Stamberg and Co. Break Down Barriers – NPR American Chronicles: Women’s Equality

August 5th, 2013 by Frank Randall · No Comments · Uncategorized

NPR American Chronicles: Women's EqualityAs part of the NPR American Chronicles series, listeners might be fearful of an over-academic treatment of a subject that is very personal to many. Women’s Equality is nothing of the sort. I can’t recommend this audio enough as an example of essential, inspiring, primary audio content presented in an artistic and entertaining manner. Susan Stamberg, a feminist groundbreaker herself, hosts a story in which she plays an integral part, becoming the first female host of a national nightly news program back in 1972. She introduces each of these 28 mini-documentaries culled from the NPR archives with a radiant, knowing glow that a sister, mother, cousin or daughter might exhibit at a long overdue family reunion. You can hear it in her voice: She was there when many of these events took place, and she takes pride in the progress highlighted by this audio collection.

The fight for women’s equality has had proponents throughout history, but the version assembled here begins in Seneca Falls in 1848 with the Declaration of Sentiments presented by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. While this and many other of the early events in the movement are well covered, the real treasure for me are all of the living voices we hear from the front lines of the battle, many of which have been unearthed from NPR’s own early coverage of key events. Included, of course, is Gloria Steinem talking about the founding of Ms., and Geraldine Ferraro on her landmark run for VPOTUS, but there are just as many unsung heroes given voice: Living suffragist Leona Hansberger, the very human plaintiff in Roe v. Wade Norma McCorvey, and one of the first women in a management position at Ford, Dorothy Gilman. Presented together, these voices form an exuberant, diverse, and fascinating chorus, with individuals singing variations of understandable dissonance but equal relevance. The resulting music is an inspiration.

Susan Stamberg. Photo credit: Antony Nagelmann

Susan Stamberg. Photo credit: Antony Nagelmann

The engaging Ms. Stamberg invites you into each story, providing fact and personality-filled historical context. You can hear the smile in her voice convey the humor and admiration that colorful figures such as Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan require when painting a whole, human portrait. And she is an expert guide through the setbacks, near-misses and triumphs encountered by the early women’s suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony, Victoria Woodhull, Jeannette Rankin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton – they are all well profiled here. But perhaps my favorite segment covering the events of the early movement also happens to be the oldest example of primary audio on the collection: We are introduced to the actual voice of Frances Perkins, FDR’s choice for Secretary of Labor in 1933, and the first female cabinet member of the United States. Not only did she fight early battles for women’s rights, but she was also responsible for creating key elements in FDR’s New Deal with a vision that would benefit but also transcend the movement. Her initiatives included the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, and the Social Security Act. Simply amazing. I’m positive each listener will make similar discoveries among the many extraordinary individuals featured here.

Since the actual events in this history don’t follow a strictly linear path, neither does NPR’s presentation, and the collection benefits from this loosely chronological approach. Producer Kerry Thompson miraculously condenses a sprawling social history into an illuminating three hours. The result is much like a fine quilt, created by many hands, hearts, and voices. This is an audio we’re proud to have had a hand in creating.

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