because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...


Friday, November 30, 2012

Venus Williams

Many people in the world know that Venus Williams -- with four Olympic gold medals and forty-four career singles titles -- is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But that's not what put her on this list as an in-your-face woman.

As late as 2005, women tennis players at such famous competitions as the French Open and Wimbledon were not paid the same as men players. Williams met with the officials of both tournaments to plead the case for women, but to no avail.

Then, on the eve of Wimbledon in 2006, she published an essay in The Times, a widely-read British newspaper, accusing the event of being on "the wrong side of history." The essay presented an impassioned and well-substantiated argument on all the straight-forward reasons why the practice of underpaying women tennis players should change. And it closed by saying, "I intend to keep doing everything I can until Billie Jean's original dream of equality is made real."

The British Prime Minister and Parliament quickly endorsed Williams' statement and in February of 2007, both tournaments announced that, thenceforth, women tennis players would be paid equally to men. Williams was cited as the single factor in making this historic decision a reality. And she promptly responded by winning at Wimbledon and thus becoming the first one to benefit from her hardest fought battle ever. In-your-face women know there's more to life than competition and more to life than money. There's respect.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Erica Williams

Erica Williams wants to change the world. Based in the Washington, D.C., area (of course), she not only barges into the public sphere on a daily basis, she whirls around in it like a people-powered hurricane of ideas and energy. And she welcomes all comers.

Williams set out on her journey by earning a bachelor's degree in African-American studies and public policy and then graduated from the Women and Political Leadership Training Program at American University. By 2003, she had burst on the scene at the helm of Progress 2050, a project of the Center for American Progress and committed to the idea that a diverse young population belongs at the vortex (as well as the forefront) of an increasingly diverse nation.

Using digital media, popular culture, and creative innovation, Williams led tens of thousands of young people in an initiative called Campus Progress, then parlayed her tech-savvy in-your-facedness into an even larger arena at the Citizen Engagement Lab (responsible for creating ColorofChange.org) before finally founding Society By Design and introducing her latest project, Foolish Life Ventures, an unabashed incubator for social change. Featured in every manifestation of the national media and drawn into confabs at all levels both in and outside of Washington, Williams has been called a "Global Shaper" (by the World Economic Forum), "the future" (by Cornel West), one of the "40 Under 40" (by the NAACP), and a Women Rule Leadership Award winner (by O Magazine). Look out, world! Another in-your-face woman is not only on the horizon, she's right here in your face!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cathay Williams

When the Union Army occupied Jefferson City, Missouri, in 1961, Cathay Williams was a seventeen-year-old slave working as a house servant on a plantation owned by a family named Johnson. At the time, the Army considered slaves "contraband," so it was official practice, when needed, to take a woman slave for service to the troops as a cook, a nurse or a laundress. And so it was for Williams for the next five years of her life.

Then, in 1866, Williams decided to flip the script. She'd been living with the Army all this time and certainly knew what there was to know about Army life. The war was over, so going into battle was unlikely. And she was probably tired of whatever low pay she was getting for working harder than the men. So she put on men's clothes and enlisted for a three-year tour of duty under the name "William Cathay."

Unfortunately, Williams came down with small pox and eventually was identified by a doctor as a woman and discharged. After going west to Colorado where she worked as a seamstress for a couple of decades, Williams' years in battlefield conditions began to take their toll. She had lost all her toes (probably due to frostbite or gangrene resulting from having her feet wet a lot), but unlike in-your-face woman Deborah Sampson, she had no influential friends to lobby on her behalf, so her application for military disability benefits was turned down. Ill and with nothing to live on, Williams quietly died in her late forties and was quietly buried somewhere no one can now identify. But she's memorialized here as a permanent reminder that an in-your-face woman lives and dies and doesn't get any more breaks than anybody else. They just get remembered by more people longer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Elizabeth Wilkinson

When bare-knuckled boxing became popular in London in the early 1700's, women wanted in on the action, too, so they advertised their bouts in the newspapers and climbed into the ring just like the men did. One in particular who became quite well-known was a brawler named Elizabeth Wilkinson. First appearing in 1722, she squared off with an opponent by the name of Hannah Hyfield ("the Newgate Market basket woman) and the agreement was that the women would hold half a crown in each fist and the first one to drop one of her coins lost. This rule stopped scratches and gouges, which were common in boxing events at the time and particularly exciting to the crowds when women fought because they went bare to the waist just like the men.

Wilkinson -- called "The Invincible City Championess" -- continued to fight for the next six years or so in venues owned and operated by one of the most successful men boxers, Jim Figg. But eventually, somewhere along the line, she met and married another male boxer, James Stokes, and started boxing in his amphitheater instead. According to the ads, Wilkinson (now Stokes) wore a tight jacket, which might suggest that she rejected pandering to the crowds more prurient nature. But she gave them their money's worth in other ways, being also skilled with a cudgel and short sword and more than happy to demonstrate both before the main event. It wasn't until the Victorian era that women -- after thousands of years of fighting competitively in public -- were shut out of bare-knuckle boxing. Suddenly, women were too dainty...? They weren't before. How in the world did that happen? (In-your-face women want to know.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Edna Gardner Whyte

Edna Gardner Whyte started out as a U.S. Navy nurse, but she quit in 1935 to open her own flight school. Then, when World War II started, though she was turned away as a pilot by the military because she was a woman, she trained no less than 5000 male pilots for her former boss. The builder of two airports -- one after she turned seventy -- over time, Whyte won 127 awards for cross-country air racing, aerobatic competitions, and other daredevil flying contests.

Amassing a lifetime record of more than 35,000 hours in the air, Whyte died at ninety-years-old while still living in a house attached to a five-plane hangar. Her book, entitled Rising Above It, discusses, among other things, the struggles she faced -- and overcame -- because she was a woman who loved to fly. "Just all of you watch me," she was quoted as saying while facing down her detractors early in her career  "I'll show you what a woman can do...I'll go across the country, I'll race to the Moon...I'll never look back." And she didn't. How in-your-face of her.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Betty White

At ninety-years-old, Betty White is still said to be the most popular and trusted celebrity in the United States. But it's not because she's grandmotherly. In fact, after winning twenty-six television awards between 1951 and 2011 (including seven Emmys, several Lifetime Achievement Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), her latest television series, "Hot in Cleveland," is basically an unapologetically hilarious showcase for her feisty  -- and absolutely sexy -- in-your-face self to shine.

Not satisfied with just touting her sexuality at ninety, however, another of White's most recent projects was "Betty White's Off Their Rockers," twelve episodes of old people playing practical jokes on unsuspecting young folks on ordinary streets. By appearing initially to be blind, frail, confused or wheelchair bound, one after another, the jokesters leave their marks in the dust behind them shocked and then finally laughing.

In September of 2011, White's foray into spoken word, a reissue with British singer Luciana of the singer's earlier hit "I'm Still Hot," won White a Grammy for best spoken word recording. Asked by one reporter how she does it, White responded, "I'm blessed with good health and love what I do for a living. That's a good combination. I'm a very lucky old broad." But the rest of us know that in-your-face women make their own luck.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Dr. Ruth" Westheimer

Having lost her orthodox Jewish parents to the Nazi regime during World War II while she was staying in a Swiss orphanage, Ruth Siegel could have spent the rest of her life feeling justifiably bitter and hurt. But she didn't. Actually, in many ways, this in-your-face woman did the opposite by brazenly celebrating the joys of sex and sexuality over the airwaves throughout the 1980's. But that isn't the way she started out.

When she learned that her parents were dead, she emigrated to Israel where she was badly wounded by a shell explosion in 1948. Living through this might have been an ordeal for anyone, but for one so young and at only 4'7", Siegel truly proved her mettle and then, in 1950, married and moved on to France where she studied and taught psychology in Paris.

Another move with another man -- to Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York -- brought a Master's degree in sociology and another divorce (while she worked as a housemaid to support herself and her daughter). Then, a decade working at Planned Parenthood in Harlem and a doctorate in Family and Sex Counseling from Columbia University vaulted "Dr. Ruth" into an arena she probably could never have imagined: publicly discussing other people's sex lives. And eventually, they climbed over each other to tell their most private secrets to the pint-sized therapist with the giant giggle -- over the air!

It didn't happen over night, of course. Initially, she taught at and then was fired from a university, leaving her discouraged and angry. But one night, she boldly spoke to a group of New York broadcasters about the need to counteract the silence around sexuality. The next thing she knew, she was being paid (albeit slightly) to deliver a fifteen-minute radio show -- "Sexually Speaking" -- after midnight on Sundays. Two months later, the show was an hour long with a live call-in format and a quarter of a million listeners. So much for America not being ready...! When an in-your-face woman is ready, the world will pay attention.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rebecca West

Her real name was Cicely Isabel Fairfield, but she took the name Rebecca West from a rebellious young female character in a play by Henrik Ibsen when she was studying to be an actress in London and that's the name she's known by. Dropping out of school at fifteen to recuperate from tuberculosis and then unable to return because there was no money to do so, West began publishing as a writer early on while also hitting the streets as a supporter of women's suffrage and simultaneously becoming H.G. Wells' lover for a decade.

Her many essays and reviews in the best of the progressive and mainstream newspapers and magazines in both Great Britain and the United States made West famous, highly respected, and very, very rich before she was thirty. In fact, she was only twenty-four when George Bernard Shaw said of her, "Rebecca West could handle a pen as brilliantly as ever I could -- and much more savagely."

A complicated and thoughtful intellectual, West was anti-communist, but also anti-fascist. She owned a Rolls Royce and supported Margaret Thatcher's stance against the unions, but voted for the Labor Party. And she believed that women should be "feminine," but is quoted as saying, "I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute." In-your-face women defy categories. Yay!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mae West

Born in Brooklyn, New York, to a prizefighter and a corset model in 1893, Mae West started entertaining people at five-years-old and climbed onto the Vaudeville stage at fourteen. Then, she hit Broadway only a few years later in a show that folded almost immediately, but not before West was "discovered" by the New York Times. Developing a theatrical personna is a complicated matter, but West took her vampish walk from female impersonators and parlayed a show she wrote herself entitled simply "Sex" into a career booster by promptly getting arrested for "corrupting the morals of youth."

Continuing to write plays with titles like "The Drag," "The Pleasure Man," and "The Constant Sinner," West finally achieved success on Broadway when she wrote and performed in "Diamond Lil." But it was Hollywood that made her famous around the world for her in-your-face attitude. In her film debut (at nearly forty!) with already established movie star George Raft, West's scenes were small, but she put herself on the map instantly when a hat check girl in one scene said the line, "Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!" and West added a line by responding in her own inimitable fashion, "Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie."

In her subsequent film career, West saved Paramount Pictures from bankruptcy with "She Done Him Wrong" and followed that up with such classics as "I'm No Angel" and "Klondike Annie," so that by 1935, West was the second-highest paid person in the United States (behind William Randolph Hearst). But religious indignation hounded her throughout her career and got her thrown off radio during the 1940's, not so much for what she said as how she said it.

Still performing into her seventies, West had a whole string of lovers in her life and was just as unapologetic about them as she was about everything else. When her landlord refused to allow her to entertain African-American boxer William "Gorilla" Jones, for example, she simply bought the building so he could come and go whenever he pleased. Some in-your-face women keep a low profile on occasion. Mae West was not one of them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Linda Wertheimer

According to Linda Wertheimer, getting a scholarship to go to Wellesley College, where all the students were women,"gave me the sense that women could run things...And I just never thought that it made sense to give that up." After an internship at the British Broadcasting Corporation, she was turned down by NBC because she was a woman, which turned out eventually to be a very bad decision on their part, when she joined National Public Radio where ten million listeners made her one of the most respected news anchors in modern media.

Her coverage of Watergate, the Iran/Contra Scandal, the attacks on 9/11, no less than twelve different election nights, and her development of the hugely famous news and features show, "All Things Considered," marks the career of an in-your-face woman who dives into complicated issues without a second glance. Still, she doesn't find any of it remarkable. In fact, she once observed, "Any working woman my age can probably tell you the times she was first woman to do something in her workplace: make partner, work through pregnancy, become chief of surgery, curator of painting, the first woman in a newsroom, the first woman hired...and there are still some big firsts out there I'm hoping someone will crack." Any takers?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ida Barnett Wells

As a young teacher in the late 1800’s, Ida B. Wells refused to move from the first class railway car she was riding in to the “Jim Crow” car -- earmarked for African-Americans and without first class accommodations. When the conductor tried to remove her bodily, she bit the back of his hand and was forcibly ejected from the train. Not willing to leave it there, Wells sued and originally won her case in court, but ultimately lost on appeal.

Some years later, after a friend of hers was lynched by a White mob for trying to prevent them from destroying his store, Wells used her newspaper to kick off an aggressive campaign against the practice of lynching. Though an angry mob retaliated by destroying her newspaper office and sending out the word that her life was in danger, she just moved to New York City and continued her highly militant campaign from there.  You can't stop an in-your-face woman by running her out of town.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Alice Stebbins Wells

Alice Stebbins Wells started out as a minister in Kansas, but by the time she arrived in Los Angeles, California, in her thirties, she had decided she wanted to be a police officer. In-your-face women had been hired as private detectives. In-your-face women had been hired to take care of women prisoners. But Wells wanted to wear a badge and hit the streets like uniformed men officers who enforced and upheld the law.

She had to petition the mayor, the police commissioner, and the Los Angeles City Council, but she finally pulled it off, being sworn in on September 12, 1910, and equipped with a badge, a police officer's telephone call box, and a rule book. She was so effective that, in no time at all, the order went out that female suspects could only be questioned by a woman (which would have to be Wells, of course, until a few more women were added to the roll).

Other police departments in the U.S. and in other countries soon followed Los Angeles' example, so that, by the time Wells retired thirty years later, she had established an International Policewoman's Association, as well as the Women's Peace Officers Association of California. A movie about her life was produced in 1914. And when she died in 1957, high ranking members of the LAPD attended her funeral, at which ten women officers formed an honor guard in Wells' memory. In-your-face women don't necessarily want to join everything, but when they do want to join, it's very difficult to keep them out of the club.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mary Brent Wehrli

Sometimes, an in-your-face woman's life has chapters like a book. Mary Brent Wehrli is one such woman. The chapter in the 1990's involved her serving as a Social Welfare professor at UCLA, where she established, among other things, a program for all first year students working toward a Masters degree in Social Work to spend at least one full day on Los Angeles' skid row. During that same chapter, she helped to organize grassroots coalitions to fight for a living wage law, to mobilize regional service agencies in response to the needs of the poor, and to move Los Angeles in the direction of declaring itself a sanctuary for Central American refugees. And in the process, she was named California's Social Welfare Practitioner of the Year in 1999.

The chapter before that, though, was even more lively because that was the decade during which Wehrli served as Executive Director of the Southern California Ecumenical Council's Interfaith Task Force on Central America, a body committed to educate and urge the religious community to oppose the U.S. government's interventionist foreign policies. One of her most in-your-face moments in that chapter was when Wehrli somehow finessed her way into a fundraising dinner for George Herbert Walker Bush, who was then campaigning for the U.S. Presidency. Standing up at an opportune moment, Wehrli loudly asked, "Will you do everything you can to end the bloodshed in Central America by withdrawing support for the repressive regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala?" All hell and a cadre of secret service agents broke loose immediately, with one of the agents grabbing Wehrli's blouse in such a way that it laid bare her shoulder (and part of her bra) for all the world to see.

Her current chapter is as a retired person, a position she has certainly earned, but it's doubtful such an in-your-face woman could lay all action and influence aside after getting used to having so much fun in the past.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Beatrice Webb

That Beatrice Webb was completely self-taught is only of passing interest. Many women born and raised in Great Britain in the 1800's missed the benefits of a formal education. But when you consider that she went on to be one of the founders of the Fabian Society, a group of socialist intellectuals that strongly influenced the Labor Party in their country, as well as one of the founders of the London School of Economics and Political Science, it becomes somewhat more apparent the degree to which Webb was an in-your-face woman. And a smart one at that.

Espousing the idea of cooperatives as a way for workers to maintain control over their own labor and the profits thereof, Webb wrote The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain in 1891 after doing extensive research on the topic. And a few years after that, she co-wrote a history of trade unionism with her husband as the first in a whole series of books they wrote together. Lest we imagine that her husband carried the weight, however, we need to note that it was Webb herself who coined the term "collective bargaining," a practice by which workers unite to more effectively negotiate with their bosses.

By 1919, she was publishing on other topics, such as Men and Women's Wages: Should They Be Equal? And as she aged, having not borne biological offspring, Webb was quoted as saying that she considered the London School of Economics and a highly successful periodical entitled The New Statesman as her symbolic children. Sometimes, an in-your-face woman socially reproduces herself as a way of leaving her mark on the future. Beatrice Webb was satisfied with that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jessica Watson

At age twelve, Jessica Watson decided she wanted to sail around the world -- unassisted and alone. At age sixteen, she did it. A citizen of both New Zealand and Australia, Watson grew up with her mom and dad and three siblings living and being home schooled on sailboats and in a double-decker bus. So she's more than comfortable on the water and in small spaces. But even for her, the seven-month voyage she took from October 18, 2009, until May 15, 2010 (three days before her seventeenth birthday), was a test of true spirit, which is actually the title of the book she wrote about her feat. "I hated being judged by my appearance and other people's expectations of what a 'little girl' is capable of," she explained after arriving triumphant back to her home port in Sydney.

Facing forty-foot waves and 80 mile per hour winds, having to repair virtually everything on her boat at one point or another, and spending hour after interminable hour alone, Watson traveled a total of 23,000 nautical miles in 210 days crossing the equator and all meridians of longitude without touching land or any other boat and without anyone giving her anything. Yet her route, her management, and her unwillingness to accept "advice" from the powers that be telling her she should attempt shorter trips to work up to her monumental accomplishment has been criticized by the mainstream male power structure that regulates who gets recognized and who does not.

Robbed of her "official" standing in the record books, Jessica knows that an in-your-face woman -- however young -- is liable to meet resistance. But she also knows who she is (as demonstrated by a whole raft of accolades and awards), as well as what she can do. And so do the 75,000 people that met her at the dock on her return. Nothing and no one can change that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Frances Watkins

Frances Watkins was born free and Black in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1825. She got a good education and many opportunities to read and write. In fact, she got so good at writing that her poems were being published while she was still in her teens. But rather than just resting on her laurels, Watkins continually expanded her interests and her influence.

She was paid to deliver lectures on the abolition of slavery and the rights of women. She boldly assisted slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad. She reached out to and supported John Brown and his wife when he was arrested for his attack on the armory at Harper's Ferry. And she worked to get women the vote, reminding her White sisters that Black women needed to be included in their actions, as well.

"Talk as you will of woman's deep capacity for loving," Watkins preached, "I do not deny it; but will the mere possession of any human love fully satisfy all the demands of her whole being?...Woman -- if you would render her happy -- needs...her conscience [to] be enlightened, her faith in the true and right established, and scope given to her...God-given faculties." In-your-face women want more out of life than a husband and children to serve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kate Warne

Everyone's heard of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency that started in the 1850's and still exists today. But few may realize that one of its earliest operatives was a young woman named Kate Warne. She talked her way into a job in 1856 and, within a couple of years, had distinguished herself as one of their most trustworthy and clever detectives.

Warne helped to recover $39,000 embezzled from the Adams Express Company. She became a one-woman spy bureau during the Civil War. And she finagled a bank robber's wife into admitting where he had hidden $130,000 in stolen money. But her most famous case involved being instrumental in foiling a carefully planned assassination attempt on the life of Abraham Lincoln when he was on his way to be inaugurated President of the United States.

Warne's adept investigation while she was pretending to be a rich Southern belle flirting her way through Baltimore uncovered the plot in the first place and once her information was corroborated, Allan Pinkerton himself joined Warne with several others to make sure the President would make it safely to Washington. It has been said that the way Warne stayed up all night while Lincoln slept on the train is what gave Pinkerton the idea for his agency's motto: "We never sleep."

Unfortunately, Kate Warne died of pneumonia at only thirty-five years of age, but not before establishing the fact that women make great detectives. They're smart, courageous, sometimes sneaky and ultimately, very in-your-face.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vera Dawn Walker



Called the "Tiny Texan" because she was only 4'11" and weighed 97 pounds, Vera Dawn Walker was so short, she had to sit on pillows so she could reach the rudder pedals on the airplanes she loved to fly in the late 1920's.  And when flying alone didn't provide enough excitement, Walker just climbed out onto the wings and walked up and down while the plane was in the air!

Fascinated by birds swooping from tree to tree when she was a child, Walker grew up longing to do what they were doing. So, when a reporter asked her as an adult, "Why do you fly?" she shot back simply, "I want to!"

When she contracted tuberculosis after a flight to Guatemala in 1931, instead of retiring to a sanitorium to recuperate, Walker pitched a tent south of Tucson, Arizona, and spent four years placer mining. Nothing like a nice pile of gold nuggets to make an in-your-face woman forget her blues.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mary Walker

Born in Oswego, New York, in 1832, Mary Walker grew up on a farm, spent a few years as a teacher and then graduated from medical school in time to offer to be a battlefield surgeon during the Civil War. Unfortunately, women doctors weren't taken very seriously at the time, so her initial practice, which she set up with her husband -- also a doctor -- didn't build the way it would have if she'd been a man, and the U.S. Army would only hire her as a civilian nurse.

Eventually, of course, as the war progressed and needs became more crucial, the Army made her an Assistant Surgeon, after which she traveled back and forth across the front lines to treat civilians caught in the cross fire. Her freedom of access got her arrested as a spy by the Confederate forces in 1864, but she was released in a prisoner exchange. And her service to her country resulted in her being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Subsequent stints as the supervisor of a women's prison and a children's orphanage suggest that she worked her way up some kind of ladder, but Walker had one idiosyncrasy that caused her continued problems. She insisted on wearing clothing usually reserved for men, including a top hat. When she became well known in the women's suffrage movement, her commitment to her clothing choice marginalized her greatly and she was, in fact, arrested on several occasions for "impersonating a man." In-your-face women don't see why they shouldn't become what they want to become, serve where and how they want to serve (or not), and wear exactly what they want to wear. Seems reasonable.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ethel Walker

When Ethel Walker's physician father died in 1884, her British mother fairly quickly married another man and moved to Washington, D.C. with her new husband. How ever and why it worked out that way, Ethel -- barely an adolescent -- wound up first in Connecticut and then in Pennsylvania, separated from both her mother and her beloved older sister and largely responsible for her own financial well-being.

This hardship, coming so soon on the heels of the loss of her father as well as the loss of her brother (who died a year before her father did), could well have collapsed the resolve of a less strong and independent soul. But with aplomb that would characterize her all her life, Walker finished high school and then college, with a bachelor's degree in history and economics from Bryn Mawr.

Spending the next couple of decades teaching and serving in various administrative posts, despite her lack of resources and business experience, Walker began to get the itch to start her own college preparatory girls' school. "I learned to teach by teaching," she later said, "and secretarial work by doing it, and I took a chance that I might learn how to manage a school from having one."

So, in 1911, at thirty-nine-years of age, she opened The Ethel Walker School with ten students utterly committed to a highly rigorous regimen of academic study, athletic achievement, and unfailingly demanding discipline. The first five years, the school survived only on a wing and a prayer. But by her death in the 1960's, Walker had watched her school -- her dream -- take root and grow capable of facing the challenges that marked the second half of its first century.

Some in-your-face women march into battle. Some rob banks. But some in-your-face women -- like Ethel Walker -- put off marriage to focus on their work, turn a dream into a reality with little more than determination, and so, are instrumental in producing generation after generation of other in-your-face women. Not a bad legacy, is it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lillian Wald

When Vassar College turned down her application for admittance in the late 1800's because she was only sixteen, Lillian Wald just went to nurse's training instead. It was a life changing and even historical decision. Undaunted by any challenge, Wald's work with the children at an orphanage convinced her that she needed to start providing services -- medical and otherwise -- for immigrants in New York City, most of whom were living in abject poverty.

She taught nutrition and cooking, sewing and emergency medical procedures. She provided recreational activities for the children. And she even moved into the neighborhood to be more accessible, coining the term "public health nurse." Over time, she got so much attention for her work that philanthropists started throwing money at her and by 1913, Wald was supervising a team of ninety-two people.

Writing a pair of books about her work helped to publicize its importance and effectiveness and further helped her to fund it, as well as her other interest: organizing around labor rights and child labor issues. She lobbied for children to go to school rather than work. She lobbied for rights for African-Americans and racially integrated all classes at her Henry Street Settlement House. She helped to organize the women's suffrage movement in New York City, marched against entering World War I, and helped to establish both the NAACP and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. No wonder The New York Times named her one of the twelve greatest living American women in 1922, but getting her to stand still long enough to accept the award must have been quite a trick!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Rosetta Wakeman

Even though Rosetta Wakeman was only five feet tall and in her late teens, with no offer of marriage and her family in poverty, she decided in 1862 that her best bet to help out was to dress like a man and take a job building a canal. It worked. She was able to take care of herself and send money home. But when she found out that men enlisting in the Union Army received a sign-on bonus of $152, she couldn't resist such a windfall. So she marched on down to her friendly neighborhood recruiter, told him her name was Lyons Wakeman and left for war.

An initial stint protecting the White House may have given Wakeman a false sense of security about surviving the situation, but in February of 1864, her regiment was shipped to Louisiana to participate in the Red River Campaign. Marching for hundreds of miles through the backwater swamps didn't kill her and neither did the battles, some of which lasted all night. But contaminated water resulted in chronic diarrhea and she died in New Orleans and was buried under the name Private Lyons Wakeman in the Chalmette National Cemetary.

We know all this today because she wrote letters to her family throughout her two years in the army. In one of them, sent from Washington, D.C., Wakeman wrote: "I don't know how long before I shall have to go into the field of battle. For my part, I don't care. I don't feel afraid to go." Said like a true in-your-face woman who's just trying to make a living.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nancy Wake

Born in New Zealand in 1912 and raised in Australia, Nancy Wake set out to seek her fortune when she was sixteen and, after touching base in New York and London, she found it in Paris in the person of a wealthy French industrialist who she promptly married. When the Nazis occupied France, she immediately became a courier for the French Resistance and began to work with those who aided Allied soldiers and others to escape the country.

By 1943, Wake (called "The White Mouse" by the Germans because she was so good at eluding capture) was the Gestapo's most sought resistance fighter, with a 5-million franc bounty on her head. Still, she was so in-your-face that she'd pass through the German checkpoints winking flirtatiously and say, "Do you want to search me?"

When it became obvious that she needed to bolt for safety, Wake crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and on to Britain, where she joined the British Special Operations Executive and parachuted right back into France. A "good and fast shot" with a great attitude under duress, she had soon helped to recruit, train, and organize a resistance force of 7,500 guerilla fighters in the hills around Montlucon.

Leading attacks on Gestapo headquarters personally, Wake proved herself capable on many occasions of killing in cold blood. Later, during an interview, she remembered killing a sentry who spotted her. "They'd taught this judo-chop stuff with the flat of the hand at SOE, and I practised away at it. But this was the only time I used it -- whack -- and it killed him all right." Another mission required her to ride a bicycle 500 miles though multiple German checkpoints.

After the war, Wake received more than a dozen medals and acknowledgements. Unfortunately, it was only then she learned that her husband has been tortured to death by the Gestapo in their efforts to locate her. It can be dangerous to be an in-your-face woman. It can also be dangerous to be close to one.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Marguerite Vourc’h


After the German reich had taken over her village in France and her two brothers had run for their lives, fourteen-year-old Marguerite Vourc'h stepped forward without hesitation to gather and pass on information about German soldiers, boats, and the locations of mines.  Pretending to be just a schoolgirl on her bicycle, Vourc'h delivered fake identification cards to the Resistance and hid airmen waiting to leave France -- even while German troops were billeted at her family home! 

Day after day, she would peddle the streets with folders of military information bulging among her school books.  Later, she was quoted as saying, "I was aware of risking everything, but tried not to think about it. I wasn’t scared even though one of my brothers was shot by the Germans in Paris...We wanted to be of use...That was our aim, to help win the war. I would do it all again if I had to."  Apparently, some in-your-face women start out as in-your-face girls and never get over it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Marga von Etzdorf

The daughter of a Royal Prussian military officer who left her orphaned when she was four, Marga von Etzdorf was remarkably athletic from a young age. In fact, she had mastered fencing, horseback riding, and hockey before she was out of her teens. So looking for new horizons, von Etzdorf decided to learn how to fly.

Satisfying all the criteria to complete a very rigorous licensure process, including 10,000 air miles, von Etzdorf was grilled by five examiners for three hours before they agreed that she passed, despite being self-taught since women weren't allowed to train at German flight schools. Over time, she added commercial flying, gliding, and aeronautics to her bag of tricks, and won momentary salutes for making a 12-day journey over Siberia to Japan.

But when a landing with the wind in Syria went bad, the twenty-five-year-old pilot went into a quiet room at the airport and shot herself. Very high achievers sometimes find themselves unable to accept falling short of perfection. An unattainable standard can bring down even an in-your-face woman.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Barbara Villiers

Barbara Villiers -- also known as Barbara Palmer  or Lady Castlemaine -- had so much influence as the mistress of King Charles II of England that she was often called "the uncrowned queen." Poor but drop dead gorgeous, Villiers married young and then more or less ignored her husband for the rest of his life, taking up with Charles and bearing him five children, which he unashamedly acknowledged as his.

Villiers was so powerful, she was appointed to the Queen's personal staff (against the Queen's wishes), despite the fact that she had chosen to settle in at one of the palaces and give birth to a second child by the King while he and his wife were on their honeymoon. And he routinely lavished gifts, including titles and estates, on Villiers, and provided for their children in public and permanent ways. Still, she was only one of thirteen of his mistresses, even if she was often the favorite.

Far from submissive, not only did Villiers dabble in politics, playing both ends against the middle if she thought it would benefit her to do so, but she dabbled in other lovers, as well, giving them extravagant gifts out of the largesse she herself received from Charles. When he finally tossed her aside, she retired to France for several years but found her way back to "say good-bye" the week before the King died.

One might have thought that Villiers' influence would have been left in the 1600's, but thanks to Charles' embrace of their children, some of this in-your-face woman's descendants have drawn their own share of attention.  They include, for example, Lady Diana Spencer (better recognized as Princess Di) and Sarah of York (better recognized as "Fergie"), both do-it-on-their-own-terms women in their own right. Villiers would probably be pleased.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Queen Victoria


Queen Victoria of England began her historic 63-year reign in 1837. She was eighteen-years-old and throughout her life, she accepted the responsibilities of her position as gracefully as any probably have. Though she was only five feet tall and eventually, somewhat round, to boot, the way she carried herself made sure she was properly respected. Even her personal life was a model of virtue for her first forty years.

Falling madly in love with her first cousin, who she married three years after she took the throne, she bore four little princes and five little princesses while she was ruling her country. But when Albert died of typhoid fever, the good queen showed a different, more in-your-face side of herself.

Despite the fact that she wore widow's weeds for the rest of her life, only a couple of years passed before she found and hired a Scottish manservant named John Brown. She was in her early forties; he in his mid-thirties. And nature took its course.

The family (and some others) were more or less shocked, but Queen Victoria wasn't having it. Brown was moved into a special room and for the next twenty-two years, he was never far from her side. Some even called the queen "Mrs. Brown" behind her back. And in truth, when she died and her burial instructions were carried out, her husband's dressing gown was laid in the casket on her right, but in her left hand, covered by a bouquet of flowers, was a photo and lock of John Brown's hair and on the third finger of her right hand was Brown's mother's wedding ring.

However much she loved Albert and John Brown, though, when Brown died in 1883, leaving her bereft once more, the Queen hired a couple of Indian men as waitservants and in rapid order, Abdul Karim (in his mid-twenties to her sixty-eight!) moved into the room -- and apparently the position? -- John Brown had earlier occupied. Not only was he a commoner and a "foreigner," but a person of color, too. But being that Victoria Regina was Queen, nobody could do anything about it but wring their hands. And it was not a private affair. When the royal family met for special occasions, for example, and the servants ate elsewhere, Karim (to the family's horror) ate with them.

We might imagine that, with so much power, any queen would be an in-your-face woman, but history tells us this is not the case. Queens and Kings, in fact, have to satisfy long lists of rules and many, many people. Which is what some of them step down to avoid. But Queen Victoria made no bones about what she was going to do and dared anyone to try and stop her. And that's an in-your-face woman Queen!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Loreta Velazquez

It may be that every single fact in Loreta Velazquez' book is not necessarily exactly true, but even if just half of it is, that would put her over the line as an in-your-face woman, regardless. At six hundred pages, The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and Travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Otherwise Known As Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army, tells so many stories with so many details, anybody who lived through a good portion of those situations would be hard put to remember all of them perfectly in any case.

Published in 1876, Velazquez' account has her born in Havana, Cuba, in 1842 and then educated at least partly in New Orleans. When her first fiance signed up to fight in the Civil War, in spite of his objections, Velazquez found a couple of uniforms and enlisted as well, which was hardly difficult, if the many documented stories of women doing so are any indication. She writes about participating -- as Harry T. Buford -- in the first battle at Bull Run, the siege at Fort Donelson, and Shiloh. And more than once she was either discovered or nearly so, which will keep a woman thinking fast and moving quickly.

Velazquez claimed four husbands, all of which supposedly left her widowed, but whether she was actually legally married or not, we know for sure she gave birth to a son. And at least one newspaper article of the period refers to a  soldier being discovered to be a woman with a name Velazquez was known to use on occasion. So it's not hard to believe that, if she didn't do everything she said, she did enough to claim her status as an in-your-face woman. In fact, it's probably truer than not that she did some stuff she didn't write about. In-your-face women are like that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Peggy van Lier

In her mid-twenties during World War II in Belgium, Peggy van Lier decided not to sit quietly by and just try to live through the Nazi occupation. So she joined in-your-face woman Dede de Jongh's Comet Line, a highly organized underground system that sheltered downed Allied pilots and smuggled them back to safety through Spain.

Pretending to be a worker with a Swedish Red Cross agency that provided food and clothing for children, van Lier actually helped to forge papers, organize hiding places, and supervise pilot escorts. Highly energetic, she inspired others to work harder and risk more and was so invaluable to the Line that she eventually received multiple national recognitions, including the Belgian Croix de Guerre with Palm and the Netherlands Resistance Cross.

On one occasion, she was taken and interrogated by what she later called "a fat, evil, rat-faced SS officer," but she remained so cool -- despite being told that they had just shot to death one of her co-workers -- that she fooled them into releasing her. Even though her identity was now badly compromised, van Lier still had to be ordered by her superior to escape to Great Britain before she would agree to stop her activities. And even in safety, she learned to parachute and kept up her training so she would be ready should they ever change their minds and decide to send her back in.

Peggy van Lier and the Comet Line saved more than 800 pilots, most of which would otherwise have unquestionably perished. But who was counting? Certainly not an in-your-face woman.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elizabeth Van Lew

Elizabeth Van Lew was only twenty-five-years old when her father died, leaving his thriving hardware business in Richmond, Virginia, to her and her brother. She had been educated at a Quaker school and her abolitionist leanings were so strong that the first thing she did when she received her inheritance was to talk her brother into freeing the family's nine slaves. And the second was to spend the entire $10,000 in cash she also received to buy up and free as many as possible of the family's former slaves' relatives.

Then, as if that wasn't enough, when the Civil War began, Van Lew became active in earnest. Allowed to visit the Union Army prisoners at the Libby Prison, she brought them food and clothes, but also information on how to escape and find their way safely home. They, of course, returned the favor by giving her information about Confederate troop movements which she then smuggled out to the Union military leaders in hollow eggs.

Not satisfied yet, however, Van Lew proceeded to set up a bonafide spy ring, gathering information from multiple sources, including in-your-face woman Mary Bowser, a former family slave Van Lew talked into a position as household help in the home of Confederate President Jeff Davis himself! One highly placed Union officer credited her with "the greater portion of our intelligence in 1864-1865."

When the war was over, Van Lew hoisted the first American flag in Richmond, which didn't exactly make her popular with her neighbors. And despite the fact that she was allowed to have personally (and hide) all the paperwork outlining her importance as a spy, everyone knew she was made Postmaster of Richmond as a reward for something. To this day, Van Lew is seen by many in the U.S. South as a traitor to the cause. But regardless of all that, she was and will be remembered also as an unapologetically in-your-face woman.