Skip to content

Sears shocks the horsey set by wearing pants to play polo. Would have been more shocking if she played without them IMO.

So I'm minding my own business, browsing my Twitter feed, when I see a tweet about a woman I had never heard of who was known as 'The Universal Female Athlete'.  For an amateur historian interested in women's studies, this is the ultimate click bait! I must know more! And click I did. This led me to the original tweet by the great folks at the National Womens History Museum. And on I went until my ultimate destination, an opportunity to purchase a biography of my quarry, Eleonora Sears.

Several links on Ms. Sears regurgitated the same handful of interesting facts. But the deeper I dug, the more great info I found.

It's only 47 miles

The original tweet I saw featured a photo of Ms. Sears at the polo fields. Her attire (wearing pants) resulted in strong criticism and pearl-clutching from the stuffed shirts and corsets in Newport. Sears was an expert horsewoman and polo player. She also won several tennis championships. But her athletic prowess didn't end there. Eleonora Spears was also expert at just about every physical endeavor she attempted, to wit:

Walking  - endurance walking was a thing in the 1920s. In fact a guy named Weston the Pedestrian was the Michael Jordan of his day. We're not talking walking two blocks to the local liquor store that seems like two miles when you run out of wine. We're talking dozens, hundreds, even thousands of miles. Sears once won a $1000 bet from a friend who bet her she couldn't walk the 47 miles between his house in Providence, RI and hers in Boston in under 15 hours. She did it in under 10.

  • driving - considered an extreme sport in her day. Come to think of it, still is in some sectors (yes, Dallas TX I am looking at YOU)
  • badminton
  • yachting
  • swimming
  • hockey
  • squash

Once when asked if she played squash, she replied, "No, but I could." She took up the game, and became the first female national squash champion in 1946. It's no wonder she earned the moniker, 'Universal Female Athlete'.

Sears was a real stuff-starter. There was nothing she liked better than being told 'no'. Women can't smoke at the club? Exactly why I didn't bring my ciggies - can I bum one from you? Women can't wear pants? Okay, see you at the polo field. Look for a woman wearing pants. Women can't drive? Tell that to the car dealer I just drove home from.

It didn't hurt that she was wealthy. Loaded. Old school, high society, related-to-the-Vanderbilts wealthy. She had the resources to do as she pleased. She chose to remain single, leaving plenty of time for pursuing whatever tickled her fancy. And what tickled Eleonora Sears was learning new things and becoming the best at them that she could. Sounds good to me.

This post originally appeared as part of the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

 

Martha Matilda Harper, a real-life Rapunzel, had a great reason for keeping her hair long: it was her livelihood

Raised in a Southern Baptist household, I recall it being said on more than one occasion that a woman's hair was her 'crowning glory'. I understood the words and concept. But like most children, the deeper meaning sailed over my head.

I certainly didn't see that principle practiced at home. My mom experimented with many different hair styles when I was growing up. There was the home perm, the 'Dorothy Hamill', the pixie cut, the peroxide blonde, even one phase of wigs! None of which were anything I would put in the 'crowning glory' category. Not that her hair wasn't attractive - Mom always took great pains with her appearance. But when I thought of 'crowning glory', I guess I had more of a Rapunzel look in mind, and believe me, Mom never reminded me of Rapunzel. I believe it is the Pentecostal faith that disallows women from cutting their hair, not the Baptists. If indeed it was a Baptist tenet, Mom sinned mightily.

In my former day job as a tennis instructor, I have students of all different cultures and faiths. One of my Muslim students was eager to share about her faith and its various precepts. From her I learned how much a woman's hair is revered in their faith, and why after a certain age (when they 'become a woman'; i.e., get their period) they cover it up. Apparently the logic goes like this: when it is so long and luxurious, it is a tremendously attractive temptation to the males. Best cover it up rather than invite unwanted advances. Keep in mind she was about 10 at the time, so something may have been lost in the translation there. Apologies if this is incorrect.

I understand why long hair on women was perceived as desirable and attractive back in the day. With the origins of Christian and Muslim faiths in the Middle East where long, thick, wavy 'Princess Jasmine' hair runs strong in the gene pool, I bet Princess Jasmine hair was pretty common. If I had hair like that, I wouldn't cut it, either! But much has changed. Genetic diversity has resulted in diluting the Princess Jasmine gene. For every head of Princess Jasmine hair, there are many that are more Phyllis Diller or Bride of Frankenstein.  Leaping into the breach, technology in the entertainment industry has made fictional hair do things no natural hair could ever achieve. I love long hair when it looks like Cher's. But it's so rare anymore to see hair in a natural state that hasn't been colored or processed or flattened or curled or blown out and sprayed to within an inch of its likely very damaged split ends to achieve, however briefly, the cartoon ideal.

Actress Louise Brooks sporting her 'black helmet'

The Roaring Twenties ushered in an age of follicle liberation. Someone, somewhere decided all that long hair and tedious braiding and brushing and pinning just wasn't worth the trouble. That someone was a man: Monsieur Antoine, by some accounts the first celebrity hair stylist. The Czech-born Paris resident claimed he was inspired by Joan of Arc, who was in the process of being beatified about the time Antoine got his inspiration (early 1900s). Joan claimed to be inspired by no lesser style icon than God Himself to cut her hair into a 'pageboy', a style worn by many male knights of her era. Didn't work out so well for Joan, but nearly 500 years later there was a decidedly better outcome for women around the world when Antoine's stylings set off a short-wave tsunami.

Short hair styles for women have come a long way, but we've got a ways to go. For every chic trendsetting Twiggy, there are three extension-wearing pseudo celebrities. Short hair is often depicted as a tragedy or punishment in movies. One exception, ironically, is reality TV, where spiffy short 'dos are typically part of the winning formula in makeover shows featuring 'real' women. I'll feel better when we see a blockbuster with a strong, smart, female lead whose prospects improve AFTER she cuts her hair. Hey - there's an idea! Sorry - gotta go - there's a niche that needs filling!

The original version of this post was published in March 2014.

This being February, and myself having more than a passing interest in history, I would be remiss if I did not devote at least one post to Black History Month.

Now I could ramble on as I am wont to do. There are topics a-plenty, all of them fun, interesting, entertaining, enlightening, informative. But I'm not gonna ramble today, because I want to keep the focus tight.

Dr. Woodson was a handsome fellow. This picture does not do him justice. But I chose it because of the sentiment expressed. From theculturedseed.com via a post on redefiningblackpower.com

During February, we hear a lot about slavery and the civil rights movement (as well we should). But I don't recall ever seeing much on the founder of the celebration itself. His name was Dr. Carter G. Woodson.

Dr. Woodson has an impressive background. The son of former slaves, he was the oldest of nine. Young Carter had it tough. Growing up on a farm in modest circumstances, he was no stranger to hard work. He did not let his humble beginnings stop him. In fact, he put that work ethic to good use and graduated early from high school. In 1912 Woodson become only the second black man to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He traveled the world. When he returned home, his lifelong goal was to promote the study of black history. Exceptionally intelligent, Woodson wrote several scholarly works with historical or educational themes, including The Mis-Education of the Negro. He encouraged the study and interpretation of black history by founding Black History Week in 1926. It was a hit, could not be confined to only seven days, and since 1976 we have been celebrating the entire month.

Dr. Woodson was heard to express the wish that someday there would be no need for a special month devoted to black history; that recognition of societal contributions to history would be colorblind. I support that sentiment. But I also like celebrating history! So let's do both - recognize contributions by all, celebrate contributions by all. And give props to Dr. Woodson, without whom February might just be that annoying short month when we have to buy cards, flowers, and chocolates, or else.