Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gettin' Down with the Derby Girls

by Carmen Doyle
During Women’s History Month, we thought you should know a little about a relatively new Fort Wayne women’s organization that pairs sports and entertainment to raise money for worthy causes. The Derby Girls are unique in Fort Wayne- a city with a lot of sports history- and relatively new. They’re all female. The Derby Girls are not a “feeder team” (minor league) for a big league pro team. The Girls aren’t paid to compete and aren’t looking to show off their skills in order to advance in the world of professional roller derby. The women have to pay dues in order to be able to participate. The Derby Girls are amateur only in the sense they don’t get paid to compete- these women are in all other ways pro athletes.
According to the Derby Girls website (www.fwderbygirls.com) they are Indiana’s first (and Fort Wayne’s only) all-female, flat track roller derby league. The aim of the Derby Girls is to exemplify “the strength, courage, and vitality of Fort Wayne women”. It was started by two women to not only promote the sport of roller derby, but also to raise money for local women and children’s charities.
The Derby Girls can be difficult to take seriously at first- they all have stage names and a lot of them are wearing fishnets. Watch them skate and you realize how tough and athletic these women are. While there are rules about elbowing and clothes lining other skaters, roller derby is still a contact sport. There are medical personnel at every game- and they’re not there for the spectators. (Although ringside seats are known as “suicide seats” and you must be 18 to sit there, volunteer medical personnel are there primarily to take care of any skater who gets injured during the course of the game. Those helmets, knee pads, and elbow pads aren’t there just for decoration!)
They have played at the Coliseum since 2009, after a small start at the Roller Dome South in 2006. The league has grown over the years. They started with five skaters and have since grown to about 50 skaters, as well as many volunteers. The league is now over 100 people.
Each team has five women on the flat track. (Flat track means it’s easier to set up.) There are three positions: jammer, pivot, and three blockers. The jammer, with the star on her helmet, is the woman to watch. She is the one who scores the points. The blockers’ job is to prevent the opposing team’s jammer from getting through the pack. The pivot, wearing a helmet with a stripe on it, is the last line of defense. If the blockers can’t stop the opposing team’s jammer, the pivot’s job is to stop her from getting any further.
Scoring is determined by the jammers. The jammers start behind the pack and circle the pack once to determine the lead jammer. Jammers get one point for every member of the opposing team they pass- including girls in the penalty box. A jam can last up to two minutes. In that time, the jammers circle the track as many times as they can, gaining a point each time they pass an opponent. The lead jammer can call off a jam at any time by placing her hands on her hips.
The Derby Girls are composed of three different teams: The Bomb Squad, SWAT team, and The Academy. All home bouts feature both the Bomb Squad and the SWAT Team, but the Bomb Squad is the “All-Star” team, ranked nationally by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. The Bomb Squad is the team that is listed with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association- they are the main team. The SWAT team is a “feeder team“ for the Bomb Squad. The Academy is for skaters new to roller derby.
The Derby Girls’ motto is “Charity Driven, Hard Hittin’” While the “Hard Hittin’” is easy to see, the Derby Girls also support local women and children’s charities. Charities apply through email to have the Derby Girls support them. When there are enough applicants, every league member looks through the mission statement of the charities and then they vote on which ones they want to support. Charities in 2012 include The League for the Blind and Disabled-Youth Services, Mad Anthony Children’s Hope House, Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities, and Hoosier Burn Camp. Past charities have included diverse groups such as SCAN, Erin’s House, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Make A Wish Foundation and Charis House. The Derby Girls website features a brief paragraph about each charity they support this season, as well as links to each charity’s website. The charities are then contacted about which bout they want to be featured at. Revenue earned (after deducting team costs) from tickets sales and the 50/50 raffle is then donated to that night’s charity. Since 2006, the Derby Girls have raised over $75,000 for local women and children’s charities.
The next bout is at Memorial Coliseum on April 21st, to benefit the Hoosier Burn camp.
(Thank you to PushyCat, The Adkins Riot, and Miss Mauly Rocket for additional information!)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Remembering an Indiana Female Astronaut

During Women’s History Month, it’s only fitting that we recognize one of America’s top astronauts, Janice E. Voss, Ph.D., who died in early February from cancer at the age of 55.

Born in South Bend, IN on October 8, 1956, Voss went on to graduate from Purdue University in 1975 with a degree in engineering. From there she headed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning her master's degree in electrical engineering in 1977 and her doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics in 1987.

Voss actually began work with NASA at age 16 as a freshman at Purdue. As a member of the Johnson Space Center's co-op program, she worked on computer simulations in engineering and development in the years that led to the start of shuttle-era flights. In 1977, she returned to the center for a year and worked as a crew trainer teaching entry guidance and navigation.

Before beginning her career as an astronaut, Voss worked at the Orbital Sciences Corporation that launched the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite from the space shuttle in September, 1993, and NASA's Mars Observer from a Titan rocket in 1992.

Voss was selected by NASA in January, 1990 for the astronaut corps, becoming a full-fledged astronaut in July, 1991. She served as mission specialist on five space shuttle missions, including the only repeat flight in the shuttle program's 30-year history. She flew with the first commercial laboratory, rendezvoused with Russia's Mir space station and helped create the most complete digital topographic map of the Earth.

In total, Voss logged over 49 days in space, traveling 18.8 million miles while circling the Earth 779 times. Her five missions tied her with the record for the most spaceflights by a woman. She served twice as payload commander and did research on fluid physics and material science, such as growing crystals and developing metal alloys, as well as medical tests to determine the effects of microgravity on the human body.

It all started, her mother said, when Janice was six and picked up a book at the local library--“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle — a fantasy in which one of the main characters is a scientist who happens to be a woman.

A multiple recipient of NASA's Space Flight Medal, Voss donated her personal papers in 2009 to Purdue Libraries' division of archives and special collections as documentation of her spaceflight career.

"Knowing that someone else got from here to there brightened many of my days at Purdue," Voss said at the time, referring to the university's earlier astronaut alums. "Maybe my papers will help someone else feel that they aren't that different from me."

"If I can do it, then so can they," Voss said.

Four years after returning to Earth for the final time, Voss transferred from the Johnson Space Center in Houston to NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, CA. There she headed the science program for the agency's Kepler space observatory. Designed to search for Earth size planets orbiting distant stars, Kepler was launched in March 2009 and to date has confirmed 61 exoplanets and identified more than 2,000 planetary candidates.

Voss left Ames in 2007 and most recently served as the payload lead in the astronaut office's space station branch at the Johnson Space Center.

"As the payload commander of two space shuttle missions, Janice was responsible for paving the way for experiments that we now perform on a daily basis on the International Space Station," chief astronaut Peggy Whitson said in a NASA statement following Voss’ death. "By improving the way scientists are able to analyze their data, and establishing the experimental methods and hardware necessary to perform these unique experiments, Janice and her crew ensured that our space station would be the site of discoveries that we haven't even imagined."

Voss launched her first and final missions aboard the shuttle Endeavour. As a member of the STS-57 crew in June 1993, she helped conduct biomedical and material science experiments in the first commercially-developed Spacehab module, a pressurized laboratory mounted in the orbiter's payload bay that more than doubled the work area for astronaut-tended activities.

Here is a recap of her flights:

First mission 1993:

Voss was one of a crew of six astronauts on the shuttle Endeavour, which lifted off on June 21 for what was planned as an eight-day mission. Bad weather kept the shuttle from landing on time and the mission lasted almost ten days. On its mission, the crew retrieved Eureca, a European science satellite, and launched Spacehab, the world's first commercial laboratory module in space--a 9,600 pound pressurized laboratory mounted in the orbiter’s payload bay. Voss supervised 22 experiments in the Spacehab, most of them on how animals develop in weightlessness. The Endeavour landed July 1. Spacehab was the first commercial laboratory launched into space with its primary purpose to offer industrial and academic researchers access to space.

Second Mission 1995:

Eileen Collins was NASA's first female shuttle pilot when Discovery took off from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 3. Voss was also on board, assigned to operate one of Discovery's two robot arms. She maneuvered the shuttle’s robot arm to grasp an astronomy satellite being deployed. The flight was the first of eight planned missions to rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir, the first U.S.-Russian meeting in space since the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz docking. Discovery did not dock with Mir, but maneuvered close to the station in a dress rehearsal for an Atlantis mission planned for later in the year, verifying flight techniques, communications, and navigation and sensor aids. The Discovery “Near-Mir” returned to Earth on Feb. 11 as planned.

Third and Fourth Missions 1997:

Voss went to space twice in 1997 because technical problems cut short the initial trip. The Columbia blasted off on April 4 with a crew of seven, including Voss who was in charge of 33 experiments, including some on how food grows in weightlessness and how flames spread. The crew set more than 140 small fires in insulated chambers to test the behavior of fire in weightlessness. The tests were intended to gain a better understanding of how fire and heat work on Earth and also to address safety concerns after a 90-second fire flared aboard the Mir station five months earlier. She also coordinated experiments on how plants react in space, using a greenhouse containing about 50 spinach, clover, sage and periwinkle plants. However, the Columbia's planned 16-day mission ended after only four days when NASA detected voltage irregularities in a generator and feared the defective unit could overheat and explode. The shuttle landed safely back on Earth on April 8, but the crew was reassembled three months later and on July 1 the Columbia lifted off again to complete the mission, returning on July 17.

Mission Five 2000:

Voss' fifth trip into space began on Feb. 11 when the Endeavour lifted off on an 11-day mission to use radar signals reflected off of the Earth to precisely measure Earth's topography for NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. After deploying a nearly 200-foot mast, Voss and her crewmates worked around the clock in two shifts to map more than 47 million square-miles of the Earth's land surface.

Information for this post came from: The Indianapolis Star, New York Times, MSNBC, and the Christian Science Monitor.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Allen County's First Meteorologists

Today in the twenty-first century, we take for granted the observation and prediction of weather. With a click on the Internet we can get our local forecast, see reports of our current conditions, and even see satellite maps of on-coming weather systems. It is also possible to get historical information about weather conditions on a particular day, including the record high and low temperatures. These official records go back only to the late nineteenth century, and it is rare to find information about earlier weather events for many places.

Of course, the pioneers of Allen County had no such luxury of accurate weather prediction. The Fort Wayne newspapers of the mid-nineteenth century contained no weather forecasts and little pertinent weather information whatsoever. A pioneer had to rely on a Farmer's Almanac if he wanted a forecast, and he had to be attuned to reading the sky for the possiblity of in-coming storms.

Allen County is fortunate that it had two astute weather observers who reported on climatic conditions in our county well before the keeping of official records. In the summer of 1839, Rapin Andrews came to Perry Township with his wife, Mary (Brimmer), and their children, and settled on a farm northwest of what is now Huntertown. Andrews was born in New York State about 1782 and was apparently a veteran of the War of 1812, serving in Hardenbergh's Regiment of New York State Militia. He was a Mason and may have decided to leave his home in Gorham, Ontario County, during the William Morgan Incident, when there was a widespread backlash against the secrecy of Masonic ritual. Mary, his wife, was born about 1798 in New York, and the two apparently developed a deep interest in observing the weather.

Even before Rapin and Mary left Ontario County, they began keeping a detailed weather diary, where they recorded the temperature at breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime, the prevailing wind direction, and other observations about the prevailing conditions. The type of equipment they used, other than a common thermometer, is not known, but when they came to Perry Township, they brought both their equipment and their keen interest with them. Leaving Ontario County on 29 May 1839, they arrived in Logansport, Indiana, on 1 July and then moved to their new land in Perry Township on 15 July 1839. On 17 July, they made their first Allen County observation in columnar format: 68 degrees in the morning, 79 at noon, 75 at dinner, wind from the south, "still & fair."

The observations continued faithfully every day afterward, such as "mostly fair, in the night heavy thunder;" "still, fair, white frost, planted corn;" "cloudy and fair by turns, first robin." When Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville died in August 1841, Rapin reported, "Died the Chief Richardville." He was also interested in when his fruit trees blossomed, when he sowed his seeds of various types, and when he harvested.

Rapin was active in establishing a government for Perry Township and was one of just eleven voters there to participate in the presidential election of 1840. He was also a charter member of the Royal Arch Lodge of Allen County. He died on 30 June 1849, and the diary reported the death, but still included the daily the temperature observations.

It remains unclear who continued the diary after Rapin's death. It may have been Mary, who lived until 1884 at the age of 85, or it may have been one of their sons, possibly Sidney or Theron. The record continued through 1874 and made note of the death of President Lincoln in April 1865. The last surviving entry is from April 30, 1874, though the diary is fragile and may have lost some pages for later months. There is no note to indicate why the record was concluded.

Today the diary survives in the collection of the Indiana State Library, while a typescript copy can be found in the collection of The Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. While the records are not an official part of the weather record, the diary is useful to historians wishing to know about early weather conditions in Allen County between 1839 and 1874. It may even be useful to compare the date of first blossoms on fruit trees with more modern conditions. We owe a debt to Rapin and Mary (Brimmer) Andrews for their careful observations and designate them as our county's first amateur meteorologists.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Industrial Girls," a Boomtown, and the YWCA

In the decades straddling the 20th century, Fort Wayne factories routinely advertised an urgent need for new female workers. Typical adds in daily newspapers were the following: "Wanted Girls: Boss Manufacturing Company," "Wanted Girls: Wayne Knitting Mills," "Wanted Girls: General Electric Company," "Wanted Girls: Foster's Shirt Waist Factory." While today this might seem like an economic developer's dream, Fort Wayne's female workers were particularly vulnerable to the evils of a rapidly growing industrial city, workplace hazards, and exploitation. For thousands of young working women, the local YWCA offered a helpful protective umbrella.

Between 1900 and 1920, Fort Wayne's population nearly doubled, growing from a mid size town of 45,000 to a bustling city of over 86,000. Much of this growth was due to manufacturing jobs that brought thousands of new workers to town. Fort Wayne became Indiana's second largest industrial center, a leading producer of electrical appliances, light bulbs, magnet wire, railroad cars, knit stockings, gasoline pumps, clothing and trucks.

Fort Wayne also became well known for its unusually high number of young women in the workforce. By 1920 local factories employed roughly 6,000 female workers, about one third of its entire workforce. In comparison, female workers made up approximately 20 percent of the national workforce. While other factory towns drew recent immigrants, the majority of our city's young workers were native born and shared a German American heritage. A significant number were as young as 14.

As in other industrial centers, female workers were mostly unmarried. Jobs were unskilled and considered gender specific. While national tragedies such as the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City alerted local factories to hazardous conditions, changes came slowly. By 1920 the typical 55 hour work week was shortened to 48 hours. Female employees earned approximately half of what unskilled male workers were paid. While their low wages kept production costs competitive, young women were lucky to earn enough to cover basic living costs.

Employers justified such wages with the overly simplified assumption that young women lived at home and would only work for a few years before marrying. Public opinion reinforced prejudices against married women in the workpace. In a factory town known for its unlicensed saloons, prostitution and "droves of blackguards," low wages added still more risks.

In Fort Wayne, as across the country, the YWCA was organized to serve as an ally for young working women. Our local story also involves a very special young woman who was part of a large family of famous women leaders.

Fort Wayne's YWCA was organized by 26 year old Agnes Hamilton* as a result of her volunteer work in a church mission established near the Wayne Knitting Mills on West Main Street. In this neighborhood known as Nebraska, Agnes met young girls who lived "in the midst of low squalor, troubles, frightful temptations." She experienced first hand poverty aggravated by the economic depression of 1893-1894. Recognizing the special needs of young women, she took charge of a low cost tea and lunch service known as the "Noon Rest" at 25 West Wayne Street. A boarding house to accomodate 20 roomers soon followed at 51-53 West Berry Street. The Y also kept a registry of acceptable rooms for referral. Following the national movement, the Y promoted physical, social, intellectual and spiritual interests of the women they served.

As factories grew, the scarcity of housing became ever more alarming. It was not unusual for young women to arrive at the train station with little more than the hope of a job. Moreover, employers faced a shortage of workers, what they called "the girl problem." This combination of humanitarian concern and economic self-interest led to building larger dormitories and offering programs to keep young women safe.

In 1910, Wayne Knitting Mills, the city's largest employer of young women, built a large dormitory to accomodate 100 workers. Publicity assured parents that the three story dorm and clubhouse [still standing near West Main Street] provided a safe and attractive environment.

Soon the YWCA, supported by leading city manufacturers, launched a $100,000 building drive for a new Y dormitory. In the same West Wayne Street block where the Allen County Public Library now stands, a 50 room,three story dorm and clubhouse opened in 1913. An attractive dining room seated 100 people. A spacious lounge and library, basement gym, and rooftop garden along with classes and Sunday teas turned the Y into a popular home and social center.

Housing nevertheless remained a major concern. By 1919 the Y took over another building to house 40 more young women. To meet the continued demand, the WCTU opened yet another downtown dorm.

Through its factory based clubs organized as the Federation of Industrial Clubs, the Y coordinated programs for thousands of young working women. Because local leaders shared the philosophy that young women were only short term workers, Y clubs emphasized traditional female activities. Annual meeetings of the federation brought hundreds of young women from across the city together for fellowship.

With World War I, female workers took on some new jobs vacated by men who had joined the military. Working conditions improved with growing recognition of women's importance in the workfoarce. Mirroring national concerns, women became more conscious of opportunities and wages. Some joined unions for the first time. Out of financial necessity, more women remained in the workforce. A small number were trained as supervisors.

By 1920 Y programs had become more diverse and sophisticated as well. A popular Engish teacher from Central High School, for example, offered a class in the American short story. The Y emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle and offered free health conferences. While the YWCA still extended a needed hand of security and friendship, their programs began to reflect broader opportunities for women. For Wayne's "Industrial Girls" were moving into a new era.

*Agnes Hamilton became well known as a settlement house leader in Philadelphia. Cousin Alice became a pioneer leader in public health and workplace safety and an advocate for world peace. Cousin Edith achieved fame for her book on Greek mythology and for many years as an educator. Their grandmother Emerine Hamilton was well known in Fort Wayne as a woman's advocate. Other Y founders were Rena Nelson and Minnie Moon.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fort Wayne Women & the Fight Against Domestic Violence

By Marilyn Moran-Townsend

History Center Board Member and Chair of the YWCA’s Circle of Women

Let’s start with a Pop Quiz. What does a horse have to do with the story of our region’s domestic violence programs?

According to the research of our foremothers, in the early 1900’s, the Humane Officer was in charge of both horse and wife beatings. Routinely, the horse beatings were given larger fines.

Let’s turn back the clock.

The year was 1975. Domestic Violence wasn’t in our lexicon because people generally believed it wasn’t in our homes. To quote one local leader, why provide an opportunity to flee when a woman “goes zooey”? The Board of Directors of the YWCA wasn’t particularly looking to create a Women’s Shelter related to domestic violence; they were just trying to decide what to do with the resident space they had at the facility.

Board President Peggy Hobbs set up a committee to explore the unmet needs of women needing shelter; and Marion Coufoudakis was chair of that committee. The committee surveyed over 120 churches and social service organizations. That survey indicated a strong need for a shelter from domestic violence, but community funders at first didn’t believe the need was real. So IPFW Professor Mike Downs gave the YWCA an intern, Myrtle Slater, to document the legal cases of domestic abuse.

By then, the matter had moved from the Humane Officer to traffic court! Myrtle extrapolated from the data at least 6,000 cases of domestic violence in one year…and those were only the known cases.

As our foremothers were building the case for a shelter in Fort Wayne, one of their stops was the new shelter in Elgin, IL. There they heard the story of how a local politician embarrassed himself at a public meeting when we responded to their request for funding by saying, “I’d sooner fund a cathouse!” A picture of him on the front page of the local paper and the resulting outrage led to the shelter’s funding.

The Fort Wayne women were counseled, “You can always count on some local politician to say the wrong thing at the right time.” Sure enough, a local politician said the wrong thing at the right time in Fort Wayne and that got Journal Gazette Editorial Page Editor Larry Hayes involved.

Here’s the story: A Journal Gazette reporter was at a local township meeting when the YWCA was seeking funding. When Marion Coufoudakis got to the point in her presentation that the shelter would be located at an “undisclosed location,” the Trustee interrupted the presentation, reportedly saying that if we “interfered” with his marriage and took in his wife, that he would come after her and “tear the house down.” The reporter was so incensed….and that got Larry Hays incensed too. A major editorial followed, becoming the turning point for community sentiment.

In late 1977, United Way approved a hundred-eighty-thousand-dollar grant for a pilot project. The Woodhaven building, a former home for unwed mothers, was identified. The first Women’s Shelter in Fort Wayne, and one of the first in the nation, opened in the middle of the GREAT Blizzard of 1978…somehow very appropriate for the whirlwind of awareness the YWCA had created in what was the largest freestanding shelter in Indiana and one of the largest in the nation.

Carol DeWeese was the first Shelter Director. Jan Bates was the second. She and other Fort Wayne pioneers helped start the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1980. Bates was one of the first Chairs. The Coalition got the first Domestic Violence legislation passed, adding $10 to the cost of a marriage license to help fund domestic violence services.

In 1986, the YWCA built its current women’s shelter, again becoming the largest freestanding shelter in Indiana and the only one designed specifically for this purpose. Bea Williams-Tevis was the Women’s Shelter Director at the time. Bea’s many contributions included the development of the domestic violence outreach services, the self-sufficiency program, the unlearning racism program and the shelter’s first domestic violence children’s program.

Fort Wayne’s reputation as a pioneer in this field also includes the story of Deputy Police Chief Dottie Davis, who helped start a lethality assessment and is training thousands of police officers across North America to use the assessment to prevent domestic homicides.

In retrospect, Marion Coufoudakis identified two critical success factors for the Women’s Shelter: It began under the umbrella of the YWCA, which had a significant track record in both management and fiscal responsibility; and the women who started it all were highly respected in the community.

The funding for the YWCA Women’s Shelter began with women in the late 70’s who had little earning power of their own. Then, in 1997, YWCA Executive Director Becky Hill and volunteer Chair Sandi Kemmish teamed up to create the first Circle of Women. The goal was to identify 20 table captains who would each invite 9 other women to attend a luncheon and contribute $100 apiece to help fund the shelter. Now there are nearly 600 in attendance at the annual event! And as for the table captains, there are many, including Chris Rupp and Irene Walters, who have been table captains every year for 15 years! As a result, YWCA CEO Debby Beckman says the Domestic Violence Services are now able to serve our entire region.

YWCA Board Chair Jan Wilhelm says the 35-year story of the Shelter is an important legacy we must continue to preserve and grow. As this year’s Chair of the Circle of Women, I would add, “I can think of no better proof of the VALUE of the YWCA Domestic Violence programs than the time, talent and treasure invested by so many for so long. It is mission-critical that the Circle of Women remains unbroken.”