Esteemed thinker: first woman doctor-Elizabeth Blackwell

Paris. Edith Cavell Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Paris. Dr. Girard Mangin, Directress of Hospital, in foreground, is the only woman doctor in French army

Today’s post is a tribute to Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), the first woman in America to receive a medical degree and a champion for woman to enter the medical profession.

Born near Bristol, England on February 3, 1821, Blackwell was the third of nine children of Hannah Lane and Samuel Blackwell, a sugar refiner, Quaker, and anti-slavery activist.

She faced discrimination and obstacles in college: professors forced her to sit separately at lectures and often excluded her from labs; local townspeople shunned her as a “bad” woman for defying her gender role. She eventually earned the respect of professors and classmates, graduating first in her class in 1849. 

It Happened Here: Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell - NewYork-Presbyterian

In recognition to her dedication and courage, as well as a thank you to all health care workers of all genders; I wish to share my poem.

Ode to Elizabeth Blackwell

Who are you, simple woman?
You- A child of Bristol with a sweet voice like gentle rain
You that pranced and played with nine siblings
Scattering up the ashes of your burned home
As carefree as dust on the bottom of your soles

You -who knew your form was as worthy as a male
Found your spirit like a caged bird set free
As tireless as an old seaman rolling over perilous surf
Soaking up knowledge like a falling rain upon parched soil
True conqueror were you young Bess

You -A fair bonneted woman challenged the system
Crossing into the great males’ territory
Like the velvet bloom on a thorny cactus
You blossomed and flourished, invading the watch fires
Oh woman warrior, you freed the way for your sisters.

First image: Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell

Poem by NL Avery USA

Second image: Edith Cavell Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses in Paris. Dr. Girard Mangin, Directress of Hospital, in foreground, is the only woman doctor in French army Paris

Esteemed thinker: Nellie Bly

yellow journalismThe media has a dramatic effect on the attention of the populous severely influencing who will succeed and who may not. It has the power to guide and influence in a positive way, yet regularly chooses paths that would ordinarily be dismissed as follies. How often have we been bombarded by irresponsible reporting, leading us through the briar patch and around the same thorny trail… and then at the end giving exclusive coverage to those who have, shall we say, have the squeakiest wheel. Not always accurate or relevant, more time is allotted to individuals that do not merit the notoriety they inherit.

So, like a disease we had all thought had been eradicated, yellow journalism has been resurrected, gaining credence under the guise of information, whereby the best vaccine we can hope for is to inoculate with common-sense in hope that the subjected majority finds the means to the filter for themselves what is organically truthful.

Nellie BlyToday’s blog brings to you the esteemed thinker: Nelly Bly, (1864-1922) born in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Jane Cochran was her given name however after her unique start to a most illustrious journalist career she used the pseudonym, Nelly Bly. In 1885 she sent an angry reply to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, regarding an article titled “What Girls Are Good For”. The editor was so enamored with her writing that he offered her a reporter’s job.

Nellie Bly broke the male barrier in journalism during an era when women reporters were relegated to cover only “women’s issues.” She became one of the most famous and influential American reporters, earning recognition for her fine undercover work in a mental institute 1887 for her exposé on the conditions of asylum patients at Blackwell’s Island in New York City. She gained international recognition by traveling around the world following the fictional character from Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days.

Nellie Bly was a unconventional reporter who went undercover to seek out the truth and wrote her articles not with sensationalism but with facts. From a follow-up article titled in The New York World, 1887, “Untruths In Every Line”. I submit to you a few lines from Nellie Bly’s own words.

“On my first arrival in New York the editor of the Sun said to me in an interview, “There is nothing so valuable as a reporter who gives facts; who, when told that two and two make four, puts it four instead of three or five.” I have always been particular in stating only facts in all my work, but never did I confine myself so closely to this rule as in my story of “Behind Asylum Bars.” As the Sun undertook to prove that I really passed ten days as an insane girl on Blackwell’s Island, I would like to correct the many mistakes and misstatements which I found throughout the six columns recently published about me in that journal . . .”

First image: N.Y. : Published by Keppler & Schwarzmann, Puck Building, 1910 October 12

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and fashion

bathing suit code ‘Clothes make the man and woman’… so goes the saying. And it must be true for what we wear on a given day can either lift our spirits or depress us. How often is the closet door opened and like looking into a refrigerator lamenting that there is nothing ‘good’ to eat, so mirrors a similar sentiment when you are about to embark upon a very special outing and what is suspended from the hangers appears as outdated as a 1980s haircut.

And what a dilemma it is to purchase clothes … for as soon as you buy something, it goes on sale the very next week. As for choosing what fits well …the sales clerk has that habit of remarking that you look simply divine, whereupon we often wonder if he or she is being sincere, politely kind, or giving you a positive nod of approval that is actually attached to the chance of a sales commission.

But who can complain for our stores are brimming, the shelves are overstocked, (except if you wear a very petite size you are out of luck for these items are seldom available). Our clothes are as divergent as the seasons; fabrics that were once worn in the winter… such as wool have been customized over the years, keeping us snug in the coldest of winds while preventing that interminable itch that once came along with the tight weave of your sweater against the back of your neck. And like the change of seasons so is the trend of fashions, making buyers acutely aware that what was once quite the chic attire must be set aside like yesterday’s news when the snow melts. Our only saving grace is that the older we grow the more wisdom we have acquired, for haven’t we seen those outdated fashions come back into vogue…it does take time but often patience pays off… the only regret is that one’s figure may have altered before the “yellowing” of fabric.

With our selections are invitations for us to make bold statements, demonstrating our own freedom of expression; an action that subliminally reinvents the present and asks others to make room for change. Some take little notice while others take offense; but whatever the response, fashion and the art of willful choices are not a new sensation.

elizabeth cady stanton 2 Today I bring back our esteemed thinker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, author of the great “Declaration of Sentiments”, a revolutionary call for women’s rights in the early 19th century and president of the National Woman Suffrage Association for 20 years. In spite of her grand efforts, women did not get the right to vote in the United States until 1920; yet her resolve and introduction for an amendment in 1878 and her fight for change on the national and state levels paved the way to ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

So, let us hear the words of our great lady for she will present to you a more troubling and politically charged look at a women’s wardrobe from The History of Woman Suffrage (1881)…

“… Quite an agitation occurred in 1852, on woman’s costume. In demanding a place in the world of work, the unfitness of her dress seemed to some, an insurmountable obstacle. How can you, it was said, ever compete with man for equal place and pay, with garments of such frail fabrics and so cumbrously fashioned, and how can you ever hope to enjoy the same health and vigor with man, so long as the waist is pressed into the smallest compass, pounds of clothing hung on the hips, the limbs cramped with skirts, and with high heels the whole woman thrown out of her true equilibrium. Wise men, physicians, and sensible women, made their appeals, year after year; physiologists lectured on the subject; the press commented, until it seemed as if there were a serious demand for some decided steps, in the direction of a rational costume for women.

The most casual observer could see how many pleasures young girls were continually sacrificing to their dress: In walking, running, rowing, skating, dancing, going up and down stairs, climbing trees and fences, the airy fabrics and flowing skirts were a continual impediment and vexation. We can not estimate how large a share of the ill-health and temper among women is the result of the crippling, cribbing influence of her costume. Fathers, husbands, and brothers, all joined in protest against the small waist, and stiff distended petticoats, which were always themes for unbounded ridicule.

But no sooner did a few brave conscientious women adopt the bifurcated costume, an imitation in part of the Turkish style, than the press at once turned its guns on “The Bloomer,” and the same fathers, husbands, and brothers, with streaming eyes and pathetic tones, conjured the women of their households to cling to the prevailing fashions. The object of those who donned the new attire, was primarily health and freedom; but as the daughter of Gerrit Smith introduced it just at the time of the early conventions, it was supposed to be an inherent element in the demand for political equality.

As some of those who advocated the right of suffrage wore the dress, and had been identified with all the unpopular reforms, in the reports of our conventions, the press rung the changes on “strong-minded,” “Bloomer,” “free love,” “easy divorce,” “amalgamation.” I wore the dress two years and found it a great blessing. What a sense of liberty I felt, in running up and down stairs with my hands free to carry whatsoever I would, to trip through the rain or snow with no skirts to hold or brush, ready at any moment to climb a hill-top to see the sun go down, or the moon rise, with no ruffles or trails to be limped by the dew, or soiled by the grass. What an emancipation from little petty vexatious trammels and annoyances every hour of the day. Yet such is the tyranny of custom, that to escape constant observation, criticism, ridicule, persecution, mobs, one after another gladly went back to the old slavery and sacrificed freedom to repose…”

Frances Benjamin Johnston and portraits

Johnston 3 It is remarkable to think that there are very few things in the tangible world and even non-tangible world that are not or cannot be photographed. And though it seems today that everyone has access to a camera, thanks to technology making it conceivably accessible, there was a time where this was not the case. Painted portraits were the fashion and it was not uncommon to commission an artist to paint a portrait of yourself or family members… all for posterity, of course.

And then we had the introduction to the camera in 1839 where sitting for a portrait in a photography studio became the “vogue” thing to do. However, unbeknownst to many today, sitting before the camera was quite unlike what we are used to; but rather an often unpleasant experience. If you ever wondered why the folks back in the “old days” were seemingly less smiley and donning a most stern expression, it could be because they had to hold a pose for what we would consider terminable! In the inception, exposure time for photographic plates could be at long as 20 minutes…sometimes longer. To get a clear image those being photographed had to sit very still…often in the sun! It wasn’t until the 1890s when process photography became available and easy to handle thanks to Eastman Kodak (1888); who began selling hand-held cameras… whereby picture taking was now in the hands of those who could purchase one.

So, I bring back for today’s blog our esteemed thinker: Frances Benjamin Johnston. Her artistic eye and inginuity opened the world of photography up for many women to become entrepreneurs. Her advice, lectures, and creative endeavors are still worthy to take pause in the 21st century. So especially for you portrait photographers, here is a bit of advice from Ms. Johnston. Andrew Carnegie_johnston Portrait of Andrew Carnagie

Sitters Before the Camera
“As to the actual work under a skylight, only a few general hints may be given, as here each must “work out her own salvation.” Do not attempt to pose people, or to strain our sitters into uncomfortable or awkward position, in order to obtain picturesque effects. Watch them, and help them into poses that are natural and graceful. Study their individuality striving to keep the likeness, and yet endeavoring to show them at their best. Avoid emphasizing the peculiarities of a face either by lighting or pose; look for curves rather than angles for straight lines, and try to make the interest in the picture center upon what is most effective in your sitter. The one rule of lighting is never to have more than a single source of light. Many portraits, otherwise good, are rendered very inartistic by being lighted for several different directions…”

men portrait_Johnston Portrait of a few gents last portrait of mckinley_johnston Last portrait of President Mckinley

Esteemed thinker: Frances Benjamin Johnston

johnston 4 I find black and white photography exceptionally aesthetic; for the tones and hues are not described just by their names, but are far reaching…crossing into spectrums that range from dark to light…tipping the scale of extremes that include graying nights to snowy days. Composition and subjects rely on form, strong lines, the distinction of dark and light that are so simply beautiful they need not a rainbow of colors to define image.

And so it was for our early photographers who were the masters of this craft. I find work in what some contemporaries may interpret as slow and cumbersome as invigorating; the darkroom for me was where magic took place, where you could manipulate a picture not through digital technology, but rather with time and your hands. .. where you would hold your breath as a picture slowly came alive floating in a vat of slippery liquid. And then like a dripping handkerchief, hang it up to dry…

Today’s blog I bring you Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864- 1952) a most remarkable woman who gained prominence as a great photographer during a time when women had few rights and men dominated the field. She studied art at the Académie Julian in Paris and at the Art Students League, Washington, DC. In 1894 she opened a photography studio and gained international recognition through her photographs of presidents, portraits of the elite, and her work as a photojournalist and architectural photographer.

Mammoth cave
(Mammoth Cave)

In celebration of her artistic prowess, I bring you today an excerpt from “What a Woman Can Do with a Camera” by Frances Benjamin Johnston, in Ladies Home Journal dated 1897. Let us reflect on the advice of our esteemed thinker.

“When Distinction and Originality are Aimed at:
To those ambitious to do studio portraiture I should say, study art first and photography afterward , if you aim at distinction and originality. Not that a comprehensive technical training is unnecessary, for, on the contrary a photographer needs to understand his tools as thoroughly as a painter does the handling of his colors and brushes. Technical excellence, however, should not be the criterion where picturesque effect in concerned. In truth, to my mind, the first precept of artistic photography is, “Learn early the immense difference between the photography that is merely a photograph, and that which is also picture… ”