Pappenheim, Yvonne (Blumenthal)
Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecelia Helena
Peirce, Melusina (Fay)
Elizabeth Parsons (b. March 8, 1824, in Taunton, MA, d. May
19, 1880 in Cambridge)
Civil war nurse, hospital founder
Emily Parsons, the daughter of Catherine Amory (Chandler) and Theophilus Parsons, was born in Taunton and educated at Cambridge High School. She began to study nursing only at the beginning of the Civil War, when she was in her mid thirties. In spite of impaired vision, some deafness from scarlet fever, and lameness, she entered the nursing school at Massachusetts General Hospital. Following her training, she was placed in charge of a ward attending fifty wounded soldiers at Fort Schuyler Military Hospital on Long Island. Her health deteriorated further, but in spite of this she was given a position with the Western Sanitary Commission in Saint Louis, Missouri. There she worked at Lawson Hospital and later on a steamboat for wounded and ill soldiers, City of Alton. During this period, she contracted malaria. She was made supervisor of nurses at the Barracks Hospital, near St. Louis, the largest hospital in the area, where she reduced the death rate remarkably. After the war, the hospital began to serve freed slaves.
Recurrent malarial fevers sent her back to Massachusetts, where she raised money to establish her own charity hospital for women and children, which she opened in 1867 in a house on Prospect Street in Cambridgeport. After a year, the hospital was forced to move, but reopened in 1869 as the Cambridge Hospital for Women and Children, operating from a rented house (with two wards) on the corner of Hampshire and Prospect streets. It closed in 1871 for lack of funds. Parsons died in 1880 from stroke, but efforts to raise funds for a hospital continued in her memory. In 1883, Dr. Morrill Wyman purchased a nine-acre plot on the Charles River near Gerry’s Landing, and the building of Mount Auburn Hospital began. The first hospital structure, still extant, was completed in 1886 and named the Parsons Building in honor of Emily Elizabeth Parsons. After her death, her father published her correspondence detailing her experiences as a war nurse, Memoir of Emily Elizabeth Parsons (1880).
References: Notable American Women (1950); Biographical Dictionary of Women Scientists (2000); see also Sarah L Burks' report at http://www.cambridgema.gov/Historic/d1021memo.html retrieved on Jul 31, 2006 04:34
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(Blumenthal) Pappenheim (b. ca. 1913 in NYC, d. Sept. 8, 2005,
in Cambridge, MA)
Yvonne Blumenthal was raised in a wealthy Manhattan family. She went to the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1934. Soon after, she returned to New York and attended the School of Journalism at Columbia University. She started to volunteer at the Henry Street Settlement House and the National Refugee Service. During World War II, she trained as a nurse’s aide and worked at Bellevue Hospital. After the war, she earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania and was a professional social worker for the next fifteen years.
She married Fritz Pappenheim, a German refugee, who was a political activist and professor of economics. The couple moved to Alabama when Fritz accepted a position at a black school, Talladega College; he taught there from 1944 to 1952. At the college, Yvonne became keenly aware of racial discrimination, as she reported in a PBS documentary, From Swastika to Jim Crow, that recounted the experiences of Jewish refugees teaching at black colleges in the South. The couple moved to Cambridge in 1952, where Fritz Pappenheim wrote a groundbreaking study, The Alienation of Modern Man (1959), and continued to teach and lecture.
After her husband’s death in 1964, Yvonne threw herself into working for social justice. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, she ran the Massachusetts Friends of the Southern Conference Education Fund and served as a member of the human rights coordinating committee at the American Friends Service Committee. For many years, she worked with Community Change, a Boston organization founded to fight racism, and in 1992 was awarded their Drylongso award, which honors ordinary people doing extraordinary work in the struggle to dismantle racism. The library of the organization was subsequently named in her honor. Other awards included the “Fighting for Women’s Voices Award” from the Coalition for Basic Human Needs in 1994 and the Cambridge Peace Commission’s “Peace and Justice Award” in 1995. For twenty years before her death, she was a member of “Writers In Action,” a group that met weekly at her home to send letters to public officials and news outlets on various social and economic issues. Her last letter to the Boston Globe was sent only two weeks before her death. Over many years she was assistant to her neighbor, Philip Morrison, an atomic physicist and a peace activist, in his role as book editor of the Scientific American. She died in Cambridge at the age of ninety-five.
References: Avi Steinberg in Boston Globe 7-19-05; Monthly Review, December 1995.
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(b. May 10, 1900 in Windover, Buckinghamshire, England, d. December 7, 1979
in Cambridge, Mass.)
Cecelia Helena Payne was born in England at the turn of the century to Elena (Pertz) and Edward John Payne. She attended St. Paul’s Girls School and then studied for her undergraduate degree at Newnham College, University of Cambridge, England. In 1923, the year she finished, she joined the Harvard College Observatory. In 1925 she earned a Ph.D. in astronomy at Radcliffe College, the first person to obtain a Ph.D. in this subject from either Harvard or Radcliffe; she became part of the permanent staff of the observatory and began to pursue her interest in stars of high luminosity, about which she wrote an important book. She agreed to pursue the rather tedious work of photographic stellar photometry, but this led to her classic work on variable stars.
In 1934 she married the Russian astronomer, Sergei Gaposchkin, with whom she had three children. The two published a classic work, Variable Stars, in 1938. Although husband and wife worked together, Cecelia was the more celebrated. In 1938 she was named an astronomer and lecturer at Harvard Observatory. In 1956 she was appointed Phillips Professor of Astronomy, becoming the first woman to receive a tenured professorship at Harvard University; she was also the first woman to serve as chair of the astronomy department. (In 1965, Harvard Observatory became part of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.) The most distinguished honor of the American Astronomical Society, the Russell Lectureship, was presented to her in 1977, in recognition of her role as one of the international leaders in astronomy.
In addition to establishing a place for women in science, Payne-Gaposchkin is noted for discovering the exploded nova of Hercules and devising new techniques for determining stellar magnitudes from photographic plates. She wrote an autobiography in 1984 in which she insisted that women needed to find a balance between their professional and home life. She died in 1979.
References: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: The Dyers Hand: An Autobiography and Other Recollections. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Women’s Book of Records and Achievement, 1979. Phyllis J, Read and Bernard L. Wilieb. The Book of Women’s Firsts, New York, 1992. Marilyn Ogilvie and Joy Harvey (eds.) Biographical Dictionary of Women Scientists. Routledge, 2000.
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(b. 1836 in Burlington, Vermont, d. 1923 in Cambridge, Mass.)
Social scientist, writer, feminist
Born Harriet Melusina Fay, and called Zina, she was one of six daughters of Emily (Hopkins) and Reverend Charles Fay, an Episcopal priest. Melusina married the philosopher and scientist, Charles Sanders Peirce in 1862. The couple moved to a small house on Arrow Street in Cambridge. A Cambridge Historical Commission plaque marks the location of the house. Melusina was a friend of Alice James and the Norton family, all of whom lived close by. During this period, she explored the establishment of innovative cooperative kitchens and laundries with a small group of other Cambridge women. In a series of articles in the Atlantic Monthly (1868-1869), she suggested cooperative housekeeping as a prelude to cooperative retail selling by women, and recommended that the women who joined the cooperatives should be paid salaries to manage the business of obtaining goods, preparing meals, and hiring domestic help. She formed the Cooperative Housekeeping Association in 1870, but the experiment was short lived, following the objection of some of the members’ husbands.
The marriage of Melusina and Charles Peirce was strained. This has been attributed to his temper and infidelity. Although she accompanied her husband to Europe in 1875, Melusina separated from him later that year and returned home to the U.S. He began to live openly with another woman, Juliette Froissy, and the Peirces divorced in 1883.
Melusina published on various topics, emphasizing different aspects of cooperative living. Her first book, Co-operation (1876), envisaged wider communities that would include communal work areas. In 1884 she published Co-operative Housekeeping, subtitled, how not to do it and how to do it: a study in sociology. She had originally presented this material as a paper at the Illinois Social Science meeting in 1880, still promoting her ideas of the 1860s and 1870s. By 1903, she had patented a design for a cooperative apartment building with communal kitchens. She died in Cambridge in 1923 at the age of 87.
Dolores Hayden, The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981).
Norma P Atkinson. “An examination of the life and thought of Zina Fay Peirce an American reformer and feminist.” (Ph.D. thesis, Ball State University, 1984).
Tad Beckman, An Outline of Charles Sanders Peirce's Life. Philosophy 170 Course Notes, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, CA 91711. http://www.4.hmc.edu:8001/humanities/beckman/dewey/peirce.htm
Ancestry.com genealogy records including family trees, vital records, U.S. Census reports, and city directory entries.
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Piltch (b. March 8, 1925 in Cambridge)
Physical therapist. Community advocate and volunteer
Sylvia Piltch was born in Cambridge March 8, 1925, the youngest of six children. Her father, Hyman, came from Poland, her mother, Rebecca (Andelman) from Romania. As a youngster, she took on unusual jobs for a girl of her day, shining shoes and delivering newspapers, a mind set to which she attributes her later successes. As soon as the Second World War was declared, Sylvia responded by becoming an air raid warden. During the war, she attended Boston University’s Sargent College for Physical Therapy. While in college, she joined the USO, entertaining the troops stationed at Camp Devens. Sylvia was also active in her synagogue, which collected clothing and food for refugees overseas. Her entire family was involved in either the Jewish War Veterans of Post 35 or the Ladies Auxiliary so it is not surprising that perhaps Sylvia’s greatest contribution to the war effort was as a member of the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary, visiting and entertaining “the boys” at many area hospitals, including the Chelsea Naval and Brighton Marine hospitals. In 1947, Sylvia was named president of the Cambridge auxiliary; and at the age of 25, in 1950, she was named state president. In 1958, she was elected national president of the Jewish War Veterans Ladies Auxiliary.
Throughout her professional career, Sylvia Piltch pursued an extensive, pioneering career in physical therapy, founding the physical therapy department at Cambridge Hospital. She continues to be involved in many community activities, leading exercise classes for seniors at the Citywide Senior Center, the North Cambridge Senior Center, and the Cambridge Public Library. In 1999, she was recognized by the Senior Volunteer Clearinghouse with an award in recognition of her volunteer work at the library.
References: Oral interview by Sarah Boyer.
"A Century of Shalom – History: A History of the Organized Jewish Community in ambridge," an online publication at http://tremontstreetshul.org/cos/cos.history.html.
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Women's Heritage Project
March 27, 2007