Tag Archives: women

A Story of Women in Florida

by ZontaDoris

We recently published a post on Hidden Figures, the book and movie about the African-American women who worked for NASA and its predecessor agencies in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The surprise we club members had was magnified many times over by millions of Americans learning that brilliant minority women had contributed mightily as mathematicians and computer scientists to our country’s aeronautical and space explorations.

These unsung women from impoverished and socially restricted circumstances, reminded us of this quote from the Homegoing book by Y’aa Gyasi on 300 years of history of two families originating in Ghana.

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?”

FWFA_2017-07-17_1459The idea of finding and capturing missing voices in this quote emerged for me recently as I learned about the Florida Philanthropic Network (FPN) and its affinity group–Florida Women’s Funding Alliance. The purpose of the FWFA–funders banded together under the FPN–is to “convene, connect, educate, leverage and elevate Florida women’s funders in order to elevate and empower leadership, expertise and investments in women’s issues.”

The end result is to help women and girls thrive in Florida. 

In order to improve our strengths and reduce our vulnerabilities as a gender, we need to know more about the status of women in our state.

FWFA is helping us understand the story behind women’s well-being in Florida.

The FWFA commissioned studies on the status of women in Florida, looking at four measures of women’s economic security:

  • health care coverage
  • poverty and gender wage gap
  • college attainment and
  • business creation.


FWFA enlisted the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, featured in this blog in September 2016, to do the research.

A full report and one-page infographs on the four topics were released only a few months ago. I am lifting sections of a one-page infograph available under Key Findings on the Women’s Foundation of Florida’s website and from the one- page infographs for this post.

Best news first on Business Creation

Women in Florida own more businesses and are growing more businesses than women do in most other states. In fact, Florida is 5th in the country on this measure. We are clearly entrepreneurial!


Poverty and the Wage Gap 

We are in the bottom third of states for women 18 and older living in poverty. Five Florida counties have abysmal rates of poverty for women. If the gender wage gap were corrected, the poverty rate would be reduced by more than 50% for all working women and especially so for working single mothers. Wage gaps matter for one’s current standard of living and in retirement as Social Security benefits and savings stream from one’s earnings history.


Attaining College Degrees

With regard to educational attainment, women in Florida trail women in other states.


Women’s Health Care Coverage in Florida 

The worst measure is how women in this state are supported, or not, to maintain or regain their health.


This situation makes me SCREAM in frustration! We are last in the country–50th!–on the percentage of uninsured women under age 65. In fact, 1/5 of all uninsured adults in the country reside in Florida. We also have big disparities in women’s accessing health care coverage depending on their race and ethnicity.

This gap exists because our Governor and Legislature choose repeatedly not to expand Medicaid eligibility. They wish to go the other way to reduce access to Medicaid benefits. The working poor don’t earn enough to get subsidies to purchase their health insurance and earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The outcome: these folks delay health care until they have to go to the hospital emergency room for care. They have no one negotiating lower rates for them with the hospital so they pay top dollar for the most expensive medical care.

Consequences of not having health care coverage: women (and men) suffer from undiagnosed illness and injuries. Their functioning is eroded or slashed dramatically. Women (and men) die prematurely. Women (and men) teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Many have to file for medical debt protection because they have no other way of digging out of the financial hole they have fallen into.

We enable our elected officials to ignore the scope and depth of the problem when we don’t speak up loudly and consistently to expand health care access.


1. Learn from work sponsored by organizations such as the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance in the Florida Philanthropy Network. Follow their Facebook page to learn from new studies and reports. 

2. Stay informed on consumer health issues in Florida by subscribing to the Florida CHAIN (Community Health Action Information Network) and following its Facebook page

3. Use your voice to say we can, and should, do better as a state. Our state representatives and senators are only an office visit, phone call, or email away. We elect them to help Floridians thrive. Call or visit them today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year.  Access our representatives in the U.S. Congress here.  

It’s on all of us to make Florida a better home for women and girls, and their families. 

* * * * *

Scrapbook picture from Victorian Lady at Pixabay

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb


by ZontaDoris

I believe that Evette Dionne, News and Identity Editor at Revelist, and Leslie Jones, actress and comedienne on Saturday Night Live got it right on Black History Month.

After Hidden Figures, the movie about black women mathematicians at NASA came out, (and the topic of our blog post last week), Leslie Jones did a Saturday Night Live skit where she said:

Here’s my issue: We cram all of Black history into just one month,” she said. “All we have time for is that George Washington Carver and all of his peanut stuff. We should learn all of Black history, all the year round, and teach it to everybody.

Jones humorously identified inventions by black talents including the inventors of one of the first tri-color traffic signals (Garrett Morgan who also invented the gas mask) and freestanding drop letter mailbox with hinged lid (Philip B. Downing, patented 1891), and caller ID and call waiting.

Like many people, I found myself saying “I never knew that” as if someone had been keeping it from me!

Because she is a woman scientist and current president of the Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, I wish to call special attention to Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, whom Jones mentioned for her invention of call waiting. There are several people who claim to have invented caller ID and call waiting based on the websites I visited, but it is generally conceded that

Dr. Jackson conducted breakthrough basic scientific research that enabled others to invent the portable fax, touch tone telephone, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting.

The significance of her early research resembles that of the women mathematicians and engineers in Hidden Figures in that their work was critical to our country’s success in aeronautics and space exploration.

Jones’s four-minute skit below informs and entertains. Warning: Jones is provocative!

Now back to Evette Dionne’s article in Revelist…she summarized the impact of condensing the study of Black Americans’ achievements into 30 days for our school children:

The majority of Black history curriculums focus on Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights Movement, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, and nothing else. This is how figures, like the women featured in the film, become hidden.

It is important for us to know about minority men and women who break new ground through their inventions and leadership because research shows that children may not consider preparing for highly-skilled work situations unless they see someone who shares their gender, race, or ethnic background who has succeeded in that role. Role modeling the broad range of work choices is why the Ms. Foundation and Gloria Steinem started the Take Our Daughters to Work Day in 1992, to boost girls’ ambitions and show them that they, too, could prepare to join any skilled profession that they desired. The program was expanded and renamed Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work day in the early 2000’s to embed it in school curricula across the country to enlighten all school children to the realm of career possibilities.

I wish to pull back the curtain on Black women’s inventions and ease from Black History Month into Women’s History Month with a few profiles of black women inventors. I am greatly assisted by Leila MacNeil at the Smithsonian Magazine with her February 2017 article titled “These Four Black Women Inventors Reimagined the Technology of the Home.”

MacNeil featured four 19th century women inventors who overcame great odds to patent their creations. The twin evils–sexism and racism—worked against imaginative women in the 19th and 20 centuries to deny them admission to higher education. Additionally, according to Deborah Merritt, a law professor cited in MacNeil’s article, sexism and racism fostered “Restrictive state laws, poor educational systems, condescending cultural attitudes, and limited business opportunities.” MacNeil said that historians can identify only four African-American women who were granted patents for their inventions between 1865, the end of the Civil War, and the turn of the 19th century.


Patent website–http://bit.ly/2lT9uNW

My favorite may be Sarah Elizabeth Goode’s invention. Bio.com reports that Goode was born into slavery in 1850 and moved to Chicago with her husband Archibald, a carpenter, after the Civil War. Together they owned a furniture store. Goode recognized the limitations of tiny Chicago apartments and invented the cabinet bed, an object that converts from a roll top desk into a bed. She patented the invention in 1885. It combines two of my favorite activities: sleeping and writing and makes the most of small living spaces. What’s not to like?

MacNeil identifies Miriam E. Benjamin as the second African-American woman inventor with a patent. Benjamin patented her gong and signal chair for hotels in 1888. Wikipedia provides more background: Benjamin was born as a free person in Charleston, SC in 1861 and moved to Boston with her family to enter high school. She trained to teach and resided and worked as a public schoolteacher in Washington, DC. Later she went to Howard University to become an attorney specializing in patent applications.

Benjamin’s special chair allowed its occupant to announce a need for service with a gong and red light, a precursor to attendant call buttons on airplanes. Her patent application spoke to how it would reduce costs for restaurants and hotels by reducing the number of staff needed to serve guests. Benjamin wished for the chair to be used widely in all spaces where people congregate, including the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures. However, the House did not choose her design and I could not find anything on its selection by state houses.


Patent website–http://bit.ly/2lvhsw2


Patent website–http://bit.ly/2lQ8YlA

Sarah Boone is the third African-American inventor featured by MacNeil. Boone improved upon the ironing board. Originally, the ironing board was a plank supported on both ends by chairs or tables (It sounds like the kind of setup we would rig in my home!). She curved the board to make it easier and more effective to iron women’s garments with special attention to sleeves and bodices. She lived in New Haven, Ct. when she received the U.S. patent in 1892.

Finally, MacNeil tells us that we only know about Ellen Elgin’s invention of the clothes wringer because of testimony she gave to The Woman Inventor. Regrettably, her testimony also explains why she sold her patient for $18 thereby making the new patent holder much richer than she would ever be.


page from The Woman Inventor–http://bit.ly/2lT0mJp

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into black women’s creativity. Next month we’ll continue the focus on more women leaders from different backgrounds and how they have shaped, and can, and do shape the quality of life for us.

 * * * * *

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb

Resources used in this post include:

Evette Dionne and Leslie Jones, “Leslie Jones perfectly breaks down why Black History Month isn’t enough,” Revelist, January 23, 2017, http://www.revelist.com/viral/leslie-jones-black-history-month/6608

Katherine Dvorak, “Twenty Years and Counting: Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” National Women’s History Museum, http://bit.ly/2ll8U9T

Leila MacNeil, “These Four Black Women Inventors Reimagined the Technology of the Home,” Smithsonian Magazine, February 7, 2017, http://bit.ly/2mHFO5G

Pixabay, artist Couleur, https://pixabay.com/en/nuts-peanut-roasted-cores-snack-1736520

Hidden Figures: 3 “Colored Computers” Who Helped US Race into Space

By ZontaDoris

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So, when you study history, you must always ask yourself, whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth?” 

–a Ghanaian teacher in The Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Maybe your eyes are glazing over because history is a ho-hum topic for you. Maybe you had to endure horrible K-12 history teachers who forced you to memorize dates instead of understanding how the evolution of human events formed our present. 🙂 But there’s hope for a turnaround in your attitude.

IF you are reading this blog, you must be concerned with social justice issues, especially those relating to women. Therefore, it follows that you must see the movie Hidden Figures.

It depicts aeronautics and space expansion in the late 1950s-early 1960s through the eyes and actions of three black women who started as research mathematicians–“colored computers”–at Langley Field in Virginia, later called the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory; then NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; and who continued working at NASA–National Aeronautics and Space Administration as space mathematicians (Johnson), computer scientists (Vaughan), and in Mary Jackson’s case, as an engineer and women’s advocate.

Hidden Figures presents the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Goble Johnson, and Mary Winston Jackson with dignity and respect, yet makes their professional journeys as black women brilliantly pursuing careers as mathematicians and engineers in a white male-dominated era and setting engaging and understandable. Still not convinced? Watch the Hidden Figures trailer below.

The Hidden Figures screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi was based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. I read the book after seeing the movie. The movie conveys the racism and sexism that these women had to overcome to advance in their field. The book offers a much more extended timeline and context for their halting steps forward. Here are a few things from Shetterly’s excellent history to keep in mind for the movie as you see them progress in their work at NASA in Virginia.

The professional road was uphill all the way. The three women went to black K-12 schools and colleges because of segregation. Upon graduating with mathematics degrees, their professional route to work was through teaching at the K-12 level.  Their salaries were significantly less than salaries paid to their white counterparts (which in Virginia, were already in the bottom quarter of salaries of teachers across the country!). Sometimes the schools would run out of funds to pay teachers for the full year.

In spite of her talented cost-cutting measures to conserve family expenditures, Dorothy Vaughan had to work in a military laundry sorting soldiers’ clothes for washing during the Summer break to supplement her family’s income for raising four children. Her husband worked seasonally as a bellman at luxury hotels in Florida, New York, Vermont, and at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. His parents took care of their children when Dorothy and Howard had to work far from home.

Teachers’ working conditions were onerous, often in outdated facilities designed to house half the number of students actually attending them and with textbooks discarded by the white schools. Too few classrooms, no gymnasium, lockers, or cafeteria is what Dorothy Vaughan had to cope with in her last year of teaching in 1943 when she earned $850. When she was selected as a Mathematician, Grade P-1 at Langley Field, her pay jumped to $2,000 a year.

To show how unusual Vaughan’s vault to a mathematician role at the Langley Lab was in 1943, about 10 years before the movie starts its story with the assignment of Katherine Johnson to the Flight Research Division, Shetterly outlines the hierarchy of blacks’ work opportunities.

There were black jobs, and there were good black jobs. Sorting in the laundry, making beds in white folks’ houses, stemming in the tobacco plant–those were black jobs. Owning a barbershop or a funeral home, working in the post office, or riding the rails as a Pullman porter–those were good black jobs. Teacher, preacher, doctor, lawyer, now those were very good black jobs, bringing stability and the esteem that accompanied formal training.

But the job at the aeronautical laboratory was something new, something so unusual it hadn’t yet entered the collective dreams.

The higher education path was bouldered with impediments. Smart young black women and men in the 1930s faced many barriers to post-college study including admission policies that barred them from entering white professional schools. NAACP won two Supreme Court cases before the situation started to change in most states (1936–Murray v. Pearson and 1938–Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada)

Even though the Supreme court ruled in favor of black graduate students, Virginia continued to disobey the law up until 1950. West Virginia, in contrast, did not fight integration in its graduate schools thereby making it possible for Katherine Johnson to start her graduate math studies at West Virginia University in the summer of 1940.

Virginia continued to resist federal efforts in public schools to desegregate following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS decision by the Supreme Court. Local officials with the state’s backing even closed public schools in some counties for up to five years rather than open them to black students. Vestiges of these policies are evident in the movie when Mary Jackson has to get the local judge’s permission to take advanced engineer-in-training college-extension classes at the local whites-only high school in the evening hours.

WW II and Sputnik created opportunities for black women and men. The need for faster, more efficient, and more specialized planes during the war meant that the “terrifically complex bundle of physics” had to be “tweaked to serve the needs of different situations.” Langley Laboratory hired black mathematicians to help shape new designs for plane manufacturers to build the customized planes faster than ever before. In fact, Shetterly reported that the “American aircraft industry …[leaped] from the country’s forty-third largest industry in 1938 to the world’s number one industry by 1943.”

Black men fought in the war, mainly on the ground, and in the air as the famous Tuskegee airmen, also called the “Tan Yanks” by the black press, to great success. Although almost every tenth American soldier in WW II was black, their service to the country wasn’t enough to stop the racist treatment and blatant discrimination the black GIs experienced after the war. However, they didn’t give up and continued to press for their full rights of democracy.

Once the Soviets put up Sputnik in October 1957, “the United States found itself trailing technologically during a world of rising international tension.” While President Eisenhower almost stood alone in viewing Sputnik as an innocuous “small ball in the air,” American policy makers AND most citizens worried about intercontinental ballistic missiles and atomic weapons aimed at the American continent. Yet as a Norfolk Journal and Guide columnist pointed out: “How can Senator Byrd [a staunch segregationist] and Congressman Hardy be so distressed one minute about our lagging behind the Russians in our missile program and the next minute advocate closing the schools in Virginia?” Smart scientists and mathematicians–of all races–were needed to close the missile gap.

Negotiating segregation must-nots and can-nots was constant, dangerous, and required uncommon courage and strength to persevere. The movie focuses mostly on the injustices at Langley, where anyone of our three sheroes could have been confused with a cleaning lady but Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson and their children had to enter, exit, and sit in the back of public buses. They could only seek food and lodging from those who would serve them, sometimes in private homes, by people who might need their hospitality reciprocated some day. I’ve already mentioned the obstacles they faced to public and higher education and career progression. These professional women also faced discrimination in where they could live and buy good homes with reasonable financing. Their black male colleagues and partners in life had to be even more cautious in just walking down the street.

Yet each woman prevailed because of her brilliance, persistence, and refusal to be discounted or isolated because of her race. Her social networks–extended family and friends, sorority, children’s schools and church–also helped her succeed.

February is Black History Month. Google explains the history of Black History Month. See Hidden Figures. Learn and be proud, as Amelia Earhart would be, of how three women leaned-in many hours a day for decades to make our national aeronautics and space programs succeed. 

* * * * * 

Pictures of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson taken from their Wikipedia profiles.

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb