WeWalk: Behind the Scenes of Opening the Way

Opening the Way is a walking tour celebrating women's history in downtown Manhattan. It is a multifaceted new project developed by the award-winning nonprofit organization Women's eNews. The walk honors the achievements of women such as Margaret Sanger, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida B. Wells -- 21 women in all. This blog has been created to update fans of the walk on its exciting developments and expansion. Please join us in revitalizing history that has been ignored or forgotten!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sacagawea and the Revival of Lost History

Although we honor a number of diverse women in Opening the Way, our Women’s History Walk, we unfortunately lack a Native American historical woman who thrived in downtown Manhattan. But today marks a good opportunity to talk about Sacagawea, the famous Shoshone Indian woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition of western America between 1804 and 1806. She is believed by many to have died on this day in 1812.

Sacagawea was born in Lemhi County in modern-day Idaho circa 1787. At about 12 years old, she was kidnapped by Hidatsa Indians (who were enemies of her tribe) and brought to the Hidatsa-Mandan villages near modern Bismarck, North Dakota, according to PBS News. She was later sold as a slave to a fur trader named Toussaint Charbonneau, who claimed her as his wife. Her son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau would become America’s youngest explorer.

In 1804, Sacagawea became a legend as the only female member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corps of Discovery. She traveled with the party as a guide and an interpreter. She “made contacts with Shoshone and Hidatsa people, who considered the presence of a woman a sign that the expedition was peaceful,” notes the Architect of the Capitol.

Sacagawea has been immortalized in numerous ways ever since. The Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center in her hometown of Lemhi River Valley, Idaho offers educational programs and research collections in her memory. She is also remembered through images and exhibits at various sites, and statues, parks, rivers, and peaks that are named after her.

In spite of Sacagawea’s legacy, there are still many questions about her life and disputes over the accuracy of the little information that is available. Some sources say she did not die in 1812, and actually returned home and lived to a very old age, placing her death more than 70 years later in 1884. Even the spelling and pronunciation of her real name strikes controversy, and her own tribe disputes much of the common knowledge given about her. The debates over the lives of important women like Sacagawea and the lack of access to basic historical facts demonstrates the need for programs that reflect the importance of women’s history, and that provide resources for reliable information.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recording Powerful Women's Voices: Gloria Steinem

The audio component of Opening the Way's interactive online tour is coming quickly to an end as we wrap up recordings at our studio in uptown Manhattan. On Monday, Women's eNews is excited to take footage from second-wave feminist Gloria Steinem as the legendary Margaret Sanger.

Gloria Steinem came to prominence as an activist and organizer during the women's rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. She has also contributed to a number of other social justice movements and causes, and to this day still speaks in America and around the world on issues of equality. Her website describes her as "particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolution, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice."

Steinem is the author of several books, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within. She co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, and remained its editor for fifteen years. She co-founded the Women's Media Center in 2004, and also helped found the National Women's Political Caucus and Choice USA. She has been featured in or contributed to an extensive number of magazines, newspapers, textbooks, television shows, and documentaries.

Steinem has said that the answer to equality is not simply making women equal to men, but eliminating gender stereotypes and roles completely--and that therefore, male participation ought to be an integral part of feminism. In an interview with Marianne Schnall, she remarked: "Once men realize that the gender roles are a prison for them too, then they become really valuable allies. Because they're not just helping someone else, they're freeing themselves."

Gloria Steinem has already secured her place in history, and Women's eNews is infinitely grateful to her for contributing her time and efforts to a project that honors the women who came before her.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dorothy Day: A New York Religious Icon

One week ago marked the 30-year anniversary of the death of Dorothy Day, prompting several events to celebrate her life and participation in the Catholic Worker Movement in the early to mid-twentieth century. Maureen McKew, a blogger  for the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office, wrote a thought-provoking piece on Friday calling her a "peace activist and a tireless advocate for poor and powerless people," and comparing her to two other female saints from New York -- St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini -- who, like Day, were "women who persevered when authorities did not recognize the urgency and value of their missions."

Dorothy Day was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1897. After living in San Francisco and Chicago, she moved back to New York City in 1916, where she worked as a journalist and activist, supporting radical movements such as socialism, civil rights, and women's rights. She was even arrested in front of the White House in 1917 when she participated in a group protest for women's suffrage. Day grew to admire the Catholic Church and converted, baptizing herself and her daughter in 1927 at Our Lady Help of Christians church in Staten Island, at the cost of her marriage. (This same parish just released an addition to its school in honor of Day on her anniversary last week.) With fellow activist Peter Maurin, she established the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement in 1933 -- a newspaper and movement that aimed to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with direct, nonviolent action on their behalf, and whose influence continues today.

Cardinal John O'Connor introduced Dorothy Day as a candidate for sainthood in 2000, emphasizing her as a "modern day devoted daughter of the Church, a daughter who shunned personal aggrandizement and wished that her work, and the work of those who labored at her side on behalf of the poor, might be the hallmark of her life rather than her own self." The Dorothy Day Guild, formed in 2004 as a step towards canonization, offers her writings and information on her life, as well as volunteer opportunities with the guild's headquarters in New York.

Opening the Way recognizes the contributions of women in the religious arena and honors two such women on its walking tour -- Sojourner Truth and Barbara Ruckle Heck. Furthermore, Reverend Violet Dease Lee, Assistant Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan, and Reverend Katie Lee Crane, Minister of the First Parish of Sudbury in Massachusetts, will both appear as voices in our virtual tour. Opening the Way will continue highlighting the importance of women's contributions in religion.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Susan B. Anthony: Led the Battle for Women's Rights from New York

The profile of Susan B. Anthony on Opening the Way's official website describes the suffragist as a "Tireless Traveler," in the category of "Seven Who Led the Battles." She was, and did lead activists to many victories, beginning in Rochester and throughout her time on Park Row in New York City where we pay tribute to her on our walking tour.

Anthony was born to a Quaker family in Massachusetts on February 15, 1820. She moved to Rochester, New York with her parents and six siblings in 1826, and began teaching in 1839. 10 years later, she started to get involved in the temperance and anti-slavery movements. In 1851, she met Elizabeth Cady Stanton -- who had previously led the Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in July 1848, stating a powerful Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions -- and in 1852, attended her first woman's rights convention in Syracuse.

Anthony infamously casted a vote in Rochester on November 5, 1872, after intimidating ballot officials. "It is a downright mockery to talk to women of their enjoyment of the blessings of liberty while they are denied the use of the only means of securing them provided by this democratic-republican government -- the ballot," she declared in a speech after her historic arrest. She was later tried in court and given a $100 fine, which she never paid. Anthony remained committed to equal rights until her death in 1906. She was a pioneer in women's suffrage, and is one of the most well-known names in women's history today.

Anthony and Stanton ran their publication "The Revolution" at 37 Park Row in New York City from 1868 to 1870, in an office in the same building that housed the New York World, and just feet away from the site of other major newspapers. Anthony was the manager of the paper, which promoted women's suffrage in addition to other social reform issues such as abolitionism, workers' rights, and rights for the impoverished. This mission distinguished it from other suffrage newspapers of the time.

We're excited to reveal this clip of Lynn Sherr, former ABC correspondent and author, quoting Anthony in a powerful passage about women in journalism -- from Sherr's own biography of her, titled "Failure is Impossible."

The Story Behind Elizabeth Jennings Place

Elizabeth Jennings Place on the Opening the Way Walking Tour
Most Americans are taught at some point about Rosa Parks, the woman who brought a fierce beginning to the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955, by refusing to abide to a demand that she give up her seat for a white passenger.

But much other history is lost, and very few people learn about women like Elizabeth Jennings Graham, who actually challenged the idea of segregation on public transit here in New York City just over 100 years before Rosa Parks' historic moment.

In fact, the sign "Elizabeth Jennings Place" was put up only a few years ago, and the story behind it is heartwarming. After finding out about Elizabeth Jennings in preparation for a performance on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a group of third- and fourth-grade students at P.S. 361 on the Lower East Side took the initiative in 2007 to get her name immortalized at the corner of Spruce Street and Park Row. After a year of attending meetings, gathering petition signatures, and pressuring elected officials, they were able to get a street sign named for her -- a feat that had been unsuccessful by another group of students in the 1990s. "She's an unknown hero that helped our state," said student Timothy Allan. "We actually took a stand in the world for what we thought was right," said another.