Viola Davis – Emmy Winner

     “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” [Viola Davis]

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 2.44.45 PM     Viola Davis won the Emmy this week for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for playing Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder. For a graduate of Juilliard, winning an acting award is not surprising. However, Davis’ distinction is remarkable because she is the First African-American Woman to win an Emmy as a Lead Actress. Davis reminds us that she is also “of a certain age and a certain hue,” making her award even more exceptional.

Juilliard is not an opportunity one might have expected for Viola Davisd. Born on a former plantation in South Carolina, Davis’ father was a horse groomer and trainer and her mother a maid and factory worker. She was raised in Rhode Island, a minority in her community, taunted with racist insults. Poverty was constant. She stole and scavenged food when she was hungry, tied her braids with the clips from loaves of bread, and moisturized with lard.

Davis has a long list of credits in film, television and theatre. When she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the movie Doubt, she demonstrated the depth of her talent; the Oscar was awarded for a total of nine minutes of screen time. She has also won two Tony awards, one as Best Featured Actress in a play and one as Best Actress in a play. For the most part, however, she has played supporting, not starring roles, from a crack-addicted mother to a rape counselor. Her dedication to the craft, however, is evident. “Even when I get the fried-chicken special of the day,” she says, referring to her smaller roles, “I have to dig into it like it’s filet mignon.”

When Shonda Rimes was ready to cast Annalise Keating for “ How to Get Away with Murder” her first choice was Viola Davis. An absorbing story for audience members, with its twists and turns, passion and complexity, the most memorable scene for many of us “of a certain age” is the one where we watch this powerful, calculating woman remove her makeup and wig. She tells it like it is, in her acting and when she receives awards. Not surprising for a woman whose mother was also a civil rights activist.

More First Women on Jeopardy

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 4.45.02 PMA couple of weeks ago, Jeopardy included another First Women category in their show. Once again I have taken the names  used in their category and created a quiz.

Match the descriptions below (a through e) with the names (1 to 5). Answers appear at the bottom.

a. First Woman to win an Olympic Marathon (in 1984)

b. First Woman on the FBI’s most-wanted list (1968-1969)

c. First Woman in the United States to serve as a state governor (in 1924)

d. First African-American woman to win an Oscar for Leading Actress (in 2002)

e. First Woman (in fact, first person) to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel (in 1901)

1. Annie Taylor

2. Joan Benoit

3. Halle Berry

4. Ruth Taylor Ross

5. Ruth Eismann-Schier


a-2 (she still holds some speed records); b-5 (for kidnapping an heiress); c-4 (in Wyoming); d-3 (for Monster’s Ball); e-1 (she was 43 at the time)








U.S. Open Firsts

US OPENSerena Williams is favored to win the U.S. Open. If she does she will have a calendar Grand Slam: winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open in the same year. She will be the first player to do this since Steffi Graf in 1988.

Serena is probably also responsible for another first. This year, for the first time in the history of the U.S. Open (since 1881) the women’s singles finals sold out before the men’s.

Katrina Adams also adds to the firsts since, just this year, she became the first African-American and first former professional tennis player to serve as the USTA’s Chairman of the Board, CEO and President.

How long until women play five sets?

Griest and Haver, First Women to Complete Ranger School

NEW RANGERSLast week Captain Kristen Griest, an Apache helicopter pilot, and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, a military police officer, both completed the Army’s Ranger School, and they made the national news. Their feat pitted them against the best of the men in the military and they showed they were equal.

Revolutionary War – Women have been involved in war since this country began, as spies, as nurses, as cooks, and as water bearers. Even in the Revolutionary War women fought alongside men, although Deborah Sampson was disguised as a man and, when discovered, simply took another name and re-enlisted. Margaret Corbin received a pension for her service crewing a cannon at Fort Washington. Lucy Brewer claimed she served on the USS Constitution for three years, but she was a writer, so her words are automatically suspect.

Civil War – During the Civil War Sally Tompkins, a nurse running a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, was the first (and only?) woman commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army. Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Union spy, was the first and only woman officially inducted into the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans.

World War IIDuring the Second World War, women served their country, filling the expected roles of nurses and secretaries, but also those of strategic planners and airplane pilots. Their service was so notable that in 1948 Congress enacted a law making women a permanent part of the U.S. military services and Vietta M. Bates, in 1949, was the first enlisted woman sworn into the U.S. Army.

Post World War II – In 1972 two women, Anna May Hayes and Elizabeth P. Hoisington reached the rank of brigadier General. In 1976 the military academies, under presidential order, admitted women but it was not until 1996 that the prestigious Citadel admitted women. In 1983, when the United States invaded Grenada, 200 Army and Air Force women were among the forces deployed, as military police and transportation specialists. The armed forces began admitting women to more and more positions previously reserved to men and in 1985 Lt. Kendra Williams, USN, flew a combat mission during Operation Desert Fox in Iraq.

Post 9/11 Wars – Although many positions were still restricted to men, women were accepted in more positions and around 40,000 were deployed during the Gulf and Iraqi wars. In 2005, outside of Baghdad, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester came under attack and killed several insurgents, saving members of her convoy. She was the first woman to receive a Silver Star for valor in close quarters combat. By 2012 the military opened jobs in small units closer to the front lines to women.

In 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, signed an order stating that women must have the same opportunities in combat jobs. Now Griest and Haver may wear a special Ranger badge on their uniforms, an honor as prized as an Olympic gold medal. What they do not have yet is the right to be a member of a Ranger unit. The military is now evaluating which units can continue to exclude women.

It is hard to understand how modern people, with their intelligence and resources, still wage war. But, it is also difficult to understand why women should be excluded from participation in the endeavors of their countries, should they so choose. The Ranger website says, “Upon completion of this course, Rangers have the essential skills, training, and confidence to be members of the 75th Ranger Regiment.” Griest and Haver have proven they are worthy of membership.

Jen Welter – NFL Coach


Jen Welter is the first woman coach in NFL history. As announced a few weeks ago, her position with the Arizona Cardinals is temporary, an internship, but still a remarkable achievement. Full credit goes to head coach, Bruce Arians, who justifies the hire by saying, “Coaching is nothing more than teaching.” He and Welter believe the inside linebackers will respond to her when they see their playing improve.

Welter’s background prepared her for this role. First of all, she knows football from the inside. Her experience included fourteen seasons of play in several women’s football league teams, earning her gold medals in international competitions. In 2014 she became the first woman running back for a male professional football team, The Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League. Until she earned this position, women had played with men only as kickers. She was the first to play full body contact football with the guys. She was also a special teams and linebacker coach with the Revolution, the first woman in a coaching position for a men’s team.

Welter brings something else to the game that many (or perhaps all?) male coaches do not. She has a Ph.D. in psychology. “I want to help guys realize football is as mental as it is physical,” she says, “and that I’m invested in their future. When guys know they are cared about as a person, not just a player or a commodity, they will absolutely play harder.”

Welter understands she is a role model. She noted that, even after winning four championships and two gold medals she was not asked to appear on ESPN until she earned a position on an NFL team. “This isn’t about me,” she says. “This is about every woman and girl who absolutely loves the game of football and they haven’t had a place before.”