Shackles

As she read the two volume autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, she was reminded of how fortunate she was.  She was a black, educated woman who was able to go to the university of her choice and become what she had always dreamed of.   She and her parents left the West Indies for a better life in America.

 

Her world was so different from Olaudah’s.  He had been kidnapped from his home in the West Indies and taken to Virginia where he was bought by a sea captain, Michael Henry  Pascal, with whom he traveled widely.  Olaudah received some education before he bought his freedom in 1766.  He became an abolitionist, speaking out against the cruelty of British slave owners in Jamaica.

 

Slavery is something she was never going to experience, but she knew what it was like to be treated differently because of the colour of her skin.  She learned that being educated, living in a stylish condo and driving an expensive car didn’t matter to those who didn’t see past her colour.  She still had to deal with being watched or ignored or followed when in certain stores or co-workers looking away as she passed them.

 

Yes, she had her own issues to deal with but they paled in comparison to Olaudah who suffered cruelty and indignity at the hands of those who wanted to keep him and the other slaves in emotional and intellectual shackles.  She was grateful to Olaudah for writing about the horrors of slavery.  It made her more determined to work harder and achieve more.  It was what drove her to pursue her Masters.  Like Olaudah, there were times when she questioned her faith but she has since learned that it is during those tough, challenging times that God has proven that she has the mettle to overcome them.

 

Yes, she had come a long way with God’s help but there was still a long way to go. Little by little she was going to break free from the racist mentalities that would like to keep blacks shackled to the painful past of slavery.

 

“After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God?'” – Olaudah Equiano

 

Cartoon image of woman reading book

 

Sources:  WikipediaBritannica; Daily Kos

 

Mary Tyler Moore

Who can turn the world on with her smile…

Today, Mary Tyler Moore, one of Television’s favorite icons passed away at the age of 80 after being placed on a respirator the previous week.

One of my favorite things about the Mary Tyler Moore show was its theme.  It encourages a single woman in her thirties to step out on her own and start living.  The best part was when she tossed her hat up in the air.  That showed a woman of confidence.  A woman who knew that she was going to make it after all.  Incidentally, the hat toss was ranked by Entertainment Weekly as the second greatest moment in television.

Before she was Mary Richards, Mary Tyler Moore played the role of housewife, Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Carl Reiner recalls casting her for the part.  “I saw 26 girls!” He told Conan O’ Brien in 2013.  He was won over by Mary’s reading.  “I grabbed the top of her head and said ‘Come with me.’  I walked her down the hall to [series producer Sheldon Leonard] and said ‘I found her!’” I was a big fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I was surprised to hear that initially the Mary Tyler Moore show was not an immediate hit.  It failed in its test trial.  People thought Mary was a loser and that she wouldn’t succeed.  However, show began to resonate with feminists because it was the first to mention the pill.  And that it was ok for a woman not to have a date on Saturday night.  The show also tackled issues such as equal pay for women, pre-marital sex, homosexuality  marital infidelity and divorce, infertility and addiction to sleeping pills.  The show went on to become one of the most acclaimed television programs in US television history.  It received high praise from critics during its run, garnered Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series three years in a row (1975–77), and continued to be honored long after the final episode aired. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked The Mary Tyler Moore Show No. 6 in its list of the 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time.  It was the first American show to feature as its central character a never-married and independent career woman.

Although she became famous and was well loved for her role as Mary Richards, the epitome of modern feminism and received an Oscar nomination for her serious turn as a cold, emotionally withdrawn mother in Ordinary People, acting wasn’t Mary’s first choice of a career.  At the age of 17, she decided that she wanted to be a dancer.  Her television career began with her dancing in TV commercials.  She modeled anonymously on the covers of a number of record albums and auditioned for the role of the older daughter of Danny Thomas for his long-running TV show but was turned down. Much later, Thomas explained that “no daughter of mine could have that [little] nose.” Mary appeared on several shows before she was hired for the role of Laura Petrie for which she won an Emmy.  The idea for the Mary Tyler Moore Show was Mary’s and her husband’s.  And the rest, as you know, is history.

Mary Tyler Moore was active in charity work and involved in causes such as animal rights and diabetes.  At the age of 33, Mary herself was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  In 2011, she had surgery to remove a meningioma, a benign brain tumor. In 2014 friends reported that she had heart and kidney problems and was nearly blind.

Ironically, Mary Tyler Moore who became an icon for the feminist movement turned down Gloria Steinem’s invitation to join the movement because she did not believe in Steinem’s view that “women owe it to themselves to have a career.”  Mary believed that that women have an important role in raising children.

Notes to Women salute this amazing, accomplished and classy woman who became the American sweetheart of television.  She was an inspiration for housewives, career women and single women.  She was an inspiration for all women.

Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.

You truly have to make the very best of what you’ve got. We all do.

I’ve always been independent. I’ve always had courage. But I didn’t always own my diabetes.

mary-tyler-moore2

 

Sources:  Wikipedia; Deadline Hollywood; Wikipedia; The Hollywood Reporter; Brainy Quotes

Maureen O’ Hara

Every star has that certain something that stands out and compels us to notice them. -As for me I have always believed my most compelling quality to be my inner strength, something I am easily able to share with an audience. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I never thought my looks would have anything to do with becoming a star. Yet it seems that in some ways they did – Maureen O’Hara

On Saturday, October 24, 2015, Irish-American beauty Maureen O’ Hara died in her sleep at the age of 95 from natural causes.  The four films she starred in which I believe were among her best are The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Quiet Man, How Green Was My Valley and Miracle on 34th Street.  Maureen was known for playing proud, strong-willed and temperamental Irish lasses.  It was a treat to see her and longtime friend John Wayne work together.  She was tall and held her own against the Duke in their on-screen scenes.

Maureen FitzSimmons was the second oldest of six children of Charles Stewart Parnell and Marguerite (nee Lilburn) FitzSimons.  Her father was in the clothing business and her mother, a former operatic contralto, was a successful women’s clothier.  Maureen’s sister Peggy dedicated her life to a religious order by becoming a Sister of Charity.  The younger children trained at the Abbey Theatre and the Ena May Burke School of Drama and Elocution in Dublin.

From an early age, Maureen knew that she wanted to be an actress and took lessons.  She got her first screen test in London but it turned out to be unsatisfactory.  The studio dressed her in a “gold lame dress with flapping sleeves like wings” and heavy makeup.  The experience led Maureen to think, “If this is the movies, I want nothing to do with them!”  Thankfully, actor Charles Laughton saw the test sometime later and in spite of the heavy makeup and costume, was intrigued by her, particularly her large and expressive eyes.  He asked his business partner, Erich Pommer to watch the film clip and Pommer agreed with Laughton’s assessment of her and Maureen was offered an initial seven-year contract with their new company.  It was Laughton who gave her the name “O’Hara” although she insisted in keeping her name because he believed that , “nobody would ever get FitzSimmons straight.”  A name really does make a difference when it comes to show business.  He arranged to have her co-star with him in the British film, Jamaica Inn.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame was her first Hollywood film and it was released in 1939, the same year as Jamaica Inn.

After Hunchback was completed, World War II began.  When Laughton realized that his company could no longer film in London, he sold Maureen’s contract to RKO.  However, the studio cast her in low-budget films until John Ford rescued her.  He cast her in How Green is My Valley which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.  She later starred as Natalie Wood’s mother in Miracle on 34th Street one of the most beloved Christmas Classics that airs every year during the holiday season.

In 1946 Maureen became a naturalized citizen of the United States, holding dual citizenship with the US and her native Ireland.  She was considered an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age and one of the world’s most beautiful women.  She was remembered for her onscreen chemistry with John Wayne.  They made five movies together between 1948 and 1972.  She was the Duke’s favorite actress and considered a real friend.  She’s the only woman he thought of in that way.  As he lay dying on his hospital bed, he watched on television as she petitioned Congress to give him a Congressional Gold Medal and they voted unanimously to do so.

Acting was not Maureen’s only talent.  She had a soprano voice.  Singing was her first love.  She was also very athletic.  She did her own stunts in movies.  I remember seeing her sword-fencing with skill and agility that was astounding.  She held her own in the swashbuckling movies like The Black Swan opposite Tyrone Power and Sinbad the Sailor with Douglas Fairbanks.  No doubt this had to do with her love for playing rough athletic games as a child.  She excelled in sports.  She had the pleasure of starring with leading men such as John Payne, Rex Harrison, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Brian Keith and Sir Alec Guiness and working with directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Walter Lang, to mention a few.

On a personal note, in 1939, when she was 19 years old, Maureen secretly married Englishman George H. Brown whom she met on the set of Jamaica Inn.  Brown was a film producer, production assistant and occasional scriptwriter.  The marriage was annulled in 1941.  She married American film director William Houston Price but the marriage ended in 1953 because of his abuse of alcohol.  They had one child–a daughter, Bronwyn Bridget Price.  From 1953-1967 Maureen had a relationship with Enrique Parra, a Mexican politician and banker.  In her biography, she wrote that Enrique “saved me from the darkness of an abusive marriage and brought me back into the warm light of life again. Leaving him was one of the most painful things I have ever had to do.”  Parra died in June 2015–four months before her death.

In 1968 Maureen married her third husband, Charles F. Blair, a pioneer of transatlantic aviation, a former brigadier general of the US Air Force, a former chief pilot of Pan Am and founder and head of the U.S. Virgin Islands Antilles Air Boats.  A few years after they married, Maureen retired from acting. Blair died in 1978 while flying from St. Croix to St. Thomas due to engine failure.  Maureen was elected CEO and president of the airline, earning her the distinction of becoming the first woman president of a scheduled airline in the U.S.  Her marriage to Blair were ten of the happiest years of her life.  It devastated her that she had lost him and her friend John Wayne within months of each other.

Maureen came out of retirement in 1991 when she starred as John Candy’s domineering mother in Only the Lonely.  After that she starred in several made for TV movies.  Her last film, The Last Dance, was released in 2000.  On November 4, 2014 she received the honorary award from Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the annual Governor’s Awards.  She is the second actress to receive an Honorary Oscar without having been nominated for an Oscar in a competitive category. Myrna Loy was the first.

Notes to Women celebrates Maureen O’Hara, the actress who lit up the screen with her luminous red hair, big, expressive eyes.  She was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  She leaves behind a legacy of films in which she portrayed strong, brave and intelligent women.

I was tough.  I was tall.  I was strong.  I didn’t take any nonsense from anybody.  He was tough, he was tall, he was strong and he didn’t take any nonsense from anybody.  As a man and a human being, I adored him.

Speaking as an actress, I wish all actors would be more like Duke (John Wayne)–and speaking as a person, it would be nice if all people could be honest and as genuine as he is.  This is a real man.

To the people throughout the world, John Wayne is not just an actor, and a very fine actor – John Wayne is the United States of America.

Above all else, deep in my soul, I’m a tough Irishwoman.

I have never lost my faith in God.

maureen-ohara (1)

Sources:  Wikipedia; IMDB; Brainy Quotes

Fanny Kemble

If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good – Thomas J. Watson

I never heard of Fanny Kemble until I recently read a devotion, The Unlikely in Our Daily Bread which mentions her work as an Abolitionist.  She was a British actress in the 19th century who married Pierce Butler, an American fan.  Fanny didn’t know that he was soon to inherit two plantations.  Had she known, most probably she would not have married him.  Little did she know that she would soon be fighting her own civil war.

Fanny Kemble was born in England in 1809 into a prominent family of actors.  Although she was very accomplished in her acting, it was not her true love.  Writing was her passion and throughout her she would write plays, journals, poetry, letters and memoirs.  Her most famous authorship would be that of Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation which many consider to be the closest, most detailed account of the harsh conditions of plantation slavery.

Fanny was a strong, spirited woman with no formal training in acting but she managed to captivate audiences.  She had what were considered to be masculine traits: she was independent, physically strong and highly intelligent.  She was talented, spoke French fluently and was accomplished in music.  She embraced life and enjoyed exercise, specifically riding.  To her the best way to was to break “my neck off the back of my horse at a full gallop on a fine day”.  This reminds me of my former boss whose wish was to die being mauled to death by a polar bear.  Whatever happened to wanting to die peacefully in one’s sleep?

Fanny met her future husband Pierce when she and her father went on a two-year theatre tour in America.  It wasn’t her desire to experience life in America but she did it to please her father.  She was well received by the Americans and captured the ardent attention of Pierce Butler, a man born into wealthy and prominent family from Philadelphia.  His grandfather was Revolutionary War veteran Major Pierce Butler.  Major Butler was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and the author of the Constitution’s fugitive slave clause.  He owned two plantations in Georgia, one was on St. Simon’s Island where sea-island cotton was grown and the other was on Butler Island where rice was grown.  One day, his grandson would inherit this mass fortune, making history as one of the largest slaveholders in the nation.

Pierce, infatuated with Fanny, followed her while she toured and she fell in love with this charming and attentive man.  She married him as a way of escaping life in the theatre which was beset with her family’s unstable financial future.  She was marrying into wealth but didn’t find out what the source of that wealth was until after they got married.

It was a marriage that was doomed from the beginning.  She believed that he would always be devoted to her and he believed that he could control her.  And their differences on slavery did not help matters.  He thought he could get her to see the benefits of the institution while she thought she could get him to free his slaves.  When she tried to publish an antislavery treatise she had written, Pierce forbade her to do so.  After he and his brother John inherited the Georgia plantations, Fanny wanted to see the plantation and begged but Pierce to take her with him but he refused.  Then in December of 1838 he took her and their two daughters and their Irish nurse to Butler Island.  Nothing could have prepared Fanny for  what she witnessed at this place.  Inspite of the beautiful surroundings, she could not escape the ugly presence of slavery.  She said, “I should like the wild savage loneliness of the far away existence extremely if it were not for the one small item of the slavery.”

Fanny and Pierce clashed over their views of slavery and their marriage began to deteriorate.  In 1845 Fanny left Pierce and children and returned to England where she resumed her stage career.  Pierce sued for divorce, claiming that she had “willfully, maliciously, and without due cause, deserted him on September 11, 1845”.  Three years later, on April 7, 1848, he filed for divorce.  Fanny returned to America to defend herself against his charges and after a long and painful court battle, the divorce was granted a year later with Pierce having full custody of the girls.  Fanny was allowed to spend two months very summer with them and receive $1500 yearly in alimony.

While Fanny was able to support herself in the U.S. and Europe with her Shakespearean readings, Pierce fell into financial ruin, gambling away his fortune.  He ended up in huge debt which led to the selling of the mansion in Philadelphia and the liquidation of other properties.  Unfortunately, this was not enough so the trustees turned their focus on the property in Georgia where the slaves were.  This led to the largest single sale of human beings in United States history and the event known as “the weeping time” as slaves were separated from their families.

After the war Pierce and his daughter Frances returned to Butler Island where he arranged for former slaves to work for him as sharecroppers.  He later contracted malaria and died.  Fanny moved to Philadelphia where she continued to perform dramatic readings.  She travelled and published her journals.  On January 15, 1893, Fanny died peacefully in London.

Notes to Women want to acknowledge this woman who spoke out against an institution and practice which violated the rights of people based on their race.  Moved with compassion and a sense of decency, Fanny set out to reform the plantations.  She set up a hostel and nursery for those in need and paid the slaves who personally tended to her.  She improved the hygiene of the slave children by rewarding cleanliness with small prizes.   Her critics saw her efforts at reform as foolish and sided with her husband but we applaud Fanny for the stance she took against slavery and her resolve to do what she could to help the slaves and for raising awareness through her firsthand observations.  If you are interested in reading about her experiences, you can read them in her diary here.

In Fanny’s eyes, acquiring wealth from the forced labor and enslavement of others is unconscionable. She was convinced that slavery was wrong and inhumane and refused to be silenced on the matter.  She stuck to her convictions and today, her journal continues to be a primary source of education on the reality of slavery.

[On disagreeing with her husband about his slave-holding:] I cannot give my conscience into the keeping of another human being or submit the actions dictated by my conscience to their will.

I have sometimes been haunted with the idea that it was an imperative duty, knowing what I know, and having seen what I have seen, to do all that lies in my power to show the dangers and the evils of this frightful institution.

In the north we could not hope to keep the worst and poorest servant for a single day in the wretched discomfort in which our negro servants are forced habitually to live.

I said I thought female labour of the sort exacted from these slaves, and corporal chastisement such as they endure, must be abhorrent to any manly or humane man.

The Southern newspapers, with their advertisements of negro sales and personal descriptions of fugitive slaves, supply details of misery that it would be difficult for imagination to exceed. Scorn, derision, insult, menace – the handcuff, the last – the tearing away of children from parents, of husbands from wives – the weary trudging in droves along the common highways, the labor of body, the despair of mind, the sickness of heart – these are the realities which belong to the system, and form the rule, rather that the exception, in the slave’s experience.

A good many causes tend to make good masters and mistresses quite as rare as good servants…. The large and rapid fortunes by which vulgar and ignorant people become possessed of splendid houses, splendidly furnished, do not, of course, give them the feelings and manners of gentle folks, or in any way really raise them above the servants they employ, who are quite aware of this fact, and that the possession of wealth is literally the only superiority their employers have over them.

Though the Negroes are fed, clothed, and housed, and though the Irish peasant is starved, naked, and roofless, the bare name of freemen-the lordship over his own person, the power to choose and will-are blessings beyond food, raiment, or shelter; possessing which, the want of every comfort of life is yet more tolerable than their fullest enjoyment without them.

When marriage is what it ought to be, it is indeed the very happiest condition of existence.

4fank45m

Sources:  PBS, Pabook Libraries, New Georgia Encyclopedia; Brainy Quotes; AZ Quotes; Stand Up Quotes

The Oscars Highlights

As usual, after promising myself that I wouldn’t watch it, I ended up watching the Oscars Red Carpet show and the last hour and a half of the Oscars.  I enjoyed the show more in the past.  Nowadays, it seems anything goes.  I didn’t appreciate Sean Penn’s remark when Birdman won for the Best Picture and I am thankful that I missed Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear.  I wonder if he will be invited back next year.  I think Billy Crystal was by far the best host.

The highlights were seeing Tara Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle, author of the autobiography The American Sniper, Oscar nominee for best pictureChris was killed at a shooting range in Texas in February 2013.  Tara was at the 87th Academy Awards ceremony to represent him.  She is a an American author, veteran family activist and advocate for women and families who have lost family members while serving in the war.  She travels around the country speaking about Chris and others like him.  In August 2013, the state of Texas passed the Chris Kyle Law (SB162) which was created to “expand the effort to help ease employment challenges for active duty military members and their spouses”

Tara founded Chris Kyle Frog Foundation.  A frog’s skeleton is a symbol of a fallen Navy Seal.  The foundation’s mission is is to “serve those who serve us by providing meaningful interactive experiences that enrich family relationships”.

taya-kyle-435

The other highlight was Julianne Moore.  I haven’t seen the movie, Still Alice, but the clip they showed of the movie when the announcement for Actress in a leading role, convinced me that she deserved the honor.  The scene was short but very powerful.  It was of a woman desperately looking for her keys and refusing to take her husband’s advice to wait until the morning.  It’s as if she could feel herself slipping away and was struggling to hold on.  It’s a movie on a disease that affects everyone–those diagnosed with it and their loved ones.  Alice described it as her brain dying.

“Alice: I miss myself.
John: I miss you too, Ali, so much.”
Lisa Genova, Still Alice

“In the ladies’ room, Alice studied her image in the mirror. The reflected older woman’s face didn’t quite match the picture that she had of herself in her mind’s eye.” p 35”
Lisa Genova, Still Alice

Women are more likely to get Alzheimer’s partly because they live longer than men.  Genetics are also a factor.  In the movie, Still Alice, Alice looked young, not the typical person you would expect to have Alzheimer’s.  It is no longer a disease of old age.  In fact, many people with early onset are in their 40s and 50s. They have families, careers or are even caregivers themselves when the disease strikes.

In her acceptance speech, Julianne said, “I’m so happy, I’m thrilled that we were able to shine a light on Alzheimer’s disease,” Moore said. “So many people who have this disease feel marginalized. People who have Alzheimer’s disease deserve to be seen so we can find a cure.”  She poured her heart into this role.  She spent four months researching for her role, talking to women with the disease, doctors and visiting a long-term care facility.  This was well earned Oscar win.  Congratulations, Julianne for bringing to life and light a disease that affects so many.  Thank you for raising awareness and helping those who live with the disease not to feel like they are alone.

oscars-awards-pres_3208695b

Initially, when I heard that Lady Gaga was going to sing a medley from The Sound of Music, I was very skeptical.  I didn’t think she had it in her but I was pleasantly surprised.  I found myself wondering why the medley and then, Dame Julie Andrews steps out on the stage to the delight and surprise of the audience.  You could see that Lady Gaga was a bit emotional. With her usual gracefulness, Dame Julie said, “Dear Lady Gaga, thank you for that wonderful tribute.”

Seeing Dame Julie Andrews step out on the stage was the biggest highlight of the night for me.  She looked terrific as usual.  She was there to hand out the Oscar for the Best Original Score and also in honor of the movie, The Sound of Music which celebrates its 50th anniversary.  It will always be one of my favorite musicals.

72f22260-bb26-11e4-be75-4769e1394a1a_lady-gaga-julie-andrews-sound-of-music-osca

I was thrilled when the song, “Glory” won for Best Original Song.  It was a moving tribute to the civil rights’ movement.   The cast and some in the audience were in tears.  Congratulations to Common and John Legend for their much deserved win.

In his acceptance speech, John Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now.  We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you, ‘We are with you. We see you. We love you. And march on.'”

Congratulations to Patricia Arquette and Eddie Redmayne.  It was touching the way he dedicated his Best Actor Oscar to “all of those people around the world” battling motor neurone disease – the illness that left Professor Hawking in a wheelchair.  Redmayne thanked the Hawking family and his wife, Hannah, telling her,  “I love you so much. We’ve got a new fella coming to share our apartment!” His acceptance speech was refreshing and sweet at the same time.

Notes to Women wish to congratulate all the Academy Award winners for 2015.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taya_Kyle;

http://www.alzinfo.org/articles/why-women-may-be-more-likely-to-get-alzheimers/; http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_early_onset.asp;

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/julianne-moore-wins-oscar-best-actress-29153141

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/glory-wins-best-original-song-at-oscars-brings-cast-to-tears-20150222

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/oscars/11428940/Oscars-2015-Watch-Eddie-Redmaynes-adorable-Best-Actor-acceptance-speech.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/stephen-hawking-praises-eddie-redmaynes-5213165

Zora Neale Hurston

Dubbed “America’s favorite black conservative” and “Genius of the South”, Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance.  She is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Zora was born on January 7, 1891.  She was was the fifth of eight children.  Her father, John Hurston was a Baptist preacher, tenant farmer, and carpenter and her mother, Lucy a school teacher.  She was born and grew up in Notasulga, Alabama.  When Zora was three, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first all-Black towns to be incorporated in the United States.  Life was great in Eatonville.  It was the place Zora felt more at home and sometimes called her birthplace.  It was the town where her father became the mayor and the place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society.

In 1901, some northern schoolteachers visited Eatonville and gave Zora a number of books which opened her mind to literature which explains why she sometimes describes her “birth” as taking place in that year. She spent the remainder of her childhood in Eatonville, and describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”.

Three years later in 1904, Zora’s mother died and her father remarried.  The immediacy of this second marriage to Matte Moge caused a bit of a scandal and it was even rumored that John had relations with Matte before his first wife died. Zora and her step-mother violently quarrelled.  She was sent away to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida.  Eventually her father and step-mother stopped paying her tuition and she was expelled.  To survive, Zora worked as a maid to the lead singer in a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company.

In 1917, Zora attended Morgan Academy, the high school division of the African American Morgan College in Baltimore, Maryland.  It was at this time that the 26 year old began to claim 1901 as her date of birth possibly to qualify for a free high-school education and to reflect her literary birth.  She graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918.  That same year Zora began undergraduate studies at Howard University, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop, the university’s student newspaper.  While she was there,  she took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an Associate’s Degree in 1920.  In 1921, she wrote a short story, John Redding Goes to Sea, which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke’s literary club, The Stylus.  Zora left Howard University in 1924 and a year later she was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, Columbia University where she was the college’s sole black student.  In 1927, at the age of 36 Zora received her B.A. in anthropology.  She worked with the likes of  Franz Boas of Columbia University, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead.  After graduating from Barnard, Zora spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University.

On a more personal note, Zora was married twice.  In 1927, she married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and former classmate at Howard who would later become a physician, but the marriage ended in 1931.  In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA, she married Albert Price, a 23-year-old fellow WPA employee, and 25 years her junior, but this marriage ended after only seven months. 

Zora’s love for anthropology took her on some extensive trips to the Caribbean and the American South.  In 1936 and 1937, she traveled to Jamaica and to Haiti with support from the Guggenheim Foundation from which her anthropological work Tell My Horse published in 1938 emerged.  She also lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés from October 1947 to February 1948.  She travelled to Central America fuelled by the idea of locating either Mayan ruins or ruins of an undiscovered civilization. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, a a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of “Florida Crackers” at the turn of the twentieth century.  Zora was noted for writing primarily about blacks in Florida yet in this book, her characters were a “cracker” couple.  Perhaps it was being in a Honduras, surrounded by a culture different from her own that inspired her to write this book.  She was interested the Miskito Zambu,  a mixed-race (African-Indigenous American) population group occupying the Caribbean coast of Central America, focused on the region of the Honduras-Nicaragua border.and Garifuna, descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people.

Little did Zora know that when she returned to her native country in 1948, she would face a terrible scandal.  She was falsely accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy (another writeup says there were three boys) and even though the case was dismissed after she presented evidence that she was in Honduras when the alleged crime took place in the U.S., her personal life was seriously disrupted by the scandal.

Zora was a Republican.  She supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft.  They both were opposed to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and Roosevelt’s and Truman’s interventionist foreign policy.  In the original draft of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, she compared the United States government to a “fence” in stolen goods and to a Mafia-like protection racket and thought it ironic that the same “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy … wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals…. We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” She had a lot to say about those who sought “freedoms” for those abroad, but denied it to people in their home countries: Roosevelt “can call names across an ocean” for his Four Freedoms, but he did not have “the courage to speak even softly at home.” When Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, she called him “the Butcher of Asia.”

She opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954 because she was of the opinion that if separate schools were truly equal, educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education.  She worried that integration would bring about the demise of black schools and black teachers which were the means through which cultural tradition would be passed on to future generations of African Americans.  She wrote of her opposition in  in a letter, stating, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix”.  She opposed preferential treatment for blacks.  “If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”  She opposed what is now referred to as Affirmative Action.

Zora has had her share of criticism from her literary contemporaries, most notably, Richard Wright. In his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God, he wrote: … The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.  For decades,  Zora’s work slid into obscurity due to a number of cultural and political reasons but thanks to Alice Walker’s article,  “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine interest in Zora’s work has been revived.

Zora spent her later years as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers.  When she moved to Fort Pierce, she took jobs where she could find them, such substitute teacher and maid.  During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Zora was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home where she suffered a stroke.  She died of hypertensive heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida.  Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973, when novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.  What a sad end for this remarkable woman whose true happiness came from her work.

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women salute Zora Neale Hurston who had the courage to disagree with the philosophies supported by many of her colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance.  Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, celebrates her life in an annual festival.  Her home in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.  In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Zora Neale Hurston on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.  She poured herself into her work and left a legacy of literary work that would hail her as one of the most important black writers of the 20th century.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me.

I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

“I don’t know any more about the future than you do.  I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. . . I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.”

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zora_Neale_Hurston; http://zoranealehurston.com/; http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=zora-neale-hurston-genius-of-the-south&id=211

Hymen Reconstruction

This week on the Ricki Lake Show, I learned about women having their hymen reconstructed.  I never knew such a thing existed.  Check out this clip from the show.

Melody Meozzi, an Iranian-American Muslim writer and attorney, is a staunch opponent of hymen reconstruction.  She believes that it further contributes to violence against women.  She goes head to head with with Dr. Robert Moore, an internationally recognized Laparoscopic and Vaginal Reconstructive Surgeon who has operated on patients from all over the US and the world.

Hymen Repair Surgery, termed as Hymenoplasty is a simple surgery to restore virginity of women owing to the religious, cultural and ethnic reasons. The surgery repairs the hymen after it has been ruptured during sexual assault, agreed intercourse, sports, falls or insertion of tampons.

The Hymen Restoration Surgery takes up to 30 minutes to an hour. The surgery is performed under local anaesthesia with sedation or general anesthesia. It involves stitching of the edges of the remaining hymen together. Soon after this the hymen heals and the ruptured hymen grows back to a hymen similar to one in virgin girls. With hymen restoration, vaginal walls also tighten up.

Such procedures are not generally regarded as part of mainstream gynecology, but are available from some plastic surgery centers, particularly in the USA, Japan and Western Europe, generally as day surgery. The normal aim is to cause bleeding during post-nuptialintercourse, which in some cultures is considered proof of virginity.

I came across an article on the BBC News website about women in Asia and the Arab world who risk being ostracized or death because they had sex outside of marriage.  Many of them are undergoing surgery to reconnect their hymen so that there is blood on the sheets on their wedding night.  Others have committed suicide because of the unbearable pressure and the fear of being found out.  Read their stories.

Hymen reconstruction surgery is performed in China as sexually active Chinese women are pressured by their new husbands.  This procedure is also done in Canada.  There were lots of websites promoting hymen repair, reconstruction.  There was even a website called Hymen shop where they sell artificial hymen.

There is so much information out there about hymen reconstruction.  If you or someone you know is considering this procedure, educate yourself first.  Seek counselling.  Don’t let anyone pressure you into having the surgery.  This decision is yours alone.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymenorrhaphy; http://www.weirdasianews.com/2010/09/14/hymen-reconstruction-surgery-price-virginity/; http://www.indicure.com/articles/hymenoplasty-procedure-outcomes-cost-hymen-restoration-surgery-in-top-hospitals-clinics-in-india.html; http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/hymen-reconstruction-doesnt-work;