Posts Tagged ‘women in history’

“The chief obstacle to a woman’s success is that she can never have a wife.”

— Anna Lea Merritt (19th Century Artist), Lipincott’s Magazine (thankfully, this is no longer true everywhere)

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The path to success has always been difficult for many artists, and much more so for women. Given that it is International Women’s Day and I am from Pennsylvania, I thought I’d share the story of one group of women who looked at the crappy hand they’d been dealt and said, “Thanks, but we’ll find a better way.”

This is the story of the talented Victorian girl gang known as The Red Rose Girls.

Clubhouse Goals with the Red Rose Girls

While renting out the Red Rose Inn in Philadelphia, they lived on their own terms exploring the benefits [of] a communal all-female household. And at a time when women were barely even permitted to attend art school, they enriched each others careers and thrived together as self-sufficient artists.

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Photo by Heidi Kaden on Unsplash

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I love a lot of things, including the Works Progress Administration, kick-ass ladies, secret histories, and libraries. This story combines all of the above and more. How cool is it that?

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Kentucky’s Horse-Riding Librarians | The Kid Should See This

Between 1935 and 1943, the initiative employed around 1,000 book women as mobile librarians. Paid less than a dollar a day, they traveled up to 120 miles a week on mule or horseback over rugged mountains and through fast-flowing creeks in all types of weather… In just one year they reached 50,000 families and 155 rural schools. But book women did more than just leave books on people’s porches…

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I came across a fascinating article by David McRaney on survivorship bias. The overall point, that accounting for failure is critical to success, is well made, and the author uses a series of pointed examples. Not incidentally, the post also lays out a new-to-me part of World War Two history that includes a cabal of geniuses, women mathematicians, and the Department of War Math (ok, that last bit wasn’t its real name, but it should have been).

In World War Two, for example, the U.S. military tracked damage to returning bombers and wanted to beef up the most frequently-hit areas. A statistician named Abraham Wald pointed out that the surviving planes made it back despite that damage. The spots where they were unscathed, the ones no one had thought to record, were in fact the most vulnerable; as McRaney sums up, “that’s where the planes that didn’t make it back were hit.”

I found the history interesting in its own right, and if you have ever been tempted by the (admittedly seductive) trap of thinking, “Well, my grandfather breakfasted on salt pork and hot gin for ninety years, so I can eat whatever I want and still live forever,” I recommend a read.

“You develop a completely inaccurate assessment of reality thanks to a prejudice that grants the tiny number of survivors the privilege of representing the much larger group to which they originally belonged.“

That same logic applies to evaluating advice from diet gurus, celebrity CEOs and millionaire app designers. Skill plays a part, of course, but it turns out that overall, what a lot of successful people have in common could be termed luck. That may be a bit discouraging, but the good news is that such luck can be courted if you’re willing to take a longer-term view.

“The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.”

Instead of looking for that one big break, think of the world as a series of possibilities; the more options you try, the greater your chance of success. Resist tunnel vision, “wade into the sea of random chance,” and stay open to new ideas and situations. That sounds pretty good, actually.

If you’re interested in how survivorship bias applies to writers and writing careers, check out this post by Tobias Buckell and the related Writing Excuses podcast in glorious audio or text.

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