Women of the Bayou State

Women of the Bayou State
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With Mardi Gras 2017 having just concluded and thoughts of New Orleans on my mind, I thought I would profile women with ties to the Bayou State of Louisiana. Match the woman with her accomplishment:

____ 1. A self-made millionaire, her hair care and skin care products enabled many African-American women to achieve economic self sufficiency in the early 1900s.

____ 2. A contralto who became an international star singing only spiritual/gospel music.

____ 3. She supported orphanages in New Orleans and a statue of her likeness was erected shortly after her 1882 death.

____ 4. She built one of the largest steakhouse chains in the world.

____ 5. A playwright and writer who won two New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and a National Book Award.

A. Margaret Haughery

B. Madam C.J. Walker

C. Lillian Hellman

D. Mahalia Jackson

E. Ruth Fertel

The “Bread Woman”, “Angel of the Delta” and “Mother of Orphans”, Margaret Haughery was a significant philanthropist in New Orleans known by these and other forms of endearment. Her family emigrated from Ireland to America when she was five years old. Tragically, before she was a teenager, both of her parents were killed by a yellow fever epidemic and she was orphaned. She entered domestic service, married, moved to New Orleans, and had a daughter. After the deaths of her husband and daughter, Haughery worked as a laundress at a local hotel and became acquainted with the Sisters of Charity. Much of her earnings went to support their orphanage. To provide better care for the orphans, Haughery bought two cows and started a dairy. She also established a bakery to provide bread. These enterprises were successful and she established four orphanages. Since 1884, shortly after her 1882 death, a statue of her likeness has stood in the Lower Garden District.

Born in Delta, Louisiana, Madam C.J. Walker became a millionaire in the early 1900s on the basis of her skin care and hair care products for African-American women and the community that she developed to sell those products. A philanthropist and benefactor for African Americans, Walker said: I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground. Through the sales of her products, she provided African-American women an opportunity to reach economic self sufficiency; a model that Mary Kay Ash would use again starting in 1963 with Mary Kay beauty products. Walker has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Born in New Orleans, author and playwright Lillian Hellman spent her youth moving back and forth between New Orleans and New York. She attended college briefly in New York City before getting a job at a publishing house, marrying, and moving to Los Angeles. Her 1934 play, The Children’s Hour, ran more than 700 performances on Broadway and brought her fame. Additional plays followed. Her political leanings were very far left and she was active in voicing them through her writing and her activities. After her blacklisting in the 1950s, she wrote her memoirs and taught at various colleges. Her many honors included two New York Drama Critics Circle Awards and a National Book Award.

Born in New Orleans, contralto Mahalia Jackson’s voice was well established by her teens. Her Aunt Bell predicted “You going to be famous in this world and walk with kings and queens.” In 1927, she went with her Aunt Hannah to Chicago, seeking greater opportunities than were afforded African Americans in New Orleans at the time. Working first as a domestic, Jackson joined the Johnson Brothers, Chicago’s first professional gospel group. She also made herself a promise that she would only sing spiritual songs. By 1937, Jackson had made her first record with Decca. She also partnered with Tommy Dorsey and they became a traveling gospel act. Her 1948 recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” sold over one million copies. In 1950, in an important event for civil rights and gospel music, she performed as the opening act at Carnegie Hall in New York City. By 1960, Jackson was an international star who had lent her prestige and voice to the U.S. civil rights movement and had become friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. Aretha Franklin sang at her funeral in 1972.

Born in New Orleans, Ruth Fertel was looking for a better way to pay for her sons’ college education when she purchased a steakhouse called Chris Steak House in New Orleans in 1965. Although unfamiliar with the restaurant business and naïve about the need for working capital, she grew Ruth’s Chris Steak House to 82 restaurants and annual sales of $328 million by the time of her death in 2002. Fertel followed in the footsteps of strong women who owned restaurants in New Orleans but also catered to the good-old boy network attracting politicians, businessmen, athletes, and reporters to her restaurant. In the early days, she learned to butcher and hired single mothers; hers was the only upscale restaurant in New Orleans with an all-female wait staff. Named Entrepreneur of the Year, Fertel was an active philanthropist in education and the culinary arts.

Learn about more she-roes and celebrate amazing women. These women with ties to the Bayou State of Louisiana are among the more than 850 women profiled in the book Her Story: A Timeline of the Women Who Changed America. I am proud to tell women’s stories and to write them back into history.

(Answers 1-B, 2-D, 3-A, 4-E, 5-C)

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