Reading Recommendation: Dead Feminists

I will eternally beat the drum for women’s history. And when I say “drum,” that could be an actual drum. Or a book against my desk. Or my shoe against the wall.  The world is my women’s history drum! That’s definitely a phrase people say!

There have been so many fascinating, pioneering, challenging women that we never get to hear about. And these days we need to hear about them. It’s important to hear, to be reminded, that history has happened at the hands of a woman.

For Christmas I received the book Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color. It’s a collection of letterpress posters and brief biographies devoted to both impactful women throughout history.

It’s at this point I feel I should mention, I realize many people take issue with the word ‘feminist.’ To those people I say stop it ….I really can’t help you…I understand there are many  misconceptions. For most feminists, it’s not about female domination (is that what people who don’t like feminists think? I honestly don’t understand),  it’s about equal rights. And if you hear us getting angry, chances are someone is trying to compromise just that. Plain and simple. Ok? Ok. Moving on.

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Women’s History Wednesday: Francis Densmore

With an hour to spare, we’ve got time for a Women’s History Wednesday!

Frances Densmore with Mountain chief, 1914. Minnesota Historical Society

Frances Densmore was an anthropologist who devoted over 50 years of her life to the study and preservation of American Indian culture, with a focus on music.
Her work during the first half of the century was of particular importance as it coincided with government policies that encouraged the Americanization of the indigenous population.

In the picture above, Densmore is working with an Indian chief to record and interpret his tribe’s music.

Some of her recordings are still housed in the Library of Congress, and at least one recording has been digitized.

See? No jokes. Just good old-fashioned learning! I’m very fun at parties.

Women’s History Wednesdays: Constance Kopp

I don’t think anyone is going to argue with me here when I say history has overwhelmingly been a chronicle of men. Some good. Some bad. Always one sided. This is the reason why I always get excited when a woman fights her way onto the pages of history and onto my book shelf.

The most recent addition to my women’s history hall of fame is Constance Kopp, America’s first female sheriff, in the form of Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart.

I bought it as a fun fiction book, and truth be told, I’m a sucker for a good cover.

It’s when I start to read that I notice this…

At which point, I yell to no one, “she was real?!” It didn’t even matter who “she” was. She was a real person. The game just changed. There’s learning afoot!

So, after reading up on the real Constance, here’s the  short version of the events that lead to her not-quite-but-hopefully-soon fame…

July 1914, Kopp’s car was struck by Henry Kaufman, silk factory tycoon. In the following months, she wrote to him several times regarding payment for the damage done to her family’s only mode of transportation, and repeatedly, he ignored her. She, as one would absolutely not expect out of a woman in 1914, sued him.

This was a man known for his intimidation tactics if it meant he got what he wanted, and in the year 1914, Constance Kopp, a woman living in the country with her sisters Norma and Fleurette, pushed back!

A campaign of harassment began to try and get Kopp to back down. Kaufman’s men wrote letters started demanding payment from Kopp, and even threatening to kidnap and sell her sister into sex trafficking. Most of the police department was under his thumb as well, so did not offer assistance.

It was when Kaufman and his men started throwing bricks and shooting at her windows in the middle of the night that she returned to the police and received some help. It was the lone sheriff who decided to take the threats seriously, and in a then (and still now if we’re honest) unheard act, armed the three sisters with revolvers for protection.

Interestingly, the guns were never used.

He would also go on to enlist Kopp’s help in a series of stings to trap Kaufman’s men, gun quietly tucked in her purse as she waited on street corners to lure out her adversaries.

So impressed with her bravery, the sheriff would go on to appoint her to the position of deputy sheriff, the first female to ever hold the title.

Kopp was quoted once as saying, “A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.” You ever read about a person and think, “that’s someone I want to know?”
To learn more (and there is more!), I recommend Girl Waits with Gun. Fiction it may be, but Stewart raided the archives to get it right.

Bite-Sized History: Grace Hopper

I work at a tech company! There is some debate if I should or should not actually work there. I’m the one who is doing most of the debating.

I work in software testing! I make sure that when a software developer says, “this thing works”, it actually works. When it doesn’t work, that’s called a “bug”. I never really thought that much into why it’s called a bug. When a person gets sick, you say, “they caught a bug.” Maybe it’s the same for computers?*

This week the National Women’s History Museum posted the following photo of Grace Hopper:

Grace Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, 1960. Smithsonian

Grace Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, 1960. Smithsonian

She did lots of things that, trust me, are so cool if you work in IT: She invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, set standards for computer testing, and her work helped pioneer a new software language. These are cool things! She also came up with the phrase “debugging” as it pertains to computer glitches. You find a bug. Then you debug it. See?

So after sharing this with my coworkers, this beauty is unearthed: The first actual case of a computer bug.

"First Computer Bug", 1947. U.S. Naval Historical Center

“First Computer Bug”, 1947. U.S. Naval Historical Center

They found an actual bug in the computer! As Hopper was working with her associates, they discovered a moth in a computer relay. As they removed it, she remarked they were “debugging” the system. It’s a bug! In a computer! This is a pun come to life! You guys!

Reason I shouldn’t work at a tech company: I’m far too amused by the pun-potential of a bug tapped to a paper.


*Well, now I’m spiraling off into the origins of the phrase “caught a bug.” Does that come from IT history? Did IT get it from the phrase? I NEED ANSWERS! Stay tuned.

This week’s inspiration: Women’s Timber Corps

WTC1 I am not looking forward to this week. Not even a little bit. But the week is coming, so I guess we all have to buckle up. My inspiration for this week is the Women’s Timber Corps. This was the organization formed during the second world war to employ women in the field of forestry. Basically, Rosie the Riveter’s outdoorsy cousin. As you can imagine, this was not easy work. These women, typically recruited in their late teens, knocked down trees, transported the timber to the sawmill, and processed the timber at the mill. I hope my officemate is excited for my new war cry as I tackle a difficult assignment. Who wouldn’t love their office mate yelling, “TIMBER” as she furiously types at her computer?



Ada Lovelace: “The world’s first computer programmer”

Techs holding parts of Electronical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), 1940s

Techs holding parts of Electronical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), 1940s

Tonight I am wrapping up Ada’s Logarithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age. To those who don’t know, Ada Lovelace is frequently credited as being the world’s first computer programmer. Let’s mention for a second, she was most active in the field in 1842. Roughly one century before the computer techs in picture seen above. I don’t think visionary is too grandiose a term.

Unfortunately, for committing the audacious crime of being a woman, her vision of what the field of computing could be frequently fell on deaf ears. I simply loved the following quote. Despite getting her ideas shut down by her colleagues, her tutors, and her mother, Ada recognized her potential, something I think that is too often lacking.

“No one knows what almost awful energy & power lie yet undevelopped [sic] in that wiry little system of mine. I say awful because you may imagine that it might be under certain circumstances.” -Ada Lovelace