In honor of Black History Month. I'd like to salute a few women that are an inspiration to me.
Elizabeth Ann Eckford
Elizabeth Ann Eckford made history as a member of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African-American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
The image of fifteen-year-old Eckford, walking alone through a screaming mob in front of Central High School, propelled the crisis into the nation's living rooms and brought international attention to Little Rock (Pulaski County). Eckford was awarded the prestigious Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as were the rest of the Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates, in 1958. In 1997, Elizabeth Eckford shared the Father Joseph Biltz Award (presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice) with Hazel Bryan Massery, a segregationist classmate who appears in the famous Will Counts photograph, and during the reconciliation rally of 1997, the two former adversaries made speeches together. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented the nation's highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to the members of the Little Rock Nine. She is currently a probation officer in Little Rock and is the mother of two sons.
Madame CJ Walker
Madame CJ Walker born "Sarah Breedlove" in 1867 in Delta, Louisiana on the plantation where her parents had been enslaved. She was orphaned at age seven, married at age fourteen, and was widowed at age twenty. In 1887, Breedlove moved to St. Louis, where she worked as a laundress, earning just $1.50 a day.
In the 1890s, Breedlove developed a scalp condition that caused her to lose much of her hair. She discussed the problem with her brothers who worked as barbers, and experimented with various home remedies and store-bought haircare products. In 1906, Breedlove founded the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company and developed her renowned "Wonderful Hair Grower," along with other products designed especially for black women.
While sales from her hair products climbed, Breedlove expanded her business by opening hair salons and beauty schools. She not only manufactured hair products, but she trained and employed thousands of women as beauticians and sales agents. Many of the people who worked in her company—including those who held leadership positions—were women.
At the time of Breedlove's death in 1919, she was the wealthiest African American woman in the country, and had donated tens of thousands of dollars to charitable organizations focused on improving the lives of African Americans. Breedlove, a pioneer and innovator in the beauty industry, is widely accredited as being the first African American millionaire and first female self-made millionaire in the United States.
Alice Ball, born in 1892 and earned double bachelor degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry and pharmacy from the University of Washington. She subsequently enrolled in the University of Hawaii and earned her master of science in chemistry. She was the first African-American and first woman to do so at the University. She then became the first woman to teach chemistry there.
In her postgraduate research, she began investigating the properties of chaulmoogra oil, which had previously been used in the treatment of leprosy (Hansen's disease) with mixed results. Ball developed a technique that isolated the ethyl ester compounds from the fatty acids in the chaulmoogra oil, creating a water-soluble injectable treatment that the body could absorb. It became the most effective and widely used method for treating the disease until the invention of sulfonamide drugs in the 1940s.
Unfortunately, Ball died at the age of 24 before she had the opportunity to publish the results of her research. Arthur L. Dean, a chemist and president of the University of Hawaii, continued her research and published it under his name. The method thus became known as the Dean method. Decades later, after two researcher discovered Ball's work in the University of Hawaii archives, the University honored Ball with a chaulmoogra tree planted on campus, and the lieutenant governor of Hawaii declared February 29 to be "Alice Ball Day."
Rebecca Lee Crumpler
Rebecca Lee Crumpler challenged the prejudice that prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine to became the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, a distinction formerly credited to Rebecca Cole. Although little has survived to tell the story of Crumpler's life, she has secured her place in the historical record with her book of medical advice for women and children, published in 1883.
Crumpler was born in 1831 in Delaware, to Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber. An aunt in Pennsylvania, who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and may have influenced her career choice, raised her. By 1852 she had moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she worked as a nurse for the next eight years (because the first formal school for nursing only opened in 1873, she was able to perform such work without any formal training). In 1860, she was admitted to the New England Female Medical College.When she graduated in 1864, Crumpler was the first African American woman in the United States to earn an M.D. degree, and the only African American woman to graduate from the New England Female Medical College, which closed in 1873.
In her Book of Medical Discourses, published in 1883, she gives a brief summary of her career path: "It may be well to state here that, having been reared by a kind aunt in Pennsylvania, whose usefulness with the sick was continually sought, I early conceived a liking for, and sought every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others. Later in life I devoted my time, when best I could, to nursing as a business, serving under different doctors for a period of eight years (from 1852 to 1860); most of the time at my adopted home in Charlestown, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. From these doctors I received letters commending me to the faculty of the New England Female Medical College, whence, four years afterward, I received the degree of doctress of medicine."
Dr. Crumpler practiced in Boston for a short while before moving to Richmond, Virginia, after the Civil War ended in 1865. Richmond, she felt, would be "a proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children. During my stay there nearly every hour was improved in that sphere of labor. The last quarter of the year 1866, I was enabled . . . to have access each day to a very large number of the indigent, and others of different classes, in a population of over 30,000 colored." She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise have had no access to medical care, working with the Freedmen's Bureau, and missionary and community groups, even though black physicians experienced intense racism working in the postwar South.
"At the close of my services in that city," she explained, "I returned to my former home, Boston, where I entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment; regardless, in a measure, of remuneration." She lived on Joy Street on Beacon Hill, then a mostly black neighborhood. By 1880 she had moved to Hyde Park, Massachusetts, and was no longer in active practice. Her 1883 book is based on journal notes she kept during her years of medical practice. Her book is one of the very first medical publications by an African American.
Kelly Randall Photography
I glean from stories of those who did not give up in spite of what their circumstances looked like. So we have no excuse but to stand on their shoulders and build our own legacy. Nothing is impossible. Dreams don't work unless you do, so live your best life.
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