Women’s History Month March Madness Smackdown: Northern Edition
12:45 pm, March 11th | by Colette McIntyre
Earlier this week, we put together a March Madness bracket in honor of Women’s History Month, featuring some of the most impressive, famous and notorious women in American history. This week, we match up the eight ladies from the North to see who will emerge victorious.
Mary Dixon Kies (Connecticut) v. Mary Butterworth (Massachusetts)
Mary Dixon Kies was the first woman to apply for and receive a U.S. patent. Her patent was for a process of weaving straw with silk or thread in order to create women’s hats and bonnets. Kies’ request was unusual for her time being that married women couldn’t legally own property independent of their husbands yet. The First Lady, Dolly Madison, wrote a complimentary note to Kies after hearing of the feat. Unfortunately, Mary Kies’ invention didn’t translate to commercial success and she died a pauper after the fashion of the day evolved past her patented technique. Just imagine the killing she could make suing people on Etsy had she been alive today! Sigh.
I would suggest listening to M.I.A’s “Bad Girls” while reading about Mary Butterworth, the most notorious counterfeiter in colonial America. Butterworth was the daughter of the one of the most influential families of Massachusetts and yet she (allegedly) began a counterfeiting operation in 1716 with little explanation. While counterfeiting is traditionally considered a male crime, Mary ingeniously devised her own system of counterfeiting which involved using starched cotton cloths to produce the bills as opposed to the typical metal plate. This new technique meant that the only incriminating physical evidence, a piece of cloth and a small paper, could be quickly done away with in the fireplace. At her height, Butterworth was allegedly selling her counterfeited bills at half their face value. In 1723, Mary Butterworth was brought to court; her own brother and his wife, two of her counterfeiting associates, testified against her. Despite her family’s betrayal, the court dismissed all charges against her due to lack of evidence and Mary Butterworth retired on her counterfeited fortune. #Ballin’
Ah, a battle of the Marys! While I appreciate Mary Kies’ entrepreneurial spirit, I’m predicting that Mary Butterworth will come out on top this round — there’s nothing like a historical bad girl who creates her own illegal empire and gets off scot-free.
- Mary Butterworth (76%, 13 Votes)
- Mary Dixon Kies (24%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 17
Maria Mitchell (Massachusetts) v. Ellen Richards (Massachusetts)
Maria Mitchell was the first American female astronomer; if that’s not enough for you, Maria Mitchell also discovered a comet, which was named “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” Maria was born to a Quaker family, a religious sect whose tradition taught that all children should receive an education regardless of gender, so Maria frequented local schools and was tutored by her father, a teacher who built his own Massachusetts school. At twelve, Maria used a solar eclipse to calculate the coordinates of her home; by the age of fourteen, sailors enlisted her to produce their navigational computations. Eventually, she became the Nantucket Atheneum’s first librarian. In 1847, Mitchell saw the “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” through her telescope, a discovery that would garner her a gold medal prize from King Frederick VII of Denmark. In 1865, she became Professor of Astronomy at the newly-founded Vassar College.
Despite not attending school until the age of 16, Ellen Richards became one of the first women admitted to MIT. In fact, Richards was the only woman in her application pool to be accepted; MIT accepted her “as a special student to ascertain women’s ability in the sciences.” Instead of faltering under the pressure, Richards was a pioneer in the the field, blazing a path for women scientists to follow. Richards founded a woman’s laboratory at MIT and joined the faculty, teaching chemistry. When MIT refused to open its doctorate program to Richards, she dedicated herself to mentoring the next generation of female STEM students, establishing a program in Boston public schools to educate and advise young women interested in science education.
Two cool science chicks from Massachusetts — how will I decide? Ellen Richard’s work was essential in the development of ecology and her lab produced foundational research in water pollution, water quality, and home economics. With that said, Maria Mitchell has her own association and a comet named after her. Even though “Miss Mitchell’s Comet” is currently referred to as C/1847 T1 (far less catchy), I’m ruling this fight in favor of Maria Mitchell.
- Ellen Richards (79%, 11 Votes)
- Maria Mitchell (21%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 14
Annie Smith Peck (Rhode Island) v. Mercy Otis Warren (Massachusetts)
Frankly, Annie Smith Peck‘s incredible life intimidates me. After a successful academic career in which she became the first female student at the American School of Classical Studies in Greece and one of the first women to be offered a professorial position at a major university, Peck decided to take up mountain climbing at the age of forty-four. Becoming a female mountain climber was far from easy — Peck was lambasted by male mountaineers, unable to secure sufficient funding, and burdened with equipment that was designed for a male body. In spite of these challenges, she was as successful at mountain climbing as she was in academia: she was the third woman to scale the Matterhorn in the Swiss alps (the first to do so while wearing pants rather than a burdensome skirt), she stuck a “votes for women” pennant into the summit of Peru’s Mount Coropuna, and in 1908, at 58-years-old, Peck set the record for the highest climb in the Western Hermisphere by climbing Peru’s Mount Huascarán. The peak she scaled to achieve this feat is named Cumbre Aa in her honor.
If you like living in a free, democratic America, you have Mercy Otis Warren to thank. Okay, well, you have a ton of people to thank, a lot of them probably before Mercy Otis Warren, but she’s definitely in there — top 200, at least. The Warren residence in Plymouth, Massachusetts was a hotbed of revolutionary activity: both Mercy’s husband and brother were active political leaders and the Warren home was an important meeting ground for various Patriots. Not to be outdone, Mercy Otis Warren published The Adulateur, a propagandist play that signaled the beginning of Warren’s long, political publishing career in a time when politics and war were “the province of men.” Warren penned poems and plays that criticized Massachusetts royalists and spread the doctrine of colonial rights and liberties, urging fellow colonists to resist British laws. Warren was an adviser to many of the country’s founding fathers, sharing her political theories with Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Adams.
This match-up is one of the closest I’ve seen but Annie Smith Peck donned a fake mustache on one of her ascents and continued to mountain climb until the age of eighty-two — if that’s not deserving of a win, I don’t know what is.
- Annie Smith Peck (75%, 9 Votes)
- Mercy Otis Warren (25%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 12
Anne Hutchinson (Massachusetts) v. Helena Hill Weed (Connecticut)
Anne Hutchinson threatened the existence of an entire colony; whatchu know about power? Hutchinson was the daughter of an English minister and could be appropriately described as a “firecracker.” A devout follower of clergyman John Cotton and a believer in a “covenant of grace,” Hutchinson began holding small gatherings in her home to discuss sermons. Soon, these small gatherings were attracting crowds of upwards of sixty colonists, both men and women. By engaging in theological discussions as a woman, Hutchinson was audaciously undermining the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Massachusetts Bay Colony — but she didn’t stop there. Amid the controversy generated by her accusations against the crutch ministers’ “covenant of works,” she claimed that God had communicated with her directly and declared that she was able to decipher Scripture on her own. Hutchinson’s sharp mind and challenges to the church’s spiritual authority frightened community leaders enough that she was banished from the colony.
Helena Hill Weed was a gutsy suffragette who was so firm in her convictions that she was willing to be incarcerated for them — which is good since she was arrested. A lot. A graduate of Vassar College, a geologist, and a valuable member of the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage, she was one of the first picketers arrested in the struggle for the vote, serving three days in a D.C. jail for carrying a banner that read, “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” In 1918, Weed was arrested again for applauding in court and sentenced to twenty-hours in prison. In August that very same year, she was arrested for participating in a Lafayette Square meeting and served fifteen days in jail.
Helena Hill Weed, I appreciate your arrests, but Anne Hutchinson faced the greatest punishment of all time. John Winthrop described Hutchinson as “a woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man,” which sounds like a lady that I would love to kick it with. Also, Anne Hutchinson was the mother of FIFTEEN. FIFTEEN. Talk about the struggle for work/life balance! With all that in mind, I choose Anne Hutchinson.
- Helena Hill Weed (83%, 10 Votes)
- Anne Hutchinson (17%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 12