Margaret Bourke-White – Photojournalist

Margaret Bourke-White went where few women, and not too many men, had been. She was the First Woman war correspondent, the First Woman allowed in combat arenas. She was also the First Westerner to photograph Soviet industry and the First Woman to have a photo on the cover of Life magazine.

Margaret White (Bourke was her mother’s maiden name, which she appropriated later) had a rocky academic career. She attended seven different universities, studying herpetology paleontology, zoology, art, swimming and aesthetic dancing. She also studied photography at the Clarence H. White (no relation) School of Photography in New York City. By the time she graduated from Cornell University in 1927, after providing the school newspaper with pictures of the campus, her love for photography had intensified. She set up her own commercial photography studio in Cleveland where she specialized in industrial photography. Her success contributed to her invitation to photograph Soviet industry in 1930.

She was an associate editor and staff photographer for Fortunemagazine when, in 1936, Henry Luce hired her as the First Woman photojournalist for Lifemagazine. That same year she became the First Woman to have a cover on Life. Her photos of the Fort Peck Dam project were featured in an article as well.

Bourke-White took photos during the depression that are said to rival those of Dorothea Lange (another student of the Clarence H. White School of Photography). After publishing her photos in Fortune, she published the book You Have Seen Their Faceswith Erskine Caldwell (whom she married for a short while). She later took photos of how Nazism was affecting Europe and how Communism was affecting Russia. It was at this time that she captured a rare picture of a smiling Stalin.

She spent World War II capturing history as it exploded, literally, around her. She was the only photographer on the scene in Moscow when the Germans raided the Kremlin, was with the Air Force in North Africa, and photographed Buchenwald as she traveled through Europe with General Patton as the war concluded. She admitted later, that “Using a camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me.”

In all, Bourke-White was “torpedoed in the Mediterranean, staffed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed.” Her nickname became “Maggie the Indestructible.”

After the war she photographed the violence in the Pakistan-Indian partition and, at that time, took an iconic photograph of Ghandi, shortly before he was assassinated. She also photographed the unrest in South Africa, and the Korean War.

In her 50’s she recognized the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but did not succumb to it readily, undergoing painful surgeries and treatment. Although her work was limited she continued to write and published her autobiography,Portrait of Myself. In all she published eleven books.

Bourke-White said that if you “saturate yourself with your subject…the camera will all but take you by the hand.” This may be accurate, but her eye for truth, her ability to see more in others than their faces, her appreciation for architectural detail, and her sense of the beauty of the ordinary were innate gifts. Today her photographs are in museums throughout the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posthumous Interview with Jeannette Rankin

     Please Note:All quotations in italics are direct quotes from Jeannette Rankin. The other words are from my research on this historical dynamo or from my imagination. Thank you to Ana Maria Spagna and Laura Pritchett for proposing this in one of their workshops.

As the first woman ever elected to Congress, how were you greeted by your male colleagues when you arrived on the house floor in 1916?

Oh, the men rose to their feet and cheered. I had to rise twice myself and bow to them which, if you can believe the reports, I did “with entire self-possession.” I [was] deeply conscious of the responsibility resting upon me.

Were you surprised at that reaction?

A bit. I really didn’t know what to expect. But you have to remember, this was three years before they passed the Nineteenth Amendment giving the women the right to vote, and four years before it was ratified. I suspect some of them thought I was an aberration. After all, I was from Montana and the West was still considered a pretty unorthodox part of the country.

You were less popular after you voted against entering into World War I.

Yes, I was widely criticized, but I was one of 50 who voted that way, so I was not totally alone, not like when I was the sole dissenting vote against entering World War II. Then I was booed.

You said that you wouldn’t vote to send anyone to war because you yourself could not go to war. Women can now go to war. Would this change how you voted?

Absolutely not. I was, and am, still now, against all wars. You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake. . .There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense. . . We have to get it into our heads once and for all that we cannot settle disputes by eliminating human beings.

Would you change anything if you had another chance?

I would do it all again, but this time I would be nastier.

Would you say you are a feminist?

I would definitely be on the front lines, and very proud to take a place beside Nancy Pelosi.

Are you pleased that so many women were just elected to Congress in 2018?

When I was elected I said, I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” But, what the hell! I thought we would have reached parity by now. I understand that, depending on current analysis, it could take another 75 to 100 years to reach parity. Men and women are like right and left hands; it doesn’t make sense not to use both. We’re half the people; we should be half the Congress.

Clara Shortridge Foltz – First Woman Deputy District Attorney

Even though she was born in the middle of the nineteenth century, Clara Shortridge Foltz’s life may not have been dissimilar from some women today. She was a mother and career woman; she ignored barriers; and she had the courage to achieve in areas where there were no models for her to follow.

Born in Indiana, she moved with her family to Iowa during the Civil War. When she was fifteen, she eloped with a man who had difficulty supporting his family. He took her to Portland, then to San Jose. She kept body, soul, and family together by writing letters to The New Northwest and articles for the San Jose Mercury. Her husband finally deserted her and she became the single mother of five children.

In order to support her family, she gave public lectures about women’s suffrage, one of the few avenues for women to earn an income in that time and place. She also “studied” law in the office of a local judge, but when she went to take the bar exam she discovered that the California constitution specified one qualification for admission to the bar that she could not meet. She was not a “white male.” Not one to be deterred, she promptly used her legal training and drafted an amendment to change that language to “person.” She persuaded the legislature to pass the amendment, and became the First Woman admitted to the bar in all of the Western United States.

Wishing to perfect her skill, she applied to Hastings College of the Law, along with her friend Laura de Force Gordon, but they were denied admission. Although they did not have law degrees, they had studied enough law to bring a legal case against the school. They wrote the brief and argued the case all the way to the California Supreme Court. And they won.

In 1893 Foltz spoke to the Board of Lady Managers at the Chicago World’s Fair and proposed a new position for the legal system, that of public defender. This novel idea of providing legal assistance to the indigent is now practiced throughout the country. She also advocated for the separation of juvenile offenders from adults. That same year she organized the Portia Law Club with other women lawyers in San Francisco. Seven years later, in Los Angeles, she became the First Woman deputy district attorney.

In addition to being the First Woman admitted to the bar, and the First Woman deputy district attorney, she also held the following firsts in California:

–the First Woman clerk for the State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee,

–the First Woman appointed to the State Board of Charities and Corrections,

–the First Woman licensed Notary Public,

–the First Woman appointed as director of a major bank, the United Bank and Trust Company of San Francisco, and

–the First Woman to run for Governor of California. (She was 81 years old at the time.)

While not busy racking up firsts, she also founded and published the San Diego Daily Bee, and the New American Woman Magazine. She wrote a monthly column for the magazine until her death at the age of 85.

The women of Hastings College of the Law organized in 1991, and compelled the college to honor Foltz with a Doctor of Laws degree, fifty-seven years after her death. In 2002, the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building was renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, a visible tribute to a legal dynamo.

Aretha Franklin, First Woman in Fact and in our Hearts

Many have paid tribute to Aretha Franklin but few have outlined all her achievements as a First Woman:

     –First Woman inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame (and second in the UK)

     –First Woman to have 100 titles on Billboard’s top R&B/hip-hop songs chart

     –First Woman to win the newly created Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. She won this award in 1968, the year it was created. The first eight years the award was given, she won every year. She later received the award three more times and was nominated for the award a total of twenty-three times. She won seven other Grammys as well.

Aretha was an innate musician. As a child she taught herself to play the piano by ear. She was ten years old when she began to sing in her father’s church. She toured on the gospel circuit and made her first secular album in 1961. Her last album was produced just last year. She has so many Grammys, degrees, and medals her mantle must have sagged from the weight—if one mantle could even hold them all.

When musicians we loved as younger people and continued to follow as adults take their final bows, we reminisce about all the joy they gave us through the songs they sang. We do reflect on their lives, their struggles, and their successes, but more often it is the music that connects us to them, and to the world. A favorite tune becomes an “ear worm,” and rather than be annoyed at its intrusion, we rejoice in all the blessings it bestowed upon us.

We remember the special places where we heard those songs played, during our first kiss, while we pondered ending a relationship, when our love was overwhelming, when our hearts were broken. We relive those times, we rejoice in them, and we regret the passing of the voice of those memories.

For me, that connection feels even stronger with Aretha Franklin. She sang words that defined who we were, that gave us power as women, that wrenched our souls. She spoke forwomen and she made us feel like “A Natural Woman.” It is as if she, through her music, did exactly what that song said, “When my soul was in the lost and found, You came along to claim it.” Aretha Franklin built us up and comforted us in our struggles. It is with enormous “Respect,” that “I Say a Little Prayer,” for her, and for me, that I might be the woman of her songs.

Jeanette Rankin, First Woman in Congress

Montana has only one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives and yet it has the distinction of having elected the First Woman representative. Montana gave women the right to vote in 1914. In 1917, three years before the rest of the nation granted suffrage to women, Jeannette Rankin ran for Congress and won. She is still the only woman to have ever served in Congress (House or Senate) from the state of Montana.

Rankin was a native of Montana, born near Missoula in 1880. Her reputation as a suffragist, aided by her brother’s pocketbook, paved her path to Congress. When she arrived in Congress, her male colleagues rose to cheer her. When she proposed a committee on Woman Suffrage, her colleagues agreed and appointed her to the committee. It was Rankin who opened the debate on women’s suffrage when it was considered by Congress in 1919, the year the Nineteenth Amendment would finally pass in Congress, after having been submitted every year for 41 years.

The vote to enter World War I occurred during Rankin’s term, and she voted against it, one of 50 no votes out of 423 cast. She was widely criticized nationally but supported by her Montana constituents. However, there was a mining disaster in Butte during her term and the union went on strike. Rankin supported the union members and Montana’s mining companies assured that Rankin would only serve one term.

Rankin spent two decades working for organizations that promoted peace and then in 1940 decided to run for the House once again and was elected. During her term the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Jeannette Rankin was the only member of Congress who did not approve the resolution to enter World War II. This time her colleagues did not cheer her; they booed and hissed.

Not only was Rankin opposed to war, but she was opposed to the manner in which some had the authority to decide that others could be sent to war. “As a woman I can’t go to war,” she said, “and I refuse to send anyone else.” She also argued that, if the country was going to go to war, the older men should be sent to fight so that the young men could “propagate the race.”

She was not re-elected.

After three more decades of working for peace, women, and civil rights, Rankin considered running for Congress again so that she could vote her opposition to the Vietnam War. By this time, however, she was in her 90’s and illness prevented any further stand against war. One could say she was a fierce warrior for peace.