History Written in Stone

Following the Oregon Trail we came upon a large rock made of limestone. The rock stood high above the Platte River Valley. The soft limestone rock made it easy for people to carve their names in.

Travelers heading for Oregon carved their names in the rock. More than 700 names are on the rock. At one time the names included dates as early as 1829 and one reportedly from 1797. Historic experts judged these names as authentic. If true, they would represent the earliest white people to pass by here. They would have been mountain men who were fur traders.

Soldiers from hereby Fort Laramie also carved their names here. As the state of Wyoming first became a territory and then a state, cowboys and ranchers added their signatures.

Of course many of the old names have been lost due to erosion of the rock. Also many tourists have added their names. But the oldest names are protected by a tall wire fence.

I wanted to get closer to the area where it appears the oldest names were, but my husband was not sure how safe that would be. You could see that the rock had been crumbling for a long time. Who knew when the next portion of the rock might come down.

While we enjoyed seeing the names and to us it was a wonderful history lesson of our westward expansion, I had to realize to the Native Americans this was not something to enjoy.

Native Americans also used this rock for writing their own pictographs and marks. Years ago these markings were visible. But, just like the land that was once their hunting grounds, these markings have been lost as the white men added their names and marked over the Indian markings.

As I looked again at these pictures and remembered our trip west, I was reminded once again that our history lessons in school have been one-sided. We have read of the bravery and courage of those who left the east and traveled mile after mile to the west to build new cities and create farms. Little is said of the Native Americans who were pushed off their lands and had treaty after treaty broken by our government.

Still, for one who is a history nut, it was awesome to stand there and think that I was standing where some young family had stood almost 200 years ago. I tried to imagine what their thoughts were. Excited, scared, unsure.

What really excited me was standing in the ruts the wagons made in the soft limestone. In TV programs and movies we always see the wagon trains being pulled by horses and moving at a reasonable fast pace. In reality, these wagons were pulled by teams of oxen, mules or heavy draft horses. The horses we see on TV could never have made it over the mountains pulling those heavy Conestoga wagons.

The Mormons who followed this trail actually used push carts and walked the entire distance.

Traveling through the open terrain where you could see for miles in our air-conditioned car with restrooms, restaurants and hotels easily available, I really could not imagine what those first brave families heading from comfort and home to the great unknown.

Let Us Not Forget

Eighty years ago today our nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor.

My parents’ generation sacrificed much in the next few years. My father was in the Navy and came back from the war with many difficult memories of death and danger.

My mother was left to take care of three children on her own.

President Franklin Roosevelt created the OPA (Office of Price Administration). This organization placed ceilings on prices of goods to prevent companies from taking advantage of the situation to raise prices on goods and also created rationing to limit consumption.

Ration books were issued to families restricting many things such as sugar and gasoline. I remember hearing stories of how people would trade their sugar rations for gasoline so they would be able to get to work.

Families were encouraged to raise their own vegetables to allow more food to be canned for the military. These “victory gardens” led to the government publishing guides on how to plant a garden and how to can the produce. Women’s clubs began with women sharing new recipes and ideas of how to create tasty food with less ingredients available.

No woman wanted to go out on the town without nylon hose. As the nylon was needed for parachute and other military needs, the hose became hard to find. (Like toilet paper in our Covid-19 situation).

When I see our generation facing a different type of crisis with Covid-19 – and the response we have made, I wonder how we compare to this “Greatest Generation.”

This past week one of the last of that generation died.

Bob Dole served in the Army and was injured in a German machine gun attack. He lost a kidney, he was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. While he regained mobility, his arms never fully recovered. He lost the use of his right arm and his left arm was partially numb. He said he had to allow 50 extra minutes each morning to get dressed.

There are many stories of other men/women I could write about. But I’m sure you all know parents/grandparents of that “Greatest Generation” who lived through the Depression and World War II.

Sadly as my generation is gone, I wonder if anyone will remember and appreciate the sacrifice of that generation.

Let us not forget!

Is This the Garden of Eden?

After living almost three years in Michigan and hearing of the beautiful Dow Gardens, my husband and I decided it was time to check it out.

All the hype we had heard was true – it is an unbelievable place of peace and beauty. My husband commented that this was just a glimpse of what the Garden of Eden must have been. We laughed that we might see Adam and Eve and our daughter who was with us wondered if they would have any clothes on. 🙂

This beautiful place was once the home of Herbert and Grace Dow. They built their home here in 1899. Called “The Pines” the couple raised their family here. Herbert Dow conducted experiments in fruit-growing and developed gardens. Today the home is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Tours are offered to view the insides of the home where it is furnished with many of the Dow items and gives a good look at what life was like for them. We were not able to take a tour of the home but we did sit on the porch and enjoy the beautiful huge yard with its large expanse of green grass and flowers plantings everywhere.

My husband and our daughter taking a break on the big porch.

Herbert Dow was the founder of Dow Chemical Company and by his death had received over 90 patents for chemical processes, compounds and products. I do not understand all the science behind it, but the Dow Chemical Company website says he devised a new way of extracting the bromine that was trapped in underground brine. The company went on to became one of the world’s major producers of magnesium metal, agricultural chemicals, elemental chlorine, phenol and other dye chemicals. The company also was involved in producing plutonium, the element used in hydrogen bombs (a type of atomic bomb).

Herbert H Dow as a young man and then at age 58

The company has been the subject of several lawsuits for environmental concerns. In 2011 Dow agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at its chemical manufacturing and research complex in Midland, Mich.

Herbert Dow started the gardens as a hobby. He experimented growing different flowers, shrubs and trees seeing what would grow well in the sandy soil. On his death, his wife created The Herbert H and Grace A Dow Foundation. Its charter goals were to improve the lives of Michigan’s people through educational, religious, economic and cultural means. The Foundation gave the estate to Michigan for the community enjoyment. Today the 110-acre Dow Gardens welcomes over 300,000 visitors each year.

There are multiple gardens with 3 miles of accessible hard-surface walks. In the spring over 22,000 bulbs begin to bloom and in the summer over 35,000 annuals provide much color and beauty.

Walking along the path we heard the beautiful sound of running water. Turning a corner we came to a beautiful stream. It was so peaceful we had to stop and just sit and listen to the melodious sounds of the water as it flowed through the peaceful garden.

While we were there we found they had a exhibit of glass gardens by Lansing Michigan artist Craig Mitchell Smith. Mr. Smith creates beautiful floral forms out of glass. His work has been displayed at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and the Epcot Center of Disney World.

My favorite was this one with blue butterflies

There was much more to see including the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens. This area is 54 acres of woodlands, ponds, meadows and stream. It contains the nation’s longest canopy walk. It is 1400 feet long and reaches up to 40 feet above the ground. There is also a playground for children, two pedestrian bridges and a Cafe. I would have loved to see the forest although I do not think I would have attempted the canopy walk. But my arthritic knees gave out on me and we had to call it a day.

My husband and I plan to go back at some point and check out the forest. If you are ever in mid-Michigan I would highly recommend you include a visit to the Dow Gardens. It is probably as close to the Garden of Eden that we will get in this life.

From Race Track to POW Camp and Back

Just a few miles from my home is a sign that says “P.O.W. Camp Owosso.” The sign is outside of a oval track for car and motorcycle racing.

Being new to this area, this sign caught my interest and I decided to do some research on the camp. Here is what I found.

During World War II, over 6,000 prisoners were housed in Prisoner of War (POW) camps in Michigan. While approximately 1000 were held in the Upper Peninsula, most were housed in the Lower Peninsula. Many camps were held at former Civilian Conservation Corps barracks that were no longer in use.

In Owosso, this racetrack that was not in use because of the war was chosen for a prison camp. Reports of exactly how many prisoners were held here vary between 350 and 1000. After the war the Germans were returned to their home and the administrative records were deposed of in the 1950s.

The men were housed six to a tent and the area was surrounded by a fence. In the winter time they were moved to the barracks at Fort Custer.

(picture thanks to Dominic Adams | dadams5@mlive.com)

Due to the draft, the U.S. had a huge labor shortage. The government allowed POWs to be used for labor in nearby farms or businesses. W.R. Roach Canning Company was the principal contractor with the government for prison labor. But many also worked on local farms. The prisoners were paid for their labor with 80 cents per day going to them and the rest of the wage going to the federal government to maintain the camp. The 80 cents was given in canteen checks which could be used for cigarettes, candy and other personal items not provided by the government. Most worked for six days per week at 8 to 10 hour days. While the men did not have to work outside the camp, most preferred that to staying in the camp as there was a little more freedom and most farm families would feed them lunch. The government provided a couple of slices of bread and a piece of meat or cheese for lunch, but the families felt this was not adequate for manual labor and many allowed them to eat the noon meal with their family. This led to friendships between the farm families and the POWs and they remained friends after the war ended.

(National Archives picture “German Prisoners of War at a camp near Owasso, Michigan, being paid with canteen checks by Camp Commander Captain Ohrt.” Dated 8/8/44 – photo by Sgt. S.L. Hertel.)

Reports from that time indicate that the men were well behaved and there was little attempt to escape. But then where would they go? Thousands of miles from home over an ocean and with their German accent, they would quickly have been captured.

However, at Camp Owosso there was an escape attempt that included two local girls. In July, 1944 two local girls helped two men escape from the Canning Compay where they were working. They spent the night in the woods before being captured by authorities.

The girls probably did not realize the consequences of their actions. Found guilty of conspiracy, Kitty Case received one year and three months and Shielry Druce was sentenced to one year and a day.

The girls’ motive for helping the men was not given but one of the girls testified that she was in love with one of the men. This attempted escape brought lots of new attention to the local county. You can read a novel based on this story. Cottonwood Summer by Gary Slaughter.

The prisoners were also heroes to one family. Eva Worthington had just come home for giving birth to her tenth child when her house caught on fire. Her husband, superintendent of the Roach Canning Factory, was at work. Several prisoners saw the fire, hurried in and wrapped Mrs. Worthington in a mattress and carried her to safety.

When the war ended the men were returned to their homes, but some came back and settled in the US, at least one man marrying an American young lady he had met while working outside the camp.

Today the racetrack once again welcomes family and racers to enjoy the sport. Owosso Speedway is one of the premiere short tracks in the state of Michigan featuring constant side by side action and fun for the whole family.

I’m Not a Racist – or Am I?

There is so much talk today about being racist. Many are quick to call others by that name while as many as quick to insist they are not racist and that they are tired of people using the “race card.”

While I have never been called a racist (at least as far as I know) and I would say I was not a racist, I still took a look at what the dictionary said a racist is.

According to Webster’s dictionary a racist is someone who holds “a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

A more complete definition lists: “Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. These views can take the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities.”

Using that definition I think I can honestly say I am not a racist. I have never believed that one group of people is inherently superior to another.

But using that definition I must say that I was raised by a generation who were clearly racist. Let me say that my parents and my aunts and uncles were good people that I loved and respected. I don’t believe they realized how racist they were. But looking back at that generation I see it is so clear that prejudices have been passed down from generation to generation. Only within the last few years have many been able to recognize this and to work to break that terrible cycle of beliefs.

As a young adult I had many arguments with my father who insisted that black people’s brains were not as big as white people’s brains. He also had other beliefs about physical differences that I will not even mention here.

For years I thought my father was just a country boy who came up with some crazy ideas. It is only as I have begun to research and read the history of black/white relations in our country that I have discovered this was not some crazy ideas of one man. This was what he had been taught along with many of his generation.

And that terrible lie has been a part of our history going back even before our country was established.

As our country was founded and began growing, there were many physicians and scientists who advocated that there was a difference between the “pure” race (white) and Africans and Native Americans.

One was Dr. Charles Caldwell. Dr. Caldwell visited the Musee de Phrenologie in Paris where he studied a collection of skulls taken from people from all the world. After his study, he determined that the skulls of African people show that they had a “tamableness” that not only made them perfect for slaves, but actually required them to have a “master.” This belief which was shared throughout our nation served to contribute to the belief that slavery was an acceptable part of nature. It contributed to the idea that whites were superior.

Another was Samuel George Morton. Morton’s collection of skulls is today part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and is one of the most famous collections of human skulls in the entire world.

Morton published a book in 1839. In “Crania Americana” he described five “separate species.

(Excerpt from “Crania Americana” showing the supposed differences between the skulls of different races. Morton claimed similarities between the skulls of primates and African people.)

They were (in descending order) Caucasian, Mongolian, Malay, Native America and Negro. He wrote that these differences were dictated by God. He concluded that Native American minds were “adverse to cultivation, slow in acquiring knowledge.” His book was very popular in America and many believe this was used to justify removing Native Americans from their homeland and taking the land for white settlers.

His book became popular in Britain, France, Germany, Russia and India. Charles Darwin called him an “authority” on the subject of race. Others applauded his work and many in European countries began to also publish such ideas.

You might think the abolitionist would not have bought into this thinking. But many of the renowned abolitionists also believed this. The apparent “tambleness” of the blacks served two purposes. One, it could reassure that if the slaves were set free, they would not take revenge on their masters. Two, if they were naturally weaker and inferior to whites, society had an obligation to help them, not enslave them.

While I am sure today almost anyone would say these studies were ridiculous, I believe that this thinking has been passed down generation after generation.

My parents did not dislike blacks. I saw them often be kind and friendly with blacks we came into contact with at church services. However, without really stopping to think, they had been indoctrinated with that thought that somehow we as whites were superior to blacks. It was an almost unconscious thing – as natural as breathing in and out.

I am not a racist and in tracing my ancestry as far back as I have been able, I find no record of anyone owning slaves. But if I remain silent when I hear or see others making comments that are racist because I am afraid of losing friends, then what does that make me?

Examples of things I have heard from others:

One pastor friend said “We did blacks a favor by taking them from the jungles of Africa.”

One family member moved from one mobile home park to another because a black family moved in across from them and asked me “Would you like living next to a black family?” My response was that I did have black neighbors and they were some of the best in our community.

One family member, when hearing that my husband had found that one of his ancestors was a slave from Ghana said, “Well, that explains a lot of things.” Was she just trying to be funny? Maybe – but still – that is not funny.

Finally, while I do not agree with most of the items on the BLM agenda and I am not in favor of rioting and destroying, I have found it interesting to see the anger of many of my white friends over the restrictions or loss of rights they have experienced with this Covid crisis.

For over a year now we have been told we cannot gather in large groups, many of our sports, our schools, even our churches have been shut down. We have been denied entry to most retail stores unless we wear a mask. And the anger is real. And the anger is right.

But – I have to ask:

If we get so angry for some loss of freedom for almost two years, how can we not see that the history of not only loss of freedom, but loss of life, not for two years but for hundred of years might lead to anger.

And, if you really want to know the history that our black friends know (passed down from grandparents) I recommend the following books:

  • Red Summer, the Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter
  • Forever Free, the Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction by Eric Foner
  • Wilmington’s Lie, the Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino
  • Life of a Klansman, A Family History of White Supremacy by Edward Ball

We can say we are not racists and we never owned slaves or we can begin to read and research our nation’s history and try to understand where our black friends and neighbors are coming from.

Want to Live in a Lighthouse?

Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a lighthouse? Well – in Michigan you can have the chance to experience life as a lighthouse keeper.

Interested?

Mission Point Lighthouse is located at the end of M-37 where the road ends at West Grand Traverse Bay.

The drive along the peninsula is a beautiful one with cherry trees blooming in the spring and vineyards all along the route. Ten wineries make up the wine trail. You can take a few hours or an entire day and enjoy tasting the different wines and enjoying the beautiful views from the vineyards. This drive was listed as one of ten beautiful coastal drives in North America by USA Today.

When a large ship during the 1860’s hit a shallow reef and sank just in front of where the lighthouse now sits, Congress authorized $6,000 to construct the lighthouse. Construction was delayed until 1870 because of the Civil War. From 1870 through 1933, Mission Point’s light kept the waters at the end of Old Mission Peninsula safe for mariners. Decommissioned in 1933 it was replaced with an automatic buoy light just offshore. Today the lighthouse is open to give visitors a look at what life was like for lighthouse keepers who lived around the turn of the century.

There are beautiful views of the Bay and trails through the trees surrounding the lighthouse.

Over the years seven different keepers lived in this house. One keeper, Captain John Lane, worked with his wife, Sarah. Upon his death, she continued to serve at the lighthouse for a few more months being the first and only female keeper in the lighthouse’s history. .

Because of the beautiful beach and surrounding forest with trails, by the turn of the century, visitors began coming. A fence was erected to protect the lighthouse and a wooden walkway was added so visitors could easily access the each and get a good look at the front of the lighthouse.

It is interesting that the lighthouse sits on the 45th parallel or halfway between the North Pole and the Equator.

The lighthouse offers a chance to actually experience life as a lighthouse keeper. You can stay in the lighthouse for a week or more. During that time you will work in the gift shop where you can meet and talk to visitors who come from all over the world.

The quarters is equipped with kitchen appliances, dishes, cooking utensils, small appliances and a washer and dryer. They also provide free WIFI, cable service and central air conditioning. You will be expected to bring your own bed sheets, pillows, blankets, towels and food. There are two single beds and a sleeper sofa in the living room.

You will need to be able to limb the 37 steps to the tower where you will need to clean the windows, sweep stairs and vacuum daily.

Training will be given upon arrival. While you will be busy at the lighthouse during the day you will have plenty of time to explore Traverse City and the surrounding area each day after 5 pm and on the one day off allowed during each week’s stay. However, you will be expected to spend each night in the lighthouse.

There is a great demand for this opportunity as many who have tried the program come back each year.

Sound interesting? Check out this link to the lighthouse keeper application.

Old Mission Peninsula – A Vision of Cherry Blossoms!

With the easing of restrictions in our state and since we have received both doses of the vaccine for Covid, we took a trip north to Traverse City, Michigan. Grand Traverse Bay created by the glaciers is a beautiful bay 32 miles long and 10 miles wide. In the middle of this bay the glaciers left a 19-mile long peninsula. This area is filled with beautiful small hills and rich, fertile soil. The moderate climate is ideal for farming.

Long before the white man came this peninsula was the home of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. There they raised corn, pumpkins, beans and potatoes. They also had planted apple trees.

In 1836 the tribes made a treaty with the USA in which they surrendered much of their land in this area. In return the USA agreed to provide the Indians with missions, schools, and Indian reservations.

The Presbyterian Church sent Reverend Peter Dougherty to the region in 1839 and he established a church and a school for the tribes still living there. The federal government paid the Presbyterian Mission Board $3,000 to maintain the mission. In 1842 he built his home which is believed to be the first frame home north of Grand Rapids in Michigan.

This is a replica of the original mission church. Originally built directly on the Bay it was moved up a hill to be safer from the water.

Solon Rushmore bought the home from Dougherty in 1861. For approximately 100 years it remained in the Rushmore family and was at one point turned into an inn.

Over the next ten years more and more European settlers came to the peninsula. In 1852, Dougherty and the tribes decided to move across the West Grand Traverse Bay to an existing Native American village. Situated on Leelanau Peninsula, this became the modern city of Omena. Calling this place “New Mission” the community they left became “Old Mission.”

During his time there Dougherty planted cherry trees. It quickly became clear that this was an ideal place for the orchards and cherry trees began to be planted all over the peninsula and the surrounding area. Lake Michigan moderates the Arctic winds in the winter and cools the orchards in the summer.

Today the whole area – both the Old Mission Pennisula and the Leelanau Peninsula are beautiful every spring as the many cherry trees produce their beautiful blooms.

In July Traverse City hosts a Cherry Festival. The population is just over 15,000 but during the Festival the city greets over 500,000 visitors from around the world.

While we would avoid the city in July (too many people for this old couple) visiting it in May when the trees began to bloom was a trip worth taking.

Do You Know These Women – Part VI

Raised on a plantation in the South, these two sisters became strong advocates to abolish slavery. The oldest, Sarah Grimke, accompanied her wealthy father to Philadelphia to seek medical treatment. While there, she met members of the Society of Friends. Returning to Charleston, she eventually became a Quaker and moved to Philadelphia where she became actively involved in the drive to end slavery.

Sarah Grimke (1792-1873) date of image is unknown.
Library of Congress

Her young sister, Angelina Grimke, soon joined her sister in the north and also become active in the cause of freedom for the slaves.

Angelina Grimke Weld (1805-1879) date of image is unknown
.Library of Congress

This move, or course, made them outcasts with their family and former friends. Angelina only added to the South’s outrage when she wrote an Appeal to the Christian Women of the South. In that writing she wrote

I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken.”

While this brought the anger of the Southern population, it also made northern men unhappy. Many of them felt that a woman did not have the right to speak out about issues that were so controversial and political.

The opposition to her expressing her views not only did not stop her from speaking out about slavery, it also caused her and her sister to become outspoken agents for women’s rights.

Joining the American Anti-Slavery Society, the sisters began to speak to small groups of women in private homes and as their popularity grew, they soon moved to making appearances before much larger audiences, often ones that included men. Both sisters wrote on women’s right to equality in society. Angelina published Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States and Sarah followed up with Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women.

Angelina married an abolitionist, Theodore Weld. Since he was not a Quaker the sisters were kicked out of the Society of Friends. The three of them moved to New Jersey and started a boarding school teaching students. When the Civil War broke out, they wrote to President Lincoln giving their support for the freedom of the slaves.

They discovered that their brother Henry had two sons by an enslaved women. They reached out and began a close relationship with the young men and supported their education. One of the men, Archie, studied law at Harvard and the other, Francis, went to Princeton Theological Seminary. Both men became leaders in the black community.

Frances was pastor of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. This church was founed in 1841 as the First Colored Presbyterian Church. Rev. Grimke served as the third pastor for more than 50 years beginning in 1877. From his pulpit he called for civil rights, fought against racism in American churches, helped found the American Negro Academy in 1897 and was part of the group working to create the NAACP.

Archibald (Archie) Grimké had a distinguished career as a lawyer. He also created the first African-American newspaper, the Hub. He attended the first conference of the NAACP and worked with that organization the rest of his life.

Both women fought for women’s rights and for equal and fair treatment of the blacks after the Civil War. .They were active in the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association leading a protest of women on March 7, 1870 when they illegally voted in an election.

As I read about these women, I was challenged by their willingness to leave a life where they were pampered and waited on to speak out and fight for the rights of blacks. To not be afraid of those who tried to silence them as being less than equal of men. It is sad to me that many who have benefited from their fight do not even know their names.

In 1998 they were both posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Do You Know These Women – Part V

Dr. Randy Lovelace did the physical testing for NASA to help with the selection of the Mercury astronauts. His vision went much beyond just getting a man into orbit around the earth. He thought someday we would have space stations orbiting the earth where science research could be done. If that should happen, women would need to be included as secretaries, laboratory assistants, nurses. That led him to wonder if women were physically fit to handle the pressures that spaceflight demanded.

Accordingly, he set up a privately funded project in Albuquerque, New Mexico and invited 25 different women pilots to participate. They would take the same tests that the Mercury astronauts had taken.

Privately funded in large part by the first woman to break the sound barrier, Jacqueline Cochran, records of more than 700 female pilots were reviewed before the 25 were invited to come to New Mexico and participate in these tests.

Given the same physical and psychological exams that the Mercury 7 men had taken, 12 women passed Phase 1 tests. These tests were strenuous and included having ice water shot into their ears which froze their inner ear. This allowed doctors to determine how quickly they recovered from vertigo. They were subjected to electric shock to their forearms to test their reflexes.

Phase II tests included seeing if they could withstand hours of isolation in a sensory deprivation tank and other experiments to determine women’s physiology and mental strength.

Army pulmonologist, Kathy Ryan, has taken a look at the test results of these women and compared them with the Mercury astronaut candidates. She determined that women on average did better than the men especially in the isolation tests and sensory-deprivation tests. Studies in Britain, Canada and the USA have all confirmed that these women did as well as the men.

So why did nothing come of these women’s attempts to be part of the space program? The American culture was just not ready for women to take an equal role with men. One of the women, Jerrie Cobb, spoke before Congress and also visited with then Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

Another strong advocate was Janie Hart who testimony before Congress included the statement:

‘I strongly believe women should have a role in space research – in fact, it’s inconceivable to me that the world of outer space should be restricted to men only, like some sort of stag club.

‘One hundred years ago, it was quite inconceivable that women should serve as hospital attendants; their essentially frail and emotional structure would never stand the horrors of a military dressing station. Finally, it was agreed to allow some women to try it – provided they were middle-aged and ugly (ugly women presumably having more strength of character.) I submit, Mr Chairman, that a woman in space today is no more preposterous than a woman in a field hospital 100 years ago.’

The hero of the first space program, John Glenn, said “The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order. It may be undesirable.”

The 13 women who passed the initial physical tests were:

Jerrie Cobb (now deceased)
Wally Funk
Irene Leverton (now deceased)
Myrtle “K” Cagle (now deceased)
Jane B. Hart (now deceased)
Gene Nora Stumbough [Jessen]
Jerri Sloan [Truhill] (now deceased)
Rhea Hurrle [Woltman] (now deceased)
Sarah Gorelick [Ratley] (now deceased)
Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman (now deceased)
Jan Dietrich (now deceased)
Marion Dietrich (now deceased)
Jean Hixson (now deceased)

Regardless of these women’s fight for inclusion in the space program NASA did not select any female astronaut candidates until 1978. Although both Cobb and Cochran made separate appeals for years afterward to restart a women’s astronaut testing project, the U.S. civil space agency did not select any female astronaut candidates until the 1978 class of Space Shuttle astronauts. In 1983 Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983 and in 1995 Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle. She also was the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission in 1999.

Eileen Collins invited the women who once aspired to fly into space to join her as she piloted the Space Shuttle.

Members of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs, also known as the “Mercury 13”), these seven women who once aspired to fly into space stand outside Launch Pad 39B near the Space Shuttle Discovery in this photograph from 1995. The so-called Mercury 13 was a group of women who trained to become astronauts for America’s first human spaceflight program in the early 1960s. Although FLATs was never an official NASA program, the commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed. Visiting the space center as invited guests of STS-63 Pilot Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and later the first female shuttle commander, are (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Do You Know These Women?

This is a repost from earlier last year.  Since this month is Women’s History Month, I thought I would share again.  While I only shared about the last three women on this list in this post, check out some of the others for some interesting and informative stories of women we do not hear about.

Do you like history?  American history?  Would you consider yourself knowledgable on our country’s past?  If so, do you know these women?

  • Dorothy Vaughan
  • Mary Jackson
  • Katherine Johnson
  • Christine Darden
  • Jeanette Rankin
  • Dot Braden
  • Ann Caracristi
  • Virginia D. Aderholt

The list could go on and on.  Somehow it seems the women have been sadly neglected in our history books.

The last three were among the first to learn that World War II was officially over.   Recruited, along with thousands of others, these women worked decoding messages sent by the Germans and Japanese.  As the war with Japan began to end the Japanese could not communicate with the USA directly because lines of communication had been cut.  It was determined that the Japanese planned to send a message announcing their intent to surrender via the neutral Swiss.  The message would be sent to the Japanese ambassador in Bern who would then take it to the Swiss foreign office.

As the message came through to the Japanese ambassador Virginia D Aderholt was the one who decoded the message.  From there word was sent to President Truman that the surrender would be coming shortly.

These three women were part of the larger group who helped to break the complex systems used by the Axis Powers to hide their messages in secret.  These young women were recruited from colleges all over the USA.  Young and eager to help with the war effort as their husbands and brothers were fighting, they did much to help our country not only win the war, but saved many American lives in the process.

Representative Clarence Hancock of New York stated:

I believe that our cryprographers…in the war with Japan did as much to bring that war to a successful and early conclusion as any other group of men>

Want to know more about these terrific women?

Check out the book Code Girls – The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II written by Liza Mundy.

And follow my blog for the next few days as I share stories of other women neglected in our history books.

Women like “Stagecoach Mary” a formerly enslaved woman who carried the U.S. mail – and her rifle – through the Montana mountains.

Lulsa Capetillo, a Puerto Rican labor leader who was arrested in Havana for wearing pants in public.

And much more.