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The Quotable Woman Speaks

Living History Portraits of Amazing Women

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BELLA ABZUG One of the most influential American women of the 20th century, Abzug was never afraid to take controversial positions. She was a fierce advocate for peace and women's rights, and became a prominent national crusader against poverty, racism, and violence in America. In 1970, she was elected to Congress on a woman's rights/peace platform. Her first vote was for the Equal Rights Amendment; she served two terms. She was a cofounder of the National Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Strike for Peace, and the Coalition for a Democratic Alternative. Born Bella Savitsky on July 24, 1920, she died in 1998. (American; Jewish)

SUSAN B. ANTHONY Born February 15, 1820 in the State of Massachusetts, she was a pioneer of the woman suffrage movement in the United States. She helped form the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was its president for eight years (1892-1900). Born into a Quaker family, Ms Anthony was an activist in other areas as well--she was an ardent Abolitionist, as was her father, and an agent for the American Anti-slavery Society. She also worked as a teacher and an editor (The Revolution, a liberal weekly published in New York). She worked closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and another suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage: together the three women compiled and published The History of Woman Suffrage. She died on March 13, 1906 in Rochester, New York, where she had defied the constitution by leading a group of women to the polls to vote in 1872: she was arrested, tried and convicted, but she refused to pay the fine.  (American)

CLARA BARTON (1821 1912). Remembered largely for her work as founder of the American Red Cross, Barton was a pioneer in many ways. She was probably the first woman to hold a government job (as a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office) and, as a teacher, she founded the first free school in New Jersey. Her tireless humanitarian work in the field both in America and abroad earned her Golden Cross of Baden and the Prussian Iron Cross. There is a monument to her at Antietam National Battlefield, with a red cross formed of bricks from home where she was born. One of the first National Historic Sites dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman is the Clara Barton National Historic Site, located in Glen Echo, Maryland, the house where she spent the last 15 years of her life. (Healing Arts; Religion)

GERTRUDE BERG (1898-1966). She was one of the most successful women in the history of American entertainment. She was born to immigrant parents in 1899. Her creation and portrayal of Molly Goldberg became the personification of the "Jewish mother."  The Rise of the Goldbergs, went on the air on November 20, 1929. Six days a week, the 15 minute radio show that she wrote was listened to by millions. It elevated Goldberg to celebrity status and made her one of the most successful women writers in the history of American entertainment. From radio she went to TV, movies and Broadway. She won an Emmy in 1950 and a Tony in 1959. Her dialogue was often memorable, and was oft repeated by her fans. Brooks Atkinson, of The New York Times, wrote in her obituary: "She brought out the humanity, love and respect that people should have toward each other.” (Jewish; Entertainment)

MARY McLEOD BETHUNE Born on July 10, 1875, Bethune was an educator whose parents had been slaves. Still, she managed to graduate from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and went on to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training Center for Negro Girls, where she charged fifty cents a week (to those who could afford it). Located in Daytona, Florida, the school was later merged with a men's school and became the Bethune-Cookman College, still operating today. She served as its president and later went on to become the Director of the Division of Negro Affairs under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She died on May 18, 1955. (American)

BENEZIR BHUTTO (1953-2007). Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state and also Pakistan's first (and thus far, only) female prime minister.  A charismatic and astute politician, she was the eldest daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan and the founder of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which she led. As leader of her party, she helped implement social capitalist policies for industrial development and growth. Her popularity waned and ebbed over the years, but finally, during a recession, her government was dismissed by conservative President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. She went into self-imposed exile in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 1999 until, in 2007, she was granted amnesty by President Pervez Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a bombing on 27 December 2007, two weeks before the scheduled 2008 general election in which she was a leading opposition candidate. The following year, she was named one of seven winners of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights. (International)

RACHEL CARSON Born May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, Carson was a science writer and biologist well known for her writings on environmental pollution and the natural history of the sea. A deep interest in wildlife from her childhood led Ms Carson to a long career with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1951 she published The Sea Around Us, which won the National Book Award. Her prophetic and influential Silent Spring (1962) created a worldwide awareness of the dangers of environmental pollution. (American)

CATHERINE OF ARAGON Her parents, Ferdinand II and Isabella I, were known as "the Catholic kings." It was this terrible twosome who initiated the Spanish Inquisition, completed the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, and ruthlessly expelled the Spanish Jews from their country. But there was some good, too. Isabella who helped define and recognize women's rights; and it was she who gave the permission that financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Catherine was one of five children. Her life was neither as full or fulfilling as her mother's. Married off when she was only sixteen to England's Henry VII , she was widowed when he died a year later. So she was married off to his son, Henry VIII. She bore Henry six offspring, but only one survived--a girl. You may have heard of her. Her name was Mary. Discontented with the lack of a male heir, Henry applied to Rome for an annulment, but he was refused. It was that refusal that led to the English Reformation; Henry broke with Rome, married Anne Boleyn, and had his marriage to Catherine annulled by his own archbishop of Canterbury. Catherine spent her last years isolated from public life; they didn't differ greatly from her early years, when she arrived as a young princess, knowing only her Spanish tongue and having not one friend at the English court. (Hispanic; International)

JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ Sor Juana, as she is commonly called, lived from 1651-1695 and was a true genius. The illegitimate child of a Spanish courtesan and a Creole woman, she spent her early years in San Miguel de Nepantla, just outside of Mexico City. At age nine she mastered Latin in twenty lessons. By the age of sixteen, already honored for her intellectual gifts, she was regularly reading to the court from her own works, taking questions from those in attendance. Born Juana Inez de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana, she joined a convent after a heart-breaking love affair dissolved. She was a poet, a scholar, a feminist, and was the first important literary figure of the New World. She became known as "The Tenth Muse," "the Phoenix of Mexico, and "the Mexican Nun." (Hispanic; International)

EMILY DICKINSON Born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, she began to write poetry when she was about fifteen. By the time she was twenty she'd become quite serious about her writing. Her most frequent themes were nature, love and death. When she wasn't writing she was tending her garden or baking bread and cakes for the household. She was particularly influenced by the English novelist Emily Bronte and the American philosopher-poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was known to the locals as an eccentric recluse, but she kept up a lively and wonderful correspondence with several good friends all her life as well as having written 1,775 poems! While these special few friends knew of her great talent, she was not known to the world as she is now--as one of the greatest masters of the short lyric poem. She died on May 15, 1886 having had only seven poems published! (Literary)

PHYLLIS DILLER (1917-2012). The great grandmother of stand-up women comics, Diller headlined in virtually every major supper club in the U.S. and scores of them around the world. In addition to her many film, television and stage appearances, she authored four books, recorded comedy albums, launched food, beauty and jewelry lines, and appeared as a piano soloist with 100 symphony orchestras. She was also a philanthropist and humanitarian of unstinting generosity. She did all this after baring six children, one of whom died at two weeks, and two of whom died while still in the 40s and 50s. rearing five children. She was 37 when she began her career. (Entertainment; Jewish)

DOROTHY FIELDS (1905-1974). Fortunately, Fields did not listen to her father's warnings against a life in show business, nor did her brothers.  Her dad was Lew Fields of the famed Weber & Fields comic duo and later a theater producer. Her brother Joseph became a screenwriter and producer and her brother Herbert was a librettist and screenwriter. With composer Jimmy McHugh Dorothy created such hits as “I Can't Give You Anything But Love,”  “I Feel a Song Comin' On,” and “I'm in the Mood for Love.”  She and her brother Herbert created the libretto for the musical Annie Get Your Gun, for which Irving Berlin wrote the music.  Her stories of young women who often perservered in spite of misfortune produced shows like Redhead, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Sweet Charity.  Fields, who wrote over 500 songs, was the first female lyricist to receive an Oscar (1936), an Antoinette Perry Award (1959), and membership in the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1971). (Entertainment; Jewish)

TOTIE FIELDS (1930-1978). Though she started out as a teenage singer, Totie Fields soon become a beloved comic who poked fun at herself and her weight problems. She got her big break on the Ed Sullivan Show and became a popular guest on all the talk shows, frequently appearing on The Merv Griffin Show and The Mike Douglas Show. In 1972, her humorous diet book titled I Think I'll Start on Monday: The Official 8½ Oz. Mashed Potato Diet came out. She played the Vegas circuit and appeared on television, never letting up, even after health problems plagued her. She had a leg amputated in 1976, but still appeared live. Totie Fields was a courageous soul. She went through a leg amputation due to diabetes. After being fitted with an artificial leg, she went back to work. She said, "I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me." The next year she had a mastectomy—and kept on working. In 1978, during the last year of her life, Fields was voted Entertainer of the Year and Female Comedy Star of the Year by the American Guild of Variety Artists. She died from a pulmonary embolism. She was inspirational, outrageous, and funny to the end. (Entertainment; Jewish)

RAY FRANK The first woman accepted at Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati), Frank was in all likelihood the first woman to preach from a Jewish pulpit. Based in Oakland, California, she was born April 10, 1861. Her first sermon was on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Spokane, Washington. Well received, she was asked back for Yom Kippur. Dubbed "the Maiden in the Temple" and "the Jewess in the Pulpit," Frank, a journalist, found herself launched into a new career. At times erroneously referred to as the "lady rabbi," she relinquished the pulpit when she married Simon Litman, who wrote a posthumous memoir about his wife. She died on October 10, 1948. (Jewish)

GLÜCKEL OF HAMELN (asa Glueckel) was born in Hamburg in 1645 into a prominent patrician family. At fourteen she was married off to Chayim of Hameln. She became Chayim's adviser in all practical matters, even while bearing and raising their twelve children. After his death in 1689, though carrying on his business and financial enterprises, she became depressed. In an attempt to overcome her loss, she wrote a diary, a memoir of her life, begun when she was forty- six. Glückel's writings became incredibly important to historians because they are the only surviving Jewish document about that period written by a woman. (Jewish)

UTA HAGEN (1919-2004). A German-born actress and teacher, her family emigrated to the United States in 1924, when her father received a position at Cornell University. She began her professional career at a very young age and was cast as Ophelia in a production of Hamlet arranged by the actor-manager Eva LeGallienne. From there, at 18, she won the role of Nina in Anton Chekov’s The Seagull in a Broadway production that starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne; the famed couple had a tremendous impact on the young actress. She worked under the direction of Harold Clurman, portraying Blanche in a national tour of A Streetcar Named Desire; Hagen credit’s Clurman with opening her eyes to creating true character portrayals. Hagen won her first Tony Award in 1951 for her eponymous portrayal of The Country Girl, Clifford Odets’ play; she won her second in 1963 for her original portrayal of Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Other honors include a Daytime Emmy Award as "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series" for her performance on the television soap opera One Life to Live; election to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981; and, in 1999, a "Special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award". Miss Hagen began teaching at the famed HB Studio in Manhattan’s West Village in 1947; ten years later she married the school’s founder, Herbert Berghoff; upon his death in 1990, she took over direction of the school. Hagen wrote two highly influential books on the art of acting: Respect for Acting (1973) and A Challenge for the Actor (1991). On a personal note, I had the good fortune of studying with Ms. Hagen for two years at the HB Studio in the 1960s. (Entertainment)

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