WHM: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born: Cotton Plant, Arkansas on March 20, 1915 (birth name: Rosetta Nubin)

Died: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1973

Occupation: Gospel singer and performer

Why you should know about her:

Daughter of Katie Bell Nubin, a well-known singer in her own right, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, born Rosetta Nubin, started performing on stage with her mother when she was just four years old. Her mother was a singer and mandolin player as well as a popular evangelical preacher for the Church of God in Christ, a Christian denomination founded by a black Baptist bishop named Charles Mason in 1894. The church encouraged musical expression as a form of worship and, in a radical move for the time, allowed women to preach. Tharpe’s mother was one such preacher from the church and performed on stage with her daughter at church conventions and traveling shows across the country.

Something of a musical prodigy, Tharpe became a regular fixture of her mother’s traveling tour group at the age of six, playing the guitar and singing in her mother’s hybrid sermon and gospel concert performances. She and her mother settled down in Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1920s as part of the Great Migration, or the broader movement of African Americans moving north in response to post-Reconstruction backlash, where she gained considerable popularity at a time when black female guitarists were rare – Memphis Minnie was the only other guitarist to gain such national popularity.

In 1934, Tharpe married Thomas Thorpe at 19.  Although their marriage only lasted a short time, she used his surname as inspiration for her stage name, . In 1938, she moved to New York City and signed with Decca Records, becoming the label’s first gospel singer and racking up four national hits in October of that year alone.

Tharpe became known for her gospel-style that incorporated styles of urban blues, jazz, and swing music with a distinct pulsating beat. In fact, despite being classified as a gospel artist, her style of music is actually part of early rock and roll music and the precursor to much of the later genre. She went on to play an electric guitar in a song titled “That’s All” which had a great influence on later rock and roll artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

Tharpe was also in an “open secret” relationship with fellow performer Marie Knight, with whom she collaborated in 1953 to record a secular blues album. Although this album was less popular than any of Tharpe’s previous ones and drew a lot of criticism and condemnation from her religious fan base, Tharpe and Knight continued in a relationship for several years. Tharpe is now regarded as one of the most popular queer black musicians of her time. Her 1940s popularity has never been seen for gospel musicians before or since.

Tharpe spent most of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s touring Europe and the United States until she suffered a stroke and had to have her leg amputated. She continued touring and performing for three years after that, until she suffered a second stroke and died three days later. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Influences” category in 2017 and credited with pioneering the guitar technique that later artists Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Eric Clapton would continue to develop.

Rosetta Tharpe truly was the queer black godmother of the modern rock and roll music movement and she continued to shape the music landscape decades after her death.

Meet the 2018 Moxie Scholars

We are excited to introduce our newest cohort of Moxie Scholars!

The 2018 Moxie Scholars are completing a spring course on Women and Politics (WGST/POLI 217) taught by Pamela Conover. During the summer, they will be working with Girls Rock NC, North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Pauli Murray Project, Town of Carrboro, and Women AdvaNCe.

Calissa Vicenta Andersen

Calissa is a sophomore from Tampa, Florida. She is double majoring in Sociology and Public Policy. Calissa is a member of UNC’s Women’s Rugby Team.

Sophia Hutchens

Sophia is a sophomore from Shelby, North Carolina majoring in Communication Studies and Anthropology with a minor in Arabic Studies. In high school, she was the only girl on her school’s wrestling team!

Olivia Neal

Olivia is from Greensboro, NC, and recently transferred to UNC from NYU. She is a double major in English and Women’s and Gender Studies and she has a special interest in creative writing. Her academic interests lie at the intersection of language and activism, and in how we can use creative arts to advance a greater good and to share our stories. Olivia wrote and self-published a book of poetry last year and would like to publish more books in the future, both fiction and poetry. She is also interested in reading queer fiction, specifically in the young adult genre. She got her start in writing by competing in poetry slams at local music festivals, and she has a passion for celebrations of art and community. Olivia hopes that her work through the Moxie Project, as well as all of her academic pursuits, will allow her to use creativity and language to contribute to our local community and empower women and girls.

Katie Otto

Katie is a junior from Charlotte, NC. She is double majoring in Communication Studies, with a concentration in Media and Production Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies, with a minor in Creative Writing. Katie loves music, graphic design, and spending time with her friends and family. She also spent her fall semester in 2017 studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain!

Alexandra Smith

Alexandra is a sophomore from Holly Springs, NC. She is double majoring in Media and Journalism (with a concentration on Strategic Communication) and Hispanic Linguistics, with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. Fun fact–Alexandra and Google share the exact same birthday!

Tessa Wood

Tessa is a junior from Greensboro, NC. She is majoring in Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies. Tessa has an obsession with thrift shopping, loves golden doodles, and is culturally Arabic on her mom’s side. She attended The Early College and Guilford where her interests in Quakerism, spirituality, and public service were sparked and her admiration for education and change started.

WHM: Hedy Lamar

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Hedy Lamar

Born: Vienna, Austria on November 9, 1913 (birth name: Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler)

Died: Casselberry, Florida on Jan. 19, 2000

Occupation: Inventor, pin-up model, and film actress

Why you should know about her:

More than just a pretty face, Hedy Lamar was the sensuous mistress of MGM’s “Golden Age” during the early days of Hollywood. But her career as a pin-up model and film actress often overshadows her greatest achievement: inventing a radio signaling device for the military to help defeat the Nazis. This “Secret Communications System” as it became known was useful in the war, but the far-reaching impact wasn’t fully understood until decades later when it became the earliest communication prototype for military technology and early cell phones.

Born in Vienna in 1913, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler – Hedy Lamar – began acting in her late teens. She became an international sensation in 1933 when she was “discovered” by an Austrian director for her role in a steamy Czech movie called Ecstasy (1932). After her unhappy marriage to first husband Fritz Mandl – an Austrian munitions manufacturer who, it turned out, sold arms to the Nazis – she moved to America and capitalized on her success in the Czech and German film industries to sign with MGM, one of the biggest studios of the day and the only company to produce a movie eligible for Best Picture every year for two decades.

Her first Hollywood film, Algiers (1938), cemented her popularity with American audiences and led to her getting role after role alongside other Hollywood Golden Age actors like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey, Charles Boyer, and Jimmy Stewart. But it was her incredible off-screen talents and intelligence that earned her a place in celebrated women’s history.

Lamar and her friend and composer George Antheil worked together to create and patent their “Secret Communications System.” Their system featured a simultaneous radio frequency broadcast that relied on the invention of the downsized transistor, or an amplifying semiconductor device. originally meant to prevent US military enemies from blocking the signals of radio-controlled missiles. Initially deemed impossible by most military and scientific officials, the idea of proved incredibly useful once Lamar and Antheil got it working and even more so after the war as it became the basis for most mobile phone technology as the multi-frequency audio broadcasting was used in many early cell phone designs.

Both Antheil and Lamar received the patent for their invention in 1942 and later, in 1997, were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award. Also in 1997, Lamar received the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, equivalent to an Oscar in the field of technological advancement and invention.

After a long and eventful life, Lamar died in 2000 in her Florida home at the age of 87. While we can remember her one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented actresses, we shouldn’t forget her incredible contribution to 1940s war effort and to the technology that powers our phones today.

WHM: Yaoi Kusama

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Yao Kusama

Born: Matsumoto City, Nagano, Japan in 1929

Occupation: Painter, Artist

Notable Quote: “I am an obsessional artist. People may call me otherwise, but … I consider myself a heretic of the art world.”

Why you should know about her:

The product of an arranged marriage, Kusama was born into a wealthy but dysfunctional Japanese family, emotionally and physically abused by her mother and sent to her spy on her father’s extramarital affairs. Her mother often made her report back on her father’s sexual exploits, which led to a lasting trauma of both sexual obsession and aversion that often appeared in her later artwork as a focus on the phallus and the female body.

She started painting at age 10 after she began to experience intense audio-visual hallucinations, using those hallucinations to create dizzying painting and patterns of endless dots, lines, and spirals. In an interview with The Washington Post, she described her repetitive patterned works as attempts to “obliterate” her thoughts, with art becoming a form of therapy, or “art-medicine” for her as she came to terms with the neurosis that only eased when she painted.

She studied traditional Japanese painting in Kyoto in 1948, but she eventually grew frustrated with the strictly regulated, traditional Japanese style of Nihonga – a style of Japanese art similar to Western oil painting but with traditional Japanese materials – and left for New York in 1957. There, she found herself in the midst of the post-war New York avant-garde art scene, but she diverged from the popular style of the time – a style popularized by Jackson Pollock called action painting that involves abstract brushwork and vigorous paint spatters to imitate motion – to do her own large-scale monochromatic pieces. She later expanded to drawings, sculptures, installations, fashion design, and even film. She founded Kusama Enterprises in 1969 to sell clothing, bags, and cars printed with her dizzying designs.

While her art exists in a category of its own, she uses a style that combines several different approaches, including feminist art, abstract expressionism, and minimalism. Her work is often considered a precursor to the Pop Art movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. This style, popularized by Andy Warhol and others, focuses on individual subject matter with heavy iconographic use. Kusama has even been cited as influence on Warhol and other famous artists of the Pop Art movement.

In many ways, her art defies the classification with any and all modern art movements, but it is still revered and enjoyed by many for its intense and, at times, palpably bizarre style. Kusama moved back to Japan in 1973 and entered Seiwa Hospital in 1975 for treatment of her obsessive-compulsive neurosis, but she continued to produce artwork in her unique creative style, even adding poetry and fiction to her creative canon in the 1980s. Her most recent exhibition was on display February 2017 in the Hirshorn Musuem and Sculpture Park in Washington D.C.

In many ways, Kusama’s mental illness has also been her artistic strength as she has built her entire artistic style on the dizzying “Dot Obsessions” paintings inspired by her hallucinations.  She also used her artwork as a platform to challenge traditional notions of a conservative female-effacing Japanese culture at a time when most women, Kusama included, were expected to become dutiful housewives rather than creative beings in their own right. Despite not qualifying in any single “popular” modern art movement, art historians, critics, and fans should remember the legacy of the person behind such dizzying designs and how her struggles with mental illness have also given her great strength.

WHM: Josephine Baker

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Josephine Baker

Photo Source:

Born: St. Louis, Missouri on June 3, 1906 (birth name: Freda Josephine McDonald)

Died: Paris, France on April 12, 1975

Occupation: Singer, Dancer, Civil Rights Activist

Notable Quote: “Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.”

Why you should know about her:

Josephine Baker spent her early life in poverty, working as a nanny and caretaker for wealthy white families in St. Louis, before going on to become one of Europe’s most popular and highest paid performers. She started dancing at 13 and began touring the US in 1919 before moving to France to pursue her career away from the racist jeers and disdain of white Americans.

She catapulted herself to fame in 1926 by dancing in a skirt made out of 16 bananas – and little else – before moving on to sing and dance in French stage performances and films. Baker, like many other black performers of the age, was welcomed in Paris due to her “exotic” nature and appearance – she was dubbed the “Black Venus” and the “Black Pearl” by audiences – leaving her to walk the fine line between representation and exploitation.

This fantasized (and fetishized) version of blackness that French audiences wanted may have given her fame, but it wasn’t the only way she left her mark France. Baker also worked for the Red Cross and the French Resistance during the WWII Nazi occupation of France, and she was a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. After the war, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor, two of France’s highest military honors for her service during the war.

She returned to the US during the 1950s and ‘60s to participate in the boycotts, protests, and marches of the Civil Rights movement. She marched on Washington alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., on the day of his “I Have a Dream” speech and helped the cause so much that the NAACP named May 20th Josephine Baker day in her honor. She performed at a packed Carnegie Hall crowd in New York in 1973 after decades of racist rejection and then returned to her home in the French countryside with her 12 adopted children from countries around the world.

She died at age 68 in 1975, just after the 50th anniversary of her Paris debut. Over 20,000 Parisians lined the streets to view her funeral procession. She was honored with a 21-gun salute by the French government, making her the first American woman in history to be buried in France with military honors. More than just a pretty face and a good voice, Josephine Baker was a true Freedom Fighter, a champion of civil rights, and a woman whose name should not be forgotten.

Call for Nominations: 2020 University Awards for the Advancement of Women

On behalf of the Offices of the Chancellor and the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, the Carolina Women’s Center is pleased to announce the call for nominations for the 2020 University Awards for the Advancement of Women. These awards recognize contributions to the advancement of women at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by people of all genders.

This year, four individuals– one faculty member, one staff member, one undergraduate, and one graduate/professional student or postdoctoral scholar–will be selected to receive these awards. The faculty and staff recipients each receive $5000. Each undergraduate student award and graduate/professional student/postdoctoral scholar award is $2500. Awardees will be honored in a ceremony on Monday, April 6, 2020. 

Please submit nominations at this link for individuals who have contributed in one or more of the following ways:

  • Helped to improve or establish campus policies and practices that positively impact women;
  • Promoted and advanced the recruitment, retention, and upward mobility of women at UNC Chapel Hill;
  • Participated in, assisted with, or established professional development opportunities for women; and/or
  • Participated in, assisted with, or established professional development opportunities for women.

Please describe how the nominee meets one or more of the award’s specific criteria (in 300 words or less per section), using clearly defined examples to support nomination.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, March 20, 2020 at 11:59pm.

All nominations should be submitted via Qualtrics at this link. If there are any questions, please contact Dr. Gloria Thomas at

WHM: Grace Hopper

For Women’s History Month, we’ll be sharing weekly blog posts from Lily Lou, one of our student interns. She will be highlighting a notable and inspiring woman in each post.

Grace Hopper

220px-Grace_HopperBorn: December 9, 1906, in New York City, New York

Occupation(s): Mathematician, Computer Scientist, United States Navy Rear Admiral

Awesome Quote: “Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.”

Why should you know about her? Grace Hopper was one of the first computer programmers. In 1934 she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University, and she also served in the US Navy during World War II as a lieutenant, where she worked on the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University building new computer technologies for the Navy. As a programmer, she developed the first compiler for a computer programming language, which is the basis of all modern day computer programming languages. She was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991. In 2016 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama. Though she died in 1992, there is an annual computer science conference for women in her honor, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Brief Biography: Grace Hopper was born in New York City in 1906. She graduated with honors from Vassar College in 1928 with a degree in mathematics and physics and earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in math at Yale University in 1930 and 1934, respectively. She taught math at Vassar from 1931 to 1943.

After teaching math, she joined the navy, where her grandfather served. Initially, she was rejected because her weight was too low and she was too old, but she eventually became a lieutenant and worked on programming the Mark I computer during World War II, which was one of the first computers used by the Navy. After the war ended, she continued working for the Navy, programming the Mark II and III computers.

In 1949, she began working for Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, which was later bought by Remington Rand, a private computer company where she oversaw programming for the UNIVAC computer, which was the first commercial computer made in the United States. In 1952, she helped create the first compiler for computer languages, which translated the computer’s binary instructions to a computer coding language.

When she was 60, she returned to the Navy to work on computer languages. She continued working for the Navy until she was 79, when she was a rear admiral and the oldest serving officer in the Navy. Immediately after her retirement from the Navy, she continued computing, working for the Digital Equipment Corporation. She became the first woman to receive the National Medal of Technology in 1991. She continued working until she died in Arlington, Virginia, on January 1, 1992, at age 85.

There is currently a conference named in honor of Hopper that encourages women to pursue computer science and engineering. It is the largest conference for women in STEM, bringing together over 18,000 attendees. In February, Yale renamed Calhoun College to Grace Murray Hopper.

WHM: Malala Yousafzai

For Women’s History Month, we’ll be sharing weekly blog posts from Lily Lou, one of our student interns. She will be highlighting a notable and inspiring woman in each post.

Malala Yousafzai


Born: July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan

Occupation(s): Activist, Student, Writer

Awesome Quote: “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”
Why should you know about her? Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for fighting for the right for children, specifically girls, to get an education. She is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize. As a 9 year old, she blogged for the BBC under a pseudonym about her experience living in the Taliban-controlled Swat district of northwestern Pakistan. The Taliban opposes education for girls and women, but Malala stood up for her rights and continued going to school despite death threats. She survived an assassination attempt in 2012, and today she still continues to fight for the right to education.

Brief Biography: Malala was born in Pakistan with two younger brothers. Her father, who owned the school that she attended, was active in supporting education rights for women. When Malala was 10, the Taliban took over the Swat Valley and banned girls from going to school. She resisted by giving a speech on television in 2008 titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?” In 2009, she also began blogging for the BBC Urdu to show the world how the Taliban was influencing life in the Swat Valley. She wrote about women’s education, but because blogging about the Taliban was so dangerous, she had to use an alias. In 2011, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.

Because of her activism, she received death threats from the Taliban. When she was 15, a masked gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. She was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and was later transported to a hospital in Birmingham, England, where she currently lives and attends school. Nearly six months later, she recovered from her injuries and spoke at the United Nations for universal access to education and published an autobiography, “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”

In 2013, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She continues to speak out on the importance of educating girls. In 2014, she won the Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, an activist against child labor.

She also co-founded the Malala Fund with her father to advocate for girls’ education. As part of the Fund, she traveled to Nigeria to raise awareness about girls that Boko Haram, a terrorist group, kidnapped to prevent going to school.

On her 18th birthday, she opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon as part of the Malala Fund. She continues to fight for girls’ right to education today.