Kickass Women

History is filled with women doing all kinds of kickass stuff.

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Some of my entertainment recommendations with awesome female characters and stars.

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Some of the awesome items made by kickass women!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Watch This: To Walk Invisible

To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Brontë Sisters

Look, I'm not going to mince words here. To Walk Invisible is a surprisingly beautiful, yet painfully authentic look at the real life experiences of these three remarkable women. And it's that "real life" aspect that was so important to capture, since that was precisely what they wrote about, and what caused their novels to be so controversial at the time.

The brilliant Sally Wainwright wrote and directed this television film, bringing the same passion for the story and compassion for her characters that she has given two of my favorite female-centric British dramas, Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax. In fact, Wainwright has made a career out of telling the stories of women, both from history and from modern times. And it looks like she's going to continue this trend with her next project Shibden Hall, a series about the life of Anne Lister, who was an adventurer, mountaineer, traveler, and who has been called "the first modern lesbian."



I am certainly no expert on the lives or works of the Brontë Sisters, having only read Charlotte's Jane Eyre. In fact, I remember being somewhat overwhelmed with the bleakness of the story when I first read it as a teen, and subsequently refused to even consider reading Emily's Wuthering Heights. Reading Jane Eyre again a few years ago when I was quite a bit more mature, I was better able to appreciate the story's brutal honesty about the lives of its characters and place the story into its historical context.

I am a bit ashamed to admit that Wuthering Heights is still on my to-read list. After watching To Walk Invisible I am inspired to move it closer to the top, along with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne.

If you know even a little about the lives of these three sisters, you may be a bit worried this film will be filled with tragedy. And rightly so. The level of misfortune this poor family experienced in one generation is heartbreaking to read about with nearly 200 years distance. Fortunately, while the deaths of their mother and older sisters are briefly mentioned, this film picks up the story when they are all adults and those deaths are well behind them.



It takes place over the short period where the three sisters and their brother Branwell were all living at home again with their father. After a short introduction to the imaginary childhood adventures the four of them dreamed up, we quickly learn that Branwell is struggling to adjust to the demands of adult life and unable to stay sober long enough to pursue his passion for writing or painting. The three sisters, feeling trapped in the constricting gender roles of the 1840s, devise a plan to become published authors themselves, keeping it a secret from everyone else, including their father, and especially their brother. Together, they conspire to write a collection of poems to be published under pseudonyms, and then use that as a means to launch their careers as novelists. And, remarkably, it works.



The story has plenty of drama and sadness. And while the film ends on a sad note, what lingers in my mind is the earlier triumph when the three sisters finally share their secret with their father, who is absolutely thrilled to learn his three living daughters are all successful authors. The scene where Charlotte reveals to him that she is the author of Jane Eyre in one of my favorites. He is initially surprised and maybe even a bit skeptical, but then he is overcome with pride. And I was overcome with emotion as well.

More than anything, though, what I love the most about this film is its depiction of the relationships between these women. The tender and loving bond between Anne and Emily is so refreshing and actually quite moving. We so rarely see that level of physical contact between two people on screen that isn't sexual. And the genuine respect and support each sister gives the others makes this film one I will watch again and again. To Walk Invisible earns the Self-Rescuing Princess Society seal of approval for many reasons, but especially for its representation of female friendships.



If you have not watched it yet, I highly recommend To Walk Invisible. I was able to stream it through PBS Masterpiece because I am a member of my local PBS station. Otherwise, if it is no longer being broadcast by your local station, you may have to purchase it through iTunes or Amazon. It is worth the cost, trust me.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Role Model: Danica Patrick and her advice for living an adventurous life

"Give yourself permission to shoot for something that seems totally beyond your grasp. You may be surprised at your capabilities."
Danica Patrick has certainly lived her life by that advice, continually aiming for racing goals that might seem too far out of her reach. It's this kind of drive and determination that makes her a great Self-Rescuing Princess Society Role Model. Throughout her career, she has been a fierce competitor. She's won a couple of races and finished high in more than few others. And along the way made a place for herself in the history books.



She started her racing career at the tender age of 10, speeding around the go-kart track at the Sugar River Raceway. A few years later, while still a teenager, she was introduced to Lyn St. James, the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award in 1992. St. James invited Danica to be her guest at the 1997 Indy 500, where she was introduced to John Mecom, Jr., a former Indy 500 team owner. That meeting changed the course of her life.

Mecom sent her to the UK where she raced Formula Fords. She was only 16, but she was already working on her racing career; and already shooting for the stars. She stayed there for several years, honing her racing skills. In 2002 she moved back the US, and started driving for a team co-owned by David Letterman. In 2004, they put her on the roster for their IndyCar Series team for 2005.

In 2005 Danica Patrick joined a short, but impressive, list of women IndyCar drivers, including the remarkable Janet Guthrie who, in 1977, became the first woman to drive in the Indy 500. Danica performed exceptionally well in her debut Indy 500, even leading race for more than 20 laps. When other racers stopped to refuel, Danica stayed on the track, taking over the lead. It was a gutsy gamble that unfortunately didn't pay off for her this time. The leaders eventually caught up to her, and because Danica had to slow her pace a bit to conserve gas, they were able to race past her. Despite losing the lead, she still made history when she finished in fourth place, the highest finish for a female driver in the Indy 500.

In 2006 and 2007, she continued driving in IndyCar events and finishing in respectable positions. All the while she continued to push herself to get better. On April 20, 2008, at the Indy Japan 300, she found herself in a similar situation where the leaders stopped to refuel, and again she grabbed the lead. Only now she had more experience and knew how to hold the lead. Her gamble paid off and she drove herself into the history books again, this time as the first woman to win an IndyCar race.

Danica Patrick signs an autograph for a young fan at RIR Toyota Owners 400
Danica Patrick signs an autograph for a young fan

Since then she has continued to race, even placing third in the 2009 Indy 500. But in the last few years she has transitioned from a full-time IndyCar racer to a NASCAR driver. And it's been a great change, for her and for the racing world in general. NASCAR offered her more opportunities to race, and more sponsors. And few would dispute the fact that she has had a positive effect on NASCAR popularity. Her presence on the circuit sparked a huge following of new fans, mostly women and girls excited to finally see someone like them on the track.

Over the last two decades, she's had an impressive career as a race car driver. And while her racing successes may have waned a bit in the last year or so, that probably just means she's looking for the next thing to set her sights on. Since the first time she took the wheel of car (or cart) she has continually surprised everyone around her with her capability to keep on pushing. She might not have met all her goals but she doesn't seem to mind too much. Maybe she's just enjoying the ride.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Women in Sports: Anna Lee Aldred

Anna Lee Aldred - The first female jockey
(April 19, 1921 – June 12, 2006)

Anne Lee grew up around horses and learned to ride when she three years old, and was racing ponies at state fairs and amateur tracks around Colorado and Wyoming while she was still in grade school. As the daughter of a prominent race horse trainer, and with an older brother working as a jockey, it seemed natural to her to look for a career as a rider, even if it other folks didn't think it was appropriate for a young woman in the 1930s.



While she was growing up, her family traveled around the West to different race tracks where her brother would ride the family's prized racehorses. Following in his footsteps, when she turned 18 in 1939 Anna Lee applied for a professional jockey's license from the Agua Caliente Racetrack, a popular racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, that drew people from all over Southern California. The staff tried everything they could think of to keep her out, but since there wasn't any rule expressly forbidding women jockeys they had to let her ride. Like the other jockeys she received a small wooden badge that served as a license, making her the first American woman to work as a professional jockey.

She worked as a jockey for six years, racking up an impressive number of wins. But in 1945, she finally hit her finally height and weight, which was just a bit too tall and heavy to continue working as a jockey. Undaunted, she simply switched horses, so to speak, and became a rodeo rider. She performed impressive stunts on a galloping horse like back bends or standing on a saddle. For her prowess, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1983.

Even after she married and settled down to raise a family, she continued to work with horses. She started a riding school in Southern California, teaching others the joy of horseback riding.

Read more about her in this Denver Post story from last year: "Aldred galloped into history as first female jockey in U.S."

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

May Edward Chinn and her breakthrough cancer research

SRPS Women in Medicine: May Edward Chinn
(April 15, 1896 - December 1, 1980)

May Edward Chinn had originally wanted a career in music, but was warned that it would be difficult because of her race, so she turned her full attention to the other field where her talents were obvious: science. As a senior at Columbia Teacher's College, she took a lab tech position in pathology lab, and from there she decided to attend medical school. In 1926, she became the first African American woman to graduate from Bellevue Hospital Medical College and to intern at Harlem Hospital.



Her path was not easy. In the 1920s, no hospitals or research facilities would hire African Americans. The Rockerfeller Institute was very interested her until they learned she was black instead of Asian or white as they had assumed from her name. Instead, she started a private practice based out of Harlem --  the center of the Black community -- seeing patients in her office or in their homes. It was this experience of seeing how the conditions people lived in impacted their overall health that led her to complete a master's degree in public health from Columbia University in 1933.

After the Harlem Riots in 1935 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia demanded local institutions do a better job of integrating their staff. So in 1940, fourteen years after she graduated from medical school, Dr. Chinn was finally granted admitting privileges to Harlem Hospital.

In 1944, she took a position at the Strang Clinic, where she worked for several decades on cancer research, a topic she was interested in after serving the aging population of Harlem. She noticed that many of her older patients were dying from various cancers rather than heart attacks or other illness, and she wondered if there were ways to predict or detect cancers early enough to have them treated. It was her research for Dr. Papanikolaou that eventually led to the development of the Pap smear, a life-saving test for early detection of cervical cancer.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Astrid Løken - fearless scientist who spied on the Nazi army

SRPS Women in STEM: Astrid Løken
(April 14, 1911 – January, 19 2008)

Most of the people who worked with Astrid Løken never suspected she was a high ranking member of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. They only knew of her passion about bumblebees and her dedication to her research.



Shortly after the Nazi forces invaded Norway in 1940, the resistance force known as XU began recruiting researchers in natural science, realizing their field work would give excellent cover for their spy work. Known as "Eva," Astrid applied to the Nazi authority for permission to study bumblebees near otherwise restricted military areas. Because they assumed she was simply a scientist watching insects, she was given free range, and routinely took photos of roads, bridges and other important structures, which she then developed back at the university where she was studying.

She developed her photos, as well as those of other scientist-spies, in the middle of the night because the university janitor was a Nazi loyalist. Then she ventured out via bicycle to her drop location or to the secret XU headquarters, under black-out conditions, risking capture at every turn.

She knew what she was doing was deadly serious, and she was prepared for the worst. She carried a cyanide capsule with her, and kept a gun and other weapons in her bedroom, in case she was discovered. Even so, on December 16, 1943, she was nearly captured by the Gestapo, although she managed to escape unharmed.

After war, she was exhausted from the stress and strain of spy work and was hospitalized. But eventually she recovered and spent the next few years studying in the United States before returning to Norway to work as a curator for the Bergen Museum while also earning her Ph.D.

[Photos, from top left: Astrid with fellow scientist-spies Edvard K. Barth and Otto Øgrim, resting after a difficult meeting; Astrid at her microscope; Astrid showing off her specimens]

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pioneering Doctor and Kickass Woman You Need to Know: Charlotte Baker

Charlotte Johnson Baker (March 30, 1855 - October 31, 1937) is the Kickass Woman of the Month for March, and with good reason! Like other pioneering women of the era, she set her sights quite a bit higher than what society deemed appropriate for a young lady. She devoted her life to improving the lives of women and children, first as a doctor, and then as an activist.



Charlotte grew up in a somewhat unconventional family in Massachusetts, where she was allowed to indulge her tomboy tendencies. It's likely this influenced her decision to teach the  new sporting fad for young women -- gymnastics -- after graduating from Vassar College.

Soon after, though, she took a position as assistant to Dr. Eliza M. Mosher at the Woman's Reformatory Prison in Sherbourne, Massachusetts, where she witnessed the hardships faced by far less privileged women and girls. Her experiences from the two years she worked with Dr. Mosher set the course for the rest of her life. She devoted herself to advancing conditions for women and girls, and often broke social convention to do so.

First, she dedicated herself to earning a medical degree, specializing in obstetrics. Which she did in 1881 when she graduated from the University of Michigan, the only college offering co-ed classes at the time. She married her classmate, Fred Baker, and they moved to Akron to set up practice. But Charlotte contracted malaria, and the couple quickly moved to the New Mexico, hoping a drier climate would speed her recovery. Santa Fe at the time was still the frontier, and she and Fred built their own house in the desert, and treated local ranch families. In 1888 they moved again to San Diego, at the time still a small port town, in search of better schools for their children. The Drs. Baker set up practice again, making Dr. Charlotte (as she was known) the first female physician in the area.

San Diego also offered more conventional social opportunities, and Charlotte took full advantage of them. Like many middle class women of her era, she was active in a variety of women's clubs, each dedicated to a progressive ideal -- temperance, education, labor reform. She also continued to work as an obstetrician. Over the course of her career, she delivered over 1000 babies, and was exceedingly proud that she never lost a mother in labor.



Her dedication to assisting women and children never faltered, and she spent much of her life split between her medical career and her political activism -- and she was a pioneer in both of these pursuits. She was the first woman elected president of the San Diego County Medical Society, and she and Fred continued to attend medical conventions around the country, where she regularly present papers sharing her contributions to the advancement of medicine.

And she also served on the boards of numerous organizations like the YWCA, the Temperance League, and the San Diego Equal Suffrage Association. In 1911, when California was considering giving women the vote, she traveled the backroads of San Diego with three other women, speaking to the locals about the importance of women's suffrage. Her efforts had a huge impact on the final vote, where San Diego led the state in approving the measure.

The hallmark of a self-rescuing princess is, of course, that she is her own hero. But after they've saved themselves, so to speak, they also work to rescue others. Charlotte was a woman who was born to a reasonably wealthy family, and raised with privileges so many other girls in the mid-1800s couldn't even imagine. And yet, instead of assuming the life of leisure expected of women of her social standing, she spent her life serving her passion: improving the lives of women and children both in the intimate one-on-one experiences as a doctor treating her patients, as well as in the larger political realm where she worked tirelessly to address the specific concerns of all women, and especially those without the privileges she enjoyed.

Learn more about her induction into the San Diego Women's Hall of Fame in 2009
Read about her and other San Diego women in Remarkable Women of San Diego: Pioneers, Visionaries and Innovators, by Hannah S. Cohen and Gloria G. Harris

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Smart Girls: the amazingly practical high tech portable shelter

Wanna hear an awesomely inspirational story about Latina high school girls using STEM to make the world a better place? Sure you do!

For the last year, the DIY Girls have been working on their idea to help the increasing number of homeless people in their community. In 2016, this team of 12 predominantly Latina girls from San Fernando High School Math/ Science/ Technology Magnet became the only all-female contingent of the 15 teams selected to participate in the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam program, where each group receives a $10,000 grant to use their STEM skills to develop an invention to address a real-world problem.

The girls were concerned about the soaring number of homeless people in the Los Angeles area. In 2016, there was a 36% increase in homelessness in the San Fernando Valley, and they wanted to see if they could use technology to make a difference in the lives of people who were out on the streets. They came up with the ingenious idea of a portable, solar-powered shelter that could be set up quickly, secured from inside, and easily packed up into a backpack when not in use.



In addition to a chance to put into practice the STEM skills they're learning in class, they're also getting valuable hands-on experience in the invention process, working as a team, and promoting their project. The girls have organized themselves into different teams -- a structure team, a materials team, and a solar panel team -- each tasked with a different aspect of the project. As part of their design and feedback process, the girls recently presented their prototype to their school, members of their local MIT chapter, and several of their state representatives, and received resounding praise for its inventiveness.

Their tent is made of durable, insulating material, and features integrated solar panels and a battery pack that can power its various electrical devices including a small fan to provide circulation, a phone charger, white LED lighting, and UV lighting to disinfect and sanitize the tent. The goal is to create something inexpensive to manufacture, easy to distribute, self-cleaning, and portable would improve the lives of displaced people by giving them an alternative to sleeping on the streets. If successful, it's easy to imagine these tents also being used to provide temporary shelter to refugees and immigrants around the world.

Check out DIY Girls to learn more about their team
Check out their GoFundMe page to help them raise funds for a trip to MIT later this year
Watch a local news video featuring the girls

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ruby Bridges: History Maker

Ruby Bridges
by Madeline Donaldson

Everyday first-grader Ruby Bridges was escorted to school by US Marshals. As the first African American student to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana, she needed their protection from the angry mob of white segregationists who harassed her and other students outside the school.

Ruby Bridges (Amazon / Library) earns the Self-Rescuing Princess Society seal of approval for telling the story of a brave child caught up in this significant moment in history, as well as showing how, as an adult, Ruby Bridges uses her experiences to improve the lives of children today. It is filled with information and honestly addresses the difficult issue of racial segregation in a way that is age-appropriate, making it an excellent book for middle grade readers.

[Note: I have included Amazon Affiliate links in this post. I am exploring options for increasing my income from this blog to help me to continue to bring you the important stories of kickass women and girls. While I will always work to tell these stories, I have bills to pay. By all means feel free to look for these books elsewhere if you prefer. If you want to help support the work I do here, please consider using these links to shop.]

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