Perdita Huston: Global Passion, Local Action

December 17th, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

Hooray! Our new online exhibit, Perdita Huston: Global Passion, Local Action, is now up and running!  As an expanded version of Huston’s featured writers page, the site is rich with images, text, documents and excerpts to illustrate her remarkable global career as a journalist, activist and author; and her life as a mother and inspiring mentor to many. Take a trip around the world, and through time, with this extraordinary woman to learn about her passionate devotion to improving the plight of third world women and the planet as a whole.

From the VOTE to the ERA, exhibit installment #2

November 18th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

Yesterday, after posting the first installment of our exhibit, I went home to hear the results of yesterday’s Senate vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated in a procedural motion.  I stood in my kitchen, dumbfounded, and listened to the discussion about the continued disparity in pay between men and women, despite the fact that many women are now the sole breadwinners for their families.  The defeat of this act is a blow to women’s equality because without the ability to challenge employers without fear of retaliation, women are still subject to discrimination in the workplace because of loopholes in the law.  In 2010, after the passage of the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act, women still make between 65 and 77 cents to every dollar that men make for the same work in the same position; the lower rates are for Latinas and African-American women.  If this is not an argument for the continued need for feminism, I don’t know what is.

Please share your comments with us.  Do you think we need feminism today?

Today’s installment of the exhibit highlights the work of suffrage organizers in the early to mid-1800s, up to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, where the first wave of feminism in the United States was born.

One of many books in our collection about women's activism.

Many women’s rights advocates came to see the need for women’s liberation through their involvement in the abolition movement.  After being denied full participation at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott returned to the United States with renewed vision to create a convention that would focus on the emancipation of women.

At the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, Stanton, Mott, and others convened and presented their Declaration of Sentiments.  This document took its language from the Declaration of Independence, and offered a platform for all women to lobby for equal rights, especially the right to vote.  The “first wave” of the feminist movement was born at Seneca Falls, and helped to create a cohesive message for activism, mobilizing women to protest inequalities in education, marriage, and political life.

Excerpt from "Women's Wrongs" by Gail Hamilton

“Is it then the act of casting a ballot which is to draw or drive woman out of her sphere, –this woman who in the centre of her sphere has already performed all the work preliminary to voting, whose opinions are matured, whose decisions are formed?  But on occasion of a concert, a lecture, even a political address, she already goes to the same place and sees very nearly the same men that she would on election-days.  At what moment then, at what point, does she take the final step that puts her beyond her sphere?”

from Woman’s Wrongs: a counter- irritant by Gail Hamilton (Boston, 1868)

Tomorrow, we will close out the week with a look at the movement’s focus from the Seneca Falls convention through the passage of the 19th amendment.  Check back next week for the conclusion of the exhibit, and if you are in Portland, please drop in to see the complete exhibit in the collection.

Expanding, exploring: New online exhibits for featured writers

November 4th, 2010 by Catherine Fisher

As assistant at the Maine Women Writers Collection, my job is a rich mix of activities! Processing intriguing collections, helping out with cool events and programs, interacting with students and researchers and keeping on top of administrative tasks, all in a beautiful, inspiring atmosphere, makes my time here very fulfilling.

Over the past few months I’ve been completely absorbed by the fun, creative challenge of developing a model for expanded web pages for some of our featured writers. By delving more deeply into a particular collection, creating a more intimate, detailed portrait of the writer and her work, and showcasing specific documents, photos and other treasures contained in her archive, these pages will hopefully serve as both exhibit and invitation. Researchers, students and interested others can explore the author and her collection online, and perhaps will be inspired to come experience the wealth of materials firsthand at the MWWC.

Our first collection to be exhibited in this way is that of Perdita Huston (1932-2001). A Portland, Maine, native, her career as a journalist, activist and author was both global and local in its focus on human rights, particularly the plight of third world women. She lived and worked in many European and African countries as well as in Washington, DC and other US cities. Huston’s global experience inspired the website’s design of an interactive map and timeline to trace her movements and work with organizations around the world. Photos, letters, documents and excerpts from her writing illustrate each chapter of her life for the user.

Two stops along this timeline are Huston’s tenures with the Peace Corps. From 1978-1981 she served as the first woman Regional Director responsible for the administration and management of Peace Corps programs in North Africa, Near East, Asia, Pacific (NANEAP). Based in Washington, DC, she supervised an overseas staff of 225 in 18 countries, 2,000 volunteers and a headquarters regional staff of 26.

In 1981, she became Associate Director for Development Education. As senior confidential advisor to the Director of the Peace Corps, she planned and implemented the agency’s nationwide development education programs. To mark the 20th anniversary of the Peace Corps, Huston spearheaded a global study of how the agency was perceived around the world, traveling to personally interview approximately 20 international leaders for her report.

After leaving the Peace Corps to work for the World Conservation Union, International Planned Parenthood Federation and The Global Family Project, Huston returned to Peace Corps as Country Director for Mali from 1997 to 1999 and for Bulgaria from 1999 to 2000. In Mali, she was responsible for the management of the largest Peace Corps program in Africa. In both positions she trained and supervised hundreds of volunteers and host country staff and served as liaison with the Malian and Bulgarian governments as well as non-governmental organizations and the diplomatic communities.

While at the Peace Corps in August of 1979, she wrote a letter to her daughter Francoise, then age 21, and in her counseling words Huston reveals some of the deep convictions that informed her life and work, as well as her own path toward the self-confidence that enabled such a powerful, important career:

“Give of your feelings and of your intelligence and you will have given those around you the largest gift they will have received in years.” Doesn’t she put it well? This could be said of the courage of so many of the women writers in the Collection.

I’ll be posting an invitation and link to the Perdita Huston online exhibit once it “goes live” by the end of the year. We hope it will inspire and illuminate, only the first of many expanded pages to come.