As I write this, Joe Biden, presumptive Democratic Nominee for the Presidency, is selecting his running mate for the office of Vice President. He is committed to choosing a woman. All of the mystery surrounding the selection has led me to look into the lives of other women who have also contributed to our American history in ways unknown to most of us. Can you make a similar list and add to this one?
The Wall Street Journal reported last week on the death of Betsy Ancker-Johnson, a 93 year-old physicist who was the first woman presidential appointee when Richard Nixon asked her to become the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. She vigorously advocated that the United States change to the metric system and she oversaw 7,500 employees and managed a budget of $230 million. She was also the first woman vice-president of GM, and was a researcher for Boeing where she did work involving plasma physics. The mother of four (two of whom were adopted), she formally studied the Bible and smuggled Bibles into Russia during research visits. She was as progressive in her theology as she was in her science. She lamented that an RCA lab had laid her off when she was pregnant, “…treating me like I had leprosy.”
Another woman you may not have heard of from the annals of science is Maria Mitchell, the first woman professor of astronomy in the U.S. and the first woman professional astronomer. Like Ancker-Johnson, Mitchell connected science to her faith and once said, “Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.” Her immediate claim to fame was becoming the first American to discover a comet and winning a medal from the King of Denmark in 1848 for the discovery. The comet was named, “Miss Mitchell’s Comet,” which I think is a nifty title for a book! Later, Mitchell started a school for girls in science and mathematics and insisted that black students be admitted. This led to becoming an anti-slavery activist and a suffragette. Referring to women in a speech she said, “No matter where you are, nor what you are, you are a power!”
At the time Maria Mitchell was working for the rights of women and black people, my grandmother, Catherine McCreanor-McGinty was born in 1881 in Northern Ireland. She was already in America and nine years old when Miss Mitchell died. But I think she may have heard of the scientist because eventually Catherine became a suffragette and worked tirelessly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hoping to secure the right to vote for women. I wonder if her “star” linked furtively and meaningfully with Maria and Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and so many others. A constellation of justice! I am sure that at their local meetings these women were enlightened and encouraged by the achievements of the women who went before them. My grandmother was called “the torch lady” in the Pittsburgh marches because she carried a lighted torch if it was dark when the marchers hit the streets. I think she carried the torch symbolically for me and all her daughters and granddaughters on those nights. My mother was born one year after women got the right to vote!
Who are the women who contributed to your life, leading you to where you are now? What made them so courageous, so life-giving? Have you taken the time to thank God for them? Share their names with us.
Create a “hall of fame” list for yourself by researching the extraordinary contributions you never knew that women had made. You will find many Betsy Ancker-Johnson and Maria Mitchell and you’ll wonder why you didn’t already know about them.
Finally, I love two quotes from Mother Jones, the feisty fighter for human rights, particularly women’s rights. Ponder these: “Whatever the fight, don’t be ladylike!” And, referring to a man who was in prison for stealing a pair of shoes she said, “If he had stolen a railroad, he’d be a U.S. Senator!”
I haven’t even mentioned the great women founders of religious communities. That’s another several blogs in the future!