I watched a fascinating New York Times documentary yesterday about Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the woman who discovered pulsars in 1967 while a graduate student at Cambridge University working on her thesis project. This was big news in the world of astronomy but most of the credit for the discovery went to Jocelyn’s thesis supervisor Anthony Hewish, who in 1974 won the Nobel Prize for ‘his’ discovery.
In the documentary, Jocelyn talks about reporters coming to interview the two of them after the discovery was made public and they directed all their scientific questions to Anthony while Jocelyn the ‘girl astrophysicist’ was merely seen as a human interest part of the story and was asked to open more buttons on her blouse for photos, questioned about her waistsize, asked how many boyfriends she had and whether she would call herself a blonde or a brunette.
Jocelyn went on to a long and impressive career as a researcher and professor and served as the president of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 2018 she was awarded a special prize for her breakthrough work in discovering pulsars. It came with a 2.3 million pound prize. She donated the entire amount to the Institute of Physics to fund scholarships that would help female, minority and refugee students become physics researchers.
There is a name for what happened to Jocelyn. It is called The Matilda Effect and is named after Matilda Josyln Gage who first brought attention to the issue of women scientists whose work was accredited to men in an 1870 essay she wrote called “Woman as Inventor.”
Sadly reading the comments section on the documentary in the New York Times, it became clear that while things are beginning to change The Matilda Effect is still alive and well.
Recently I was walking by Laura Secord School where I attended kindergarten in 1958-1959 and I saw a sign erected in honour of Lillian Beynon Thomas. I had never heard of Lillian. I was curious. Who was she?
I discovered Lillian was one of Winnipeg’s first newspaperwomen and the page she was responsible for in the Winnipeg Free Press at the turn of the century was called Home Loving Hearts. Many of her readers were prairie farmwives who wrote to her about their lonely and often isolated lives. Some of them had been abused or abandoned by their husbands and many had no right to inherit their family homesteads if their husbands died. Lillian started advocating for them in the paper interspersing her opinions among the recipes, homemaking hints and fashion tips she featured on her page.
Lillian Beynon was a school teacher in Morden Manitoba in 1906 when John Dafoe the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press travelled through town. Lillian boldly asked him for a job. He gave her one writing a woman’s page for the paper.
Affectionately dubbed ‘Lilly Kate’ by her family, Lillian Beynon was born in 1874 in the city of Mississauga Ontario. When she was five years old she developed tuberculosis and it left her with a damaged hip which would make walking difficult for her for the rest of her life. Ten years later her family moved from Mississauga to a farm near Hartney, Manitoba.
Lillian went to Toronto to finish high school because with her weak hip she couldn’t have walked to the school in Hartney. She came back to Manitoba when her family settled in Winnipeg and Lillian became one of the first women to get a BA from the University of Manitoba.
In 1911 Lillian married Alfred Thomas who also wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press. He encouraged Lillian to become a part of the Manitoba Political Equality League in 1912 as they fought to get women the right to vote in Manitoba through a variety of tactics including a satirical play called A Women’s Parliament which was staged at theWalker Theatre in 1914. It was Lillian’s idea to stage the play and she had a role in the drama which helped achieve voting rights for Manitoba women in 1916.
Friendly and with a warm personality Lillian also started a literary club in Winnipeg and was an active member of the Canadian Women’s Press Club. When World War I broke out her husband Alfred was fired from the Winnipeg Free Press because he refused to support the conscription effort. The two of them moved to New York where Lillian did charity work and took writing courses.
Alfred got a job at the Winnipeg Tribune in 1922 so they moved back to Winnipeg and Lillian kept on writing this time successful plays and novels. She won a short story prize sponsored by Macleans Magazine for a piece she wrote called Five Cents for Luck. In 1961 when she died at age 86 she was trying her hand at writing episodes for television dramas.
I was happy I had made the effort to get to know Lillian Beynon Thomas. I was inspired by how she overcame the physical challenges she faced from the time she was a child to become a pioneer as a newspaperwoman and a suffragette and then as an author and playwright. She was always ready to try new things. What a legacy!
I’m glad Lillian Beynon Thomas is recognized on the grounds of the very first school I attended. I can only dream of leaving the kind of legacy she did!
When Prince William and his wife Kate visited Canada in 2011 they planted a hemlock tree on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor-General in Ottawa. It is a tradition that when someone famous visits Rideau Hall they plant a tree. On our visit to Ottawa, we took a tour of Rideau Hall and the park surrounding it and I made some notes about the trees I saw.
There are 150 trees planted by famous visitors on the Rideau Hall grounds. Many of the trees have grown large and their boughs stretch wide and high.
One thing I noticed was many of the people who planted the trees at Rideau Hall had made a positive difference in our world.
There is a brass marker at the base of each tree telling you who planted it, when it was planted, as well as what kind of tree it is.
I saw a sugar maple planted by Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president. The anti-apartheid activist spent twenty- seven years in prison and became a worldwide symbol of hope to those fighting for freedom and equality.
Diana, Princess of Wales has a tree in Rideau Hall Park. This popular British royal used her notoriety to draw the attention of the world to the needs of people with AIDS and the victims of land mines.
In July of 2011, when William her son and his wife Kate visited Rideau Hall, they stopped for a few moments of silence beside the tree Diana had planted, just after planting their own tree. Following in the footsteps of Diana’s dedication to public service the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have established a foundation that promotes mental health and wellness.
John F. Kennedy planted a flourishing red oak tree. Kennedy inspired the establishment of the United States Peace Corps. The organization has sent 200,000 volunteers to 140 countries to help those in need.
When Kofi Annan visited Canada Adrienne Clarkson was the Governor-General living at Rideau Hall.
There’s a tree planted by Kofi Annan of Ghana, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. He won the Nobel Prize for his efforts to bring peace to conflicts in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Nigeria, Libya, East Timor and the Middle East.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko greet Governor General Michaelle Jean at Rideau Hall before planting their tree
Japan’s Emperor Akihito has a tree at Rideau Hall. In 2011 after a tsunami devastated his country he did something no Japanese royal has ever done before. He made a live television appearance to talk to his people to reassure them and give them hope and then he and his wife visited shelters for storm refugees.
Many of the famous people who have planted trees at Rideau Hall have used their lives to serve others, and make a difference in the world.
It’s International Women’s Day and I am going to celebrate by introducing you to some of the amazing women I’ve met on my international travels.
This is Wayan in her restaurant and health shop in Ubud, Bali. Wayan is one of the main characters in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. Wayan opened her business to support herself and her daughter after leaving her abusive husband.
This is Por Ko, the principal of Goldstone School in Phnom Penh Cambodia. I volunteered at Goldstone and so admired how Por Ko ran a school in a huge old house where she had turned the bedrooms into classrooms and made do with limited resources and staff to provide the best education possible for 150 students.
These are domestic workers in Hong Kong enjoying their Sunday fellowship. They work a six-day week and Sunday is their only day off. They leave the Philippines to go to Hong Kong and work for wealthy families. Their earnings are sent back to help their families in the Philippines. Many of the women leave their own children behind to care for the children of wealthy Hong Kong residents. I interviewed a group of these women for an article in the Winnipeg Free Press. I so admired their courage, resilience and faith.
This is Beatriz a fellow grandmother and a fellow teacher in Merida Mexico who led a workshop we took about making chocolate. It was a delight to get to know her and visit with her. Her teaching supports her family and she is helping her son and his fiancee get their chocolate-making business off the ground.
Victoria was a university student from Odesa who served as our guide on a walking tour of Kyiv. Intelligent, articulate and engaging Victoria was studying languages and she and a friend came up with the idea of practising their English by giving free tours of Kyiv and then asking people to make a donation when the tour was over. Their self-initiated business had drawn the attention of the local television station and they interviewed my husband Dave to see how he had enjoyed his tour with Victoria. We took Victoria out for lunch after our tour and heard a little of her life story. I so admired her many talents and her vision for the future.
When I was volunteering at a tutoring centre in Runaway Bay Jamaica I went to visit an affiliated daycare set up by this amazing woman named Claudette Brown. She runs a daycare for 140 children on a tiny piece of land in a ramshackle old building with four small rooms. Six other women work with her. She receives no government support. Sometimes parents forget to pick children up at the end of the day so Claudette takes them home with her.
Dee Dee, a woman in her early 30s was our snorkelling guide on a trip to Boracay in the Philippines. Her sister cares for Dee’s Dee’s seven children while she acts as a guide on her brother-in-law’s touring boat. After our snorkelling trip, Dee Dee invited us to her home. Made from bamboo, with a concrete floor and thatched roof it does not have running water. Dee Dee’s Dad who is debilitated from a stroke lives with her. Dee Dee depends on the tourists who come to Boracay for her income. When I asked her what keeps her going despite the many challenges she faces, she said it was God. “I know God is always watching over me.”
We met this marvellous young woman Ayaka when we were touring a kaleidoscope museum in Kyoto. She was a museum worker and was very friendly. We struck up a conversation with her and she offered to meet us after her shift and show us the sights of Kyoto. She explained how the subway worked, took us to her favourite restaurant and spent the evening filling us in on what life was like for a young woman in Kyoto. Ayaka had big dreams and a desire for new experiences. We have kept in touch since our first meeting.
Rong was our bicycle guide on several of our visits to Yangshou China. She was an incredible young woman who biked into Yanghsou every morning from her home 15 miles away. The money she was earning as a guide would help her younger brother go to school and help with her mother’s medical expenses. Rong had lost the sight in one eyein a childhood accident but that didn’t hold her back from being a fabulous guide. I wrote a story about her for the Winnipeg Free Press.
These four women and I formed the high school English Department at an international school in Hong where I taught for six years. They were the absolute dream team to work with- dedicated, hard-working, innovative, caring and collegial. Meena was from India, Rebekah from the United States, Vanessa from Hong Kong, I was from Canada and Liz was from Australia. We were truly an international group of educators.
Children, children everywhere! One hundred and forty of them! Our host here in Jamaica, Tony Beach took us to visit Mrs Brown’s Daycare in the Edgecombe Ghetto of Runaway Bay last week. Tony has great respect for the work done at this daycare and he wanted us to see it for ourselves. Here’s Tony with Mrs Claudette Brown who runs a daycare for 140 children on a tiny piece of land in a ramshackle old building with four small rooms. Six other women work with her. When we drove up the children outside playing in the small cement and dirt front yard rushed up to the gate to greet us. The children said “Hello, Hola and Bonjour” welcoming us in three languages. “Do you want to know how to say hello in German?” Dave asked. When he said, “Guten Tag,” the kids quickly copied him. A little boy immediately grabbed Dave’s hand and a little girl mine when we entered the yard offering to be our guides. It was amazing how many children were crammed into each of the tiny rooms. In the two-year-old’s room, they were giving the children lunch. Tony told us when the daycare runs short of money for salaries the women who work there simply divide whatever funds they have left after expenses for their salaries. Apparently Mrs Brown often ends up staying at the daycare till well after it closes at 5 pm, sometimes till 8 o’clock, because parents don’t show up to pick up their children. Sometimes she just ends up taking children who are left behind home with her.
The kids ran to get books and asked me to read to them. I was amazed at how they knew their colors, the names of shapes, concepts like big and small and over and under. Tony told us the local primary schools say children from Mrs Brown’s daycare are usually well ahead of the other students when they enter school. A teacher in a tiny dark classroom with tarp walls was working on counting concepts with a small group of older children. Tony and Mrs Brown were having a heart to heart talk while we toured the daycare. Tony runs an after school program in Runaway Bay and he tries to share supplies donated to his program with Mrs Brown and help her out financially when he can. Often parents of Mrs Brown’s students can’t afford to pay the minimal fee she charges and she hates to make the children leave because she tells Tony, “it’s not their fault their parents don’t pay and I can’t punish them because of their parents.” As kids do everywhere these Jamaican sweethearts loved Dave and they all wanted to play with him. Claudette Brown gets no government support for her daycare. It is her own service to the community. She’s quite an amazing woman.
We were so glad Tony had taken us to Mrs Brown’s daycare. She is doing so much to help so many children with so very little.
As far as I’m concerned the poet stole the show at yesterday’s inauguration of American President Joe Biden. Standing full of promise in her bright yellow coat and bold red hat twenty-two-year-oldAmanda Gorman’s voice rang true and clear across her country and the world as she recited the rich and rhythmic words she had written especially for the occasion. What passion! What poise! What purpose! I’ve listened to Amanda recite her poemThe Hill We Climb about half a dozen times now and so far I just can’t choose which is my favorite line.
We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another
Even as we grieved we grew, even as we hurt we hoped, even as we tired we tried
Victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made
We will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
Let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left
For there is always light if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.
I have a feeling Amanda’s poem will be read or listened to in many classrooms this morning. By yesterday afternoon my Twitter feed was lighting up with ideas from teachers about how they might share The Hill We Climb with their students.
I was thrilled about that. I taught high school English for six years and inevitably when I would introduce our poetry unit there would be groans in the classroom. Teenagers thought poetry was boring, hard to understand, and certainly not something they could write. I loved to watch them develop personal preferences for certain poems and poets, learn that a poem could mean something different and true to every person who read it, and realize they too could be poets.
Amanda’s poem will certainly become one that is oft-recited and loved and its words will be interpreted in a myriad of ways as people think about how its message applies to them. I wonder if it may have the power to inspire a whole generation to believe they can be poets and also practical people of principle who dream they can change the world and then go out and do it.
A very young and incredibly gifted Black female poet stole the show at yesterday’s American presidential inauguration. What could be more fitting or give the world more faith in the future?
In 1986 Dennis Toews was a frustrated and confused ten –year- old boy. His family had just arrived in Canada, and Dennis was trying to learn to speak English in a special class at Southwood School in Steinbach, Manitoba. If you had told him then, that someday he would be living in Hong Kong, and working as a pilot for one of the top-ranked international airlines in the world, he would never have believed you. When I was living in Hong Kong I interviewed Dennis and he told me his dreams do come true story.
Dennis, who is the son of Cornie and Maria Toews, immigrated to Steinbach from Paraguay with his family in April of 1986. He attended Southwood and then Elmdale School, the Steinbach Junior High, and eventually the Steinbach Regional High School. During grade eleven and twelve he worked part-time at a car dealership Penner Chev pumping gas and washing cars. He took a full-time job there when he graduated from high school.
Waldo Neustaeder, his boss, had an incentive and education program to bring in new business. He sent his workers to customer relations seminars in Winnipeg and every six months he rewarded the employee who had referred the most new customers to Penner Chev, with a thousand dollar travel voucher. Dennis won the reward three times and decided to use his travel money to go on a trip to Hong Kong with his friend Ed Wiebe. Ed’s brother Wilf was a pilot for Cathay Pacific Airlines and Ed and Dennis flew to Hong Kong on a plane Wilf Wiebe was piloting. Wilf asked Dennis if he’d like to sit in the jump seat in the cockpit during the Vancouver to Hong Kong leg of the journey. Wilf also arranged for Dennis and Ed to spend time in the flight simulator Cathay Pacific housed in its Hong Kong headquarters. Dennis was hooked! For the next two nights, he woke up sure that his bed had sprouted wings and he was flying. He decided then and there that he was going to be a pilot and fly for Cathay someday.
It was January of 2000 when Dennis arrived back home in Steinbach from his trip to Hong Kong. Before saying anything to his parents about his new career plans he went to Harv’s Air Service to find out about getting his pilot’s license. Owner Harv Penner told Dennis he could take his first ground school class for free. Five minutes into the first class Dennis knew he’d been born to fly. He went home and told his parents he was going to be a pilot. During the next five months, while still working at Penner Chev, he got his pilot’s license and upgraded some of his high school courses so he would qualify for admittance to Mount Royal College in Calgary where he earned a Diploma in Aviation. After both his first and second years of college, he gained valuable experience flying fishermen up to the Grass River Lodge near Flin Flon owned by Ike and Liz Enns from Steinbach. A tip from a college classmate landed him a job at an aviation company called North Write in the fall of 2002. He worked for them for four years. He flew Cessna 172s and Twin Otters often landing on water or ice with pontoons and skis. He delivered personnel and supplies for oil and diamond exploration, brought cargo to northern communities and flew hunters and fishermen to vacation spots.
While working for North Write he was able to log the 1500 hours of flying time he needed to have a chance at a job with Cathay Pacific. He also had to study for two difficult written exams. He went to Calgary to write the exams and then decided to fly to Hong Kong and personally hand in his resume at Cathay Pacific headquarters. In December of 2006, they gave him a job.
In 2009 when I interviewed Dennis in Hong Kong he was flying the AirBus 340 and 320 to London, Paris, Johannesburg, Rome, New York. Bahrain, Sydney, Auckland and many other destinations. He loved the opportunity to see the world and travel to so many different places. From what I could find out from Linked In and Facebook Dennis continues to live in Hong Kong today, has been promoted to the rank of captain and still flies for Cathay. Dennis said the question he gets asked most often when he tells people he is from Steinbach, Manitoba is whether he is related to Miriam Toews- since he and the well-known Canadian writer share a common last name and hometown. While he can’t claim Miriam Toews as kin, her father Melvin was his teacher at Elmdale School, so he does have one connection with the best selling author. Dennis says he never would have believed during his childhood in Steinbach that someday he’d be a pilot for Cathay. He has a photo he’s kept to remind him of his dreams come true story. The day he came home from his first flying lesson at Harv’s Air Service he asked his sister to take a picture of him standing in his bedroom pointing to a model Cathay plane he had hanging from the ceiling. He told his family that someday he was going to fly planes for Cathay. And that is exactly what he does!
Florence Pugh plays the role of Amy March in 2019’s Little Women
Our family saw Little Women when it opened on Christmas Day. One of the things I enjoyed about the film was that director Greta Gerwig gives more prominence and depth to the character of Amy March, the sister who is the artist in the family, and one who has not always seemed that likeable in previous movies based on Louisa May Alcott’s book. Amy matures and shines in the new movie. My favourite scene is one in which she makes a really impassioned speech about the limitations placed on women in the 1800s.
Photo of Abigail May Alcott and portrait of her painted by her Paris roommate Rose Peckham
I always knew that the novel Little Women was semi-autobiographical and after seeing the movie I wanted to learn more about what Amy March had in common with Louisa May Alcott’s younger sister Abigail who was known as May to her family. As it turns out, like Amy in the book, May was also an artist. With the income from her writing, Louisa was able to help her sister May study art in Boston and Europe.
Still Life With Bottle by May Alcott exhibited in the 1877 Paris Salon and La Négresse by May Alcott exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1879
May who was a writer, as well as an artist, wrote a guidebook for other woman called Studying Art Abroad and How To Do It Cheaply. Although it wasn’t easy to be a female artist and get your work exhibited in the late 1800s May had several of her paintings accepted into the famous Paris Salon, something very few women managed to achieve. She was friends with American artist Mary Cassatt who also exhibited at the Paris Salon.
Lulu Alcott, May’s daughter came to America to live with her Aunt Louisa when she was ten months old
While living abroad May met and fell in love with a Swiss businessman, Ernest Nieriker, and they were married in a quiet, private ceremony in Paris. Theirs was a happy marriage but sadly May died shortly after the birth of her little daughter Louisa, who they called Lulu. At the dying request of her mother, Lulu was sent home to America to live with her Aunt Louisa.
I have ordered the novel The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper to help me further explore the woman on whom Louisa May Alcott based her character, Amy.
I think one of the reasons Greta Gerwig’s film Little Women is proving so popular is because she gives us new insight into some of the characters in the much-beloved novel, helping us see them through a modern lens in ways that are both engaging and intriguing.
Last week I spent a morning in Carmen Manitoba talking to a group of some twenty -five women about my life and travels. Susan Mooney had invited me to speak. She and her husband Tom are long-time residents of Carmen, but Tom’s parents Isaac and Lottie Mooney lived in the Steinbach area from 1944-1980. One Christmas Lottie gave her son Tom and his wife Susan a gift subscription to The Carillon and they have been subscribers ever since. Susan has been reading my newspaper column Viewpoint since I first began writing it in 1985. She had always wanted to meet me and decided inviting me to Carmen, as a speaker for her women’s group, would be a way to do that.
I was interested to learn that the group, which meets at the Carmen United Church, has been in existence for almost forty years. Every Wednesday they invite a speaker to make a presentation and then they ask questions and have a discussion. In the weeks prior to my October visit, Theresa Oswald, a former Manitoba Health Minister had been a speaker as had Jean Friesen a university professor and spokesperson for the Treaty Relations Committee of Manitoba. The week following my visit Nilufer Rahman a Muslim community builder and filmmaker was scheduled as the guest and after her retired Canadian senator, Joanne Buth was speaking. I was told authors Miriam Toews and recent Governor General award winner Joan Thomas had presented in past years.
The women began their meeting by introducing themselves and then answering a question posed by Susan Mooney. She said since she had always wanted to meet me she wondered who might be a person the other women had always wanted to meet. A number thought they would like to meet Queen Elizabeth while several named favorite childhood authors like Lucy Maude Montgomery, Beatrix Potter, and A.A. Milne. Others mentioned the Dali Lama, Michelle Obama, Margaret Atwood, and Eric Clapton. One woman was looking forward to meeting a refugee family that would be arriving in Carmen shortly. Hearing the women’s answers was a great way for me to get to know the group a little better. I told them I already felt like we were kindred spirits.
In my talk, I used examples from my own life to expand on an idea I was first introduced to at my son’s university graduation many years ago. On the journey of life we have a choice to be pilgrims or tourists. Which will we be? After my presentation, the women asked questions and made comments and their ideas and contributions were thought-provoking and meaningful. During our lively discussion, I learned more about the women’s families, travels, reading preferences, community work and faith affiliations.
The women take turns bringing soup for lunch each Wednesday, so I was treated to a hearty bowl of hot vegetable soup and some fresh bread before beginning my drive back to Winnipeg. The women in the group are busy with all kinds of other interesting things. The woman to my left at lunch had come to our meeting from her yoga class and the one on my right told me she was headed off to a community choir practice.
Before I said goodbye the women posed for a photo with me. I wanted a reminder of my morning with them. I gave Susan Mooney a hug and thanked her for inviting me. Two other women who also happened to be near the church door as I left gave me hugs too. I left Carmen enriched, blessed and delighted to have spent a morning with sucha group of caring, engaged and intelligent women.