Movin’ and Groovin’

Moving and Grooving

Easter 33


They sound like the newest species of gremlins – therbligs.  Just hearing the name makes me expect to hear immediately after – “Coming to a movie screen near you this summer!”  And then the imagination starts to take off.  If gremlins were cute albeit frightening little fuzz balls with adorable faces, at least at first, what would a therblig look like?  The good news is that they are not as scary as the little fuzzy creatures in the 1984 film.  You also don’t have to wait until summer because you are already doing a therblig.  And you don’t have to excuse yourself or even close the door!


A therblig is any of a basic set of actions that can be evaluated when doing a manual task.  For instance, if I were writing this with a pencil or pen instead of typing on a keyboard, there would be a series of motions involved.  First, I would need to look for the writing implement or do a “search”.  The therblig symbol for this was a type of emoticon – a picture of an eye with the pupil looking to one corner.  Once I found my pen or pencil, the motion would then become “find” and the therblig indicated by an eye with the pupil looking straight ahead.  Then I would need to pick up or “grasp” the object, indicated by a therblig that resembles an upside-down letter “u” and hold said object as indicated by the upside-down “u” resting on a line.  Of course, to write, my pen or pencil would need to be properly placed, the therblig for that being the bottom half of a semi-circle with a line near the bottom third connecting the two sides, and then positioned, the therblig for which is a cursive number 9 at a slight slant.  Finally I would be ready to make a mark on my paper with my pen or pencil and that therblig is the right-side-up letter “u”, easy to remember because it so easily relates to the process “use”.


We seldom think about the steps involved in doing something until we can no longer do them.  Freedoms are a lot like that.  Currently discussions in the United States revolve around using public restrooms.  There are a great many steps involved in doing this but what is of greatest discussion currently is perhaps one of the least important in the entire process – the issue of gender assignment.  With all that is going on in the world, for some reason, this has taken front page news, although no evidence exists as to the validity of such concerns.   The importance of being able to eliminate body wastes is nothing to take lightly; I just think we do not need a therblig for this.


Therblig are the brain child of a husband and wife team and the name comes from their family name being reversed – Gilbreth.  (Yes, the last two characters were kept as they were in the actual name.)  Lillian Moller Gilbreth worked alongside her husband Frank Bunker Gilbreth for twenty years until his death in 1924 and carried on their work afterwards.


The process of evaluating motion was a major component in the Gilbreth study of organizational effectiveness and energy efficacy.  Two of their children explained in a book they wrote about their family entitled “Cheaper by the Dozen”:   “…Suppose a man goes into a bathroom and shave. We’ll assume that his face is all lathered and that he is ready to pick up his razor. He knows where the razor is, but first he must locate it with his eye. That is “search”, the first Therblig. His eye finds it and comes to rest — that’s “find”, the second Therblig. Third comes “select”, the process of sliding the razor prior to the fourth Therblig, “grasp.” Fifth is “transport loaded,” bringing the razor up to his face, and sixth is “position,” getting the razor set on his face. There are eleven other Therbligs — the last one is “think”!”


Frank Gilbreth himself described sixteen of what would become eighteen elements this way in a 1915 article.  “The elements of a cycle of decisions and motions, either running partly or wholly concurrently with other elements in the same or other cycles, consist of the following, arranged in varying sequences: 1. Search, 2. Find, 3. Select, 4. Grasp, 5. Position, 6. Assemble, 7. Use, 8. Dissemble, or take apart, 9. Inspect, 10. Transport, loaded,  11. Pre-position for next operation, 12. Release load, 13. Transport, empty,  14. Wait (unavoidable delay),  15. Wait (avoidable delay),  16. Rest (for overcoming fatigue).”


Lillian Moller was a quiet child and homeschooled until the age of nine.  She thought herself plain and devoted her time to her studies before meeting and marrying Frank Gilbreth in 1904.  The two were equal partners in everything although Lillian’s name was always omitted from published works because of her gender.  The couple had twelve children and Lillian was not only a working mother but became a single working mother after her husband’s death.  Her struggles to continue their work are hilariously documented in two books written by two of her children, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Bells on Their Toes”.  Movies have been made from both books.


Lillian Moller Gilbreth was the first female engineer to earn a doctorate degree and still ranks as one of the best engineers in time management in the world today.  More importantly, however, she and her husband saw workers not as simply a means to an end but as human beings.  Their time management studies were not only about producing the best product the fastest way but doing so in a manner that benefitted and helped the worker as well.


The Gilbreth method was not limited to the workplace.  By reading the books one can see how their home was also a laboratory for such innovative ideas as timing one’s shower and even group tonsillectomies which would prove time-saving for the surgeon.


In 1935, Lillian Moller Gilbreth became the first female to teach engineering at Purdue University.  Although her name was often omitted from their published studies, she was the better educated of the two, earning a degrees in both engineering and educational psychology since industrial engineering had no degree program at the time.


It would be difficult to find something we do in our daily living that has not been affected by the therblig method of study on some level.  The type of razors on the market, the ergonomics of automobiles, even the height of kitchen cabinets are all examples and resulting effects of motion studies.  They also all consider the user as a human being and not just a means to an end.


The Gilbreth team and Lillian Moller Gilbreth in particular also had a keen sense of humor and lived with intention.  In her book “making Time” Dee Ann Finken wrote of Lillian Gilbreth: “the Gilbreths practiced the earliest form of the discipline, emphasizing the design and improvement of systems related to people, equipment, energy, and other factors.  When husband Frank died at the relatively young age of 55, Lillian took up the reins alone and continued the work they as a couple had pursued. In the process, she became much more than the mother of 12 children and costar of a film.”


Living with intention, living efficiently, and living with humor is the legacy of Lillian Moller Gilbreth.  She has always been one of my life heroes – a woman who saw the process but never forgot the humanity for which the process existed.  Too often we get too busy to remember that basic fact.  Everything we do should have a purpose and be done efficiently but it must be done remembering that we are all a part of a greater process called life and that we are all in this life together – none better, all equal in the effort.



Proof is in the Pudding

Proof is in the Pudding

Easter 32


He is known as one of the leaders of the Romantic period.  Considered one of England’s greatest poets whose personal life was both celebrated and censured, Lord Byron was also father to the world’s first female computer scientist in the mid nineteenth century.


Charles Babbage was born in England in 1791.  As a child he contracted a dangerous fever and spent several years with a private tutor and solitude.  In later life he once stated that this time might be responsible for his later “mind reasonings”.  Babbage was a mechanical engineer, inventing the “pilot” or as it is commonly known, the cow-catcher.  This was a metal structure attached to the front of a train locomotive to clear the tracks.


Babbage also founded the British Astronomical Society in 1820 and the Analytical Society four years later.  He would later help write the first calculus textbook.  It is his biggest “failure”, though, that he might be best remembered for and which brings us to our female inventor for today.


In 1822, Babbage presented a paper the astronomical Society entitled “Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables.”  Babbage’s Analytical Machine was to be used for calculating polynomials by using a numerical process he termed “the differences method”.  The British government was suitably impressed and eventually gave Babbage almost twenty thousand pounds towards the development of such a device before abandoning it in 1842.


Babbage’s device consisted of an analytical machine which used punch cards to specify the input and necessary calculations to determine the desired outcome.  It consisted of two parts which Babbage called the mill and the store, possibly taking these terms from the Jacquard loom which had been the original home of said punch cards.


Babbage’s Analytical Machine was no small undertaking.  Its development comprised 500 large design drawings, 1000 sheets of mechanical notation, and 7000 sheets of scribbles. The completed mill would measure 15 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter and the 100 digit store would stretch to 25 feet long.  While the government officially withdrew support, Babbage continued to work on his design.  An Italian mathematician wrote a paper on Babbage’s design which was translated into English by the Countess of Lovelace, Augusta Ada King, daughter of Lord Byron.


Ada Lovelace was the only legitimate heir of Lord Byron although her parents were married for a brief time.  He would later die during the Greek War for Independence when Ada was only eight years old.  Because her parents’ marriage had ended bitterly and with acrimony that remained with her mother for the rest of her life, Ada’s interest in mathematics was greatly encouraged as a means of avoiding the “madness” her mother feared she might have inherited from her father.


Ada Lovelace considered herself a “poetical scientist” and an “analyst and metaphysician”.  She was only eighteen when she met Charles Babbage and twenty-eight years old when she translated the Italian piece about his work.  She supplanted her translation with a set of her own summations in a work she entitled “Notes”.  Her summarizations are what many in the field consider to be the very first computer program.  Lovelace envisioned an algorithm which would be commutated by a machine, giving her the nickname by which many know her – “Algorithm Enchantress”.


Of Babbage’s machine, Ada Lovelace wrote: “Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies imagine that because the business of [Babbage’s Analytical Engine] is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly,” Lovelace explained.


Ada Lovelace foresaw computers as being more than just number-crunching machines.  True to her description of being a “poetical scientist”, she questioned how technology could be used as a collaborative tool with people and nations, even the world.  Her life was cut short at the age of thirty-six and she died of uterine cancer in 1852, a dreamer who might be among the earliest responsible for the computer you use today for more than just number equations.


Some have disputed Ada Lovelace’s ability with mathematics but Clearly Charles Babbage gave her due credit in this statement: “Forget this world and all its troubles and if possible its multitudinous Charlatans—everything in short but the Enchantress of Number.”   Babbage also wrote a treatise entitled “On the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation”.  In it he posited the idea that God “had the omnipotence and foresight to create as a divine legislator, making laws (or programs) which then produced species at the appropriate times, rather than continually interfering with ad hoc miracles each time a new species was required.”


Ada Lovelace’s influence on Charles Babbage was strong and he would eventually see things with her vision.  Babbage was also a cryptographer and deciphered the Vigenère’s autokey cipher.  His discovery was used in English military campaigns and kept a secret which allowed someone else to receive credit even though his findings came after those of Babbage.


Clearly for Ada Lovelace the need for being able to convey reality and desired outcomes was important.  She also, however, had the wisdom to go beyond with present and look for future applications, to think outside of the box so to speak.  At the end of the nineteenth century, using both Babbage and Lovelace’s notes, the Analytical Machine was developed and it did work.


An algorithm is simply a set of rules or process for which something is accomplished.  I have a friend who is a mathematics instructor and her faith in her students reminds me of Lovelace’s faith in Babbage and in the future.  While her students probably don’t realize it, the algorithms my friend is helping them decipher could very well be the tools for living the rest of their lives.


Most of us have a belief system that functions as an algorithm for our own living.  So often we get bogged down in the minutiae of life and fail to see what is happening if it is not what we expected.  We fail to have the patience to look beyond the moment and envision what could be.  We need to have faith in our beliefs and let them work for us and show us the possibilities instead of confining them to that which we have already known.  We need to be poetical visionaries and follow Ada Lovelace’s example in looking beyond.  Pudding was a mistake that tasted delicious.  Sometimes the real value is in the process because the finished result might just be beyond anything we could ever imagine.



A Science Jedi

The Future Awaits – A Science Jedi

Easter 31


Today is the thirty-first day, counting each day as one, of the Easter season.  It is the thirtieth anniversary of Chernobyl, a nuclear reactor plant disaster that occurred in Russia.  The plant remains closed to this day with radiation levels still in the danger zone.


This post will discuss the thirty-ninth female inventor and yes, there are many more to come.  I hope by now you have had affirmed or come to the realization that ingenuity is not a gender-related trait.  Humans are a species that is known for determining what needs to be done and then doing it.  Regretfully, sometimes in that quest, things happen as is the case with Chernobyl and the earlier Three Mile Island Accident in Pennsylvania in March, 1979.


Science only happens when the experiment goes awry.  When the experiment does what we expected, it confirms what we already knew.  Sometimes an experiment can go awry and, at the same time, ot only provide us with new answers but also confirm old ones.  Chernobyl was one such example.  We are still learning from Chernobyl and the strictly controlled government-blackout on such events in Russia have prevents more knowledge from being obtained.


Radiation poisoning was also seen after the bombing of Japanese cities during World War II.  One of the more common side effects has been cancer.  Cancers are caused by many things and radiation poisoning or exposure is just one of many culprits.  Some are habits that are known and yet still practiced, habits like over-exposure to the sun or smoking.


In an effect to combat such illnesses, scientists have turned inward to the human body itself in an effect to determine if we can heal ourselves.  A giant step in this effect is stem cell research.  While the topic of stem cells and research surrounding them has become hot button topics for politicians and even some religious zealots, few people really understand exactly what they are.


Most of us have seen the Star Wars movie franchise and few can forget the opening of the very first with a narrative scrolling from top to bottom on the large movie screen.  “In a galaxy far, far away….’ Was the beginning of an adventure, a journey in which the immature grew up, the good revealed themselves, the evil was destroyed, and the strongest of the evil were transformed into something good, a legacy from the past that led us into the future… all based upon “the force’, a mysterious power within those who sought it and developed it, a few known as Jedi warriors, protagonists out to save the world.


Dr. Ann Tsukamoto is a science nerd, a lady geek, a Jedi warrior when it comes to human illnesses.  Her weapons are the force within all of us, stem cells.  Stem cells are basic cells within the body but unlike most cells, stem cells have the force, the ability to become something more and sometimes, something different.   Composed of the body’s most basic matter, these cells of raw materials can be matured and transformed to create second generation stem cells or daughter cells. 


Daughter cells (No, I do not know why they are not called son cells but I think it is because they can give new life, much like a female parent does.   After all, while sons are glorious to have, it is the daughter who continues the family life by giving birth to successive generations.) can either become new stem cells which is called self-renewal or become specific cells with specialized functions. 


These daughter cells are differentiated from other stem cells and can become blood cells, brain cells, heart muscle or even bone.  While all cells in the human body have the same basic make-up and structure, stem cells alone are the only ones that can transform into other cells.  There are over two hundred different types of cells in a human body with about twenty different types of structures but daughter cells alone can become a different cell.


Dr. Ann Tsukamoto is a leading researcher in the field of stem cells and in helping eradicate many of the issues that plague the human body and lead to early demise.  She currently holds at least seven patents in this field.  Advancements in such diseases as liver and pancreatic cancers are a direct result of her research and techniques.


Unfortunately, many of us are not very kind to our bodies.  We delight in partaking of things that are not healthy and we fail to listen to the lessons learned from the past regarding healthy and productive habits.  Researchers such as Ann Tsukamoto are not playing like they are deities, trying to create new life.  They are simply trying to help us all improve and survive the life we have.  Stem cell research is a gateway to better living and we owe a large measure of gratitude to all involved in this field.


The future awaits us all but only if we prepare for it.  We must use our own personal force within to live as healthy as we can.  It may not seem exciting but it will be worth it.  There are enough accidents in life that can create havoc with our health without creating chaotic lifestyles.  Fortunately, there are people engaged in stem cell research that are saving lives.  They are not giving us original life but they are helping us preserve the life we have been given by our creator spirit(s).


Blot and Drink

Blot and Drink

Easter 30


It has been one of those weeks.  Actually it has been just one day and some would say it was a typical Monday but it was so fraught with detours and delays that it really seemed like an entire week had passed in the span of about eight hours.


We’ve all had those kinds of days and for me, they always seem to fall on Monday.  Once a very popular hit, the song “Manic Monday” was written by the musical genius and artist known as Prince, the very same one who passed away late last week.  Today my Monday was very manic.


In anticipation of Tuesday, I made certain I had coffee because it was almost a certainty that I was going to need some.  While there have been many advancements in coffee pots and makers in the past one hundred and fifty years, they all feature a filter of some kind. 


Today’s female inventor led a somewhat traditional lifestyle and yet, thanks to her, we all drink coffee and don’t have to worry about getting coffee grounds in our teeth or stuck in our throat.  In fact, we don’t have to spend hours getting coffee stains out of the linen bags that were used for decades to make coffee.


In 1908 Melitta Bentz obtained a patent for her coffee filter, a filter made from her son’s school blotting paper.   Her paper filters were placed in cups with grounds in them.  Hot water was then poured over the grounds, steeped, grounds in filters removed, and people could enjoy a cup of hot coffee without having to make a pot or worry about errant coffee grounds.


The company expanded quickly and in 1932 offered workers a five-day work week and health benefits, something quote uncommon at the time.  Today her grandchildren operate her company, the Melitta Group KG with over three thousand workers in fifty companies.


This may not seem like a very important invention but after a day like today, even a non-coffee addict like me can appreciate the need for a good cup of hot coffee…without the grounds becoming part of the liquid.  Clearly the success of Melitta Bentz’s idea shows its value.  More importantly, it illustrates the importance of letting women achieve their potential.


When we allow young girls to be educated and follow their curiosity, then we all benefit and the world becomes a better place.  “No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee’s frothy goodness.”  This quote from Sheik Abd-al-Kadir illustrates the international following coffee has and one way a person in Germany can affect one living on the other side of the world.


We are all in this life together and we need each other.  The importance of allowing individuals to thrive and excel cannot be overstated.  Michelle Obama once stated: ‘Success isn’t about how much money you make.  It’s about the difference you make it people’s lives.”  The First Lady of the United States might have been discussing Melitta Bentz.  Her paper filters have made a world of difference for the people of the world.  After all, behind every successful woman is herself.



Easter 29


It has been tradition since the beginning of printed newspapers in the United States of America for political speeches to be published in the newspaper following their being given in a public forum.  Therefore, it was no surprise that the New York Times published a speech of Abraham Lincoln’s in 1862.  What might surprise some is that said publication of this speech contains an emoticon.


Of course, no one really known if the printing of “(applause and laughter ;)” was an actual punctuation found in the speech or simply a typo and the term “emoticon” would not be invented for another one hundred and twenty years but it is interesting to imagine with a bit of whimsy the tall, lanky president standing at a podium looking at a winking smiling face.


There were four such symbols published in 1881 in the magazine “Puck”.  They included symbols for joy, melancholy, indifference, and astonishment.  In 1936 in the magazine “National Lampoon” Alan Gregg offered some symbols that he thought should be used for a smile, laugh, frown, wink, and for “intense interest, attention, and incredulity”.  While the use of the current digital emoticons is traced to the 1980’s at both Carnegie Mellon University and in Japan, they were used in humorous writings of the nineteenth century.


Such symbols have also been used for those who have difficulty speaking.  A board with symbols could be pointed at and proved a way to allow communication with those who were verbally impaired.  The board was called Bliss.  As Jessica Montgomery explained in a blog she wrote, “Traditional Blissymbolic communication required a person to aid the user, so that the symbols the user pointed out could be interpreted and synthesized.  Since blissymbols were just placed on a board, they were quite useless unless there was another person who understood the Blissymbols system there to facilitate the process.”  Something was needed to allow the individual freedom to communicate one on one without needing someone to interpret.


Enter Rachel Zimmerman.  At the age of twelve, Rachel invented the Blissymbol Printer.  Her printer operates on a software program she developed that translates Blissymbols tapped on a board into written language on a computer screen, allowing the disabled to “talk” to others, record thoughts, write correspondence, even send emails.   More importantly, this program allows a person freedom to be independent and communicate.


Today Sarah Zimmerman is married at work for NASA.  She is also a Role Model, one a group of women in science, technology and mathematics called FabFems, short for Fabulous Females.  This is her bio on their website:  “Growing up in Canada, she participated in numerous science fairs at the school, regional, national, and international levels. As the inventor of the Blissymbol Printer, she was a member of the Women Inventors Project and the Women Inventors Networking Society. Rachel earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Brandeis University in Massachusetts and a Master of Space Studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. Rachel enjoys mentoring young women who are interested in STEM careers.”


Women need to explore their potential and Rachel Zimmerman is proof that they have much to offer.  Check out the FabFems.  More importantly, explore your own potential.  The world needs our best.


The Strength of a Smile

The Strength of a Smile

Easter 28


“There are movements which impinge upon the nerves with a strength that is incapable, for movement has power to stir the sense and emotions, unique in itself.”  One of those movements is a smile.  It may seem odd that in this series about female inventors, celebrating the power, knowledge and strength of women, I elected to write about inventing a smile but to do such is perhaps, in my humble opinion, the best invention of all.


Earlier this week the author of the opening quote passed away.  Dorie Roberts stood a mere five feet, one inch tall and yet her smile and humor made her a giant in her industry.  “The minute you’re born, you’re getting older” was a favorite quip of hers.  She made every minute count, beginning her career sixty-five years ago, a career that continued right up to her death at age ninety years.  In fact, she still has some work in the can, as they say, awaiting release dates and had more scheduled to film.


Acclaimed as one of the great comic actresses on television as well as in movies, Doris Roberts did not quietly bide her time when not working.    Fourteen years ago she testified before a United States Congressional panel regarding age discrimination in the entertainment industry.  A passionate animal rights advocate, She worked with a group known as Puppies Behind Bars.  The non-profit trains inmates to train guide dogs and assistance animals for the physically disabled and elderly and also trains dogs in explosives detection for law enforcement agencies.  She also served as a chairwoman for the Children with AIDS Foundation.  Roberts also penned a memoir/cookbook entitled “Are You Hungry, Dear? Life, Laughs, and Lasagna”.


We all know that special person who has a brilliant smile that makes the day brighter.  I am blessed to know quite a few but one in particular stands out for me.  I know her in something of a professional sense since my voracious appetite for reading certainly might qualify me as a professional reader.  She is a librarian at my local library and when I visit there, I not only get great books, I walk out with a great attitude. 


This person I will simple call Elle (not her name but similar to her initials) has a smile for everyone entering her library.  Regardless of her day or mine for that matter, her smile is a ray of sunshine.  Regardless of the weather or what catastrophes might have befallen her, she lights up the front desk and instantly makes everything seem possible.  To be sure, working at a library is not fraught with danger like fighting a four-alarm fire but it does, like anything in life, come with its own set of challenges and they are as likely to overwhelm as anything.  Elle still smiles.


“When I go, if there’s a tombstone it will say,’ She doesn’t give in. She doesn’t give up. And she never takes no for an answer’.”  That quote from Doris Roberts is a great one for us all to adopt as a personal mantra.  It would be foolish, though, to pretend such is easy.  What makes it possible to have such a “can do” attitude is a smile.  Dale Carnegie once said “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back.”


We think of inventions as things that involve engineers, nuts and bolts, equipment and machinery and they often do just that.  We forget that sometimes a simple smile can reinvent a person’s day or even their life.  On a list of habits of successful and happy people, smiling is number two.  Doris Roberts once said: “With my talent, I can make people laugh and give them another attitude about life.  What a blessing that is for me.”  A smile is a blessing for us all.


I know when I go to my library and see Elle, I feel empowered.  Just something as uncomplicated as a smile can do that for someone.  Rap star 2Pac once wrote a song about this in his “Power of a Smile”:   “The power of a gun can kill, and the power of fire can burn; The power of wind can chill, and the power of mind can learn; The power of anger, can raise inside until it tears you apart; But the power of a smile, especially yours, can heal a frozen heart.”


I hope today you never underestimate the power of a smile and share one with someone.  A smile can relieve anxiety, soothe pain, and give hope.  When you share a smile, you share the joy of living and you share your faith in a better tomorrow.  Smiles are contagious.  Go catch one today and pass it on!


Life and Beliefs

Life and Beliefs

Easter 27


Friday evening was the beginning of Passover.  This Jewish holiday celebrates the emancipation of the Jewish people from slavery.  It is an eight-day festival which is celebrated in early spring and is called by those trying to be humorous, the “Jewish Easter”.  While it celebrates one emanicipation, there clearly are others and yes, some include the Jewish people.


Religious freedom is not just something discussed and guaranteed in the United States Constitution, although said document was one of the first to include it in a government’s laws and stated human rights.  It has been the goal of mankind since beliefs became diverse and openly discussed.  Clearly the first deliverance of the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt was not a cure-all.  In the mid twentieth century Adolf Hitler sought to not only enslave them but to eradicate them, even though he himself was of Jewish descent.


This entire series is about celebrating women and so, today I would like to celebrate some women who have stood up for not only themselves and their gender but also their faith.  “We were redeemed from Egypt because of the righteousness of the women of that generation.”  This sentence is found in the Talmud, the Jewish holy book.   In honor of Passover, today’s females who have created and invented new respect and life for themselves are all Jewish.  More importantly, though, they are all good citizens and stewards of the earth, since today is also Earth Day. 


Sarah Aaronsohn was born at the end of the nineteenth century and spent her life trying to obtain freedom for Palestine from Turkish rule.  She was tortured for her efforts but remained strong and determined, faithful to her religion.  Lina Abarbanell was an opera singer of high acclaim.  She retired from singing but not from the stage and became a worldwide director of such wonderful operas as “Porgy and Bess”.


Born in Germany immediately after the end of World War Ii, Rosalie Silberman Abella took her experience as a refugee and used it as motivation to help others.  She became the first Jewish woman elected to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Ruth Abrams became the first woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, championing both women and minorities through her legal career.  Ruth Ginsberg is a vigilant and powerful presence in the United States Supreme Court today.


Lithuanian Dina Abramowicz was a Holocaust survivor from World War Ii.  While many hold that librarians are quiet, dull people, usually female, Dina proved them wrong.  As the head librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, she helped recreate the rich heritage of the Jewish culture and people after WWII.  Bella Abzug was a New Yorker who also proved the strength of the Jewish woman.  Throughout her three terms as a U.S. Congresswoman, she advocated for and helped pass ground-breaking legislation for equal rights and particularly the right of women to play intramural sports in schools.


More recently Jill Abramson was the first female executive editor of the New York Times and promoted women within the organization as well as featuring stories regarding gender equality and racial injustice.  Rachel Adler sought to achieve gender equality within her own faith and was a pioneer of the Jewish feminist movement.  Born fifty years earlier, Paula Ackerman had taken over leadership of her rabbi husband’s congregation upon his death, a move that was met with support from the members of their synagogue.


Amy Alcott is a fantastic golfer who was recognized in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Sue Alexander is a founding member of the International Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  The list just goes on and on as these women have found purpose and strength from their faith.  After all, why do we believe of it is not to help us live better and leave the world a better place?




A Good Impression

A Good Impression

Easter 26


Gabrielle Bonheur Chasnel was born in the late 1800’s to an unmarried mother in a charity hospital in France.  The second child of the couple who would go on to have five children, there was less than a year separating her from her older sister.  Eventually, her parents did marry but her mother would die when she was twelve years old.


Gabrielle’s last name had been entered into the official registry incorrectly.  Her father had not been p[resent at her birth and her birth was too ill to notice.  After the mother’s death, her father sent the two sons to work as farm laborers and the three daughters to a convent orphanage run by the Congregation of the sacred Heart of Mary.  Life at the convent orphanage was stark, strict, and highly disciplined.  Gabrielle stayed there until age eighteen.  She had learned how to sew at the convent and found employment as a seamstress although she would in the evening sing at a local cabaret.  Either because of a popular song or as a nickname for the French word “cocotte”, Gabrielle became known as “Coco”.


The next phase of her life is regrettable by many standards but very typical for some women.  Coco used her body in order to maintain a lifestyle and became the mistress of a French ex-cavalry officer.   The life she lived with the former officer was lavish but apparently not enough because Coco began an affair with a close friend of his.  During her time with the French ex-officer, Coco had begun designing and making hats as a hobby.  During the affair with his best friend, she opened a millinery shop, financed by said friend.  The shop bore her name, her correct name – Chanel Modes.


Coco Chanel opened her first dress shop with casual designs made from fabrics used primarily for men’s leisure wear – jersey and tricot.  She paid her younger sister and an aunt to walk around town modeling her clothes.  The end of World War I saw Coco Chanel achieve great success.  Her fashions offered women a liberated sense of fashion.  Later they would become the epitome of class and high culture.


Coco Chanel lived life according to her terms and, I freely admit, some of those terms were not such as I would find comfortable or moral.  And that would not have bothered Coco Chanel at all.  “In order to be irreplaceable, one must be different.”  Coco Chanel never minded being a bit different.  “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”  She was definitely that… and more.  A contradiction of sorts (She despised what she called the “vulgarity” of Hollywood and yet, her couture styles were worn by all Hollywood actresses.) I include her because she was a survivor and invented a new style of fashion that survives today.  Chanel No. 5 is the world’s most successful perfume and has been for decades.  “a girl should be two things: who and what she wants…. The most courageous act is still to think for yourself.  Aloud.”   Coco Chanel lived life on her own terms and I highly respect that.  She created an empire that is still thriving today, all because the nuns taught her how to sew, something they felt every little girl should learn.


I think Coco Chanel would have liked my next female inventor and entrepreneur.  They call her the FlyLady – yes, all one word.  Now her marketing says that the “Fly” stands for “finally loving yourself”.  In truth, it began as a nickname because she liked fly fishing.  Marla Cilley grew up in North Carolina and in the late 1990’s she was appointed to fill a spot on her local Board of Supervisors panel.  The other four on the panel were men and, as Marla describes it, “My biggest fear when I took office was that those men would find out my dirty little secret: that I couldn’t keep house.” 


What began as a way to combat that fear and learn how to clean house became a self-help support group for women all over the world and two books.  Marla encourages women to let go of their perception that they need to be perfect and offers tips on how to clean and still have time to live.  She now has an online store that sells products that go along with her premise that clutter never helps anyone and a clean house is possible with fifteen minutes spent in cleaning each day.  One of mantras is “good enough is good enough”.


Both of these two women used basic traditionally female chores to create a livelihood.  More importantly, the lived and defined who they were.  Of all the inventions in the world, the invention of self is the greatest.

The Luxury of Life

The Luxury of Life

Easter 25


Who thought celebrating motherhood would get me in trouble?  This week we are continuing with our theme this week of women who are doing extraordinary things within somewhat traditional roles.  But first… a word about those traditional roles and why I think discussing and celebrating them is not contrary to supporting women and speaking out against gender bias.  And why this week did not fall closer to Mother’s Day ….


There is no disputing the fact that women give birth to baby humans.  In discussing this I am reminded of an old country store I used to visit with my grandparents.  It was the only store within a ten mile radius and had been operating for over forty years.  The owner originally did not plan to have a store.  He took an old homesteading cabin that was a hundred years old and made one of the first “man caves”.  In short, his wife told him he could not hang the mounted head from his last hunting trip.


The owner gradually added a counter for tanning the hides and friends dropped by.  Seeing a market, the owner added some treats and later expanded his candy selection to include other grocery staples and small hardware items.  Before he knew it, he was spending less time farming and hunting and more time running his country store.  His minnow pond was almost as popular as the candy and soon his store was supporting his family.


I remember driving up to the store and remarking on how it looked like it was going to fall down.  Even the steps to the front door looked like that would fall in with my weight.   My grandfather told me not to be so quick to judge and held the door open for me.  Stepping inside, I was instantly wrapped in the owner’s arms and then received smiles from the others hanging around the counter.  There was a keg upended upon which sat the obligatory checkerboard and two oversized wooden rockers for those wishing to play.  A similar set-up was on the other side of the store with a game of dominoes being played fervently and passionately.


I spent many hours visiting my grandparents and always begged to go visit that country store.  Free candy notwithstanding, I remember it as a place of acceptance and love, of laughter and warmth, of being welcomed and also taught a few things.  Motherhood reminds me of that old country store.


Not every female wants to have children but for those that do, they open themselves and their offspring into a lifetime that, hopefully, is one similar to what I experienced at the old store.  Not every mothering experience ends with all smiles.  Life is a fragile thing and sometimes the balance is too great for success.  We forget that fragility and often take it for granted.  Childbirth is still the most dangerous personal health experience many women will ever face.


Today we will discuss three women who are doing “typical female things” (I really hate that description but let’s face it, such a phrase exists and must be addressed.” And have become very successful by doing it.  We all do the same things – breathe, eat, need healthcare, need affordable housing, etc.  Educating women is good for the world and offering such can only improve a nation’s end game.


Ask most men to describe a little girl’s wishes for when she is grown up and most will say something about being beautiful, maybe being a ballerina, getting to wear pretty clothes.  Oh, a few might throw in getting an education.  Aslung Magnusdottir is a native of Iceland but also spent time growing up in Los Angeles, California.  She studied law at the University of Iceland and excelled, winning a Fulbright Scholarship that brought her back to the U.S.A., studying at Duke University.  She received her Master of Business Administration from Harvard University, becoming the first women from Iceland to do so.


While in college, Magnusdottir had begun a modeling agency.  She worked as a tax and corporate attorney in Iceland and London but returned to fashion when she went to work at an investment firm and handled several fashion accounts.  She then relocated to New York City and worked with fashion and merchandising great Marvin Traub and the two began their own investment business financing up and coming designers.  Then Magnusdottir had an idea.


Aslung Magnusdottir began her own company Moda Operandi which allowed women to directly order clothes right after they walked the fashion runway.  Women could then get the latest designs directly from the designers.  In 2013 she left that company and started another called Tinker Tailor.  This company lets women alter or redesign designer clothing to fit their own bodies and lifestyles.  She has not confined her activities to only law and fashion, however.  Magnusdottir was nominated as the Chairwoman of the National Ballet Company of Iceland, has served as Vice-Chairman of a political party  and even cofounded a political movement within the Independence Party of Iceland promoting women’s rights.


Tracy Sun describes herself as a “west coast gal with an east coast heart.”  Holding an MBA from Dartmouth College, Tracy Sun launched Poshmark in 2010, an iPhone app that allows a person to browse, buy, and sell clothing and accessories.  Poshmark is, according to their website, “Poshmark is the largest community marketplace for fashion where any woman can buy, sell and share her personal style. With over 700,000 sellers and millions of shoppers, Poshmark brings together a vibrant community of women every day to express themselves and share their love of fashion.”


Poshmark has been described as a way to “turn your closet into cash” but the company focuses on more than just their bottom line.  They are committed to creating a welcoming workplace, a productive and caring environment much like that old country store I described earlier.  “We are obsessed with our team and our community, working together to build an entirely new way to shop. That way, when we win, we all win together.”  And did I mention Tracy Sun loves border collies?


Women are the only ones in the species of mankind that can give birth, that can ensure the future of the beings we call men and women.  That doesn’t mean we have to make their traditional roles a prison, though.  These two women discussed her are just two of our thousands that have taken those traditional roles and habits and made them successful businesses.


Not only are they prosperous professionally, they have created loving families and are sharing their abilities in ways that encourage other women.  In recent years there has been almost a competition among women with traditional roles and those with nontraditional roles.  Such competition is senseless and completely self-defeating.  We need to work together – all of us, female and male.  We need strong people to lead us into the future.  We need strong women.  That is the best luxury of life we could experience.

Inventing Nice

Inventing Nice

Easter 24


Someone asked if I thought traditional roles for women were passé.  The term literally means “passed” but is more commonly used to refer to something that is no longer fashionable or in use.  As one person defined it, passé means “a suit of outdated appearance”.  I really like that definition!  In one word, my answer to the question is “NO!”


In fact, I do not think women get enough credit for their traditional roles.  Women hold a monopoly a being mothers.  That might sound like a rather “Duh” statement; after all, only a female can be a maternal parent.  Think a bit broader, please.  Only a female can fully incubate the fertilized ovum that becomes a human being.  With all the advancements made in human fertilization techniques, we still need time in a female womb in order to grow.  No one gets born without having a mother (and father).


The purpose of this series is to give notice to those women who not only performed traditional roles but also non-traditional roles.  They not only performed them, they did them without society helping and created things that have greatly impacted our lives.  However, I am happy to shed the spotlight this week on women who created some pretty remarkable things that we often overlook.


Yesterday we talked about how playing with dolls and the invention of an adult-looking doll helps children prepare for the rest of their lives.  What might seem like simple play is actually contextual education when girls and boys make believe and put themselves into grown-up situations with such dolls like the Barbie doll and action figures.


One women adhering to traditional roles was described as “tall, pretty and spoiled. …She grew up in a world of grand estates, her life governed by carefully delineated rituals like the cotillion with its complex forms and its dances — the Fan, the Ladies Mocked, Mother Goose — called out in dizzying turns by the dance master.”   Who knew that such a woman would grow up to start a business that today includes five generations of her family and in six years will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of her first book about etiquette?


Emily Post was born with what some might call a silver spoon in her mouth.  She followed society’s dictums for someone of her socioeconomic status and married, soon having children.  Everything was going according to traditional roles and Emily began to write.  A year her first published work, she divorced her husband for his infidelities that had allegedly made the family the target of blackmail.  Between newspaper articles, magazine stories, and books, Emily stayed busy while her sons were in boarding school.


The United States has always been a home away from home for the hundreds of thousands who immigrate here each year.  What many soon discover is the change in culture, just as travelers from the States going to distant countries often discover.  Emily Post believed strongly in the power of being nice but recognized that many were characterized as not nice simply due to a lack of understanding of local customs.  Her book “etiquette” was published in 1922 and her family business, the Emily Post Institute, opened in 1946.  It is still thriving today and is run by the wife of her great-grandson.


With politicians breaking every rule of etiquette while giving speeches and being televised in what are supposed to be respectable debates, it might appear that being nice or following the rules of etiquette is passé.  Certainly at least one frontrunner gives credit to his success in business to his being “not so nice”.  Perhaps that works for him although evidence of his past dealings might be interpreted as otherwise but when dealing with people on a worldwide basis, etiquette has been the leading language to get things accomplished.


Being “nice” has a great many advantages.  First, it can set a pleasant and effective tone when needing to reach consensus on matters.  The positive benefits of being agreeable have scientific merit.  Being agreeable is called one of the “Big Five” personality dimensions and has benefits such things as deeper and longer-lasting friendships, successful parenting, better academic performance, more successful career outcomes, and an overall better sense of physical and emotional health.


Being nice does have its drawbacks,  People who feel they must always say “yes” when asked to do something soon become overwhelmed and can even become depressed by their own agreeableness.  There really can be too much of a good thing.  It is important to not only be nice to others but also to one’s self.


Emily Post spent a great deal of her life helping people be nice and also avoid the negative ramifications of such.  Whether traveling across the street to a new neighbor or around the world to a new country, The Emily Post Institute continues her legacy that basically said “Everyone can be and deserves to be nice.”  Emily Post grew up in a time with definite class divisions and yet, with her advice on how to fit in and be sociable, she blurred those lines.  She believed that everyone can be nice, be agreeable, be successful.  More importantly, she believed there were no socioeconomic divides when it came to interpersonal advancements.  Common courtesy should be just that – common to all peoples.


Emily Post had been brought up with the maxim that “nice girls do not work”.  She made being nice her work after being successful with her romantic serialized magazine stories and later her stories as a traveling correspondent, traveling around the country and world with her sons.  She combined her traditional roles with her hobbies and invented a family business that is still thriving today.  Nice people can finish and finish successfully.