Category Archives: North America

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy Reassesses “Maternal Instincts”

Before Sarah Blaffer Hrdy came along, maternal nature had been largely defined by highly romanticized Victorian notions, essentially, wishful thinking. Yet, through her research on other primates and cultures, Hrdy learned that polyandrous matings, abortion, infanticide, and abandoning of offspring occur across the natural world. Motherhood comes with a price and when females don’t have the resources or social support they need, they naturally put their own health and the health of the children they already have first. In a crunch they may retrench, or even bail out altogether. Continue reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy Reassesses “Maternal Instincts”

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Izetta Jewel

Born Izetta Jewel Kenney on November 24, 1883, in Hackettstown, New Jersey, actress and activist Izetta Jewel arguably impacted all of our lives in a significant and lasting manner.

An incredibly popular stage actress, Izetta Jewel performed on Broadway, and all around the country, moving to Washington, DC around 1912, after her acting career blossomed on the West Coast. Continue reading Izetta Jewel

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) – Resistance fighter, Civil Rights activist, writer…

And yes a dancer too!

I’ve visited the Chateau des Milandes on the Dordogne River in France twice now. It is in a spectacular setting on a cliff side of the meandering Dordogne. It was the home of the cabaret dancer Josephine Baker, and the glamorous dresses and memorabilia from her career during the 20s and 30s in Paris attract many thousands of visitors. They are displayed on the lower floors of the Chateau. The beautiful chateau has numerous lavish bedrooms with splendid bathrooms that were installed after Josephine Baker lived there, and began to adopt orphans of many nationalities. But, like me, many of these tourists are unaware of her other achievements. They overshadow her dancing career and display her courage, bravery and moral integrity. The real story of Josephine Baker can be discovered on the top floor of the chateau.    Continue reading Josephine Baker

Dorothy Vaughan

It as taken a whole 55 years and an exemplary movie Hidden Figures for the world to finally recognise the contributions made by Black African American women in launching John Glen and America’s first satellite into space. In today’s age when NASA’s directors come from all variety of backgrounds, it is easy to forget the pioneers who paved the way for this transformation, into a more accepting society. But it would be unforgivable to overlook the contributions made by some very courageous women who challenged and persevered against discrimination, every step of the way. One of such pioneers was Dorothy Vaughan, a respected mathematician who became NASA’s first African-American manager serving as the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958. Continue reading Dorothy Vaughan

Madam CJ Walker

With thanks to The Open University for allowing us to repost  this piece. Originally published on their website here.

As a single woman in the early 20th century making ends meet was no easy feat, so it’s remarkable that Madam CJ Walker became the first female self-made millionaire in America. Continue reading Madam CJ Walker

Mum Bett and the Freedom Suit (Elizabeth Freeman)

Elizabeth Freeman, first known as Mum Bett or Mumbet, was born around 1742 to African parents who were enslaved by Pieter Hogeboom in Claverack, New York. Hogeboom’s daughter Hannah married Col. John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, and Bett, most likely inherited by Hannah in 1758, moved to their household.

The story of her leaving the Ashley household varies. They state that Hannah, in an angry fit, tried to hit Bett’s younger sister Lizzie with a heated kitchen shovel. Bett, stood in the way and was hit instead, causing a deep wound. Bett left, and refused to come back. When Col. Ashley asked the law to bring back his “property,” Bett contacted lawyer Theodore Sedgwick. Stories recount that when Sedgwick inquired as to how she got the idea that she deserved to be free, she said “By keepin’ still and mindin’ things.” Continue reading Mum Bett and the Freedom Suit (Elizabeth Freeman)

Loïs Mailou Jones

The Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the artistic, literary and intellectual movement within a tumultuous period of racial change in post-war United States. Also named ‘The New Negro Movement’, this cultural explosion drew black writers, photographers, artists, poets and scholars together to forge a new black cultural identity throughout the 1920s and 30s. Although critic and lecturer, Alan Locke (1926), described the transformation from “social disillusionment to race pride”, the women of the Harlem Renaissance had to face double prejudice of both race and sex.

Continue reading Loïs Mailou Jones