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Edna St. Vincent Millay | 8th Ave station on the L train

Today marks a shift of focus for the City of Women project: we begin riding the rails, line by line.

First up is the L train, moving from Eighth Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood to Rockaway Parkway in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn.

We begin with Edna St. Vincent Millay, born February 22, 1892 in Maine, the eldest of three daughters. She was publishing poetry as early 1906 and it was “Renascence” that brought her to the public fore and the attention of a wealthy benefactor who sponsored her attendance first at Barnard and then at Vassar.

Vincent, as she was known, was the very model of the “flaming youth” era of Greenwich Village. She had affairs with men and women, drank and smoked, wrote prose under a pen name, acted and wrote an opera that was performed at The Met. While labeled frivolous and unquestionably pretty, she forged her own route to power in a male dominated world. In 1923, Millay became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

Though she thought there was “a beautiful anonymity about life in New York,” she left in 1925 with her husband for a 600-acre farm in Austerlitz, NY. Millay continued to travel, going on reading tours, and working on radio broadcasts of her poetry. She was wildly popular, with ”no other voice like hers in America. It was the sound of the axe on fresh wood.”

A freak accident in 1936 left her in chronic pain and a drug addict. Vincent kept tabs on her own intake: morphine, two gin rickeys, one martini, a beer, and half a pack of cigarettes – all before lunch. She eased off the drugs with her husband’s help, but not the alcohol. After he died, she feel into a deep depression. ”I have been ecstatic; but I have not been happy” she wrote in her dairy as a young girl. It was to remain true most her life.

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —

It gives a lovely light!

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Toni Morrison | WTC Cortlandt St station on the 1 train

I saw the below quote posted on @__nitch today and since @reginaaustinart had already made me this truly transcendent Toni Morrison, it felt fitting to share them on day two of #womenshistorymonth

“I am staring out the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Than a friend, a fellow artist, calls…he asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine…and you?” I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything…I’ve never felt this way before…” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work…not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job.” I feel foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed…This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

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Emily Warren Roebling | High Street station on the A train

It’s Women’s History Month. Wow! A whole month just for us. So generous.

I certainly don’t want to miss out on day one, so here’s a quickie on a woman who did all the work while the Roebling men get most of the credit.

Emily was born in 1843 into a family that supported her education. She met herself a nice man named Washington, the son of Brooklyn Bridge designer John Roebling, got married and travelled to Europe to study caissons, as one does, and had a son while abroad.

Shortly after returning to New York, John Roebling was dead from typhus and Washington became chief engineer. He soon fell ill and was bed-ridden from decompression disease. Emily took over: managing, liaising and politicking between city officials, workers, and her husband’s bedside. Her dedication to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge was unyielding.

She would become the first person to cross the bridge by carriage — carrying a rooster with her for good luck. Later in life, Emily studied law at New York University and argued in an Albany law journal article for equality in marriage.

Today a plaque can be found on the bridge which reads: “Back of every great work we can find the self-sacrificing devotion of a woman.”

Ain’t that the truth.

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Marian Anderson | Central Park North / 110th St station on the 2 train

Born February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Marian was one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th century. You have likely seen the black and white image of her singing  in front of the Lincoln Monument, a gaggle of microphones huddled in front of her and Lincoln looming large behind her own regal figure. That 1939 performance, attended by 75,000 people with millions more listening on the radio, awakened the consciousness of an entire county.

It was not meant to happen that way.

Marian had been scheduled to sing at DC’s Constitution Hall but the Daughters of the American Revolution said no thanks, we don’t want black people here. She had performed to packed houses across Europe, to kings and queens, yet was denied the right to sing in her own country’s capital because she wasn’t white.

Eleanor Roosevelt, a DAR member and long-time supporter [FDR and ER invited Marian to perform at the White House back in 1936, the first African-American to do so], resigned in protest and wrote about it in her wildly popular newspaper column. The DAR did not relent.

The idea to sing outdoors came from Walter White, then executive secretary of the NAACP. Since the Lincoln Memorial is a national monument, permission fell to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. It was Ickes who led Marian onto the stage and told the crowd: “In this great auditorium under the sky, all of us are free. Genius, like justice, is blind. Genius draws no color lines.” It’s a sentiment Marian herself espoused: “When I sing, I don’t want them to see that my face is black. I don’t want them to see that my face is white. I want them to see my soul. And that is colorless.”

When she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1955, Marian became the first black singer to perform there. She gave her last recital at Carnegie Hall on April 18, 1965 and in 1984 was the first recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award of the City of New York.

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Yoko Ono | 72nd St station on the C train

There are a handful of women of the map who pose a terrific challenge to an amateur biographer like me. Yoko Ono is one of them. Her personal life utterly fascinating, her body of work immense, her impact and activism ongoing. John Lennon once described his wife as “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.” Let’s just say she did a lot of art. A lot of feminist art at that.

Like many of her map compatriots, firsts [woman to enter the philosophy department at Gakushuin University] and onlys [woman to sing lead vocals in a Beatles song] pepper her life. Born in Tokyo in 1933, she moved to New York in 1953 and still lives here today. Before she became synonymous with the evil girlfriend trope [utterly unfounded and unfair], Yoko was a well respected, working conceptual artist.

In a 1964 performance piece Yoko sat alone on a stage, dressed in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience took turns and cut off small pieces of her clothing. Another piece, Arising, invited women of all ages, across the world, to send Yoko Ono a photograph of their eyes and a written testament of harm they experienced solely for being a woman.

Her most recent work is a MTA-commissioned mosaic at the 72nd St station. Seems oh so appropriate, no?

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 22: A tile mosaic, titled ‘Sky,’ by Yoko Ono adorns the walls of the newly re-opened and renovated 72nd Street subway station on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, October 22, 2018 in New York City. Ono lives in an apartment co-op building, The Dakota, above the underground subway station. She has lived there since the 1970s, when she moved in with her husband John Lennon, who was later shot and killed outside the building in 1980. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Audre Lorde | 68th Street – Hunter College station on the 6 train

This self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” was born Audrey Geraldine Lorde in 1934 in Harlem to immigrant parents. Near-sighted and defined as legally blind, Lorde nonetheless taught herself to read at the age of four and memorized poetry from a very young age. Poetry was not a luxury, it was expression, a survival tool, “the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.”

A graduate of Hunter College and Columbia University, Audre worked for many years as a librarian and was a visiting professor in Berlin. I love how she describes NYC living: “Having made homes in most parts of this city, I hang now from the west edge of Manhattan, and at any moment I can cease being a New Yorker.”

Rebelled against: racism and sexism, white supremacy and patriarchy

“Expecting a marginalized group to educate the oppressors is the continuation of racist, patriarchal thought.”

Extolled: blackness, femininity, homosexuality, intersectionality, difference

Prolific: 17 volumes of poetry, essays and autobiography

Impact: formed coalitions between Afro-German and Afro-Dutch women; founded a sisterhood in South Africa; was a co-founder of Kitchen Table Women of Color Press; and established the St. Croix Women’s Coalition

“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other.”

Legacy: New York’s first woman and first black poet laureate, serving from 1991 until her death the following year; inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument; Staten Island residence granted landmark designation

“I will never be gone. I am a scar, a report from the frontlines, a talisman, a resurrection. A rough place on the chin of complacency.”

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Joan Mitchell | 6th Ave station on the L train

Apologies in advance to any Joan Mitchell devotees out on these streets [raises hand]. This post is going to be woefully inadequate. And it’s particularly annoying to me because when I think about this map, I think about the first two women I studied intently: Edna St. Vincent Millay and Joan Mitchell. I knew exactly nothing about Vincent. I read Joan as Joni. I’ve come a long way since.

For now, I will simply leave you with Regina’s sketch, my photos from the 2018 Cheim & Read exhibition, “Joan Mitchell: Paintings from the Middle of the Last Century, 1953–1962” and her fine, confident, painter self in the studio.

I dare you not to feel something.

“When I am working, I am only aware of the canvas and what it tells me to do. I am certainly not aware of myself. Painting is a way of forgetting oneself.”

Joan would have been 95 today. She has not been forgotten.

“Joan Mitchell looks to be the only artist of her generation, man or woman, who produced a big, abstract, painterly painting that can stand up to the best of de Kooning and Pollock. The legions of arrogant young men who swaggered into the Cedar Tavern have been eclipsed by this woman who probably had more self-confidence and certainly had a more abundant gift than any guy her age in the room.”

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Carole King | Flatbush Ave – Brooklyn College station on the 2 train

A day late to mark the 78th (!) birthday of the most successful US female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century: 500 songs recorded by more than 1,000 artists, 118 pop hits on the Billboard 100, four Grammys, the first women to receive the Gershwin Prize.

Born in Manhattan, raised in Brooklyn, in high school she adopted King as her stage name and Neil Simon and Paul Sedaka hung out with her. At Queens College she ended up pregnant and with a quickie marriage at 17. They dropped out and flourished as a songwriting duo (hello Natural Woman + Aretha) but she was not so much in line with the NJ suburban housewives.

Divorce, Los Angeles, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, playing keyboard for BB King and then Tapestry followed in 1971: 15 weeks at number one, remaining on the charts for six years. It was released 49 years ago today! Then there’s the Broadway show and decades of environmental activism.

My favorite collaboration will always be hers and James Taylor. You’ve Got A Friend, Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James, Up on the Roof? Impeccable. All of it.

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Harmony Hammond | Canal St station on the N train

What makes a woman born in Illinois on this day in 1944, educated in Minnesota and resident of New Mexico since 1984 eligible for a City of Women subway stop designation? I couldn’t wait to get up this morning to tell you!

Hammond was a trailblazer of the 1970s feminist art movement in New York, an experience which served as launching pad for a fifty year career as artist, feminist, activist, curator, academic and scholar.

1970s New York also proved personally liberating. “I was an artist before I was a lesbian. I came out through my art and the feminist movement.”

She was co-founder of A.I.R., the first women’s cooperative art gallery in New York. “The group” got together to present their work [always called “work” rather than art], understand what it meant [consciousness raising] and critique one another. At the time, it was hugely radical because it was a kind of stepping outside the masculine painting sites where women as makers or subjects were not really welcome. And they said we don’t care. “We did as much damage as we could.” Air Gallery is still going strong.

The Group began looking back to gendered creative traditions that had been erased or ignored or devalued. Hammond started working with old rags, cast-offs, remnants, worn out bedding. She describes the process: I’d dip strips of fabric into acrylic paint and throw them down on the floor. Then began to tie them, knot them, stitch them together, maybe paint on them some more and began to build forms out of these fragments of fabric that came from the women in my life.”

She literally put the women in her life in the work.

It was an additive process. There was power, a presence in the accumulation of things. “It’s intentional that the seams show, that we see things are pieced together. I don’t like digital seamlessness. Piecing, patching, fraying, layering, suturing are loaded with meaning.”

Hammond has had more than 30 solo exhibitions but her first retrospective wasn’t held until last year at The Aldrich.

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Mabel Carney | Houston St station on the 1 train

Mabel Carney | Houston Street station on the 1 train

First off let me just say that there’s not a ton of readily available information on Mabel Carney. Not even a crappy Wikipedia entry. So I found myself digging through the New York Times and Columbia University digital archives and reading scholarly journal articles in barn burners like “The International Journal of African Historical Studies” and “Historical Studies in Education.”

Here’s what I do know: Most women were not educated before the 1920s but Mabel got a BA in 1917, an MS in 1919 and was offered a full-time faculty appointment as Associate Professor of Rural Education at Teachers College, Columbia University that same year.

At the time, Columbia had a problem with its student population [they wanted to limit Jews] and saw its close proximity to the vibrant intellectual, political, and cultural life of Harlem as both problematic [oh, the poverty!] and promising [oh, the research opportunities!]. There was also an ongoing debate about how to “suitably” educate African Americans: Booker T. Washington wanted to focus on basic literacy and respectable blue color jobs [subservience] and W.E.B. DuBois wanted a liberal arts focus and equal participation in American society broadly [advancement].

Mabel landed on Team DuBois.

She became a pioneer in utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to examining educational and social problems. She was a data driven academic, but her work was guided by personal beliefs and relationships. She grew to become an outspoken critic of systemic inequality, perhaps aided by the “loose cannon” label given by her male colleagues, but was always advocate for the individuals within the system. For her African-Columbia students, she was piggy bank [reparations!], job placement officer and mentor.

Jane Ellen McAllister was the world’s first female African American doctoral candidate in Education. And when she completed the program in 1929, she became the nation’s first black woman to earn an Education Ph.D. Her advisor? None other than Mabel Carney, who died on this day in 1969.