Cindy Little has been studying women’s history, often specific to Philadelphia, for quite some time now, and she’s got bundles of stories. For one, she was at the 15-day conference at Sarah Lawrence College in 1979 that became the inspiring source for a Women’s History Week (President Carter made it official in ’80) as a teacher from Sonoma, CA discussed the power of Women’s History Week lessons at her school district in ’78.
“Y’know what? We should do this everywhere in the country,” was the spirit, Little, a historian at the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent (on S. Seventh St. near Independence Mall), said. “There was a lot of energy in the room.” The spirit was, essentially: “We have a history, we have heroes and heroines, we made America, too and this is our country and we want our story to be known and not just to a very small group.”
Across the city, the month of March has been an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of women throughout history at countless institutions – a reflection, perhaps, of Philadelphia’s rich Quaker heritage, its spirit of revolution, and pride in philosophical progress.
Women were integral, she explained: in the abolitionist and Underground Railroad movement (as evidenced with the sprinkling of historical markers along Pine Street); in settlement houses in Pennsport and Queen Village (Penn-educated in social work to connect immigrants with language and employment resources), including the Settlement Music School, 416 Queen St.; and at Mother Bethel Church, 416 S. Sixth St., a crucial gathering site for anti-slavery activism. One historian, Little said, calls Philadelphia “the cradle of feminism.”
One feminist, a performance artist with a headquarters in East Passyunk Crossing at The Whole Shebang, 1813 S. 11th St., is preparing an exhibition of work that’s much more in the here and now. Her project, called Action is Primary, is going up at the Icebox Project Space (in the Crane Arts Building at 1400 N. American St. in Kensington) April 6-23. It’s a study in what happens when she and three other artists force themselves to create a dance at 3:15 p.m. every day. Endless iterations of this prompt will be projected, looped, performed and interpreted for a gallery space by Meg Foley and her co-conspirators.
“It’s exciting and beautiful and expansive, and then it’s also just an incredible volume of material,” Foley explained. “I can say that one thing that I have discovered that has been satisfying is the difference between how I define dancing versus not dancing and how absolutely subtle that definition is based on an attention to body and space.”
At The Whole Shebang, Foley and her partner, Carmichael Jones, have created a very contemporary feminist space.
“In terms of creating the parameters of your own community, that feels very intentional,” the former said.
Another South Philly staple of Women’s History spirit is your local library branch, and the Free Library’s Rachel Fryd, a Young Adult Materials Selector, offered SPR her top picks for eager readers. For slightly older readers, she recommends Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”; Rita Williams Garcia’s “One Crazy Summer”; Tony Cliff’s “Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant”; and Julie Murphy’s “Dumplin’.” For slightly younger readers, she chooses Shannon Hale’s “Princess in Black”; Robert Munsch’s “Paperpag Princess”; Barbara Cooney’s “Miss Rumphius”; Andrea Beatty’s “Rosie Revere, Engineer”; and Kevin Henkes’ “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse.”