The Year of the Woman

The year 2020 has arrived, and I can hardly contain myself. Not only is it the dawn of a new decade, but I think it has the potential of being so much more. I think we’re looking at the Year of the Woman. The Me Too Movement sparked not only a call to end sexual harassment and assault, but also a call for women’s voices to be heard.

Already, I look around me and see more women in prominent positions once the exclusive territory of white males. As I write this, four women are in the race for Democratic candidate in the next presidential election. Another woman leads the House of Representatives with a dignity that seems to have escaped current politics. The leader of New Zealand is another example of a woman leading with poise and grace.

In media, women like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon call the shots. A number of female-led television shows have debuted to join trend setters like Pretty Little Liars, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Madam Secretary. According to Variety, women make up 54% of key roles in network TV. And 2018 had the highest percentage of female-driven movies in 12 years.

Women have won 53 Nobel prizes, starting with Marie Curie. Recently, Esther Duflo won the Nobel in Economics. The numbers of female technology leaders has never been higher, leading companies like Oracle, IBM, Space X, YouTube, and more. In October, astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made the first all-female spacewalk. And it wasn’t just for show. They also replaced a failed power charging unit and installed a frame on the Columbus module in preparation for a new European Space Agency payload platform in 2020.

Coincidentally, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. In terms of history, a century is a drop in a bucket. While my mother and I have both voted proudly since we came of age, her grandmothers—my great-grandmothers—were not born with that right.

Women picketing outside the White House in the early 20th century.

Understandably, some readers will have to go back further in their family tree to locate women not allowed to vote. I am young enough to have never questioned my right to vote or to be anything I wanted to be. However, I’m old enough to have not received encouragement nor opportunities to explore science, math, and technology as a girl. While there is still a ways to go, I believe it’s changing for today’s girls. And it’s about time.

I certainly never saw female role models. My dad was the engineer, not my mother. Doctors, school principals, scientists, and politicians were men. History class focused on the men. With the exception of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery and Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time, I can’t think of any other female writers I was exposed to until college. Now, books by J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins lead the way. Yet before the 1997 release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Joanne Rowling’s publisher suggested that she use initials instead of her first name because boys might not want to read a book written by a woman.

I regularly write about fascinating females for children’s books. I’m always amazed at what I learn during my research. I often ask how is it that I did not know this? Why didn’t I learn about Ada Lovelace, Mary Anning, or Grace Hopper in school?

I understand that a movie about famed fossil finder Mary Anning will be released in 2020. Ammonite stars Kate Winslet as the woman who made it possible for the science of paleontology to grow exponentially in the 1800s.

I can think of dozens more stories featuring women that are worthy of being on the small or big screen. Hundreds of women with interesting stories. My hope is that the Year of the Woman brings us more of these stories.

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Free Resources for Trying Times

It started out as just three days tacked onto a long spring break weekend. Now it’s grown into 3 weeks with nothing certain at the end of that time. Yes, like so many of you, I’m home frome work for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By day, I work as an instructional designer. I spend a lot of time “putting out fires” at the school where I work. I plan, design, create, implement, and troubleshoot ways to learn. Much of this takes place on our learning management system or LMS, a digital learning system. In my “off” hours, I do some curriculum design for occasional clients. I am also a writer, writing everything from articles to nonfiction children’s books.

As a result, I’m getting LOTS of emails about “remote” services. Some businesses are just trying to make a buck, but I hear the number of scams are rising. So, it pays to be vigilant.

Other companies truly want to help. In these uncertain times, I’m certain that many of us are hesitant about spending money on anything but essentials. I understand. Here is a top 10 list of of free, reputable resources for you and your families. Note that there are many more. And when I hear of a good one, I’ll pass it along via Twitter at @Gibson4writing.

  • For “face-to-face” communication, you have lots of options: Facetime and Skype are most common. For group conversations, look to Google Hangouts. Zoom is a video conferencing product and an awesome way to hold group meetings, whether it’s a family, class, or office. It’s free for each meeting under 40 minutes and under 100 participants.  
  • Libraries. If you don’t have a library card, shame on you. Even though libraries are closed, most have online ebooks and audio books you can check out. Furthermore, having a library card opens up other options, like Hoopla and Kanopy, which will allow you to also stream music and video along with ebooks and audiobooks. Many libraries have a research/homework area as well.

Check out your state library as well. Just Google [state name] + state library. Mine offers lots of resources, including historical archives plus a research/discovery page where I can look up crafts, home improvement, business, and more.

  • Check out Open Education Resources (OER), a digital library of educational activities from preschool to adult.
  • Did you know that PBS is more than a television station? At pbs.org you can look at resources directly tied to different programs that you watch. At PBS Learning Media (Google this as the url is tied to your local PBS station), videos and lessons are available.
  • Speaking of libraries, did you know that the Library of Congress is the largest in the world? And that they have loads of interesting things—photos, archives, recordings—on more topics than you know.
  • Check with some of your favorite publishers. One that I write for, Nomad Press, is offering free eBooks, projects, and classroom guides. Google favorite authors as well. Some are providing online readings and activities during this trying time.
  • Puzzles. There’s nothing like puzzles to keep the mind active. Obviously, there are lots of game/puzzle apps. If you go that route, be careful about spending all your time on addictive games like slots or Candy Crush. I know it’s fun, but you have other more brain stimulating options too. For non-app puzzles, do Jigsaw Puzzles with the Washington Post, online crossword puzzles at Merriam-Webster, or Sudoku.
  • Learn something by taking a class. MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses)  are free online classes. You can also take some classes through Coursera, and I’m sure other platforms as well. It’s free if you’re doing it just for knowledge and not credit or a certificate. But there’s usually a limit on what you can access. You can also start cooking or home improvement projects with help from YouTube videos.  
  • If you prefer book reading as a solo activity, set a goal to get through the 100 greatest books of all time. In 2018, PBS sponsored the Great American Read where readers voted on the best books of all times. Check the results. How many have you read? Now’s your chance.

Take care, and be safe.

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A Scary World

I have two other topics I have long planned to blog about. Anniversaries, which I’m big on. The 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, an event that horrified a nation and forever changed Oklahoma City, arrives on April 19. Three days later is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. But my life, I’m sure like yours, has been upended.

We are in the midst of a pandemic. As I write this, confirmed cases of COVID-19 or coronavirus have topped 200,000 with over 8,200 deaths. That’s about 4% of the people who are infected. By the time you read this, the numbers will be much higher. And the virus is growing exponentially.

The virus touches every part of our lives. My day job has me working from home for now, something I’ve been wanting to do like forever. Yet the virus steals my satisfaction. We don’t know what the future holds. And that’s scary.

Compared to coastal states, I live in a low infection area. Only seventeen cases have been confirmed, yet it’s ground zero for the sports world. Because last week, a much anticipated  basketball game was abruptly cancelled when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The NBA called the season. The next day, the NCAA cancelled college sport events, including March Madness. Hockey, baseball, and marathons. All cancelled or postponed.

Without intending to, I delayed my grocery shopping until Friday the 13th. What was I thinking? My first stop, a Walmart, had never before seen bare shelves; the worst being the toilet paper aisle. This repeated at the next store. Someone at work remarked on seeing someone walk out of the Dollar General with toilet paper. I rushed over to find half a dozen and grabbed two. After the work day, I tried to pick up a couple more things on the way home…just like everyone else. I told one of my sons that I felt like we were on the precipice of a dystopian event.

I waited for a Sunday morning to complete my shopping. Again, bare spaces that I wasn’t used to seeing in my neighborhood grocery store. Toilet paper aisle again. This time with about a dozen packages left and a sign limiting everyone to two packages. I watched an elderly couple study the sign. The wife placed two into her cart, while the husband went to checkout with another two. He took them to his care and then returned. Still not as bad as the idiots who bought out entire stock. More than they will need.

I spent more than usual at the grocery store, buying things I usually stay away from. I bought a loaf of bread in months. I added a couple of cans of tomato soup. Tomato soup and grilled cheese were my childhood comfort food. Two pot pies made it into my cart as well. My adult comfort food.

One of the cashiers wore gloves. Everyone in the store wore a mask of doom. It was frightening. I stopped at a doughnut store on the way home. My need for comfort feed still not filled. There was a line.  Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my need for comfort.

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100 Women In 100

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. In honor of this significant milestone in history, I came up with 100 historical moments featuring women in America since the passage of women’s suffrage.

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917. Advocates march in October 1917, displaying placards containing the signatures of more than one million New York women demanding the vote. The New York Times Photo Archives
  1. Women are given the right to vote when the Nineteenth Amendment is ratified on August 18, 1920.
  2. Bessie Coleman is the first African American licensed pilot, earning her license on June 15, 1921. She had to go to France to accomplish this.
  3. Edith Wharton is the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1921. It was for The Age of Innocence.
  4. Nellie Tayloe Ross is the first woman elected governor (Wyoming) in 1925.
  5. Gertrude Ederle becomes the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926.
  6. In 1928, Genevieve Rose Cline is the first woman appointed a U.S. federal judge.
  7. Pancho Barnes creates a union for motion picture pilots in 1930. The union improves safety and wages for the pilots.
  8. Jane Addams is the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
  9. Amelia Earhart is the first woman to pilot solo across the Atlantic Ocean on May 21, 1932.
  10. Hattie Wyatt Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932.
  11. Babe Didrickson wins gold and silver at the 1932 Summer Olympics. She is also the first woman to make the cut in a regular PGA Tour event, plus she is All-American in basketball.
  12. Frances Perkins becomes the first female cabinet member as secretary of labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
  13. In 1935, Lettie Pate Whitehead is the first woman to be appointed to the board of directors of a major corporation (Coca-Cola).
  14. Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and leader during the Harlem Renaissance, publishes her most popular novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937.
  15. The first American woman to win a Nobel Prize for literature is Pearl Buck in 1938.
  16. Molly Kooks becomes the first registered female sea captain in North America in 1939.
  17. The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) is established by the army in 1942. Approximately 150,000 women serve during World War II.
  18. Planned Parenthood begins in 1942.
  19. Anna Leah Fox is the first woman to receive the Purple Heart in 1942.
  20. The first professional baseball league for women is formed in 1943.
  21. On August 5, 1943, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) is established to assist with domestic military flying during World War II. The WASPs fly over 60 million miles on various missions.
  22. Grace Hopper is one of the first computer programmers of an early computer, the Harvard Mark I, in 1944. She also develops the first compiler. When she retires as a rear admiral for the Navy at the age of 79, she is the oldest serving officer in the U.S. armed forces.
  23. Ester McGowin Blake is the first woman in the U.S. Air Force. She enlists on July 8th, 1948.
  24. Georgia Neese Clark becomes the first female Treasurer of the United States in 1949.
  25. Eugenie Ander is the first woman to be appointed a U.S. Ambassador, also in 1949.
  26. In 1953, pilot Jerrie Cobb becomes the first woman to successfully undergo astronaut testing, although she is later denied the opportunity to become an astronaut.
  27. Fae Adams is the first female to receive a regular commission as a doctor in the U.S. Army.
  28. Jacqueline Cochran becomes the first woman to break the sound barrier on May 18, 1953.
  29. Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus on December 1, 1955, launching one of the defining events of the Civil Rights movement. When she died on October 24, 2005, she became the first woman in the nation’s history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
  30. On May 9, 1960, the FDA approves the first commercially produced birth control pill in the world. The “pill” was commissioned by birth control advocate, Margaret Sanger.
  31. Wilma Rudolph is the first American woman to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics.
  32. In 1961, mathematician Katherine Johnson begins calculating flight trajectories for early space shuttle missions.
  33. Biologist Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring in 1962. This landmark work helps launch an environmental movement and leads to the banning of harmful pesticides.
  34. Judy Garland is the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards. In the same year, she becomes the first woman to win the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award.
  35. President John F. Kennedy signs the Equal Pay Act into law on June 10, 1963.
  36. Jerrie Mock is the first woman to fly solo around the world in 1964.
  37. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964, employment discrimination  based on gender, race, or national origin is banned.
  38. The National Organization of Women (NOW) is founded on June 30, 1966.
  39. In 1966, Roberta Louise Gibb is the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon.
  40. Muriel Siebert is the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange in 1967.
  41. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in November, 1968.
  42. Maya Angelou publishes her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1969 which becomes the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman.
  43. Margaret Hamilton is lead developer for Apollo flight software. The on-flight software becomes critical in the success of the Moon landing in 1969.
  44. Diane Crump is the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby in 1970.
  45. Marine biologist Sylvia Earle heads the first all-women team to live in an underwater habitat in 1970. In 1979, she is the first to walk untethered along the ocean floor.
  46. The National Women’s Political Caucus is founded in 1971.
  47. Title IX of the Education Amendments is signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. This amendment bars discrimination based on gender in any educational activity.
  48. Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington are the first women to be promoted to brigadier general in 1972.
  49. Also in 1972, Katharine Graham becomes the first female Fortune 500 CEO.
  50. Juanita Kreps becomes the first female director of the New York Stock Exchange in 1972.
  51. The U.S. Supreme Court votes in favor of Roe v. Wade, protecting a woman’s legal right to an abortion on January 22, 1973.
  52. Billie Jean King triumphs against Bobby Riggs in The Battle of the Sexes on September 20, 1973.
  53. Janet Guthrie becomes the first woman to compete in both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in 1977.
  54. Susan B. Anthony is the first woman depicted on an American coin.
  55. Housing and credit discrimination based on gender is outlawed by Congress in 1974.
  56. Sandra Day O’Conner becomes the first female Supreme Court justice on July 7, 1981.
  57. The first American woman to go to space is Sally Ride on June 18, 1983.
  58. Barbara McClintock wins a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1983, the only woman to receive a solo Nobel in medicine.
  59. Geraldine Ferraro becomes this first female vice president nominee by a major party on July 12, 1984.
  60. Kathryn Sullivan is the first female astronaut to go on an EVA or spacewalk on October 11, 1984.
  61. Wilma Mankiller becomes the first woman to lead a major Native American tribe when she became principal chief of the Cherokee in 1985.
  62. In 1985, Radia Perlman invents the Spanning Tree Protocol, a necessary component for the Internet to come.
  63. Libby Riddles is the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985.
  64. Marine biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover is the first female pilot of a manned deep-diving submersible.
  65. Aretha Franklin is the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
  66. In 1992, Mae Jemison is the first African American woman in space.
  67. Toni Morrison is the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
  68. In 1993, Janet Reno becomes the first female Attorney General of the United States.
  69. The Violence Against Women Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
  70. Martha McSally is the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission in January 1995.
  71. Eileen Collins is the first female pilot (1995) and commander of a space shuttle (1999).
  72. Madeleine Albright is sworn in as the country’s first female secretary of state on January 23, 1997.
  73. Sheryl Swoopes is the first woman basketball player to be drafted for the WNBA in 1997.
  74. Carly Fiorina is the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company (Hewlett-Packard).
  75. In 2002, Halle Berry becomes first African American to win a Best Actress Oscar.
  76. By 2005, Michelle Kwan is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history.
  77. On October 19, 2007, Peggy Whitson becomes the first female commander of the International Space Station.
  78. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman elected to Speaker of the House of Representatives on January 4, 2007.
  79. Danica Patrick is the first and only woman to win an IndyCar series race at the 2008 Indy Japan 300. She also has a third place finish in the Indianapolis 500.
  80. Candace Parker is the first woman to dunk in an NCAA basketball tournament in 2006. Two years later, she is the second woman to dunk in an WNBA game.
  81. Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar in 2010. At this time, she is also the only woman to win Best Director.
  82. Lindsey Vonn is the first American woman to win a gold medal in the downhill at the 2010 Olympics. She also has two other Olympic medals, four World Cup titles, 82 World Cup victories, and two World Championship gold medals.
  83. Missy Franklin is the first American woman to win four gold medals in a single Olympics in any sport in 2012.
  84. In 2012, Katy Perry is the first female artist to have five consecutive number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
  85. Mary Barra becomes the first female CEO of a major automaker (General Motors) in 2013.
  86. Mia Hamm is the first woman inducted into the World Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
  87. Vanessa O’Brien is the first woman to climb the highest peak on each continent in 2013.
  88. Megan Brennan is named the first female United States Postmaster General in 2014.
  89. In 2014, Dr. Jedidah Isler becomes the first African American woman to earn a PhD in astrophysics from Yale.
  90. The Department of Defense opens up all combat positions in the U.S. military to female troops in January 2016.
  91. Hillary Clinton is the first woman to receive a presidential nomination from a major political party on July 26, 2016.
  92. Katie Ledecky is the most decorated female athlete of the 2016 Olympics with four gold medals, one silver medal, and two world records. Four years earlier, she is the youngest member of the Olympic team to win a gold medal.
  93. Simone Biles becomes the most decorated American gymnast in history with 25 Olympic and World Championship medals.
  94. In 2017, a record number of women are elected to Congress—104 female Representatives and 21 Senators.
  95. The first Latina, Catherine Cortez Masto, is elected to the Senate in 2017.
  96. Oprah Winfrey is the first African American woman to receive the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2018.
  97. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids become the first Native American women to be elected to Congress in 2018.
  98. The U.S. Women’s Soccer team wins their fourth World Cup in 2019 and has more wins than any other team in the world.
  99. Serena Williams is the only woman on the list of world’s highest paid athletes in 2019. She has the most Grand Slam titles of any active player.
  100. The first all-female spacewalk happens on October 18, 2019 when astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir do an EVA. Koch is also the current record holder for the longest single space flight at 328 days.

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Leap Year

No matter how old I get, I must admit to magical thinking occasionally invading my mind. Like I wish for a giant crane to remove all cars with drivers texting from the roadway. Or to win the lottery and have enough money to only write what interests me.

Rarely do these magical things happen. OK, never…that is until now. If I had to identify the one magical thought that I have most often, it’s to have more time. There’s so much to do, and I constantly feel rushed for time. And I’m not alone. Psychology Today reported that 80% of working adults wish for more time.

Happy Leap Year

And it’s a ridiculous wish when you think about it. Unless a genie comes out of a lamp to skew the laws of physics, it’s basically out of our control. We all have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year…until we die.

But wait, this is a wish that can come true. It happens every four years on Leap Year when we get one extra day! This year, 2020, is a Leap Year, so we have a February 29. While I’ve been aware of this anomaly of time for many, many years, I never really THOUGHT about it.

When I was a child, it  fascinated me that people had birthdays that only appeared every four years. These Leap Year babies are called leaplings, and there’s even a special club for them. Another tradition associated with leap year days is women could propose to men. Which they can anyway, so that seems kind of silly.

Leap Year is an attempt to keep our calendar aligned with the Earth’s movement around the sun, known as the astronomical year. If we didn’t, we might have snowstorms in spring and heat waves in autumn. And yes, I sadly realize that climate change may do this anyway, but stay with me on this time thing.

Julius Caesar is credited with introducing Leap Day, but it was based on the Egyptian solar calendar, which featured 365 days and an occasional month inserted to make everything line up with the stars. Caesar, with help from the Greek astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria, decided to add a day every four years.

Scholars still weren’t happy though. Apparently, this was 11 minutes too much, which add up after a while. After 1600 years or so, the Catholic Church began experiencing trouble with the timing of the Easter holiday. So, Pope Gregory XIII had the calendar tweaked. When leap years fell on a century year, there would only be a leap day if that century year was divisible by 400. This was the start of the Gregorian calendar. For example, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not divisible by 400, so no leap year. Our last century year, 2000, was divisible by 400, so we had a leap year.

Now what fascinates me the most is that we have an entire extra day. And for those who work the typical Monday through Friday, this extra day is on a Saturday. Double jackpot! An extra day we don’t owe to someone else.

What will I do with my extra day? I could catch up on chores, but that seems sacrilegious for the special gift of extra time. I could read or I could write. I’m always wishing for more time to do both. Perhaps I’ll split my time doing the solo activities I love most with spending time with the people I love.

The difference a day makes.

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Love of Lincoln

My first visit to our nation’s capital was a hectic day of battling DC traffic, checking into our hotel, and general things that needed to be done. Before I knew it, evening had arrived. My frustration was at palpable levels. Here I was, in Washington, DC, and I had seen little of importance other than the Washington Monument in the distance.

It wasn’t right, and I vowed to correct the problem by dragging my reluctant family to the National Mall. Since we had already experience one harrowing cab ride that day (pre-Uber days) and I hadn’t conquered the mass transit system yet, we walked south from our hotel.

As we neared the National Mall, darkness has fallen. We aimed for a glowing area where people were milling around. It was the Lincoln Memorial.

At the top of 145 steps, we came face-to-face with a larger-than-life statue of our 16th president. It’s hard to describe the feeling I had at this moment. Part of it was awe at the power in this statue of the bearded one (with no apologies to NBA’s James Harden). Sculptor Daniel Chester French did an excellent job communicating the dignity and strength of Lincoln.

As I started to read the quotes on the walls of the memorial, I realized that Lincoln represented something larger than myself. Fatigue at the end a long day was such a minor thing when faced with one man trying to do the right thing during a turbulent time in history.

Since that time, I have made the trek to the Lincoln Memorial on almost every trip to Washington, DC. I have seen it so many times that I have lost count. I have gazed up at Lincoln, and I have faced away from him to see the iconic view of the National Mall with the reflecting pond positioned between monuments honoring our first and sixteenth presidents.

But Lincoln holds a special place in my heart. I’ve visited where he lived and worked in Illinois, the location of his assassination, and his final resting place. And as we near his 211th birthday on February 12, I wanted to capture why I’m drawn to this iconic man.

Self-Made Man

We all enjoy stories of the self-made man (or woman) who pulls themselves up from their bootstraps. Abraham Lincoln did not have a wealthy Daddy nor was he a legacy enrollment at fine higher institutions. No, Lincoln was born in poverty. He knew hard physical labor. He taught himself the law, and he earned his stripes working as a circuit lawyer. How could you not admire that?

Unifying the Nation

Lincoln was president during perhaps one of the worst times in U.S. history. State against state, brother against brother. Never did he vilify the South. The states that seceded weren’t the bad guys. In Lincoln’s eyes, the nation was broken and he did everything in his power to heal it.

Role in Ending Slavery

Perhaps Lincoln’s great legacy was acting on the belief that no one should live in slavery. In 1854, Lincoln gave a series of speeches calling slavery “unjust.” Yet, he entered the presidency not knowing quite how to end it. Lincoln distanced himself from abolitionism because of the harsh rhetoric against Southerners.

Lincoln struggled with whether a gradual reduction in slavery would be more effective? Where would freed African-Americans live? Should they return to the land of their ancestors? Do you compensate southern landowners? What about racism? Lincoln finally realized that America must be an interracial society. Period. Thus, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation and made slavery illegal.  

Could it have been done better? Probably. Lincoln didn’t live to see the difficult and dangerous time of Reconstruction. But the Emancipation Proclamation was a step in the right direction. It paved the way for the 13th through 15th Amendments, which later paved the way for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Great Orator

Many of Lincoln’s words have become immortalized and deservedly so. Just hearing “Four score and seven years ago” reminds you of the simple power of the Gettysburg Address. Some of my favorite Lincoln words are:

  • Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
  • As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.
  • A house divided against itself cannot stand.
  • I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
  • The people — the people — are the rightful masters of both congresses, and courts — not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.

Connection to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King is one of my heroes too. And every time I hear his voice ring out with the I Have a Dream speech, I tear up. On August 28, 1963, Dr. King stood 18 steps from the top of the Lincoln Memorial and spoke words that touched a nation. Today, a marker marks the spot.

It is commonly believed that Dr. King spoke from the Lincoln Memorial because of Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. King often spoke of Lincoln. Both had a dream of a better America.

Was Abraham Lincoln perfect? Absolutely not. Did he make mistakes? Absolutely. He was human. But he did the best he could with the circumstances he was given. That’s all we can ask of ourselves. We should accept nothing less from our leaders.

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Things You May Not Know About Harriet Tubman

harriet_tubman_stamp

The first day of February marks the beginning of African American History Month. Two years after the 1976 Presidential proclamation designating this month as National Black History Month, the U.S. Post Office released its Black Heritage stamp series. They couldn’t have chosen a better person to be the first recognized—Harriet Tubman. She was also the first African American woman commemorated with a stamp.

A few months ago, I was wow’ed by Kasi Lemon’s movie, Harriet, and Cynthia Erivo’s performance. Ms. Tubman also appeared in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant book, The Water Dancer. I started reading up on this icon. Unlike many other African Americans in history, hers is a name well-known. Harriet Tubman is synonymous with the Underground Railroad. But what did I not know about her? Plenty, it seems.

  1. Araminta Ross was the name given to her at birth (1820 or 1822). She went by “Minty.” She chose “Harriet” as her freedom name after her mother. “Tubman” was her husband’s surname when she escaped slavery.
  2. In 1859, Harriet Tubman helped John Brown plan the raid at Harper’s Ferry.
  3. Harriet Tubman suffered from a traumatic brain injury. While a teen, she was hit in the head with a metal weight. The story differs on whether it was intentional or not, although most accounts are that the metal projectile was meant for another slave. The injury left Harriet with seizures, narcolepsy, and pain. At one point, the pain was so intense that she convinced a Boston surgeon to operate. She refused anesthesia, instead choosing to bite a bullet like she had witnessed soldiers doing in the field during the Civil War.
  4. Speaking of the Civil War, she participated on the front lines, first as a nurse and cook. Later, as a Union spy and scout, providing useful intelligence on southern transportation routes. She was the first woman to lead a combat assault when she led 150 African-American Union troops. Their efforts during this battle led to the release of over 700 enslaved people. Upon her death, she was buried with full military honors.
  5. Harriet Tubman knew her native plants. She used plants in Maryland to cure Union soldiers of dysentery. Her medical knowledge was also useful against cholera and yellow fever.
  6. Manumission is the legal term for the process of enslaved people being freed by their owners. Although most enslaved people were supposed to be slaves for life, others were only supposed to be enslaved for a fixed amount of time. Harriet’s mother was one of these. Harriet hired a lawyer to prove manumission.
  7. Not surprisingly, Harriet Tubman later worked for women’s suffrage with Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony.
  8. We know many notable women in history. Most received little, if any, recognition. Of the more than 400 national parks, only 10 are named after women or feature an event in women’s history. Two of those 10 feature Harriet Tubman. The Underground Railroad Historical Park in Maryland focuses on her early life. The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in New York focuses on her later life.

Both parks show her to be the truly exceptional woman she was. And at some point, her face will be looking up at us from the $20 bill. I, for one, think it’s long past due.

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Patriotism by Word & Action

I have experienced the heart of patriotism. In simplest terms, patriotism is devotion to one’s country. It’s no surprise that the heart of patriotism lives in our nation’s capital. No, it’s not the Capitol nor the Supreme Court. Certainly not the White House. More important than the location, however, is that this shining illustration of patriotism is going away at the end of this year.

The Newseum lies on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. From its terrace on the top floor, you can look down Pennsylvania toward the Capitol. What a perfect location for the Fourth Estate, the moniker first coined by Edmund Burke in 1787. The Fourth Estate observes and reports on the political process. It’s another check and balance for democracy.

This news journalism museum is immediately identifiable by a row of the world’s front pages of the day running the length of the building. Look up. Engraved on a tall granite panel running the height of the building is the First Amendment. These 45 words are the essence of American democracy, and I will see them repeated many times and in many variations inside the Newseum.

I didn’t tour the Newseum in the recommended way. I stumbled on a brief orientation film in the Hubbard Broadcasting Concourse at the end of my journey. The film suggested starting on the sixth level and working your way down. Oops!

Much as I approach life, I forged my own path and started with the first floor Pulitzer Prize Photographic Gallery. It seemed so innocent, photographs since 1942 lining the walls. But they were more than photographs. They were stories of humanity. Some were whimsical. Others offered hope—children playing in the Chicago projects, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, moving children to freedom through a barbed wire fence.

Noted photographer Eddie Adams, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, once said, “If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that’s a good picture.” I saw many good pictures that day. By the end, they blinded me with my own tears.

I revisited my early childhood with the emotional appeals from photos capturing the Kent State shootings and the Vietnam War. I relived the day of the Oklahoma City bombing with the image of a first responder carrying Baylee Almon from the devastated Murrah building.

When a photograph reached out and grabbed me, which was often, I could read about the photographer and the circumstances surrounding the shooting of the prize-winning photograph. The famine pictures were painful to see. Then I came to a photograph of a vulture stalking an emaciated young girl in the Sudan. This 1994 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography haunted me. Apparently, it also haunted its 33-year-old photographer. Months after the Pulitzer, Kevin Carter took his own life.

Had I followed the recommended route, I would have started with the beginnings of American democracy in 1776 when the Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first newspaper to publish the Declaration of Independence. I saw how the Constitution, created in 1788, was anchored by the First Amendment a few years later.

Exhibit after exhibit documents how the First Amendment provided the rights that our democracy is based upon—religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Rights that changed history. Rights that led to women getting the right to vote. Rights that fought segregation and wars. With Watergate, these rights showed Americans that no one was above the law.

I passed a quote – Journalism is the first draft of history – attributed to Washington Post publisher Phil Graham. If he wasn’t the first to say it, he certainly made us understand it.

The fourth floor 9-11 Gallery demands another hard look at journalism and democracy. A timeline of that fateful day circles around a mangled piece of the broadcast tower from the first World Trade Center tower. Newspaper front pages from around the world wallpaper a wall two stories high. The headlines and the photos convey the shock in reporting the news.

The Newseum didn’t just show history. It also offered a sobering view of the current status of free press around the world. A world map lights up green (freedom of the press), yellow (partial freedom), and red (no freedom of the press). Green is not the majority color. And if that isn’t a wakeup call, then the Journalists Memorial is an ear-splitting alarm. Reporting the news can be a dangerous job whether you’re reporting wars or you’re reporting on governments that don’t value transparency. Over 2,300 journalists around the world have died on the job. 

Any doubts about the important role journalists play in society are quickly erased in the Bloomberg News Gallery, a collection of non-print news from radio to the Internet. I settle into a chair and watch television footage of 9-11 and the Oklahoma City bombing. I witness change agents in action from the mid-1960s—James Meredith getting shot during his March against Fear and the Freedom Riders exposing segregation.

Weighed down by the seriousness, I find some lightness at the NBC News Interactive Newsroom, where children of all ages sit in the broadcaster’s seat to deliver the news on camera. The power of television is demonstrated once again with the Jon Stewart exhibit. News has been delivered with a dose of comedy since the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour of the late 1960s. Excerpts of it are running along with clips from Saturday Night Live, the Stephen Colbert Show, and of course, The Daily Show.  All showed me what an impact comedy has had in introducing people to current events. Yes, sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all, and then you take steps to learn more about issues that affect you.

At the end of December, the Newseum will no longer stand guard on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is closing its doors. This non-profit museum just doesn’t have the numbers of visitors it needs to sustain itself. It faces intense competition from the Smithsonian museums—all free—standing just hundreds of feet away along the National Mall.

The Newseum is rumored to reopen its doors in another city someday. I doubt it will have the same impact that it does on 555 Pennsylvania Avenue. I hope I’m wrong. We need this reminder of patriotism in action.

Until then, if you have the opportunity to visit the Newseum, I strongly recommend it. Just look for these words– Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

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The World All Lit Up

Sometime you can be aware of something without comprehending its significance. That describes my relationship with Christmas lights to a T. The Christmas lights of my youth don’t hold an important place my memories. I remember outside lights being much larger than present day bulbs. Smaller lights decorated the Christmas tree in our living room. More memorable was that the home we lived in longest during my childhood had a vast living room where the tree resided, but the fireplace was in the family room where the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. Each Christmas morning would find us around the tree opening gifts and forgetting about the stockings that were in another room. But when we remembered, it was like extending the Christmas joy a little longer.

Holiday lights

Out in the world, holiday lights were just something that happened during a specific time of year, like the leaves changing colors in the autumn. Until one year at a youth shelter where I first did a practicum and later worked during graduate school.

On occasion, we took our teenage residents out. Often for a change of scenery like a park. Sometimes hiking. Perhaps to the movies if we could find a theater willing to donate admission. One year, we went to see Christmas lights. Our youth shelter van joined a line of cars snaking through a well-appointed neighborhood far from the neighborhoods most of our teens grew up. I was amazed by the number of hoses with lovely and sometimes elaborate light displays. And even more amazed by the people dedicating an evening to viewing them. It added to that holiday feeling that warms you no matter the temperature outdoors.

Thanks to Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb, which he patented in 1880, holiday lights are a major industry today. Approximately 150 million light sets are sold in the United States each year, joining the millions brought out from closets and attics after the Thanksgiving meal is over for another year. Festive lights adorn 80 million homes, not to mention businesses and commercial displays. Each December, these holiday decorations consume 6 percent of the nation’s electrical load.

The Germans introduced Christmas trees or the Tannenbaum. By the latter half of the 19th century, the Christmas tree industry was in full swing. Decorated with ornaments, the tree became even more exceptional when lit. The first Christmas tree lights were candles. Can anyone say fire hazard?

outdoor tree with lights

Edward Hibberd Johnson, an associate of Edison’s, had an AHA moment. He hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs together and strung them around a Christmas tree. The idea caught on, particularly once electricity became easily available. In in 1894, President Cleveland put electric lights on the White House tree. As lights became more affordable in the 1940s and 1950s, people began putting them up on their houses, and a trend was born.

When my children were young, we journeyed to see the best regional light displays. It was an event that almost always included hot chocolate. On the home front, I would climb on top of the house and put up our own lights. Not a display worthy of a line of cars, just a nod of recognition to the season.

Bricktown Canal holiday boat ride

These days, I’m not as eager to crawl around on the roof, so the lights adorn my front porch instead. I’ve added canal boat rides to my lights itinerary. The Riverwalk in San Antonio, and most recently, Bricktown in Oklahoma City. There’s something about the lights reflecting in the water that makes it ok to crowd into a boat with a couple of dozen strangers.

Perhaps what holiday lights do is remind us to stop and take notice. It really is the most magical time of the year.

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Women and Computer Science

Typically when I’m researching one of my female subjects for STEM books, I have to hunt hard for women in the early days of a particular field. In the history of sciences, women’s work was often appropriated by husbands or other males. Women scientists spent incredible energy fighting for the right to even attend college. Then they had to fight for jobs and membership into professional societies. They constantly fought for recognition…to be taken seriously. With all these uphill battles, you wonder how they had the energy to discover anything.

Imagine my surprise when I was researching “Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Programmers” to find that not one, but two of the first names in programming belonged to women! In 1843, Ada Lovelace published the first computer program. It was for the analytical engine, a mechanical general purpose computer designed by Charles Babbage.

A century later, Grace Hopper becomes the chief programmer for the Mark I, an electromechanical computer used by the military to program rocket trajectories and solve engineering problems. She wrote the first programming manual—500 pages on the Mark I. Later, she developed the first compiler, a translator that turned human commands into computer-speak. She also led a team to develop an early programming language for business, COBOL.

In 1946, the first electronic computer was created. The ENIAC ushered in the modern age of computing. When it was unveiled, it became a major news story featuring physicist John Mauchly and electrical engineer J. Presper Eckert. The news ignored the ENIAC programmers, but if you look in the background of the photos, you can see some of these six women.

So, how did the face of computer programming become a young white male? In the early days of computing, men were interested in the hardware—the circuits, wires, and drives. But all that changed with the advent of the PC in the 1980s. People realized that the BRAINS for the computer was in the programming…the code. Suddenly, programming became a men’s club.

Research shows that around age 12 both boys and girls have a similar level of interest in computer science. The problem is that females are half as likely to be encouraged to pursue it by both teachers and parents. While females make up 56% of all AP test takers, only 19% take the Computer Science AP Test. While women earn 57% of all undergraduate degrees, only 18% of computer and information science degrees are earned by women.

It’s Computer Science Education Week as I write this. Change is happening, and efforts need to continue. Consider this:

  • Females who take the AP Computer Science exam are 46% more likely to become a Computer Science major.
  • Females who are encouraged in technology and see representations of females in technology are more likely to be Computer Scientists.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that next year will see more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings. At current rates in computer science education, only 30% of those jobs can be filled.

We must continue to expose girls to computer science at all ages. Yes, diversity matters. And yes, this is what’s fair and right. Even more, our future technology depends on the inclusion of females.

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