Margaret Sanger: Woman Rebel

Margaret Sanger: Woman Rebel

Margaret Sanger, birth control crusader, feminist and reformer, was one of the most controversial and compelling figures of the 20th century. The first volume of “The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger,” titled “The Woman Rebel, 1900-1928,” documents the critical phases and influences of an American feminist icon and offers rare glimpses into her working-class childhood, burgeoning feminism, spiritual and scientific interests, sexual explorations, and diverse roles as wife, mother, nurse, journalist, radical socialist and activist.

In spite of the some perceived negative aspects of her determination to be a martyr for the birth control movement, Sanger was a positive social force in testing and denouncing the Comstock law. The law, named for Anthony Comstock, a postal inspector who had lobbied Congress to forbid the distribution of obscene materials throughout the United States, equated birth control and sex education with obscenity. (more…)

Radio: The Homosexual in Our Society (1958)

Radio: The Homosexual in Our Society (1958)

This 1958 recording is the earliest known radio show episode that openly discussed homosexuality. The show is in the form of a panel featuring:

  • The Host/Moderator: Elsa Knight Thompson – The Public Affairs Director of KPFA (Founded in 1949 by Lewis Hill, a pacifist, poet, and journalist, KPFA was the first community supported radio station in the USA.)
  • The Gay: Hal Call – The editor of the Mattachine Society’s newsletter, the Mattachine Review. After graduating Call worked for several news outlets, including the Kansas City Star. In August 1952, while working for the Star, Call was arrested for “lewd conduct” and paid an $800 bribe to have the charges dismissed. Call resigned his job and he and his lover Jack moved to San Francisco. Call died in San Francisco on December 18, 2000, at the age of 83.
  • The Doctor: Dr. Blanche BakerDr. Blanche Baker – A psychologist noted for her then-rarely-shared belief that homosexuality was not an abnormality nor an illness. Few activists were so universally loved within the West Coast homophile movement as San Francisco psychologist Blanche M. Baker. In the 1950s and 1960s, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental illness that could be cured or managed by psychotherapy treatments. While many therapists quietly dismissed this in practice, Dr. Blanche Baker put her career on the line by publicly challenging the designation.
  • The Civilian: Lee Galey – The mother of a gay man, Galey recounts her shock at first learning her son is gay and her eventual embrace of her son’s sexuality.

The host focused many of her questions on the idea of a conflict between the society and the individual, as well as whether the root of homosexuality is a product of biology or environment. Elsa Knight Thompson seems more interested in the origins of homosexuality than anyone else on the show.

Elsa Knight Thompson also seems convinced that there may be some kind special artistic talents that go hand in hand with homosexuality. Doctor Baker and Hal Call both confirmed that in their experience “the homosexual is, on the average, more talented” but that may not be a just evaluation because of the very small number of openly gay people they know. But Hal thinks the difference is that gay men may have more of an opportunity to be creative as a young man because he is not tied down in a job with dependents at a young age.

What I find rather heart warming about this whole discussion is the way most of the panel doesn’t really give a crap WHY people are gay. Hall Call also explains his theory about “gay mannerisms.”

The Truth About Prohibition and Murder

The Truth About Prohibition and Murder

Through the years a variety of laws were passed in Nebraska to limit the sale of alcoholic beverages. But until the second decade of the 20th century, these laws fell short of complete prohibition.

Initially the prohibitionists pushed for a “county option” to permit individual counties —- as opposed to cities and towns — to declare themselves wet or dry. This allowed the prohibitionists to drum up support among rural residents far from towns who would not be directly effected the way business owners who served or sold liquor in towns were. In the end, that bill was defeated by the anti-prohibition forces.

Nationwide both sides used hyperbole, heavily biased statistics, and ominous rhetoric to promote their position, but this ad that ran in the The Alliance Herald in Box Butte County, Nebraska on October 19, 1916 takes the cake. (more…)

Should Girls All Dress Alike?

Should Girls All Dress Alike?

The question: Should Students Have to Wear School Uniforms? is alive and well in America today.  The adoption of uniforms by public schools is on the rise in many parts of the United States.

Schools with a student body consisting of 50% or more non-white kids are four times more likely to require uniform dress than schools with a minority base of 20-49% and twenty-four times more likely than a school with a white student population of 81-95%.

By 2008, 22 states had laws in place allowing local schools to decide on the issue of uniforms for students.

Early in 1913 this question was being debated in the city of Seattle, Washington – but only for girls.

Dress School Girls All Alike?

Shall Seattle put its high school girls a uniform dress?

Miss Ruth Shank thinks her simple dress should be adopted by all high school girls.

Miss Ruth Shank thinks her simple dress should be adopted by all high school girls.

A retiring the school board recently proposed it. The Federated women’s club has taken the matter up in discussion. Teachers in the schools favor the idea. Mothers have varying opinions.

In our grandmothers day it was not actually understood that the matter of dress might have a good deal of effect on the work of a high school girl or that it in any way affected her morals. Neither was understood that adenoids, removable by a simple and almost painless operation, made a dunce of a really smart child, or that scientific ventilation facilitated the work of students.

Ruth Shank, a pupil at Lincoln high school, is a disciple of simplicity in dress.

“I believe,” she said, “high school girls are trying to be more simple in their dress. They don’t wear loud or flashy clothes any more. But I think they should be even more simple. A uniform dress might be just the thing.”

An investigation in the New York schools have revealed the fact that many pupils are retarded to their studies because of petty jealousies aroused in matters of dress. Boys too, they say, pay too much attention to gaily the dressed girls.


The Peak and Decline of Spelling Reform

The Peak and Decline of Spelling Reform

Carnegie Support

The New York Times, March 12, 1906

With the new financial support of Andrew Carnegie and the ongoing support by leading scholars (see: The Rise of the Spelling Reform Movement), the movement made some immediate gains.

The formation of the Simplified Spelling Board was announced on March 11, 1906. Andrew Carnegie provided virtually all of the initial funding for the New York City based organization. The New York Times described Carnegie’s support as being based on his believe that “English might be made the world language of the future” and “an influence leading to universal peace”, but that this role was obstructed by its “contradictory and difficult spelling”. His financial support included a commitment of $15,000 per year for five years. That would be a commitment of over $350,000 a year in 2010 dollars.

The Board

The inaugural board of the Board was a diverse and well-respected set of luminaries. Among the early board members were:

Chancellor Andrews of the University of Nebraska, Justice Brewer of the United States Supreme Court, President Butler of Columbia University, O. C. Blackmer of Chicago, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Dr. Melvil Dewey (of Dewey Decimal Fame), Dr. Isaac K. Funk, editor and publisher of The Standard Dictionary; Lyman J. Gage, ex-Secretary of the Treasury; Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine; Dr. William T. Harris, United States Commissioner of Education and editor of Webster’s International Dictionary; Prof. George Hempel of the University of Michigan, Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Henry Holt, Prof. William James of Harvard, President Jordan of Leland Stanford University, Prof. Thomas R. Lounsbury of Yale, Prof. Francis A. March of Lafayette, Prof. Brander Matthews of Columbia, Dr. Benjamin E. Smith, editor, and Dr. Charles P. G. Scott, etymological editor, of The Century Dictionary; President H. H. Seedley of the Iowa State Normal School, Cedar Falls; Col. Charles E. Sprague, President of the Union Dime Savings Institution; Prof. Calvin Thomas of Columbia, Dr. William Hayes Ward, editor of The Independent, and President Woodward of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. (more…)