First passenger to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily Warren Roebling

The third stop on our tour is located at the Manhattan side pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. There, we highlight the woman behind this monumental construction, Emily Warren Roebling.

Brooklyn BridgeIt was on May 24, 1883 — 133 years ago! — that the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time was opened to the public. The first passenger to cross the completed bridge was Emily, as requested by her husband and the chief engineer, Washington Roebling. Since 1872, when Washington was struck by caissons disease (aka  decompression sickness or the bends), Emily had taken over as “Field Engineer” of the Brooklyn Bridge’s
construction. Already a well educated woman, she further expanded her knowledge by studying mathematics and bridge engineering to competently manage this critical role.

Opening the Way’s guidebook features a contemporary account describing the moment Emily made the crossing:

She and a coachman had crossed over from Brooklyn in a new Victoria, its varnish gleaming in the sunshine. She had taken a live rooster along with her, as a sign of victory, and from one end of the bridge to the other, the men had stopped their work to cheer and lift their hats as she came riding along.

To really appreciate the feat of the Brooklyn Bridge, take a moment to visit and read these image-filled posts detailing the construction of the bridge along with fabulous historical photos:

130 Years Of Brooklyn Bridge Photos, Decade By Decade, Curbed New York.

Brooklyn Bridge History and Photography, James Maher Photography.

Extra Historical Connection!: Another famous nineteenth-century figure was present at the Bridge’s opening, President Chester A. Arthur. At the age of 24, long before he was president, Arthur was a junior partner at the law firm hired to represent Elizabeth Jennings (Opening the Way’s sixth stop) in her suit against the Third Avenue Railroad Company for racial discrimination. He was the lawyer who successfully represented Jennings, resulting in an 1855 ruling by the jury to award $225 in damages and setting a precedent that aided the desegregation of New York’s public transportation in 1861.

 

 

105 Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: ORIGINALLY POSTED FRIDAY, MARCH 25, 2011 ON WEWALK: BEHIND THE SCENES OF OPENING THE WAY. EDITED AND UPDATED ON 3/25/2016.

Today, March 25, marks one of the most significant days of the year in women’s labor history. It is the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire—the largest workplace disaster in New York up until the World Trade Center attacks. It sprung into action a labor rights movement to enable fair and safe workplace conditions in the twentieth century.

This momentous fire is included in our women’s history walking tour as the turning point in one particular woman’s career and life: Frances Perkins.

To observe the centennial anniversary in 2011, several events took place in New  York, as well as detailed coverage of the tragic day in 1911 and the wider impact of the fire:

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company specialized in the popular “shirtwaist” which the New York Times blog describes as a “brash but sensible pairing of tailored shirt and skirt” that offers a scandalous peek of its owner’s ankles. It was preferred by women of the day for its utility, as opposed to the longer, more confining dresses that they watched their mothers wear. Located one half-block east from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, NYC, the Triangle factory was the largest producer of shirtwaists in the city. It packed hundreds of young female seamstresses close together on the top three floors of the Asch building, compelling them to work long hours for $5 or less per week.

The infamous fire took place towards the end of the work day on March 25, 1911, when somebody tossed either a lit match or cigarette into a waste basket. It spread rapidly as it caught to the scraps of fabric hanging overhead, and workers scrambled to escape. But the doors had been locked to prevent them from stealing or leaving early, and fire ladders could only reach the sixth floor, whereas most workers were on the ninth floor. (The owners, who were on the tenth floor, were notified by telephone and got out safely, as did other high executives.) Onlookers watched in horror as more than 50 people jumped to their deaths. An additional 19 people fell into an empty elevator shaft, 20 fell from a fire escape, and at least 50 burned to death. The fire ultimately killed 146 people, all but 23 of whom were young (mostly immigrant) women.

17. Frances Perkins

Frances Perkins, advocate for safety.

One of the onlookers was Frances Perkins, a social worker who was having tea in Washington Square Park across from the factory. The fire motivated her to later become one of the most important advocates of reform, and she was named executive director of an organization that formed as a result of the tragedy, called the Committee on Safety. New York State subsequently passed the strongest workers’ laws in the nation and became a role model for other states. It began to mandate automatic sprinklers in high-rise buildings, fire drills at large companies, and factory doors that swung outwards rather than inwards. It established minimum wages and maximum hours, and demonstrated that the state indeed has a responsibility to protect its workers.

For the 105th anniversary, commemorative events seek to keep the tragedy fresh in our minds, while resources exist preserving the history year round. Although this fire eventually resulted in the U.S. improving labor laws, garment work continues to put people at risk in other parts of the world.

 

The History Behind International Women’s Day

FROM OUR ARCHIVES: ORIGINAL POSTED TUESDAY, MARCH 8, 2011 ON WEWALK: BEHIND THE SCENES OF OPENING THE WAYEDITED AND UPDATED ON 3/8/2016.

Today is International Women’s Day, which highlights the accomplishments of women around the world while bringing awareness to their ongoing plight. On this day, March 8, we encourage activists to educate themselves and others about women’s history in order to emphasize the struggles women have overcome in the past and the important contributions that they have made when given the opportunity.

The United Nations describes International Women’s Day as “the story of ordinary women as makers of history.” It is rooted in a tradition where women worldwide hold a common oppression in political, economic, and sexual subordination due to their gender, but the origins of Women’s Day differ in various parts of the world.

The first National Women’s Day was celebrated by the American Socialist Party on February 28, 1909, and American women continued to celebrate it every last Sunday in February until 1913. Likewise, in 1910, the Socialist International proposed an International Women’s Day to help win suffrage and other rights for women, which was unanimously accepted by countries such as Germany,Denmark, Austria and Switzerland. On March 8, 1917, Russian women protested the czar under a “Bread and Peace” strike and won the right to vote from the provisional government four days later, after the czar was abdicated. The UN subsequently began celebrating IWD on March 8 in 1975, and passed a resolution two years later to proclaim a Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

Since 1987 in the US, March has been designated Women’s History Month, embracing the pre-existing calendar day long dedicated to women. Around the world, it has become a symbolic moment when groups gather, rally, and inform to declare that historically women have been left out of the narrative, but we’re working hard to rewrite those stories. Click here for a shameless Opening the Way tour plug!

Join an event, share a meme, sign a pledge, spread the word.

To see what events are going on, Internationalwomensday.com has an event finder based on your location.

Here’s to hoping that one day we won’t need a day designated for women to get equal attention! Or girls for that matter…

 

Happy Birthday to Elizabeth Cady Stanton!

Today, November 12, is Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 200th Birthday and  
 her spirit has never been more alive.

Elizabeth_Stanton

The Unwavering Campaigner, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Stanton, called the Unwavering Campaigner, joined up with her close friend, Susan B. Anthony, and the two tirelessly campaigned for U.S. women’s suffrage throughout the 19th century.   The countdown to the 100th anniversary of their ultimate victory has begun, and her heirs in the women’s political power movement honor Stanton’s strategies and still look forward to the day when the U.S. Senate has 51 women and the U.S. Supreme Court is five women and four men. So start looking out for celebrations.

Although Stanton died without seeing women granted the right to vote, she remains, along with Anthony, one of the best known American suffragists.

At Women’s eNews, we are particularly proud to use our women’s history walking tour to share her work with Anthony from 1868-1870 publishing a newspaper called The Revolution.

Women are often defined by their lifecyles: wife, mother, widow. I would prefer to define Stanton by her tenacity. Her life-long dedication to social and gender equality began at a time when very few people were listening.

Elizabeth_Cady_Stanton_and_Susan_B._Anthony

Elizabeth Cady Stanton with Susan B. Anthony

Many more are listening now. Here are two of our favorite Stanton quotes:

“Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.”                                                                                                            — the motto of The Revolution.

“I shall not grow conservative with age.” 

We can take comfort in knowing that these last 200 years would not have weakened her resolve.

As an added bonus, please check out  our honoree Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner giving her stellar performance as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, at Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Gala in May 2015:

‘My mother, my mother!’: A casual encounter with NYC’s Mayor.

It was a bright sunny Friday morning when we started out on our walking tour with a group of college students from Long Island.

As we waited to cross the street from the west side of Park Row to the east, Rita –Founder & Editor in Chief of Women’s eNews as well as an Opening the Way guide — noticed someone else on the corner.

Rita Henley Jensen and Bill de Blasio on Park Row, Friday Oct 23, 2015.

Rita Henley Jensen and Bill de Blasio on Park Row, Friday Oct 23, 2015.

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, only a block from City Hall, was casually blending in to the city’s pedestrian traffic.

With our Opening the Way tour guide in her hand, Rita approached de Blasio and said, “Bill, here’s something I want to hand you. This is what we are doing here.”

Glancing at the cover, he opened it and noticed the page dedicated to the founder of Planned Parenthood. We caught his attention. Mayor de Blasio pointed to the page and said with excitement: “Margaret Sanger. Margaret Sanger! My mother, my mother, went to her clinic. Keep up the fight.”

Fitting words considering the current war on women’s reproductive health by American politicians…

Thanks, Bill! We plan to!

On Women’s Equality Day, We Celebrate Those Who Lead

By Rita Henley Jensen, editor in chief, Women’s eNews

We’re putting on our walking shoes and filling our water bottles.

On Women’s Equality Day (it’s Wednesday, August 26) Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take the Lead and I, founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews, will lead a very special women’s history walking tour in downtown Manhattan.

We have invited guests from both organizations and many have accepted for this first of a kind meet-up.

Together, we will celebrate the women who took the lead as far back as the 1800s and agitate for completion of their agendas.

Gloria Feldt and I came of age in the late 50s and early 1960s in places as different as they could be: she in Tempe, Texas, and me in Columbus, Ohio.

Yet, Gloria and I have much in common, including a passion for women to take their rightful place in the halls of power. We both married young, as was expected, and became mothers while still in our teens. Then the 1970s happened to both of us.

In a very much unexpected reach forward, she enrolled in University of Texas of the Permian Basin; I enrolled in Ohio State University in Columbus.

Then the women’s movement happened. To both of us. And it changed our lives forever and led us both to opportunities for leadership.

After graduation, Gloria joined Planned Parenthood in West Texas and quickly rose to management, becoming in the 1990s CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and became America’s top advocate for women’s reproductive rights as well as head of the nation’s largest provider of health care to women. She retired, wrote a book on leadership and founded a new organization to fill a need as important as reproductive health care: Take The Lead. Through Take The Lead Gloria encourages women to strive for parity and reduce the gender imbalance in leadership positions by the firm deadline of 2025.

I ended up with a degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a member of the first class that was 50 percent female. (Now, it’s closer to 70 percent female.) I pursued a newspaper journalism career, but always with the profound understanding of women’s issues and public policy. In 1990s, I realized in a way I hadn’t before that the practice of most news media was to treat women’s issues with disrespect and to the point of being harmful to women and girls. I decided I needed to change that. My vehicle became launching and leading Women’s eNews in 2000 a daily nonprofit news organization that has changed the nation’s media landscape.

Both of us, through our experiences, are acutely aware of the common definition of power, one that Gloria wishes to flip on its head and I wish to catch and carry forward.

“The archetype of power,” Gloria says, “is male and outdated. It was defined as ‘power over.’” That is a turn-off for women, she says, and women are attracted by the “power to.” The difference for example, would be a corporate executive who has the power over who receives a bonus and commands deference and one who ensures the team is paid fairly and commands respect.

On the walking tour, we will make stops recalling women who used their “power to” improve the lives of women and girls and be reminded that each of us has the “power to” make change for women and girls.

If you can, please join us and hear about what these incredible women did with their “power to.”

The first stop, fittingly enough, will be the site where the founder of Planned Parenthood Margaret Sanger was indicted for sending a newsletter through the U.S. mail that promised to deliver information about birth control. In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League (later renamed Planned Parenthood), and two years later opened a legal doctor-run clinic for women in Manhattan.

Next: A half a block from where Sanger was indicted, we will pause at the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony corner. These long-time partners in the suffrage movement were the writers and publishers of a weekly newspaper, The Revolution (1868-1870). Stanton is also author of “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions” (1848). Anthony was arrested in 1872 for voting in the Presidential election.

Crossing Park Row, we will stop by Elizabeth Jennings corner. In 1854, she created the template challenging segregation of public transportation. She refused to leave a “whites-only” New York City trolley and successfully sued for damages.

We will next stand where Joseph Pulitzer made history with such journalists as Emma Bugbee a feminist who covered women’s issues and in 1912 marched with the suffragists from New York City to Albany insisting on their right to vote.

Down historic Nassau Street, Victoria Claflin Woodhull published a weekly newspaper and launched her 1872 presidential campaign. Unfortunately, she was in jail at the time for publishing the details of prominent minister Henry Ward Beecher’s affair with a married member of his congregation.

The next stop is often a favorite of Girl Scouts. Augusta Lewis, in 1868, organized a labor union for female typesetters to protect women hired and fired as union-busters. She wrote a letter to the national union asking for admission for her all-women local, arguing that women and men should earn the same pay for the same work.

A few blocks south on Cedar Street, we recall the journalistic powerhouse that was Ida B. Wells. Born into slavery, Wells rose to national prominence as the journalist who brought to national attention the all-to-common practice of the lynching of black women and men. Women’s eNews honors a journalist each year with the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism.

After we pass the site where Occupy Wall Street camped, we stop where Frances Perkins held hearings into the causes of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. She was the first woman to be appointed to a presidential cabinet position. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, she is now known as a major architect of the New Deal.

At St. Paul’s Chapel, we stop to remember the female first responders who died on September 11, and to honor Captain Brenda Berkman, a first responder on September 11 and a member of the first class of New York City firefighters to include women, the result of her complaint against the department for gender bias. She won by demonstrating that the required qualifying exam was almost impossible for women to pass.

Gloria and I are thrilled that we have this opportunity to join forces and introduce so many to these women who opened the way and led by example.

Also published on: http://www.blogher.com/women-s-equality-day-we-celebrate-those-who-lead

July 16: Ida B. Wells’ 153rd Birthday!

IDA B. WELLS: 1862-1931

Anti-Lynching Journalist, Women’s Rights Advocate

Ida B. WellsA SHERO of Women’s eNews, Wells set examples and broke ground for generations of women and men through her refusal to accept the racial and sexist prejudices that cause harm, trauma and death.

July 16 is her 153rd birthday. Born in 1862, Wells worked and lived as a teacher, a journalist, a suffragist, an activist, a founder, a politician, and much more. She was a pioneer who left us many reasons to celebrate her.

As a women’s news organization, we are especially drawn to her work as an investigative journalist at the turn of the century.

In 1892, the newspaper owned by Ida B. Wells in Memphis, Tenn., was burned to the ground in response to her editorial condemning the lynching of three of her friends. Wells fled Memphis and continued her blistering journalistic attacks on Southern injustices, being especially active in investigating and exposing the fraudulent “reasons” given to lynch black men, which had become common in the 1890s. Born a slave and a former school teacher, Wells became a national figure in the anti-lynching movement and wrote “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.” She also became a tireless worker for women’s suffrage and joined in the famous 1913 march for universal suffrage in Washington, D.C. Throughout her life, she continued her passionate advocacy against lynching and for women’s rights. In 1930, a year before her death, she ran for a seat in the state legislature, becoming one of the first African American women to stand for public office. — Lee D. Baker, published by Women’s eNews

Opening the Way features Wells as our 16th stop marking her connection to Cedar Street in downtown Manhattan. This was the location of T.T. Fortune’s New York Age, an African-American and influential newspaper, where her article was published after the office of her own paper Free Speech was attacked in retaliation to her investigation and reporting on the lynching of black men accused of raping white women.

To hear how Ida B. Wells’ described this moment in her life, watch Carol Jenkins reading Wells’ words:

Carol Jenkins is a writer, producer, and Emmy award-winning former television anchor and correspondent. She spent 30 years with news departments throughout New York City, hosted her own daily talk show, and was also president of the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to make women visible in the media. She is especially well-known for the 23 years she spent with WNBC-TV in New York, where she co-anchored the 6:00 newscast. Her talk show was called Carol Jenkins Live and was shown on WNYW-TV. Jenkins is the author, with her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines, of Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire, which was chosen by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association as one of the best books of 2004 in non-fiction. She is currently working on another book, and her articles have appeared in various journals and anthologies. She has served on the boards of the Feminist Press and the Ms. Foundation for Women. 

Ida B. WellsTo learn more about Wells and her accomplishments see Our History page at womensenews.org

And to join Women’s eNews for our women’s history walking tour featuring Wells, contact us at 212-244-1744 or openingtheway@womensenews.org