Women’s History Month March Madness Smackdown: Western Edition
1:30 pm, March 6th | by Sarah Devlin
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 West to see who will emerge victorious.
Mildred Benson (Iowa) v. Florynce Kennedy (Kansas)
Ghost writers get no respect. You may not have heard of Mildred Benson, but you probably have heard of Carolyn Keene, the author of the famous Nancy Drew mystery series. As it happens, Carolyn Keene was the pen name under which many writers labored to create the books that would go on to sell 80 million copies worldwide. Benson, however, was the first writer to put her stamp on the series, writing 23 of the earliest novels.
Florynce Kennedy was one of the few women (let alone black students) to graduate from Columbia Law School, after which she dedicated herself to the cause of civil rights and was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women. She traveled the country speaking about the intersection of sexism and racism with Gloria Steinem (calling it their “Topsy and Little Eva” routine), and went on to write two books, the amazingly titled Abortion Rap and The Pathology of Oppression. Memorable quotes include “If the ass is protecting the system, ass-kicking should be undertaken regardless of the sex, ethnicity, or charm of the ass involved.”
This match-up is tough, as my nostalgia for Nancy Drew (and knowing that Benson wrote over 130 books and worked full time until shortly before her death at age 96) predisposes me to pick her to move on. But how can you count out the woman who said “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”? Too close to call.
- Florynce Kennedy (88%, 22 Votes)
- Mildred Benson (12%, 3 Votes)
Total Voters: 25
Ann Richards (Texas) v. Belle Starr (Missouri)
Belle Starr was kind of the original rebel without a cause (sorry, James Dean). Born to a descendant of the famously cranky Hatfield family, Starr received a private education at the school her father helped to found, where she learned to play the piano and hate the Yankees. She became involved in horse thievery and other various illegal activities through her husband, Sam Starr (and for which she served 9 months in a women’s prison). Starr’s legend was cemented when she was mysteriously murdered by a killer who was never identified, and for her habit of rocking “a black velvet riding habit, a plumed hat and two pistols, with belts of cartridges crisscrossing her hips.”
Ann Richards was a decidedly more modern (but still mold-breaking) woman, serving as Texas’s second ever female governor before being defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush. She became a national star when she delivered the keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention (had she been born a few decades later, perhaps she could have become a later nominee, Barack Obama-style) where she became known as quite the political wit, saying George H. W. was “born with a silver foot in his mouth.” As governor she was progressive on civil rights and a champion for educational funding, maintaining her famous sense of humor up until her defeat at George W.’s hands (whom she characteristically referred to as “some jerk”).
Although Starr’s story is fascinating and her outfits sound awesome, I’m calling this one in favor of Richards.
- Ann Richards (80%, 20 Votes)
- Belle Starr (20%, 5 Votes)
Total Voters: 25
Mary Ann McMorrow (Illinois) v. Gloria Swanson (Illinois)
Two Chicago natives, battling it out. I love it! Mary Ann McMorrow was the textbook definition of an overachiever, encouraged by her mother to go to law school and becoming class president and editor of the law review, despite being the only woman in the 1953 Loyola University law school graduating class. She was elected to the Cook County Circuit Court in 1976, which led her to the Illinois appellate court and finally to becoming the first female justice on the Illinois Supreme Court in 1992 (kind of crazy that that milestone was reached only 20 years ago, no?). She was a dedicated mentor to other women and paved the road for more female lawyers to break into the system, eventually ending her career as the Illinois Supreme Court’s chief justice, a position she was promoted to in 2002.
Gloria Swanson, on the other hand, was a different kind of overachiever. After her acting career appeared to have fizzled out, she got into the patent business and then the “holding salons where Ayn Rand hangs out” business, becoming one of the first movie actors to transition to television, making her film comeback in a little movie called Sunset Boulevard, going on to be a wildly successful fashion designer (eat your heart out, Kardashians) and then publishing her memoir, which she had the temerity to title Swanson on Swanson.
Guys, Mary Ann McMorrow is cool and all, but I’m pretty sure Gloria Swanson could eat her for breakfast (that is, if she wanted to break her strict diet of mostly steamed vegetables).
- Mary Ann McMorrow (77%, 17 Votes)
- Gloria Swanson (27%, 6 Votes)
Total Voters: 22
Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Prairie) v. Pearl de Vere (Illinois)
This is a tough one. Laura Ingalls Wilder is the reason why I wanted to eat snow with maple syrup on it and have a husband who would build me a set of kitchen drawers that held nothing but sugar and flour (you wouldn’t understand). She made me long for a teeny tiny house in the middle of nowhere, a little black dog named Jack, and a man who could whittle (how many other ways can I work Almanzo Wilder into this conversation? Because he was kind of My Everything). Unfortunately, the other side of this very nostalgic coin is the pretty obvious racism in the books (uh, did we need to have that many scenes in which Laura held forth on how “savage” the Indians were?) and many changes to the books that may have strayed from the truth. Sigh.
Pearl de Vere, on the other hand, was known as “the soiled dove of Cripple Creek,” which may be the best epithet known to the English-speaking world. De Vere was also a rather notorious madam and brothel owner, where she made her reputation by employing only the hottest girls (with the best personal hygiene, naturally). While we certainly don’t love that prostitution is such a prominent part of American history, or de Vere’s role in perpetuating it, she’s an undeniably fascinating figure, made all the more so by her rather mysterious early death from a morphine overdose.
I’m calling this one for Little Half Pint, even though her stories may only be half true.
- Laura Ingalls Wilder (56%, 9 Votes)
- Pearl de Vere (44%, 7 Votes)
Total Voters: 16