Women's History Month - Elizabeth Blackwell

The first woman to receive a medical degree in the US.

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar

The last Ruler of Madagascar.

She's Crafty - Microscopic Edition!

Some really cool science inspired crafts!

Happy Birthday - Septima Poinsette Clark

The "Queen Mother" or "Grandmother of the American Civil Rights Movement."

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Rabbit Hole

I don't know if it's the sickness or what, but the last couple of days, instead of doing my usual research for posts here, I've been practically obsessed with this photograph.

I found it on Pinterest, which is filled with similar images with a short caption, just enough to give you some info, but not enough to do much with. In this case, the caption is:
"Sue J. Roller was the 1st WAC to hold the rank of Master Sgt. at Fort Benning, Georgia on 14 July 1944. U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph, Gift in Memory of Maurice T. White, from The Digital Collections of the National WWII Museum, 2011.065.1486"
It's an image that was original found on the National WWII Museum's digital collection.

My search started, naturally, with a simple name search online, which brought up a couple of old newspaper clippings of the same story recounting how she was the first non-com personnel to serve as a Master Sergeant, and that she'd enlisted in the WAACs early in the war.

The text, from the July 27, 1944 Elmira Star-Gazette, reads:
Top Non-Com Wac. After 17 months in the Women's Army Corps, M-Sgt. Sue J. Roller, stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., attained the top rating possible for a non-commissioned officer. She heads the grade-reports section of the Infantry School, and all-WAC section.
OK, so that's something. But not much. Where is she from? What's her story? I kept looking. Then I found this fascinating piece in the Ukrainian Weekly, WACs with the Infantry School [PDF].
The progress of all students at The Infantry School, including that of the officer candidates, is recorded in the grade records section at TIS headquarters. Here, Master Sergeant Sue Roller, of 2511 Pike Avenue, Little Rock, Arkansas, is in charge of an all-WAC staff, the work of which is confidential.

Sergeant Roller, formerly an assistant office manager in an ordnance plant in Arkansas and one of the few master sergeants with cute dimples, joined up, when the WAC was the WAAC, on December 23, 1942. No one at the school ever wheedles information as to his grades from the Wacs who work with Sgt Roller.
She's from Arkansas! That's a good piece of information. From there, I found that in 1938 she married Arthur F. Roller. Strangely, in 1940 they show up in Los Angeles for the census. I wonder why? Was this related to the Great Depression? How long did they stay there? It can't have been too long if she was back in Arkansas working in an ordnance plant.

I see that her husband had a child, who had his own children. But are they her children? There are no available records, since some of these people are still living.

But not her. There are few records of Sue Jane Roller aside from these above. But there is a Sue Dorher (her maiden name) buried alongside her parents in a small cemetery in a small town in Arkansas. Leaving me with plenty more questions. Her tombstone only has her name and her birth date.

Did she divorce Arthur? Is she the mother of his children? When did she die? What happened to that smart Master Sergeant with the "cute dimples" in the photo above? Is her story lost to history? Does it matter?

I don't know if I'll keep researching once I'm over this sickness. But for the last couple of days, thoughts of Sue Jane Dorher Roller have been keeping me company while I doze off and on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Gamer Girl

I've played a lot of games over the years, but this will be my first foray into the pen and paper RPG realm. I have to admit I'm a little nervous. And a lot excited.

A very dear friend of mine will be running her first ever campaign as a GM, and has invited me to participate. I'm so very excited because I know she likes to tell great stories, and that's exactly the kind of RPG experience I have been looking for!

Last night, for the first time in life, I sat down with some books and a character sheet, and made some tough decisions. It's not too dissimilar to creating a character in an MMO, except that there are a whole lot more choices.

Meet Agatha the Dwarf Cleric!

I still have to come up with a family name, and settle on some of the finer points of her personal backstory. I have two weeks to hash that all out, though. Then it's time to meet the party and learn our fates!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Music Break - Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett and Laura Jane Grace

I really like this version of "Androgynous!" I was a Replacements fan way back in the day (a long, long time ago, in the dark ages before the Internet), and have always liked this song. It's such a sweet, upbeat song about love and joyful self-expression.

Joan Jett did a cover several years ago, with a great video, which you can watch here.

And more recently she joined up with Against Me! (founded and led by Laura Jane Grace), making an already great cover that much more awesome. Watch it here.

So, it seems only natural that when Miley Cyrus launched her Happy Hippie Foundation benefiting homeless LGBTQ youth, she'd pick these two amazing ladies to help her, and that they'd record a performance of this great song. So appropriate! So rockin'! This makes me so very happy!

They look like they're having such a great time!

Why is this so important? Joan Jett has long been an inspiration to young women who don't fit into the girly-girl mode. That she's joined up with singer and trans activist Laura Jane Grace is wonderful in itself, bringing more attention to the issues around gender and gender identity. That Miley Cyrus is using her platform to assist homeless youth, and especially the most vulnerable, is truly commendable.

Just a few statistics from the Happy Hippie Foundation:
  • 1.6 million youth are homeless each year
  • 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and family rejection is the most common reason LGBT youth experience homelessness
  • 25% of homeless youth were previously physically or sexually abused
  • Nearly one in three transgender people have been turned away from shelters
So brava ladies! Brava!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Kickstart This!

Look. I know I said I'd try to limit how many "Kickstart This!" blog posts I do to help spare your bank accounts, and I really am trying. It's not my fault there are so many amazing projects out there to support! I'm genuinely holding back a whole lot of stuff, and trying to give you the things that deserve the SRPS attention.

Things like The Last Cowboy.

I mean, look at how beautiful this thing is! And the creator Zoe Coughlin is so amazing. You can read the story here, but something this gorgeous and compelling really deserves to be in print. Which is why she needs you all to back her project.
The Last Cowboy is a science fiction story set sometime in the future, many years after humanity made first contact-and contracted a disease which leads them down the slow road to extinction. Now, though humans have fully integrated into a wider galactic society, the dark specter of their fate always hangs over their heads.

You'll be opening up this world to more readers, who really should be able to get know the main characters, Adsila Bell, Luna Silva, and Eve, and the worlds they live in.
The Last Cowboy is about three women whose lives are linked by the discovery of a mysterious alien planet. One lives on it, one studies it, and one is using it to hide their dark secrets. The main characters are Eve, a little girl who was raised by aliens; Adsila, a former activist who now works as a researcher and is dealing with a lot of her own baggage; and Luna, a successful robotics tycoon raising her daughter on earth.
(From her Comics Alliance interview)

This story about these amazing woman (women of color, I'll point out) is really great. The mainstream publishing houses might be a bit hesitant to print the works of women artists telling women's stories, but that doesn't mean there isn't a crying need for these comics. Until the big houses realize they can and will make money on these stories, we'll just have to print them ourselves.
A few years ago I made a pact to myself that I will never write a story about another straight white boy. We have plenty of those. The Last Cowboy is about women of color, for women of color. It also deals a lot with reproductive rights, and feminist issues in general — subjects which I am very passionate about. It’s a story I’ve always wanted to read myself, so I made it myself.
(From her Comics Alliance interview)

I know it's last minute and there are only a few days left to help fund this project. I know that the pledge rewards are a bit higher than for other projects by big name artists, but even a smaller donation would help her toward her goal. And I'm broke, but even I'm giving her a few bucks I can spare. Who needs Starbucks when you've got great comics to read while sipping tea at home, right?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Kickstart This!

So you say you need more dragons in your life? Maybe a good RPG where you get to play a dragon? Or it is just me? I mean, OK, I'll admit that I just finished reading The Dragonriders of Pern for the first time last week or so. (I know. I know. Please don't judge.) And now I'm missing my dragon friends.

So when I saw a post about Epyllion on Google+ earlier this week, I got super excited! You mean I can play a dragon? Heck yeah, I'm sooooo in!
Epyllion is a tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) where you play dragons in a dragon-centric world. You are the sons and daughters of the Dragonlords, mighty rulers who need your help to investigate rumors, solve problems, and discover the truth of a growing evil in the land. Along with your fellow dragons, you and your clutchmates will protect Dragonia from the Darkness and discover the true value of friendship. While you play, you’ll explore what dragons do, building on what each of you adds to the story, and exploring the meaning of friendship for yourselves.
Um... yeah. Consider me sold. Forget riding dragons or training dragons, I'm all about BEING a dragon! Of course, my dragon's going to be a princess. But the kind of princess dragon that flies around burning stuff down, chasing off bad folks, and generally just being a kickass dragon fighter!

To put the icing on this amazing dragon cake, here's a great quote from Marissa Kelly, the designer on Contessa. (It's a great interview. Go read the whole thing!)
The concept was born somewhere from my love of dragons and epic fantasy stories, like Lord of the Rings. I always wanted to know more about the dragons in those tales and where they came from.

The process of creating Epyllion was hard and took a lot of effort, but at GenCon 2014 we made our deadline and released the ashcan version of the game: Epyllion: Drake Edition. This was the bare minimum of text and rules needed to play the game. Since then, I have been working with my team to take in feedback, change the rules, and playtest the game to get it just right.
Marissa Kelly, aka Mother of Epyllion

So, seriously, go check out the awesome game Epyllion! I promise you won't be disappointed!

+ + +

Edited to add this fantastic quote Jonathan Perrine left on my G+ post:
I have not had the pleasure of running this game for a young crowd, but I've heard tons of good things from those who have. 

I have run it for grownups, and it draws you right back into this fantastic Saturday morning cartoon - LOTR headspace where what matters most are your friends and the things you believe in, no matter the odds. 

Creating fun, lively encounters is easy for new and experienced GMs, whether it is wise dragon statues or strange hybrid animals making trouble for the Clutch's friends. You just bounce ideas off of your players and cool things come out of your heads and you play in that world, just like that. 

The fact that the entire game revolves around a group of friends is almost more important than the fact those friends happen to be baby dragons trying to save their society of older, cynical dragons from the darkness. - And that last part is pretty important, too.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dame Ethel Smyth - musician, suffragist, and total bad***

I want to tell you about this amazing woman who accomplished a whole lot in her life, but the Little Hater is keeping me from writing this post the way I think it should be written. So I'm going to try doing it a little bit differently, and see how it turns out. Please bear with me.

Dame Ethel Smyth, DBE
(23 April 1858 – 8 May 1944)

"I feel I must fight for [my music], because I want women to turn their minds to big and difficult jobs; not just to go on hugging the shore, afraid to put out to sea." 
When I first looked at the wikipedia page for her, my first thought was, "Is she related to Maggie Smith?!" (Please tell me you see the resemblance as well.) Then I read her biography and the lists of her accomplishments, and pretty much fell in to head-over-heels adoration. What a seriously kickass woman who pretty much did not have a single f*** to give.
"Because I have conducted my own operas and love sheep-dogs; because I generally dress in tweeds, and sometimes, at winter afternoon concerts, have even conducted in them; because I was a militant suffragette and seized a chance of beating time to The March of the Women from the window of my cell in Holloway Prison with a tooth-brush; because I have written books, spoken speeches, broadcast, and don't always make sure that my hat is on straight; for these and other equally pertinent reasons, in a certain sense I am well known." ― Ethel Smyth
She was a composer when women weren't even accepted as musicians.
From an early age, she was bound and determined to study music with the goal of becoming a composer. Her father was staunchly opposed to it, and even banned her from taking lessons, but that did not stop her. She went on a personal strike of sorts, refusing to eat, refusing to participate in family events, and pretty much just being as disagreeable as possible in order to get her point across. For years the two were locked into their personal battle, and it wasn't until she was an adult that he finally relented and allowed her to take private lessons. She eventually attended the Leipzig Conservatory, where she met many of the prominent musicians of the era, and was able to compose remarkable works that are still celebrated today.
Ethel Smyth’s early piano and theory lessons, taught merely to be ladylike accomplishments, sparked an immediate life-long passion for music. At the age of 12, she announced she would study music at the Leipzig Conservatory. Appalled at this idea and at the intensity Ethel brought to her music studies, her father immediately stopped her lessons. He had not reckoned, however, on his daughter’s strong will and persistence. During her teenage years, Ethel openly rebelled against these constraints, locking herself in her room and refusing to attend meals, church or social functions, unless her father agreed to send her to Leipzig to study composition.

In 1877 he gave in. At age 19, Ethel Smyth traveled to Leipzig, where she studied music with Carl Reinecke at the Conservatory and, privately, with Heinrich von Herzogenberg. A leading cultural center at the time, Leipzig offered Ethel an exciting world of concerts and operas, as well as introductions to Brahms, Clara Schumann, Tchaikovsky and other important composers of the time.
(source: WomenComposers.org)
She was an ardent suffragist.
Upon joining the Women's Social and Political Union she practically gave up her music composition for two years. She was inspired by the women she met and the cause they fought for, and turned her talents to composing "The March of the Women" which quickly became the anthem of the suffragist movement.

A famous rendering of ["The March of the Women"] took place in 1912 at Holloway Prison, after many women activists were imprisoned as a result of a window-smashing campaign. Smyth's part in this had been to break the window of Lewis Harcourt, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The conductor Thomas Beecham visited Smyth in prison and reported that he found the activists in the courtyard "...marching round it and singing lustily their war-chant while the composer, beaming approbation from an overlooking upper window, beat time in almost Bacchic frenzy with a toothbrush."
(source: Wikipedia)
She was no spring chicken at this time. She was 52 years old when she met, and was instantly infatuated with, Emmeline Pankhurst in 1910, and vowed to spend two years supporting her suffrage cause. She had already had an exciting time living on "the continent" and countless love affairs and adventures. This new passion, though, brought her into contact with exciting and idealistic women of all ages.
Although she joined late, Ethel soon became a key figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U.)—the militant branch of the suffrage movement. She participated in demonstrations, made speeches, wrote articles for suffragette publications, and provided shelter for the charismatic leader Mrs. Pankurst during the notorious cat-and-mouse part of the struggle. But her most important contribution was her March of the Women, a song dedicated to the members of the W.S.P.U. Mrs. Pankurst was so delighted with the piece that it was immediately adopted as the battle-cry of the movement.

No matter how much she feared the consequences, Ethel felt that she could not keep her self-respect if she did not take the same risks that many other suffragettes were willing to take. So when Mrs. Pankurst asked for volunteers to break a window in the house of any politician who opposed votes for women, the composer was one of 109 members of the W.S.P.U. who responded. She chose the window of the Colonial Secretary, "Lulu" Harcourt, who had roused her anger by publicly stating that he might agree to votes for women if all women were as well-behaved and intelligent as his wife. Before the constable who was guarding Harcourt's house could stop her, Ethel’s stone found its mark. She was at once arrested and sentenced to two months imprisonment.
(source: The Kapralova Society Journal)
She was an accomplished author, and one of the first women to write her memoir.
Tragically, around the age of 55 she began to lose her hearing. Her music composition slowed, but her passion to create did not. Undeterred, she turned her attention to writing and went on to publish ten books, mostly autobiographical, and all well-received.
I'm awfully proud—that's not the right phrase—that you've started again on the autobiography, partly owing to me. I was thinking the other night that there's never been a woman's autobiography. Nothing to compare with Rousseau. Chastity and modesty I suppose have been the reason. Now why shouldn't you be not only the first woman to write an opera, but equally the first to tell the truths about herself? Isn't the great artist the only person to tell the truth? I should like an analysis of your sex life. As Rousseau did his. More introspection. More intimacy. I leave it to you; for as you see I cant make my pen take my ply this cold morning. —Letter from Virginia Woolf to Ethel Smyth, 24 December 1940
(source: The Musical Quarterly)
She was an all-round kickass woman who railed against the limitations placed on her gender.
After her successful bid against her father to take music lessons and attend the Leipzig Conservatory, it shouldn't surprise anyone that she continued her rebellious ways throughout her life. She wanted to live her life on her own terms, and the often included bucking the expectations placed on a woman of her standing. Although one could make the case that it was precisely her standing and a woman of independent means that allowed her the ability to buck the system without much risk to her.

The majority of her affairs were with prominent women. Her affair with Henry Bennet Brewster may have been her only heterosexual relationship. In 1892, she wrote to him saying, "I wonder why it is so much easier for me to love my own sex passionately than yours. I can't make it out for I am a very healthy-minded person." Does this indicate a sense of shame for her attractions? Or simply the confusion that one might feel when society tells you one thing but your experience is different? I prefer to think it is more of the latter, although I have not read any of her memoirs of yet (they're on the wish list). It seems quite clear from her biographies available online that she never tried to hide her affections or her actions.
Ethel Smyth described her relationships with women in several published volumes of memoirs. She had fallen in love with Pauline Trevelyan, the Empress EugĂ©nie, Winnaretta Singer, Lady Mary Ponsonby, Edith Somerville, and Virginia Woolf. She was a mountaineer, bicyclist, and golfer. She made radio broadcasts including Two Meetings with the Kaiser Before the War in 1937, and My Eightieth Birthday in 1938.(source: Bach-Cantatas.com)
She was ever the trouble-maker. 
When the Women's Social and Political Union were planning their assault on government buildings, she took it upon herself to teach the other women how to properly throw stones.
As dusk came on we repaired to a selected part of Hook Heath - a far from blasted heath; indeed, owing to the golf course, a somewhat over-sophisticated heath that lies in front of my house. And near the largest fir tree we could find I dumped down a collection of nice round stones. One has heard of people failing to hit a haystack; what followed was rather on those lines. I imagine Mrs Pankhurst had not played ball games in her youth, and the first stone flew backwards out of her hand, narrowly missing my dog. Once more we began at a distance of about three yards, the face of the pupil assuming with each failure -and there were a good many -a more and more ferocious expression. And when at last a thud proclaimed success, a smile of such beatitude - the smile of a baby that has blown a watch open - stole across her countenance, that much to her mystification and rather to her annoyance, the instructor collapsed on a clump of heather helpless with laughter.
(source: Spartacus-Educational.com)
She served during World War I.
After serving her two years as part of the suffrage movement, she returned to her composing career, and traveled to Germany just a month or so before the start of World War I. After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, all her plans for upcoming performances were cancelled, and she quickly moved to the southern coast of France. She joined her sister Nina and the painter Lady Helena Gleichen in Italy, where they'd set up an ambulance outfit. But that did not suit her, and she returned to France, this time to learn how to become a radiographer, and using her new-found skills to assist wartime surgeons to locate embedded shell fragments in the bodies of wounded soldiers.
‘I wrote that book [Impressions That Remained] while doing radiographic work in a French Military hospital. Locating bits of shell, telling the doctor exactly how deeply embedded they are, watching him plunge into a live although anaesthetised body that shall prove you either an expert or a bungler is not a music inspiring job, but writing memoires in between whiles was a delightful relief’.
(Source: Exploring Surrey's Past)
She was an avid sportswoman.
She remained physically active and vibrant her entire life. Owning a home across from a golf course was no coincidence.
Dame Ethel was an active sportswoman throughout her life. In her younger days she was a keen horse-rider and tennis player. She was an enthusiastic member of the Woking Tennis Club and won a book as a tournament prize. She lived in Surrey for most of her life – first at ‘Frimhurst’ in Frimley, then finally, at Brettanby Cottage, Hook Heath in Woking, near the golf course. She was a passionate golfer and a stalwart member of the Ladies section of Woking Golf Club but, typically, was known to have marched through the Mens section on at least one occasion -- an act forbidden at the time. It was her proud boast that she never lost a golf ball and she would spend hours, accompanied by her dog, searching through the rough for the result of a directional error! Dame Ethel died in 1944 and at her own request, after cremation at Woking Crematorium, her ashes were scattered in the woodland next to the golf course.
(Source: Exploring Surrey's Past)
What a remarkable woman!