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Life in the Past Lane

[whitespace] The stories of lesser-known women who shaped history and our world

By Mary Spicuzza

MOST FOLKS who passed bespectacled Bessie Cohen, her gray hair pulled into a neat bun, shuffling along the streets of Los Angeles, probably never realized the keys to history she held. Cohen, who died last month at the age of 107, was the last survivor of New York's infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. Like others who escaped the 10-story inferno on March 25, 1911, Cohen later shared stories of sealed exits, broken fire escapes and watching nearly 150 co-workers and friends die.

The sweatshop's tragic fire is generally credited with inspiring many of the country's first worker-safety laws. But were it not for outspoken and yet unheralded women like Cohen, who knows what America's working conditions would be like today?

March is Women's History Month, during which folks are asked to reflect on ways that women have shaped the world. Most of us are familiar with famous heroines like Susan B. Anthony and the suffragettes, but overlook gals across the globe making extraordinary contributions through everyday acts.

Working in the categories of Sports, Art, Invention and Social Change, Metro Santa Cruz has opted to highlight four women who, like Cohen, rarely make it into the history books but who--either through extraordinary contributions or attention to everyday concerns--have changed the world in their own ways. The task of choosing just four was a daunting one.


Art: Sculptor Malvina Hoffman
Social Change: Activist Consiglia Rocco Teutonica
Sports: Baseball Player Jackie Mitchell
Invention: Inventor Marion Donovan


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From the March 10-17, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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