Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact


Growing Community


If you go to the website, you will read what a community of Americans describes as the first Thanksgiving.  The community decided that was how they wished history to be.  However, it is not fact but rather a perspective that protected the community from seeming to be cruel or heartless.  Sometimes a community feels it must do such to protect itself.  I don’t know exactly when those in charge of Plimouth plantation decided to fabricate the partially true bit of history but it might fall under the heading of “fake news”.


Approximately 398 years ago, plus one day, the men aboard a ship of immigrants fleeing persecution were nearing the end of their sixty-six day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hoping to soon set foot on dry land, they devised a legal and binding contract of behavior and governance for all to follow.  Before each man set foot off the ship he was expected to sign the document that, as of the late 1700’s, has become known as the Mayflower Compact. 


The ship these immigrants sailed upon was called the Mayflower and it was under the steerage of Christopher Jones.  Known as the master (today we would consider him the Captain), Jones’ quarters were at the back of the ship in the stern.  The sailors lived in quarters at the front of the ship and used a hole cut into the tip of the bow or head for their personal hygiene needs.  The quarters consisted on one room known as the forecastle, a wet room constantly hit by crashing waves and frequently quite cold.  In the area between the Captain’s berth and the forecastle were the quarters for the officers.


The passengers on the Mayflower were considered cargo.  One hundred and two men, women, and children lived in the dark cargo decks below the crew.  Today there are caravans of immigrants escaping persecution from Central and South America approaching the United States border but in 1620, the fleeing immigrants were below the decks, seldom seeing the sun and feeling the full brunt of the ocean’s currents, tides, and waves.


These immigrants in 1620 were known as the Pilgrims.  Before leaving England, they had obtained permission from the King of England to settle on land farther to the south near the mouth of the Hudson River (in present-day New York).  The wind drew them off course and instead landing farther south where they had expected to make shore, they landed in New England.  This meant they needed a new permission (called a patent) to settle there as all land in this New World had been claimed as property of the King of England. On November 11, 1620, feeling the need to maintain order and establish a civil society while they waited for this new patent, the adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.


At this juncture, two important points need to be made.  First, there were over five thousand groups of people already living in this New World as the North American continent was known in 1620.  Claiming it for the sovereignty of England did not erase this fact.  These people had spent decades and centuries to reach this land mass, coming originally as immigrants from the Caucus Mountains.  Today in the USA they are called Native Americans or American Indians.  The Canadian term is much more apt – First Families.  Archaeological evidence places their arrival some thirty thousand years before Europeans reached North America and some twenty thousand years in South America.  It is estimated they arrived some fifteen thousand years before the Vikings reached the shores of northern North America.


The second important point is that communities make such compacts as a way of maintaining order.  This is true of religious communities, volunteer groups, municipalities, social organizations, businesses, etc.  It is to be hoped that such documents include all parties involved and are written to the greatest maximum benefit of all.  In keeping with the times, only men signed the Mayflower Compact as women were not considered to be of mental acuity to understand such.  Gender discrimination is not a modern-day issue.  Much like the laws of today, though, a piece of paper cannot guarantee success, or that all will follow what has been agreed upon, or that order will lead to a better tomorrow.  The community itself must work together for the betterment of all and be willing to chance.  If not, well…that is where things can often get complicated.  They certainly did in 1620.


Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, there were 50 men, 19 women and 33 young adults and children.  Just 41 were true Pilgrims, religious separatists seeking freedom from the Church of England.  The others were considered common folk and included merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants and orphaned children—the Pilgrims called them “strangers.”  Seeking the right to worship as they wished, the Pilgrims had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle on land near the Hudson River, which was then part of northern Virginia.  The Virginia Company was a trading company chartered by King James I with the goal of colonizing parts of the eastern coast of the New World.  London stockholders financed the Pilgrim’s voyage with the understanding they’d be repaid in profits from the new settlement.


The strangers argued the Virginia Company contract was void. They felt since the Mayflower had landed outside of Virginia Company territory, they were no longer bound to the company’s charter.  The defiant strangers refused to recognize any rules since there was no official government over them.  Pilgrim leader William Bradford later wrote, “… several strangers made discontented and mutinous speeches.”  The Pilgrims knew if something wasn’t done quickly it could be every man, woman and family for themselves.  It’s unclear who wrote the Mayflower Compact, but the well-educated Separatist and pastor William Brewster is usually given credit.  One now-famous colonist who signed the Mayflower Compact was Myles Standish. He was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims to accompany them to the New World to serve as military leader for the colony. Standish played an important role in enforcing the new laws and protecting colonists against the natives of the area who were considered unfriendly.


In establishing a community, it should be noted that other communities must be considered.  The Europeans came to this new land mass wanting to own all and did not give thought to those who were already living on the land and considered it theirs.  Because they dressed differently, had different customs and practices, they were considered savage.  When they tried to protect their homes, gardens, food sources, and families, they were called unfriendly. 


William Bradford kept diaries and what we known of the original Mayflower Compact has been learned through his diaries.  The original handwritten document has been lost but copies remain from over one hundred years later that are considered good references for it.  The Mayflower Compact created laws for Mayflower Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike for the good of their new colony. It was a short document which established that: the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance; the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith; the colonists would create one society and work together to further it; the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws.  The newly-formed Plymouth (or Plimouth) colony was their new community and John Carver was elected governor on November 21, 1620, three hundred and ninety-eight days ago. 


That first year was brutal.  Disease, improper clothing for the elements, lack of food and shelter resulted in the deaths of over half of those making the voyage aboard the Mayflower.  Of the eighteen adult women in the new community, fifteen perished that first year.  The Mayflower Compact is considered important as it established self-governance in this new land, the first of any such.  It remained active until Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.  John Carver perished that first year and William Bradford took over as governor. 


Also at the end of that first year, the new colonists discovered their neighbors were not so savage after all.  The end of the growing season meant the Indians would have their ritual of a harvest feast.  They invited the colonists to join them and the two communities, at least for several days, came together in peace and community.  Sadly, the Massachusetts Indians who were the hosts succumbed to the germs the English brought with them, typical everyday germs we all carry on our bodies.  There was no conspiracy to eliminate the Massachusetts tribe but it did.  The remaining thirty or so members of the tribe led by Chief Massasoit then joined a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoag Indians.  It was an Indian custom to have young men participate in an exchange program with neighboring tribes.  Such a custom shared knowledge but also led to an understanding and often, prevention of warfare.  It enabled the two somewhat different communities to ensure a future through discourse and education rather than annihilation.


Many believe the Mayflower Compact set the stage for the US Constitution.  However, the legislative branch of the US government bears more similarities to the governance of the Massachusetts and Wampanoag tribes than the Mayflower Compact.  This is, however, the way of history.  We form communities and we learn.  Those communities thrive when we gain and take the best of the past, giving thanks for lessons learned, and then move forward.  Of the time the Pilgrims had spent in the Dutch republic city of Leiden, historian Nathaniel Philbrick once wrote:  “Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”


Many times we think of a spiritual covenant as relating to faith, a religious doctrine but I would offer that truly it is a nonphysical grouping of belief and we all have such.  This week might not be a time where you have an official Thanksgiving Holiday but I do think it a good time to give thanks.  We all should have an attitude of gratitude and move forward, committed to making our world a better community for all.  This provides not only a civil covenant for the future but a basis of a better tomorrow for us all. 










I really want to write about imagery but since we are focusing on verbs and action this Epiphany season, I elected a verb form of the word family.  Then I realized that that word  “imagine” was really want I wanted to discuss.


There are purportedly seven major types of imagery, each corresponding to a sense, feeling, or action.  These include visual imagery which pertains to graphics, visual scenes, pictures, or the sense of sight.  Then there is auditory imagery, a form of mental imagery that is used to organize and analyze sounds when there is no external auditory stimulus present. This form of imagery is broken up into a couple of auditory modalities such as verbal imagery or musical imagery.   It also includes the imagery of onomatopoeia, using sounds or words about sounds to evoke images of such things that create those noises.  Olfactory imagery pertains to odors, scents, or the sense of smell and the less known gustatory imagery pertains to flavors or the sense of taste.  Tactile imagery pertains to physical textures or the sense of touch while the lesser known kinesthetic imagery pertains to movements or the sense of bodily motion. 


Finally there is organic imagery or subjective imagery which pertains to personal experiences of a character’s body, including emotion and the senses of hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain.  It is this last type of imagery that often poses the greatest threat to us because it can also raise an awareness of fear.  Recently, over the past eighteen months, this type of imagery has been most prevalent worldwide.  Fear is defined by the website and magazine Psychology Today as “a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats.”


Laughter is also a response.  Psychology Today says this about laughter:  “Laughter just might be the most contagious of all emotional experiences. What’s more, it is a full-on collaboration between mind and body. Although laughter is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, little is known about the mechanisms behind it.  Scientists do know that laughter is a highly sophisticated social signaling system, helping people bond and even negotiate. Interestingly, most social laughter does not result from any obvious joke.”  Laughter is also beneficial, as is fear.  Laughter “has numerous health benefits: It releases tension, lowers anxiety, boosts the immune system, and aids circulation.”


So today I am asking you to imagine both fear and laughter.  Both are vital responses necessary to the human condition and yet, while they seem very far apart, both serve essential functions.  Carl Sagan, though, reminds us to be certain of that which we consider fearful as well as that which makes us laugh.  “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”


In other words, just because we laugh does not mean something is great.  While Columbus, Fulton, and the Wright Brothers proved themselves to be correct, the laughter they received had little to do with their success.  Their actions were backed by just that – real action.


We need to make sure that those things which create fear are also real.  Recent news stories have been built upon fiction, not fact.  Certainly there is shame to be heaped upon those who fabricate such false stories, attempting to engage our imaginations and create fear, but there is also shame on those who readily accept such rather than taking a few moments to fully imagine what might be truth.


What if we stopped trying to create fear and simply lived today in the best possible way we could, not worrying or being fearful… just being as productive as possible?  Imagine that, as John Lennon did, please.  “Imagine there’s no heaven.  It’s easy if you try – no hell below us, above us only sky.  Imagine all the people living for today.  Imagine there’s no countries.  It isn’t hard to do; nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. 


Imagine all the people living life in peace.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.  Imagine no possessions.  I wonder if you can; no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man.  Imagine all the people sharing all the world.  You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.

Take Five

Take Five

Pentecost 99


September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.  Two years ago this month I had to do a bit of parenting I never thought I would ever have to do.  I had to answer a text from one of my sons at college and on a church retreat regarding a news story he wanted to know about, more specifically if I had heard or seen on television.  Was there a report of a body found in an area lake?  I answered yes and then asked why.  Two days later I was hugging him as he came home for the funeral of one of his closest friends who had committed suicide.


Every year more than 800 000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy that affects families, communities and entire countries and has long-lasting effects on the people left behind. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds globally in 2012.


Let me repeat that number – eight hundred thousand.  For every person who commits suicide there are many more who attempt it and even more who have thought about it.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those ages fifteen to twenty-nine years of age.  While seventy-five per cent of all suicides occur in love and middle-income countries, suicide is a problem that touches all socioeconomic levels.  The ingestion of pesticide, hanging, and firearms are some of the most common methods of suicide worldwide. 


Suicide is a serious public health problem, one that is completely preventable.  Today and tomorrow I will focus on this health problem and hope you will take five minutes to connect and show care to someone in your midst.  Trust me – Someone is counting on you and you might just be a life-saver to that person.


Everyone is at risk for suicide.  The link between suicide and mental health disorders, particularly depression and substance abuse such as alcohol is well-known, especially in high income nations, many suicides are impulsive acts.  They occur in a moment of crisis and exemplify a breakdown in the ability to cope with the stresses of life.  Financial problems, relationship breakups or chronic pain and illness are often the leading stressors that result in suicide.


There are some events associated with suicidal behavior, events such as conflict, disaster, violence, abuse, or loss of a loved one.  Suicide rates are also high among those groups often bullied or targets which are seen as being outside the mainstream.  These vulnerable groups experiencing discrimination include refugees, migrant workers and their families, indigenous people, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/intersex (LGBTI) people, and prisoners.  The strongest indicator and risk factor for suicide is a previous attempt.


Someone you know has thought about suicide, possibly even yourself.  Each and every life is too precious for us not to take five minutes out of our busy day to connect with someone, everyone, and show them we care.  I will post more tomorrow on how you can be a superhero and save the life of someone who know and care about.  For today, please know that suicide is not an answer and that we do care.  You are a valuable member of mankind.  We need you, not just your memory.  Your life has meaning and purpose. 


What Works

What Works

Pentecost 26


For the past several days this blog has been silent, paying respect to the fifty who died, the fifty-three who were injured, and the families who are grieving.  The carnage occurred in Orlando, Florida after an evening of festivities.  No one has been reported as a casualty that had committed some grievous act.  No one had broken any laws of the country or state by being there.  The group present represented the diversity of the nation, a nation in which people from all walks of life came to in order to live as their belief systems proposed within the confines of the constitution of the United States.


The constitution is a guiding set of principles.  Given its age, it is remarkable that it has stood the test of time with few changes.  Those changes are brought about by the people, voted into law by the majority and enforced by the elected and chosen representatives of the people in law enforcement, government, and the judiciary who sole purpose is to interpret the constitution of municipalities, states, and the federal system.  It is not a “Do whatever you want” card nor is it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.


This constitution was written by men who had no inkling of the world in which it would be applied.  Like all of us, they only knew the history they had been taught and the present time in which they were living.  For some of those people, the world consisted of what passed for large towns at the time.  For others, the world consisted of rural farmland.  For still others, the world was uncharted territory, living under the shadow of their horse as they tentatively shared the wilderness with the American Indians who had lived there for tens of thousands of years.  The present rang with the cacophony of different dialects.  The air was perfumed with different recipes being prepared, and the visuals included varieties of clothing.  Different people went about their daily lives in many different ways all doing, in spite of their differences, the exact same thing – living.


The constitution affords people the opportunity to live and that living requires responsible behavior.  It requires understanding that one’s neighbor is not going to be a clone, might like to eat something you have never head of or tasted, probably has at least one name in their family tree you cannot spell, and might, if given the chance, just introduce you to something that is fun or tastes good or will assist you.  Remove from the history of the United States all contributions made from separate and distinct cultures and the landscape of this country changes drastically.


There would not be two houses of representation that was adopted from the American Indians of the northeast.  We would not have the polio vaccine invented by the son Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Poland nor the early research he, Jonas Salk, did on AIDS.  An English immigrant and Belgian orphan would never have met and given birth to a son so we would not have the automobile nor the assembly line production that made Henry Ford famous.  The British son of a Puritan minister who became a painter would not have been able to change careers in midlife and develop Morse code.


The immigration policies of the United States allowed people to find a home, people whose mixed ethnicity sometimes made that impossible.  When the son of a Dutch and English couple married the daughter of a German-Swiss couple, no one thought it wrong.  It was considered American since the United States was a haven for those seeking a better life.  When two of their sons invented a flying machine that worked, no one refused to fly in it because of their mixed blood.  Instead, they praised American ingenuity.


This is a nation of immigrants and its businesses are kept in business by those immigrants, people of different races, cultures, and belief systems.  Take away that diversity and you have no nation.  Where would Florida be without the “snowbirds”, those northern residents that flock to the warmer climate each year?  Where would the casinos be without the tourists from other countries?  Where would the flavor of this nation be without the spices of those different cultures?  Where would a nation have found the ability to feed its people without the invention of a young man named Cyrus working with an African-American slave named Jo and their mechanical reaper machine that was the birth of a company called International Harvester?  Indeed the history of this family reads like a history of the country: one son a proud Confederate soldier, another family member an ambassador to Europe, and a grandmother who was a leading advocate for new ideas and established educational foundations in Chicago.  There are many such families in this country build upon differences.


Every now and then, however, we are reminded that some forget our beginning and history.  They forget this is not a land in which one single idea will ever reign supreme, no one religion suffice for all, no dictatorship or kingdom but rather a nation of differences.  Such differences require tolerance.  When that is lost, then anarchy rears its ugly head.  Last Saturday, amid the revelry and celebrations of the Latin culture, one rebel acted irresponsibly.  Was his ex-wife not one of the #WithStrongGirls and did that prevent her from talking to an official about her ex-husband’s plans?  Was the reality of their son’s possible mental illness too much for parents to accept?  Was the lack of mental health care to blame?  Is the gun lobby too strong and their voice overriding the actual intent of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America?


In the past week this blog has been dark.  It was a time for remembering and honoring, a time for vigils and candles, a time to grieve.  The grief process includes moving forward and that we must do.  We must put away our candles and take positive, affirmative action, action that affirms all this country is and that for which it stands.  We must give honor to those who perished, many of whom had come here as immigrants themselves.  We must honor the reasons the shooter’s family came to this country and not focus on the misrepresentation their son has given to their lives.


This was not about gay rights, excessive partying, or the political rants of presidential candidates.  This was the action of a disturbed young man, unhappy with his life and far too volatile to responsibly deal with the weapons available to him.  It was an incomprehensible act that has become all too well-known in recent years for us to call it a ”once-in-a-lifetime” happening.


We need to donate blood.  We need to be tolerant of others.  We need to have faith in our faith and let others do the same.  Confident people do not need to prove their point with ugly words or weapons.  They are confident their “rightness” will prove itself.  They move forward.  This works.  It has worked in the United States of America since 1776.  We need to be helping, not hurting and bullying.


There is no need for fences that belittle the reasons we are all here.  One does not win an argument with a gun pointed at another.  That just shows how little faith you have in your beliefs.  What works is working together with respect, showing dignity to others, especially those who are different.  All we do when we isolate ourselves in create a smaller pot which will boil over faster.


Let us pay real respect to those who perished one week ago by doing what works, by living a life that gives their deaths dignity.  Let’s make respect, kindness, dignity, and compassion the ordinary behavior of us all.  To do so will then create an extraordinary world for all.

Up, Up, and Away

Up, Up and Away

Easter 49


When discussing unlimited potential, the cliché “The Sky’s the limit!” is often used to indicate that anything is possible .  At the time, reaching for the sky was to go beyond reality.  Today, though, it is not uncommon for men and women to do just that – go beyond the sky and into outer space.


On April 9, 1959 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the names of seven astronauts that would take part in Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program of the United States.  These seven men were nicknamed the Mercury Seven.  Thirty-four years later in 1995 a Hollywood Produced borrowed from the nickname in discussing the Mercury Thirteen.


Mercury Thirteen refers to the thirteen women who were part of an Air Force project.  With space a premium in any space craft, two researchers wondered about the advisability of sending women into space rather than men since women tended to have smaller body frames.


Our final installment of this series about female inventors will focus on those women who helped make the space program that the international world has today.  Some were true inventors while others invented thought, potential, and possibilities by their participation.  In this last frontier of gender inequality, the Mercury Thirteen helped pave the way and prove that women could do whatever the men did in outer space.


IN 1960, one year after the announcement of the Mercury Seven astronauts,  Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II and Brig. General Donald Flickinger invited accomplished polot Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb to take the same physical tests that Lovelace’s foundation had developed for NASA to select the Mercury Seven.  Cobb passed with flying colors (no pun intended!) and other female pilots were invited to participate in the testing.  Within the next year, nineteen women had undergone the rigorous testing.  The oldest was the forty-one year old wife of a United States senator and mother of eight children while the youngest was twenty-three years old and a flight instructor. 


With the testing completed, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the male candidates for astronauts had to pass.  Those thirteen women were: Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Jane B. Hart (now deceased), Gene Nora Stumbough [Jessen], Jerri Sloan [Truhill], Rhea Hurrle [Woltman], Sarah Gorelick [Ratley], Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman (now deceased), and Jan Dietrich (now deceased).  While none of these women ever went into space, their participation and success in this program proved women could and would one day become astronauts.  The first female astronaut was Sally Ride but there have been forty female astronauts that have gone into space from the United States with the first woman in space being a Russian cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.  Eileen Collins was the first U.S. female astronaut to pilot a spacecraft.


Having someone to go into space was just a piece of the puzzle of space flight, however.  Some of the earliest and most innovative computer programmers were women.  We’ve already discussed Dr. Grace Hopper and her inventions and contributions to computer science.  She was the one who, upon learning a computer was not working because of the moth that had somehow gotten inside the processing unit, coined the term “debug”.  The female innovators of computer science and programming were not afraid to try something new.


“When I first got into it, nobody knew what we were doing.  It was like the Wild West.”  That is how Margaret Hamilton describes her days as one of the first programmers for the Apollo Space Program.  Margaret would take her four=-year-old daughter to work with her at M.I.T. and while the child slept on the floor, Margaret would try out new things and write new code.  “We had to simulate everything before it flew.  Once the code was solid, it would be shipped off to a nearby Raytheon facility where a group of women, expert seamstresses known to the Apollo program as the “Little Old Ladies,” threaded copper wires through magnetic rings (a wire going through a core was a 1; a wire going around the core was a 0). Forget about RAM or disk drives; on Apollo, memory was literally hardwired and very nearly indestructible.”  The seventy-pound computers on the Apollo crafts would also employ the first auto-pilot systems that now are commonplace on commercial airliners.


I mentioned at the beginning of this series that I was chagrined to realize I could not think of forty-nine female inventors.  History tends to lean towards the men in its reporting and I felt that was a great reason to do this series.  In the past forty-nine days we have discussed a total of seventy-seven female inventors, just the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of proof that intelligence is not gender specific.


I hope you have enjoyed this series and perhaps learned something.  I most certainly have!  The true take-away, though, is that nothing should stop us from becoming the best we can be.  Margaret Hamilton is now her own boss as the head of the technology company Hamilton Technologies.  In an article in “Verne” two years ago she discussed the differences between then (1960) and now for women.  “It depends on who the woman was, who she worked for and what the culture was in a particular organization. In general, some things were more difficult then and some more difficult now. On hindsight, some of the things that were accepted back then, because we (men and woman) did not know any better, are not accepted now; and they often seem quaint and even astounding when looking back. We still do other things out of ignorance today, such as continuing to pay women lower salaries than men.”


Today software is a common term but fifty years ago it did not even warrant a line item in the budget for a space project.  Today women still make less than men when doing the same job at the same level of performance.  We still have a long way to go.  The good thing is we still have a way to go at all, a chance to improve and invent a better tomorrow.  Speaking of tomorrow, a new series starts.  See you then! 


Inventing Courage

Inventing Courage

Easter 40


This post was not something I intended to write.  When I first thought about this series I could not name fifty-six female inventors, I am sad to say.  I could think of fifty-six female role models but inventors?  All too often history is just that – his story.  It was not until the late 1960’s that one women opened her mouth and began a movement.  She fought the system and prevailing attitudes about femininity to start a movement about women.  She turned history into narratives that were also her story and the story of women everywhere.  Her name is Gloria Steinem.


Many of us think about Gloria Steinem and think about burning undergarments or women marching to government offices or in public parks.  We forget that while those were great marketing tools for the core subject, the theme behind everything was gender recognition.  Let me say that one more time – gender recognition.


The gender equality issue came about later but at first Gloria Steinem was simply saying that women were valuable citizens of the world.  She took a stand for women everywhere.  A recent advertisement in a clothing company’s catalog succinctly put it this way – “Gloria Steinem:  She paved the way.”


It took courage in the 1960’s to veer away from the cuteness of Annette Funicello and the sweetness of Sandra Dee.  The British influx of fashion models were just starting to attract attention when the former Playboy bunny Gloria Steinem stood up and said she was as good at some things as any man, especially about deciding about her own body.  The job at Playboy was actually an undercover job with very little cover involved.  Steinem had been assigned the job by her editor at a local magazine.  She wrote the article and was quickly deemed unemployable. After all, serious professional women did not parade around in little bitty uniforms.  Serious journalistic outlets did not want a Playboy bunny and Steinem wanted to be a serious journalist.  Proud of exposing how women were treated in the men-only social clubs, she refused to back down.


In the mid 1960’s Steinem garnered an interview with John Lennon as the Beetles were just becoming known in the United States and then obtained a position writing for an NBC television news satire.  She finally obtained a writing job at “New York” magazine and in 1969 was assigned an “abortion speak-out” event to cover.  The gathering was life-changing for Steinem and she felt for the first time that she had the responsibility to take control of her life and should be able to make all decisions related to it.


So why did I not want to write this post?  Gloria Steinem invented a particular type of feminist courage that had led many women world-wide into a greater sense of self and helped take a stab at eradicating gender inequality.  It would seem like she would be the ideal subject for this series, right?  She is.  Let me state that unequivocally that Gloria Steinem is someone to whom all women owe a big debt of gratitude.  Many would never have had their stories told if not for Gloria Steinem.  Many would still be prevented from being educated if the feminist movement had never begun.


I did not want to write this post because the need to do so is absurd.  The true merit of Gloria Steinem was stated in that clothing company’s catalogue advertisement –“Gloria Steinem: She paved the way.”  It would have been great and it should have been great … except that the clothing company pulled her page.  Land’s End, a company whose bottom line profit margin is dependent on the women who shop there decided that Gloria’s contribution to women was not worth upsetting those who think differently than she does on the very issue that gave her the zeal with which to fight for women.


Land’s End not only pulled Gloria Steinem’s ad, they apologized.  I think the apology upsets me more than anything else.  It seems to give value to a woman’s vagina rather than acknowledge her brain.  While the company does sell garments that cover a woman’s nether regions, they sell more that cover other parts of her body.


They pride themselves in appealing to all women and yet, they only want their advertisement to target those who disdain the feminist movement and gender equality.  There are no laws that specify that women have the right to determine what a man does with his body.  The passage of such laws regarding women that give men, often legislators, such a right is discrimination and it is illegal in the United States because it is inequality.


I personally do not shop at Land’s End.  I prefer to buy clothing in person because I care about texture as well as fit and I don’t want to have to return things if I order them online and don’t like how they feel or fit.  The nearest Land’s End store to me is one hundred miles away and I don’t dream about their product to the point of driving one hundred miles for it.  I could claim I have not bought anything from them since they pulled the ad but that would be a lie by implication.  I haven’t bought anything from them in over fifteen years.


Many have called for a boycott but I think something more must be done.  I think we have to follow Gloria’s example of courage and speak out.  Whether you agree with her on every issue is not the important thing.  She invented a new brand of courage in discussing a thing called feminism.  She did not invent feminism but she did take a stand for women.  As Land’s End said, “She paved the way.”  Women are worth more than just eight inches of the lower abdominal area.


We are all responsible and accountable for our actions and should be allowed to make decisions for those actions and because of them and yes, even when facing the consequences of them.  Why?  Because we are mature human beings of value.  Because women have value.  Because we have brains and dreams, and hopes that should bear fruit, not just children.  Because bearing children is not the only thing women can do.  This series will by May 14th have celebrated fifty-six female inventors.  Women are strong and capable and no one said that louder than Gloria Steinem with her own female brand of courage.  She paved the way.  Now we need to walk it.



To Protect

To Protect

Easter 39


Next week is National Police Week and the week after is National Emergency Services Week.  While the past several years have illustrated the need for perhaps greater diversity training, more funds allocated to scenario-based trainings, and better public relations and community functions between law enforcement and the citizens they serve and protect, no one should deny the bravery needed to do the jobs these two weeks commemorate.


Life is messy.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  Law enforcement agencies and their accompanying emergency services department such as the fire department and emergency medical personnel help keep it as clean as possible.


For anyone to run into a burning building to save a life takes courage but to do so for a total stranger, one whose identity is unknown, whose religion is not an issue, who sexual orientation is unimportant…That takes a hero.  Not every hero is perfect.  Stan Lee has made a fortune creating imperfect heroes in his comic books.  Usually it is the imperfections that make these heroes so loveable.


When our law enforcement heroes prove to be human, though, we often rebel.  We want them to be perfect because it would take a perfect person to care that much about humanity, it sometimes seems.  The truth is that these community police and medical personnel are very much human.  They bring to the job their skills and talents as well as their flaws.


The greatest detriment to them doing their job, however, is their status as human beings.  They are vulnerable to weapons and often these weapons are being aimed at them and fired.  In a job where even mechanical robots and other devices fall victim to the bullets and bombs used by unlawful persons, these high energy humans were easy targets.


Then salvation came along in the form of a female chemist named Stephanie Kwolek.  The daughter of polish immigrants, Stephanie grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  As was typical for the period, Stephanie attended an all-girls college that was part of a larger university.  She majored in chemistry.


With a shortage of men due to the draft of World War II, Stephanie procured a position working at the DuPont Company.  She planned to work and earn money for medical school.  At DuPont she worked with polymers.  There are naturally occurring polymers in science such as amber, wool, silk, and natural rubber.  Synthetic polymers are manmade substances with repeating patterns of many molecules which makes for a very strong substance.


After World War II, Stephanie kept her job at DuPont and in the early 1960’s was in charge of a project whose purpose was to develop a better tire for automobiles.  Trying to develop a strong, lightweight fiber that could be used in the making of tires, Stephanie’s solution turned cloudy instead of staying clear.  Interested, she convinced another scientist to test her solution.  They discovered that it was strong, five times stronger than steel by weight. 


Stephanie not only had invented a new type of nylon, she had invented a new branch of science known as polymer science.  The project was quickly assigned to a man and Stephanie Kwolek had little to do with her invention commonly known as Kevlar.  During the week of her death almost two years ago in 2014, the one millionth Kevlar vest was sold.


Kevlar is most commonly known as being the material which makes up bullet-proof vests but is actually has over two hundred uses.  Everything from tennis rackets to skis, boats to airplanes, ropes and cables to tires, gloves to hockey sticks – all are made from Kevlar.  Even hurricane-safe rooms and bridges utilize the fiber once considered a mistake.


Usually Stephanie’s cloudy mixture would have been thrown out in the garbage, considered a victim of an over-heated oven.  Perhaps the lesson here is that mistakes happen but good can come from them if we apply ourselves.



Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun

Easter 37


It was one of my most favorite Beatles’ song and one of their hits written by George Harrison. “here comes the sun; Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces; Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here; Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say  “It’s all right.”


Sunshine is often seen as the enemy nowadays and we certainly should respect its power to harm our skin.  Tanning may seem fashionable but it really is a sign that our skin has suffered harm.  The sun is not the culprit, however, and does have many beneficial qualities for us.  The simplest, of course, is indicated in the song above.  When we see the sun, things just seem happier and the world shines brighter.


The sun is a source of great power and no one realized that and used it more efficiently than the “Sun Queen”, Maria Telkes.  Maria completed her undergraduate degree in physical chemistry at the age of twenty in her home country of Hungary.  After earning a Ph.D. four years later she immigrated to the United States and worked as a biophysicist performing research involving life-transformative energy.  Fourteen years later she accepted a position in solar energy research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  She would also become a professor in metallurgy while at MIT.


During World War Ii, Maria Telkes was a trusted civilian advisor to the US Office of Scientific Research and Development.  She invented a distilling system which utilized solar energy in the conversion of the salty seawater to safe potable drinking water.  Salt was separated from the ocean water through vaporization and then recooled into drinking water.  Maria’s system was invaluable as the scale of its output could be changed so that enough fresh water could be provided to a small ship ort an entire town.


Two solar energy houses were built under Maria Telkes guidance, both of which are in use today.  The advantages of using solar energy as an energy source are indisputable.  We could discuss such for hours but the point of this post is to honor the efforts of female inventors like Dr. Maria Telkes and think about how their examples can apply to our own lives.


Maria Telkes cared passionately for finding a renewable energy source.  As humans we have our own way of sharing energy with another person.  It is called a smile.  A simple smile can also brighten a person’s day, much like the sun does the earth.  The common courtesy of a smile can warm the heart and provide psychological fuel to keep someone believing in themselves.


I hope we do not think the world revolves around us like the planets revolve around the sun.  We can, nonetheless, be a bright beacon in someone’s universe by sharing courteous smiles and displaying good manners.  Like the sun, such an energy force costs very little – just a wee bit of effort that gives enormous dividends!  First try it on yourself.  Before you answer the phone the next time, smile in a mirror and then answer.  You’ll see.  Your voice sounds cheerier and no matter the news, you will feel empowered.  Be someone’s energy source tomorrow.  Be your own renewable energy today and you’ll discover “It’s all right.”


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.

Never Forget

Never Forget

Easter 18


There were less than seventy thousand people living in Chibok at the time.  Many were Christians although there were Muslims living in the area.  They spoke the Kibaku language and were living in one of twenty seven local government areas of the Borno State.  Most of the people trace their genealogy to the Kanuri people, a sedentary (non-nomadic) people who were mostly farmers and fishermen, occasionally doing some trading and salt processing.


Like many areas in the most ancient part of the world, there are remnants of earlier civilizations.  Also living in this region are Shuwa Arab ethnic cultures, descendants from earlier dynasties.  These people make us most of those practicing Islam.  Nigeria gained independence from the British 1960 and previously powerful emirs saw their power and influence drastically reduced.


Because of gender bias, trying to locate information on female inventors from the African continent is almost impossible.  What is easy to learn, however, are the contributions, successes, and names of African American inventors.  Today we will discuss several because today we remember not only their accomplishments but the still missing potential of two hundred schoolgirls.  Today is the two year anniversary of the kidnapping of almost three hundred school girls from their school in Chibok by member of the militant group Boko Haram. Two hundred and sixteen girls remain missing today.


The women we are going to discuss today were remarkable but no more than others who were given the opportunity to learn and try, to think and then make the world a much better place.  I cannot imagine what wonderful things the missing girls might accomplish if we are able to return them to their homes and families, let them continue their education and journey of life.


Marie Van Brittan Brown was born in Queens, New York in 1922.  Following a typical education/career path for women, she became a nurse.  Her husband Albert was an electronic technician and neither worked the usual 9-5 hours of many jobs.  Marie was worried about being home alone and wanted a way to discover who was knocking at her door without needing to actually open the door.  It would be even better if she could learn who was at the door without having to get out of her bed.


In August of 1966, Marie and Albert Brown filed and received a patent for the first home security system.  The Browns’ system relied on wireless radio signals that fed images from the front door back to a television monitor in their bedroom.  A two-way microphone enabled the homeowner to speak to the person at the front door.  There was also a button that, when pushed, would remotely unlock the door.  The Browns not only invented the first such security system, they also had two children.  One is a daughter who herself is a nurse and also holds over ten patents.


Dr. Shirley Jackson became the first black female to earn a PhD. from MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  She was the first African-American to study theoretical physics at the prestigious college.  Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Shirley Jackson is a perfect example of what a person can accomplish if given the opportunity to follow her dreams.


Dr. Shirley Jackson described once her interests: “I am interested in the electronic, optical, magnetic, and transport properties of novel semiconductor systems. Of special interest are the behavior of magnetic polarons in semimagnetic and dilute magnetic semiconductors, and the optical response properties of semiconductor quantum-wells and super-lattices. My interests also include quantum dots, mesoscopic systems, and the role of antiferromagnetic fluctuations in correlated 2D electron systems.”


Dr. Shirley Jackson continued to work in education and in 2014 was the highest paid president of a private university in the United States.  She has also explored possibilities and is responsible for or participated in the invention of the automated teller machine, commonly known across the world as ATM’s, electronic key punch, and hard and floppy computer disks.  We don’t often think of theoretical physics as having practical applications but under the eye and hand of Dr. Shirley Jackson her exploration of such led to the telecommunication devices such as touch tone telephones, caller ID, call waiting, the portable fax, and fiber optic undersea cables that make overseas telephone calls possible and successful.  When someone asked “Can you hear me now?”, Dr. Shirley Jackson found a way to answer in the affirmative.


Born in Harlem, New York, Dr. Patricia Bath had a vision.  In fact, she wanted us all to have a vision – a crisp, clear vision of everything.  This Howard University School of Medicine graduate embarked on her own personal “Right to Sight” campaign.  In 1985 she developed a received a patent for a tool that would change the surgery for removing cataracts and enable millions of people to once again see.


Patricia E. Bath is not just an ophthalmologist, she is also a laser scientist.  Her firsts as a female ophthalmologist are plentiful and she credits such to her dream and beliefs:  “My love of humanity and passion for helping others inspired me to become a physician.”  Dr. Bath also invented a new discipline known as “Community Ophthalmology” which extended vision care from the doctor’s office to the community at large.  Despite prevailing prejudices against both her gender and race, Dr. Patricia Bath has enables thousands to see and taught many more through one of her newest passions, telemedicine.  “The ability to restore sight is the ultimate reward,” she explains.


Two years ago today, a group of girls left their homes to go to school, also dreaming of what they might one day accomplish.  In this region Boko Haram has claimed credit for the burning of almost one hundred and fifty schools and the abduction, rape, and/or murder of hundreds of school girls.  Four months ago the town of Chibok saw more bloodshed and terrorist activity.


We must continue the fight to retrieve these girls.  Everyone should have the freedom to worship as they please but no one group should have the power to terrorize.  Each life matters and these girls are some of our most precious natural resources.  Their potential is what our world needs and we need to give them the chance to learn and become whatever great gift of self they have to offer.  #BringOurGirlsBack.  Please.  Our future – yours and mine – depends on it.