Sunday, December 22, 2013

If you’re in NYC this holiday season and want to avoid the crushing crowds at the Met and MOMA, I recommend the Armory Show at NY Historical Society.

If you’re in NYC this holiday season and want to avoid the crushing crowds at the Met and MOMA, I recommend the Armory Show at NY Historical Society. My husband, son and I were there on December 18 and it was wonderfully uncrowded.

The exhibit recreates the famous 1913 New York Armory Show which sent shock waves throughout the art world. Not all the works of the original show are on display but the exhibit includes major works by Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh as well as woks by American artists such as John Marin and Stuart Davis. The Europeans are the stars, but some of the American paintings are quite impressive. It made Rick and me want to finally get to the Whitney Museum of American Art which incredibly we’ve never visited. As a result of the Armory Show, I’ve developed an interest in Stuart Davis and would like to see more of his work.
Servant Girls by Stuart Davis

Rick and I promised ourselves that when we retired we’d go up to NYC more often including day trips like the one on December 18, but somehow we are going to NYC about as often as we did during our working years. We really need to remedy this.

It’s mostly my fault—-the older I get the more of a homebody I become. If it weren’t for Rick’s prodding, I’d probably never leave Mt. Airy. But when I do manage to bestir myself I am so glad I did!

We also discovered a very good affordable Mexican restaurant Cafe Frida which is just a couple blocks from the Historical Society.

Now we have to manage to get up to New York for the Vermeer exhibit at the Frick before it closes on Jan. 19. Will we get it together???

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I’m feeling very optimistic about the future of Philadelphia NOW!

Nina Ahmad, new President of Philadelphia NOW

I’m feeling more optimistic about NOW and very optimistic about the future of Philadelphia NOW. We have a diverse new leadership team and one of our active members and past president, Caryn Hunt, is the president-elect for Pennsylvania NOW. From our press release:
Nina Ahmad, Ph.D. to lead the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women

New Slate of Officers Elected to the Philadelphia Chapter of the multi-issue progressive feminist advocacy group

Philadelphia, PA – The Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW), a key feminist advocacy group in the region has elected its new slate of Officers for the 2014-2016 term. Nina Ahmad, Ph.D., co-owner and Executive Vice President of Government Affairs of JNA Capital, Inc. has been elected as the President of the Chapter. Dr. Ahmad brings a wealth of experience in engaging diverse audiences through community outreach as the Chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs of Philadelphia and is involved with a host of other organizations including serving on the Board of Women’s Campaign International, which focuses on women’s equality through building skills that help women become effective agents of change. Dr. Ahmad stated, “As a mother of two daughters I am alarmed at the current regression of women’s rights in our country; hard-fought rights earned with blood, sweat and tears. Our future generations should not have to fight these same battles.” She further stated, “I envision our Chapter being engaged in ensuring the promise of equal opportunity for all women by leveraging our collective assets. To that end, I am committed that our chapter membership will be multigenerational and diverse, and from all walks of life.”

In addition to Dr. Ahmad, the following slate of Officers was voted in for the 2014-2016 term:

Executive Vice President: Natalie Catin, Principal for Grover Cleveland Mastery Charter School is a fierce advocate for enhancing educational opportunities for all children and furthering the feminist agenda.

Vice President for Finance: Kathy Black, Health and Safety Director for AFSCME DC47 is also the Philadelphia Chapter President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, will continue to fight for women’s rights.

Vice President for Membership: Sharon Hurley, computer specialist with extensive administrative experience is focused on engaging our membership in feminist issue areas and on creating strong member network.

Secretary: Melody Lam, recent graduate of Temple University with a Bachelors of Science in Biology, is eager to leverage her organizational skills and experience in civic engagement/minority empowerment.

Treasurer: Louise Francis, the Consulting Principal and founder of Francis Analytics and Actuarial Data Mining, Inc. is a long time member of the Chapter, who has been engaged in advocating for feminist issues.

Delegate to the State Board: Karen Bojar, Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Studies at the Community College of Philadelphia, is a longtime feminist activist, past President (2001-2009) of Phila-NOW and looks to strengthen the relationship between Philadelphia NOW and Pennsylvania NOW.

Delegate to the State Board: Sharon Hurley (see above) will liaise with Pennsylvania NOW.

Delegate to the State Board: Sharon Williams Losier, practicing attorney and owner of Losier & Associates, is a civil rights activist engaged in furthering the feminist agenda and will liaise with Pennsylvania NOW .

NOW on all levels –national, state, and local-- has struggled to build a diverse organization and our success or failure will determine whether or not the organization will continue to thrive. The founding generation, now over 65, is part of a demographic cohort which is largely white; feminists under 25 are part of a demographic cohort which is far more racially/ethnically diverse. If NOW is to look like America, it must figure out how to reach this younger, far more diverse group. NOW’s continued existence depends on it.

Nina Ahmad is the first woman of color to head Phila NOW. Given the diversity of the city, it’s surprising it took so long. Nina is not the first woman of color to be a NOW chapter president in Philadelphia. In 1980 Jocelyn Morris founded and served as president of Germantown NOW which was founded to combat both racism and sexism and to build support for the passage of the ERA among women of color.

Despite her incredibly hard work, the chapter was short-lived and folded soon after Morris moved out of Philadelphia. The history of Germantown NOW is documented in chapter 6 of Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982. Morris was ahead of her time and as Chair of NOW’s combating racism committee she is continuing the work she began in 1980.

NOW’s national leaders are well aware of the need to reach the diverse millennial generation, but change at the grassroots level has been slow. Philadelphia NOW is making a real contribution here and the fact that a woman as talented as Nina has decided to devote her time and energy to NOW certainly gives me hope that NOW will survive and thrive.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Discussion of Feminism in Philadelphia with Veteran Feminists Florence Cohen ,Judy Mathe Foley and Sharon Wallis

I have so enjoyed the opportunity to discuss Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982 with many of the wonderful women who were part of the story of second wave feminism in Philadelphia.

Many thanks to Sherrie Cohen for arranging a reading/ discussion of Feminism in Philadelphia at the Watermark retirement community where her mother, NOW member and life-long feminist activist Florence Cohen, currently resides. Florence Cohen, a legend in Philadelphia politics, is one of the veteran feminists featured in Feminism in Philadelphia and this event focused on local feminists’ involvement in electoral politics. From Feminism in Philadelphia:

In the early years, many Philadelphia NOW members were deeply suspicious of direct involvement in electoral politics. In the early and mid-1970’s, Philadelphia NOW dealt with the distrust many members had of political involvement by farming out electoral politics to the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus (PWPC) formed in 1971. Philadelphia NOW members were instrumental in the formation of PWPC but wanted to keep NOW itself unsullied by the messy compromises of electoral politics. Distrust of electoral politics was not confined to NOW members but was pervasive among the progressive movements in the late 1960’s and early 1970's.

Yet despite this distrust, electoral politics and social movement politics were closely intertwined in Philadelphia in the 1970’s. African-Americans (many of whom had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement)and feminists (usually under the banner of the Philadelphia Women’s Political Caucus) organized against the Democratic machine, fighting for inclusion and fair representation as elected officials and as Democratic Party ward leaders and committeepersons…

PWPC launched …a political education initiative designed to encourage more women to run for political office, including Party offices such as committeeperson and ward leader. The organizational genius behind the feminist political education effort was Florence Cohen who wore several hats; she was a member both of Philadelphia NOW and of PWPC and a group she led called the New Democratic Coalition.

Florence Cohen organized a series of political education workshops sponsored by PWPC which dealt with the basics of the political structure in preparation for the 1972 primary election. According to Cohen, “We have to get a new type of woman--an independent woman--involved in politics.” In a handout she prepared on the political structure, she defined what she meant by an “independent,” someone motivated by issues rather than by political allegiances and loyalties.

Cohen was well aware of the distaste many feminists had for partisan politics; she challenged the attendees at the December 1971 political workshop to overcome their reluctance to get involved: “Politics is dirty but we MUST have a part of it. The machine will control parties to the extent that there is apathy, to the extent that we are disorganized. We must use our collective strength--women are 52% of the electorate.”…

Florence Cohen, noted that in 1971 only 7 out of 66 Democratic ward leaders were women, but according to Cohen “none whom you’d call independent women.”

When Philadelphia NOW in 1998 and again in 2002 organized a series of workshops to encourage women to run for committeeperson, we thought we were doing something new and different. But unknown to us at the time, Florence Cohen had spearheaded a much more successful effort 3 decades earlier. We are launching this effort again in 2014. and with a dynamic speaker City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, we hope to be more successful than we were in the past.

It was wonderful to have feminists featured in the book at the event, and in addition to Florence, Judy Mathe Foley and Sharon Wallis were in the audience. I was really happy to have finally met Sharon. Jean Ferson, President of Philadelphia NOW and Sharon Wallis, President of Philadelphia Women's Political Caucus in 1971.Judy Mathe Foley arriving in Springfield Illinois for May 1976 ERA rally.

Sharon confirmed that Judy was the organizational genius behind Philadelphia NOW and apparently the Philadelphia Women's Political Caucus as well. I am really happy to have had access to the archival material which demonstrated Judy’s crucial role behind the scenes and to have been able to document this.

There is so much of the history of social changes organizations in Philadelphia (and elsewhere) that has yet to be documented---so many rich dissertation topics awaiting a new generation of young scholars. Let’s hope these histories are written!

Feminism in Philadelphia is available at and from Giovanni's Room at and is further discounted at

Also, for people who like to buy hard copies at book stores, there are some on the shelves at Giovanni’s Room in Center City Philadelphia.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Another wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with my sister and her extended family of relatives and friends!

I really enjoy these intergenerational holidays. Since Rick and I do not have grandchildren and my sister does not have grandchildren, and most of my good friends do not have grandchildren, we don’t have much contact with little children in our lives.

Fortunately my sister's good friend’s daughter and her husband have produced two gorgeous babies, so we have 3 generations at our Thanksgiving celebration.

In addition to baby Nathaniel, there was something else different about Thanksgiving this year—-the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, dubbed "Thanksgivukkah. " This will be my first and only time at which a menorah was lit at Thanksgiving dinner. Supposedly, it won't happen again for more than 70,000 years!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why are central Paris hotels so expensive? The 2013 France diaries, Part IV

One of our first Paris hotels, Les Maronniers

When we returned to Paris we stayed at Hotel Le Six in Montparnasse, a charming, well-located hotel which (like all Paris hotels) costs far too much for a small room. This is our favorite part of Paris and over the years we’ve usually stayed in Montparnasse and thereabouts.

When I started looking for Paris hotels I was stunned to find that the little hotels we used to stay in had doubled and sometimes tripled in price. One of our first hotels in the 1980’s was Les Maronniers --if I remember correctly less than 100 dollars a night. It’s now well over 200.00 dollars a night.

The same with another favorite La Varenne which used to be about 100 dollars a night but is now over 300 dollars. Of course one expects prices to go up over the years, but it seems far worse in Paris than in other major cities. Where are those deals on small hotels we used to get? Why is central Paris so expensive?

I think I found a clue in a Guardian article about Chinese tourists who had been targeted by thieves:
One problem is the lack of security in suburban hotels. In central Paris, hotel capacity is at saturation point and new ones can only be built outside the ring road, in precisely the areas now avoided by the Chinese tour operators. Jean-François Zhou, the founder of Ansel Travel, says that the Chinese blacklist hotels whose clients have been the victims of theft. He now tries to get his clients into central hotels, even if it raises the cost of his services.
The demand for Paris hotel rooms has skyrocketed since Rick and I began traveling together in the early 1980’s. The Chinese economy has grown tremendously since then with the consequent rise in Chinese tourism; also Eastern Europeans are free to travel and increasingly have the resources to do so. In short there are more people with the means to travel and Paris is the world’s number one tourist destination. Combine this increased demand with a prohibition on building hotels in Central Paris and the result is sky high prices for tiny hotel rooms. But Paris is worth every penny!

Up until this point in the trip we had reasonably good weather, but our last three days in Paris were gray and drizzly. But this was Paris and it didn’t matter. In fact, I really like Paris in the rain. One of my favorite Paris paintings is that iconic Caillbotte painting of a Paris street scene:

There’s a reason the whole world wants to go to Paris!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bordeaux, the Medoc and St. Emilion: The 2013 France diaries, Part III

The Main Square, Place de la Bourse, in Bordeaux

We really didn’t want to leave the Dordogne. That’s the downside of trip with a pre-planned itinerary. We had already booked the next stop and so off we went to Bordeaux—the only major French city we’d never visited. Bordeaux has a gorgeous old town—-in this case the old town is the 18th century city. But outside the old town it’s not an especially attractive city.

What drew us to the region, wine–lovers that we are, was the opportunity to visit the fabled vineyards of the Medoc and St. Emilion. The Medoc really gives one a sense of just how much of the French economy still revolves around wine—the vineyards go on and on and on.
Vineyards of the Medoc

The real surprise for us were the vineyards around St. Emilion and the town of St. Emilion itself. The terrain is lush with steep hills--unlike the flat, monotonous expanses of land in the Medoc. The town has an incredibly rich architectural heritage and I advise anyone going to the area to consider using St. Emilion as a base.
The medieval ramparts of St.Emilion

View of the vineyards form the old town of St.Emilion

We stayed in Boulliac a beautiful little town outside of Bordeaux. We came across a good deal on a luxury hotel, the St. James Hotel which offered 3 nights for the price of 4. We were intrigued with the idea of a hotel located in a vineyard and having grapes growing outside our window. Well, we were a little late for the grapes. In that area they were picked at the end of September, but the grounds were beautiful just the same. The hotel had a Michelin star restaurant; we would not have gone out of our way for crazily expensive haute cuisine, but we thought since we were staying there, why not just this one time?

We discovered that at this stage in our lives we much prefer French country cooking—-the reasonably priced food with fresh ingredients and generous portions we had at Hotel du Moulin de la Beaune. We no longer want to pay those crazy prices for a thimbleful of food, beautifully presented. Food as a work of art no longer appeals. The St. James Hotel also ran a little inexpensive bistro a block from the hotel and we would definately recommend it.

We were happy to have seen Bordeaux and the wine country but were itching to get back to Paris.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Philly Voter Turn-out: How low can it go?

Election Day was a depressing affair. My Mt. Airy division had a turn-out 3 times that of the city wide average of 11.3 %, but that’s not much of a consolation.

According to an article posted in “only 11.3 percent of the city’s 1.1 million registered voters bothered to show at the polls, which, if it stands, would make it the lowest turnout in at least 20 years, if not the least in modern city history, for a general election.” The trend over the last 20 years has been steady decline—a drop of 14.7% in off-year general elections since the 26% turn-out in 1992.

The low turn-out is in part explained by a lack of competitive races. In most races for Philadelphia municipal offices, the Democratic lead in registered voters is so great that the result is all but decided even before any votes are counted. But the race for Judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court was a close contest decided by a few percentage points.

The Superior Court makes decisions affecting all Pennsylvanians. It hears appeals from Courts of Common Pleas, including their Family Divisions, in both civil and criminal cases. The Superior Court interprets unclear legislation; unless overturned on further appeal, its interpretation remains final. This was an important race, but you would never know it from the almost non-existent media coverage.

Most voters in my division told me they were unaware of the Superior Court race until they received the letter my committeeperson partner and I delivered to all the households in our division. A few people told me they did not even know there was an election until they received our letter! The lack of media coverage was clearly a factor. Our daily newspapers continue to shrink both in their coverage and in their audience, and candidates in non-competitive races don’t buy TV ads.

Also, it appears that in many neighborhoods around the city, committeepeople were making little effort to inform voters and get out the vote. Apparently the Democratic Party chair didn’t think this election was worth the effort. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, :

Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) had warned the city's political foot soldiers Election Day would be slow, quiet.

"I told my committee people, 'Not much you can do about this one,' " he said Wednesday. " 'But be prepared. It won't be like this next year.' "…

Brady, longtime chair of the city's Democratic Party, noted that Democrat John McVay Jr. narrowly lost a statewide run for Superior Court after barely setting foot in the city --and getting little support from it.

"He should have paid a little more attention to the city of Philadelphia," Brady said. "No one knew who he was, including me."

Isn’t the Party Chair’s job to educate voters about what’s at stake in the election and motivate committeepeople to get out the vote—not to complain about the candidates' failure to get to know him??

The drop in turn-out is getting really scary. I've heard the argument that we could not possibly go any lower in off year elections than 10-11% because we have the old, reliable super-voters who come out in every election, no matter what. But voting is a very age-graded affair—especially so in off-year elections—and those old reliable super voters are getting older. When our age cohort fades away, we may very well be down to single digits.

So what we do? There is no one solution for a problem of this magnitude--making voting easier (e.g. online registration, early voting) would no doubt help. Encouraging more civic minded young people to run for committee person and re-invigorate a moribund Party would certainly help. (Elections for committeepeople will occur in the 2014 primary.)

The door-to-door work we do in my division and throughout the 9th ward explains (at least to some extent) our significantly higher turn-out than 11.3% city-wide average. But the Democratic party is going to have to become more “democratic” if it’s going to attract the civic-minded young people it so desperately needs.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Sarlat, Eyzies-de-Tayac, the Dordogne: As beautiful as I remembered: The 2013 France diaries, Part II

Rick and I visited the Dordogne in the mid-1980’s and I had always wanted to return. The Dordogne is farming country and those gorgeous vegetable gardens were every bit as beautiful as I remembered. And yes, a row of lettuce can be heartbreakingly beautiful.

This time, in a concession to old age, we did not go hiking. Also, instead of re-visiting the magical cave at Font de Gaume which required navigating steep steps, we went to the senior friendly cave Rouffignac where we rode around in a little electric train deep into the bowels of the earth to see wall paintings from 40,000 years ago. We appreciated the train, but the paintings seemed less magical than they had decades ago.

I think it was more enthralling the first time because it was such a surprise. I knew a little about the cave art but had never seen it and was stunned by the astonishing skill of the painters. This time I was prepared for the artistry and as a consequence was less moved by the experience--less moved than I was decades ago, perhaps, but deeply affected nonetheless.

We took leisurely walks around the old medieval towns of Perigueux and Sarlat. Sarlat is especially magical with all the buildings made of gorgeous golden stone—dazzling on a sunny day. When we were in Sarlat in the summer in the mid-1980's, the square was thronged with tourists and street musicians. The atmosphere was so much more festive. I enjoyed the tranquility of October but missed the festivity of high summer. Trade-offs, trade-offs.

In addition to revisiting beloved towns we went to the Museum of Prehistory which was not open when we were there in the mid-1980’s. The museum is amazing for the building carved into the steep cliffs above Eyzies-de-Tayac.
However, the exhibits were more for the specialist than for the tourist and I enjoyed the site much more than the exhibits.

Also, we visited the amazing gardens of the Manoir d”Erignac which were not open to the public when we were there last time.
We spent almost an entire day wandering around the gardens--our senior citizen “slow travel.” We see far fewer towns, historic sites, museums etc., but what we see, we really savor.

Thanks to Rick’s research, we discovered a wonderful and very affordable hotel, Hotel du Moulin de la Beune in Eyzies-de-Tayac.
It was a 2 star hotel--no flat screen TV, no minibar in the room, spotty internet etc. -- but it couldn’t have been more charming. A babbling brook ran through the property and there really was an old mill.

Best of all, it had a seriously good restaurant—-first rate French country cooking at affordable prices. We had dinner there every night. At this stage in our lives we really enjoy having dinner at our hotel. We are a lot more careful about drinking and driving than we were in the days when our reflexes were far better. Having dinner at the hotel means we can indulge in a bottle of wine and after dinner drink and not worry. This hotel was probably the best in terms of good value that we’ve stayed in all our years of traveling in France.

We probably won’t make it back to the beautiful Dordogne. At this stage in life there are just so many return trips we can make, but I’m very happy to have visited the Dordogne again.

Friday, October 18, 2013

So happy to be back in Paris ! The 2013 France diaries, Part I

We were so happy to be back in Paris. The last time we were in Paris was during our sabbatical in 1999 and we never thought it would be almost 14 years before we returned. After the dollar tanked in relation to the Euro in the early 2,000’s, we started going to Latin America and had some great trips to Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Puerto Rico for a fraction of the cost of a European vacation.

But when we retired, we came face to face with the reality that there was no longer a seemingly infinite expanse of trips ahead of us. Some hard choices had to be made. We decided we were too old to put off going where we really wanted to go and so we started going back to Europe –-several trips to Portugal, Spain and Southern France.

This year we had planned to go to Istanbul. Rick wanted to see Hagia Sophia and we both thought that Istanbul was a city we should see, but somehow we couldn’t seem to focus on planning for the trip.

A few months ago a friend called and told us she was planning to go to the Dordogne in September. When I got off the phone, I said to Rick, “Joanne is going to the Dordogne.” He said wistfully, “I’d like to go back to the Dordogne.” I said, "I’ve always wanted to go back to the Dordogne.” (We were there in the mid- 1980’s.) We looked at each other and decided to forget Istanbul. We were going to France!

We no longer had trouble focusing on our trip and started happily making plans to go to France. The itinerary was: 3 days in Paris, 4 days in the Dordogne, 4 days in Bordeaux, and another 3 days in Paris at the end.

Our first day in Paris, we were deliriously happy just to be there. Despite being seriously jet-lagged, we walked all over Paris visiting familiar beloved places such as the courtyard of the Louvre. We had a glass of wine at a cafe right in front of the now iconic glass pyramid and watched the long lines at the entrance to the museum. (There is no such thing as off-season for the Louvre.) We decided this trip we'd take a pass on the Louvre. We went to Paris many times during our working years and have been to the Louvre many times. The crowds and the overwhelming size of the Louvre are just too much for these senior travelers.

We visited the d’Orsay Museum of 19th century art which is worth it for the building alone—a converted 19th century train station. All we managed to see was the very extensive impressionist and post-impressionist collection on the 5th floor, but we planned to go to the d’Orsay again on our return to Paris. The d’Orsay has what is surely one of the most spectacular museum restaurants in the world.
Those 19th century major city railroad stations where very elaborate affairs—with lavish waiting rooms and restaurants. The building,the restaurant, the views of Paris from the museum windows are worth a visit in and of themselves!!!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The War on Drugs: The shame of the baby-boom generation.

The movement to legalize marijuana is getting more attention of late. At the recent PA Democratic State Committee meeting, delegates were raising the issues with candidates for the 2014 gubernatorial and legislative races. The State Committee Black Caucus considered a resolution in favor of legalization but decided that it made more sense at this point to raise the issue with candidates.

In support of these efforts,I've decided to re cycle an op-ed piece, “War on drugs: Time for boomers to 'fess up” published in the Philadelphia Daily News in 2006. The Daily News editors are responsible for the silly title. My original title was "The War on Drugs: A War Against Women"; I was emphasizing the gender dimension as I was writing in my capacity as then president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The op-ed Is unfortunately still timely. Too many people are being locked up, too many lives ruined for low level drug offenses. From the op-ed:

The willingness to incarcerate large numbers of people for minor drug offenses is the shame of the baby-boom generation.

A generation of young people in the '60s and early '70s experimented with drugs and for the most part did so with impunity.

Many powerful and successful women and men in our society experimented with drugs in their youth. But their careers were not derailed; their families were not torn apart. Sadly, they are now willing to ignore the fact that another generation of women and men are being incarcerated in appalling numbers for drug-related crimes.

In 1972, Ms. Magazine published a petition headlined: "We have had abortions." Fifty-three well-known U.S. women declared that they had undergone abortions - despite state laws rendering the procedure illegal.

Perhaps we need a petition like this to address the issue of illegal drugs. (I'm not equating abortion with using illegal drugs, just suggesting a strategy to call attention to a problem.)

We need people who experimented with drugs and became productive citizens who are willing to say, "I used illegal drugs and went on to become a productive member of society. I and other members of my generation were not incarcerated for long periods of time for what would be considered low-level drug offenses. The current war on drug is having a devastating impact on low-income families (particularly low-income communities of color) and our current policy of mass incarceration must be stopped."

Such a petition might be what we need to get action on Pennsylvania House Bill HB 751, which seeks to address prison overcrowding by abolishing mandatory minimums for certain non-violent offenses. Any takers? *

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Event for Feminism in Philadelphia at Giovanni's Room: Why We Need Independent Bookstores

Last week I had a book reading/signing event for Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982 at Giovanni's Room. It was my second event—the first was at the national NOW Conference in Chicago in July.

The Giovanni’s Room event was so much more enjoyable. For one thing, many of the attendees were personal friends including many of my CCP colleagues and Philadelphia NOW sisters. Also, three of the women featured in the book were there. We had NOW's founding members, NOW's current leaders, and young people who might become the future of NOW engaged in intergenerational dialogue.

But what also made the event really special for me was that it was held in Giovanni’s Room, a legendary bookstore which has been a resource for the LGBT community for forty years. I felt really honored to do a reading in a place with such a rich history.

I recently learned that Giovanni's Room is up for sale. Let’s hope it’s bought by someone who intends to maintain its history as resource to the LGBT community. Independent bookstores have been critical to the growth of social justice movements, sponsoring cultural events as a service to the community. It would be a great loss if we no longer have independent bookstores playing this vital role.

Ed Hernance, the owner of Giovanni’s Room told me that there are still many independent bookstores in France and Germany because of government regulations that prevent conglomerates from slashing prices in order to drive small businesses out of existence. So it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s unlikely in our largely unregulated form of capitalism that we could get such regulatory reforms, but we can make choices as consumers which might give stores such as Giovanni’s room a shot at surviving. I have vowed to resist the temptation to buy books from Amazon. Yes, it’s easy and cheap, but Amazon has been systematically destroying those independent bookstores which have sustained so many communities.

And yes, you can buy Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982 from Amazon but you can also order it from Giovanni’s Room.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Japanese Anemone, Asters, Sedum: The Stars of my Fall Garden

Japanese Anemone

In the first week of September, I went to a garden center which has a well-deserved reputation for correctly diagnosing all sorts of garden problems. I brought in some infested leaves and asked if the problem was aphids. I was fairly certain that was the case but wanted confirmation. Diagnosis confirmed—-I had a major aphid infestation.

I asked if there was something that wasn’t too toxic that would kill aphids. The only option was not terribly effective insecticidal soap. I briefly considered one of the powerful poisons, but resisted temptation and bought the insecticidal soap.

The man who sold it to me said: "Why don’t you just cut the perennial plants to the ground and throw out the annuals—-it’s the end of the season."

What? There’s a whole Fall season ahead of us. The Japanese anemones, now at peak bloom, are the stars of my Fall garden. They start blooming at the end of August and bloom until frost. The blend beautifully with the asters which are tough plants but unfortunately have a shorter season of bloom.


The sedum are in bloom all Fall and the seedheads persist into the winter, providing food for birds.


In addition to the Fall blooming perennials there are the summer annuals which bloom non-stop into Fall, like the tough,always reliable Cleome

And then there are the berries. They may not be fragrant flowers but they sure provide color.

Crabapple Berries

The season does not end in the beginning of September! (At least not in the Delaware Valley.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Early Voting is a women’s issue

On September 4, 2013, I was among the many concerned citizens testifying at President Obama’s non-partisan Commission on Election Administration Testimony on behalf of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women . Let’s hope some real reform occurs as a result of this. From my testimony:

The Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women is committed to making voting easier in Pennsylvania. This is especially important if we are to increase participation in non-presidential year elections. If the people who came out in November 2012 had come out in 2010, we’d have a different congress and in Pennsylvania a different state legislature with major consequences for redistricting. People may be willing to wait in line for hours to vote for the President, but this generally doesn’t carry over to state legislators.

Although making voting easier impacts both men and women in a sense this is a women’s issue as women are the ones most likely to be juggling work and family and thus having trouble getting to the polls—especially, when their work place is far from their home or, as is increasingly the case, they are also juggling several part-time jobs.

Long lines disenfranchise voters who simply can’t take off more time from their jobs and have to leave the polls before casting a vote. This is a far greater threat to our democracy than in-person voter fraud which nonpartisan analyses have generally found to be extremely rare.

Charles Stewart Ill, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that the impact of lines is more likely to disenfranchise Blacks and Hispanics who waited an average of 20.2 minutes, compared with 12.7 minutes for whites. In the most populous areas --those with more than 500,000 voters in a county­-the wait time was more than double what it was in counties with fewer than 50,000 voters. Early voting and other measures for making voting easier such as no excuse absentee ballots will take the pressure off Election Day and reduce those lines.

The research about early voting is at this point inconclusive, but as more states move in this direction, we should have a better understanding of the impact. Much of the research was conducted in the early days of early voting and probably does not reflect the current political landscape. There are also so many permutations. It seems to matter what early voting is combined with. Barry C. Burden and Kenneth R. Mayer, professors of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that early voting is most likely to increase turn-out when combined with same-day registration.

Even if it does not increase turn-out, making it easier for citizens to vote and taking the pressure off election day --thus reducing those long lines—has got to be a good thing in itself.

Another by-product of giving voters more flexibility may be that voters will be under less pressure and might spend more time on the down-ballot races often ignored by voters . Early voting along with mail-in voting and no–excuse absentee ballots would give voters more time to consider their choices in these low profile but nonetheless very important races.

Clearly political leaders are acting on the belief that early voting expands access. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia offer early voting. A recent report from the Brennan Center in its round-up of states passing laws to expand access reports that “At least 19 states[16] have introduced bills that would newly introduce, or expand, opportunities for early in- person voting.”

Even in Pennsylvania (which according to a recent Pew Charitable Trust study, has been found to be among the least voter-friendly states) two early voting bills (HB 361 and HB 548) have been proposed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and it is my understanding one will soon be introduced in the senate.

As President Obama said at his second inauguration. "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." It’s time to give voters the flexibility to participate in the electoral process, even if they cannot be there on Election Day.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The last of the lilies: color returns to my August garden

The finale of the lily season comes with the species lilies--lilium speciosum rubrum (pictured above) and lilium speciosum album (pictured below). The flowers are not as spectacular as the Orientals and the fragrance nowhere near as overwhelming but they come at a time when my garden desperately needs something fresh and colorful

My Magic Lilly (sometimes called a Rain Lily) made its always brief appearance. The reason it's called a Magic Lily is that its leaves appear in Spring and then disappear without a trace. It’s easy to forget about it until the flower stalk suddenly appears as if by magic.

It is also peak season for Rudbeckia Herbstone. It’s so easy to grow, some folks consider it a weed, but those fresh lemon yellow flowers which bloom for about a 5-6 week period (unusually long for a perennial) blend well with my usually abundant phlox.

Unfortunately this year some creature—not sure which predator—destroyed most of my phlox and the rainy conditions made what was left susceptible to fungal disease. But at least some survived:

And then my crape myrtle finally bloomed. I think it’s the last crape myrtle in the Delaware valley to bloom.

Probably the reason it’s so late is that we cut it way back each year to control for size. Earlier this year I was beginning to regret planting so many shrubs and trees—I had less and less room for perennials.

But after this year with many of my perennials eaten by garden predators, I think I made the right decision. A deer or groundhog can easily lay waste to a bed of phlox but they can't do that kind of total damage to a woody plant—at least it hasn’t happened yet to my shrubs!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Caryn Hunt's Review of Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982

Feminism in Philadelphia: The Ground Floor of the Women's Movement by Caryn Hunt (a version of this review will be posted shortly on Caryn Hunt's blog

Last Spring the New York Times lamented – in the Fashion & Style section – that the women's movement had not found another Gloria Steinem, one dynamic leader to be the “voice of feminism.” This reflects the media's hangups more than any problem in the women's movement. Women are half the population; there are bound to be multiple leaders, just as there are multiple feminist issues. So it was a breath of fresh air to read Karen Bojar's Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1962, a lively account of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women. Bojar traces the chapter's history from its unlikely founding in 1967 by Ernesta Drinker Ballard, a socially prominent, wealthy Republican and lifelong feminist, through the campaign for abortion rights and workplace equality, and against racial and gender discrimination, to the eventual defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982. Bojar's engaging book brings the movement home, outlining the development of Philadelphia NOW and its interaction with the Pennsylvania state chapter and national NOW. She offers a glimpse into the day to day struggle of many committed feminists over time who have worked continuously to improve the status of women, in Philadelphia and beyond. The movement is made up of these women; they are the boots on the ground, then as now.

Bojar debunks pervasive myths about the movement and about NOW. Despite NOW founder Betty Friedan's fears in 1969 of a “lavendar menace” hijacking the feminist movement, NOW quickly evolved to embrace the struggle for lesbian rights in 1971, and it has been a core mission ever since. The Philadelphia chapter elected NOW's first out lesbian president, Jan Welch, in 1973. Contrary to depictions that feminists are man-haters, NOW has welcomed male members all along: Richard Graham was elected the first Vice President of national NOW. As Bojar says, NOW “stressed that individual men were not the enemy; the enemy was the patriarchal system.”

The critique that NOW is a primarily middle class white woman's organization – a charge Steinem's face on the movement reinforced, but one she herself has worked tirelessly to debunk – has “more than a grain of truth” according to Bojar, but she shows how grappling with the intersection of racism, poverty, and sexism played out in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania as women of color joined NOW and assumed leadership roles within it. Jocelyn Morris, originally a member of Philadelphia NOW, convened Germantown NOW to specifically tackle the issues of racism and sexism and to include women of color in the local movement. Pennsylvania NOW made combatting racism a top priority during the late 1970s, and Morris went on to serve on the national NOW board and the national Combatting Racism committee.

Bojar admits that the hierarchical structure of NOW is sometimes seen as a drawback to young feminists, but she argues persuasively for NOW's multi-issue approach as well as its system of local, state, and national groups which parallels the US political system. While young feminists are essential to sustained progress, Bojar believes “A revitalized feminist-led labor movement is essential to addressing the needs of women trapped in low-wage jobs...” Indeed, NOW has increasingly turned its attention to economic empowerment issues.

In recounting the backlash against Roe v. Wade, Bojar reminds readers just how long ago were begun the battles being fought today. Due to the current, relentless “war on women” it's easy to despair, and feel that women's rights have taken a huge step backwards, and they have. But Bojar's history reminds feminists of all the progress that's been made through the years by an army of sisters of all ages, ethnicities, classes, and sexual orientation living and working all over the country. It reminds us that our history, like our fate, is inextricably bound together through the actions we take collectively to reach equality. The stories of battles fought and won in our own communities, naturally led by different people at different times, are the true stories of the movement. This is the way movements progress, and there is ample room for many leaders, as Feminism in Philadelphia illustrates.

Feminism in Philadelphia is available at and also at

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My August garden in the year of abundant rainfall

This is not how my garden usually looks in August—-lush, green, incredibly over-grown. Usually, at this time of the year, the grass is turning brown and the exuberant growth of early spring and summer is a thing of the past.

This year thanks to the abundant rainfall, I have not once used my garden hose. True, I had to bring out the watering can for the plants in pots, but it's been wonderful not to have to lug that hose around.

Of course everything has its down side and my plants have been plagued by more fungal disease than usual; the garden may be greener but there are fewer flowers and less color. However, I’ll take abundant rainfall over drought any day and after all green is a color too. And didn't a poet once refer to a garden as a “a green thought in a green shade.”

Friday, July 26, 2013

When the Oriental Lilies Rule!

Chinese Trumpet Lily, Golden Splendor

As retirees, Rick and I travel in the early spring and fall when prices are lower and crowds are thinner. Another great advantage of this: I don’t miss my beloved lilies.

True, a short trip like our trip to Chicago over 4th of July weekend can mean that we miss peak blooming period. We caught a glimpse of the Chinese Trumpet Lily, Golden Splendor, just emerging the day we left and when we returned 6 days later it was on its way out. Although we missed peak bloom, we did see it and did smell that intoxicating fragrance.

The tall Orientals begin the first weeks of July. First comes the amazing hybrid of Oriental Lilies and Chinese Trumpet, known as Orienpets. Their fragrance is weaker than the Orientals but their flowers are the largest and most spectacular of all.

Orienpet lily, Conca d'Oro

What I love most of all are the mid-July orientals with their musky fragrance I can’t get enough of.

Stargazer Lily

Casa Blanca Lily

I’m sure that Casa Blanca is the lily DH Lawrence had in mind when in Sons and Lovers he described a pregnant Mrs. Morel pushed out of her house after an ugly fight with her husband:

She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight. and the air was charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing- pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.

When I first read Lawrence I wasn't a gardener and didn't pay much attention to the way Lawrence often used his characters’ reactions to flowers and trees as a way of probing their emotional states. But when I re-read Sons and Lovers years later, after I became hooked on gardening, I appreciated this dimension of Lawrence. And I was convinced that the lily described in this passage this was Casa Blanca—or more likely an earlier less hybridized version.

When the Orientals fade in late July/early August, the heirloom species lilies emerge. The first-- usually in the last week of July-- is Black Beauty. It has the tremendous virtue of being disease free and able to bloom in deep shade, but unfortunately has little fragrance. You just can’t have it all in one flower!

Black beauty

So the lily season is coming to an end, but there are two more to look forward to in mid-August: lilium speciosum album and lilium speciosum rubrum. They are nowhere near as tough and reliable as Black Beauty but they are fragrant—-although not that powerful musky fragrance that made Ms. Morel swoon.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chicago is a great restaurant town!

Chicago is a great restaurant town! Frontera Grill (Zagats 27) is surely one of the best Mexican restaurants in the country. Rick and I have made 5 trips to Chicago together and there are two must-do’s for us—a visit to Chicago’s Art Institute and to Frontera Grill. This time we went for brunch and it is rightly considered the best brunch in Chicago. Rick and I spent a leisurely morning sipping Oaxacan hot chocolate at Frontera Grill’s outdoor dining area. It was hard to force myself to go back to the conference.

Some other restaurant recommendations:

Chez Moi No Zagat’s rating but voted one of the best new restaurants in Chicago. It’s the only French restaurant I’ve ever been to with large portions. The food was wonderful [and reasonably priced for Chicago] but the service was incredibly slow. We were with a group of old friends and didn’t mind hanging out and running up a bar bill, but I wouldn’t recommend Chez Moi for anyone who didn’t have the time for a long wait.

Riccardo Trattoria (Zagats 28). If you want reasonably good food at an affordable price as well as prompt service, I‘d recommend Riccardo Trattoria. I don’t agree with its Zagat’s rating--I’d give it about a 23 or24 tops , but then I live in a city of great Italian restaurants and my standards are high.

Shanghai Terrace Generally considered the best Chinese restaurants in Chicago, it also has one of the best locations—a roof top restaurant where you are surrounded by the towers of some of Chicago’s most spectacular skyscrapers. We were afraid it might be like the Philly area’s high-end Chinese restaurant, Susanna Foo, with its minuscule portions at sky-high prices. But this was Chicago, the city of large portions and we did not go hungry.

Arun (Zagat’s 27) This one is for lovers of Thai food. It requires a long trek to an outlying neighborhood and its fixed price menu is a lot more than we usually like to spend, but the food is fantastic—by far the best Thai food we’ve ever had or are likely to have. Rick and I were there 24 years ago and we both remember it as having exceptional food with presentations that were works of art. Our faulty memories in this case did not fail us. The food and the presentations were every bit as good as we remembered. I was about to bite into a carrot and Rick stopped me to say, “look at it before you eat it.” The carrot was sculpted into an extraordinarily beautiful representation of a butterfly. Food as a work of art may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for lovers of Thai food, it as an experience not to be missed!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Summer in Chicago

Rick and I went to the national NOW conference in Chicago over the 4th of July weekend. We decided to spend a few extra days and make a mini-vacation out of it. We were afraid that Chicago in July would be hellishly hot, but we lucked out and got weather in the low ‘80’s with a welcome lakeshore breeze.

I was at the conference primarily to do a presentation on “Documenting our History” and to promote my book,Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982. The lure of Chicago drew me away from the conference more than I had intended. When I was a NOW chapter president, I felt obligated to go to all the plenary sessions and to as many workshops as I could fit in. Now I’m perfectly comfortable opting for a visit to Chicago’s fabulous Art Institute rather than conference workshops.

Chicago (at least downtown Chicago) is filled with gorgeous municipal plantings—whoever does these plantings is a horticultural genius.

Then there is the architecture. I first learned to appreciate modernist architecture when I went to Chicago in 1989 with Rick, who knows a great deal about architecture and served as my tour guide to Chicago. Unlike NYC where the skyscrapers are all jammed together, in Chicago the buildings have space around them and you can see the outline of each building silhouetted against the sky.

Restaurant recommendations in the next post!