Thứ Sáu, 21 tháng 6, 2013

Herstory: Never Too Young to Make an Impact

Anne Frank
Anne Frank.jpg
Anne Frank was born June 12, 1929 in Germany to Otto and Edith Frank, liberal Jews living in Frankfurt.  After the Nazi party won the election of 1933, antisemitic demonstrations began and the Franks, fearing for their safety, left Frankfurt and eventually settled in Amsterdam where Otto ran a company that sold fruit extract pectin.  When Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, governmental restrictions on Jewish activity were implemented including segregation, curfews, and registration.  In 1942, Anne's older sister Margot received a call-up notice from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration that ordered her to relocate to a work camp.  Otto realized the time had come for his family to go into hiding and relocated his family to rooms above and behind the company he had owned before restrictions of Jewish-owned businesses forced him to sell his company to a trusted partner.  While in hiding, Anne kept a detailed diary recounting events of the war and her deepest thoughts, feelings, and ambitions.

After an informant tipped off the SS, Anne and her family were arrested and sent to Auschwitz.  Otto was separated from his family and Edith, Margot, and Anne were forced to do slave labor.  Anne and Margot were transferred to another camp while their mother was left behind, later to die of starvation.  Both Anne and Margot died of a typhus epidemic that swept through camp in March of 1945, mere weeks before British soldiers liberated the camp in April.  Otto survived Auschwitz and returned to Amsterdam, sheltered again by Jan and Miep Gies, his former employees who sheltered the family during their time in hiding.  Miep, who had discovered Anne's diary after the family was arrested, returned the diary to Otto after Otto learned that his whole family had died in the camps.  Moved by her wish to be an author, Otto decided to have her diary published.  Over time, it received international acclaim and is now a part of many high school curricula across the U.S.  Anne wrote, "I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met.  I want to go on living even after my death!" 

Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Cochrane)
Elizabeth Cochrane was born in May of 1864 in Pennsylvania.  She was an independent and rebellious child and always dreamed of being a writer.  Her father died when she was 6 years old, leaving her mother to raise and support her children alone.  Elizabeth's mother remarried, unable to financially support them alone, but later sought a divorce because her new husband was an abusive alcoholic.  While in her mid-teens, Elizabeth enrolled in school to become a teacher, but had to drop out a semester later because they could not pay for her education.  Her family relocated and Elizabeth helped to run a boarding school to earn money.  When she was 18 years old, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburg Dispatch denouncing a sexist article that said working women were a monstrosity.  The editor was intrigued, so he put a request in the paper to have the girl identify herself.  Elizabeth went to his office and was hired immediately.  She took on the pen name Nellie Bly, a common practice in those days for female authors.  She began writing articles for the paper on issues of social justice such as labor laws to protect working girls, reform of Pennsylvania's divorce laws that greatly favored men, and eventually an article as a foreign correspondent about political corruption in Mexico that kept most people in poverty.

After her trip to Mexico, she became frustrated with the "fluff" pieces the Pittsburg Dispatch was having her write, so she moved to New York when she was 23 and was almost immediately hired by Joseph Pulitzer to write for The New York World.  She continued writing about issues regarding social justice, but began to go undercover to learn more about the issues firsthand (a practice that we now call investigative journalism).  She pretended to be mentally ill to report on the appalling conditions of the Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum, arranged to be thrown in jail to report on treatment of female inmates, and worked in a sweatshop to report on the treatment of poor workers.  Her most famous exploit was in following the path written about in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days.  She made it in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.  While still in her twenties, she married a 72 year old industrialist, and when he died, she took over his businesses and turned them into multi-million dollar companies and created incredible employee benefits.  She died of pneumonia in 1922 at the age of 58.

Ruby Bridges
Ruby Bridges was born in September of 1954, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered all schools to desegregate in the landmark Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education ruling.  Ruby went to school at a segregated kindergarten but Louisiana put desegregation into effect right before Ruby's first grade year.  Along with five other African American girls, Ruby was offered the opportunity to attend a school made up of all Caucasian students.  Her father, Abon, was hesitant to agree, worried that it would make his family a target, but Ruby's mother, Lucille, was adamant that Ruby attend.  On November 14, 1960, 6 year old Ruby was escorted by Federal Marshals to William Frantz Elementary School, the only African American student offered the chance that dared to take it.  She walked with dignity past people screaming vicious, derogatory things at her.  She remained in the principal's office for the whole of the first day due to the chaos that ensued in the school.  Barbara Henry was the only teacher who was willing to take Ruby into her class and she spent the whole first year as a class of one.  Ruby and her teacher were inseparable at recess and neither one of them missed a single day of first grade.

However, the Bridges suffered for their courageous decision.  Abon was fired from his job, Lucille was refused as a customer at her local grocery store, and her grandparents were evicted from the farm they had lived on for over 25 years.  Ruby and her family paved the way for desegregation and Ruby continues to champion the cause of eliminating racism through her foundation, The Ruby Bridges Foundation.  Their motto is, "We believe racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."



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