Tag Archives: Josephine Baker

Don’t Touch My Tomatoes

Today is Josephine Baker’s birthday. Most people only know her in this way:

But she was so much more. Born into poverty in racially divided St. Louis in 1906, Ms. Baker was homeless and living on the street by the time she was in her early teens. She was discovered dancing on a street corner, which lead to her roles in New York and Paris musical revues. In addition to being a talented dancer, Ms. Baker was an actress, singer and muse to several artists and authors, World War II spy for the French Resistance, mother who adopted children from other countries (before it was fashionable), friend to dictators and princes alike, civil rights activist, and recipient of the Legion d’Honneur. She was elegant and graceful until the very end.

If you would like to learn more about this fascinating woman, the library has these to offer:

And I have to mention this last one (even though it is a reference book that you must look at in the library and can’t check out), because it has the most beautiful full-color lithographs of Ms. Baker and fellow performers in their Paris revue…

Live life with abandon, the way Josephine Baker did.
–Melissa M.

P.S. Just in case you were wondering about the title, “Don’t Touch My Tomatoes” was one of the more popular songs recorded by Ms. Baker in the English language.

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“Bad” Girls Go Everywhere

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” — Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

“When I’m good, I’m very good.  When I’m bad, I’m better.” —Mae West

Consider the so-called “bad” girl.  Playing by the rules and coloring within the lines are all well and good, to a certain extent.  But what if your dreams and desires just can’t be confined by the contours of a “good girl” life?  What if your vision of the world is bigger than what the world currently has to offer?  What if you just don’t fit into any of the roles society has deemed acceptable for you? 

The “bad” girl shrugs her shoulders and cha-chas forward.  She breaks rules with impunity, fights for what she believes in, and pursues her dreams, no matter what the cost.  She stands up, speaks out, and tears down anything that stands in her way.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many of the women history remembers fondly today were considered “bad girls” in their time?  Here are just a few of the courageous women who pushed buttons and limits, and left a legacy any aspiring “bad” girl can be proud of.

Edith Wharton bit the hand that fed her in the daintiest way possible by satiring the old New York society in which she was raised. Novels like The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence questioned long-held assumptions about love, marriage, divorce, and women’s rights.  In a time when such things just weren’t done, Wharton rejected her own loveless union  for a life of greater social freedom in Paris.  She was also the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

Dorothy Day turned Catholicism on its ear by co-founding the Catholic Worker Movement. After reading Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, Day started questioning the social conditions around her and the political structure she believed contributed to them. Day’s long life of activism included housing and feeding the poor, standing up for labor rights, and publicly protesting, an activity for which she served jail time.  In recognition of her efforts to demonstrate that sincere faith and social action are not mutually exclusive, a movement is afoot to have her canonized.

Although Josephine Baker is most frequently remembered for her scandalous singing and dancing career, she also gained fame and renown as a political activist, both in the United States and Europe. During World War II she smuggled intelligence for the French resistance, passing information to the resistance in Portugal via coded messages in her sheet music. She also persuaded officials in Spanish Morocco to issue visas and passports for Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. For an explanation of these and many more colorful stories and actions, check out one of the many biographies written about Baker.

These women’s stories are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.  For books, videos, and more information on more notable women, ask a librarian.  Oh, and don’t forget to nurture your own unique gifts and abilities, gentle readers. Once you go “bad,” you never go back…and the world is a much better place for it.

–Leigh Anne


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