Strong Black Women Past and Present

If I wish I’d had more role models in my life, I know my female, African-American friends had that same wish. Yet they had fewer role models to see in history or daily life. and, I hope, fulfill other young women’s need for role models. The women below are black women I have featured on my blog or women I’ve quoted. I featured and quoted them not because they were black but because they are strong women, both the world and my history books ignored. They are women I consider role models. Today I feature them because they are Black. A distinction that means they were doubly ignored and had to be stronger, more determined, and more courageous than many others. They are more than Strong Black Women. They are inspirations.

The First African-American Professional Nurse

Black and white photograph  portrait of  Mary Mahoney in her nurse's cap  and nurses whites with a fringed scarf tied in a bow at her collar.

Mary Mahoney (1845-1926) made history as the first African-American Professional Nurse , yet many do not know her name. A strong woman, Mahoney, became a nurse despite severe societal limitations placed on black and minority women. She braved discrimination and worked toward equality for black and minority nurses and women.

She means it doesn’t come off, Dana… The black. She means the devil with people who say you’re anything but what you are.”

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

She Refused to be Silenced

Photo portrait of Lucy Parsons has her sitting in profile with her face turned toward the camera. She wears a victorian striped dress and a medium brimmed hat with feathers.. She's one of many strong black women we should have learned about in school.

Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) is a woman of history in my ongoing examination of “Strong Women.” Parsons, the “Queen of Anarchy,” was a woman of contradictions. The Chicago police department considered her “more dangerous than 1000 rioters.” surveilled her, arrested her, and fined her over and over. Yet, she refused to be silenced.

I whimpered, biting my lip. ‘I’m here, I’m here, I’m here,’ I whispered. Because I was and there was no way out.”

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

She Lights the Way

Photograph portrait of Mary McLeod Bethune, one of many strong black women, she was a child of former slaves  and grew to be an educator and civil rights leader.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an extraordinary woman, an educator, and a civil rights leader. A child of former slaves, she grew from poverty and ignorance into a woman who changed her world. Most of all, she lights the way even after death. 

Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Zero Tolerance for Discrimination

Photograph of Stormé DeLaverie  in a tuxedo and her performance.

Her mother was a black servant in her white father’s household. Stormé DeLaverie (day-la-vee-ay) (1920-2014) was an entertainer, a bouncer, an activist, and a drag king with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Being brave isn’t the same as being okay.”

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, 

Nonviolent, She Made a Difference

Color photograph portrait of Dorothy Cotton smiling into the camera. She is one of many strong black women.

Dorothy Cotton (January 5, 1930–June 10, 2018) was born at the beginning of the depression. No one could have predicted the woman she became. Nonviolent, she made a difference in the U.S. civil rights movement and in the world.

Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Maid Who Fought Back

Image of a protest sign that reads "no contract, no peace" alongside the title "Hattie Canty, The Maid Who Fought Back"

Hattie Canty (1934-2012) rose from an Alabama girl to a maid to an African-American labor activist. She was the maid who fought back, the maid who eventually ensured that Las Vegas workers in the hospitality business made a living wage.

For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.” 

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Grateful for Strong Black Women

I’m grateful for Black History Month. Grateful to be given the extra push to learn more, to recognize the determination, strength, and the courage of these women, to see and help others see these strong Black women. For more Inspirational Black Women in History, go to PBS.  

Which Strong Black Women would you add to this list?

Image Credits

First Image by Leroy Skalstad from Pixabay

She Saved the Moon Landing

Today I have a special guest, L.D. Fairchild writing a post. L.D. Fairchild is an author of young adult fiction. She’s contributed a post about a strong woman who was nearly forgotten. Please give L.D. Fairchild a warm welcome and comment on her post, She Saved the Moon Landing.

by L. D. Fairchild

It’s July 20, 1969. The world is watching as U.S. astronauts attempt to land on the moon. The lunar module nears the surface of the moon. The world holds its breath.

Alarms blare.

The computer is overloaded. Fuel is running out. A decision has to be made about whether to abort the landing.

Photo of the 1969 lunar landing that only happened because of Margaret Hamilton, she saved the moon landing

Software engineer Margaret Hamilton is monitoring the moon landing from her lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While engineers and astronauts hold their breath, Margaret Hamilton’s software quickly begins compensating for the overload, focusing on the most important tasks and ignoring the others.

The lunar module safely touches down on the moon, and Margaret Hamilton and the team of software engineers she leads have saved the moon landing.

Who is Margaret Hamilton?

Despite playing a pivotal role in the success of the Apollo program, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and having her own Lego minifigure, you may never have heard of Margaret Hamilton.

Hamilton was born on August 17, 1936, in Paoli, Indiana. Her family moved to Michigan where she graduated from high school and attended the University of Michigan before transferring to Earlham College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

After graduating, she married and a year later, she and her husband moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he would attend Harvard Law School. Her daughter was born in 1959, and Hamilton took a job in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab of Edward Lorenz, best known for his work on chaos theory. Her work on software that could predict the weather introduced her to the work that would become her passion.

In 1964, after working on software that could detect enemy aircraft, she answered an advertisement from the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory that was looking for people to write software to “send men to the moon.” She applied and got the job overseeing the project. She would eventually have 100 people on the team that would develop the software that would eventually save the moon landing.

Image of Margaret Hamilton working on a mockup of the Apollo capsule controls, she saved the moon landing

A Working Mom

As a working mom, Hamilton would sometimes bring her daughter to the lab with her. On one such occasion, Hamilton was running a moon landing simulation. Her daughter, imitating her mother, hit a sequence of buttons that caused the computer to shut down the simulation. After figuring out what her daughter had done, Hamilton realized an astronaut could make the same mistake.

She requested that NASA allow for a change in the code. They told her the astronauts were too well-trained to make mistakes. However, on the Apollo 8 mission, one of the astronauts made the exact same mistake, and while Hamilton and her team were able to get the mission back on track, the code was changed before the next mission.

A Team Leader

In 1964, it was unusual for a woman to lead a team designing software. First, software engineering was a new field (Hamilton actually coined the term “software engineering”). Second, very few female software engineers existed. Third, having a woman in charge was unusual in many fields.

When Hamilton took the position as the team lead, one of her bosses was worried that the men under her might rebel at being led by a woman. However, Hamilton recalls that she had no problems. In an interview with The Guardian she said, “More than anything, we were dedicated to the missions and worked side by side to solve the challenging problems and to meet the critical deadlines.”

An Innovator

When the alarms started blaring in the lunar module, the concern over losing astronauts was real. When the lunar module finally landed, it had only 30 seconds of fuel left. Mission Control had limited time to make a Go/No Go call.

They were able to say “Go” because Hamilton’s software worked exactly as designed. The lunar module had only 72 kilobytes of processing power to work with. Many cell phones today have more than a million times that processing power.

The small capacity for processing meant that the computer could only do a few things at a time. Hamilton and her team recognized those limitations and created software that could decide which things were the most important at that moment, so the computer would use its processing power for the most critical tasks.

An investigation would later reveal that the astronaut checklist was incorrect, and the astronauts had set the rendezvous radar hardware switch incorrectly, causing the alarm. The software was able to recognize that giving processing power to that switch was a low-priority item, so it reallocated its processing power to critical landing tasks, an innovation that landed men safely on the moon.

Our astronauts didn’t have much time, but thankfully they had Margaret Hamilton.

President Barack Obama when awarding Hamilton
the Presidential Medal of Freedom

An Entrepreneur

Hamilton would continue to work for NASA until 1972 when she left to start her own company Higher Order Software. She would found another company, Hamilton Technologies, Inc., in 1984. Hamilton Technologies developed Universal Systems Language, a tool that helps prevent errors in software based on the patterns she saw during her time developing software at NASA.

In a time when the field of software engineering was in its infancy and female software engineers were nearly non-existent, Margaret Hamilton forged her own path – even when it led to the moon.


L.D. Fairchild is an author and freelance writer who fell in love with all things space-related as a teenager. She is passionate about encouraging young girls to not be afraid to dream big dreams even if they’re unconventional. She writes young adult fiction that features strong, smart heroines saving the world. She also writes a series of children’s mystery books under the pen name Lori Briley that focus on encouraging girls to stand up for what they know is right and to try new things – even if they’re the only girl doing it. You can learn more about her and her books at ldfairchildauthor.com.


Sources:

Margaret Hamilton: ‘They worried that the men might rebel. They didn’t.’

Margaret Hamilton Led the NASA Software Team That Landed Astronauts on the Moon.

Image Credits

Top Photo: Image by Cristian Ibarra from Pixabay 

Middle Photo: NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Last Photo: Draper Laboratory; restored by Adam Cuerden., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Black Women You Should Know

Women have long been ignored by history. Add in a minority skin color or race or religion and they are even less likely to be remembered. And that is a shame. Black women are making and have made history. From long past to current history makers, from the music room to the boardroom to the court room to the tennis court, here are 41 black women you should know.

Photo of young and middle aged black women sitting around a conference table in a business office, even these are black women you should know

We will all, at some point, encounter hurdles to gaining access and entry, moving up and conquering self-doubt; but on the other side is the capacity to own opportunity and tell our own story.” Stacey Abrams, an American politician, lawyer, voting rights activist, and author.

“Don’t let anything stop you. There will be times when you’ll be disappointed, but you can’t stop.” Sadie T. M. Alexander,  an American lawyer who was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in economics in the United States, and the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

“Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” Maya Angelou, an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. 

Restored portrait photo of Mary McLeod Bethune-one of many black women you should know from history

“Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.Mary McLeod Bethune,  an American educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist.

“Defining myself, as opposed to being defined by others, is one of the most difficult challenges I face.” Carol Moseley-Braun, politician and lawyer.

“Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourselves to lead.” Gwendolyn Brooks, American poet, author, and teacher, the first African American to receive a Pulitzer Prize (1950).

“Women must become revolutionary. This cannot be evolution but revolution.” Shirley Chisholm, an American politician— the first black woman elected to the United States Congress(1968), educator, and author.

”We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.” Yvette Clarke,  an American politician

“The air is the only place free from prejudice.” Bessie Coleman, an early American civil aviator, the first African-American woman and first Native American to hold a pilot license.

“I knew then and I know now, when it comes to justice, there is no easy way to get it.” Claudette Colvin,  an American pioneer of the 1950s civil rights movement and retired nurse aide.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” Angela Davis, an American political activist, philosopher, academic, scholar, and author.

“As black women, we’re always given these seemingly devastating experiences — experiences that could absolutely break us. But what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly. What we do as black women is take the worst situations and create from that point. Viola Davis, an American actress and producer.

“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” Ava DuVernay, an American filmmaker.

Photo of Ella Fitzgerald singing in a club filled with black men. Ella Fitzgerald is one of many black women you should know

“Just don’t give up what you’re trying to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” Ella Fitzgerald, an American jazz singer, the “First Lady of Song”

“When I liberate myself, I liberate others. If you don’t speak out ain’t nobody going to speak out for you.” Fannie Lou Hamer, an American voting, civil rights, and women’s rights activist

“There is no vaccine for racism.” Kamala Harris, an American politician and attorney, the 49th and current vice president of the United States. 

“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” Zora Neale Hurston, American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

“I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black; it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.” June Jordan, an American poet, essayist, teacher, and activist.

“Don’t agonize, organize.” Florynce Kennedy, an American lawyer, radical feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist.

Headshot of Coretta Scott King, wife of activists Martin Luthor King Jr. but one of the black women you should know in her own right

 “Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.” Coretta Scott King, American author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.

“If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.” Beyonce Knowles, an American singer, songwriter, and actress.

“Friendly reminder that you don’t have to say the ‘n word’ to be racist. That’s not the sole requirement. Asking people to prove racism is another tool the oppressor uses to marginalize and discredit us.” Lizzo, nee Melissa Viviane Jefferson, an American singer, rapper, songwriter and flutist.

“Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.” Janelle Monáe,  an American singer, rapper, and actress

“If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” Toni Morrison, an American novelist

“There are still many causes worth sacrificing for, so much history yet to be made.” Michelle Obama, an American attorney and author who served as the first lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017

“To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” Rosa Parks,  an American activist in the civil rights movement

“Black history isn’t a separate history. This is all of our history, this is American history, and we need to understand that. It has such an impact on kids and their values and how they view black people.” Karyn Parsons, an American actress, author and comedian.

“Dreams are lovely but they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.” Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, screenwriter, and author

“I need to see my own beauty and to continue to be reminded that I am enough, that I am worthy of love without effort, that I am beautiful, that the texture of my hair and that the shape of my curves, the size of my lips, the color of my skin, and the feelings that I have are all worthy and okay.” Tracee Ellis Ross, nee Tracee Joy Silberstein, an American actress, singer, television host, producer and director.

Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” Wilma Rudolph, an American sprinter, who became a world-record-holding Olympic champion and international sports icon in track and field.

“You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” Nina Simone, nee Eunice Kathleen Waymon, an American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist.

“Whatever we believe about ourselves and our ability comes true for us.” Susan L. Taylor, journalist

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman,  an American slave, an abolitionist and political activist.

“Whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free . . . your true self comes out.” Tina Turner, an American-born Swiss singer, songwriter and actress.

restored photo of Sojourner Truth sitting in an armchair

“Truth is powerful and it prevails.” Sojourner Truth, an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. 

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker, an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist.

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” Madam C.J. Walker, an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist, recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Ida B. Wells, an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement

“Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” Oprah Winfrey, an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist.

I am lucky that whatever fear I have inside me, my desire to win is always stronger.” Serena Williams, an American professional tennis player.

These are but a few of the Black Women You Should Know. Because I’m American, my selections here are American, but there are black women across the world who deserve honors and remembrances. Please take a moment during this Black History Month to remember the black women who have worked quietly behind the scenes as well as those made famous by the actions or words. All women deserve more credit for their contributions to history. Even if their “only” contribution is living their own lives.

Image Credits

Top Photo-women in business by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Second Photo-Mary McLeod Bethune, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Third Photo-Ella Fitzgerald, William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fourth Photo-Coretta Scott King by John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel  Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Photo-Sourjourner Truth , National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

She Was Convicted Because the Sex Side of Life Was Judged Obscene

On April 4, 1872, Livonia Coffin and George Whitefield Ware, Worcester, Massachusetts residents, welcomed their second child, daughter Mary Coffin Ware. Although the women’s suffrage movement started in the United States in 1848, women still did not have the right to vote in 1872. And married women could not own their own property, keep their own wages, or sign a contract. These conditions deeply affected Mary’s life. She was convicted because the sex side of life was judged obscene.

Photograph of Mary Dennette in Suffragette outfit, standing in a car handing something to a man and his son standing beside the car. She was convicted because the sex side of life was judged obscene

Early Life

In 1882, Mary’s father died of cancer. Her mother moved the family to Boston to be closer to her mother’s relatives. But finding a job to support the family proved impossible. So Mary’s mother chaperoned young ladies traveling to Europe for pay. Unable to take Mary (or her other children) with on those trips, Mary and her siblings stayed with her aunt and went to public school. 

Lucia Ames Mead, Mary’s aunt, was active in social reform, women’s voting rights, and advocated for world peace. In time, this influence would reveal itself in Mary’s life.

Education

Mary graduated from her high school, Miss Capen’s School for Girls in Northampton, Massachusetts, and went to the School of Art and Design at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There she studied textile design and won prizes for tapestry and leatherwork projects.

She graduated from art school with honors in 1894 and moved to Philadelphia, where she lead the department of decoration and design at the Drexel Institute of Art for the next three years. After she left the Drexel Institute, she studied antique leatherwork in Spain and Italy. When she returned to the U.S., she settled in Boston where she organized art exhibitions for the Society of Arts and Crafts.

Marriage

She met William Hartley Dunnett, an architect, in 1894 and married him on January 20, 1900. After they married, she wrote and gave lectures about arts and crafts, became a board member of the Society for Arts and Crafts, and took part in Boston social reform groups

The birth of their first son in December 1900 almost killed Mary. In 1903, Mary’s second pregnancy was also difficult. The child lived for only three weeks. 

Their third child was born in 1905. Her labor was so difficult she had to quit her work in order to recover. The doctor advised them Mary should have no more children.

Mary and Hartley were ignorant of birth control. Abstinence was the only method either of them knew.

Changes

Mary’s husband, Hartley, began working on a house for a doctor and his wife in 1904. Over time, he developed a very close relationship with the doctor’s wife.

In 1908, Mary took a job as the field secretary of the Massachusetts Suffrage Association in Springfield, Massachusetts. She spoke to individuals and groups about suffrage, organized events, and recruited new members.

Hartley left Mary in 1909.

The National American Woman Suffrage Association in New York City, New York, elected Dennett as correspondence secretary in 1910. She accepted the position and moved to New York.

Mary grew concerned about the affect Hartley had on their children and filed for divorce in 1912. He sued for custody of the children. It was scandalous and therefore a popular topic in the newspapers.

In 1913, the court granted Mary the custody of her children and finalized her divorce from Hartley. The court required Hartley to pay child support. He claimed he did not make enough money to do so and refused to pay.

A New Life

Also in 1913, Mary accepted an offer to lead the Twilight Sleep Association. Twilight sleep referred to the doctors using anesthesia (scopolamine and morphine) during labor to induce a semi-conscious state in mothers-to-be during deliveries. Twilight sleep reduced the use of forceps, which reduced infant mortality and the risk of injury and infection to both mother and infant. She served as president, then Vice President of the Association.

During this time, she struggled to support her sons and incurred many debts.

When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Mary volunteered for the Women’s Peace Party in New York that opposed the war.

Sex Ed

The cover of the Sex Side of Life an Explanation for young people is two toned, cream on the top third with the title on it and red on the bottom two thirds with Mary's name toward the bottom. She was convicted because the sex side of life was judged obscene

In 1915, Mary created a pamphlet to answer some of her eldest son’s questions about sex. She titled the work, “The Sex Side of Life: An Explanation for Young People.” In the pamphlet, she discussed that the books she’d read were vague and misleading. The vagueness and misinformation resulted from state and federal obscenity laws that limited the amount of detail that could be published about sex education.

She wrote that the sex education books she’d read also portrayed the sex as fearful or shameful act. Her twenty-four-page pamphlet included clear information about sex and realistic descriptions of intercourse. Once friends learned of the pamphlet, they wanted one to help teach their children about sex.

Birth Control

Mary became more involved in the birth control movement. Working with Jessie Ashley and Clara Gruening Stillman, they established the National Birth Control League in 1915 to increase knowledge about and access to birth control.

Mary lobbied New York’s federal congressmen to repeal the Comstock Act. She wanted Congress to remove the words “prevention of contraception” from federal obscenity statutes. Her efforts brought the birth control movement to the attention of the media and birth control activist Margaret Sanger.

Sanger had left the country from 1914 to 1915 to avoid prosecution for writing a radical (and co-called obscene) newspaper called The Woman Rebel.

Mary disapproved of Sanger breaking the law in order to bring attention to it. And Sanger thought Mary’s efforts to get free birth control for everyone was doomed to fail. Sanger believed working through state governments and allowing doctors to prescribe birth control had the best chance for success.

Photograph of a modern birth control pill card with last seven days of pills still in it. Mary was convicted because the Sex Side of Life was judged obscene

More Publicity Woes

Mary’s name was in the papers again during 1915, thanks to a public invitation from her ex-husband, Hartley, his partner, Margaret Chase, and her husband. They wanted her to join them and form a “quadrangle” of love. Mary feared the negative publicity and notoriety she gained from her ex-husband’s unwanted proposal would adversely affect the organizations she worked with.

For the next two years, Mary shifted her focus to women’s suffrage and the anti-war movement. But as the war dragged on, and President Woodrow Wilson supported the war efforts, resistance to her anti-war campaigns led to her return to birth control activism.

More Activism 

In 1918, Mary became executive secretary for the National Birth Control League in New York City. The following February, the editor of the Medical Review of Reviews agreed to publish her pamphlet, “The Sex Side of Life.” Unable to get support from New York politicians, Mary resigned from the Nation Birth Control League in 1919.

Later that year, Mary founded the Voluntary Parenthood League. The League’s goals were to remove birth control from obscenity laws by lobbying the federal government and to better educate parents about teaching sex education to their children.

Mary campaigned and lobbied federal officials to exempt information about birth control from obscenity laws. She even appealed to the solicitor of the US Postal Services, saying that since they couldn’t open all mail and check it, post offices could not enforce the Comstock Act.

The Post Office Department banned circulation of any mail that contained Mary’s “The Sex Side of Life.”

Mary resigned from the Voluntary Parenthood League in 1925.

Spreading Information

After her resignation, Mary continued to receive mail from parents asking about birth control and sex education. The post office thwarted her attempts to send those people her pamphlet, “The Sex Side of Life.” The common method of placing mail in unsealed envelopes allowed the post office to open and confiscate all copies of her pamphlet. So Mary began sending the pamphlet in sealed envelopes.

Mary published Birth Control Laws: Shall We Keep Them, Change Them, or Abolish Them in 1926. The book described the state and federal laws and Mary’s arguments to change the laws.

Indicted

In 1928, Mary had a court case filed against her. An alleged woman named Mrs. Carl Miles, who said she received Mary’s pamphlet by mail, which violated the federal code preventing mailing of obscene literature. Once again, Mary faced unwanted publicity.

Stories about the fifty-three-year-old grandmother appeared in most newspapers in the country.”

Jstor.com

On April 23, 1929, a jury composed entirely of middle-aged family men convicted Mary for sending obscene materials through the mail. She faced up to a five thousand dollar fine or five years in jail or both.

It fined her three hundred dollars. 

She refused to pay.

An Appeal

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sponsored her, supported her pamphlet, saying it was not obscene but an important educational tool. The court of appeals learned that Mrs. Carl Miles was a fake character created by the post office to trick Mary into mailing a copy of her pamphlet so they could file the case.

On March 3, 1930, the appellate court ruled that because Mary’s intent was educational and not obscene, the pamphlet did not qualify as obscene. Circulation of “The Sex Side of Life” increased after the original ruling was reversed.

Death and Legacy

Mary Coffin Ware Dennett died in Valatie, New York on July 25, 1947. She was 75.

From 1929 to 1930, most of the nation knew about Mary and her trial. They knew she was convicted because “The Sex Side of Life” was judged obscene. They knew about her appeal. What no one knew was that “United States v. Dennett would ultimately prove to be a landmark censor ship case that paved the way for dramatic changes in the legal definition of obscenity.”

What if Mary Dennett originally had pleaded guilty?


Image Credits

First Image is Public Domain

Second Image Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Final Image by Ichigo121212 from Pixabay 

Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain

In December 1967, fifty-three-year-old Louis Washkansky, a South African businessman, was dying. He had diabetes, chronic heart, kidney, and liver disease. By 1965, he had had three heart attacks and only about one third of his failing heart continued to function. All his heart doctors and tests confirmed he was dying. His doctors recommended he see the cardiac surgeon, Dr. Christiaan Neethling Barnard. Washkansky had nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

Image is an anatomical drawing of a red human heart with blue pulmonary arteries. Washkansky had nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

A New Procedure

Dr. Barnard told Washkansky and his wife about an experimental procedure. He proposed Washkansky become the world’s first human heart transplant recipient. For the procedure, Dr. Barnard would need the heart of a donor who died from disease or injuries that left the heart intact. The doctor would surgically replace Washkansy’s heart with the donor’s heart.

The doctor told Washkansky and his wife that the procedure had an 80% chance of success. Washkansky’s wife feared her husband would absorb the donor’s personality. She believed, as many, did that one’s soul rested in one’s heart.But Washkansky wanted to take his only chance. On November 10, 1967, the Chief of Surgery identified Washkansky as a potential heart transplant candidate.

The Preparation

Dr. Barnard’s team prepared Washkansky for the surgery. They swabbed his skin, nose, mouth, throat, and rectum to determine which bacteria lived on and in his body so he could be on the proper antibiotics. They washed him frequently with a disinfectant called Phisohex (hexachlorophene). And waited for a donor.

A Possible Donor

In late November, a young black man had a catastrophic head injury. Though the Chief of Surgery strongly recommended they avoid using a “colored” donor, the family was asked for permission for him to be a heart donor. Unfortunately, his heart was damaged and wasn’t suitable. Washkansky feared his chances of getting a new heart were slim.

December 3, 1967

A drunk driver plowed into twenty-five-year-old Denise Davail and her mother when they were crossing the street. Davail’s mother died at the scene. Davail had devastating head injuries. A neurosurgeon determined she was brain dead. A blood transfusion and respirator kept her heart beating. Doctors approached her father, who had been at the scene, and told him that there was a man in the hospital who was gravely ill. They told him it would be a “great kindness” if he allowed them to transplant her heart into this man. After a few minutes of contemplation, he told the doctors that if they couldn’t save his daughter, they should try to save that man.

Photograph of a surgical suite with six wax figures in green surgical gowns, what head wraps and masks--a recreation of Dr. Bernard and his team in the operating room

The Surgery

At one in the morning, they took Washkansky and Davail to surgery. Dr. Barnard, his brother, Dr. Marius Barnard, and a team of thirty surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and technicians implanted Davail’s heart into Washkansky’s body. Only the two Dr. Barnards had ever attempted a heart transplant before. And although the Barnard brothers had performed many transplants before, their only patients had been dogs. (Read more about Dr. Christiaan Barnard and his techniques.)

Surgical Success

Washkansky survived the surgery. He woke and spoke with his wife. 

On the fifth postoperative day, Dr. Barnard suspected Washkansky’s symptoms were signs of his body rejecting the donor heart. The doctors bombarded Washkansky with immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection of the donor heart. Unfortunately, this reduced Washkansky’s resistance to other illnesses. He came down with pneumonia. On the eighteenth postoperative day, Washkansky died.

Legacy

Image of Dr. Christiaan Barnard shortly after the surgery during a press conference. he is in a suit with a curtain behind him

Today, doctors across the world perform more than 5,000 heart transplants each year. Eighty-seven percent survive the first year. The average life expectancy after a heart transplant is a little more than nine years. All because a dying man took a chance on a doctor and a new surgery. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

Image Credits

Top:Image by Open Clipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Middle Photo: by TheSokks – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

Last Photo: by Ron Kroon / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons