St. Louis Women's History
Women, people who speak up, are always on the frontline of change. They challenge expectations and are always breaking down barriers. March is Women's History Month where we celebrate and remind ourselves of the accomplishments and sacrifices of women, to our great nation. Women overcame the legal and cultural barriers to actively engage in building the great nation of the United States.
Did you know that Women's History Month evolved from a one-day event to one week then eventually to one month? The holiday began as International Women's Day in Manhattan in 1909 commemorated on the 28th of Feb. On 8th March 1910. Clara Zetkin, a German activist suggested they recognize the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. There were 17 countries in attendance (Wurzburger, 2021). The first International Women's Day was celebrated in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark on the 8th of March, 1911. The holiday wasn’t widely celebrated in the United States until 1975 when the United Nations officially endorsed it.
The theme for 2022’s Women's History Month is "Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope". This is a tribute to the endless effort that caregivers and frontline workers have given during the pandemic and also a recognition of the work that women have given throughout the years.
Notable women in the history of St LouisSusan Blow
Susan Elizabeth Blow, also known as the ‘Mother of Kindergarten’, is an ardent reformer who founded the first public kindergarten and ran it for eleven years without any pay. In September 1873, Susan Blow opened the first public kindergarten at the Des Peres School in Carondelet (Carlynn Trout, n.d.). Her classrooms were brightly colored and cheerful, and the furniture was low, just the perfect size for kindergarten-going children. She served as the director of the school and trained several teachers including African American women who became active in the kindergarten movement (MARY RUTH MOORE, 2018). The classrooms contained many plants, books, and toys to always keep the children engaged and entertained. The kids were also taught cleanliness and good feeding habits.
Public schools in St Louis copied this model of education from Susan Blow. By 1879, there were 53 kindergarten rooms in the St. Louis school system thanks to her (Carlynn Trout, n.d.). She toured the country giving talks on her progressive ideas about education until three weeks before her death on March 26, 1916.
Annie Turnbo Malone
She is among the first black women to reach millionaire status through her hair care products. She was born to formerly enslaved parents in 1869. She was fascinated by hair and chemistry, and with guidance from her herbalist aunt, she began to make hair products catered to black women. Madam C.J. Walker was one of her famous clients whom she helped treat hair loss due to dandruff and psoriasis of the scalp (Nittle, 2019).
In 1902, Malone moved her business to St. Louis, Missouri, where she hired and trained three assistants who sold the hair products door to door. She built the Poro College in 1918, where black people in the city could gather for entertainment and other hospitality activities.
Despite her growing wealth, Malone lived humbly and gave away much of her fortune to help other African Americans. She donated large amounts of money to charities and helped build the St. Louis Colored YWCA. She also contributed to several orphanages and donated the site for the St. Louis Colored Orphans' Home. She was president of the Colored Women's Federated Clubs of
St. Louis, an executive committee member of the National Negro Business League and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an honorary member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a lifelong Republican (Annie Turnbo, n.d.).
Harriett Woods was the first female lieutenant governor of Missouri, a Democratic politician, and an advocate for women’s rights. She is a trailblazer for women in state and national politics, and an inspiration to the new generation of female politicians in America (Harper, n.d.).
Woods used her position as a state legislator to help the most vulnerable of her people; the homeless, the elderly, and all who were experiencing discrimination.
“Your best chance to move forward is to seize opportunities as they come along. Success is never guaranteed, but if you do your best, there is no absolute failure.” Said Woods (Harper, n.d.).
Maya Angelou is a world-renowned author, poet, and activist. Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis in 1928, but in the 1950s came up with “Maya Angelou,” which is a portmanteau of sorts (Warxman, 2018).
She is best known for her unique and pioneering writing style. She has been recognized by many organizations both nationally and internationally for her contributions to literature. She has given many commencement speeches and was awarded more than 30 honorary degrees in her lifetime. She is a remarkable figure in the world of literary arts.
Annie Turnbo. (n.d.). From The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: http://www.histarch.illinois.edu/Brooklyn/HSOBI/AnnieMalone.htm
Carlynn Trout. (n.d.). Susan Blow. From Historic Missourians: https://historicmissourians.shsmo.org/susan-blow
Harper, K. (n.d.). Harriett Woods. From Historic Missourians : https://historicmissourians.shsmo.org/harriett-woods
MARY RUTH MOORE, C. S.-R. (2018, November). Our Proud Heritage. Sowing the Seeds of Hope for Today: Remembering the Life and Work of Susan Blow. From NAEYC: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2018/remembering-life-work-susan-blow
Nittle, N. (2019, February 15). Meet Annie Turnbo Malone, the hair care entrepreneur Trump shouted out in his Black History Month proclamation. From Vox: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/2/15/18226396/annie-turnbo-malone-hair-entrepreneur-trump-black-history
Warxman, O. (2018, April 4). 5 Things to Know About Maya Angelou's Complicated, Meaningful Life. From Time: https://time.com/5226045/dr-maya-angelous-90th-birthday/
Wurzburger, A. (2021, March 8). Women's History Month: How It Started, Why We Celebrate in March and More Questions Answered. From People: https://people.com/human-interest/womens-history-month-facts-explainer/
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Sarah Hobson, Ph.D. specializes in supporting teams, departments and schools, businesses, and government agencies in building inclusive innovative change-making communities who understand how to connect well with and join diverse populations in providing needed sustainable resources for all youth and families.