The Wrong Message

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SEARCHING FOR PICTURES of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on Google images left me muttering to myself this morning.

“Some people … just … don’t … get it !

Ulrich is a 1991 Pulitzer Prize winner who made a short statement in a 1976 article about Puritans that found a foothold in popular culture. Her maxim that “well-behaved women seldom make history” leaped from the printed page to posters, T-shirts, coffee mugs, sidewalk graffiti, fortune-cookie messages, and more.

I agree with the statement. It’s similar to what the Ozark Mountain Daredevils said in their 1974 song, “If You Want To Get to Heaven (You Got To Raise a Little Hell).” Sometimes, we have to shake things (and people) up to get things done.

The problem is that Ulrich’s maxim has undergone distressing mutations, as one can see on Google images. For starters, several Pinterest-type postings have attributed the quotation to Marilyn Monroe, which muddles the whole message. In a 2007 book titled Well-Behaved Women, Ulrich wrote about rabble-rousing activists like Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, and Betty Friedan.

I adore Marilyn Monroe as an actress and pop-cultural icon, but she was no social-movement maverick. Her late-career misbehavior and absenteeism on movie sets had everything to do with mental health issues and nothing to do with broad social statements.

Other postings have attributed the quotation (usually substituting “rarely” for “seldom”) to Eleanor Roosevelt and, at least in one case, Anne Boleyn.

What’s more bothersome is the mangling of the meaning. One picture shows a heavily tattooed, cleavage-baring model juxtaposed with the “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History” pronouncement. Which says … what? That hot models drenched in ink are making history?

AudreyOther postings seem to confuse Ulrich’s quotation for Mae West’s line, “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” In one case, the “well-behaved women” line is slapped on a cartoon of a blonde dressed up as a sex present.

What perplexes me the most is a picture of Audrey Hepburn with the “well-behaved women seldom make history” statement. Is this deliberately ironic? Even the most hardened cynics say Audrey Hepburn was the classiest and most “well-behaved” actress to ever appear in Hollywood. Was this a refutation of the good-women-accomplish-nothing line? Or an admonition that Hepburn, who gave so much time, money, and effort to UNICEF and other causes, didn’t do enough?

All I know is the Pinterest Age is upon us, for good and ill. Pinterest is a website where users can post pictures, statements and quotations, sometimes all together, for others to see. Most of these pins and pictures are fine and some are outstanding, but others make no sense at all.


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ABOVE: Geraldine Hoff Doyle provided the model for the “We Can Do It” poster, which is often confused with the Norman Rockwell “Rosie the Riveter” image.


ON THIS DATE in 1924, Geraldine Hoff Doyle was born. At age seventeen in 1942, she unwittingly provided the model for one of the most iconic posters of the 20th century.

A worker at a Michigan manufacturing plant during World War II, Hoff Doyle paid little mind when a United Press photographer snapped her picture at work one day.

Forty-three years later, she was thumbing through a Modern Maturity magazine when she saw a World War II-era illustration of a muscle-flexing, bandana-wearing woman under the words, “We Can Do It!” “This is me!” she said.

She was right, although an artist had added muscular arms to the young woman on the poster. Unbeknownst to Hoff Doyle, the photograph taken of her had been turned into an illustration depicting the ability of U.S. women to aid the World War II effort by working factory jobs on the home front.

Although she made no profit from the ever-present image, which also appeared on a U.S. stamp, Hoff Doyle didn’t mind. “You’re not supposed to have too much pride, but I can’t help have some in that poster,” she told the Lansing State Journal in 2002. “It’s just sad I didn’t know it was me sooner.”

The “We Can Do It” image is often referred to as the “Rosie the Riveter” picture, which is inaccurate. Norman Rockwell created the Rosie the Riveter image, which showed a heavily muscled woman holding a ham sandwich with a pneumatic riveter on her lap, in 1942. Mary Doyle (no relation to Hoff Doyle), was the model for that image, which appeared on a cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943 and also on war bond posters.



ON THIS DATE in 1928, sixteen-year-old Betty Robinson became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field.

Robinson (later Betty Schwartz) made her first important run by racing to catch a commuter train in Illinois. A biology teacher at Thornton High School in Harvey, Illinois, witnessed her train-catching speed and suggested they start running together.

After just four official races, Robinson found herself the youngest woman competing in the 100-yard-dash at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. She won the event with a then-record time of 12.2 seconds, making her the first female winner of an Olympic gold medal in track and field. Prior to 1928, women had been excluded from Olympic track events.

Three years later, Robinson sustained injuries in a plane crash that threatened her future ability to walk, much less run. Unable to crouch down for the sprint position, she ran the third leg on the U.S. 4x100m relay team, which won gold in an upset of the favored German team.



ON THIS DATE in 1864, fifteen-year-old Private Nathaniel Gwynne of the 13th Ohio Cavalry charged a Confederate force at Petersburg, Virginia, and retrieved his unit’s flag — despite a bullet wound that would require amputation of his left arm.

c46296aa-872c-4ad5-b3da-0d7039c1e99eThe Civil War charge on a Confederate fortification known as “Fort Hell” nearly occurred without Gwynne. A Union captain tried to pull the young man back from the charge, but either Gwynne didn’t hear the officer or willfully disobeyed him.  

When the bugler’s charge sounded, Gwynne raced on horseback toward the enemy, veering away from his comrades halfway through the charge to attack Confederates who had captured his unit’s flag. Under a hail of bullets, he retrieved the banner and raced back to the Union side when an enemy shot ripped into his flag-holding arm, which would later be amputated.

Gwynne received the Medal of Honor for what his citation called “extraordinary heroism” on January 27, 1865.


Clara Bow

ON THIS DATE in 1905, actress Clara Bow was born in Brooklyn, New York. At sixteen in 1921, the future “It Girl” won a Fame and Fortune Contest sponsored by Motion Picture magazine. This was the big break that helped launch her film career.

No aspiring actress ever needed a change of scenery more than Bow, who had been raised in an impoverished Brooklyn household with a violent, schizophrenic mother and a sexually abusive father. The Fame and Fortune Contest included five screen tests, and the magazine reported that the young woman possessed “a genuine spark of the divine fire.”

ClaraBow-0168From 1922 to December of 1925, Bow made 28 mostly minor appearances in silent films. She finally hit the big time with The Plastic Age, released late in 1925. Reviewing the film, The New York Times said that the actress has “eyes that would drag any youngster away from his books” and that “she radiates an elfin sensuousness.”

Two years later, Bow achieved superstar status with 1927’s It. “It,” as described by romance novelist Elinor Glyn, is “that strange magnetism that attracts both sexes,” and everyone agreed that Clara had “It.” Author F. Scott Fitzgerald called her “the girl of the year … someone to stir every pulse in the nation.”

The “It Girl” became Hollywood’s first sex symbol and biggest star, receiving 8,000 fan letters a week. Her popularity began to fade, however, around 1930. It is often reported that Bow’s Brooklyn accent grated on audiences when talking-films debuted, but the actress had great success with her early talking films.

 The true career killer was Bow’s fragile mental health, which became worse through overwork (she made 45 films in one six-year stretch) and a sensational 1930 court case involving embezzlement by her secretary. Newspapers printed lurid and exaggerated details of her sex life, which hastened her exit from Hollywood.

 Bow married cowboy film star Rex Bell in December of 1931 and made her last film in 1933. She was just twenty-eight when she retired from films.


The Empire State Building on fire and the damage caused by the B-25 bomber.

The Empire State Building on fire and the damage caused by the B-25 bomber.

WHILE EVERYONE knows about the terrorist-hijacked airplanes that destroyed the Twin Towers in 2011, few are aware that a U.S. aircraft struck New York’s Empire State Building, the world’s tallest structure at the time, 56 years earlier. 

On the morning of July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, lost in the New York fog, slammed into the north side of the Empire State Building. Seventeen-year-old Donald Maloney witnessed the accident and raced into a nearby drugstore, demanding morphine, hypodermic needles, and other medical supplies. He then scaled 79 flights of stairs to where the aircraft had ripped into the building.

Because the accident occurred on a Saturday, the building was sparsely populated. Still, 14 people died, and it would have been 15 if not for Maloney, a former hospital apprentice in the U.S. Coast Guard. He lowered himself into a crushed elevator in order to extricate and treat an unconscious woman, who was rushed to a nearby hospital. She would recover — thanks to Maloney.

Another seventeen year old, Herbert Fabian, was praised for taking over an abandoned elevator and rescuing 20 people trapped between the 30th and 40th floors.



ON THIS DATE in 1973, eighteen-year-old David Clyde made his much-hyped debut for the Texas Rangers, pitching five innings in a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins witnessed by 35,698 customers — the Rangers’ biggest crowd of the season.

 At Houston’s Westchester High School, the left-handed Clyde had thrown five no-hitters and two perfect games. The Rangers made him the first overall choice in the 1973 draft and signed him to a $65,000 bonus, a huge stack of change at the time. Team owner Bob Short, knowing huge home crowds would gather to see the kid pitch, planned to give Clyde two starts, and then send him to the minors.

Short’s plan changed after Clyde pitched effectively in his first two starts and drew big crowds for the woebegone Rangers, who would finish 57-105. The teenage rookie stayed in the big leagues and finished the year with a 4-8 record and a 5.01 earned run average.

Clyde never got much better. After two ineffective seasons with the Rangers and several years in the minors, he was traded to the Cleveland Indians, He damaged his rotator cuff while pitching for Cleveland in 1979 and was out of baseball by age twenty-six. His career record: 18-33 with a 4.63 ERA.

 “I’d have to say that David Clyde was one of the best young left-handed pitchers I’ve ever seen,” Whitey Herzog, Clyde’s first big-league manager, told The New York Times’ Dave Anderson in 2003. “He was really mishandled. He never had the advantage of going to the minors and pitching against kids his own age. And he was really a good kid himself. It was a tragedy.’”