NASA Superstar Peggy Whitson

Peggy Whitson at a press conference in Kazakhstan in November 2016 Credit: Getty Images

Peggy Whitson was born on February 9th, 1960 in Mount Ayr, Iowa. In 1981 she graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Then, in 1985, she graduated from Rice University with a doctorate degree in biochemistry. After her graduation, she continued on at Rice as a post-doctoral fellow for another year.

Peggy Whitson spent a number of years working at NASA before she first went to space. In 1989, Whitson joined NASA as a research biochemist. She served in this role for three years before she became a technical monitor, a job she held from 1991 through 1992. Then, in 1992, she became the project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program. Whitson subsequently worked in NASA’s Medical Sciences Division and then became the co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group.

It was in August 1996 when Peggy Whitson began training to become an astronaut. This took two years, and her first mission was in 2002.

Whitson was a crew member on Expedition 5, which launched on June 5th, 2002. She was one of two flight engineers.  She subsequently spent 184 days in space, also completing a 4 hour and 25 minute spacewalk. Then, in 2007, Whitson was a crew member on Expedition 16, and this time she spent 192 days in space.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson during her 7th space walk January , 2017 Credit: NASA Photo

Whitson shows how dreams become reality, becoming the first female commander of the International Space Station and serving a record 665 days in space. She served as commander twice and also holds the record for most space walks by a woman (10), most hours outside the vehicle (60) and oldest woman in space (57). She was supposed to return to Earth in June 2017 but happily accepted the opportunity to stay on another three months when Russia’s space organization Roscosmos pulled its crew back from participation in a mission to the ISS earlier that year.

Expedition 50 NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson smiles as she listens to a reporter’s question ahead of the final qualification exams with fellow crew mates Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, on October 25, 2016 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
Commander Whitson inside Unity module on ISS Credit: NASA photo
Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson conducting a cardiac stem cell experiment in Microgravity Science Glovebox Credit: NASA photo
Peggy Whitson conducting spacewalk training at NASA Johnson Space Center Credit: NASA Photo

Truly a NASA superstar Whitson encourages aspiring astronauts to get education in science, math and engineering.

Want more information?  Watch this interview with Commander Whitson on Connections to Science from Iowa Public Television:



Will the Real Rosie the Riveter Please Stand Up

The “We Can Do It!” poster created by artist J. Howard Miller was initially published by Westinghouse Company as a war effort. Rosie is shown wearing a red bandana and blue coveralls in it. The original intention of the poster was to boost employee morale. It has been mistakenly called “Rosie the Riveter” poster ever since.

Photo from the Smithsonian

Decades after the war, when the poster was rediscovered, some basic (i.e. pre-internet) research turned up an AP Wire Service photograph of a woman working a machine at the Alameda Naval Base that may have inspired the We Can Do It! Poster. In the photograph she is wearing a turban, slacks, and coverall gown that keeps her from getting tangled in the machinery.  The photo ran without a caption.

Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

A woman from Michigan, Geraldine Doyle, thought she recognized herself in the image and publicly claimed credit as the model. Doyle only worked at a factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the summer of 1942. As a cellist, she became afraid that machine work might injure her hands, and so she quit her one and only factory job after just a few weeks and married a dentist. Though she was celebrated as the model for decades, there’s no way she could have been the figure in the picture, which was taken months before she graduated from high school.

In the early 2000s, when Geraldine Doyle insisted to the Rosie the Riveter Museum that she had been the woman in the picture, another woman named Naomi Parker accused her of identity theft and submitted a sworn affidavit, several profile and full-face pictures of herself, and a notarized copy of her birth certificate for good measure.  The media did not believe her story.

When Doyle passed away in 2010 the media lamented in no uncertain terms the passing of “Rosie the Riveter” model Geraldine Doyle.

In 2011 the Rosie the Riveter National Park put out a call for other Rosies to share their memories and artifacts from the war years. Naomi Parker Fraley and her sister sent in some items, including a clipping of the lathe woman photograph from a 1942 newspaper, noting that Parker herself was the subject of the photo. The Park Service soon replied in a formal letter, saying that its personnel were already familiar with the picture of that woman, whom other sources had previously “identified as ‘Geraldine Doyle.'” By that point, Doyle’s tale was so widespread that even government officials had trouble disbelieving it.

Fraley’s late-in-life fame came as the result of the dedicated efforts made by one scholar, James J. Kimble.

Kimble’s 2016 article revealed his findings in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, called “Rosie’s Secret Identity.” At the time, the New York Times reported, Fraley gave an interview to the Omaha World-Herald in which she gave a simple yet memorable description of how it felt to finally be known to the world as the real-life Rosie: “Victory! Victory! Victory!”

On January 22, 20-18 Naomi Parker Fraley, the real “Rosie the Riveter” died at the age of 96 in Longview, Washington.



Aunt Jemima Was a Jazz Singer

Quaker Oats Company has had six models of Aunt Jemima for their pancake mix. In the 1940’s it was Edith Wilson.

Born Edith Goodall to a middle class family in Louisville, Kentucky, Edith first performed as part of a blues trio with Lena and Danny Wilson. She recorded 17 songs in 1921 and 1922 with Columbia with Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds. Edith remained a nightclub and theatre singer working for years in New York City.

Edith became a major star in the New York black entertainment world. She was part of the famous “Lew Leslie’s Plantation Review” at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. Edith also traveled to England where she established herself as an international star. Though she lacked the emotional depth that artists such as Bessie Smith and Ida Cox brought to the classic blues form, Wilson helped introduce the blues to white audiences, both in the U.S. and in Europe

Edith sang with The Hot Chocolates revue performing alongside Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. Edith Wilson would appear with all the greatest names in black show business of the day, including Bill Robinson, Duke Ellington, Alberta Hunter, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, and many others.

Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Edith did extensive work as an actress appearing on radio in Amos and Andy playing the part of Kingfish’s mother-in-law and in the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Becall class film “To Have and Have Not”.

After WWII she became the face of Aunt Jemima for the Quaker Oats Company. Some criticized Edith Wilson for playing a black stereotype, but she refused to be intimidated and was proud of what she considered the aura of dignity she brought to the character.

Edith Wilson as Aunt Jemima at personal appearance for the Seattle Kiwanis Club, 1956

Edith Wilson retired from show business in 1963 to work as an executive secretary with Negro Actors Guild and to involve herself with other charitable, religious, and literary activities. She returned from retirement in 1973, her last appearance was at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980.


Female Polar Explorers

As I prepare for a summer vacation in Alaska, I thought it would be fun to look back at all female Arctic and Antarctic explorers.

Five women: Ann Daniels, Caroline Hamilton, Zoe Hudson, Pom Oliver, and Rosie Stancer reached the South Pole.  They planned it. organized it, trained for it, raised the funds and in November 1999 walked over 700 miles across the most inhospitable continent in the world to reach the South Pole on foot.  The first all British women’s team to do so.

South Pole team

Ann Daniels (a mother with triplets) had a dream of putting together the first women’s team to ski from land to the North geographic pole. Apart from her previous experience in a relay, Ann’s first expedition, where fresh team members were brought in on each leg, no all women’s team had completed the entire journey. In fact due to the extreme difficulty of the terrain and climate, very few expeditions had ever walked the complete distance to the pole. She asked Caroline Hamilton and Pom Oliver to join her and together they put together the M&G North Pole Expedition, spending over a year planning and training for the arduous and extreme challenge.

Caroline Hamilton, Pom Oliver and Ann Daniels in Resolute Bay, NU. Canada. Photo by Jonathan Hayward

As they set off from Ward Hunt Island their sledges weighed almost 300  pounds. Temperatures as low as –50º for the first 26 days severely hampered the expedition’s progress and success looked doubtful. The team of three girls were hit by storms so severe that they were unable to put their tent up and had to huddle under tent material for 3 days, with little food or water. On day 37 they had completed just 69 miles of the 500 mile journey.

A journey across the Arctic Ocean is fraught with difficulties. Not least the extreme temperatures in a marine environment but the very ice they skied across moved and changed constantly as the enormous power of arctic currents and wind drove the ice together and at other times cracked it wide open. They encountered huge ridges, at times 30 to 40 feet in height, thin ice, open water, rubble fields and of course the constant threat of a polar bear encounter.

They suffered from severe frostbite, back problems and carbon monoxide poisoning from contaminated fuel. After 47 hazard filled days Pom Oliver had to leave the expedition as a result of frostbite and wet gangrene, leaving Ann and Caroline over 300 miles to cover in 30 days. Although the pole looked impossible neither were willing to give up and skied for over 15 hours each day, with little sleep in between. Both fell into the ocean and had to swim across open expanses of water but their determination to succeed prevailed.

Ann Daniels (c) Martin R. Hartley
Caroline Hamilton Photo (c) North Pole 2002 Ltd.
Crossing open water in a dry suit

After 80 days on the ice, they reached the North Pole, exhausted but triumphant and planted the union jack.  They sang the national anthem terribly and celebrated with whiskey saved for the occasion.

June 2, 2002 finally there. Photo (c) North Pole 2002 Ltd.

Against all odds they had become the first all women’s team in the world to ski to both poles. A feat that has never been repeated.





Vaudeville to American Suffragette


Trixie Friganza was born on November 29, 1870 and given the name Delia O’Callaghan.

She began working at a young age (12 or 13 years old) in order to help support her family, securing a cash girl position at Pogue’s store, and earning $3.00 a week. When she was sixteen she was promoted to the handkerchief counter at Pogue’s store and her salary went up to around $4.50–$5.00 a week. It was her boyfriend at the time, who encouraged her not to waste her talents as a singer and actress and to venture onto the stage where she could double or triple her current salary. She took her mother’s maiden name Friganza and the nickname Trixie stuck.

Her mother was inconsolable and devastated at her daughter’s decision to take to the stage. She notified Cleveland authorities who brought Trixie before a Cleveland judge to justify her decision to work in theater. She presented such a compelling and rational case for this career move (she had to prove to the judge that she was neither “silly” nor “stage-struck”, that this was a business move) that the judge granted her clemency and telegraphed her mother saying that Trixie was doing the right thing. She remained on stage in some form or another for the next fifty years.

Trixie Friganza was civic minded and socially attuned. She was not progressive by modern standards, but for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century to align herself with women’s suffrage and to promote a positive female body image was pretty radical. On October 28, 1908, Trixie attended a women’s suffrage rally at New York City Hall where she delivered a speech for women’s rights.

Trixie at Suffragette movement in New York, 1908

She transitioned to film in the early 1920s mostly playing small characters that were quirky and comedic and retired from the stage in 1940 due to health concerns. She spent her last years teaching drama to young women in a convent school and when she died she left everything to the convent. She became a highly sought after comic actress after the success of The Chaperons.

Trixie Friganza in The Chaperons

Trixie toured with many theatre companies in the coming years working her way from roles in the chorus to more prominently featured roles with speaking parts. Part of her success can be attributed to her constant willingness to step in and take over roles when others fell ill or could not appear. These instances provided her an opportunity to demonstrate her ability and ingenuity. She impressed agents, audiences and other actors alike with her stellar singing voice and ability to command audiences with her humorous interpretation of characters.

Trixie Friganza with Buster Keaton in Free and Easy – Easy Go, 1930 Credit: AF archive/Alamy

You can watch a funny video of Trixie here:


Waves of Defiance in Boston

Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017

On Saturday, January 21, 2017 about 175,000 people came to Boston to protest against newly elected President Trump. It was an outpouring of energy and patriotism expressing the crowd’s concerns about protecting all rights for women, immigrants, the LGB community and even democracy itself.

Photographer Frank Siteman was there documenting this “sea of love” capturing the variety of signs and faces. I’ve included just a few of his images here. You can see more by going to this link:

Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017


Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017

A Medieval Feminist

Christine de Pizan (1364-1430), often called the first professional female author, wrote to support herself and her family. She is one of the few women who had prominence as a secular writer during a time when women were neither educated nor independent.

Christine de Pisan Teaching Her Son – Unknown illuminated manuscript from British Library, London
Christine de Pisan Teaching Her Son – Unknown illuminated manuscript from British Library, London

Christine was born in Venice in 1364. When she was five, her family moved to France so that her father, a physician and astrologer, could work as a councilor to King Charles V.

In Paris Christine’s mother wanted her to learn domestic skills, but her father believed that it would benefit her to learn how to read and write. In the milieu of a court that had an immense library, she learned Italian, French, and some Latin.

When she was 15 years old, she married Étienne du Castel, a nobleman and courtier who became the king’s secretary. But that same year Charles V died and her father lost his position, and with it the high income. Three years later her husband died, leaving her with the burden of three small children. Her widowed mother, also dependent on her, cared for her children while Christine threw herself into literature, philosophy, and anything she could learn.

Instead of remarrying, she decided to enlarge upon her studies. Fortunately she was allowed access to the libraries of the courts. In 1394 she began to write and sell her poems and receive commissions by patrons of the court.

As Christine continued to write poetry and prose, a feminist voice emerged. In The Book of the City of Ladies she created a utopian world where women had power and control and proved that many of the negative myths regarding the female sex were false.

Illuminated page from The Book of the City of Women. Paris about 1405. Photo credit: Manuscript Department/Library of Congress
Illuminated page from The Book of the City of Women. Paris about 1405. Photo credit: Manuscript Department/Library of Congress

In this illustration from The Book of the City of Women, aided by Reason, Uprightness, and Justice, she lays the foundation of a City exclusively for women who have served the cause of women (female warriors, politicians, good wives, lovers, and inventors, among others). The imagined City will be crowned by the glory of the Virgin and sainted women.

Its sequel, The Treasure of the City of Ladies, was different, written specifically for upper-class women and members of the court, to give them advice on managing their homes during their husbands’ absences. In this book she cautioned against dishonest governors and protecting one’s rights as a landowner so that unscrupulous agents would not take advantage of a woman’s status.

Christine was knowledgeable in farming and spoke to the role of women as housekeepers in a time when their domain included fields, crops, laborers, and maids.

“The good housekeeper must keep her eyes wide open.” Christine was well acquainted with the chores involved in livestock maintenance, as well as agriculture. Every detail of the work involved in a responsible woman’s life was spelled out. She stressed that the mistress of a domestic enterprise should constantly be watchful.

Illustrations from The Treasure of the City of Ladies Credit: Special Collections, Boston Public Library
Illustrations from The Treasure of the City of Ladies Credit: Special Collections, Boston Public Library

The left side of this illustration shows Christine reclining on a canopied bed trying to rest after finishing The Book of the City of Ladies. The three Virtues awakening Christine giving her such a mighty tug that she pulls her into an upright position, commanding: Have you already put away the tool of your intelligence and consigned it to silence? Take your pen and write.

 The right side of this miniature portrays all of the women addressed in the text. The middle class women are seated on a bench in the foreground, with their backs to the viewer.  Three of these women wear hoods with long tails hanging down their backs.  These hoods indicate their lower status. There are several women on the bench with white horned headdresses identical to the one our author wears, spelling out their slightly higher status as servants of the court, or members of the affluent middle class.

Christine de Pizan lecturing men (I) and in her study) Both illustrations accompany the Cent Ballades, in the Queen’s Manuscript of 1411-12, now in the British Library.
Christine de Pizan lecturing men (I) and in her study) Both illustrations accompany the Cent Ballades, in the Queen’s Manuscript of 1411-12, now in the British Library.

The Book of the Queen contains the largest extant collection of Christine’s writing, and was written and decorated under her supervision, commissioned for Isabeau of Bavaria, the queen consort to Charles VI of France.

Christine’s life was dramatically altered by the Hundred Years War clash between France and England. Sometime after France lost the Battle of Agincourt she entered a convent in Poissy, France. In 1429 she penned a work to praise Joan of Arc. This proved to be her final contribution to literature. Christine died around 1430.