churn, butter, churn.
Johnny’s at the garden gate
Waiting for a butter cake.
Churn, butter, churn.
Granny churned her own butter and sold some of it to the general store out on the highway. I sometimes helped churn, though I didn’t have the stamina to do the whole job. The churning rhyme helped keep the rhythm smooth, moving the dasher up and down word by word.
According to my Aunt Mary, Dad’s younger sister, the VA Hospital sent Grandpa home in 1933 to die because they couldn’t cure his illness. He was a coal miner in his earlier years, before being gassed in France during WWI. He didn’t die, but while he struggled to regain his health, Granny and the children struggled to get by.
In the late 30s and early 40s, Aunt Nora and Dad set traps for fur-bearing animals, and sold the pelts. They also raised, dried, shelled, and shipped popcorn to add to their income, as well as picking blackberries for five cents a gallon. They shelled corn for a neighbor to take to the gristmill. The inner husks from dried corn was used for filling, like feathers for a feather bead.
Granny had a hard life—perhaps not by Appalachian standards of the time, but certainly by anyone’s standards today.
All their children were born at home, Granny sitting on Grandpa’s lap, his knees spread to make a birthing chair. Only five of her children grew to adulthood.
Her widowed mother, Granny Butcher, spent nearly all of her last seventeen years living with Grandpa and Granny. I’m told Granny Butcher was a kind, gentle woman. By the time I knew her, she was old and nearly blind.
Still, she did what she could to help—snapping beans, shelling peas, churning, and the like. Granny Parker nursed her through her last decline and did the same for Grandpa.
What I most remember about Granny—besides her never-ending work—was her laugh. She loved a good joke or humorous stories. I don’t remember her ever complaining. She read the Bible every day and Reader’s Digest as often as it came. She encouraged me to do all that I could, as well as I could.
I grew up wanting to be like her: strong, capable, and self-sufficient. I see a straight line between Granny’s influence and me earning a Ph.D. by age 25. I was the only one in my parents’ generation or mine to go to college.
Granny made all the quilts for her family. I have several of her quilts, and have passed some along to my children. In her later years she sold quilts to people from most if not all of the United States.
As a widow, she continued to make and sell quilts. I thought her life was pretty much as it always had been until she sent me this newspaper clipping about being the oldest person in Kentucky to earn her GED.
By then Granny had a phone and I called her.
“You never had a high school diploma? How can that be? Didn’t you teach school before you got married?”
She said, “No I never had a diploma. I studied at Morehead Normal School to be a teacher and then took the state examination. Don’t you remember me telling you that I was licensed to teach by examination? I was in the first group that had to go to Frankfort to be tested.”
And the next thing I knew, she had enrolled in college! If I remember correctly, Morehead State University created a senior citizens scholarship to cover her tuition and fees. Granny never learned to drive, so she had to plan her classes around the bus schedule and when she could get a ride.
I saw Granny shortly before she died at age 81. I asked whether, if she had it to do over again, she would change anything about her life. I expected her to say something about how her life could have been made easier.
What she did say was, “The only thing I regret is that I’m a junior and won’t live long enough to get my college diploma.”
During Women’s History Month, consider the important women in your history. And let me know about them!