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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Apgar’

It's Not Just 'Dates, Facts And Dead People' — A New History Channel Series Tries To De-Snooze History

In History, women on April 26, 2010 at 4:29 pm
The "Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth ...

Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1575. Image via Wikipedia

I love reading history, probably because it’s basically revised, cleaned-up, multiply-sourced journalism — often called the first draft of history.

Right now I’m loving a biography of Queen Elizabeth I by British historian Anne Somerset. As unlikely as this sounds, it’s a page-turner. (Oddly enough, the image I’ve chosen here is the same one on my book’s cover, from the National Gallery.)

I confess, though, that one passage is truly memorable, in which a priest is being burned at the stake, too slowly because the wood is wet, and he begs his onlookers to fan the flames so he can die faster. No matter how gross, it’s hard not to picture, and remember that scene.

Yet so much of history, as presented to most of us along the way, is a big fat snooze, boringly taught and impatiently suffered through.

A recent piece in my favorite newspaper, the weekend Financial Times, looked at the problem and determined it was a case of “Too Much Hitler and the Henrys” — i.e. for British students anyway too narrow a focus on WWII and the Kings named Henry.

A new television series, “America: The Story of Us” began this week on April 25 and continues for six more Sundays on the History Channel. It’s the most ambitious project of its kind since Alistair Cooke’s 13-part “America: A Personal History of the United States, broadcast in 1972.

Reports The New York Times, the new series is:

“a naked attempt by the producers to rope in viewers whose experience of United States history may be limited to their school history classes. “In that attempt to make it feel epic, it’s actually quite refreshing to see big personalities commenting on what history means to them and what that moment in the story means to them, and how that has inspired them,” said Nancy Dubuc, the president and general manager of the History channel. “It sort of ups the entertainment value of the show.”

“It’s not about dates, facts and dead people,” she added. “It’s about presenting a very rich story in an engaging and entertaining way, and along the way, lo and behold, hopefully millions of people will watch something that they hadn’t anticipated they would watch.”

I read a lot of great women’s history – (check out anything written by Glenda Riley, a historian of the American West)  — when I researched my first book, about American women and guns, and learned that entire swaths of Colorado and Wyoming had been homesteaded exclusively by women, for whom being armed and ready to shoot was a matter of life or death. Many women fought in the Civil War, even those heavily pregnant, their gender or condition undetected by their comrades in arms, and detailed in the great book, “They Fought Like Demons” by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook.

Too often, as women know, history books typically focus on wealth and power, those narratives told and driven by men. Women, confined for centuries to domestic or religious life, often seem almost invisible.

A wildly popular series for kids, (now available on DVD) is Horrible Histories, filled with gruesome/alluring details like the fact it took two swings to lop off Mary Queen of Scots’ head. The series has sold 11 million copies in the UK and 20 million worldwide, with the accompanying books translated into 31 languages.

Something is working when there’s such hunger for history amongst the young ‘uns.

Some of my favorite recent reads have been social histories of Paris, Roy Porter’s portraits of London and of England in the 18th. century. I enjoyed David McCullough’s history of the Brooklyn Bridge, although he skimped on the juicy details of how Washington Roebling’s wife Emily saved his butt; it was she who took charge of the project — this, in the male-dominated 1880s — after he fell ill with the bends.

I fell in love with well-told history when I read a history of medicine in my early teens, introducing me to a roster of heroes, from Hippocrates, Galen and Harvey to Jenner and Semmelweiss.

How many of you know — for example — that most babies born (in North America anyway), have an Apgar test within minutes of birth? Did you know the test is named for a woman, Virginia Apgar, a pilot and Columbia University’s first female medical professor?

What history taught in school — before you had a choice in college — do you remember best and why?

Do you ever read history now for pleasure? Which periods and authors do you like?

A Little Solitude Is A Powerful Thing: A Room Of One's Own, Even For A Week

In behavior, women on January 8, 2010 at 8:01 am
Portrait of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Viginia Woolf, one of my favorite writers. Image via Wikipedia

Silence. Solitude. Space.

These are three of the most prized commodities anyone creative — hell, anyone — can enjoy. In a culture packed with buzzing, beeping distractions, one that races all the time at top speed and scoffs at those slowpokes who dawdle, having a calm, quiet, private physical space to oneself, with only the hum of the fridge, the rumble (in New York today) of the snowplow or the wind in the trees is a great luxury.

We tend to pity those who live alone, imagining them sad and dreary, pining for company and amusement. Many who live solo, in fact, deeply prize their privacy and quiet.

I’ve been on my own for a whole week, my partner away on business. I’ll join him tomorrow, but oooooh the luxury of not having to clean up or cook or tidy up or be civilized for a while. Feels good to be feral.

Last night I devoured an entire book, “Drive”, by Daniel Pink. Turned off the TV, wasn’t enjoying lively conversation, wasn’t worried about dinner. Just read non-stop, gulping it down.

As many know, it was Virginia Woolf, lecturing to university women, who suggested that every woman needs her own money and a room of her own in order to create.

She’s right. A woman seen to be ignoring the needs of her loved ones is often considered a selfish, wretched demon, no matter how divided she feels between what new work she needs to create and what she has already chosen — family — to create. It’s no wonder some of the world’s most highly creative women eschew marriage and motherhood to get on with their own work, uninterrupted, unharried, undistracted by the jammy hands and dirty socks of people they might adore but whose relentless needs also take up a lot of time and energy.

One of my favorite women creators, whose invention — ironically — helps check the health of newborn babies, was someone who never married, Columbia University physician Dr. Virginia Apgar, for whom the test is named. Her dream, as a devoted amateur aviatrix, was to fly under the George Washington Bridge.

Read any issue of any women’s magazine aimed at those with partners and children, and you’ll find an article on carving out a bit of time and space for yourself. A woman wanting to be alone, like Greta Garbo, is seen as a little odd.

Maybe she’s just…thinking.

Twenty Legendary Women I'm Thankful For

In History, women on November 25, 2009 at 9:16 am
Portrait of Marie Curie (November 7, 1867 &nda...

Mammos, thanks to her, Mme. Curie.Image via Wikipedia

Over the millennia, there are thousands of women whose lives, talents and hard work have smoothed the path for others, thanks to their political bravery, their devotion to the needs of those they do not know and will never meet, their care for the earth and its resources, their skills in medicine or music or architecture or design.

As we sit down for turkey, stuffing and giving thanks, here’s my highly edited short list of cool women, any one of whom I’d love to have had lunch with — some of whom maybe I still can!

And, of course — my Mom. She met my Canadian Dad in France when she was 17, married him and moved from New York City to Canada, followed him and his film-making career to London, then back to Canada where she became a radio, television, film and print journalist. She traveled the world alone for years, from Afghanistan to Singapore, Fiji to Chile. We lived and traveled in Mexico, the first place she taught me the need to pay careful attention to other cultures. A multiple survivor of various cancers, and still kicking my butt, she taught me to be feisty, frugal, fearless and have fun.

I’d love to hear your votes!

Marie Curie. Everyone who’s ever gotten an X-ray owes a debt of gratitude to Pole Madame Curie, who, sadly died of leukemia from overexposure to radiation. Only four people have won two Nobel prizes; she won in 1903 for physics and 1911 for chemistry.

Susan B. Anthony, who helped win American women the right to vote.

Nellie McClung, who won Canadian women the right to vote. She’s on the Canadian $50 bill and a bronze statue of her stands outside the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. I dedicated my first T/S post, July 1, 2009, to her.

Lena Bryant, who emigrated from Lithuania in 1895 at the age of 16, and who founded Lane Bryant, by 1950 one of the U.S.’s most successful and earliest makers of clothing for larger sizes.

Virginia Apgar, a New York City physician and professor at Columbia University whose Apgar score for newborns, has since 1953, measured five key indicators of health within a baby’s first few minutes of life. She never married because “I never found a man who could cook.”

Suze Orman, who candidly admits she learned firsthand what it’s like to wear the leg-irons of consumer debt and who teaches women, especially, to take better financial care of themselves.

Alice Munro, a Canadian treasure, winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, and one of the world’s greatest living writers. I have met her, and she was as lovely and gracious as I’d hoped.

Jane Austen, who bequeathed to us some of the most enduring stories that still resonate centuries later.

Babe Didrikson Zaharia for being such a ferocious and multi-talented athlete long before anyone had heard of Title IX, civil rights or the Williams sisters.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who was fighting for the land years before it became fashionable to do so.

Sylvia Earle, aka Her Royal Deepness, whose passion for the oceans has made her the female equal of the much better-known late Jacques Cousteau.

Dian Fossey, one of several accomplished women (Jane Goodall, Birute Galdikas) who made saving monkeys a powerful and compelling argument, devoting her life to them.

Billie Jean King, for her many tennis accomplishments, and for taking on the impossibly sexist-chauvinist Bobby Riggs and kicking his ass. Young women today have no idea how prevalent his brand of contempt was for women athletes.

Emily Roebling, whose name should be legend. Her father-in-law John Roebling won the contract, but died of tetanus. Then her husband, Washington, was severely injured by having descended too many times into the caissons to watch the progress of the Brooklyn Bridge, the 8th wonder of the world, as it was known at the time. While he had to sit in their Brooklyn home watching construction of it out their windows, it was Emily — unheard of in the 1880s — who, without any engineering or mathematical training, took over heading up this complex project. She defended her husband publicly, also unheard of at the time, and went on to become one of New York State’s first female lawyers.

Nellie Bly, a crusading journalist who chose to spend time in an insane asylum to report on its appalling conditions, then did a wild round-the-world journey in record time, also to write about it. Bold, brave and way ahead of the days when “embeds” or other forms of immersive reporting were considered cool.

Rosa Parks, who had the guts to take a stand for civil rights when so few others dared.

Margaret Bourke-White, whose photograph graced the first cover of Life magazine, and who became one of the U.S.’s best-known and most-respected women photographers.

Margaret Sanger, who in the early 1900s fought for the rights of women to have access to and to use birth control, a phrase she is said to have originated.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher and writer, an extremely rare female leader in that world, whose books, and wisdom, have helped millions. A graduate of Miss Porter’s, a prep school in Connecticut, and Berkeley, she began her career as a schoolteacher and now runs Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.

Annie Oakley, for escaping a crazy, impoverished childhood thanks to her guts and self-confidence. She learned to shoot so accurately because she initially shot game birds and sold them to local hotels for food, needing the money even as a teenager to survive. She met her husband, Frank Butler, when she beat him at a shooting competition. She became one of the nation’s best-known and widely-admired performers — until William Randolph Hearst, deciding to ride on the coat-tails of her fame, published articles in his newspapers slandering her. She took three years away from her career to fight every single one of them, and won. Here’s a biography of her by one of my favorite female historians, Glenda Riley. I also wrote about her in my first book.

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