Happy Birthday Margaret Fuller, Correspondent for Equality


On this day in women’s history, we celebrate the birth of Margaret Fuller, a woman whose name is associated with several important contributions to American history.

5. Margaret FullerFuller was born on May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts to Unitarian parents, and received a strong classical education from an early age, becoming well-versed in languages such as French and German. She became a passionate advocate for transcendentalism, a philosophy that developed as a critique to the state of ideas in society and at Harvard in particular. A core belief of transcendentalist philosophy was the belief in an ideal spirituality that goes beyond the physical and empirical and is fulfilled only through a person’s intuition rather than organized religious doctrine. It affected literature, poetry, art and music from about 1835-1880. Fuller worked with prominent figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, and gained a respected reputation in this field, becoming the first editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial in 1840.

In 1844, Fuller came to New York to work for Horace Greeley’s New-York Daily Tribune, one of the most influential newspapers in the country. There, she became the first full-time female book reviewer in America. She was considered one of the most well-read people in New England, and became the first woman admitted to use the library at Harvard College. In 1845, she published Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. The book was based in part on a series of “Conversations” or seminars she had held for women social reformers while in Boston, to compensate for their lack of access to higher education.

In 1846, Fuller left for Europe as the Tribune’s first female international correspondent. She settled in Rome and covered the Italian revolution. She had a son with Giovanni Ossoli, whom she married; and the three of them left on a ship on May 17, 1850 to return to America. But en route to New York, their ship was wrecked in a storm and the family tragically perished.

Margaret Fuller died at only 40 years old, but left a legacy in which she is considered one of America’s first feminists. She fought fiercely for women’s rights, particularly in the areas of education and work. On May 25, 2011, she was celebrated through the Margaret Fuller Bicentennial Celebration, in Boston.


105 Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire


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


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…


Recording Powerful Women’s Voices: Gloria Steinem

From our archives: Originally Posted Friday, December 17, 2010 on WEWALK: BEHIND THE SCENES OF OPENING THE WAYEDITED AND UPDATED ON 07/22/2015.

GloriaSteinem2The audio component of Opening the Way’s interactive online tour is coming quickly to an end as we wrap up recordings at our studio in uptown Manhattan.* On Monday, Women’s eNews is excited to take footage from second-wave feminist Gloria Steinem as the legendary Margaret Sanger.

Gloria Steinem came to prominence as an activist and organizer during the women’s rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. She has also contributed to a number of other social justice movements and causes, and to this day still speaks in America and around the world on issues of equality. Her website describes her as “particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice.”

Steinem is the author of several books, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution Within. She co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, and remained its editor for fifteen years. She co-founded the Women’s Media Center in 2004, and also helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus and Choice USA. She has been featured in or contributed to an extensive number of magazines, newspapers, textbooks, television shows, and documentaries.

Steinem has said that the answer to equality is not simply making women equal to men, but eliminating gender stereotypes and roles completely–and that therefore, male participation ought to be an integral part of feminism. In an interview with Marianne Schnall, she remarked: “Once men realize that the gender roles are a prison for them too, then they become really valuable allies. Because they’re not just helping someone else, they’re freeing themselves.”

Gloria Steinem has already secured her place in history, and Women’s eNews is infinitely grateful to her for contributing her time and efforts to a project that honors the women who came before her.

*Completed in 2010, this material is now available. See Contemporary Women Leaders of Opening the Way for the full list of the women who participated in our audio and video tour, then find the historical woman you would like to hear in Our 21 Stops!