April 5 - Happy Birthday, Hedwig Kohn

Posted on April 5, 2020

Hedwig Kohn was German.

She was also Jewish.

Since she was born on this date in 1887, that wasn't a great combination.

Actually, Kohn was born in what was THEN Breslau, German Empire, but is NOW Wroclaw, Poland. She went to Breslau University and was able to earn a doctorate in physics as well as a "habilitation" - the qualification for teaching in a university. Needless to say, this was rare for a woman, back then; as a matter of fact, Kohn was one of only three women to qualify to teach university classes in all of Germany before World War II.

But just a few years after earning the right to teach at uni, Kohn was forced to leave her job and her nation. She was able to get a visa to the United Kingdom I 1939, but she lost the opportunity because of WWII stuff; finally she was able to get a visa to travel to Sweden and promptly went there in July 1940. From Sweden, she was able to travel to her goal - a teaching assignment at the Women's College of the University of North Carolina, in the United States - by taking a circuitous route: from Stockholm to Leningrad to Moscow to Vladivostok (a harbor town in the USSR, on the coast of the Sea of Japan), Yokohama (Japan), then on to San Francisco, Chicago, and FINALLY Greensboro, NC.

I imagine that Kohn took the Trans-Siberian Railroad (route pictured above).
What used to be called Leningrad is now called Saint Petersburg. The
second dot to the right (or east) of Saint Petersburg on this map is Moscow.

Kohn lived in the U.S. the rest of her life, with several positions as university physics professor and a final position as a research associate. She studied the intensity of light, emission lines of atoms and molecules, and ways of gaining information from light intensity and emission lines.

Intensity of light is a measurement of how many photons pass through a particular area per unit of time (say, per second).

Emission lines are particular bits of a spectrum that are emitted when a chemical element is hot and glowing. Each element has its own characteristic emission lines. 

Hedwig Kohn did a lot of research, wrote a lot of papers, trained a lot of students - and of course made an epic journey during a World War!

April 4 - An Anti-Women Prank Results in the First Female Mayor in the US!

Posted on April 4, 2020

1882: Susanna and Lewis Salter moved to a little Quaker village in Kansas. The name of the town was Argonia, and the population was way under 500. (The population is still under 500, at least as of 2017.)

Lewis Salter managed a hardware store. Susanna Salter was busy with a bajillion types of unpaid work - pretty much all women were, back then - including birthing her second of nine children (Argonia's first birth!). Still, she found time to become an activist in the field of Temperance (the movement promoting moderation in the use of alcohol, elimination of the abuse of alcohol, and eventually prohibition of drinking alcohol).

1883: Susanna Salter's parents, the Kinseys, moved to town and bought the hardware store, which they named Kinsey & Salter.

1885: The town of Argonia was incorporated and its formal government set up. Susanna Salter's father became the town's first mayor, and her husband became the city clerk.

1887: The Kansas state legislature passed a law giving women the vote - but only in cities that were classified as first, second, or third class cities. Argonia was considered a third class city; so women could now vote!

(Kansas ensured the right of women citizens throughout the state to vote in 1912, and of course the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution enshrined this right all across the nation in 1920.)

 April, 1887: The town of Argonia, Kansas, was planning an election, with one position to be filled being that of mayor.

Some men were angry that women now had the right to vote. That was man stuff! How dare women invade man stuff! 

Also, some of these angry men were angry that women activists were talking about Temperance. They had attended Temperance meetings, and they'd tried to intimidate the "ladies." 

Remember, a lot of people (including some women)
were very much against women having the right to
vote. Some made it seem as if it were an either / or
situation: either men can vote, or women can... and then
the empowered women wouldn't allow their husbands out
of the house long enough to vote, too?

Twenty angry men met in the back room of a local restaurant, anxious to teach women a lesson, to humiliate them, to put them in "their place." They also wanted to discredit the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) as a political force. How to do that? They decided to put a woman on the ballot in the mayoral race, with her name subbed in for the man chosen by the WCTU for their endorsement... And they decided that the butt of this joke would be Susanna Salter. When she suffered a devastating loss at the ballot box, it would strike a blow at the WCTU and at women in politics.

At the time, candidates did not have to be made public (or even to file to run) before election day. So, that's why:

April 4, 1887: Early voters were shocked to see Mrs. Salter's name on the ballot. The chairman of the Republican Party in Argonia sent someone over to her house and found her doing laundry. The Republican delegation asked her if she would serve as mayor, if she won. She answered that she would.

Republicans then went to work, campaigning to get the vote out, all over town, and letting people know about the anti-women prank and their intentions to elect Mrs. Salter. When they heard about the prank, members of the WCTU ditched the male candidate they'd endorsed and voted for Mrs. Salter as well.

And that is how some anti-women men prompted the election of the first female mayor in the United States! 

Even though Susanna Salter's term of office was pretty uneventful, she became famous all over the nation. Newspapers sent reporters to sit in on Argonia council meetings and to interview residents to see what life was like under "petticoat rule." Many folks decided that the normalcy of Argonia's government made it clear that women in politics wasn't crazy, after all.... 

Also on this date:

Sonia Kovalevsky Mathematics High School Day (held on different dates by different institutions)

Anniversary of the knighthood of Francis Drake

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April 3 - Happy Birthday, Jane Goodall

Posted on April 3, 2020

Born in London, England, on this date in 1934, Jane Goodall is that rare thing: a global treasure.

When she was a child named Valerie Jane, Goodall received a stuffed chimpanzee rather than a teddy bear. Some of her mother's friends were horrified by this toy and wondered if it would give the little girl nightmares, but Goodall developed an early love for animals and is now considered the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees!

Her old toy chimpanzee still sits on Goodall's bedroom dresser.

As a young adult, Goodall went to a friend's farm in Kenya. At her friend's suggestion, she telephoned Louis Leakey, the famous archaeologist and paleontologist (and husband to paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey) to schedule a discussion about animals. She didn't know it, but Louis Leakey was sure that studying the great apes - gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees - could help us learn about humans (since we are also great apes!), and he was actually looking for a chimpanzee researcher.

But he didn't telI Goodall that right away. Instead, he offered her a job as a secretary. He soon sent her to Tanzania and later funded her research in Gombe Stream National Park. 

(Leakey also eventually asked Dian Fossey to study gorillas and Birute Galdikas to study orangutans as well.)

Here are a few interesting facts about the beginning of Goodall's chimpanzee research:

As I mentioned, Goodall was quite young when she first went to Africa. By the time she was heading to Gombe Stream National Park, she was 26 years old. The chief warden of the national park was worried about her safety but was satisfied when Goodall's mom arranged to accompany her.

(Her mom! I was assuming that the warden was mostly worried about wild animals, so I was surprised that her mother was the guardian that made this venture safe.)

Even more interesting, Goodall didn't have a college degree! Not yet, at least. In 1962, when Goodall was old-for-undergraduate-college at age 28, Leakey funded her attendance at the highly-respected University of Cambridge. Like I said, she was old for undergraduate work - and Cambridge didn't make her do that! Instead, she was allowed to study for a PhD in ethology (the study of animal behavior) even though she had no BA or BSc. She earned her doctorate in just three years.

Goodall was actually the eighth person in the history of Cambridge allowed to study for a PhD without first having obtained a Bachelor's Degree. 

But that was just the start. Goodall became legendary in primatology (the study of primates) and conservation, animals-rights, and humanitarian movements. She was named a U.N. Messenger of Peace and became an honorary member of the World Future Council. She was named a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (like being knighted and dubbed "Sir Whatever" - but for women). 

Goodall was even honored by the Walt Disney Company with a plaque on the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park, in Orlando.

And more than 40 films have been made about her!

I could go on and on with the honors heaped upon Jane Goodall, but instead will link to the website of the Jane Goodall Institute.

By the way, I got to hear Goodall speak live, once. And I loved the fact that Goodall points out that, when she dreamed about living with and studying animals, people told her, "'How can you do that? Africa is far away, we don’t know much about it. You don’t have any money in your family. You’re just a girl.’

Jane Goodall didn't let the nay-sayers stop her, and neither should you!