LITTLE-KNOWN FACTS ABOUT WOMEN IN AMERICAN HISTORY

Published: Sunday, March 12 1995 12:00 a.m. MST

Accuracy, balance and the big picture - this is what historians seek. This is why women's history (not to mention the history of ethnic minorities) is more than just a trend. Women's history adds another dimension. It helps portray the whole picture of what happened in Utah, in the United States and in the world. Women's history is official - and not just during March, which is officially Women's History Month.

Says Brighton High history teacher Kristie Pitts, "My idea is we ought to understand the history of all Americans."Says Jordan District curriculum specialist Jean Wollam, "You are much more likely to get an accurate view of any event if you hear about it from multiple perspectives."

It used to be that history was equated with politics and wars. Thus we looked to the lives of politicians and warriors, most of whom were men, when we wanted to be inspired by stories of bravery and achievement. However, about 20 years ago, university scholars turned their attention to women and minorities. When historians really began exploring the social and cultural history of this country, they discovered stories about women who were strong and who achieved.

High school textbooks didn't get rewritten right away. Nor did schools necessarily have the money to buy new books. But teachers who love history read the new research and learned so many interesting facts that they were able to start enriching their teaching. Students responded, especially girls.

Girls seem to need women's history, says Pitts. They seem hungry for role models - hungry for the stories of women's bravery and boldness, intelligence and endurance.

Those of us who missed out on women's history when we were in high school might want to check out one of the new books. "American Women's History," for example, lists hundreds of facts, well-known as well as obscure. "American Women's History," was written by Doris Weatherford and recently published by Prentice Hall.

From that book and from the files of the Deseret News come the following tiny tributes to women in U.S. history:

TRIANGLE FIRE of March 25, 1911. The Triangle Factory was a Manhattan dress manufacturer known for shabby treatment of its predominately female work force. In the great 1909 strike against the garment industry, the owners of the Triangle Factory refused to settle. Workers who wanted a union either left or were fired.

Thus those who were on the job two years later were mostly newly arrived Italians or Jews who were willing to work on Saturdays. The tragedy was touched off on a Saturday afternoon when one of the few male employees apparently dropped a match near some oil cans. Fabric was everywhere, and it burned quickly.

Some women were lucky enough to get to the elevators while they still functioned. Others crowded near the windows. The firemen arrived quickly, only to find their ladders stopped two floors short of the factory's floors.

Some women were pushed out by those behind them, who were struggling to get air. But others jumped, realizing it was jump or be burned. By evening, a heap of corpses lay on the sidewalk. More than 50 bodies were found inside - piled behind locked doors.

Of course, fire regulations prohibited locking the factory doors, but many of the era's managers routinely locked their workers inside. The district attorney investigated and soon had facts to prove the doors had been kept locked. However, by December, when the owners went on trial, public outrage had dimmed. At one point the all-male jury was evenly divided, but after two hours they issued an acquittal. One said, in explanation, "I think the girls, who obviously have not as much intelligence as others might in other walks of life, were inclined to fly into a panic." Thus the deaths of 146 people went unavenged.

EDITH ABBOTT (1876-1957) and her sister, Grace, were pioneers in the infancy of sociology and economics. Born in Grand Island, Neb., a descendant of New England and Quaker colonists, Edith Abbott taught for a year at Wellesley College before returning to her beloved Midwest in 1908, where she and Grace lived at Jane Adam's Hull House. In 1910, Abbott published "Women in Industry," a comprehensive and still-quoted study of labor conditions of women. She followed that with "The Real Jail Problem." She was also one of the first to study and write about juvenile delinquency. In 1924, Abbott was named dean of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration.

KATE "MA" BARKER (1872-1935) was born in Springfield, Miss., and was one of the few females to lead a notorious outlaw band. Marriage and motherhood didn't soften her a bit. She believed, as did her post-Confederacy compatriot Jesse James, that rebelling against the laws of the United States was somehow justified.

Ma Barker held complete dominion over her three sons, insisting that the "boys" attend church while also carrying out her plans for the kidnappings, murders and bank robberies that netted the family more than $3 million. The authorities finally caught up with them at their hideout in Oklawaha, Fla. In the ensuing machine gun battle, Ma Barker died alongside her son Fred.

THE FEMALE RELIEF SOCIETY OF NAUVOO began on March 17, 1842, with 20 members. Under the leadership of Emma Hale Smith, they organized to sew clothing for the hundreds of volunteer workmen who were building an LDS temple in Nauvoo, Ill.

After the Mormons came to Utah, in 1847, the Relief Society continued to be vital to the community - clothing, feeding and caring for those who could not care for themselves. Relief Society members were active politically as well. In 1870, more than 5,000 "sisters" petitioned the territorial government and were granted the right to vote, making the women of the Utah Territory second only to the women of the Wyoming Territory in gaining that right.

In 1888, the Relief Society joined the National Woman Suffrage Association and the International Council of Women. In 1891, the Relief Society became a charter member of the National Council of Women. (Eighty years later, Relief Society president Belle Smith Spafford served two terms as president of the National Council.)

In 1896, when Utah was granted statehood, it was the third state to join the Union with equal suffrage. Today, the Relief Society has more than 3 million members.

THE INDUSTRIAL CHRISTIAN HOME FOR POLYGAMOUS WIVES was a testament to how little Easterners understood the pioneer women of the Utah Territory. Federal legislators went to the amazing lengths of appropriating $112,000 and building, on Fifth East in Salt Lake City, a huge home. It was assumed large numbers of women and children would flee their bondage as soon as an asylum was available. The home opened in June 1889. Only seven women showed up. All were paupers. Not all were polygamous. The building became a hotel. Later, during WWII it housed military officers. Finally, before it was torn down in 1985, the old Industrial Christian Home for Polygamous Wives saw duty as a private club, the Ambassador Club.

DAISY GASTON BATES (1922- ) was sitting in her living room in Little Rock, Ark., one evening in 1957, when a rock came crashing through the window. Beginning then and for several years, Bates had to have bodyguards 24 hours a day. She was the target of countless death threats and several attempted bombings.

After the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in 1954, Bates, who was the head of the Arkansas chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), began to organize for integration. In 1957, nine black students registered for the first time at Little Rock High.

Bates published her memoirs, "The Long Shadow of Little Rock," in 1962. When she returned home from a trip to New York to meet with her publisher, she was greeted by a Ku Klux Klan cross on her lawn.

The story of her life is the story of an endless struggle against racism, beginning when she was only 5 years old, when three white men raped and murdered her mother and escaped prosecution. To read about her life is to understand the meaning of generosity, as Bates expresses sincere sympathy for the sufferings of the white people who championed integration.

JURY DUTY. As late as 1961, there were still three states (in the Deep South) that barred women from jury duty.

LYING IN is a term coined in colonial times to refer to childbirth. A woman, it was believed, should "lie in" or rest for a month to six weeks after delivery. Only wealthy women were likely to be able to observe this ideal, however. Most other women had too much work to do. After hospitals were established in the 19th century, the term was commonly included in the names as a euphemism for "maternity." The Boston Lying-In Hospital, founded in 1832, was the nation's first obstetrical hospital and also, in 1847, the first to use anesthesia for childbirth. It kept the "lying-in" part of its name until 1966.

MAIDEN NAMES were all right for maiden ladies, but the idea of a married woman keeping her own name was considered ludicrous in the middle of the 19th century. Feminist Lucy Stone introduced the idea in 1855. It was scorned by cartoonists and jokesters for years afterward. The few women who did keep their names were referred to, derisively, as "Lucy Stoners."

Ironically, at this same time, immigrants from Scandinavia were coming from a culture in which a woman kept her individual name after she married. Traditionally, a woman who was born to a man named Peter might be known as Karin Petersdatter for her whole life. If she immigrated to the United States, however, the officials would record her name as the same as her husband's last name. Thus our country is full of Johnsons and Olsons with nary a Johnsdatter or Olesdatter to be found.

MARY JANE PATTERSON (1840-1894) The first African-American woman to graduate from college, Mary Jane Patterson graduated from Oberlin College in 1862, during the first full year of the Civil War. She had been born a slave near Raleigh, N.C. After escaping, her father managed to buy his family's freedom. In giving Mary Jane and her sisters a college education, while apprenticing their son into a trade, the Pattersons were the first to do what generations of black families later did. Well into the 20th century black families differed from white families in that they were, statistically, just as likely to educate their daughters as their sons.

MARTHA HUGHES CANNON was the first woman doctor in Utah and the first woman state senator in U.S. history. She and her husband, Angus M. Cannon, didn't directly oppose each other in the election. However they both were among 10 candidates running at large for five seats in the Utah Senate. Thus when she won a seat and he didn't, it was often said she beat out her own husband.

Martha Hughes Cannon was born in Wales and came to the Salt Lake Valley by covered wagon when she was 4 years old. She earned her medical degree at the University of Michigan, returning to the Utah Territory to establish the first school of nursing in 1888. As a senator, she was instrumental in passing sanitation laws and securing money for a school for the deaf. During the struggle for statehood, Cannon worked for women's suffrage, practised medicine and raised her children - at one point fleeing the territory with a baby in her arms to avoid having to testify against her husband who was being tried as a polygamist.

THE CIVIL WAR (1861-1865) saw dozens, perhaps hundreds, of women dressing as men and joining the battle. Matilda Joslyn Gage, a 19th century feminist historian and activist chronicled their exploits. She also recorded an amazing story about the bravery of a nameless woman who recaptured a Union ship taken by pirates.

The J.P. Ellicott was a merchant marine brigantine out of Maine that was sailing in the South Atlantic when it was captured by pirates. While getting rid of most of the crew, the pirates kept the wife of the first mate. As the spoils of war, she was raped by the pirates. However, unlike so many other women throughout history who have been considered the spoils of war, this woman lived and brought her torturers to justice.

She got the pirates drunk, then handcuffed them and took possession of the ship. She persuaded the pirates' crew, who were mostly black men from St. Thomas, to help her. "Having studied navigation with her husband," reports Gage, this woman was able to captain the ship safely to St. Thomas, where she "placed the vessel in the hands of the United States consul, who transferred the offenders as prisoners of war. Her name was not given, but had this bold feat been accomplished by a man or boy, the country would have rung with praises of the daring deed." (Her name was no doubt withheld at her own request. Women who had been raped did not easily regain their position in polite society.)

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