Text from An Installation at the Fashion District Center for Art
Presented for Women's History Month
Scroll down to view an idiosyncratic list of notable but not well-known women
and their accomplishments.
Notable Women You May Have Never Heard Of
Scroll down to view an idiosyncratic selection of women and their accomplishments.
Artist at Auschwitz. Sent as a prisoner to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943, she was asked by Joseph Mengele to paint portraits of Gypsy inmates. Mengele, who was the notorious Nazi doctor who performed experiments on prisoners, wanted her to document them for him. Dina Babbitt, who had previously been an art student, had come to his attention through a good deed. At the request of a fellow prisoner who worked with the children, she painted cartoon characters on the children’s barracks walls to cheer them up. She agreed to the portraits only if the life of her mother, also an Auschwitz prisoner, would be spared. She did watercolor portraits of which seven or more have survived and have been in the hands of the Auschwitz Museum. Although she attempted for several decades to have them returned to her, she succeeded only in receiving reproductions from the Museum, a major disappointment. Born in Brno, Czechosolovakia, as Dinah Gottliebova, she and her mother were interned as Jews in Prague in1942. They lived in Paris for a time after the War. Later she married and moved to Los Angeles where she worked as an animator on films. She died in California in 2009 at the age of 86.
Early television producer. She came to New York as an aspiring actress and got her first job in 1941 at CBS television as a production assistant. In World War II when CBS suspended programming she served in Navy training films. After the War she became the first woman director at CBS. She directed numerous successful game shows, a cooking show, talk and interview shows and early experimental color broadcasts. Of her accomplishments, she said very modestly in an interview, “I moved people around so cameras could show off what needed to be seen to best advantage.” An St. Louis native, Francis Buss died in 2010 at the age of 92 in North Carolina.
Bull fighter. At the age of 18, she was already an internationally famous bull fighter, and later became one of the most famous toreras of all time, called la Diosa Rubia, the blonde goddess. Born in Chile, of a Connecticut-born mother and a Puerto Rican West Point army officer and businessman father, she grew up in Lima, where she learned to ride and fight bulls. She killed her first bull in Peru at the age of 15, having begun bullfighting at 13. To become accustomed to killing, she had practiced stabbing oxen in a slaughterhouse day after day, as described in a report in Vogue Magazine. In 1951 she married a Portuguese nobleman who was a big game hunter and businessman. She gave up bullfighting, which she had declared she would do if she could find a suitable man who could dominate her. She is reported to have fought 750 bulls in her career. Her final bullfight was in Jaén, Spain, at the end of which she was awarded the highest honors and arrested for fighting the bull on foot, which was a practice from which women in Spain were prohibited. Conchita Cintrón died from a heart attach in 2009 at the age of 86 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Feminist writer. She authored five books, including ‘’Rosie: The Investigation of a Wrongful Death”, and the groundbreaking “Vaginal Politics”, published in 1972. A former medical student, she was a health columnist for the Village Voice newspaper in its heyday as a counter-culture publication. An early questioner of the medical establishment’s attitudes toward female patients, she helped to demystify the medical experience for countless women. A Sag Harbor, Long Island resident in later years, she committed suicide in at the age of 50.
American businesswoman. A Wall Street banker, investor, and miser, she was born in 1834 and died in1916. Hetty Green was an heiress who parlayed her inheritance into an immense fortune, investing in real estate and loaning money to New York City in the Panic of 1907. Known as “The Witch of Wall Street” in her business dealings, she was more than extremely frugal in her personal life, refusing to spend money for medical treatments for herself or her family and dressing in old clothes.
Newspaper editor. Deborah Howell was one of the first women to head a major American newspaper. She was chief of the Washington bureau for the Newhouse News Service for 15 years, after serving as the city editor of the Minneapolis Star and the managing editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where she oversaw two Pulitzer Prize-winning projects. The daughter of a Texas journalist, she was a pioneering woman in what was at the time a man’s profession. She was said to have been a great gossip because of her immense interest in everyone and everybody. An asthmatic, she nevertheless was an aggressive and outgoing individual who could out cuss and out compete the male reporters that she worked with. Married to C.Peter Magrath, president of the University of Minnesota, she died at the age of 68 on January 3, 2010 as a result of a pedestrian traffic accident while visiting New Zealand.
Bess Lomax Hawes
Folklorist and scholar. A member of a premier folklorist family, Bess Lomax helped write the famous “ MTA”, song about the saga of “Charlie”, a Boston subway commuter who didn’t have the money to get off the train. The Kingston Trio later recorded the song, which became a big hit in 1959. The song was a call to the Boston transit authorities to roll back a protested fare increase. Daughter of song collector John A. Lomax, she helped her father with his American folk song research at an early age, and later directed the folk arts program for the National Institute of the Arts. She taught anthropology at several universities in California. Born in Austin, Texas, She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1941. A performer with Peter Seeger in the 1940s and later with Woody Guthrie, she created the National Heritage Fellowships at the National Endowment of the Arts, which she joined in 1976. President Clinton awarded her a National Medal of Arts. Bess Lomax died in Portlend Oregon in 2009 at the age of 88.
Hypatia of Alexandria
Philospher and mathematician. Born about 370 AD, Hypatia of Alexandria was also an astronomer. The daughter and student of the Alexandrian philosopher Theon, she was the head of the Platonist school in Alexandra and a highly respected public figure and teacher. She was famous for her beauty and eloquence. She is said to have turned away many suitors and remained a lifelong virgin. Some scholars credit her with the invention of the astrolab, used in astronomy. In mathematics, she edited the work of Apollonius that centered on conic sections. Her concepts were significant and expanded on by later thinkers, including Descartes and Newton. A popular pagan in a developing Christian world, she was hated by a group of Christian bishops who arranged her brutal murder. In about 415, she was waylaid while traveling in her chariot, stripped and dragged into a church where she was beaten to death with roofing tiles.
Jazz musician. A jazz pianist and an organist for 15 years for the Mets baseball team, she was a New York City based musician and Muzak programming executive. She was perhaps best known for her Mets association. An Indiana native, she played piano on radio shows beginning at age of 11. She was a West Village nightclub performer from the 1980s on, and recorded albums beginning at age of 70. She continued performing and recording for many years. Jane Jarvis died in 2010 at the age of 94 at the Lillian Booth Actor’s Home in Englewood, NJ, where she came to live after being forced to leave her East Side apartment after a crane accident destroyed an adjoining building.
Artist. Jeannne-Claude collaborated with Christo, her husband to create enormous ephemeral art works under the joint designation “Christo”. Christo (his first name) was intended as a brand to identify their work together. Born in Casablanca, the daughter of a French military officer, she met Christo Javacheff in Paris in 1958 and three years later became his wife and lifelong artistic partner. Their environmental artwork includes the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont Neuf in Paris, as well as the Gates installation in Central Park in New York City. All were intended to be temporary projects and have attracted thousands of viewers around the world. Jeanne-Claude died at the age of 74 in November 2009 from a brain aneurysm.
Entrepreneur and publisher. In 1945 She co-founded oEbony Magazine with her husband John H. Johnson. They had introduced Negro Digest in 1942, and later debuted Jet Magazine. Still published today, Ebony and Jet have a combined circulation on almost two million readers. For almost fifty years Ms. Johnson also produced a highly successful annual nonprofit fashion tour, Ebony Fashion Fair, and was one of the first to market cosmetics especially made for African American women. The daughter of a doctor and a high school principal, she was born in Selma, Alabama in 1916, and died, at the age of 93
Philanthropist. A drug industry heiress and Indianapolis native whose great grandfather was pharmaceutical founder Eli Lilly, she donated generously to institutions in the areas of education, medicine and the arts. A devotee of poetry and an aspiring poet, she endowed poetry fellowships, and, toward the end of her life, gave an unprecedented gift worth more than $100 million to the Modern Poetry Association for the magazine Poetry. The magazine has a $3 million annual budget. Born in 1915, and often suffering from depression, Ruth Lilly became a recluse in later years and died in 2009 at the age of 94
Portuguese language novelist. Noted 20th century author who has a cult following of Brazilian artists and scholars, although she has been largely unknown internationally. Described as a beautiful, magnetic blonde, she was a reclusive writer who came from a family of scholars. Born in the Ukraine of a Jewish father and Polish mother, she died in 1977 in Rio. The family fled to Brazil, when she was a year old. She had a difficult childhood, in which her mother was infected with syphilis inflicted as a result of a gang rape by Russian soldiers and later died of the disease. Reportedly she was conceived out of a Ukrainian belief that pregnancy could cure syphilis and she always felt that she had let her family down by not being able to save her mother’s life. She wrote her first novel at age 23, which was phenomenally successful. She spent years in Washington, D.C. as the wife of a diplomat, but returned to her beloved Brazil in 1959. Her last novel, “The Hour of the Star” was published in 1977. She died that year of ovarian cancer at age 57.
Art Deco Muralist. Born in 1892, she was an artist who specialized in landscapes and portraits. The first woman appointed to the New York City Arts Commission, she was a prominent 1930s muralist who had installations in more than a hundred public buildings, including Radio City Music Hall in New York and a 1939 World’s Fair Pavillion. She also did extensive work in mosaic, glass and terra cotta. She was a Manhattan socialite who studied art in Florence as a teenager and served as a draftswoman in the Navy in WWI. xd Hildreth Meière died in 1961, maintaining a studio in New Yorkfor more than 35 years until her death. Her work was the subject of a recent exhibition at the Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University
Mary Mon Toy
Broadway Performer. Originally a Latin Quarter show girl, Mon Toy appeared in the original Broadway production of “The World of Suzy Wong”, in television broadcasts including “Teahouse of the August Moon”, and in films, including “All That Jazz” and “Airplane II”. Born in Hawaii, when she was young she spent time in an internment camp with her family during World War II. She came to New York City in 1944 with a scholarship to the Juilliard School. She was the first Asian runway model in Paris and died at 93 on December 7, 2009, in New York, the city that she loved.
Courtesan. A woman of of Ancient Greece, she lived in Athens and was said to be very beautiful. In fact, she was said to have become so wealthy as a result of her beauty that she offered to rebuild the walls of Thebes that had been destroyed by Alexander the Great. Her offer was declined because the condition of her gift was that they would include the inscription “destroyed by Alexander, restored by Phryne the courtesan.” In a famous trial in which she was accused of corrupting the Elusian mysteries, she is said to have bared her breasts to the judges when it seemed that the verdict was about to go against her. They were so moved by her beauty, which was regarded as a mark of the divine, that they acquitted her. She modeled for the painting of Aphrodite Anadyomene by Apelles and for other Greek artists includig Praxiteles. Much later in history she was the inspiration for for literary works by Baudelaire and Rainer Maria Rilke, an opera by Saint-Saens, and a painting by Jean-Leon Gerome depicting her disrobing at her trial.
Carlene Hatcher Polite
Novelist. Originally a dancer who had studied with Martha Graham. Died on December 7, 2009. She wrote two novels, “The Flagellants” and “Sister X and the Victims of Foul Play” focusing on racism and sexism in the lives of African Americans. She also worked with the NAACP in the 60s. She said in an interview, “I’m of that generation which thought that because we were Negroes we had to write or paint or dance as ‘Negroes’. To be accepted by white publishers or producers we had to be in quotation marks. But I’d rather divide up my writing to do creative literature and editorial protests at separarate times”.
Answering service entrepreneur. A Gross Pointe,Michigan native and recovered childhood polio victim, she came to New York City and married cocktail pianist Robert Printz in 1953. She found work as an East side answering service operator and stayed in the industry all of her life. One of her first clients was Adolph Greene, who wrote the book for the legendary Broadway musical “Bells Are Ringing”. The show’s switchboard operator character, played by Judy Holiday, was based on Mary Printz. Reportedly she instructed Miss Holiday in switchboard technique for the role. She opened her own answering service after a few years and served clients who included Hermione Gingold, Shirley MacLaine, Robert Redford, Kathleen Turner, and Brooke Shields, among other celebrities. More than answering their phone, she provided in-person services, advice and consolation that made her invaluable to her clients. She ran the service until she died at the age of 82 in 2009. At that late date, the business maintained a loyal roster of about 90 well-known entertainment industry clients. She was always at the office every day by 5 am to be on hand for the first wake-up calls, and she commuted every day into her Manhattan office from her home in Tappan, NY.
Psychotherapist. Jerilyn Ross did pioneering work with anxiety disorders and was a highly visible advocate for those with persistent anxiety. She developed an extreme fear of heights in her 20s which she learned to manage. This inspired her to help others. She brought anxiety disorders to professional and public attention and championed the cause of those with the ailment. Originally a high school math teacher in New York City, she earned a master’s degree, becoming a psychologist and author of several books, including “Triumph Over Fear”, about anxiety disorders. Jerilyn Ross died in 2010 from cancer at the age of 63.
Alice S. Rossi
Sociologist and feminist scholar. Alice Rossi, whose work greatly influenced the women’s movement of the 1960s, wrote about women and work, family life and sexuality and edited several books, including, in 2001, “Caring and Doing for Others: Social Responsibility in the Domains of Family, Work and Community.” She was an early abortion advocate and women’s activist. A Columbia University PhD., she was a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, John Hopkins University and Harvard University. In 1966 She co-founded NOW (the National Organization for Women). Alice Rossi died in November, 2009 at the age of 87.
Nazi Resister. Member of the “Red Orchestra” Berlin Underground of Nazi resisters in WWII who sought to bring the Allies’ attention to the crimes and intentions of the Nazi regime and turn the populace against Hitler. She worked in the film industry and was sentenced to the guillotine by the Nazis as a result of her efforts to encourage soldiers to photograph Nazi atrocities which the resistance could use as demonstrations of proof for war crimes. Her story is included in a recent book, The Story of the Berlin Underground and the Circle of Friends Who Resisted Hitler by Anne Nelson.
Realist painter. A figurative artist well-known in the 1940s, her most acclaimed work was “Tribute to the American Working People”. Now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution, it is a polyptych, more than six feet long, completed in 1951, in the style of a Renaissance altarpiece. It was the subject of a recent exhibition there. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art also have her work in their permanent collections. Having spent her childhood in Paris, the Philippines, and various US cities, as a teenager she won a nationwide young people’s art contest for her painting and went on to study at Yale University and other art schools. Her hyper-real work, always reflected social criticism and often examined women’s roles in society, including her 1984 painting “Resurrection of a Waitress”. She had a meticulous style and is said to have used more than 200 fine paintbrushes on “Tribute”, which took her five years to complete. Honoré Sharrer died in 2009 at the age 0f 88.
Author and women’s health activist. She wrote the pioneering book “The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill” in 1969, which helped to establish the women’s health movement and the concepts of informed patient consent that are acknowledged today. A health columnist for women’s magazines, she introduced a new kind of health reporting to women’s media. She was a frequent writer for the “New York Times and the “Washington Post”. A contributing editor to the seminal Ms. Magazine and a colleague of Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem, she was also politically involved as board member of the early New York City abortion organization, Women’s Medical Center, and the groundbreaking National Organization for Women. Barbara Seaman died at age 72 in 2008 from lung cancer. A 40th anniversary publication of “The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill” was published in 2009.
Swedish soprano. A Stockholm native who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1959 as Susanna in “Figaro”, where she sang for five years, she was a member of the Swedish Royal Opera for her entire career. In 1957 she first performed in the Glyndebourne Festival and returned often to sing Strauss. She performed at Covent Garden with the Royal Opera and made landmark opera recordings. Born in 1927, she had a Russian mother and a Swedish naval captain father. She was known for her stage presence, Scandinavian reserve, her musicianship and the richness of her voice. After she retired she returned to the Met briefly as the Countess in “Queen of Spades” by Tchaikovsky. She died in Stockholm at 82 in 2009.
Freya Von Moltke
Anti-Nazi Activist. Prominent member of the Kreisau Circle movement. Supported the failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life by Col. Claus von Stauffenber. Born into a German banking family, she married Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, the co-founder of the anti-Nazi Kreisau Circle, who was later executed by the Nazis.. After the war she emigrated to South Africa where she worked as a social worker, later returning to Germany and publicizing the work of the Kreisau Circle. Died January 3. 2010.
Diana Barnato Walker
Aviator. A WW II flyer, she piloted fighter planes, delivering them to male pilots for use in the British war effort. She was one of group of 16 women aviators known as the “Atagirls” who risked their lives in these missions, together flying more than 260 Spitfires, Hurricanes and Mustangs. In 1963 she became the first British woman to break the sound barrier and, in 1994, wrote a biography titled “Spreading My Wings” centering on her aviation experiences. The granddaughter of Barney Barnato who amassed the DeBeers diamond mining fortune, she was a London debutante before taking a flying lesson that set her off on her military career. Later in life she operated a sheep farm in England, and died at the age of 90 in 2008.
Artist. Mother of artist Andy Warhol. Born in Czechoslovakia, she came to the United States with her husband in 1921, settling in Pittsburgh. A creative spirit, she excelled in singing, drawing, embroidery, lettering and many types of craft. In 1952 she moved to New York City to join Andy where she often did decorative calligraphy to accompany his illustrations. She remained with her son in New York until 1970, when she returned to Pittsburgh, where she died in 1972 at the age of 80.
Folk singer. A native of Moscow, she won a singing competition in 1947 that jump- started her career. Beforthat, during World War II she had been a factory worker in a machine tool factory, although she came from a family of singers. She sang traditional Russian folk songs in a deep voice with orchestral accompaniment, which led her to become a beloved Soviet star. Her rendition of the well-known folk song “Volga” was an audience favorite. She maintained her own website, ludmilazykina.com, which sustained an enormous volume of traffic. Although not known internationally, she was highly acclaimed and decorated in her native country. She died in 2009 at the age of 80, and was celebrated in a memorial ceremony in one of Moscow’s biggest concert halls.