Mama – A Life Too Short

Mama's 39th birthdayYesterday was my mother’s birthday. It’s hard to believe it’s been 21 years since she passed, at the age of 58.

My mom was a good mother. She was funny and intelligent and loving. She wasn’t famous. She wasn’t a doctor, or a scientist, or a playwright. She didn’t even finish the 9th grade. But, she read voraciously. People would ask her what college she had attended, which always made her smile. My mother wasn’t a perfect woman. But she left her mark on the world. People liked my mother.

Nancy Lee Rinehart was born in 1935 in an extremely small North Carolina town. She was the oldest, and shortest, of a large 2nd family. Her father had children from a first marriage, so she had older half-siblings whom she loved dearly.

Mom’s childhood home was a two-story wooden house built by my great-grandfather. It had a well on the back porch with a ringer-washer, and a large front porch leading to a door that was rarely used. Most people came through the kitchen at the rear of the house. My grandpa’s workshop was in the back, adjacent to the pig pen and chicken coop. The house had coal-burning stoves inserted into fireplaces for heat, and the only indoor plumbing was the cold water faucet in the kitchen. Baths were taken when a galvanized steel tub was brought into the kitchen and water heated on the wood-burning cook stove. The toilet accommodations were the outhouse behind the workshop, or during the night, the “pee pot” under the bed. The house was never updated and stood until sometime in the 1980s.

The details of Mom’s early years are bit sketchy. She got married in the ninth grade, which she said was really an excuse to get out of school. She lost a baby brother when she didn’t see him by the wheel of the car before backing up – something I learned not from my mother, but from an aunt. As a teenager, Mom sang on the radio in Charlotte with some people who went on to be quite famous. There was mention of her running moonshine for my uncle, but my sister and I debate on whether she actually knew there was ‘shine in the trunk. Mom lost her first baby when it was days old and still in the hospital. She had a boy by another marriage, who was raised by his grandparents, and who came to live with us when I was a teenager. She had three more children when she married my father. My mother also fought alcoholism for most of her life, which eventually was the indirect cause of her death.

I was so angry with my mother for so long after she died. I mourned for what we would never share and what could have been. But now, I focus on the positive in her life. My sister and I share memories and giggles and comment on traits we inherited from Mom – a love of music, talking with our hands, and a youthful outlook. I smile when I remember the twinkle in my mother’s eyes when she was being playful. And, I talk to her sometimes, to share a joy or challenge or triumph.

My mother had an outgoing personality. She would talk to anyone, or anything. I still tell the story of when my sister and I were walking with her through a parking lot. Mom was talking away and inadvertently ran into the end of a car. She didn’t miss a beat, just said, “Excuse me,” and kept right on walking. My sister and I were in junior high and already had some of our mother’s mischievous ways. We looked at each other and went in opposite directions, saying rather loudly, “We are not with that woman. We don’t even know who she is. Never seen her before in our lives.” Mom, of course, tried to shoosh us, “You girls, stop it,” which just made us laugh.

I started this blog to honor women throughout history, but I don’t want to focus only on famous personalities, or ignore shortcomings or weakness. I want this space to honor ALL women, flaws and all. Today, I honored my mother. As imperfect as her life was, she was a force of good. She had some very tough times in her life, but there was love in her. And to be near her, was to know that love.

I encourage, and welcome, suggestions for future posts. Send me a note. I’d love to interview you or a woman you’d like to recognize.

© 2014, A Woman in Time

Happy Pi Day, Emmy!

David Wilson wrote in his paper, “History of Mathematics,” for Rutgers, Spring 2000:

We will probably never know who first discovered that the ratio between a circle’s circumference and diameter is constant, nor will we ever know who first tried to calculate this ratio.

Starting in 1988, March 14th has been celebrated as Pi Day. In lieu of a candidate to celebrate this mysterious symbolic day, I offer Emmy Noether, born March 23, 1882 in Bavaria. She was the daughter of a highly regarded mathematician, who surpassed her father’s reputation, and was a woman who transcended her time in history. In a letter to the Editor of The New York Times, dated May 1, 1935, Albert Einstein wrote:

NoetherEmmyIn the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.

As a Jewish woman in early 20th century Germany, Amalie Emmy Noether faced obstacles of sexism and racism throughout her life. Her intelligence and focused determination earned her a Ph.D. in mathematics, the respect of  colleagues and a place in history.

Though her father was a mathematician and professor at University of Erlangen, women could only audit classes by consent of a professor. Noether was one of two women attending classes, during 1900-1902, among thousands of men. She took the university entrance exam in 1903, and went on to gain her Ph.D. in mathematics in 1907.

After university, Emmy Noether worked for seven years without pay or title at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen. However, that did not deter her in making significant contributions in theoretical algebra.

Her lectures and published papers  gained a reputation with fellow mathematicians. She was invited to accept membership and lecture at several international mathematical societies.  In German, however, her gender prevented her admission to the Faculty at Göttingen University.

Mathematicians, David Hilbert and Felix Klein, convinced for to join the  Göttingen Mathematical Institute while they lobbied on her behalf. As she was not on the Faculty, she lectured through the guise of deceptive advertising. Hilbert allowed courses to be advertised using his name, “with the assistance of Dr. E Noether.”

Noether joined the Mathematical Institute in 1915, where she worked with Hilbert and Klein on Einstein’s general relativity theory. Her first work at the Institute was proving a theorem that still bears her name. Noether’s Theorem proves a relationship between symmetries in physics and conservation principles.It has become a fundamental tool of modern theoretical physics and calculus.

Noether worked at the Mathematical Institute in Göttingen for three years without a salary. In 1919, after Albert Einstein added his support to Hilbert and Klein’s campaign. His intercession persuaded the Mathematical Institute to allow Noether to lecture, but still without pay.

In 1922, fifteen years after receiving her Ph.D., she was given a small salary and the honorary title of “associate professor without tenure.” With the rise of the Nazi Party and continued gender bias, Noether’s status did not change while she remained at Göttingen.

Though she had international prestige and had made significant contributions in the field of mathematics, Hitler’s Nazi government of 1933 denied Noether permission to teach. She accepted a visiting professorship at Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr College and also lectured at Princeton.

Emmy Noether lived in the United States until her death in 1935, at the age of 57, from complications after surgery to remove a tumor. Upon her death, Albert Einstein’s letter to the New York Times included the following:

In the realm of algebra, in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods which have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present-day younger generation of mathematicians.

© 2014, A Woman in Time

Further Reading:
Problems you can solve just by looking at them: The meaning of Noether’s Theorem
Professor Einstein Writes in Appreciation of a Fellow-Mathematician


International Women’s Day

International Women's DayToday’s post doesn’t highlight an individual woman, but instead pays homage to all those who gave energy and heart to bring millions together in celebration of International Women’s Day. This tradition that has its roots in the United States women’s labor and suffrage movement. As listed on the official site, the first International Women’s Day was in March, 1911, with just a few European countries participating. Less than a week later, the horrific New York City ‘Triangle Fire’ aimed national attention and started a movement in the U.S. for legislation to improve labor conditions. The disaster became a rallying focus in later International Women’s Day events. By 1914, and after several years of political conflicts, women across Europe were campaigning against war and for women’s solidarity. Today, International Women’s Day is global with events sponsored by a range of groups and organizations.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2014 is Inspiring Change. Though our world has seen a great transformation in the past century, there is still work to be done to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Globally, issues include inequality in education and health services, unequal political representation, salary disparity, and sanctioned violence against women and girls.

Today, we celebrate the accomplishments of women who paved the way, and women who continue to march toward progress. Today, we also stand with women and girls that protest and stand up for change under difficult circumstance. Yes, there is still much to do. As written on the International Women’s Day website:

So make a difference, think globally and act locally !! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.

© 2014, A Woman in Time

For more information,

Twitter:  @womensday

Women’s History Month 3/1-3/31/2014

logoMarch is Women’s History Month. This celebration of female achievements began with a group of women in Santa Rosa, CA who formed The National Women’s History Project. If you’re unfamiliar with NWHP, I encourage you to check out their website. The efforts of this organization led Congress to request a Presidential Proclamation designating the week of March 7, 1982 as the first National Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress responded to a petition from the NWHP and passed Pub. L. 100-9 which resulted in President Reagan signing a proclamation designating March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” A proclamation has since been issued annually.


[picture from Gallaher(1898)]

Each year, The National Women’s History Project announces a theme, and encourages readers to submit names of women to be honored on their website. This year’s theme is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment. I have chosen one of their honorees to highlight as ‘A Woman in Time.’

Agatha Tiegel Hanson was born in 1873. She became deaf and blind in one eye at the age of seven. To give historic context, Agatha entered the world just eight years after slavery was abolished, and one year after Susan B. Anthony and supporters were arrested for attempting to vote. In 1878, when Agatha was five, A Woman Suffrage Amendment was first introduced to Congress. In 1888, she enrolled at Gallaudet University, then a school for the deaf and blind. Agatha was one of 13 women allowed in on a trial basis. She graduated Valedictorian in 1893, the first deaf woman from Gallaudet with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Agatha Tiegel Hanson was a woman of her time and ahead of her time. This is evident in her Valedictorian speech, “The Intellect of Woman,” which you can read in its entirety on I find the following passage at the end of her speech particularly telling:

Over and above the peculiarities which pertain to a woman as a woman are her needs as a human being. She has her own way to make in the world, and she will succeed or fail in whatever sphere she moves, according as her judgment is rendered accurate, her moral nature cultivated, her thinking faculties strengthened. It is true that we have made a start in the right direction. But that start has been made very recently, and it is still too early to pass sentence on the results. There yet remains a large fund of prejudice to overcome, of false sentiment to combat, of narrow-minded opposition to triumph over. But there is no uncertainty as to the final outcome. Civilization is too far advanced not to acknowledge the justice of woman’s cause. She herself is too strongly impelled by a noble hunger for something better than she has known, too highly inspired by the vista of the glorious future, not to rise with determination and might and move on till all barriers crumble and fall.”

In this address, Agatha extols a woman’s right to independence of thought and deed.  She knows full well the obstacles from history, and yet she demonstrates confidence in the evolution of civilization. She sees past historic bias and recognizes the momentum of change. This is progressive thinking from any woman of that day, but being deaf must have given Agatha particular insight to prevailing prejudice and the potency of determination. I can see why this strong and intelligent woman was honored by The National Women’s History Project.


In 1980, the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) was founded in Santa Rosa, California by Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett and Bette Morgan to broadcast women’s historical achievements.

© 2014, A Woman in Time

Humanity Endures as History Swings

Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos upon Río Pinturas by Mariano via Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow, March 1st, marks the start of Women’s History Month. How appropriate to initiate a blog about women through time. We’ll call this, my initial post, a pre-launch.

I have long been fascinated with what prompts us to behave the way we do as a species. From a young age, I observed people and considered their actions and motivations. I was a pseudo-psychologist/sociologist years before I understood the meaning of the words. As an adult, I’ve become a bit of a history buff. I didn’t appreciate the subject in school but, over time, my have eyes opened to its power.

George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which has also been paraphrased as, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I don’t fully agree with this premise as I believe we humans remain the same at our core. Science, politics and religion may change how we interact with one another and how we perceive our surroundings, but our base instincts are ingrained. Different generations bubble up new ‘truths’ and sway moral sentiment. They are astonished at the cruelty of others, or pass judgement on ‘outsiders.’ These and other various patterns have been mixed and re-packaged through time. Humans have always been inquisitive, creative, passionate, loving, cruel, intolerant, warring creatures. I’ve often considered the idea that society swings, like a pendulum, from one extreme to the other. We advance, certainly, but how close are we to swinging back to a Dark Age? I believe that to learn from history, we must also stay attuned to our base instincts and be aware of repeating patterns.

Within this blog, I plan to expand and challenge the premise that we are not so different through the ages, and to celebrate historical figures who embody the best of our humanity and shine a light for future generations. As my point of view is female, I will focus on women. Each post will include an image of ‘A Woman in Time’ with historic or literary reference, some commentary, and hopefully interviews as I go along. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

© 2014, A Woman in Time