Sunrise . . . Sunset

“Let me help you tighten your helmet. Is the seat okay? Do you know how to shift the gears? Let’s stay on the sidewalk until you get the hang of your new bike. . . . .”

Sound familiar? These could have been my words 25 years ago but they are not my words . . . they are my daughter’s as we get ready to take our first bike ride together on my new bike.

Helmets secured, we take off . . . my daughter in the lead so she can pick a safe route with little traffic. When we start up a hill, she turns around to keep an eye on me. When I topple over, having unsuccessfully tried to turn while going too slowly up the hill, she is right there to help.

As I lie in the street with my bike on top of me (and my ego bruised more than my knees), people seemed to materialize out of nowhere asking if I was okay. My daughter lifted my bike off me and soothingly said, “poor momma, let me help you up.” Had a crowd not gathered, she would likely have offered to kiss my boo-boo.

Dusting off my pants and the crowd, I get back on and ride off behind her to the closest coffee shop outdoor table to chill out with some caffeine and keep an eye on our bikes and my bloody knees.

Waiting outside while she goes in to buy our coffee, our recent role reversal is not lost on me as I ponder the symmetry of life between this mother and daughter.

I first noticed the change when I moved to San Diego 7+ years ago after retiring from my law practice in Chicago. It was a subtle change at first, such as carrying my canvas bags after filling up on groceries at Trader Joe’s.

Then there were the times she’d reach out to take my hand when crossing the street mid-block as we took a short cut to our favorite neighborhood tavern for happy hour.

On airport trips she carried my luggage and did the reminders to put my ticket and id in my pocket and finish my liquids before going through security.

At some point, daily morning texts became a ritual checking on how I slept and my plans for the day. Once she taught me how to Bitmoji, texting became a contest of who could be most outrageous expressing daily moods and thoughts.

Due to her encouragement, I eat my vegetables – I drink lots of water (instead of lots of wine) – I take my vitamins and I floss my teeth!

As I ponder life’s cycles, that song from Fiddler on the Roof begins to play on the soundtrack of my mind.

“Where is the Little Girl I carried . . .Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers, blossoming even as we gaze.”



True “Grit” – Madam C. J. Walker

In today’s jargon, psychologist Angela Duckworth, who studies the trait that leads to high achievement, calls tenacious and dogged perseverance “true grit” after the young girl character in the movie of the same name. This concept of “grit” characterizes the woman who would become known as Madam C. J. Walker.

Imagine a black baby girl born in the Deep South in 1867 . . . her mother dies when she is 5 . . . her father dies when she is 7 . . . orphaned with no formal education, she’s taken in by her sister and brother-in-law to support the family by picking cotton. Imagine further that young girl is abused by her brother-in-law and marrys at 14 to avoid further exploitation. Lastly, imagine this young woman with a baby at 18 and widowed at 20.

The woman we are imagining is Sarah Breedlove a/k/a Madam C.J. Walker – a woman believed to be this country’s first self made woman millionaire. She was an extraordinary entrepreneur having developed a business model that thrives to this day. She was also a civil rights activist and a philanthropist. In her day, what she accomplished had typically only been accomplished by men. Today we would call her a gender non-conformist.

It was just 2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Sarah, the 6th child of newly freed slave/then sharecropper parents, was born in a small, run down, rural cabin.

Her life before and after being orphaned was difficult – both emotionally and physically. Her early marriage, which was her escape from abuse, only lasted 6 years. After the death of her husband, 20 year old Sarah and her 2 year old toddler set off for St. Louis to be near her brothers who had established themselves as barbers.

After arriving at her new home and working as a washer woman, Sarah began to lose her hair – not surprising given her challenging living circumstances, high stress level, and the customary use of lye soap for bathing, shampooing and laundering. The combination of losing her hair and exposure to barber brothers caused Sarah to look for and find answers. As with others with “grit”, adversity became a catalyst for success.

She looked for hair loss remedies and experimented with various products. After a short stint selling hair products for another, Sarah decided to develop and sell her own products. During this time she married Charles J. Walker, who worked in advertising and became her business promoter. He suggested she market her products under the name, Madam C.J. Walker.

Once Madam C. J. Walker got started, there was no stopping her. Neither her race nor her gender kept her from realizing her potential. In her own words in July 1912, “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations . . . I have built my own factory on my own ground.”

Hard work and determination spurred her to create a business model (later replicated by Mary Kay Cosmetics) that provided opportunities for up to 3000 women – opportunities to be commissioned sales agents with access to education and training and the dignity of working for themselves rather than as domestic or farm help – the only other viable work options for black women of the time.

Sarah divorced her husband and moved her business to Indianapolis setting up a factory and a research center while her daughter expanded the enterprise setting up a mail order business to complement the door-to-door sales business. Sarah valued her employees providing prizes for their profitability while also encouraging charitable giving – encouraging them with a favorite phrase – “lifting while we climb”.

Ironically, Indianapolis was also the home to the Ku Klux Klan. This may have contributed to her early civil rights activism supporting the NAACP with its anti-lynching campaign. At the time, lynching of boys and men (and girls and women) was not uncommon. In fact, a black man could be lynched for simply looking at a white woman.

Sarah was ahead of her time in many ways. Her work with hair products led the way for black women to begin to recognize their own racial beauty. In support of this, she used her image on all her products.

Once she became of person of means, she shared her wealth. Her philanthropy included gifts to the YMCA and Tuskegee Institute. When she died, she left the vast majority of her estate and future business profits to charity. When she learned that the black soldiers in WWI did not receive the same level of medical care as the white soldiers, she bought ambulances specifically for the black soldiers.

Later in her life, she bought a mansion in Irvington, New York. This home, which is now a national landmark, was a meeting place for NAACP and other black leaders of the day. Sarah’s daughter, who entertained widely in this home and hosted a cultural salon, was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Never one to conform to gender stereotypes and expectations, including the fact that the recently invented automobile was considered a man’s machine, Sarah bought three different cars and drove them herself for both transport and entertainment.

She died in her mansion at 51 from kidney failure and other complications of hypertension. She was buried at Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx. Her legend lives on in her family and in her products which are still being sold!

Unlike the grand white industrialists of the time such as Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller, who were largely motivated by power and greed, Sarah’s traits included honesty, integrity and desire to make the world a better place.  She became a role model for other women to follow.

Today’s psychologists would give Sarah Breedlove a very high score on the “grit” scale. Her life story is one of tenacious and dogged perseverance in the pursuit of a better life for herself, her daughter and her community.

If interested in learning more about Sarah Breedlove, please check out the website, which is hosted by Sarah’s great, great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles.



Sexual Non-Monogamy . . .is there a case for it?

I “met” a very interesting man on who meets all my criteria – he’s smart, well educated, healthy, 69 to my 67, has a good sense of humor, financially comfortable, likes to travel, and most importantly, we have similar values and outlook on life (not to mention, he’s taller and weighs more than I).

We’ve been having fun communicating via phone and email for the past month. We have not yet met face-to-face because he hasn’t suggested it (and I’ve been trying to play a bit hard to get). There is also the fact that he lives in Sacramento and I live in San Diego – about an hour flight or a 10-hour drive.

After sending him an email on Saturday responding to his inquiry about which comedians that I like, and not hearing back for 5 days, I sent him a rather direct email with a subject line labeled, “Question”. It read, “Just wondering if you are interested in pursuing a relationship. I am, if you are. If so, I’d like to meet in person. What sayeth you? “ (the “sayeth” is because we are both lawyers and I thought it was kind of cute).

I pushed the “send” button before I had time to chicken out. Then I sent it to my daughter for comment. It didn’t take long for my phone to ping her message, “well mom . . . this might scare him away, but if so, what the hell . . . he’ll miss out on the ride of his life! . . . followed immediately by my message back, “yep”.

As the day wore on, two very noisy parts of my brain carried on quite a dialogue – alternatively regretting and defending my impulsive action. I was prepared to go quietly into the night if I never heard back from him or if he emailed that he did not want to “pursue a relationship.”

Half way into my bowl of popcorn and my recorded episode of The Good Wife”, the phone rang and my caller ID announced his name on my TV. I picked up the phone with a cheery “Hi Will”, trying to act nonchalant. He laughingly said, “so you don’t want to just keep writing and calling for the next few years?”

Joining in his laughter, my retort was “guess we could, but it might be a lot more fun to actually meet and hang out”. As we talked, I could feel the muscles in my neck relax as I stretched out on the sofa in preparation for a nice chat.

And chat we did. Turns out he’s 4 years separated and 2 years divorced after a 37 year marriage and has been having fun dating a few local women . . . but all is not well. He is experiencing some push back – the women he is dating want him to be exclusive and want to work toward a 24/7 relationship. He’s not ready to be either exclusive or 24/7 but when he socializes, he prefers the company of women to men – acknowledging that, in general, women are far more interesting than men.

He asked me what I thought about his conundrum and whether or not I date more than one guy at a time. I answered that I am more of a “serial monogamist” – being exclusive for as long as things are good and breaking it off when things head south.

We also talked about the geographic distance between us. Will likes to go to movies and likes to call a gal last minute to join him. This obviously wouldn’t work for us.

Basically, he likes convenient women who are good company. I sure can’t blame him for that. But I did suggest that a long distance relationship has advantages too – most particularly, one can have time to one’s self. I told him that my ideal set up would be for each of us to spend about half of the time alternating visits to our homes and traveling and the rest of the time apart.

We ended our chat after we set a time frame for his visit and confirmed that my sofa could accommodate him (his query about my sofa was probably to assure me that he doesn’t expect sex right off the bat).

Even though, I’d prefer that I was the only woman he is communicating with, I have to say his candor is a breath of fresh air – and I won’t be blindsided should things progress with “us”.

Will’s question about dating more than one person at a time got me thinking about what that might mean. At first, I dismissed the concept out of hand – after all, I had always maintained that if I liked someone enough to have sex, I’d want him to be exclusive – and of course, I would be too.

But just maybe, I am being too old fashioned about monogamy among single people – particularly those who live far apart. (although I do believe that monogamy should be the standard for married people).

So, I start imagining what this novel concept might be like. The first thing that comes to mind is STDs (since pregnancy hasn’t been an issue in many years). I guess condoms can help (but not eradicate) this issue.

The next thing I think about is possible comparisons – I don’t want him comparing me sexually to other women – although this could still happen in serial monogamy, it has never bothered me. I might worry that my body is not as nice or my lovemaking is not as erotic or as “good for him” as my competition. (yes, I do have a competitive streak).

Then there’s the issue of enough to go around – let’s face it, at this stage of the game, we are all a bit less energetic than in the old days. If he has limited drive or performance problems, I’d want to get my fair share.

Because I am no longer religious and no longer believe that sex outside of marriage is a “sin”, I have no moral issue with the concept of non-monogamy – so that’s not an issue.

The final issue is my life long belief that sexual monogamy is part and parcel of a committed relationship. Would I hold back part of me and who I really am if I were sharing? Or, could I be in the moment and “mindful” rather than thinking about the others and the future?

Could I be turned-on (sexually and otherwise) by a man who is also having sex with other women?

And what about him? What issues might he have dating a woman who has other sexual partners? Do guys care as much as girls do about this?

Is there a feminist issue here?

These are some of my questions as I contemplate dating a man who is dating other women . . . and I’m sure there will be more questions if this becomes a real choice.

As I ponder my future just maybe it’s time for a new way of thinking about a relationship. Who said monogamy rules?

As boomers we grew up knowing that the times, they are a changing . . .

Maybe a version of “really good friends with benefits” could work.

Who knows? Just maybe sexual non-monogamy might be the answer for two open-minded and vital oldies with lots in common, who live in separate cities, who want a relationship but are not interested in either marriage or cohabitation.

I don’t know – what do you think?

WE’VE COME A LONG WAY . . . . but the journey is not over!!!

11 things you probably did not know about women’s sexual history

I’m taking another great class from Professor Susan Cayleff at SDSU. It’s called “Body Politics” and it explores the dramatic changes in sexual behaviors and attitudes expected of women of various races and social classes throughout American history – focusing on how religious, medical, legal, and psychological experts define these roles – including how ideas about masculinity and heterosexuality emerged alongside these “body politics”.

So, here are a few of the tidbits you might find enlightening (and shocking).


1 – During the Salem witch trial era of 1692/93, 19 women died and 350 were imprisoned. The male testimony was that the “witch-women” first turned into animals who forced themselves on the men then they turned back into women and forced sex on those who testified.  Thirty-eight years later, after all the deaths and imprisonment, the men recanted their testimony.

2 – The first law against abortion was passed in 1803 by “propertied” white men and it applied to slaves – its rationale was simple – the more pregnant slaves (often impregnated by their “masters”) – the more slaves to do the work! Current anti-abortion sentiment (applicable to ALL women) was a later development in the 20th century development.

3 – Historically, the two most influential institutions that controlled both women’s bodies and their behavior were first the protestant church (from the early 1600s until the mid 1700s) and second the medical profession (from the mid 1700s to the present. Since both of these institutions were (and still are) comprised of and led by middle and upper class Euro-American white men, it is not surprising that their mores and prejudices prevailed.

4Kleptomania was a new “disease” named by the medical profession in the early 1900s, applicable to upper class women who frequented fancy department stores (a new concept in merchandising replacing the catalogue and the “general store”) and pocketed “souvenirs” to pass their time. The storeowner, who knew their influential husbands, called them to explain the situation and send a bill that the husband gladly paid. However, lower class women who dared to do the same thing (had they the nerve to enter these hallowed halls) were called thieves and sent to jail.

5 – The “Free Love” movement, that began in the 1860s, was the first ideology proclaiming that sex between consenting adults (including same sex adults) was deemed perfectly acceptable and a natural form of human expression. One of its proponents was Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president of the United States with Frederick Douglas as her running mate. Although a leader in the suffragette movement and the operator of her own wall street brokerage firm, she became known as the most dangerous woman in America and was shunned by the suffragette movement for what was considered her “over the top” beliefs and actions – most notably her free love philosophy.

6 – A woman’s appearance took on new importance in the Victorian era. Her appearance and clothing were seen as a reflection of her husband’s worth. She was considered a “decorated appendage” and took extreme measures for her skin to appear pale and her waist to appear small. Many know about the corsets causing fainting but who knew about eating trace amounts of arsenic and swallowing tapeworms to affect an ashen grey pallor???



7 – The ideology known as “passionlessness” (a/k/s no sexual desire) was considered the norm for women in the early 1900s. Women who didn’t follow this ideology, as evidenced by: initiating sex, enjoying sex, masturbating, being assertive or argumentative were deemed hysterical by the medical profession and treated with various surgical interventions including removal of the clitoris and/or ovaries. The results were typically “effective” for no more than six months . . . (could it be that this was the time devoted to rest and recovery?).

8 – J. Marion Sims, M.D., the father of gynecological medicine, bought slave women (prior to the end of slavery) and experimented on them attempting to perfect these surgical interventions – often without anesthesia. (what about the Hippocratic oath and doing no harm?) – Also noteworthy is the 1887 scholarly article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by E.W. Cushing, M.D. declaring that removal of the ovaries cured “melancholia- induced masturbation”.

9 – Another fascinating development in the late 1800s was the treatise, “Sex in Education or a Fair Chance for Girls”, by Edward Clarke, M.D., supposedly proving that women were incapable of being educated due to their limited nerve forces – the idea being that women’s vital nerve force was located in the womb and that education caused this force to travel upward to the brain thereby depleting her reproductive ability. As a result, when women’s higher education was offered by the prestigious 7 sister colleges, women students were required to rest every 2 hours to keep their vital forces in balance. These colleges came under significant scrutiny because they were disrupting the normal order where women limited their activities to those involving child bearing and rearing.

10 – The “Flapper Era” of the 1920s represented incredible freedom for upper class women. No more corsets, tapeworms and arsenic. Hair was “bobbed” short, dresses were loose and short and drinking, smoking, dancing and sex were all part of the new culture – picture the Great Gatsby’s estate parties that lasted for days. . . .this era also heralded the use of makeup and hair product and all related consumerism we see on display today as we walk the aisles of our local pharmacies and department stores.

11 – For the first time in American history, a youth culture began. Prior to this time, most young people did not go to school and were often isolated from each other. School attendance was not mandatory until the 1910s. As more youth attended school and had the opportunity to congregate, their own culture developed – a culture including their own language (slang), their own dances and their own clothing styles. The advent of cars and rumble seats allowed for privacy and sexual exploration opportunities as never before. For the first time in history, the youth culture was leading the way. The chasm between teens and adults had never been greater. The magazines published during this era were replete with stories and concerns about the extent and rapidity of what may have been one of the greatest social changes this country has ever known. (so glad I wasn’t a parent during this time!)

So, as I always say in closing . . .


The Song for this Blog – THE CHARLESTON (what else?)




What’s In a Name?

Juliet could not marry Romeo because of a long-standing family feud between her family (the Capulets) and his family (the Montagues). She laments that if it weren’t for the name “Montague” their love could survive  – “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Brides from the 80’s to the present do feel that names matter and often put much thought into whether of not to take their husband’s birth name or retain their own.

History Lesson from Jolly Old England

The heterosexual tradition of the wife taking the husband’s name is based on English common law that held a husband and wife are one “person” under the law – resulting in the end of the wife’s separate legal existence – along with all her “single person” rights. Wives were considered “chattel” and were essentially owned by their husbands. This name change heritage is the reason many feminists beginning in the 70’s retained their birth names.

What to Name my Married Self?

It was 1984 and I was tempted to change my last name to my husband’s – primarily because it is a common name that is easy to pronounce and spell. I toyed with my options – use his name, keep my birth name or do a hyphenated combo – a new naming option that was becoming popular among baby boomer feminists seeking to make a statement about their independent value as wives.

Ultimately I decided to stay with my birth name because that was who I was and that was the statement I chose to make.

I’m glad I did not decide on the hyphenated option – based on the horror stories of friends who did – including confusion with governmental forms and transactions and pharmaceutical prescriptions – to name just a few.

In a bow to tradition, we gave our daughter her father’s last name.

What Goes Around

Fast forward some 20 years and my daughter faced the same decision. She and her husband pondered creating a new last name that was different from either one’s. But when the time came to make the decision, they chose to keep their own birth names.

30-Something Professionals

Two of my nieces, an attorney and a physician, who married within the last 10 years, each decided to change to her husband’s name. Their reasons for changing  were the same –  their husband’s names were easy to spell and pronounce and they wanted the same last name as their children for school and medical communication. They commented that in this day and age, name change is no longer the feminist “statement” that it was in my day. They are both feminists in their own right and make no apologies for changing their last names. It is noteworthy that their mother also changed her name – so tradition may have had something to do with it too.

A Change of Heart

A professional colleague of mine recently celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary. She did not change her name when she married even though her husband wanted her to do so at the time. She is a feminist and wanted to maintain her identity. However, after 20 years, she decided to change her last name as a “gift” to him and in acknowledgement of their love and successful marriage. Surprise . . . surprise . . . although he was deeply touched by her sentiment, he told her that he had gotten used to her name and valued the independence it stood for and wanted it to be an example for their own daughter.

One Couple’s Thought Process

My husband and I both wanted to have the same name as each other. For us, it was a way of expressing our . . . unity / solidarity – an emblem of our family-ness that we wanted to present to the world – also it is easier if you are going to have kids – avoids awkwardness and confusion with teachers, etc. That said, we did not automatically use my husband’s name – we considered combining our names to come up with a new name but that would make it hard for descendants who might want to do some family genealogy and no combination of our names sounded good – one combo was the name of a famous drag queen! We then discussed using my name but ultimately our decision to use my husband’s name came down to consideration of our fathers. My husband’s father is sentimental and wanted to see his name survive – my father wasn’t particularly concerned about his name dying out.

Same Sex Marriage

A 40-something lesbian couple, who are friends of mine, decided to have one name and to use the name of the wife whose grandmother survived the Armenian genocide during and after WWI. At 6 years old, her grandmother witnessed the shooting of her family by Turkish soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. Children not shot were put in a boat and taken out to sea to be drowned. The soldier in charge of her grandmother’s boat could not execute the plan and instead set the children free. Her grandmother was taken in by a local family of Turks and passed as Turkish until at 15 she was taken as a bride by an Armenian soldier who took her to America where she lived to age 93. Proud of her grandmother and her heritage, this couple will continue the Armenian legacy – even though her name is more difficult to pronounce and spell. This couple, married after the Supreme Court’s recent decision approving same-sex marriage, wanted to make their own statement – not about feminism but about remembering the genocide and her grandmother’s struggle.

Another lesbian couple I know decided that each would change her last name to the birth name of one of their mothers. The mother they chose raised her daughter by herself after her husband left home. As tradition had it at the time, the daughter was given the father’s  birth name. Now this daughter wants to honor her mother by making her mother’s birth name the family name for her new family – two moms and two children – each mom giving birth to one child and both children having the same sperm donor.

As for men, the literature suggests that it is uncommon for gay men to change their names when they marry surmising the reason due to the fact that boys, unlike girls, grow up never expecting to change their name.

Interestingly one of my gay friends told me that some gay couples who have a child chose to give the child the father’s name that is most “WASPish” in a belief that such a name will give their child a “leg up” in getting along in a world where bias still exists.

Other Countries

Italy – by law spouses keep their birth names

Greece – by law women are required to keep their birth names

Germany – the couple must choose either name as a “family” name

Spanish-speaking countries – children receive both parents’ names

Japan – the law doesn’t recognize different surnames for married couples

China – wife keeps her birth name but children take husband’s surname

What is Happening Now and What Does it Mean?

According to a 35 year study published in 2009 in the journal Social Behavior and Personality  a woman’s decision to retain her birth name reached its highest point of about 23% in the mid-90’s and the percentage has been declining ever since – down to about 18% at the time of the study.

I’m not sure what this all means – it could mean that most women today are comfortable with spousal equality in marriage and no longer feel compelled to make a statement – it could mean that they agree with Juliet that no matter their name, their marriage, like Juliet’s rose, will “smell as sweet”. Or, it could be a manifestation of an anti-feminism pendulum swing. Whatever the case with hetero-sexual couples, we are likely to see more name creativity among gays and lesbians now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

Song for This Post (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself – I love this song! “Just Like Romeo and Juliet” from 1964)



Wonder Women – Take 1

BACK TO SCHOOL –  as an “Oldie”

It’s been a long time since I was in a university classroom – way before there was such a thing as “women’s history”. I was excited to be taking a 6-week class called “Wonder Women” at SDSU in its adult education cent11899901_10206164814993673_3075127152598643231_ner.

Like me, 32 students were “senior” gals and there was 1 token “senior” guy (looked like his wife brought him along). Unlike college, with everyone rushing in at the last minute, this crowd arrived a good 10 minutes early to drink their coffee and chat with their friends.

A few minutes before starting time, our professor, Dr. Susan Cayleff, arrived. She too is an older gal – clad in black pants, shirt and vest with colorful native-American jewelry. Her dark shoulder length hair served as a distraction for her hands while she lectured – at times putting it behind her ears and occasionally up into a ponytail. Her Boston accent with its classic “ar” sounding like “aah” frequently required translation.

What we find out, as she introduces herself, is that she is a Ph.D. in the Women’s Studies Department, a published author of a number of academic books, and the faculty adviser to the LBGTQ student organizations. (BTW, I learned that “q” has been added to the acronym to stand for “questioning”).

What we would find out, over the course of 6 weeks, is that she is smart, funny, a great story-teller, non-judgmental and kind – an excellent combination for a teacher.

The class covered 5 individual women and one couple who were firsts in their fields and standouts in women’s history. Enjoy and learn from their stories!

WONDER WOMAN # 1 – Nellie Bly

Born, Elizabeth Cochran, near Pittsburgh in 1864, Nellie Bly (her pnellie-bly-library-of-congress-promoen name) was one of the first investigative journalists – formerly called “muckrakers” (figuratively meaning exposing the world’s evils and literally meaning scooping up the poop). She came of age in the Progressive Era when photojournalism, a genre began by Jacob Riis, graphically portrayed the disparity between the rich and poor and gave rise to various reformist movements.

Due to family poverty caused by her father’s early death, Nellie and her mother moved to the city to run a boarding house where she met young immigrant girls – many Polish and Irish girls who, considered the hardiest of immigrants, worked as domestics in wealthy households.


AT 18, Nellie wrote an impassioned editorial rebuttal to an article written by Erasmus Wilson, titled, “What Girls Are Good For.” He wrote that girls are good for staying in the home and doing domestic tasks. He further wrote that working women were a monstrosity.

Outraged, Nellie wrote an opinion editorial stating, “Someone has got to stand up and tell them what a girl is good for”. Soon thereafter she was hired by The Pittsburgh Dispatch where she wrote opinion pieces and detailed the lives of individuals and the plight of working class women – until she was transferred by the paper to cover traditional women’s matters such as fashion, gardening and society events so as not to raise such a ruckus.

EXPOSING CORRUPTION – Going Undercover and Writing Other Perspectives

Bored with covering “women’s” articles, Nellie moved to New York where she talked her way into the office of Joseph Pulitzer who ran the New York World – landing a job as a journalist. One of her most noteworthy articles was “Ten Days in a Madhouse” – an expose on patient abuse and neglect that she wrote after going undercover as a catatonic/amnesiac patient. It is absolutely incredible to know that while undercover, Nellie was certified as insane by numerous doctors. It’s heartbreaking to read about the abuse the patients suffered – being made to sit for hours tied to wooden benches in filth, with rats rampant and inedible and insufficient food.

Her story resulted in a grand jury investigation and significant improvement in the care of the mentally ill.

When the Pullman railroad car workers in Chicago staged their big strike to protest a lowering of their wages at the same time their rent was increased in the “company town” housing in which they were required to reside, Nellie was the only reporter telling the strikers’ perspective.


A multi-dimensional talent with a spirit of adventure, 25 year-old Nellie successfully pitched her editor to allow her to attempt to travel around the world in 72 days – to beat the 80 day record of the fictional Phileus Fogg in the popular Jules Verne novel. She succeeded in circumventing the globe in only 72 days all by herself – setting a world record and in the process becoming an international sensation and making loads of money for herself and the publication.


At 31, Nellie married 73 year old, Robert Seaman, who was a wealthy manufacturer of steel containers. Nellie became the president of her husband’s company and one a very few women industrialists. Her career in business was successful until employee embezzlement caused the company to go bankrupt.

Nellie then returned to reporting and wrote stories on Europe’s nellie_blyEastern Front during WWI and on the Suffragette movement in the states.


She was a pioneer woman journalist and an original investigative journalist. Her work exposed corruption and injustice. She was an adventurer and risk-taker. She was courageous and provided a role model for many to follow.


First, it is important to understand that “investigative journalism” is deep reporting on a single topic – often taking months. Its reports are considered primary source.

In researching contemporary women investigative journalists, I’m sorry to say that this profession is dominated by a 4 to 1 ratio of men to women.

Also, since the cost of investigative journalism is high given the time it takes to research and write a report, it is disappearing from mainstream media. Moreover, since such media requires advertising revenue to survive and since these advertisers do not want exposes that might impact their bottom lines, this type of in depth reporting called “muckraking, investigative journalism, and watchdog journalism” is becoming less available in the media. Books are replacing media for today’s muckraking.

Examples of such books by women authors are: Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” – an expose on the working poor and Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side – an expose on Bush’s questionable tactics of his war on terror.

SPECIAL SONG ABOUT NELLIE BLY – her 151st birthday remembered






How Planned Parenthood Helped a Friend

My Musings

Lately there has been a lot of negative press about Planned Parenthood. Last week I wore pink and “stood with Planned Parenthood”. This got me musing about the past and a very special second-hand experience I had with Planned Parenthood in Chicago about 20 years ago.

A Most Memorable Day

My memory of that day is vivid. It was a beautiful crisp fall day as only Chicago can have with its bright blue sky, puffy white clouds, and tree-lined street of orange, red and yellow leaves.

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I had just arrived home from an otherwise unremarkable day at my law office.

As I opened the door and said, “I’m home”, Lindy and my daughter came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with a teapot, mugs, and cookies. They each hugged me and then we all sat down to have some tea.

After pouring our tea, Lindy said she had something important to tell us. With a shaky voice, she told us she was pregnant. As her tears began to flow, she said that she was scared and had no idea what to do.

I was speechless for a bit as I watched the tall, thin blonde girl, wearing a grey college tee shirt and faded jeans, sip her tea and cry.

After some more hugs and a few cookies, I asked about her boyfriend, Devin. Lindy told us he was supportive and was going to leave the decision up to her. He too, was scared and hadn’t yet told his family.

With my daughter’s arm around Lindy, and my dog’s face in her lap as Lindy rubbed her behind her ears nonstop, I suggested she go to Planned Parenthood to explore her options. I had never been to any of its clinics but I knew it provided healthcare for women – including abortions.

Meet Lindy

Lindy, an 18 year old college student, was working for me to provide after school supervision to my 12-year-old daughter. She was from a small town in the Midwest and had recently moved into the dorm at a local urban university near my home. She was a lovely young woman with a special talent for relating to my daughter as an older friend rather than a babysitter. She also loved our dog and enjoyed walking her around the neighborhood with my daughter after school.

First Love

Shortly after beginning her freshman year, Lindy met Devin – a local Chicago commuter student from a nearby western suburb. The two 18 year olds began dating and soon fell in love – a true first love for each.

Visit to Planned Parenthood Clinic

After tears and hugs and another pot of tea, I suggested that Lindy go to Planned Parenthood as I had heard this organization might be able to help. The next morning Lindy and Devin went to a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic. They met with a social worker and a nurse who explained their options: 1) have and keep the baby, 2) have the baby and put her/him up for adoption, or 3) have an abortion.

Making the Decision

The next few days were very difficult for this young couple weighing their options and going back and forth on each possible choice.

Three days after visiting the clinic, Lindy reached her decision. She decided to have and keep the baby. Devin agreed with her choice. The couple then decided to tell their families.


This did not go well – especially for Lindy whose parents told her they would cut off her funding for school. Hearing this disappointing news about Lindy’s parents, I offered my basement as a substitute dorm roomwhere they both could stay.

Devin’s family was more supportive and helped the couple fix up my basement to live in while continuing their classes and awaiting the birth of their baby.

The months went by and Lindy and the baby inside her grew. Devin showed his love in many ways as they adjusted to their new home in my minimally refurbished basement.

It’s a Girl

Right on time, their baby girl arrived with chubby cheeks and the same red hair as Devin’s mom. The kids decided to get married. I’m happy to say that Lindy’s parents were finally won over by the couple’s devotion to each other and the wonder of their first grandchild.

Fast Forward

It’s been almost 20 years since this all happened. Lindy and Devin are still married and have had two more children. Their red-haired daughter is now older than Lindy was at the time of giving birth. Lindy and Devin each finished both bachelor and master degrees. Both sets of grandparents couldn’t be prouder.

Planned Parenthood’s Support

To this day, Lindy thanks the social worker and nurse at Planned Parenthood who laid out her options and ultimately helped her make her decision by stressing that she had to ultimately do what was right for her.

Lindy knew that neither abortion nor adoption were right for her. To see her lovely family today, it’s so clear she made the right decision.

Why I Stand with Planned Parenthood

The reason I am sharing this story at this time is because Planned Parenthood has recently been under outrageous and unfair criticism – something that this resilient organization has nobly born since its origins dating back to 1916 when Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. and landed in jail for violating the law – convicted of distributing birth control literature considered obscene at the time.

In my opinion, Planned Parenthood does not get nearly enough credit for the breadth of its services and how it continues to help women from all walks of life.

For Lindy and all the other women who have been able to chose what is right for them, THANKS and I PROUDLY STAND WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD!

For this Post’s Song, What Song Could be Better than Steve Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” written about his new baby daughter – ENJOY!!!!

We’ve come a long way…………….but the journey is not over!