It’s International Women’s Day today, Women’s History Month right now and always here at The Fold you’ll find us championing women’s voices and the lives we live. In honor of the above, every Friday for the duration of the month we’ll be profiling women in our storied history who have made waves, both intentional and unintended. These women couldn’t have imagined the strides we’ve made toward equality today, while also understanding there is still so far to go. And that’s the big picture.
But what we would all do well to remember are the small steps — the impact and reach we each have. Though you may not have a megaphone, you do have a voice, one that impacts daughters, sons, friends, family, co-workers. This week’s installment features women who moved forward ideas of connection, of our relationships to each other, to our communities, families and the greater world. So allow us introduce these fearless women from whom we can all learn and grown:
Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) worked for the entirety of her life to understand and help heal children’s racial biases, and her career research helped influence Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that eventually overturned “separate-but-equal” segregation the U.S. school system. Clark and her husband (Kenneth Clark) were the first black recipients of psychology doctorates from Columbia University in 1943, and are most famous for their use of dolls in groundbreaking psychological experiments. During the “doll tests,” as they’re now known, a majority of African-American children showed a preference for dolls with white skin instead of black ones — a consequence, the Clarks argued, of the pernicious effects of segregation. Mamie Clark’s life work laid the groundwork for integration, and as she declared, we should remember: “Let us make no mistake here: racism is a disease.”
Melanie Klein (1882-1960) was the pioneer of play therapy (which enables children to express themselves through the use of toys and play), and her career focus was on the early mental processes that build up a person’s inner emotional world. She championed the mother-child relationship and its impact on development. A leading psychologist of her day, she also laid the foundation for object relations theory — the assumption that all individuals have within them a internalized and primarily unconscious realm of relationships (and this can be rooted primarily in early attachment to our mothers). Klein reminds of us the independent nature of children, but also our responsibility in raising them: "One of the many interesting and surprising experiences of the beginner in child analysis is to find in even very young children a capacity for insight which is often far greater than that of adults."
Harriott Daley (1867-1957) was the first telephone switchboard operator at the U.S. Capitol. Primary methods of communication at the time were telegrams and letters, to which were a long awaited way to connect. Phones bridged the gap, and, “who was available to operate this modern tool discreetly, efficiently, pleasantly and for a reasonable wage? Women.” This method of connection quickly caught on and soon the switchboard was humming with constituent chatter. By the time she retired in 1945, Daley and her 50 loyal Hello Girls, as they had come to be known, were attending to 535 members of Congress with a switchboard 60 times the size of the one she had first encountered. And so today when reaching out to Congress has become more important than ever, we have Daley to thank.
Mabel Grammer (1915-2002) founded and ran an adoption agency for unwanted mixed-race children in Germany after World War II (history remembers it as the Brown Baby Plan). Many of these orphaned children were the offspring of German women and African-American soldiers — fathers were transferred and mothers risked social repercussions. Beginning in 1950 Grammer’s husband was stationed in Germany, and she used her background as a journalist writing article after article for the Afro-American, a newspaper in Baltimore, reporting on the dire situation of these children, asking black families to adopt. Word spread and soon Grammer found herself arranging adoptions by proxy, negotiating with the government, airlines and agencies. In 1956, she wrote: “I can’t understand why people think it is so strange for a colored couple to adopt these children. Don’t they think we have hearts, too?” Forever an advocate for the smallest without a voice, she received received a humanitarian award from Pope Paul VI in 1968.