20th Century Female Leaders

There are three women I want to highlight this week in regards to women that have impacted history: Helen Keller, Coco Chanel, and Elenor Roosevelt. These are three remarkable women and as women, it would be wise to take a cue from them and implement something we learn from them into our own lives about how to or not to live.

[singlepic id=28 w=320 h=240 float=left]Helen Keller: many children who are faced with the disabilities and trials that Helen faced in her life would have given up on life let alone having accomplished so much in their lifetime. Helen was a valiant woman who over came trials and triumphed magnificently. When we look at what we face in our own life, certainly Helen is an inspiration in overcoming. Helen was a prolific American author, political activist, and lecturer who attended college and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (a feat for a woman from the south born in 1880) and who also happened to be deaf and blind. Her degree was the first any deaf blind person had received, setting a precidece that it was obtainable.

In today’s society families can often become frustrated when they seek help and are referred to one person after another with little progress in getting answers. Imagine what is was like 120 years ago with telephone and modes of transportation very limited, cumbersome, and ineffecient, and yet Helen Keller and her father traveled from Alabama to Baltimore to seek the aid of an ENT specialist who then referred them to Alexander Graham Bell, who in turn, sent them to the Perkins Institute for the Blind located in Boston, whose director then sent the pair to Anne Sullivan, a 20 year old former student who was blind.Anne would travel to Alabama to teach Helen and that was the beginning of a life-long friendship.

“Keller went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, an opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a radical socialist and a birth control supporter. In 1915 she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition. In 1920 she helped to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Keller traveled to 40 some-odd countries with Sullivan, making several trips to Japan and becoming a favorite of the Japanese people. Keller met every U.S. President from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon B. Johnson and was friends with many famous figures, including Alexander Graham Bell, Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Keller and Mark Twain were both considered radicals at the beginning of the 20th century, and as a consequence, their political views have been forgotten or glossed over in popular perception” (Wikipedia).

[singlepic id=26 w=320 h=240 float=right]Coco Chanel: born in 1883 lived a vanguard life, creating the brand Chanel, known for expensive simplicity such as the little black dress coupled with a strand of pearls. She designed beautiful garments and accessories changing the fashion industry forever. But her life was wrought with scandal and political views that would cause most Americans to abandon such affiliations. She used WWII and her discust for the Jewish people to send a message and while at the same time usurping Jewish control over her perfume line. She used her claim as an “Aryan” and petitioned her right to sole ownership, and archival documents note Chanel as a Nazi spy paid by the S.S..

In 1939 Chanel closed all of her stores due to the war, saying that war was no time for couture. It wasn’t until 1954 that she reentered the fashion world. She was 71.

“As early as 1915, Harper’s Bazaar raved over Chanel’s designs: “The woman who hasn’t at least one Chanel is hopelessly out of fashion…This season the name Chanel is on the lips of every buyer.” [62] Chanel’s ascendancy as a fashion avatar was the official deathblow to the corseted female silhouette. The frills, fuss, and constraints endured by earlier generations of women were now passé. Her genius redefined the fashionable woman for the post WW I era. The Chanel trademark was a look of youthful ease, a liberated physicality, and unencumbered sportive confidence.The horse culture and penchant for hunting so passionately pursued by the elites, especially the British, fired Chanel’s imagination. Her own enthusiastic indulgence in the sporting life led to clothing designs informed by those activities. From her excursions on water with the yachting world, she appropriated the clothing associated with nautical pursuits: the horizontal striped shirt, bell bottom pants, crewneck sweaters, and espadrille shoes—all traditionally worn by sailors and fishermen” (Wikipedia).

[singlepic id=27 w=320 h=240 float=left]Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag- you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”

Married the Franklin D. Roosevelt, she was first lady from 1933-1945. She strongly supported the New Deal and was co-founder of Freedom House, supported the formation of United Nations and founded the UN Association of the United States, and a delegate to UN General Assembly.

Eleanor used her position as the First Lady to gain access to the media. She used that access to promote women’s self awareness. At the time, only a quarter of women worked and so she felt the media gave her access to the 74% of women who were isolated as homemakers. Vigilant in her task to communicate with women, she used three mediums to connect: press conferences, a daily newspaper column, and magazine articles – she wrote for Women’s Home Companion.

While her status as First Lady gave her a platform from which speak and gain authority in which to speak, she continued working in the communities she believed in. “Roosevelt received 48 honorary degrees during her life. Her first, a Doctor of Humane Letters or D.H.L. on June 13, 1929, was also the first honorary degree awarded by Russell Sage College in Troy, New York. Her last was a Doctor of Laws, LL.D. degree granted by what is now Clark Atlanta University in June 1962″ (Wikipedia).


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