Removing the remover

In a few years one woman will be all over the landscape!harriet-tubman_wide-627759ed4b5a8fb71b6d996687420086c84a7b51-s900-c85The Treasury Department announced this week that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. The campaign to get a woman on a bill started in 2015 with the Women on 20s campaign. Several women emerged as possibilities from that effort including Tubman, but also Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, diplomat, activist and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and Medal of Freedom winner Wilma Mankiller.

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery, but freed herself by running away at the age of 29. She returned to the South as a “conductor” on the underground railroad, risking her freedom and her life to help other slaves escape. She made 19 rescue trips. She was an active abolitionist and during the Civil War she served the Union as a cook, a nurse, and a spy. She died in 1913.

It is fitting that President Jackson, a slave-owner himself who also oversaw the removal of the Cherokee nation from their homelands in the southeast to Indian Territory, will be replaced by 2020 (also the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment for women’s suffrage).



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Women on the Eastern Landscape

I’ve been on the East Coast this year, so there hasn’t been much to report about Women on the Western landscape, but here’s some great news from this region. The National Women’s Party Headquarters in Washington, DC, has been designated a National Monument.

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California Dreamin’

This is such a California image, from outside a hotel on Lombard Street. The beach, the bathing beauty, the word, “Escape” across the hood.

It also invokes a number of pop culture songs this catchy 80s tune, Escape, also known as The Piña Colada Song; you know, “if you like piña coladas…write to me and escape.” Not to mention the Beach Boys’ classic “California Girls” or (shudder) Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”

There are, of course, many other representations of women on the landscape of SF, we’ve even looked at some of them here before. A very different vision of women looms over the street in the financial district where two female figures adorn the top of the US Customs House, which was completed in 1911.



These two female allegorical figures not only feature women, but were also carved by a female sculptor, Alice Cooper.  The website states that “The figure on the right holds a staff with two snakes coiled around her left arm.  The figure on the left holds a two handled vase in her right arm.” Despite the description, it seems unclear who or what the figures represent. Certainly from the ground, the statues appear female, but allegorically the symbols might suggest that these are actually male figures, such as Mercury, who is usually portrayed with a caduceus, or a staff with two snakes entwined around it. Here the snakes are not entwined around the staff, but the arms of the figure. The caduceus is also the symbol of commerce, appropriate for a customs house. On the other hand, perhaps Cooper deliberately made the figures ambiguous. Or maybe it is us. Maybe we’re so used to dresses signifying “woman” that we are assuming these are women, not classical male figures (with somewhat ambiguous haircuts).

Just down the street on the Embarcadero is a small park named in honor of Sue Bierman. Ironically, the sign doesn’t tell us who she is, instead it thanks a host of  community organizations, politicians, and design groups who helped make the memorial park a reality. IMG_2838

Bierman was a former SF City Supervisor who served the community in that position from 1992 to 2000, but had had worked for the citizens for much of her life. According to an SF Gate story at the time of her death, she worked to “protect the livability of San Fransisco.” This park and its location seems to be a perfect encapsulation of the work she did during her life. In the 1950s and 60s she led the fight to stop the extension of the freeway through the panhandle of Golden Gate Park. In the 1970s Mayor Moscone appointed her to the planning commission where she championed the causes of affordable housing, child care, and parks in the city. She had also been appointed to the port commission in 2003 by Mayor Brown. The park brings many of those themes together in one place. It is located in the path of former California state highway 480, also known as the Embarcadero Skyway, which was demolished after the 1989 earthquake. The property was greatly desired by developers, but instead, the city created an environmentally friendly park for children to “bring joy to thousands of families for years to come.” I know that it did for our family.

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Votes for Women!

It is election season here in NM, and thanks to our fabulous county clerk, we have many early voting options.


I exercised my right to vote today at UNM and was reminded along the way of women’s struggle for that right a hundred years ago.

The first reminder came while considering Constitutional Amendment measure #1 — here’s what the helpful Albuquerque Alibi has to say about it: “The question asks the voter to approve changing the constitution so ‘school elections shall be held at different times from partisan elections.’ Despite the language, this would actually loosen restrictions on school elections. Currently, they must be held on a different date than any other election, a peculiar remnant from a time when New Mexican women were only allowed to vote on school issues and thus clearly had to be kept out of the voting booth when the men-folk were deciding the “more important” elections. Nearly 100 years after women’s suffrage was ratified at the federal level, our state constitution still upholds this anachronism, which has caused voter turnout for school elections to often be much lower than for other elections. This amendment would still require the elections be held on a different date than ‘partisan elections,’ but would at least allow the date to be combined with municipal ballots like city council and bond elections.”


That, of course, reminded me of this wonderful mural in downtown Albuquerque, which prominently features Nina Otero Warren, one of the leading suffrage proponents in NM. Otero Warren was the state contact for Alice Paul’s Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage. Otero Warren insisted that the national suffrage leaders needed to engage Spanish-speaking women in NM by printing literature in both Spanish and English. Of course, this mural reminds us that not all NM women won the right to vote in 1920. While Otero Warren holds a sign that reads ‘votes for women’ next to her stands Miguel Trujillo, Sr., from Isleta Pueblo. His sign reads ‘Native American vote.’ Before 1948, Native people, men and women, living on reservations in NM (and Arizona) could not vote as the NM constitution prohibited the franchise from ‘Indians not taxed.’ Trujillo, a WWII veteran, successfully sued the state for the right to vote.

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It is a beautiful mural, entitled “Frutos de la Expression” or “Fruits of Expression.” It includes lots of little details in its mission of “honoring the 1st, 15th, and 19th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution…” In one corner, local Albuquerque legend, Don Schrader, makes an appearance along with people celebrating the freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and the franchise.


After voting, I ran into a little public commentary on one of my least favorite art installations in the city, the installation entitled “Modern Art.”

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A friend of mine pointed out how much mansplaining was going on in this piece and I’ve never been able to look at it the same way again.


In fact, I wondered if it was the same artist who created this sexist sculpture at the botanical garden that I’ve written about before.


But no, another female artist with some messed up ideas about the abilities (or lack thereof) of women and girls. Clearly, the women just can’t understand this new-fangled modern art, but luckily these guys are here to explain it to them. Just like those girls are lucky some boys showed up to rescue their cat.

Today someone had added a little bit of commentary the statues: several strategically deployed “I voted” stickers. It made me feel a bit fonder about the statues, a bit.

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Mostly I got a kick out of the kids enjoying them. Notice that girls can climb, too!


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The Miscellaneous Women of Chicago

One theme in Chicago are women in the Classical or Allegorical style from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Adler Planetarium, for example, was completed in 1930. The first modern planetarium in the Western Hemisphere (of course astronomical observation in the Americas had been going on for much longer than that). 

 IMG_0865The decorative theme at the Adler is signs of the Zodiac, an example of irony, which means there are several female figures displayed both inside and outside the building.

IMG_0862IMG_0859 Just next door, the Field Museum also displays classical female forms


While across the street is a much more modern vision of women on the landscape at the Soldier Field Memorial sculpture. Well, only if you look carefully. A quick glance seems to suggest that all the soldiers and sailors are men who have beautiful wives and children waiting for them, but look there in the back, there is a female soldier.


This mural in Chinatown also had a patriotic theme going on, but with more emphasis on citizenship and e pluribus unum, diversity and immigration (with Indigenous people are represented with the totem pole in the bottom right and perhaps one of the people). The message of strength through diversity and immigration is not a surprising theme for a Chinatown mural. In 2000, Chicago had a population of 32,187 Chinese people, about a third of whom lived in Chinatown. Close to downtown, it is a popular tourist spot.



Another image of an Asian woman sent more mixed messages. This one, one a (unofficial?) mural on the way to Navy Pier portrays a more stereotypical Asian woman, exotically beautiful, thin, holding a fan, but on the fan is the Chicago Cub’s logo. Is this inclusive, exoticising, both?


There are lots of murals and public art in subway stations in Chicago, many of which include female characters. Here’s a whimsical one from the Belmont Stop on the Red Line.


Female figures pop up in other places as well. Walking around a corner in the loop you might stumble across this historical marker at De Paul University commemorating the first women to earn a PhD in computer science, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, who was born in Chicago in 1914.


Or you might see a whimsical gate across the street from a great pizza parlor….


Chicagoans seem to like Frieda Kahlo a lot.


But, as I’ll discuss in the next post, much of the monumental art in Chicago, the statues and memorials in the city’s vast park system, are monuments to men.

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My Commute

A number of images of women popped up on my commute to the Newberry Library this summer. There wasn’t a coherent theme, in fact they comprised a variety of women (though I did not include advertisements). On the platform at Rockwell, there was this mural. It was hard to get a short of it, because it wasn’t directly across from the platform and the train’s speed was too fast to snap it from the window. Moreover, as you can see, it is impossible to get to from the street. I did my best…

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The theme seems to be women in their many, many guises. It portrays women of all races and even mythical women. They are active and busy; there are commuters, mothers, musicians, goddesses, artisans, construction workers, swimmers, women who run with the wolves, women with quilts, women who are friends or sisters, a woman who looks a lot like Frieda Kalo,


It was a lovely mural that inspired me each morning.

A much smaller image at the next stop also made me smile. It was so small that I had trouble finding it again after seeing it the first time. You had to be looking out the window at just the right moment:

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This is looks a lot like graffiti and is probably illegal, but it is Mary Poppins, really who could be mad? (Though I suppose we could throw copyright infringement in there, too).

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They hit a couple of garages…

After a transfer to the Red Line, I came out of the station near the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, named in honor of Mary’s ascension into heaven. Not surprisingly, a statue of  Mary graces their garden, a lovely space with a fountain, open to the public for mediation and rest.



St. Anne’s Convent is right next door. I am going to be honest, I didn’t know there were Anglican nuns, but turns out, there are. The church website notes: “The Chicago Convent of the Order of St. Anne is an autonomous convent of the Anglican Order of St. Anne. It was established at the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Ascension in 1921 in response to a call from the rector and vestry for sisters to do missionary work in the parish. The Sisters work at the Church of the Ascension as teachers and counselors.” The name is significant as St. Anne was the mother of Mary. Symmetry.



On the way home, I retrace my steps, but often skipped the bus to walk the final few blocks. You often see much more on foot with a slower pace, I know I did.

First up was the beautiful Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center  (formerly Senior High School as you see reflected on the building). The school name honors the Revolutionary War hero, Frederich Von Steuben, who is credited with teaching the Continental Army military tactics and discipline. He was not a woman. But, the reliefs on the building include a number of images of women.



Construction began in 1929 and the reliefs reflect the era’s romantic love affair with chivalry. (For more on that, I suggest Jackson Lear’s book, No Place of Grace).

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Very close to the High School is North Park University. If one were to take a detour down meandering path along the North Branch of the Chicago River, it runs into the heart of campus. There the Divinity School has a memorial to Lina Sandell, who is a woman, but one who never lived in the US.  The plaque reads: “Karolina Wilhelmina Sandell-Berg was forn in Fröe34ye, Wmäland in 1832. She endured many hardships in her early years including illness, witnessing the drowning of her father, and the death of her infant son. [The past kind of sucked]. Yet she maintained a deep piety and strong commitment to missions. She began writing poens and hymns at a very young age, writing more than 650 hymns and poems throughout her lifetime. Her best known hymn, ‘Children of the Heavenly Father’ has appeared in several American hymnals. Lina Sandell died in 1903 and her songs and hymns continue to be the most sung and loved in Sweden, as well as for many American Lutherans and Covenanters.”  It isn’t surprising to find ethnic and religious pride in Chicago, though the Swedish might not be the first that come to mind when thinking about the city (unless you’ve eaten at Ann Sather’s). But according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, over a million Swedes immigrated to the US between 1845-1930. While many of them moved into Midwestern agricultural communities, by 1880 Chicago’s Swedish population exploded and until 1960s they were the city’s fifth largest foreign-born group.


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Caroline Hall sits directly east of the statue, likely named after Lina Sandell

Speaking of women and religion…continuing toward home small images of Mary suggest that there are Hispanic or perhaps Italian families in the neighborhood. Indeed, many of the shops and restaurants definitely indicate large immigrant presence, from Latin America as well as Asia and the Middle East (the food choices were great!). photo(200)


And did you know that Chicago has almost 800 honorary ways? There is at least one in 43 of the city’s 44 wards! This one that I crossed each day honors Elaine Leibman, though it is unclear who she was or why she was honored. A quick google search didn’t turn up much…I’ll have to get back to you on this one!







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Sweet Home, Chicago

This summer’s posts are going to involve a series of images of women on the Midwestern landscape, though Chicago and parts thereabout used to be considered the American West (or at least the Northwest and then Old Northwest). It all depends on where (and when) you are standing.



This past week, I was standing in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and feeling closer to the SW than what one usually imagines when thinking about Chicago. Indeed, this is less an east/west orientation than a north/south (or technically, southwest by northeast) story. But, there were lots of women on the landscape, once again, part of my theory that there’s something about La Virgin or something in Hispanic/Mexican culture that encourages portrayals of women. La Virgin did show up on a few signs and in storefronts on candles, calendars and purses.


Here La Virgin is next to a new and used furniture store also named for and perhaps owned by a woman, Sophia.

 But most of the signage involved women preparing food: AguasCalientes, Los Comales, and Taqueria El Milagro—which had an amazing mural of La Virgin’s appearance to Juan Diego on the inside wall, complete with blinking neon rays around La Virgin. The smells of tortillas and empanadas accompanied the images of women making, offering and eating those treats.








El Milagro also featured this beautiful mural on its outside wall:


This one certainly a callback to the miracle of the roses and Juan Diego on the left, but seems to lack La Virgin. One could argue, however, that her blue robe with golden stars does appear behind members of the community enveloping them in her presence. Bordering the bottom are the artistic paper flags used for celebrations, a celebration of community, perhaps.

Another mural down the street a bit is less polished, but also offers homage to another famous woman in Mexican culture, the artist, Frida Kahlo (on the right).


Though hard to see in this horrible picture, (apologies) Kahlo’s face is split and blended with another face, perhaps and indigenous woman’s face, while both are wrapped in what looks like the state flag of Illinois.At the same time, the red star on the right side coupled with the red shirt suggest a slightly more complicated meaning, perhaps a more radical one. What’s also not so visible – again, no thanks to my picture –are what I thought were two women in headscarfs looking at each other and, of course, beyond them, Yoda. Then again, the ‘scarf’ on the left looks like it could be a jaguar headdress, perhaps a gesture to Aztec jaguar warriors and not a woman at all …if only it were a better picture. I”ll keep you posted…

Speaking of Aztec warriors, my favorite image of the day offered a twist on the velvet paintings I used to see in Mexican restaurants – the strong Aztec warrior carrying the beautiful Aztec woman who has fainted? died? It turns out that there’s a whole legend behind this images, one I was unaware of, but clearly has a long history in Mexican visual culture. The legend explains how the land itself, the volcanoes visible in the back of the painting came to be. The volcanoes overlook the valley of Mexico and one of them is called Mujer Dormida or “sleeping woman” in Spanish.


The protagonists of the story are framed by Pancho Villa on the right, a conquistador on the left and the people are flanked by places — Chicago’s Little Village arch over the city’s skyline on the far right and Mexico, more specifically the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan signaled by the eagle eating a serpent on the cactus. It is an interesting way to tie Mexico with Chicago; the people and places of the Aztecs, Spanish and Mexicans are on a continuum with the people and places of Little Village.This is clearly true of the images of women on the landscape, whether they be La Virgin who appeared in Mexico, Iztaccíhuatl, who literally became part of the landscape there, or the women of the community, many of whom have ties to both Mexico and Chicago.

Also, the drinks were delicious! The owner showed me his facebook page and you can see even more of the offerings, yum!

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