September 2008 Independent Woman of the Month – Irena Sendlerowa
By Rielyn Lane

Some of you may have seen an email forward about Irena Sendlerowa (1910 – 2008); a friend posted it at a forum I read. It seems the email is being forwarded largely to take a stab at Al Gore over how he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 purportedly over Irena Sendlerowa. That is something that can’t be known for certain and as Sendlerowa herself was not interested in awards or recognition, what I want to talk about here is the life and work of this courageous and inspirational woman.

She was a liberator of Jewish children in Poland during WWII and has been called the “female Oskar Schindler”, but this appellation is unnecessary – her accomplishments stand on their own. Four high school students had the same feeling when they saw an article about Schindler’s List, learned of Sendlerowa and were surprised she had saved twice as many people but was relatively unknown. These girls decided to remedy that and wrote a play about her called “Life in a Jar.”

As a Polish social worker, Sendlerowa aided Jews beginning in 1939 by offering food and shelter – an act punishable by death. Sendlerowa and a group of fellow social workers also helped forge over 3,000 documents to help Jewish families escape. Later Sendlerowa joined a resistance movement and saved 2,500 children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw ghetto in ambulances, through pipes and in various containers including trunks, suitcases, and boxes. She wrote the children’s names and information on pieces of paper she put in jars and buried. Her goal was always to reunite the children and their families after the war. Tragically almost none of the children’s parents survived.

Sendlerowa herself was caught and sentenced to death. Her fellow resistance members bribed a guard to allow Sendlerowa to escape. She was badly beaten and left in the woods with broken limbs. But her spirit was never broken and she continued to work for children in hiding until the end of the war.

“If someone is drowning, you have to give them your hand. When the war started, all of Poland was drowning in a sea of blood, and those who were drowning the most were the Jews. And among the Jews, the worst off were the children. So I had to give them my hand.”
-Irena Sendlerowa

For more information:
The Long Path to Irena Sendler – Mother of the Holocaust Children
Irena Sendler – Holocaust Heroine

I’d also like to acknowledge the four girls whose work helped get Senderlowa’s story to the public. Given the continual dismissal and erasure of Herstory, their work is of vital importance and now we all know of this truly great woman and will carry her story to others.

August 2008 Independent Woman of the Month – Nellie Bly
By Polly Paperclip

Elizabeth Cochrane, indignant at the sexist article she had just read in the “Pittsburgh Dispatch”, replied with a letter so bold that she soon found herself employed by the very editor who had angered her so. Rechristened Nellie Bly, she would move on to Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” and rapidly become arguably the best known female journalist of the 19th century.

Bly was a master of what would later become known as stunt journalism. Among several audacious and risky endeavors, she had herself committed to the insane asylum on New York’s Blackwell’s Island where she gained first-hand experience as an inmate. Her reports led to major reforms in New York’s mental health institutions which, in turn, influenced mental health care throughout the US.

Her best known exploit, however, was a circumnavigation of the globe intended to beat Jules Verne’s fictional 80 day record. Bly accomplished the feat in a little over 72 days. While her globetrotting wasn’t exactly hard news, it certainly drew attention to what a woman, traveling completely alone in the patriarchal world of 1889, was able to achieve.

The best biographical source on Nellie Bly is Brooke Kroeger’s out-of-print “Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist” (Crown, 1994).

A documentary film, “Around the World in 72 Days,” part of PBS’ “American Experience” series, is available on DVD.

Read Bly’s own accounts of her work: Her books “Ten Days In a Mad-House” and “Around the World In 72 Days” are both available to read for free at the University of Pennsylvania’s Digital Library.

June 2008 Independent Woman of the Month – Carole King
By Rielyn Lane

Carole King, born in 1942, grew up in a time when women had no voice of their own in mainstream music, but still she dreamed of becoming a singer. She was a married mom by the age of 18 and although she was achieving great success writing songs with her husband (including “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Up on the Roof”) she was putting off her own dreams to support the careers of others.

After years of dealing with her husband’s infidelities she left him. With their songwriting team broken up, one solo album that was unsuccessful, and in an overwhelmingly male dominated music industry it seemed her dream had come to an end, but instead Carole triumphed – this is when she came out with Tapestry. Her own album in her own voice. It was a record smashing monster hit and helped pave the way for many more women’s voices to be heard in the recording industry.

You can read the basics on Carole King at wikipedia.

For more in depth info there is a recent bio about her as well as Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.

To see what Carole is currently up to check out her website.

I’ll end with my favorite quote from Carole’s site:

“Whatever you do, don’t think you can’t do anything, or that your ideas don’t matter because you’re just one person. You and your ideas matter very much, and even one phone call can make a difference. Follow your passion. GET INVOLVED!”

May 2008 Independent Woman of the Month – Mary Pickford
By Polly Paperclip

Imagine the most popular, most bankable actress in Hollywood. Now imagine that she owns her own studio and calls every shot on each of her productions, from casting to costuming to choice of director. If you can imagine this, then you have some idea of the stature held by Mary Pickford from 1916 through the end of the silent era.

A family breadwinner from the age of seven, Pickford rose to become arguably the most powerful woman in the history of motion pictures and, for better or worse, established the template for acting contracts and compensation that is followed to this day. Her outstanding business acumen, however, often overshadows her considerable artistic achievements. In an era when most screen performers employed the exaggerated techniques of stage acting, Pickford instinctively understood that the intimacy of the camera demanded a more subtle and nuanced approach. Her charming, naturalisitc style was the bedrock of her success.

Eileen Whitfield’s “Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood” (ISBN: 9780813191799) is an excellent biography.

A number of Pickford’s films are available on DVD for rental and purchase. Start with “My Best Girl,” a wonderful romantic comedy that holds up well in the 21st century, and “Daddy-Long-Legs” in which she portrays an orphaned girl from childhood through adulthood. Also available are two documentaries: “Mary Pickford: A Life on Film,” and “Mary Pickford: The American Experience.”

While there are no outstanding online resources for Mary Pickford, you may want to check out the Mary Pickford Foundation and, of course, her entries at Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database. A large photo archive is available at Silent Ladies & Gents.


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