Movers & Shakers

Living History Portrayals of Notable Women


Feminists & Activists
Women of Letters
Hispanic Women Speak
Jewish Women Speak

An interactive presentation offering a series of dramatized living history portraits of a wide variety of notable women which can be strictly American women, or those from all over the world. The program may vary from one venue to the next, catering to the requests and interests and different audiences. Included Among the six to eight portraits may be such women as Eleanor Roosevelt, Ursula K. LeGuin, Murasaki Shikibu, Emily Dickinson, Sojourner Truth, Florynce Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Golda Meir, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, and Mae West. Light costuming and props bring a theatrical air to the performances. During the performance, the audience is given time to ask questions, make requests and clarify matters.

Women's studies, still a relative newcomer to the field of humanities, is central to the appreciation of women's contribution to the arts, philosophy and literature. Bringing these women to life informs the audience of those contributions by utilizing monologues made up of the women's own words and representing the kernel of what they stood for and what their contributions were.For example, Murasaki Shikibu, the 11th century author of The Tales of Genji, kept a nikki, or a journal, that has an air of such contemporaneousness one is forced to wonder how it could have been written a thousand years ago. Such wonder compels one to consider the issues of women in an historical context, and rather than an isolated phenomena of the last two decades. What's more, we begin to see that "women's issues" are not only concerned with the more narrow role of gender, but are as expansive as life itself: Ursula K. LeGuin addresses the imagination, Rachel Carson is concerned with the environment, Inez de la Cruz is voraciously curious about the chemistry of the kitchen, Sojourner Truth speaks out not only for women's rights but those of all black people.

There is a great deal of humor in the program -- particularly with what has traditionally become the last portrait of the program, Mae West -- and it is a great entertainment which makes the informational aspect all the more palatable.

"Our convention theme was Celebrate Women! and your presentation was perfect...." - General Federation of Women's Clubs , WA

"Delightful, innovative approach to history --drama rather than just speech....Your interaction with the audience was superb...Great actor and presenter!" - Department of Energy, Spokane

"Your performance was breathtaking." - Southeastern Louisiana University

"Your presentation...was a success on many levels. You show...that women can pursue their dreams relentlessly... with grace and humor. You were a delight." - Women's Educational Equity Action Program, Wichita State University

"Perfect...." – Gen'l Federation of Women's Clubs , WA

"Breathtaking..." – Southeastern Louisiana University

"Great expertise..." – Jewish Civic Press

"A stand out..." – Jewish Times


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Movers & Shakers
Hispanic Women Speak * Literary Ladies
Notable Jewish Women * Women of the World

Interactive presentations comprised of a series of dramatized living history portraits of a wide variety of notable. The program varies according to the requests and interests of each individual venue. Light costuming and props bring a theatrical air to the performances. A great deal of humor and even some song makes these "edutainments" rich in entertainment value. Following are thumbnail biographies of the thirty-one women available for presentation. Presenters may chose their own cast of notables, or Ms. Partnow can do it for them:

BELLA ABZUG One of the most influential American women of the 20th century, Abzug was never afraid to take controversial positions. She was a fierce advocate for peace and women's rights, and became a prominent national crusader against poverty, racism, and violence in America. In 1970, she was elected to Congress on a woman's rights/peace platform. Her first vote was for the Equal Rights Amendment; she served two terms. She was a cofounder of the National Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Strike for Peace, and the Coalition for a Democratic Alternative. Born Bella Savitsky on July 24, 1920, she died in 1998.

SUSAN B. ANTHONY Born February 15, 1820 in the State of Massachusetts, she was a pioneer of the woman suffrage movement in the United States. She helped form the National American Woman Suffrage Association and was its president for eight years (1892-1900). Born into a Quaker family, Ms Anthony was an activist in other areas as well--she was an ardent Abolitionist, as was her father, and an agent for the American Anti-slavery Society. She also worked as a teacher and an editor (The Revolution, a liberal weekly published in New York). She worked closely with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and another suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage: together the three women compiled and published The History of Woman Suffrage. She died on March 13, 1906 in Rochester, New York, where she had defied the constitution by leading a group of women to the polls to vote in 1872: she was arrested, tried and convicted, but she refused to pay the fine.

KATHERINE LEE BATES Born August 12, 1859 in Massachusetts, she was an author and educator and is mainly remembered for the lyrics of the national hymn, "America the Beautiful." She wrote many stories and plays for children. America the Beautiful and Other Poems was published in 1911. She died on March 28, 1929.

MARY McLEOD BETHUNE Born on July 10, 1875, Bethune was an educator whose parents had been slaves. Still, she managed to graduate from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and went on to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training Center for Negro Girls, where she charged fifty cents a week (to those who could afford it). Located in Daytona, Florida, the school was later merged with a men's school and became the Bethune-Cookman College, still operating today. She served as its president and later went on to become the Director of the Division of Negro Affairs under the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She died on May 18, 1955.

RACHEL CARSON Born May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, Carson was a science writer and biologist well known for her writings on environmental pollution and the natural history of the sea. A deep interest in wildlife from her childhood led Ms Carson to a long career with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1951 she published The Sea Around Us, which won the National Book Award. Her prophetic and influential Silent Spring (1962) created a worldwide awareness of the dangers of environmental pollution.

CATHERINE OF ARAGON Her parents, Ferdinand II and Isabella I, were known as "the Catholic kings." It was this terrible twosome who initiated the Spanish Inquisition, completed the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, and ruthlessly expelled the Spanish Jews from their country. But there was some good, too. Isabella who helped define and recognize women's rights; and it was she who gave the permission that financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Catherine was one of five children. Her life was neither as full or fulfilling as her mother's. Married off when she was only sixteen to England's Henry VII , she was widowed when he died a year later. So she was married off to his son, Henry VIII. She bore Henry six offspring, but only one survived--a girl. You may have heard of her. Her name was Mary. Discontented with the lack of a male heir, Henry applied to Rome for an annulment, but he was refused. It was that refusal that led to the English Reformation; Henry broke with Rome, married Anne Boleyn, and had his marriage to Catherine annulled by his own archbishop of Canterbury. Catherine spent her last years isolated from public life; they didn't differ greatly from her early years, when she arrived as a young princess, knowing only her Spanish tongue and having not one friend at the English court.

JUANA INÉS DE LA CRUZ Sor Juana, as she is commonly called, lived from 1651-1695 and was a true genius. The illegitimate child of a Spanish courtesan and a Creole woman, she spent her early years in San Miguel de Nepantla, just outside of Mexico City. At age nine she mastered Latin in twenty lessons. By the age of sixteen, already honored for her intellectual gifts, she was regularly reading to the court from her own works, taking questions from those in attendance. Born Juana Inez de Asbaje y Ramirez de Santillana, she joined a convent after a heart-breaking love affair dissolved. She was a poet, a scholar, a feminist, and was the first important literary figure of the New World. She became known as "The Tenth Muse," "the Phoenix of Mexico, and "the Mexican Nun."

EMILY DICKINSON Born on December 10, 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, she began to write poetry when she was about fifteen. By the time she was twenty she'd become quite serious about her writing. Her most frequent themes were nature, love and death. When she wasn't writing she was tending her garden or baking bread and cakes for the household. She was particularly influenced by the English novelist Emily Bronte and the American philosopher-poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was known to the locals as an eccentric recluse, but she kept up a lively and wonderful correspondence with several good friends all her life as well as having written 1,775 poems! While these special few friends knew of her great talent, she was not known to the world as she is now--as one of the greatest masters of the short lyric poem. She died on May 15, 1886 having had only seven poems published!

RAY FRANK The first woman accepted at Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati), Frank was in all likelihood the first woman to preach from a Jewish pulpit. Based in Oakland, California, she was born April 10, 1861. Her first sermon was on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in Spokane, Washington. Well received, she was asked back for Yom Kippur. Dubbed "the Maiden in the Temple" and "the Jewess in the Pulpit," Frank, a journalist, found herself launched into a new career. At times erroneously referred to as the "lady rabbi," she relinquished the pulpit when she married Simon Litman, who wrote a posthumous memoir about his wife. She died on October 10, 1948.

GLÜCKEL OF HAMELN (asa Glueckel) was born in Hamburg in 1645 into a prominent patrician family. At fourteen she was married off to Chayim of Hameln. She became Chayim's adviser in all practical matters, even while bearing and raising their twelve children. After his death in 1689, though carrying on his business and financial enterprises, she became depressed. In an attempt to overcome her loss, she wrote a diary, a memoir of her life, begun when she was forty- six. Glückel's writings became incredibly important to historians because they are the only surviving Jewish document about that period written by a woman.

JULIA WARD HOWE Born May 27, 1819 in New York City, she was an author and lecturer best known for her "Battle Hymn of the Republic," first printed in 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly, a magazine still being published. She composed songs for children in addition to her travel books, biographies, dramas and verse, and was an activist for equal educational, professional and business opportunities for women. She died October 17, 1910.

DOLORES HUERTA A Mexican-American union organizer who was born in 1930, Huerta has served as vice president and was a founding member of the United Farm Workers of America. For years she was Cesar Chavez's right hand person, and was the first Chicano, and the first woman ever to negotiate a farm labor contract. Her Indian/Mexican father was a mine worker who did farm work during slack periods. Dolores describes her fiercely independent divorced Spanish mother as a "Mexican-American Horatio Alger type" who saved enough money as a cannery worker and waitress to buy a restaurant and small hotel in which she often put up destitute farm workers at no cost. Like all UFW organizers, Dolores learned to live on about five dollars a week, with bare room and board provided wherever she happens to be. She's been living this way since 1962.

DOLORES IBARRURI A great military leader and heroine of the Spanish Civil War, affectionately known as "La Pasionaria," she lived from 1895 to 1989 and emigrated to Russia after Franco overthrew Spain's democratic republic. There she received the Lenin Peace Prize (1964) and the Order of Lenin (1965). In an interview when she was ninety one, she described herself as "a simple woman... A woman who has fought much and hard to bring socialism to Spain." She was the eighth of eleven children, the granddaughter, daughter, sister and wife of exploited Basque coal miners. Though painfully shy in one-on-one situations, she was a charismatic orator. She had no text and she never used notes; she needed none. During more than one rally at which she spoke, bombs exploded right outside the hall.

FLORYNCE KENNEDY Born in 1916, she became a lawyer who specialized in fighting for civil rights, especially those of black people and of all women. Known for her feistiness and irrepressible use of language, and her audaciousnessBshe would often wear cowboy hats in courtBin 1966 she created the Media Workshop, the purpose of which was to fight discrimination in and through the media. She was one of the first to be labeled a "bra burner" when she helped form and march with Radical Women (organized in 1967) at the Atlantic City Miss America pageant in 1968. In 1971 she formed the Feminist Party, whose first order of business was to support Shirley Chisholm as a presidential candidate. 1975: She founded the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO; 1975) and co-authored one of the first books on abortion, Abortion Rap. She lives in San Francisco and continues to speak out for equal rights everywhere.

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY The American poet and dramatist who came to personify romantic rebellion and bravado in the 1920s, Millay was born in the small town of Rockland, Main on February 22, 1892. She grew up in Camden, Maine and her poetry is filled with imagery of the sea and the mountains of her childhood home. When she was eighteen she completed a long poem, Renascence, published in The Lyric Year in 1912, which catapulted her to fame. One of the quatrains included in her first book, Renascence and Other Poems (1917), almost became a slogan for the day: "My candle burns at both its ends/It will not last the night/ But ah my foes, and oh my friends/It sheds a lovely light." In addition to her several books of poetry, she wrote some well-produced plays as well as an opera. Her marriage to a Dutch businessman, despite their devotion to one another, did not seem to affect the several love affairs both enjoyed. They purchased a farm in Austerlitz, New York, dubbed Steepletop, now a writers' colony. Millay died there on October 19, 1950.

GOLDA MEIR A legend in her own time, Meir was one of the few women in the world to have led a nation. Her compassion for the needy, her sense of equity, and her efforts at peace-making were characteristics apparent even when she was a youngster growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Born to Moshe and Bluma Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 3, 1898, the family emigrated in 1906. After a teaching career in the U.S., she and her husband, Morris Meyerson, settled in Palestine (1921), first on a kibbutz, then in Tel Aviv, where she devoted herself to the Histadrut, the national labor confederation. She was appointed many important posts, was one of the signatories of the proclamation of the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948, and, in 1969, became Israel's fourth prime minister, a position she held until 1974, when she stepped down. Particularly remembered for her eloquent appeals for peace at the United Nations and her country-saving fund-raising efforts in the United States, Meir has acquired folk-hero status, and is ingrained in the public's imagination as a bobe figure who rose to greatness in her nation's hour of need. Meir died in Jerusalem on December 8, 1978.

GABRIELA MISTRAL Born Lucila Godoy Alcayaga in the small Chilean town of Vicuña, of Spanish, Basque and Indian descent, Mistral was the first Latin-American ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1945. She was also a cultural minister and diplomat, who served posts in Madrid, Lisbon, Genoa and Nice. An educator who worked untiringly to improve the her country's schools, Mistral's principal themes as a poet were love of children and of the downtrodden. Today there is no country in Latin America that does not have several schools bearing her name, a name the poet assumed, derived from two of her favorite poets: the Italian, Gabriele d'Annunzio and the Frenchman, Frederic Mistral. Her childhood sweetheart was a railway clerk. He committed suicide -- shot himself -- because of a misappropriation of funds. One of her biographers stated, "The echo of that shot was the birth of the poet, Gabriela Mistral." She never married. She died in 1957 in New York City. In her will, Gabriela left her Latin American royalties to the children of her native village of Elqui, in the valley of Montegrande, and asked to be buried there because she hoped that thus the children of this poor and isolated mountain hamlet might never be forgotten by her country. LA CONDESA EMILIA PARDO-BAZAN was a leading figure in the school of naturalism and an important Spanish novelist, and a noted stateswoman. When her feminist opinions began to manifest themselves, literary critics of the time criticized her harshly. She never yielded to their pressure and maintained the conviction that her own upper social class could be greatly improved. In 1916, five years before her death at the age of sixty-nine, a statue was erected in Pardo-Bazan's honor in La Coruna, the city of her birth.

EVA DUARTE DE PERON The Argentinean film and radio actress who married Juan Peron in 1945, became a powerful albeit unofficial political leader who was adored by the poor: she organized female workers, secured women's suffrage, directed government spending on welfare, and introduced compulsory religious education into all Argentinean schools. She was also reviled by her detractors. Evita's pitch to the United States to support her social aid programs raised a million dollars--most of which ended up in a Swiss bank account. She created the Eva Perón Foundation (1948) and formed Peronista Feminist Party in 1949. Born Eva Marie Ibaguren in 1919, her life was cut short by cancer in 1952.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT Born October 11, 1884 in New York City, she has been one of the most widely admired women in the world today. Not only did she serve as First Lady in the White House during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's twelve years in office, but as a United Nations diplomat and an international humanitarian. Her uncle was President Theodore Roosevelt; Franklin, whom she married in 1905, was her distant cousin. While at the White House she instituted press conferences for women correspondents for the first time. She had a regular radio show and wrote a daily newspaper column, "My Day". Politically active even before moving into the White House, she resumed that role after her husband's death in 1945. She traveled the world many times over and met with most of its leaders. Her pet causes were equal rights for everyone and child welfare.

HANNAH SENESH One of Zionism and modern Judaism's heroes, Senesh (or Szenes) was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1921. Her father was a playwright and journalist who died when she was six. At the time of Kristallnacht, Senesh volunteered for the Haganah (underground Jewish self-defense army). In June 1944, she parachuted into Yugoslavia near the Hungarian border, was captured, brutally imprisoned, then murdered by a firing squad at the age of 23. Her poems, made famous in part because of her tragic death, reveal a woman imbued with hope even in the face of adverse circumstances.

ELIZABETH CADY STANTON Born November 12, 1815 in the state of New York, she led the way in formulating the first organized demands for woman's suffrage in 1848. Her father was a U.S. congressman and later a judge, and she studied law in his office. That's where she learned of the discriminatory laws under which women lived. It was she who helped obtain property rights for married women in her home state. She began her association with Susan B. Anthony, who managed the business affairs of the movement, in 1850; Elizabeth did most of the writing. Together they edited a women's rights newspaper, The Revolution, and, with Matilda Gage, the first three volumes of The History of Woman Suffrage. She finished an excellent autobiography, Eighty Years and More, before she died in 1902 on October 26 in New York.

GERTRUDE STEIN The ground breaking writings experiments of Stein reflect her genius for toying with language and its meanings. She hails from Allegheny, Pennsylvania, where she was born in 1874, the seventh child of German immigrants. By age seventeen both her parents had died. She earned a B.A. magna cum laude at the Harvard Annex (later Radcliffe College), then studied briefly at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1903 she and her brother Leo left for Paris and the art world. The close relationship folded upon Leo's awareness of his sister's lesbianism. Alice B. Toklas became Gertrude's lifelong companion, and their home became a hub for some of the greatest artists and writers of the modern era. In addition to her many books, like The Making of Americans, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and Everybody's Autobiography, she wrote over seventy-six operas and plays, winning an Obie in 1964 for Four Saints in Three Acts. She died in 1946.

GLORIA STEINEM Born March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, the young Steinem was left to care for both herself and her mentally ill mother after her parents' divorce. Upon graduating Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from Smith College in 1956, she spent two years in India where she became involved with the nonviolent protest movement. She returned to the States with a new awareness of social and political issues. Starting out as a freelance journalist, in 1968 she joined the founding staff of New York magazine, writing the column "City Politic." In the late '60s she became one of feminism's most articulate and outspoken leaders. She helped form the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971 and, the following year, launched Ms. magazine, serving as its editor for the next 15 years. She's written several books, notably Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution From Within, and has lectured worldwide. In September 2000, Steinem was married for the first time, at the age of 66, to David Bale, a South African-born entrepreneur who died in 2003.

SAINT TERESA OF AVILA One of the great Catholic mystics--and certainly the outstanding woman of her epoch, between 1562 and 1577 she established and nurtured 17 convents, reformed the Carmelite order, and became co-patron saint of Spain with Saint James (Santiago). She wrote a good deal of poetry on religious themes. Born in Spain in 1515,her name at birth was Teresa de Cepeda & Ahumada, also seen as Theresa. Teresa suffered ill health a great deal and on one occasion was pronounced dead, wax placed on her eyes and her grave prepared. Just when the nuns came for her body, she sat up, asked for food and drink, and began to tell of what she had seen and felt during her trance. Her life was dedicated to good works and the advice she so graciously offered young novitiates did not go unheeded. She died in 1582.

SOJOURNER TRUTH Probably born in 1797 in Ulster, New York, her legal name, a slave name, was Isabella Van Wagener--she made up her own name in 1843. After she was freed in 1827, she supported herself by doing domestic work, and managed to rescue one of her children who had been illegally sold. She never learned to read or write, but she'd always had visions and heard voices speaking to her: she believed it was God who spoke to her, and she was a passionate evangelist who worked and preached in the streets of New York City. In addition to her missionary work, she also spoke out for black people and for women's rights. By then she supported herself by selling The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, her life's story, which she told to friends in the suffrage movement who wrote it down for her. She helped integrate street cars in Washington D.C. and was received at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. She died in Battle Creek, Michigan on November 26, 1883.

SOPHIE TUCKER Singer and entertainer, born Sophie Abuza in Russia in 1884 and brought to the U.S.A. as a child, she first performed in vaudeville in blackface, singing ragtime melodies. She almost stole the show in the Ziegfield Follies of 1909. She helped popularize songs of black composers such as Eubie Blake and was also known for racy lyrics. She appeared in several stage and movie musicals, but was especially known as a nightclub torch singer. A unionist, she served as president of the American Federation of Actors in 1938. "The Last of the Red-Hot Mamas," as she billed herself in later years, died in 1966.

MAE WEST America's original sex goddess, Mae West, made her stage debut in vaudeville at the age of five. The daughter of a former prize-fighter and Bavarian-immigrant mother, West grew up in the tough neighborhood of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. Before West began officially writing her own material, her reputation grew from her outrageous ad-libs in shows like A la Broadway and Hello, Paris. Her uninhibited sexuality made her an immediate hit. In 1926 West's first original play opened. Sex. Even though newspapers refused to carry advertisements for the play, it ran for forty-one weeks until the Society for the Suppression of Vice forced its premature closure. Sex was gloriously scandalous, and West was eventually jailed for ten days on an obscenity charge! Of course, a criminal record could do nothing to silence Mae West. By 1928 West's reputation was known internationally, and she soon launched her successful film career. The author of sixteen plays and screenplays, as well as several novels and an autobiography, West continued to play her signature roles well into her seventies and eighties. An authentic American original, she nearly single-handedly opened the locked doors of bedrooms everywhere, flaunting the view for all to see.

SARAH WINNEMUCCA Born around 1844, she was a member of the Paiute Indian tribe and was raised in what is now the state of Nevada. Her Indian name was Thoc-me-tony, which means Shell-Flower. Sarah learned English and Spanish while working on a ranch in the San Joaquin Valley; she also knew three Indian tongues. This enabled her to become an interpreter for Indian agents and for the military. She also worked as a guide, a scout and a teacher. Her tribe was treated very badly and was moved from one reservation to another. Finally, they were exiled to the Yakima Reservation in Washington Territory. Sarah became an eloquent speaker and toured the country, fighting for the welfare of her people. She wrote a book called Life among the Paiutes. Although she became a Christian, she never lost her beliefs in the great "Spirit Father" of her tribal people. She spent her last years in Montana, where she died of consumption before her fiftieth year. White men often called her "the Princess," and the Paiutes, "Mother"; at her death she was called "the most famous Indian woman of the Pacific Coast".

LOTUS WEINSTOCK The performance artist-comedian describes her humor as a mix between her California cosmic right brain and her Philadelphia Jewish left brain. Born Marlena Weinstock in Philadelphia in 1943, she started performing under the name Maurey Haydn in Greenwich Village in the mid-Sixties. After the 1966 death of her boyfriend, famed comic Lenny Bruce, she reclaimed the name Weinstock, but traded in "Marlena" for "Lotus". Her heyday was at Los Angeles' Comedy Store in the mid-70s. She died of a malignant brain tumor in August 1997 at 54. Her daughter, Lili Hayden, is a classically trained pop violinist.

ROSALYN YALOW Born Rosalyn Sussman in 1921, she was raised and lives in New York City. By seventh grade, Rosalyn was committed to mathematics. She graduated Hunter College with honors and degrees in chemistry and physics. Yalow overcame great odds and discrimination by being the only woman among four hundred men at the University of Illinois College of Engineering Physics Department. She got her Ph.D. in nuclear physics. Beginning in 1950, she worked at the Bronx Veterans' Hospital laboratory with Dr. Sol Bernson. They discovered how to measure small amounts of hormones in the human body by using radioisotopes. The method is called RIA and it is vital to determining the amount of foreign material in the blood. Yalow was first woman to receive the Albert Lasker Award (1976) and the second woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Medicine (1977).


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About Elaine B. Partnow
Contact Elaine B. Partnow


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