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

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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.”

Emma Edwards Green – Flag Designer

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Emma Edwards Green was the first woman to design a state flag. She was, in fact, the only woman to design a state flag. Emma visited friends in Boise Idaho in 1890 and decided to stay. She taught art classes and was later invited to submit a design for the state flag of Idaho. Her design was selected and she received $100 prize money. The natural resources of Idaho are displayed in her design, including a miner and a woman. Her original art rests in the Idaho Historical Society.

Misty Copeland – Principal Dancer

MISTY COPELANDWhen Misty Copeland was named principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre this week, her achievement was noted because she is the First African-American Woman to hold this position. Of course she was already known in the ballet world as she worked her way up to this recognition, but her fame has extended beyond the sphere of classical dance.

Misty Copeland did not begin dancing until she was a young teenager. In spite of being told that it was too late for her to become a ballerina, she trained and progressed rapidly. She was en pointe within a few months and within two years she placed first in the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards. That award provided offers from the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theater of Harlem and Pacific Northwest Ballet for places in their summer workshops. She selected San Francisco Ballet, but would later study in the Summer Intensive Program at American Ballet Theatre. ABT then offered her (and five others out of 150) a place in their junior dance troupe.

In the last decade Misty Copeland has been visible internationally and in mass media. In 2009 she appeared in a performance at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The ABT engagement was the first by an American ballet company at the new Chinese arts center. In 2011 Misty was selected as one of 37 Boundary-breaking black women in entertainment by Essence magazine. By 2015 she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (in the world). She was also profiled within the last year on “60 Minutes.”

She has brought new audience members to ballet, perhaps because she dances across the gaps between classical and popular tastes. The same year she danced in Beijing, she danced on a piano top for a Prince video. Although she idolized the Argentine principal ballerina Paloma Herrera after seeing her dance, she did not abandon her earlier admiration for the music of Mariah Carey.

Her influence might be likened to Brandi Chastain. Not many people paid attention to women’s soccer until the 1999 World Cup. Few forget the moment after USA won the cup and Brandi Chastain removed her shirt as if saying, “Here I am world. This is the power of a woman’s body.” Misty Underwood conveyed the same message last year when she danced in her Under Armour for a commercial as part of their “I Will What I Want” campaign. The ad had four million views within one week.

During the ad a young girl reads the rejection letter received by Misty Copeland when she started dancing. We can admire the strong body she developed but also the persistence that marks her character. She provides inspiration to women of all ages.

First Women at the Tonys

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.50.48 AMActor and playwright Lisa Kron and composer and arranger Jeanine Tesori have both earned many awards from even more nominations. Kron’s list of awards includes three Obies and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Tesori, the most prolific woman composer on Broadway, has won Drama Desk Awards, and received four Tony nominations.

Each is formidable in her own right, but this past Monday, together, they achieved a first. They were the First Women to win a Tony Award as an all-female writing team, for the book and music for Fun Home. It has been 24 years since two women were even considered. In 1991 Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman were nominated for the musical adaption of The Secret Garden. Only two years ago, in 2013, Cyndi Lauper won a Tony for the music and lyrics for Kinky Boots, becoming the First Woman to win Best Score without a male collaborator.

Fun Home also claims a first, the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. The show is a testament to perseverance. It took Alison Bechdel seven years to create the autobiographical graphic novel on which the book is based. Then it took five years for Kron and Tesori to develop the book and music. The musical played in lab and off-Broadway, winning awards even before making it to Broadway.

Fun Home is the story of a young woman exploring her sexuality, while her own father explores his. Beth Malone, who plays Alison Bechdel in the musical was nominated for a Tony as Leading Actress in a Musical and Judy Kuhn, who plays Alison’s mother, was nominated for a Tony as an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical.

The musical won an Obie, a Drama Critics’ Circle Award and a Tony for Best Musical. It was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

 

Dramatic Aside (a “Curious” and “Fun” Question): In 2015 the Tony for Best Musical (Fun Home) and the Tony for Best Play (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) were both for works based on literature. I wonder how often that happens?