Leading Ladies: American Trailblazers

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LADIES A m e r i c a n Tr a i l b l a z e r s


To Bailey and Houston Hutchison, my beloved children.

When they begin to think of what their life’s goals will be, I hope this book will be one of their inspirations to always do their best, contribute something to our great country, and never give up when their dreams are distant and seem beyond reach.

Contents Preface v Introduction vii O n e : The Good Fight: Women in the Military 1 T w o : First Ladies: The Hardest Unpaid Job in the World 39 T h r e e : If There’s a Book You Want to Read: Novelists and Journalists 127 F o u r : A Dream of the Future: Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights 166

Photographic Insert F i v e : Everything I Discovered Was New: Women in Medicine and Public Health 207 S i x : Lifting the Veil of Nature: The Nobel Prize in Science 255 S ev e n : Curing Social Misery: The Settlement House and Peace Movements 293


Conte nts

E i g h t : Commitment Overcomes Adversity: The Making of Leaders 335 Acknowledgments 367 Suggestions for Further Reading 369 Index 379

About the Author Other Books by Kay Bailey Hutchison Credits Cover Copyright About the Publisher

Preface hen I wrote American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country in 2004, I was inspired by the first women to break barriers in business, aviation, sports, government, journalism, religion, and the arts. I have gotten so much pleasure from people telling me they read American Heroines and what they liked (or didn’t); what they thought should be added (no one suggested deletions). I was also touched by the letters and comments from friends and strangers suggesting women and professions that should have been included. Among the most common: Why not the military? What about science? Where are the suffragettes? The wheels started turning, and when the editor of American Heroines suggested I do another book, I gladly accepted the challenge. I reread the letters and e-mails I had received, and their ideas became the starting point for Leading Ladies. I actually thought the military chapter would be pretty thin, since women were only allowed to officially enter the military in World War II. Was I wrong! Women fought in wars as far back as the American Revolution. Some in early wars were wives who



Pr e fac e

wanted to be near their husbands; some just believed in the cause and dressed like men so they would not be recognized. Away from the battlefield, women have been among the most accomplished spies in every war. Women’s desire to contribute to the war effort in more conventional ways, their courage, and the need for every man to be available for combat finally spurred the creation of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in the run-up to World War II. The Capitol was deluged with ten thousand letters per week from women wanting to join the effort. Congress passed the law to allow women to put on military uniforms in 1942. My goal in writing the book is to inspire young women (and men) with the stories of women who have found their own path rather than following a conventional road. But it isn’t just young people who can benefit from role models. I think we all go through periods in our lives when we are in transition and our focus isn’t clear. At these times, I find it best to step back and try to rejuvenate my spirit by rethinking and defining my goals. Reading biographies of people whose courage, brilliance, creativity, or perseverance has made a positive contribution to the world is one of the ways to get new ideas that might lead to a new direction. Someday, I hope to read an interview with a woman who has just landed on Mars or discovered a cure for cancer and who was encouraged to pursue her goals by a book she read about an early pioneer who broke barriers to rise to the top of the military, be elected to Congress, or win the Nobel Prize.

Introduction have always believed that the United States is the greatest country on Earth because women have become full participants in our society. When 100 percent of a nation’s brainpower is put to work, the result is exponentially improved. But in every field, the opportunity has been won, not given. At first, even basic education was not considered necessary for girls. Innovators like Emma Willard and Catharine Beecher founded girls’ schools and advocated access to public education in the early 1800s. Without their early effort, the course of this country could have been substantially altered. In 1821, Emma Willard also opened the Troy Female Seminary, the first institution to offer young women a curriculum comparable to that of a men’s college. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to attend medical school, may have been admitted to Geneva Medical College in 1847 by a fluke, and her presence created an uproar when she entered the anatomy classroom, where a male cadaver was being dissected. “Some of the students blushed; some were hysterical,” she wrote in her diary. Within a few years, several medical schools for women




opened in Philadelphia and other cities, but another generation would pass before women were allowed to attend the men’s medical colleges. The first women who wanted to pursue scientific goals met the same resistance. They did not have the college preparation of their male counterparts, and if they did luck into graduate-degree programs, they could not get the appointments as professors that allowed them to do research. In fact, when Gerti Cori, the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in science, did the work for which she was recognized in 1947, she was a mere research associate. She was finally made a full professor only in the year the award was bestowed. Some of the women profiled in Leading Ladies were committed to a cause and excelled, always overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals, whether it was helping the poor, improving health care, or fighting for the nation’s security. The struggle for women’s right to vote took seventy years. The leaders who initiated the effort in the 1840s died before their dream of universal suffrage came true. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, ushering in a new era of political participation by women and increasing their chances for election to public office. Some in the book did not seek a national role, but when thrust into it, made significant contributions. First Ladies who married for love did not seek fame. But most turned their unrequested public role into an opportunity to make a positive impact on our country. Another chapter profiles women who responded to a personal crisis by rising to the occasion and becoming leaders in their own right. Women authors have had profound influence on our nation’s culture through literature. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin aided the movement to abolish slavery. Pearl Buck cracked the window so Americans could begin to see the culture of China; Amy Tan opened the window wider. Liz Balmaseda did the same for the lives of Cuban refugees in the United States.



Two books I have written, American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country and Leading Ladies, are a tribute to women trailblazers. Without their spirit and perseverance, this country might not be the undisputed economic power of the world. The women in each generation of our young country have contributed enormously to our prosperity. Thomas J. Rusk, who was Texas secretary of war in 1836, described the strength of the women when Texas fought to win its independence from Mexico. All the men had left the town of Nacogdoches to join the fight, and the women and children were left behind, not sure if the Mexican Army or the Indians might attack. “The men of Texas deserved much credit, but more was due the women,” he wrote in his diary. “Armed men facing a foe could not but be brave; but the women, with their little children around them, without means of defense or power to resist, faced danger and death with unflinching courage.” My own great-great-grandmother, Anna Mary Taylor, was one of those women. After losing all four of her children (ages seven and under) when she fled Nacogdoches during the war, she returned to help settle the new Republic of Texas and bore nine more children. I could only tell the stories of a few of the incredible women who have contributed to the strength and progress of our nation. It is my firm belief that without the participation of women throughout our society, the United States would not be the world’s greatest superpower. And the best is yet to come.



The Good Fight Wo men i n t h e M il it a r y

captain, i shall not go into that cellar should the enemy come. i will take a spear which i can use as well as any man and help defend the fort. —Mary Hagidorn (American, late eighteenth century)

n my time in the Senate, I have seen the role women play in the military transformed from limited support to full-fledged participation. Women throughout our history have shown great bravery—as spies for the American cause, as volunteers in hospitals, as ferry pilots—but full recognition has been slow to arrive. Women received general officer status for the first time in 1970, and there are still no women with four stars—the highest peacetime rank. Several of our top military leaders have daughters who have attended the prestigious military academies. Once while listening to a fourstar general’s briefing about women’s roles in military conflict, I said to him, “I just want your daughter to be able to have enough experience to succeed you—if she earns the right.” In other words, if we expect to attract the best women to military careers, they must



Kay Bai l ey Hutc h i son

know they have a chance of reaching the top. To do that, women must have enough time in combat zones to allow them to earn the credibility essential to leading a branch of the armed services. There have been many issues to address, and we are addressing them. There were early concerns about fraternization between the sexes and about sexual harassment. There have been problems in this area, but there is zero tolerance for misconduct, and I believe the professionalism in our military is second to none in the world. Women have proven themselves in our elite service academies and are gaining combat experience, flying fighter and carrier airplanes in war zones, and participating in many ground missions as well. This has been the traditional route to the top for men, and women are now in the pipeline. Though this is relatively new for the armed services, American women on the front lines in war is not. In the Revolutionary War, our first war for freedom, women participated when they could, sometimes even disguising themselves as men in order to join the battle.

Sybil Ludington