Tag Archives: Real Women



“Mugshot of Jo Ann Robinson in the wake of the Montgomery Bus Boycott”, February 21, 1956, from Montgomery County Archives via the National Museum of African American History & Culture

Throughout our series, we’ve heard the stories of three courageous women from the state of Alabama: Recy TaylorRosa Parks, and Claudette Colvin. Today we write about Jo Ann Robinson for our final installment. 

For years, Jo Ann Robinson had been upset about the Montgomery buses. She and her friends were frequently harassed, assaulted, and insulted by the white bus drivers, despite the fact that black riders made up the vast majority of riders. They wanted things to change. So, they founded an organization: the Women’s Political Council. “We knew that if something hadn’t been done by the women,” Robinson remembered, “there wouldn’t be anything done.” 

Jo Ann Robinson had been born in 1912 in Georgia and trained as a teacher. She earned a master’s degree in English literature from Atlanta University before accepting a teaching position in 1949 at Alabama State College in Montgomery. When she got to Montgomery, Robinson joined the Women’s Political Council, founded three years earlier. By late 1950, Robinson had succeeded Mary Fair Burks as the president of the Women’s Political Council, which, by that time, had three chapters around the city.  Robinson encouraged the group to focus on the buses, and they began to bring complaints about the cruelty they experienced before the Montgomery City Commission. The women even began planning a boycott of the buses and informed the mayor to expect one. But they needed an opening, a catalyst. Soon, they got one.  

“That night…the evening that Rosa Parks was arrested, Fred Gray called me,” Robinson recalled in an interview. The message was clear: “you have the plans, put them into operation.”  She did. “I, as the President of the main body of the Women’s Political Council,” Robinson explained, “got on the phone.” She called friends, civil leaders, ministers, schoolteachers, and informed them of the plans for a boycott. Then, she and others got to work spreading the word.  

“Leaflet calling for boycott”, December 2, 1955 by Jo Anna Robinson from George Mason University Center for History and New Media and Stanford University School of Education, “Rosa Parks,” Historical Thinking Matters

Jo Ann Robinson stayed up all night mimeographing over 50,000 handbills calling for a massive one-day boycott. They read:  

Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down. 

It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing. This has to be stopped. 

Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate. Three fourths of the riders are Negro, yet we are arrested, or have to stand over empty seats. If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue. The next time it may be you, or your daughter or your mother. 

This woman’s case will come up on Monday. We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial. Don’t ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday. You can afford to stay out of schools for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus. You can also afford to stay out of town for one day. If you work, take a cab, or walk. But please, children and grown-ups, don’t ride the bus at all on Monday. Please stay off all buses on Monday. 

Her message was clear, and with the women’s extensive networks, the boycott was a success. Of course, this one-day collective action turned into a massive 13-month long boycott that would change the nation and introduce the world to Martin Luther King, Jr. But none of it would have happened if the women had not told their stories, made calls, stayed up late working on the mimeograph, and organized. Dr. King himself was in awe of Jo Ann Robinson, saying “Apparently indefatigable, she, perhaps more than any other person, was active on every level of the protest.” 

We have heard the stories of four remarkable women: Recy TaylorRosa ParksClaudette Colvin, and Jo Ann Robinson. They are inspirational—strong, beautiful, creative, and resilient. But their lives also reveal a lot about the struggle for racial justice. From a ghastly sexual assault in 1942 to a massive boycott in 1955, they show slow progress made despite staunch opposition. They reveal the intersectional obstacles faced by Black women, which, sadly, endure to the present. They reveal how friendships and mentoring and collaboration sustained activism and nurtured the movement. They also reveal how women, too often pushed to the edges of national memory, or caricatured—real flesh and blood women—built and continue to build a more perfect union for us all.  

This post is part of a series written for the Alabama Chanin Journal written by Dr. Ansley Quiros. Ansley is a new contributing writer to the Journal. Get to know her hereRead more from her hereAnd follow her here 



Claudette Colvin, aged 13, in 1953. (Public Domain)

In our series honoring the significant contributions of Black women and their interconnectedness—the persistence of their struggle for freedom—we’ve written about Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks. Today we share the story of Claudette Colvin.  

Claudette Colvin was thinking about her history class when she changed history. On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin was on her way home from school when the harsh words of the bus driver, demanding that the fifteen-year-old give up her seat on the bus to another rider, interrupted her historical reverie.  

“Rebellion was on my mind that day,” Colvin stated, “All during February we had been talking about people who had taken stands. We had been studying the Constitution in Ms. Nesbitt’s class. I knew I had rights.” Black teachers in segregated schools educated their students on the yet unfulfilled promises of America, and provided examples of Black leaders who sought equality. As Colvin later recalled of the March afternoon, “I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other—saying, “Sit down, girl!’…History had me glued to my seat.”  

The police arrived, roughly pulling her off the bus, and arrested her for disorderly conduct, assault, and disobeying the segregation law. They then threw Colvin into a cell by herself. “I got scared,” Colvin remembered, “and panic came over me and I started crying. Then I started saying the Lord’s Prayer.” After a few hours, she was bailed out by her mother and her minister. Her father, knowing well the danger in defying white supremacy in Alabama, sat up “with his shotgun fully loaded, all night.”  

When the E.D. Nixon and the Montgomery NAACP found out about Colvin’s case, they immediately launched into action. For decades, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund had been methodically trying cases to build legal precedent sturdy enough to dismantle Jim Crow, the set of laws created by southern states and cemented by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that declared racial segregation legal under the “separate but equal” clause. But momentum seemed to be building. The previous year, in 1954, the Supreme Court had declared segregation in education unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education decision. This, they hoped, was their chance to challenge segregation in public transportation. Fred Gray, the noted civil rights attorney, took the case, filing on behalf of Colvin, as well as some other women mistreated on the buses as a class action suit.  

However, as the case proceeded, the NAACP became increasingly wary of making Colvin the center of their test case for segregation on public transportation. And this is where class, as well as race and gender, comes into play. Many organizations for Black freedom reasoned that their best chance in securing rights was to appear as sympathetic to whites as possible–to be middle class, religious, mild-mannered, educated, and, above all, respectable. And Claudette Colvin didn’t quite fit. She was poor. Her father mowed lawns for a living; her mother was a maid; the family lived in King Hill, one of the most deprived sections of the city. Not only so, the NAACP worried Colvin was too young to endure the scrutiny the case would bring. Then, in the middle of these deliberations, in the summer of 1955, Colvin revealed that she was pregnant. The NAACP decided they could not pursue her case. Claudette Colvin served probation for disobeying the segregation ordinance and left Alabama three years later.   

Despite the fact that the NAACP dropped her case and that her name is unknown to many Americans today, Claudette Colvin’s story remains crucial to understanding the civil rights struggle. We see in her the truth that ordinary Black Americans–middle class and poor, educated and uneducated, rural and urban, religious and nonbelievers, male and female, young and old– recognized, even in hypocrisy, the soaring promise of America and they claimed it as rightfully their own.  

Claudette Colvin’s act of defiance against white supremacy inspired a woman who had been her mentor: Rosa Parks. Several months later, Rosa Parks also refused to give up her seat. And a movement was sparked. That movement belongs as much to Claudette Colvin as to Rosa Parks. But it also belongs to the woman who helped organize it—Jo Ann Robinson—whose story we will share next week, as our fourth and final installment in this series.  

This post is part of a series written for the Alabama Chanin Journal written by Dr. Ansley Quiros. Ansley is a new contributing writer to the Journal. Get to know her hereRead more from her hereAnd follow her here.  


This post was originally published on our Journal in January 2014. We reshare it today, on Juneteenth, as an expression of our support for Black Lives Matter and honor to the heroines and heroes that came before those who are fighting for justice and equality today.

Georgia Gilmore (about whom we have written before), is an unsung heroine of the Civil Rights struggle. Georgia was a big lady with a big personality—frankly put, she didn’t take any bull from anybody. She worked as a midwife, as well as a cook at the National Lunch Company, in Montgomery, Alabama during the 1950s. After Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to leave her seat on a bus in Montgomery in December of 1955, a group of black ministers, community leaders, and ordinary citizens formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA)—and, in their meetings around the city,  initiated and sustained what would become the 13 month long Montgomery Bus Boycott. As soon as Georgia heard of Rosa Parks’ arrest on the radio, she joined the MIA, determined to aid the effort in any way she could.

Image source: Meet The Fearless Cook Who Secretly Fed — And Funded — The Civil Rights Movement; NPR

Outspoken and feisty, Georgia let her disapproval of the discriminatory bus drivers be known—an action that got her fired from her job at the National Lunch Company. When that happened, the community helped her set up a restaurant in her home kitchen. Well-known around town for her fried chicken, pork chops, and stuffed bell peppers, Georgia often served these and other dishes to Dr. King and fellow supporters of the bus boycott. Her kitchen even hosted secret MIA meetings over those long months.

Georgia’s love (and talent) for cooking as well as her passion for racial equality and change led her to start a club with a few of her friends. The ladies in the club, most of them laboring as maids and cooks, sold homemade pies and cakes (and even Georgia’s chicken dinners) to supporters of the Movement to raise money for the boycott. Calling themselves the “Club from Nowhere,” the women often set up shop in beauty parlors, laundromats, and on street corners in downtown Montgomery to sell their goods. They also arranged for both black and white supporters of the boycott to contribute anonymously. The Club from Nowhere used the money to buy gas and station wagons, used to transport people to and from work during the boycott. When asked, Georgia and the other women always said that the money came “from nowhere.”

Although, like many foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement, her contributions have been largely overlooked, Georgia Gilmore undoubtedly fueled the movement with her commitment, talent, and fundraising efforts. She was a real woman with a strong voice, and she did what she needed to do to make change happen in her community and beyond.

We need that same creativity and commitment today. And so as a tribute and an inspiration, we baked a pound cake for Georgia and all of the other real women who made a difference by doing what they could how they could—one baked good at a time.

Find out more about Georgia and The Club from Nowhere in this beautiful narrative from The Kitchen Sisters and NPR and from John T. Edge’s book, The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South.



3 sticks butter
3 cups sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after every addition. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the creamed butter and mix until just combined. Pour in the milk and vanilla with the paddle going and mix until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the milk completely. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Place the pan in a cold oven and set oven to 225 degrees. Set a timer for 20 minutes and let bake. Increase temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. Increase oven temperature again to 325 degrees and bake for 20 more minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cake sit in pan for 10 minutes. Unmold and let cool on a wire rack.

*Baking a pound cake in a cold oven works for a specific reason: Preheating an oven gives cakes the rush of hot air needed to rise, but pound cakes are usually so dense that they don’t rise very much anyway. Therefore, preheating the oven isn’t necessary.

We topped our pound cake with a caramel sauce (recipe below), but this cake would also be delicious topped with powdered sugar or a simple lemon glaze.


Yield 2 cups

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Maldon sea salt flakes

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy bottom sauce pan and place over high heat. Cook on high, without stirring, until the syrup turns medium amber. Turn the heat down and stir in the salt and the heavy cream; the syrup will bubble up a lot, so be careful. Stir to combine. Let cool and drizzle over the cake once the cake has been cooled.



In the late 1830s, English Botanist Anna Atkins likely was not too interested in the specifics of photography. Atkins was formally trained as a botanist and, at the time, was studying algae. Through her practice, she was looking for a way to document the delicate elements of each specimen. She learned of the process of cyanotype printing (today used for blueprints) from its inventor, Sir John Herschel, a family friend. She further explored information about photography via correspondence with its actual inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Working in the early 1840s, she documented her work using a photogenic drawing, gently placing each delicate specimen onto a sheet of paper that had been made light sensitive by a chemical mixture, and a piece of glass to hold it all together. Once all components were secured, they were placed in the sun; after enough exposure to light, the paper was washed in water, and the image would appear. The resulting print was known as a cyanotype because of the blue color produced by the chemicals on the paper. The twenty-something-year-old woman was actually developing a process that would be pioneering in scientific imagery.

Over the years, Atkins collected hundreds of specimens and photographed them. They were arranged into volumes and published over the course of ten years. The volumes contain more than 400 types of algae and Atkins made multiple photographs of each specimen. She reproduced copies of her book over the years, though it is estimated that only a dozen or so remain. Her work is seen as an important contribution to the development of photography, as it was shown that cyanotype could reveal the intricate details of algae, but also botanical specimens like ferns, and even feathers and lace.


Sketch of our Victoria stencil featured in the Collection.

Anna Atkins is believed to be the first person to publish a book using photographic images but is also believed to be the first woman ever to take a photograph. On March 16, 2015, Google commemorated Atkins on her 216th birthday by displaying a Google Doodle of bluish leaf shapes, meant to represent her cyanotype work. Atkins’ work, as we briefly mentioned here, served as inspiration for part of our newest Collection.

View the New York Public Library’s Digital Collection of Anna’s book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.

P.S.: Visit back on our Journal to learn more about Rinne Allen, who produces her own light drawings.



When she began her art career, Swoon (born Caledonia Dance Curry) never tagged her art, opting to leave her pieces anonymous. She came up with the “street” name in a dream and began to use the tag which, because it is not gender-specific, led many observers to think the artist was a man—an unexpected advantage in the male-dominated graffiti world; she often went unnoticed by police.

Swoon does not limit herself to graffiti, though she does a great deal of street art. She can be described more as a mixed media artist who specializes in portraits and large-scale installations. Swoon earned a BA in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and began her street art at that time as a way to express the artistic instincts she felt were untapped in class. She began wheat pasting art on buildings and walls, which started small and gradually grew into large-scale images, most printed on recycled paper and meant to disintegrate in place. When speaking about her early days, she told Forbes, “I loved being a part of that process. For me, it was taking this classical background in portraiture and taking it outside, maintaining my identity as a classic portrait artist. And bringing that into this other tradition of working outside.”

She often depicts people, including friends and family. According to WIDEWALLS, the reasoning behind this is that she believes we “store things in our body and that a portrait can become an x-ray of those experiences. She wants to capture something essential in the subject.” By placing these images on public buildings, she challenges viewers to connect with the person and make their own personal connection with the image.


Image credit: Galerie LJ

In 2005, she began considering larger pieces in the form of installations but, as a bit of an outsider, was hesitant to become part of the gallery scene. She found a home with gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, who often champions offbeat artists. Under Swoon, his gallery became a massive urban skyline. With some larger-scale offerings under her belt, she began to expand into more political and humanitarian works.


Image credit: Constance Hockaday Studio

Swoon and a group of about 30 other artists, activists, and musicians, famously crashed Venice’s 2009 Biennale with a performance project she called “Swimming Cities of Serenissima.” The group sailed in rafts made of New York City garbage and Slovenian scrap materials, stopping along the way to collect pieces from locals for what they called their “cabinet of curiosities.” The rafts served as sleeping, cooking, and eating quarters along the journey, eventually docking in the Venice Lagoon, where they performed nightly.


Image credit: Heliotrope Foundation


Image credit: Heliotrope Foundation

“Konbit Shelter” is a sustainable building project Swoon began in 2010, with the goal of creating homes and community spaces in post-earthquake Haiti. She brought with her a team of artists, engineers, and architects to build structures that were made to last. The buildings were made primarily from something called super adobe, earthbags that use long bags filled with adobe and form a beehive-like structure.


Image credit: Brooklyn Street Art

She has kept busy with her humanitarian art and installations. In 2011, she created “Anthropocene Extinction” using her signature paper forms. The piece presented a giant Chinese temple made of bamboo and animals leading to a giant figure of an old woman (known as Ms. Bennett), who represented the last Aborigine that existed as a nomad—a lifestyle no longer possible to sustain. The installation is a supposed reflection on how humans can irreversibly impact Earth and the environment. Underneath the woman were demons representing humans’ consumption of the natural world.


Image credit: Inhabitat

That same year, she began building an interactive community-based installation in a New Orleans neighborhood, which she calls “Dithyrambalina.” Several houses were utilized and artists salvaged materials to make what became a giant music box, with each house acting as a musical instrument. Visitors to the buildings produce music by walking through the structure and touching parts of the home.

The New Orleans project caught the attention of several galleries and she created installations for the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. Her Brooklyn-based piece, called “Submerged Motherlands” received much attention because it featured a life-sized sculpture of a tree, surrounded by people and natural elements—a celebration of life and renewal. (You can find a listing of her massive collection of installations here.)

Swoon’s artwork has been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a number of others. Her work has been shown at numerous locations in the United States and abroad. She continues her commitment to exploring relationships between people and their built environments.

As our graffiti theme continues, we look to Swoon as a #womanartist who inspires.

Lead image credit: Art Report



Gloria Steinem was born in 1934, the daughter of a traveling salesman and the granddaughter of activist Pauline Steinem. Pauline was chairwoman to the educational committee of the National Woman Suffrage Association, a delegate to the 1908 International Council of Women, and the first woman to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education. She was also known to have rescued several German family members from the Holocaust. Now herself recognized as a prominent American feminist, activist, and journalist, Gloria was inspired by stories of her grandmother, but also by the experiences of her mother, who was mentally ill, and who suffered from a “nervous breakdown.” As an adult, Gloria described caring for her mother and experiences with dismissive doctors as having been key to her understanding of injustice toward women.

Because of her father’s itinerant vocation, she traveled often and did not attend school regularly until she was eleven years old. Steinem eventually attended Smith College and, afterward, received a fellowship to study in India, where she was influenced by Gandhi’s approach to activism. Upon returning to the United States, Gloria worked as a freelance writer for publications like Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and The New York Times magazine. For one of her most famous early articles, Steinem went undercover as a scantily clad waitress (or a “bunny”, as they were called) at New York City’s Playboy Club. Published in Show magazine, the piece exposed the sexism rampant in Playboy and male-dominated social circles. In 1968, she helped create New York magazine and wrote a recurring political column for the publication. Her articles, including those on abortion, a radical feminist group called the Redstockings, and essays like “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” reflected her growing feminist views. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 1971, she joined 300 other women, including prominent female leaders like Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Myrlie Evers-Williams to form the still-active National Women’s Political Caucus, which works to advance pro-equality candidates in elected and appointed offices at the state and national level.


Image credit: Makers

In 1972, Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine, where she worked as an editor for fifteen years. The magazine began as an insert in New York magazine and it shortly grew into its own publication. She pushed for the magazine to join and be published by the Feminist Majority Foundation and still serves as a consulting editor. There were times when Steinem’s position in the feminist movement was challenged because she portrayed a glamorous image, though she was undeterred by the criticisms. In 1972, Gloria also became the first woman to speak at the National Press Club.

In 1986 and at 50 years old, she publicly battled breast cancer but saw it as a sign that she should focus her activism where it was sincerely needed—in order to prevent burnout. You would hardly know, as that same year she published a book about Marilyn Monroe called Marilyn: Norma Jean. This is one of many books that Steinem has written, with others including My Life on the Road, Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-EsteemOutrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, and Moving Beyond Words: Age, Rage, Sex, Power, Money, Muscles: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender. Her writing also appears in anthologies and textbooks, and she was an editor of Houghton Mifflin’s The Reader’s Companion to U.S. Women’s History.


Image credit: School of Visual Arts

Steinem worked with Robin Morgan and Jane Fonda to found the Women’s Media Center in 2004, which works “to make women visible and powerful in the media.” She also co-founded Voters for Choice, a pro-choice political action committee, and serves on the board of URGE, a national organization that fosters young pro-choice leadership and promotes responsible sex education in schools. Steinem also began the Ms. Foundation for Women, which works on grassroots programs that empower women and girls and she founded “Take Our Daughters to Work Day”, a tradition that has spread across the world.

Throughout her often controversial career, Gloria has remained steadfast in the idea of equal rights for women. As she told the New York Daily News, “We’ve demonstrated that women can do what men do, but not yet that men can do what women do. That’s why most women have two jobs—one inside the home and one outside it—which is impossible. The truth is that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.”

Gloria Steinem has been the subject of both books and documentaries, including HBO’s “Gloria: In Her Own Words”, the PBS documentary series, “MAKERS”, and the biography, The Education of a Woman. In the book, Particular Passions: Talks With Women Who Have Shaped Our Times, she said, ”I think the fact that I’ve become a symbol for the women’s movement is somewhat accidental. A woman member of Congress, for example, might be identified as a member of Congress; it doesn’t mean she’s any less of a feminist but she’s identified by her nearest male analog. Well, I don’t have a male analog so the press has to identify me with the movement. I suppose I could be referred to as a journalist, but because Ms. is part of a movement and not just a typical magazine, I’m more likely to be identified with the movement. There’s no other slot to put me in.”


Image credit: Time

Throughout the years, Steinem has been the recipient of an impressive number of awards, including the Clarion Award, Equality Now’s International Human Rights Award, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Liberty Award, the National Gay Rights Advocate Award, the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award, the United Nations’ Ceres Medal and Society of Writers Award. In 2013, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2014, Rutgers University created the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair, which funds teaching and research for an individual –man or woman—who exemplifies Steinem’s values of equal representation in media.

Gloria was an honorary co-chair and speaker for the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 and is a current advisor to TIME’S UP, a movement against sexual harassment. For all of these reasons, we consider Gloria Steinem one of #thosewhoinspire.

Lead image credit: Encylopedia Britannica 



African-American journalist Ethel Payne was born in 1911, the granddaughter of slaves and the fifth daughter in a large family. Her father, who worked in a stockyard and was a Pullman porter, died when Ethel was 46 and Ethel’s mother became a domestic worker to support the family. There was little money for education so after high school, Payne began putting herself through junior college and then Garrett Biblical Institute.

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Even in today’s relatively progressive world, female journalists often face discrimination or are corralled into writing or producing material that is meant to appeal to the so-called feminine point-of-view. As we recently highlighted, there are those like Christiane Amanpour who have worked hard to challenge the status quo. But for every Amanpour, there is another young woman likely being pushed toward producing pieces about beauty, the home, or entertainment news—subjects supposedly geared toward a feminine audience. Amid persistent sexism in media, we can look to nineteenth-century journalist Nellie Bly, who became both a popular and respected voice of her time and a strong role model in investigative news.

Nellie was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in Pennsylvania in 1864. She got her unofficial start as a writer by responding to a column in the Pittsburgh Dispatch column titled, “What Girls Are Good For,” which suggested that women were suited only for housekeeping and having children. She answered the article under the pseudonym “Lonely Orphan Girl”, openly challenging its misogynistic message. Cochran eventually revealed her identity to the newspaper’s editor, who offered “Lonely Orphan Girl” the chance to write more about female-centric issues like divorce and working women. She was eventually offered a permanent position and, as was the custom at the time, she was assigned a pen name: Nellie Bly.

Like most women writers of the time, she was primarily assigned columns focusing on the home, children, fashion, and society—but she quickly became restless in this role. Nellie pushed her editor for freedom and began writing on more pressing societal issues like challenges facing the poor, women’s status in society, conditions in local factories, and other similar topics. Though Bly’s articles were popular, the newspaper began to receive pushback from local businesses who threatened to pull advertisements from the paper unless the stories stopped. Discouraged, Nellie traveled to Mexico as a foreign news correspondent for the paper, reporting on the lives of everyday Mexicans and the Mexican government. She once again found herself mired in controversy, this time over her criticism of the government. Bly had to flee the country, but her writings on the subject were published as a book called Six Months in Mexico.


Once back in the states, Nellie moved to New York City and struggled to make her way as a professional journalist. Nearly destitute after four months, she talked her way into a column at Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, The New York World. The paper’s editor was intrigued by her proposed story—an undercover exposé on the poor living conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Bly managed to get herself committed to the asylum and was immediately subject to the horrific conditions therein. Bly apparently was so convincing in her feigned insanity that other patients refused to room with her. The facility held a staggering 1,600 patients, most of whom were subjected to “treatments” like ice baths, wore threadbare garments, lived in vermin-infested quarters, and ate rancid food. She wrote, “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?”

Bly’s writings centered not only on the cruelty of the facility and its doctors but also on the humanity of its patients. She witnessed that a number of them were not mentally ill at all; they just lacked the ability to speak for themselves in court or spoke little to no English. After a few days, Nellie revealed that her “crazy” persona was a ruse, but The New York World ultimately had to send an attorney to have her released from the facility. Days later, the newspaper began running Nellie’s writings on the asylum in installments called “Behind Asylum Bars” and they became a sensation. Her stories were syndicated in newspapers across the country. Her investigative journalism spurred examinations into the treatment (and mistreatment) of the mentally ill and prompted a grand jury investigation that resulted in overhauls to the asylum’s practices. Bly’s installments were compiled into a book, titled Ten Days in a Mad-House.

Nellie Bly continued to go undercover, writing about unwanted babies by pretending to be an unwed mother trying to sell her child, exposing corrupt government officials by attempting to bribe a crooked lobbyist, and secretly posing as a poverty-stricken factory worker to uncover poor working conditions.


In 1889, she began a more lighthearted assignment, attempting to make a trip around the world, inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. At the time, women were considered too much trouble to take on long journeys, as it was assumed they would require constant chaperoning and lots of luggage. To combat this stereotype, Nellie set off on her journey with no escort and only the most essential items. Heading east from New York, she journeyed to England, Egypt, Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. The New York World held a popular contest, challenging readers to guess her arrival date. Early telegraph cables allowed Bly to send short travel updates to her editors. Nellie traveled by steamship and rail and faced setbacks, like rough ocean weather, that delayed her travel time. After landing in San Francisco, she boarded a train that brought her home to New York. Seventy-two days, six hours, and eleven minutes after her departure, Bly arrived at her original starting point—handily beating Verne’s fictional eighty days. After her journey, Nellie toured the world giving lectures and wrote Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. Not long after, she was back on the beat writing articles about police corruption, labor strikes, and women’s suffrage.

At age 31, Bly retired from journalism when she married 73-year-old millionaire Robert Seaman. She helped manage his company, Iron Clad Manufacturing, which made milk cans, barrels, and garbage cans. Nellie even patented a milk can and stacking garbage can during her time there. When Robert died in 1904 and the company eventually went bankrupt, Nellie returned to journalism. She traveled to Austria during World War I and acted as a war correspondent for five years. Eventually returning to New York, she wrote an advice column, worked for women’s suffrage, and aided widows and poor families. She wrote until her death in 1922 at age 57, from pneumonia.

Nellie Bly did not let her gender define the course of her career. Through her actions, she proved that women were capable of great and captivating journalism. She broke barriers by showing that women should not be relegated to lifestyle and society columns and put her life on the line for a good story. Though women still fight not to be pigeonholed in the media and in all professions, Nellie Bly stands as a model of someone who challenged gender roles and succeeded. This is why she is one of our #womenwhoinspire.



Margaret Bourke-White, born in the Bronx in 1904, was one of the earliest prominent female photographers – working for a number of notable publications, primarily LIFE magazine. Though she studied photography in college, she was uninterested in pursuing it as a profession until long out of school. Eventually, she formed her own company, with Otis Steel Company among her first clients. Through this work, she proved both her worth as a female photographer and her skill at capturing detail through the lens. Accordingly, she began to attract national attention.

Bourke-White was hired in 1929 as a staff photographer for Fortune magazine, allowing her up-close access to the financial collapse that ultimately became The Great Depression. In 1936 she was hired by publishing magnate Henry Luce as LIFE Magazine’s first female photographer. One of her earliest assignments was covering the construction of the Fort Peck Dam, a Public Works Administration project in Montana. Her photo negatives, arriving at the LIFE office just 24 hours before the first issue’s publication, made the cover—published on November 23, 1936. The issue sold out immediately and within months the magazine’s circulation more than tripled. The cover photo was selected by the United States Postal Service to represent the 1930s in its series, “Celebrate the Century.”


Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the mid-thirties, Bourke-White also traveled the American Dust Bowl, photographing those living through the national disaster. The photos became a book, You Have Seen Their Faces, that explored the humanity of those suffering in the Dust Bowl and during the depression.

In 1941, Margaret toured Europe and the Soviet Union as what we believe to be the first female war correspondent. She is alleged to be the only Western photographer in Moscow during the German raids on the Kremlin, where she captured Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s portrait. She and her fellow journalists are said to have ushered Russian citizens to safety—all while taking the only photographs of the attack, including a shot of the Kremlin, lit by bombs exploding around it. Over the course of the war, Bourke-White was embedded with the U.S. Army and Air Force in North Africa, Italy, and Germany, coming under heavy fire in each location.


While in Europe, Bourke-White traveled throughout Germany with American General George S. Patton and, through her lens, documented untold atrocities. She captured images of brutal work camps, Nazi officials and their families, dead from suicides, and the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, including survivors and the furnaces where so many Jews were burned. She kept secret the fact that her father was Jewish and later admitted that she used her camera lens to create a barrier between herself and what she was witnessing.

Margaret also requested permission to cover the North African campaign, where she traveled by ship. The boat was struck by a torpedo and sunk. Bourke-White salvaged only one of her cameras and captured images of other survivors on lifeboats. Between this and her experiences in Europe, she became known at LIFE as “Maggie the Indestructible.” She was also the subject of an Army “pin-up” poster, the photo for which was captured after she flew on a B-17 bombing raid. Her photos of the raid would run in LIFE magazine, and pictures of Margaret dressed in flying gear made her perhaps the most clothed military pin-up of all time.


Image Credit: Time Magazine

After an entire career as a conflict photographer, Bourke-White traveled into Pakistan in the late 1940s to cover the battles between India and Pakistan and the Indian freedom movement. She recorded horrors that were unlike any she had seen since photographing concentration camps. After the war, she spent a great deal of time documenting the life of Mohandas Gandhi. One of her most famous images was that of Gandhi at his spinning wheel, taken in 1946. According to documents from the International Photography Hall of Fame, there were two conditions for photographing him: do not speak to him, as it was his day of silence, and do not use artificial light. Due to the dim light in his hut, she convinced them to allow her three flashbulbs. According to Bourke-White, “I was grateful that he would not speak to me, for I could see it would take all the attention I had to overcome the halation from the wretched window just over his head. He started to spin, beautifully, rhythmically and with a fine nimble hand…When Gandhi made a most beautiful movement as he drew the thread, I pushed the trigger and was reassured by the sound that everything had worked properly.” She also interviewed and photographed Gandhi a few hours before his 1948 assassination.


Image Credit: Time Magazine

After India, Margaret’s next assignment was to cover the Korean War. It was there, in 1953, where she began to notice symptoms of what she would learn was Parkinson’s disease. Within four years, she found herself unable to continue working and eventually retired from LIFE in 1969. Bourke-White endured multiple treatments and two brain surgeries in an attempt to combat her illness; she was able to successfully end her tremors but her speech was permanently affected. During this time, she wrote her autobiography, Portrait of Myself and continued to lecture. Over the course of her lifetime, Bourke-White would write eleven books.

Bourke-White died in 1971 at age 67, from Parkinson’s disease. She is quoted as saying, “Photography is a very subtle thing. You must let the camera take you by the hand, as it were, and lead you into your subject.” For her immeasurable skill and ability to find the humanity in the most difficult circumstances, Margaret White-Bourke is one of our #womenwhoinspire.

Lead image credit: Time Magazine



The newsroom has traditionally been a “boys’ club”—and we are just beginning to see a shift in this mindset, both on cable and network news. For decades, Christiane Amanpour has been challenging that norm as a prominent news correspondent and a leader and role model for women (and all journalists) all over the world.

Growing up in both Tehran and England as the daughter of a Muslim from Iran and a Christian from the United Kingdom, she is fluent in both English and Farsi. Her family left Iran due to tensions between Iran and Iraq, which heavily impacted her father’s business. The dual perspective provided by these circumstances of her adolescence has likely been a foundation of the open point-of-view Amanpour brings to her news work and the empathy she offers in her programming.


Image Credit: Financial Tribune

Amanpour made her debut on the national news scene in 1983 at CNN and three years later was working as a producer-correspondent in their New York offices. By the late 1980s, she was sent to Europe, covering the fall of communism and the rise of democracy. She became more prominent as a television reporter during the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, covering the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the later United States involvement. From there Christiane moved to Iraq, reporting on the Kurdish revolt and then to Bosnia and Herzegovina – a move that put her in American living rooms on a regular basis. It is widely believed that her reporting on the conflict made our citizens more actively informed and aware of the atrocities occurring. Amanpour was sometimes criticized for her passionate editorials on and bias surrounding the conflict. But, as she told the Guardian, “There are some situations one simply cannot be neutral about, because when you are neutral you are an accomplice. Objectivity doesn’t mean treating all sides equally. It means giving each side a hearing.”

Christiane’s experience in conflict reporting has found her covering crises in Haiti, Afghanistan, Palestinian territories, Somalia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and she reported from Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Amanpour has also obtained interviews with world leaders that other reporters could not. She famously interviewed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat live via telephone during the siege on his Ramallah compound in 2002, and the leader angrily hung up on her. She was the sole journalist reporting from the courtroom during Saddam Hussein’s 2004 trial and the last reporter to officially interview Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi before he was overthrown and killed in 2011. She also secured the only interview with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring.


Image Credit: Time

Currently, Amanpour works for two networks – an incredibly unique arrangement. She serves as global affairs anchor for ABC News and provides international commentary and analysis for their other news programs. She is also the chief international correspondent for CNN International and her show “Amanpour” permanently filled the spot vacated by Charlie Rose, who faces sexual harassment allegations.

Recently, Amanpour created a CNN documentary series called “Sex and Love Around the World,” seeking to examine cultural approaches to sex, love, relationships, and marriage. The series of composed of six episodes, each helmed by a female director. “I wanted to know how many women and girls understand that they have a right to their own happiness,” Amanpour told Variety. “It doesn’t happen in so many parts of the world for so many reasons — culturally, legally, religiously. Now I’m finding that this is changing and young women are becoming the agents of their own happiness. They’re investigating the full extent of what it means to be a human being.”


Image Credit: Politico

Amanpour has received virtually every journalistic award possible, including nine Emmy Awards, two George Polk Awards, the Courage in Journalism Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and multiple George Foster Peabody Awards. She is a commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and an honorary citizen of Sarajevo. Christiane is also on the board of directors for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and has served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for freedom of expression and journalist safety. Amanpour continues to delve into new and difficult subjects and is a world leader in international journalism. For this and many reasons, Christiane Amanpour is one of our #womenwhoinspire.

Lead image credit: The New York Times



Tanzila Khan was born in Sialkot, Pakistan, and a physical disability has confined her to a wheelchair since birth. Her activism began early in her life, as she was on the receiving end of discriminatory practices. In Pakistan, those with disabilities are often relegated to a lower status and their needs and desires are rarely taken into account. When she was sixteen, Tanzila wrote her first book, A Story of Mexico, and has since published her second book, a novel titled The Perfect Situation. The profits from both books have funded disaster relief for victims of the Pakistani earthquake, for disability awareness, and female empowerment.

She faced discrimination in school, as she was not allowed to participate in theater, social activities, and philanthropic clubs. “I think earlier when I was in my school, it was the identity that I was given and that was the girl on a wheelchair. And during that part [of my life] I realized that this doesn’t sound right to me, it sounds too hopeless, it sounds too upsetting and sad—not just for me but for the person who is addressing me either. This whole circle of sadness didn’t appeal to me that much. So, I thought that I have to change this identity. So at that time, I considered myself, I looked at myself and said to myself that what do you have, what can you do? And the only things that I had were my hands, so I had to use my hands. So, deliberately I pushed myself towards reading and writing.”

According to Tanzila, her primary motivation is the simple joy of being alive. She feels that she has a great responsibility to impact the youth of Pakistan, focusing not only on disability rights but also access to education and resources. She has partnered with the British Council, Global Changemakers, and Oxfam to further the reach of her causes. Tanzila has also used her platform to press the Pakistani government for wheelchair accessibility in all government buildings. She describes herself as a “soft-skills trainer” for development and the corporate sector and is an international motivational speaker.


Photo Credit: Pak101.com

Tanzila believes that her college experiences helped her crystallize her focus on disability rights. In her TEDx talk, she explains, “I wasn’t allowed to take part in any activity because the faculty feared that I might face some physical obstacle. They had their fears, while I had my own: someone was killing the spirit inside of me… And then again, again, again, I was not allowed to be part of many activities. Again there came a point where I decided to break the line. I declared, ‘Fine—you can have your own events, you can have your own theater, you can do whatever you like; I’ll have my own… It took me quite a while to realize that my cause, my passion, my subject was inside me, was with me all this time, and it took me so long to get there. This is the reason I was created.”

At that moment she began to formulate the idea of her own production company called Creative Alley, which now trains and empowers the community through events and projects. It provides the youth of Pakistan and across the world a platform to share artistic works. The group’s primary initiative is a “youth capacity-building workshop” taught by Tanzila called Let’s Get M.A.D. (Make a Difference). “Creative Alley is a platform for everyone and anyone out there who has the talent, who has the skills, but who didn’t get the chance.” It acts as a springboard, encouraging and assisting individuals with disabilities to exhibit and distribute their work across the world.


Photo Credit: Tanzilakhan.com

In her work as a speaker, she advises, “Leadership involves initiatives. So in whatever walk of life you are currently in, take an initiative. Because in later years, initiative will define your identity.

Lead image courtesy of Be Bold People.



Did you know that (per the Indian Law Resource Center) more than 4 out of 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 50% have experienced sexual violence? Were you aware that, according to the Center for Disease Control, the third-leading cause of death for Native American and Alaska Native women aged 10-24, is murder? Twenty-five-year-old Calina Lawrence knows and her mission is to speak the truth of Native women until the world understands the scope of this problem – one that goes largely unaddressed in the justice system.

For 40 years, United States law has made it nearly impossible for Indian nations to prosecute non-Natives, who reportedly commit about 88% of violent crimes against Native women on tribal lands. In the 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the court determined that tribal courts do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people, and so they may not punish them without authorization from Congress. Non-Native individuals compose over 75% of the population on tribal lands and federal and state authorities decline to prosecute nearly 70% of matters occurring on tribal lands that are referred to them. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 updated some of these issues, giving tribes jurisdiction over “domestic violence, dating violence and violations of protective orders that occur on their lands,” but violence has not decreased.


Photo credit: The University of San Francisco

As an enrolled member of the Suquamish Tribe, Lawrence was raised in the Pacific Northwest within her indigenous culture. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with degrees in performing arts and social justice and, since graduating, has become a leader in pushing for awareness in violence against native women, advocating for Native Treaty Rights, and has been an active participant in the “Mni Wiconi” (Water is Life) movement led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Lawrence strongly believes that there is a strong connection between the violence against Native people and the violence against Native lands. She said, “The violence against women is synonymous with the environmental injustice that we have been facing… And until we can really sit down and continue conversations that address that reality for the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, which, in my experience, [are] Native American women and LGBTQ and children…we have a real shot at redefining our humanity and redefining how we exist and coexist with Mother Earth.”

Awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women was first brought to light in Canada when the true nature of government-mandated boarding schools was made public. These school systems and their near-identical counterparts in the United States were created for the sole purpose of assimilating Native children into “white” culture. Students were forced to move long distances from their families, prohibited from speaking their native languages, were exposed to diseases like tuberculosis and flu, as well as physical and sexual abuse. In Canada, at least 6,000 students are estimated to have died while at these boarding schools; there is no true number of those who perished in America. The larger legacy of these institutions has been a created culture of violence, post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide within indigenous communities in the Americas.

According to Calina, “This [has] been ongoing since colonial invasion. It’s been ongoing since the boarding school eras, where they stripped our children from families and abused them in religious boarding schools. Those things have been inherited. The patriarchal violence that we’ve been on the receiving end still very much exists today. And so, there’s a lot of work that’s happening, not only around collecting these stories and this information but really working in the community to shift our psychological approach, to start to ask the comfortable questions and to hold more folks accountable as to what contributes to our dehumanization.”

Referring to water, land, and animals as “non-human relatives”, she works to aid all at-risk elements of violence against Native peoples. She considers herself an “art-ivist”; a talented singer, Calina has released a number of singles since her college graduation, most relating to Native issues and featuring other indigenous artists. She is scheduled to release her first full album this year.


Photo credit: The San Francisco Foghorn

When it was announced that the “Times Up” campaign, which was created to fight sexual harassment, assault, and inequality for women in all industries, would participate in the 2018 Golden Globes, many advocate attendees opted to bring notable activists as their companions. Lawrence attended with actress Shailene Woodley – whom she met when both were protesting at Standing Rock. The indigenous activist said, “As an indigenous woman from Washington state, and on behalf of missing and murdered indigenous women and those who commit their lifetime and effort to finding justice for us, we stand in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement and this initiative to create healing and empowerment across the world. It’s an honor to be a part and to celebrate and to speak truth.”

Lead image credit: The University of San Francisco



In the late 1950s, Jane Goodall visited Kenya at the urging of a friend, not knowing that her life’s work lay just ahead. She fostered a love for all animals since early childhood and, while there, summoned the courage to reach out to famous anthropologist Louis Leakey, whose fossil discoveries documented that modern man’s origins lay in Africa. Then-curator of the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi, Leakey initially hired Goodall as a secretary—but was looking for someone to dedicate time to the study of chimpanzees in the wild, for the purposes of the study of evolution. Chimpanzees, the world’s second-most intelligent primate, had not yet been successfully observed in the wild, nor their behaviors cataloged. Though Goodall had no college degree, Leakey determined that she was the woman for the job and sent her to study with famed primatologists in London; she then moved to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania, a move that directly determined the remainder of her life’s work.

When Jane walked into the forests of Gombe, neither she nor the rest of the world had a strong understanding of chimpanzees or their close genetic ties to modern man. Because she was not formally trained in traditional research methods, Goodall approached her study in an unorthodox way, working to immerse herself in the chimpanzee habitat and studying their day-to-day behaviors up close, rather than as a distant observer. Instead of numbering her chimp subjects, she named them and observed their individual personality traits. This practice has continually called into question her objectivity in studying her subjects.


Image Credit: G Adventures

Goodall’s studies uncovered information that was unknown to that point: that chimpanzees have a complex social system, their own form of language, they go to war, use touch and comfort to bond, and are not vegetarian. She has been credited as the first person to observe chimpanzees making and using tools, a trait previously attributed only to humans. Supposedly, Goodall witnessed a male chimpanzee strip the leaves from a twig, insert it into a termite nest, and use it as a spoon to collect his meal. She said, “It was hard for me to believe. At that time, it was thought that humans, and only humans, used and made tools. I had been told from school onwards that the best definition of a human being was man the tool-maker—yet I had just watched a chimp tool-maker in action. I remember that day as vividly as if it was yesterday.” Her findings were the first to suggest that there was a closer relationship between humans and chimps than ever seen before.

In order to bolster her scientific credentials, Leakey sent Goodall to Cambridge University, where she earned a Ph.D. in ethology. This provided her a level of credibility in a community of scientists who were highly critical of the practice of anthropomorphizing animal subjects. “These people were trying to make ethology a hard science,” Goodall told The Guardian. “So they objected—quite unpleasantly—to me naming my subjects and for suggesting that they had personalities, minds, and feelings. I didn’t care.” She did concede one important point: “The brain of a chimp and the brain of a human are not that different anatomically. But we [humans] started to talk to each other and that drove the brain—because there were more and more things that we could do with it. Chimps can do all sorts of things we thought that only we could do—like tool-making and abstraction and generalization. They can learn a language—sign language and they can use the signs. But when you think of our intellects, even the brightest chimp looks like a very small child.”


Image Credit: Variety

In 1977, Goodall founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which houses most of Jane’s research and continues the work she began in Gombe; it has dozens of offices around the world. She is the face and driving force behind efforts to protect chimpanzees and their natural habitat. She has also written a number of books, including In the Shadow of Man, a study of chimpanzees, Through a Window, which discusses problems associated with keeping chimps in captivity, and The Chimpanzee Family Book, which is geared toward children. Goodall was also the subject of “Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees”, a television program that demonstrated Jane’s work with primates and conservation. The film “Jane” combined footage from the television series with modern-day interviews to give a full view of Goodall’s work with chimps.


Image Credit: National Geographic

Jane has accomplished something remarkable: attracting more women to the field of research, particularly primate studies—an area that was almost completely filled with men when Goodall began her work. She has also directed attention to the impact of deforestation and the destruction of the habitats of wild animals and works actively to educate local communities and to improve their quality of life. According to the Jane Goodall Institute, more than one million chimpanzees lived in Africa a hundred years ago, while today that number could be as low as 200,000.


Image Credit: Stuff.co

Though in her eighties, Jane Goodall still travels widely as an advocate of chimpanzees and their environment. She is a board member for “Save the Chimps”, the largest chimpanzee sanctuary outside of Africa, serves on the board of the Nonhuman Rights Project, and is a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Goodall has received many honors, including the Gold Medal of Conservation from the San Diego Zoological Society, the J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize, the Schweitzer Medal of the Animal Welfare Institute, the National Geographic Society Centennial Award, and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences. She has also been named a Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.


Lead image credit of The Jane Goodall Institute.

Rachel Carson Portrait by Irving Penn from 1951 courtesy of Condé Nast


Photograph © Condé Nast: “Rachel Carson, Washington, D.C., 1951” by Irving Penn

Rachel Carson’s childhood was spent in a smoky suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, far from the seas and oceans that would one day capture her heart. Her home was near the local glue factory, where she would watch slaughtered horses fed by conveyor belt into an oven; the smell was so rancid that families rarely went outside in the evenings. Without realizing it, she was learning about the impact that companies and chemicals had on animals—even the human animal.

Once she was old enough, Rachel attended the Pennsylvania College for Women, then studied at the oceanographic institute and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, before receiving her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University. A gifted writer and scientist, she was made editor-in-chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s publications. Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, written in 1941, told the story of fish and seabirds written in a clear, narrative style. In 1951, she published The Sea Around Us, which was essentially the biographical story of the sea. The book became a best seller and won a U.S. National Book Award. The Edge of the Sea, another bestseller, described the ecosystems of the entire American east coast. She was beginning to address issues that, while at the time were uncommon discussion points, are now critical worldwide issues: climate change, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and dwindling animal populations.

These books prepared her for the arduous research and writing of what would become her seminal work, Silent Spring, published in 1962. It was serialized in The New Yorker, making its way into the homes of average Americans—not just to the desks of scientists and academics. Carson also made an appearance on “CBS Reports” that brought her message into our living rooms. The book primarily focuses on the effect of chemicals on Earth’s ecosystems, but also speaks to their effects on humans, in the form of cancer. The book warns of the dangers resulting from misuse of pesticides, particularly DDT. Through this work, she questioned whether man had a right to manipulate and control nature. She accused chemical companies of intentionally spreading misinformation and public officials of believing those claims without questioning them.

Using tactics that are now commonplace, chemical companies attacked Carson personally—launching publicity campaigns to discredit her science, calling her a Communist sympathizer, accusing her of colluding with the Soviet Union to cause massive crop shortages, and deriding her as a crazy cat lady. Biographer Linda Lear described their characterizations: “She was an alarmist, they claimed… Even a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was known to wonder in public ‘why a spinster with no children was so interested in genetics.’ Her unpardonable offense was that she had overstepped her place as a woman.” Even today there are those who believe that banning DDT caused massive outbreaks of malaria in Africa due to a rise in the mosquito population. This conflict marked the beginning of environmental issues as a partisan issue.

Less than a year after Silent Spring was published, Rachel Carson—secretly dying of breast cancer—testified before the Senate about the effects of pesticides on the environment. “Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and, in time, return to bring hazard to ourselves.” She lived long enough to see her book become a success, selling over a million copies before her death in April 1964. President John F. Kennedy instructed a science advisory committee to investigate Carson’s claims. Their report eventually vindicated her, finding that overuse of pesticides was causing a buildup of poison in our food chain. However, it took a decade and two subsequent presidents to officially ban the production of DDT in America.

Rachel Carson at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 1950

“Rachel Carson at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 1950.” Photo credit: Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives, Connecticut College

Since the publication of Silent Spring, the environment has become a more divisive issue than ever. As a society, we have chosen not to heed many of Carson’s still-relevant warnings. “Chemical war is never won and all life is caught in its violent crossfire,” she wrote. Today, we see honeybees dying by the hundreds of thousands, and more and more fish and wild game being wiped out by chemicals and lack of stewardship. Leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt said, “I think she would have been horrified about the state of the planet today. Silent Spring outlined a clear and important message: that everything in nature is related to everything else. Yet we have not taken that idea on board or fully appreciated its significance. In that sense, we have let her down.”

Cover of Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

Lost Wood: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson

Still, Rachel Carson’s work remains relevant, is cited as an influence on conservational organizations across the world, and was influential in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson is considered by many to be the mother of the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring has now sold over two million copies and Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980, by President Jimmy Carter. It remains up to us to heed her message and work toward a cleaner Earth, led by an educated population.

P.S.: Read “The Ocean and the Meaning of Life” from The Marginalian here.


“Rachel Carson examining a specimen” by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Photo credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images



“All black art is political. I think our very presence is political. Anyone that is able to establish a voice and a consistent presence and put their voice forth is doing something radical and political with their very presence.” – Ava DuVernay

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay was born in 1972 in Long Beach, California, and raised in Lynwood—just outside of Compton. She grew up surrounded by the violence that permeated that time and place, but also in a space where art and activism lived. Her mother Darlene was an educator and activist and her Aunt Denise, who she constantly references as a major influence in her life, reinforced the idea that art was important. DuVernay explains that her aunt worked at night so she could “pursue her passion during the day, which was art and literature and theater…. She worked to live. But what she loved in life was the arts. She was fed by it. That was a huge influence on me.” Both her mother and her aunt made sure Ava knew that you could make an impact through the arts.

DuVernay majored in English and African-America Studies at UCLA and, remarkably, did not pick up a movie camera to produce her own work until she was 32 years old. Prior to that time, she spent years working in film publicity and marketing. After years of watching other directors work, she began releasing short films before writing and directing I Will Follow in 2010. Middle of Nowhere followed shortly thereafter in 2012. At that year’s Sundance Film Festival, she won the U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic – the first African-American woman to do so.


Photo Credit: Digital Trends

Her next major film was Selma, a biopic on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—the first ever presented on the big screen. Selma was an important historical drama, but it was also a personal project for DuVernay; her beloved step-father was an Alabama native and she would visit his childhood home on summer vacations. As a child, he watched the Selma-to-Montgomery marchers pass and his memories informed her experience making the film. The movie was both controversial and acclaimed, but it was undeniably powerful. DuVernay became the first African-American female director nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Director and was the first black female director to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The film’s lack of nominations in other categories—and the absence of diversity in the moviemaking industry—contributed to the #OscarsSoWhite movement.

As the movement picked up steam, DuVernay became a strong voice, challenging the entire industry to evaluate its representation (or lack of representation) of people of color. She told Time Magazine, “If the person who gets to tell the story is always one kind of person, if the dominant images that we see throughout our lifetimes, our mothers’ lifetimes, our grandmothers’ lifetimes, have been dominated by one kind of person, and we take that? We internalize it. We drink it in, as true, as fact. The images in our minds that make up our memories are all told by one kind of person, one kind of background. It shouldn’t be this way. That is a deficit to us. A deficit to the culture… For anyone who is working in a house that was not built for them, at times it is not particularly welcoming… So, it’s about making sure we push against tokenism and vain attempts at diversity and push for different points of view to be centered, valued, and seen.”


Photo Credit: The New York Times

In 2016, DuVernay directed and co-wrote 13th, a documentary about the Thirteenth Amendment and how race, the American justice system, and mass incarceration have devastated the African-American community. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Outstanding Documentary. Currently, she is wrapping up Disney’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and is the first black woman to direct a movie with a $100 million budget. Her movies inspired a race equivalent to the Bechdel Test (for women in film) called the DuVernay Test, which asks if films feature minorities with fully realized lives, who are not simply scenery in white stories.

In 2010, Ava founded AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement), her own distribution company meant to focus on films made by and/or focusing on black people. In 2015, she rebranded the company under the name ARRAY to focus on bringing attention to films by both women and people of color, worldwide. She also owns Forward Movement, a film and television production company. Recently, she partnered with Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, to launch a diversity program to fund internships in the entertainment industry for young people in underserved communities.


Photo Credit: The Huffington Post

DuVernay has earned the right to be selective in what films she makes and how. She is known for her care in creating inclusive environments on her film sets—recognizing every member of her cast and crew, from the marquee star to the key grip. But she acknowledges her privilege at this point in her career and the pathway that other, less renowned, black female filmmakers helped pave for her. DuVernay is and will remain dedicated to showcasing varied voices and images in cinema, further clearing the pathway for new voices in global media.


Lead Photo Credit: Super Soul


“What does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” – Sophie Scholl

These were the words of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year old leader of an Anti-Nazi rebellion movement in the 1940s. Sophie, her brother Hans, and their friend Christoph Probst, were executed by Nazi party officials in 1943, as a result of their distribution of a revolutionary leaflet called The White Rose. Their actions helped spur an undercurrent of revolt across Germany, throughout World War II.


Photo Credit: Speigel Online

Like many of the changemakers we have written about, the Scholl children were the products of politically aware parents. Their father, Robert Scholl, warned his children that Hitler was a dangerous man whose actions could lead to the destruction of Germany. But like most teenagers of the time, Hans and Sophie followed their peers and joined the Hitler Youth—beginning their indoctrination of the superiority of the German nation. In 1942, their father was arrested and spent time in a Nazi prison for speaking out against Hitler himself. He was quoted as saying, “This Hitler is God’s scourge on mankind, and if the war doesn’t end soon the Russians will be sitting in Berlin.” And so the Scholl children began to understand that the things they’d been taught in Nazi youth organizations might not be morally correct.

Because of their father’s arrest, Sophie and Hans knew that open dissent against the Nazi party was a dangerous enterprise. The government moved from more quiet deportation of Jews to concentration camps, to violent and overt conflict across the nation. In 1942, Sophie was attending the University of Munich and found an anti-Nazi pamphlet in class, which after some detective work she discovered was the work of her brother and some friends who’d formed an anonymous resistance campaign. Despite pleas from her brother, she decided immediately to join the group.

Inspired by the non-violent resistance tactics of American civil rights activists, the students began publishing anonymous pamphlets they distributed across central Germany. The first leaflet of The White Rose group (so named for the symbol of purity in the face of evil) appeared at the University of Munich and included an essay explaining how the Nazi regime was imprisoning and murdering entire groups of German citizens. At the bottom of the flyer were the words, “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.” Its appearance caused an immediate stir on campus since dissent against the government was almost unheard of. “We will not be silent,” wrote The White Rose. “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”


Photo Credit: Sportsocratic

The second pamphlet described the murder of 300,000 Polish Jews; the third leaflet called for destruction of arms plants, government-supported media, and public political meetings. Rumors, dissent, and more leaflets spread rapidly among students, and Nazi agents frantically began a search for the authors. Citizens began receiving, duplicating, and distributing the flyers in communities across Germany. The White Rose group also took to the streets, painting graffiti across the city of Munich, saying “Down with Hitler!” and “Freiheit!”—Freedom. They wanted to create the impression that The White Rose was a major revolutionary group. Before being caught, the group published six pamphlets in less than a year.

In February of 1943, the group was apprehended when leaving pamphlets in suitcases all across the University of Munich. Sophie took to a balcony that overlooked a courtyard and scattered reams of flyers as students exited classes. Her action was witnessed by the school’s janitor, who reported Sophie and Hans to the Gestapo. After being interrogated for nearly 24 hours, Sophie emerged from questioning with a broken leg but a steely spirit. She was quoted as saying, “I’ll make no bargain with the Nazis.”

The students’ hearing began a mere four days after their arrest and, because all pled guilty, they were not allowed to testify. Still, Sophie did not sit quietly throughout the proceedings. She interrupted the judge throughout, with statements like: “Somebody had to make a start! What we said and wrote are what many people are thinking. They just don’t dare say it out loud!” and “You know the war is lost. Why don’t you have the courage to face it?”

She was allowed one official statement: “Time and time again one hears it said that since we have been put into a conflicting world, we have to adapt to it. Oddly, this completely un-Christian idea is most often espoused by so-called Christians, of all people. How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone who will give himself up to a righteous cause? I did the best that I could do for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct and will bear the consequences.” She and her fellow defendants were sentenced to death by execution, which was carried out within hours of the decision. On the back of Sophie’s indictment, she wrote the word “Freedom”. Her reported last words were, “Die Sonne scheint noch”—”The sun still shines.”


Photo Credit: Spartacus Online

At least 14 members of The White Rose organization (reportedly numbered around 30) were executed. More than 5,000 people were beheaded or sent to concentration camps during the height of the Nazi regime. Today, the story of The White Rose is known throughout Germany—which, as a country, has made a commitment to reconciliation and remembrance. There is a square at the University of Munich named for Hans and Sophie Scholl and there are streets, schools, and buildings across the country named for the Scholls and other members of The White Rose.

There have been moments in the last decades, even in the last couple of years, when the question has been asked: “Will you be on the right side of history?” Sophie Scholl knew that she had the opportunity to use her voice in a dangerous time, and she knew which side of history she wanted to be on.



Champion of women’s suffrage, Emmeline Pankhurst was born in 1858 in Manchester, England, to radical politically active parents. When she was 14 years old, they opened her eyes to women who were fighting for the right to vote – a cause she immediately took up and advocated for the rest of her life.

When Emmeline was 21, she married Dr. Richard Pankhurst, a liberal barrister 24 years her senior. He was also a prominent supporter of women’s rights and a friend and colleague of John Stuart Mill, who authored the first women’s suffrage bill in Great Britain in the late 1860s. Emmeline’s husband encouraged her to continue with her efforts in challenging what they both considered to be the oppressive status quo. He was her partner in founding the Women’s Franchise League which in 1894 secured the right for married women to vote in local elections, though not for members of the House of Commons.

Photo Credit: Manchester Evening News

After Richard’s death, Emmeline founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (ESPU), who were the first activists to be labeled “suffragettes”. The members were known for their militant and sometimes violent approach to activism. “Deeds not words” was Pankhurst’s approach to change, a distinct departure from the peaceful protests that women had previously used. These policies led the ESPU to sometimes act with violence and extremism, including bombings, arson, window smashings, and violence against police. Women would chain themselves to buildings and railings to protest inequality. The group’s tactics were not without fatalities. In 1913, union member Emily Davison threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby in protest of the government’s failure to give women the vote.


Photo Credit: The Daily Mirror

Early on, members of the ESPU were expelled from a Liberal Party meeting for loudly demanding the members make a statement on votes for women. The women were arrested for assaulting police and, as the group would continue to do in the future, refused to pay bail and opted to go to prison instead. Emmeline was arrested over a dozen times, often staging hunger strikes which the government attempted to thwart by violently force feeing her. Police began using a “cat and mouse” tactic wherein they would release a hunger-striking prisoner, then re-arrest them once they were healthy. Objecting to the group’s violence and militancy, some members began to drift away from the union, including some members of Pankhurst’s family.

In 1914, Pankhurst temporarily set aside her suffrage efforts, devoting time and energy to Britain’s participation in World War I. She encouraged women to take industrial jobs to aid in wartime efforts – jobs usually given to men. An estimated 2 million women entered the workforce during the war. Proving they could do the work as efficiently as men, these women’s efforts did a great deal to change the perception of women in Britain’s society.


Photo Credit: Washington State University

The Representation of the People Act of 1918 granted voting rights to women over the age of 30, though men 21 and over had the right to vote. The WSPU reinvented itself into what became known as the Women’s Party, which worked toward women’s equity in society. In 1926, Pankhurst was nominated as the Conservative candidate for an East London region, but was unsuccessful in her attempt, as her health began to fail before the election. Emmeline passed away just two weeks before women were awarded the same rights to vote as men. Though considered by many to be a revolutionary to the end, The New York Herald Tribune described Pankhurst as “the most remarkable political and social agitator of the 20th century and the supreme protagonist of the campaign for the electoral enfranchisement of women.” In 1996 Time named Pankhurst one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating that “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.” There are plans for an 8-foot bronze statue in Britain’s Manchester city center, the first statue of a woman to be erected in the city in more than a century.

Pankhurst was quoted as saying, “We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half,” a motto she promoted until the end of her life.


Born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862, Ida Wells was the child of politically active parents, and her life was an example of that influence. Her father James, after being freed from a lifetime of slavery, was involved in the Freedman’s Aid Society, and he helped found and served on the first board of trustees for Shaw University (now Rust University), a school for freed slaves.

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In Norwich Castle Museum in England, you can find several textiles made by a woman named Lorina Bulwer—embroideries that might be seen as messages of protest or anger. Of the three wool and cotton-scrap pieces, two are square images of arguing men, and the others are scrolls made of scraps, heavily embroidered with stream-of-consciousness-like text. Lorina sewed these messages from inside the Great Yarmouth Workhouse—an asylum.

Lorina Bulwer was born in the mid 1800s to parents who owned a chain of grocery stores. She appears to have been middle class, educated, and never married, living with her parents until their deaths. In the early 1900s, she was committed to the Great Yarmouth Workhouse by her brother, who decided that Lorina was “incapable of running her own affairs.” At that time, the workhouse was home to about 500 inmates, 60 of them (like Lorina) determined to be mentally ill and classified as “lunatics.” It was there that she created the embroidered scrolls and textiles expressing rage and frustration at her circumstances.

Her stitched messages were long tirades, all in upper case and without punctuation. Some of the things she writes appear to be fantasy, like her hopes of being related to the Royal Family. Other parts of the text refer to fellow inmates, their predicaments, and their deaths. She also suggests that she may have been sexually assaulted by a physician. Some of these events are verifiable or at least likely, as dates and names can be backed up by ledgers or legal records. Over 70 people are identified in the three tapestries, all apparently real, with her sister Anna Maria a frequent focus of Lorina’s ire.

It is unknown as to why Lorina was confined at Great Yarmouth. It is possible that she was indeed mentally ill and there was no one to care for her after her parents’ deaths; it is also possible that her siblings saw her as challenging or did not have the money or desire to take her into their homes. Asylums were also places that the destitute could go for health care if they had no financial support. Lorina had no problem expressing her disgust and sense of abandonment and held a specific belief that she had been cheated out of money.


No one has a clear understanding as to how or why these tapestries survived. Museum staff have theorized that a nurse may have kept them, but no one knows for sure. Two embroidered panels were found in an attic by incoming tenants, and they are now also housed at Great Yarmouth. Lorina Bulwer remained in the asylum until her death of influenza at age 79. Her body was not collected by family and she was interred at the Great Yarmouth Workhouse grounds. Details of her life and the asylum conditions are emerging over time and historians will undoubtedly continue to be fascinated by her story—told through needle and thread.



Images from Made in Slant



“We presented Southern white racists with a new option: kill us or desegregate.”

“Who the hell is Diane Nash?” Robert Kennedy Jr. asked his then-special assistant John Seigenthaler in 1961. At the time, Nash was helping to coordinate the legendary Freedom Rides, filling buses with black and white activists protesting the lack of desegregation enforcement. The initiative, originally organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), faced a major setback after a bus was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama, and riders were severely beaten by a mob in Birmingham. CORE was hesitant to continue the Freedom Rides but Nash gathered supporters and persisted. Seigenthaler pleaded with Nash to discontinue the rides, saying “You’re going to get somebody killed,” to which she replied, “You don’t understand—we signed our wills last night.” Nash explained years later in the documentary Freedom Riders, “It was clear to me that if we allowed the Freedom Ride to stop at that point, just after so much violence had been inflicted, the message would have been sent that all you have to do to stop a nonviolent campaign is inflict massive violence.”

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Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk—that is the name of fiber artist Xenobia Bailey’s ongoing cultural art project. It’s colorful, challenging, multi-disciplinary, and incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to categorize. Bailey’s primary media are yarn and fabric and most of her pieces are crochet or knitted. She often uses concentric circles or repeating pattern motifs and her work takes many forms: hats, costumes, quilts, giant mandalas, and even freestanding tents. Her art is partly informed by the love and care that her mother and other working-class women put into making their homes inviting and special. “She [her mother] created a beautiful ambiance with nothing,” Bailey said in an interview with The Root. “She’d get these afghans and quilts from the Salvation Army to adorn the house in a way that was like an art installation.”

Born Sherilyn Bailey in Seattle, Washington, she changed her name to Xenobia in honor of an ancient warrior queen. She studied ethnomusicology—the global exploration of music in its anthropological context—at the University of Washington. This was her introduction to the sounds and cultures of world music and Asian philosophies. Bailey worked as a costume designer for Black Arts West, an acclaimed African American community theater until she was accepted at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 1974. While earning her BA in industrial design, she learned to crochet under Italian Swiss artist Bernadette Sonona, whom Bailey described to The Root as “a brilliant needle artist” who taught her how nearly every skill she uses today in one lesson. Her signature stitch is referred to as “liquid stitch” – a flowy line that almost appears to be dripping. She has noted that the practice of crochet is meditative for her, like counting prayer beads.


Image courtesy of Burnaway.com.

As Bailey’s work and education advanced, she found increasing influence in African and Asian cultures, Eastern and Native American spiritual ideologies, African American rural and urban life, all underscored by a 1970s funk aesthetic. “Funk is the unending cycle of life,” she says. “It’s the ultimate concept—wherever your imagination will take it.” She has been quoted as saying that African American trauma resulted in funk. “But we can make a joyful noise in that funk, too. From that garbage comes fertilizer, and that’s where fresh seeds sprout.”

Her explorations with yarn led her to a career designing culturally explorative hats and sculptural headpieces inspired by African American patterns and traditional motifs and African American braided hairstyles. Her work appeared in Elle, Essence, and Interview magazines, in print advertisements for United Colors of Benetton, and on media like The Cosby Show and Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing. Bailey ultimately moved to different areas of exploration because she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a milliner. She wanted to promote cultural awareness on many levels and became, in effect, an activist.


Photo courtesy of the McColl Center.

Ms. Bailey admires the Bauhaus philosophy and wants everyday people to find ways to be revolutionary in everyday life. “Art has to be medicine,” she has said many times and wants her work to show everyday people that they can inspire themselves. “People don’t make up their own recipes anymore; people don’t experiment.” Her work is accessible but futuristic and spiritual, and undeniably DIY.

The next time you are in New York, visit the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. There you will find her first public art commission, Funktional Vibrations—a glass mosaic that reflects her textile art and is a tribute to the African American experience. Bailey has no intention of retiring anytime soon and continues to expand her reach and express her point of view in new and innovative ways.

Lead image courtesy of SMS Commons.


“Remember, this is your day and your world.”
—Amelia Boynton

One of the most famous photographs taken of “Bloody Sunday”, when state troopers brutally assaulted civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama, shows an unconscious woman—dressed in heels, gloves, and a formal hat—being cradled and protected by a fellow marcher. That woman was Amelia Boynton, an important figure in the Alabama civil rights crusade. The photo of Boynton’s bloodied body appeared on the front page of newspapers across the country, drawing attention to the cause of voter discrimination and the violence perpetrated against African-American citizens.

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This post has been updated from the original post on October 17, 2017.

We’re revisiting our love of Lee Bontecou as our most recent Marine update is inspired by the words and life of Zora Neale Hurstonand the artistry of Vija Celmins (more coming soon), and BontecouLee Bontecou has always been difficult to categorize, as her work reflects elements of Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, and Feminist art. She was a true pioneer in the use of unconventional materials in her sculptures, integrating metal tubing, scrap hardware, and recycled linen during the 1950s and 1960s. She took painstaking care with her work—always leaving visible traces of her making process, like stitches, scorch marks, and twisted wire. 

One of her most significant discoveries was how a welding torch could be manipulated to create an easily controlled spray of black soot, which became one of her signature techniques. The torch used both oxygen and the chemical compound acetylene and when tinkering with the torch, Bontecou discovered that turning off the oxygen caused the acetylene to spray pure soot across her workroom floor. “I just started drawing with it, and I had to keep the torch moving. I burned up a lot of paper!” she said. “Then I got thicker paper that resisted the flame more, and it was an incredible black, it was just beautiful. I made a lot of drawings with it.” 


Left: Untitled, 1959 by Lee Bontecou via the Museum of Modern Art. Medium: welded steel, canvas, black fabric and wire; Right: Studio of Lee Bontecou”, 1964. Photographed by Ugo Mulas Heirs  

Her use of soot as a material led her to create her signature black hole motifs. One of the sculptures used as inspiration for our design (Untitled, 1959) is a relief made from scrap metal scavenged from outside of factories and a broken conveyor belt from the laundromat located below her New York apartment. Like many of her sculptures, it combines industrial and natural elements and attempts to capture, as she described, “as much of life as possible – no barriers – no boundaries – all freedom in every sense.” 


Untitled, 1980 – 1998 by Lee Bontecou via the Museum of Modern Art Medium: Welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, grommets, and wire 

Many of her sculptures and wall reliefs were large and took years to create and were suspended from the ceiling or, if wall mounted, were ambitious in the amount of space they inhabited. Bontecou said, “I just got tired of sculpture as a big thing in the middle of the room. I wanted it to go into space.” For years, she left much of her work untitled, as she wanted the viewer to interpret the art without imposed meaning. 

View the video below from the MoMAto see some of Lee’s seminal works. 


Top image:Untitled”, 1958 by Lee Bontecou viathe Museum of Modern Art. Medium: soot on paperboard .



If you attended or read about any of our Makeshift events, you already know how much we respect and admire designer Maria Cornejo. She has been both conscious and vocal about fashion’s impact on the environment for many years—certainly before “sustainability” became a buzz word. Much of her design approach focuses on efficiency, and so Maria has become an innovator when it comes to cutting fabric in sophisticated and unexpected ways. Many of her garments feature unique angles and circular shapes and others are draped and cut from a single piece of fabric, using as few seams as possible. Her aesthetic is accessible and the fit is flattering.

Maria founded her current company, Zero + Maria Cornejo, in the late 90s—but the Chilean-born designer has been creating and producing clothing since the early 1980s. She co-founded her first company, Richmond Cornejo, just after the “punk” fashion movement moved through London, and she earned quite a following in Europe and Japan. She then moved on to consult for major retailers before creating her own signature collection.

When she founded Zero + Maria Cornejo, Maria bought leftover fabrics from larger companies, which opened her eyes to the amount of waste created by the fashion industry. Rather than create in large batches, she cuts each piece by hand, which allows her to envision the design pattern and use only the materials that are really necessary. In her company’s earlier days, each piece was made to order (much like at Alabama Chanin) so that she could understand and control the amount of waste she was creating. She told the Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA), “Knowing that fashion is the biggest polluter is enough of an incentive to make us want to continually review our practices and check ourselves. We’re trying to make positive change little-by-little, day-by-day wherever possible. What matters most is being consistent and considerate in all aspects. As a company, being aware of the whole process of a piece of clothing, where it’s made, the amount of steps to make a garment all tells us that we have to be aware of what we are putting out there at every step.”

Zero + Maria Cornejo have committed to working toward a transparent supply chain. They make use of sustainable materials at every possible opportunity. Her company is also a fervent supporter of using local labor to manufacture their products. Approximately 70% of her collections are produced in New York City’s Garment District; the pieces that are not fabricated in the US are made by small, independently owned factories and artisans in Italy.

Maria and her business partner Marysia Woroniecka take pride in running their woman-owned business and often partner and collaborate with other female artisans. A key component to Maria’s design philosophy is the desire to make garments for real women that last beyond a single season. She says she is “trying to bridge the disparity between what is being photographed and what people actually wear.” Women all over the world, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, actors Tilda Swinton and Susan Sarandon, and musician Karen O have all embraced Cornejo as a favored designer.

In 2006, Maria was awarded the Fashion Prize by the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards. She was an original member of the CFDA Sustainability Committee. Maria was also chosen as a finalist—and awarded runner-up—for the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative (for which Natalie served on the advisory committee), identifying designers who seek to elevate sustainability and make meaningful change in the American fashion industry—including commitment to responsible sourcing, ethical manufacturing, supply chain manufacturing, scalable business strategies, and consumer literacies.

Maria is often outspoken on political issues, placing women’s rights and refugee relief at the top of her priorities. Because her parents were prosecuted and her family was forced to flee Chile during the Pinoche years, she puts great efforts toward refugee assistance efforts. “As a former refugee and immigrant, this is a cause that’s near to my heart. I always say, being charitable is the ultimate luxury.” After attending the 2017 Women’s March, she expressed, “I really believe there’s strength in community and that you are only as strong as the people around you. People forget that in this day and age, it’s about having empathy for your fellow humans.”


This year, you have seen (and will see) our models wearing Maria’s shoes in our photographs and garment highlights. If you are interested in finding out more about Maria and Zero + Maria Cornejo, visit her website. You can find her collections at her eponymous stores and other major retailers, including Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Net-a-Porter.com.



“Nothing is less real than realism ― details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get the real meaning of things.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe is undoubtedly considered one of America’s greatest and most influential painters. She was a key figure in the emergence and advancement of American modernism and produced an extensive body of work over the course of seventy working years. Her skill for capturing color, light, and form via her most frequently featured subjects—landscapes, cityscapes, desert skies, bones, and (of course) flowers—was nuanced and centered in her sense of place.

Her iconic flower paintings are lush with color and have been interpreted as evocations of female genitalia. Photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband and promoter, encouraged Freudian comparisons, but O’Keeffe was uncomfortable with what she felt were degrading analyses of her work made by male artists; she fought to assert her own voice. She wrote to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, “I thought you could write something about me that men can’t – What I want written – I do not know – I have no definite idea of what it should be – but a woman who has lived many things and who sees lines and colors as an expression of living – might say something that a man can’t – I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore – Men have done all they can do about it.”

O’Keeffe’s ownership of her femininity and her image are examined in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. The exhibition examines what they believe to be a well-crafted persona created by a truly independent artist, through photograph portraits and the artist’s wardrobe. Her clothing is displayed alongside photographs and O’Keeffe’s paintings as a way to demonstrate how fully she claimed and curated her identity throughout her career. Living Modern suggests that the artist was modern art’s first real “celebrity” and that she used clothing in a calculated way, to solidify her persona.

The collection documents her early years, where she established a simple style of dress and a cosmetic-free face, her time in New York when she adopted a stark black-and-white palette, and her years in New Mexico where her clothing became a reflection of her more vibrant surroundings. Until her later years, O’Keeffe wore black and white suits with a headscarf or hat and loose-fitting garments like kimonos—almost always in black. She learned to sew at an early age and made her own clothing over the years, but also leaned on a core group of designers and commissioned custom items. Her style was indelible: minimal, androgynous, and carefully thought out. The exhibition’s curator Wanda Corn explains, “She’s an artist of distillation. She takes something and brings it down to a very purist and minimalist aesthetic. She didn’t do big buttons, ruffles, lace.”

“Everyone wanted to redress her to make her appear more feminine,” Corn explains. Instead, she used clothing to demand agency in a male-dominated field. In the days before social media and message-driven branding, O’Keefe (much like Frida Kahlo) used her clothing to establish a deliberate aesthetic and identity—and to reinforce a commitment to her values and to her personal philosophies.

Click here for more information and to watch a video about the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition.




Anni Albers challenged artists to reject “recipes” and repetition and the safety of what they know will work. She encouraged artists to step away from formulaic making strategies, replacing them “with the adventure of new exploring.” Her life and work are a mirror for finding rich complexity and diversity within simplicity. The photograph of Anni above in her white pant suit exudes this elevated simplicity. Taken by her husband Josef Albers during a visit to Florida, it inspires me to get dressed for summer.

P.S.: Inspired by Anni’s outfit, we have created a wide-leg pant for the Collection in both full-length and cropped versions—made with Alabama Chanin’s 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey.

Image Credit: Anni Albers in Florida, circa 1938, photograph by Josef Albers © the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / ARS, NY



As part of an ongoing exploration into indigo and other natural dyes, we are spotlighting artists we consider to be experts in the field—including Scott Peacock, Donna Hardy, and today, Kathy Hattori. Kathy is one of the founders of Botanical Colors, a well-respected source of materials, support, and educational offerings for those seeking to employ natural dyeing techniques. They offer a range of services for both the new dyer and the designer wishing to use a more sustainable supply chain—including color development, prototypes, sampling, and production. Kathy was a big help to us when we started our own natural dye house at The Factory in 2014. We sourced our indigo from her, and she patiently answered questions and helped us troubleshoot our vats.

Kathy has a background in environmental studies but spent years working in the tech industry before founding Botanical Colors. When asked why she wanted to make the change, Kathy told us, “The realization of how precious time is and how I wanted to spend it prompted the leap from telecommunications to textiles. And then I found it wasn’t a leap at all, but just a firm step forward. Working with colorants wasn’t my first career, but I had created for many years with textiles and dyes in my own work. The reason I moved toward natural dyes was that I felt strongly that my next career had to make a positive impact in the world.”


It is important to Kathy that both large- and small-scale makers see natural dyeing as a feasible alternative to synthetic dyeing, as long as you understand the benefits and limitations of each; to her, the differences between the two approaches can result in remarkably different results in quality. “Synthetic dyes are efficient, as they are engineered to bond with one fiber type and are designed to produce consistent results. Their color palette is very bright and saturated. [But] they are derived mainly from petrochemical feedstock and their manufacture can produce toxic waste if not carefully managed. Natural dyes…have a more varied color profile that must be coaxed from the plant onto the fabric. Their color palette is richly colored and less saturated.” And, as opposed to synthetics, natural dyes are cultivated, grown, and maintained on closely managed land using agricultural or food processing waste—or are responsibly wild-harvested.


“Ten years ago, natural dyers were often challenged and dismissed because the dyestuffs and methods we used were perceived as lower quality than synthetic dyes. That perception has shifted as makers and customers embrace the natural beauty of the color and learn how to create quality items using natural dyes. I see that natural dyes are overlapping and being used to create inks, paints, healing tinctures, and colorants for cosmetics, so makers are getting really creative and tapping into other aspects of the dyestuffs.”

Botanical Colors and Kathy are helping usher in a new era of artisan-driven growth in the textile industry. They use their expertise to help individual makers and small businesses find sustainable solutions that will work on their respective scales. “The new American manufacturer is often a smaller scale company who must innovate in order to survive, and they are often interested in new technology or intriguing collaborations. Most of the companies that we’ve worked with are also pioneers and innovators in sustainable production. Botanical Colors provides an interesting solution with plant-based, beautiful color and this seems to resonate deeply among designers and brands.” And like many farmers who use organic methods but cannot afford to go through the process of being certified organic, there are also textile manufacturers who produce using standards like those governed by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), but cannot afford to be officially certified. “GOTS certification certainly helps to identify suppliers who adhere to the standard,” she says. “But there are many suppliers who don’t carry certification and have built their businesses on thoughtful and sustainable practices, and these companies are equally worthy of our support.”

Kathy agrees with Donna Hardy’s assertion that natural dyeing can be utilized by large manufacturers, if they make the necessary commitment to responsible production. “Moving from artisan-based making to larger format production can be a challenge, as the equipment and volumes can change dramatically. That being said, larger scale natural dyeing is quite feasible. For companies who are concerned with toxicity and wastewater issues, natural dyes can provide a solution, so several visionary companies have made the leap and introduced natural dyes.” She and Botanical Colors work with Eileen Fisher on the Green Eileen and Vision 20/20 programs that aim to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. “Eileen Fisher has confronted the environmental issues facing the industry head-on with their Vision 20/20 policy. Vision 20/20 is the roadmap toward a more responsible and sustainable company including emphasis on organic fibers, fair trade, safe chemistry and wise water use. It’s been a great honor to work with them on their Green Eileen recycling initiative and extend the life of clothing.”

Kathy also recommends that consumers educate themselves on the issues surrounding garment production, safety, and the environment and she supports Greenpeace in this effort. “They offer an important service by exposing the complex chemistry that industry uses for dyeing and finishing garments and publicizing the brands that continue to use toxic substances in their clothing.  These chemicals persist in the environment and in some cases break down into more toxic components with home laundering.”

More than anything else, it is obvious that Kathy Hattori is still enamored with the artistry of natural dyeing and excited by the possibilities. “I’ve worked with and learned from some very talented teachers in the natural dye world, and am constantly striving to improve processes, while celebrating the tradition of natural color. I love to see how natural colors change with different locations and water sources. There’s something about being able to drop a few flowers into a dye pot and pull out a beautifully dyed fabric. That will always be magic for me.”

P.S.: We recently received a report from our dye house, and while many of our colors are not derived from natural dyestuffs, we take great strides to understand, be aware of, and be transparent with the process that our fabrics go through. Regarding the dyeing process for most of our organic cotton, “The only dyes to be used will be natural, low-energy, non-metal, reactive dyes, bi-functional dyes, or low impact dyes.” And the exact dye formula is kept on file along with MSDS (material safety data sheet) for each ingredient in the dye bath for review or audit.



“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” — Audre Lorde

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and the global community is embracing this day more enthusiastically every year. Groups of women and men are coming together around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

At Alabama Chanin, we want to be a part of creating a society where women of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, religions, socio-economic statuses, sexual identities, gender expressions, ages, abilities, and political points of view have the freedom and ability to care for themselves and their families in safe, happy, and healthy environments.

As a company that comprises 75% female employees, Alabama Chanin supports and celebrates International Women’s Day for many reasons—including this year’s challenge to #BeBoldForChange. We have always looked to the ideal of the Beloved Community as a guiding vision for our work and for the society we want to create. This means being a positive force in a world that is often unjust; it means building relationships when many seek to create fractures; it means helping other women attain their fullest potential.

Alabama Chanin is a woman-owned business that has always focused on empowering other women. We recognize that women are often the primary caregivers in the home and we have created a business structure that can offer our female artisans (each founders and operators of their own 100% woman-owned small businesses) an element of agency and control over their own lives and destinies. We continue this mission through our partnership with Nest—the non-profit organization that has helped women all over the world establish and grow businesses that help women, their families, and their communities to prosper.

Meet our team here who have helped build and shape this company—because we recognize that it takes a village. We hope you will join us.

The women in the grid are employees, collaborators, friends, historical figures, artists, and chefs who have been featured on the Alabama Chanin Journal. 



Photographer and artist Rinne Allen’s Light Drawings were introduced at Alabama Chanin during the summer of 2015. At that time, the Alabama Chanin Collection featured Indigo textiles, and the blue cyanotypes resonated perfectly with our designs.

In addition to her blue light drawings, Rinne also creates sepia-colored works of art, which are presented alongside our Rinne’s Dress Collection.


Developed in the 19th century, light drawings are created by exposing light sensitive paper to the sun, leaving behind only a shadow of the specimen. The process used to create the sepia prints is called Van Dyke Brown and requires an extra step in the darkroom—making them rarer than well-known blue cyanotypes.


For the process, Rinne combines elements from her garden with alternative photo processing methods she learned in some of her early college photography classes. She and her mother gather clippings from the garden and place them on specially treated light sensitive photo paper and lay them in the sun. After a certain amount of exposure to sunlight, a cyanotype emerges.

Find the one-of-a-kind Light Drawings online here.



One of the most fantastic things about surrounding yourself with creative people is that you are constantly inspired and challenged to look at ideas through new and ingenious lenses. Rinne Allen, a frequent collaborator, is someone who has a special skill for capturing moments—details that other people may not see. This quality has made our work with her singular and special.


In addition to her obvious talents, Rinne has her own inimitable sense of style derived from her carriage and demeanor, paired with that unique spirit and artist’s eye. When inspired to do so, she occasionally customizes garments she owns to fit her lifestyle and meet her day-to-day needs. This is how Rinne created one of our favorite dresses of hers: part vintage bodice, part well-worn Billy Reid dress. She describes its origins in this way: “I bought the Billy [Reid] dress 11 or 12 years ago… and I wore it so much that I kind-of wore it out! I have a bunch of vintage dresses that I have found over the years that I love, and I decided to ask a friend to make me a new dress using the parts of the Billy [Reid] dress that I loved—the full skirt—and a vintage dress that I liked—the bodice and banded collar. And I added pockets because, well, I love pockets.”


Rinne seems to have an untapped talent as a clothing designer because she can look at the clothes in her closet and have a vision for something more. A tweak here and a tuck there—and she has a fully customized wardrobe. “I do sew a bit and it started there, but I also know people who can sew much better than me and they are patient and help me with some of my ideas. I grew up wearing vintage clothes—and still do—and I think that helped me appreciate things that are unique; understanding sewing made me want to make things myself, once I learned what fits me well. I like functional clothes because I move around a lot and I’m outside a lot for work, so my clothes need to be tough and comfortable. But I also like things that are a little bit feminine, too. And I really do need pockets on most everything.”


Today we are launching what we (naturally) call the Rinne’s Dress Collection, designed in collaboration with Rinne and modeled after her style and that very special hybrid dress. The Rinne Dress has a fitted bodice that snaps up to a mock collar and has a ¾-length sleeve option that snaps at the cuff (on select styles) and can be rolled up or down. The full, pleated skirt sits at the natural waist and opens to a generous width at the hip. And, of course, it could never truly be a Rinne-inspired dress without generous pockets tucked in the skirt’s pleats and folds.


This collaboration also includes a stencil inspired by her Light Drawings. For more information about Rinne, visit her website—or read back on our Journal.


When she was a teenager, Guadalupe Rivera Marin moved to her father and stepmother’s home in Coyoacan, Mexico City—a home that was well known by friends and neighbors both for its famous occupants and the opulent parties they loved to throw. Guadalupe’s father was muralist Diego Rivera and his wife was painter Frida Kahlo, both of whom she and co-author Marie-Pierre Colle celebrate in Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo.


Diego Rivera was famously food obsessed and Frida (who did not cook much—or enjoy cooking) studied how to make Mexican cuisine to please him. Rivera Marin writes, “From her wedding day on, Frida realized that good cooking would be an important part of her life.” Frida, oddly enough, learned how to cook primarily from Lupe Marin—Guadalupe’s mother and Diego’s ex-wife. Lupe was an excellent cook and her mother, Isabel Preciado de Marin, published The New Mexican Cookbook in 1888. As the two women became very good friends, Lupe would teach Frida how to make Diego’s favorite dishes.


What Frida initially lacked in technique, she made up for in presentation. Each meal was almost a still life, arranged for Diego. Guadalupe remembers her as organized and a wonderful host, who loved arranging the house and decorating everything. Frida set elaborate Mexican tables with embroidered tablecloths and vases of flowers. She embraced nearly every chance to celebrate and throw a party, which is reflected in Frida’s Fiestas. The cookbook is organized by month, beginning with August (Frida and Diego’s anniversary month) and also including the Posadas (at Christmas), the Day of the Dead, Mexican national holidays, and a gala they referred to as The Meal of the Broad Tablecloths.


Frida’s Fiestas includes more than 100 recipes for the types of traditional Mexican foods that Frida would prepare for Diego and their guests. The book also includes many illustrations, copies of pages from Frida’s cookbooks and notebooks, vintage portraits, and reproductions of her paintings. Guadalupe has also filled its pages with loving memories of her life with Frida and Diego.


Frida’s remarkably simple recipe for macaroons can be found on page 124.

You won’t be disappointed; get your very own copy here.



“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

— Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)

Bourgeois was a French-American artist proficient in an incredible number of artistic disciplines, but perhaps best known for her large-scale sculptures and installations. Her artwork was often autobiographical, referencing childhood memories—particularly those of her beloved mother and unfaithful father.

Among her most recognizable works is Maman, a massive 30-foot sculpture of a steel spider. The towering structure, whose title translates as mom or mommy in French, pays homage to Bourgeois’ mother Josephine, who passed away when Louise was 21 years old. “I came from a family of repairers,” Louise said. “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

The creature is supported on eight slender legs and has a sac containing 10 marble eggs on its underbelly. It is the largest in a series of spider-themed pieces that became central to Bourgeois’ work in the 1990s. It has been said that her spiders are contradictory representations of motherhood—representing both predator and protector; the silk builds elaborate webs and cocoons, but also binds the spider’s prey. Maman, massive in size, but balanced on thin, spindly legs, is both strength and fragility in one.

Thanks to Milton Sandy for sending along the link and quote.

Photo courtesy of Peter Bellamy



Clocking in at 564 pages, Vivian Howard’s new (and first) cookbook, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South, is by far the largest cookbook I own that is not a compilation. Vivian, friend and collaborator on our Friends of the Café fundraiser dinner, has created a modern American classic book of recipes. Almost equal parts storybook and cookbook, Deep Run Roots shows us that there is not one single definition of “Southern” cooking; each region has its own unique contributions and food histories.


The cookbook has 25 chapters, each focusing on a single ingredient. Every chapter includes between 5 – 10 traditional recipes for its ingredient, followed by more modern or adventurous alternatives. There is something to be found for cooks of every skill level, and some of the dishes that appear challenging are remarkably easy to pull off. Each chapter also has a “Wisdom” page or section, where Vivian shares a little extra background on each ingredient, including her personal experiences, tips, and tricks. She also offers personal stories or memories, relating the ingredient to her own life.


Like her award-winning television series, “A Chef’s Life,” this book celebrates regional culinary traditions, family, and community. When Vivian returned to her North Carolina home over a decade ago to open her restaurant, Chef and the Farmer, she decided that rather than chase food trends, she would be much more challenged and gratified by learning how to cook using the same ingredients her neighbors used—the same ingredients that have been used by generations of families in her community. This cookbook reflects her resourcefulness, her willingness to partner with local purveyors, and her sheer creativity.


In the book’s introduction, titled, “Don’t You Dare Skip This Introduction!” Vivian explains that the book’s ingredients are characters who shape her life. “Eastern North Carolina is my Tuscany, my Szechuan, my Provence,” Vivian writes. “This is a Southern cookbook, but not one that treats the South like a homogenous region where everybody eats the same kind of fried chicken, ribs, shrimp and grits, collard greens, or gumbo. Instead, I interpret Southern cooking the way we’ve long understood French, Italian, and Chinese food: as a complex cuisine with abundant variations shaped by terrain, climate, and people.” This cookbook is massive and yet intimate. It is personal but has something for every palate.

We encourage you to pick up your copy of this cookbook in time for the holidays, as there are an incredible number of recipes that are perfectly suited to your seasonal meals.



As a female business owner, Natalie is constantly asked questions about what it is like to be a woman AND entrepreneur, what it takes to start a company from scratch, and how to “have it all.” I hope that we have been able to dispel the “having it all” myth, but even now—after a decade and a half of work—it can be difficult to find female colleagues, business owners, and mentors that can relate to the unique challenges and rewards of being both woman and businessperson.

Grace Bonney, founder of Design*Sponge, is an all-around model for uncompromising creativity and a champion for other women. Her recent book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs offers interviews and portraits of women from all sorts of creative backgrounds and a diverse range of races, ages, and abilities. In the book’s introduction, Bonney quotes activist Marian Wright Edelman, who said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Bonney explains, “Visibility is one of the most powerful tools we have in inspiring people to pursue their dreams and educating them about all the amazing options that exist.” This book serves as a mirror—reflecting the work of women who are walking the walk and talking the talk to others who are just getting their sea legs and finding their voices.


The book profiles artists, designers, writers, chefs, activists, musicians, and more; they talk about subjects like the meaning of success, self-doubt and fear, learning from mistakes, strengths, and their own sources of inspiration. Natalie is honored to be profiled here—alongside many talented women—including friends, collaborators, and inspirations like Rinne Allen, Eileen Fisher, Maira Kalman, Liz Lambert, and so many others.

Each profile is accompanied by a photograph of the woman in her personal workspace. Some of these women could not be more different from one another, but many share the same thoughts and fears. So many of us are learning to value our work, manage expectations, create better work/life balance, to say “no”, and we are negotiating what it means to be a business owner AND an artist. Oh—and it seems a number of us wanted to be ballerinas when we grew up. It’s immediately clear that there is no right answer to any question and no one-size-fits-all solution to our problems.


Bonney’s hope is that women will see something in themselves, somewhere in the book. We found many moments of connection with our peers that we could never list them all. Some of our favorites:

“Trust your instincts! There is nothing worse than realizing that your first instincts were right and that second-guessing led to a costly mistake. As women, we’re taught to second-guess ourselves and to look to others for direction and guidance. Most times my inner voice tells me in a flash what I want and need, and whom to trust. I’m learning to honor that inner voice.” – Lisa Hunt, designer and artist

“Create a ‘no assholes’ policy. Nobody you work with or hire can have this quality. Life is too short and we are too sensitive to suffer unkind people. Live kind; your work will show it.” – Genevieve Gorder, interior designer and television host

“Success in business is seeing how badly you can fail and still love yourself.” – Mary Going, fashion designer

“It’s been said before, but people are your biggest asset. There is no way you can be everywhere at once, and you wouldn’t want to be. Put the right people in the right place and your job becomes easier. And you have so much to learn from them, thank God. It takes a village.” – Liz Lambert, hotelier

“I think the world needs more authentic, honest, and vulnerable connections. As an individual, I think this results in richer relationships, and as a businesswoman, I find that the result is a sincere collaboration between my customer and me. Less polish, more authenticity.” – Karen Young, product designer and entrepreneur

“Gummy bears are not fruit, therapy can be interesting, don’t judge people by their shoes.” – Olimpia Zagnoli, illustrator

“The world needs more face-to-face conversation, perhaps over a meal, so we can really get to know each other without assumptions. The world needs fewer sound bites where those assumptions are formed.” – Carla Hall, chef and television host

“When I was about thirteen, my dad told me, ‘Everyone is weird,’ and that simple statement pretty much changed my life. I think of it often. It makes me feel relaxed to be myself and do things my own way and be open-minded about everyone else doing the same.” – Julia Turshen, cookbook author

“I love seeing brilliant, creative women making space and laying down tracks for other women. It’s easy to fall into the pernicious trap of thinking that just because you scrapped your way toward achieving your goal, there’s no room for anyone else.” – Carrie Brownstein, musician, writer, and actor

“The world needs your voice, so stop trying to fit someone else’s idea of who you are. Make them look you dead in the eye; make them know you.” – Danielle Henderson, writer and editor

“Say no to things you don’t want to do, kindly and politely. And give a widely known enthusiastic yes to the things you do want to do.” – Randi Brookman Harris, prop stylist

You can purchase In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs here.



Journal followers are likely familiar with one of the newer faces on our design team: Erin Reitz (née Connelly), who we have featured recently. Erin and business partner Kerry Clark Speake are co-founders of The Commons, a Charleston, South Carolina-based shop that sells high quality, local, and American-made housewares. In addition to the work at The Commons, Erin and Kerry also collaborate with talented artisans to create their own collection of glassware and hand-thrown ceramics: The Shelter Collection. (And we’re also working on a glassware collaboration, which will be out this holiday season.)

But, Erin’s design skills extend beyond the arena of home goods. She also has extensive design experience creating garments and accessories. Before opening The Commons, she attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and interned with designer Nanette Lepore, before going on to work with brands like Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, Levi Strauss & Co., and Eddie Bauer. Though a key member of the Alabama Chanin design team, Erin’s home base is in Charleston, where she resides with her husband (and Alabama Chanin collaborator) Brooks Reitz.


As part of our continuous exploration into the creative process, we were interested in finding out what spurs creativity in someone who has worked at all ends of the spectrum—from a large corporation, to her own independent craftwork.  We are also excited to share what we are learning about Erin and her creative point-of-view through our work together.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.)


Alabama Chanin: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

Erin Reitz: For me to be truly creative, yes. I have been a designer for so long in the commercial retail environment that I am able to create on demand. I can quickly design clothing to fit the need. But I almost see this as creative problem solving rather than an artistic creativity. Considering all your parameters, and coming up with the best solution.

When I am truly creative, it feels like an entirely different state of mind. I will get lost in a story in my head, with an incredible rush of energy and optimism. This usually comes in distinct waves when I am well rested (or drinking coffee) and when some piece of new inspiration has come up. Either from traveling, or discovering a new artist, or even just taking a walk and smelling something new…then I can be triggered into creating a concept. When I am in this mode, it feels similar in my mind to being lost in a book; I can feel it so deeply from many angles.

The best feeling is when you can find a creative partner to express these thoughts to without them losing their power once you have said them out loud. I feel this deeply with my partner in The Commons, Kerry Speake. And Natalie and I have an immediate comfort, where I feel like I can say the weirdest thing that has just popped into my brain, and she fully listens and responds like we are in the same place.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

ER: I think it is probably both. But there are people who feel more comfortable operating from their right brain, where you have fewer constraints with facts and more potential to alter perceptions.

AC: Creativity for me is ______________________.

ER: Creativity for me is the juiciest part of life.

AC: How do you define success?

ER: True expression.


AC: If your creative process or project isn’t productive, at what point do you cut your losses? Or is there a point? Do you keep pressing on?

ER: I think you cut your losses if you have lost interest. But as long as you still feel like you’re walking a path that resonates with your initial intention then PRESS ON!

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

ER: The lightest parts are in the beginning, when the first flash of the idea comes. And it seems like connections are popping all over your brain. The idea and story feels like it has no boundaries. There are so many ways to interpret the shape you’re inspired by, so many materials and techniques that could achieve the texture or color, and so many meanings that you can portray through one simple idea. I love tying these ideas together, building a wall of images, and sketching into the defining principles of that idea.

The heaviest part is selling it.

AC: What parts of your imagination seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

ER: This is my favorite question.

The lightest are the visual components. Seeing something inspiring and beginning to link it to ideas. When I am in the space in my brain that feels limitless and hopeful. When I am romancing myself with the idea and creating the fantasy around it.

The heaviest is the fear of executing the idea. Where there are boundaries everywhere…What if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t find that material? What if I can’t make a reality what I see in my head? And then, even worse—if this is an idea I want to sell – what if it doesn’t? It is all tied together and weighed down by fear.

Luckily the light side usually greatly outweighs the heavy side!


AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

ER: Yes! To stay creative I need to work at creating the empty spaces in my mind, so I have space to wonder. Meditation has been a key part of this for me for a long time. Always looking for the “right path” – and I don’t think you can find that unless you have some quiet in your mind regularly. That really helps to steer my mind away from listening to the fearful voices as well.

Lately I have discovered that exercise is equally important to this as meditation. I’ve finally realized the connection to a strong body and strong mind. And how much easier it is to walk that path you’re trying to create when you can literally walk with strength and ease.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

ER: I have always had a fantasy of being a museum curator. I LOVE collections. I find it so pleasurable to make esoteric links between things…invisible strings tying a group together. But I also know that is why I love clothing: connecting a group in ways that are obvious to people, and ways that no one may ever know.



Alison Saar, contemporary sculptor and mixed-media artist, was born to acclaimed assemblage artist Betye Saar and Richard Saar, a painter and conservator. In her work, Betye (now 90-years old) often addresses the journey and identity of the African American woman—concepts that Alison has built upon as she explores her own family and racial identity through her work. She acknowledges her own racial identity serves a large purpose in her work. “I think being biracial definitely has a big play in my interest in that or my experience with that—never belonging to either world, always being considered some sort of ‘other’.” She does not shy away from discussions of race, gender, culture, and spirituality, but she also does not lead her viewer to a comfortable conclusion.


Saar works in a number of media, but many of her works are life-sized sculptures of African American figures carved from wood or shaped from tin. Her work centers largely on African diaspora and femininity—particularly the exploitation of the African American body in society and culture. A reviewer noted, “Saar is among a larger generation of artists who recognize the body as a site of identity formation, acknowledging historical injustices and presenting defiant figures that seem to transcend their pasts.” Many of her figures are in some way bound, carry heavy loads, or are juxtaposed with objects in such a way as to measure human value in economic terms—African American bodies as commodities. Her perspective is a way for the artist and the viewer to reclaim their bodies while acknowledging the historical struggle surrounding them.

View works from several of Alison Saar’s collections here.


Images from LA Louver, OMI International Art Center, ArtNC, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design.



“I fell in love with black; it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all… You can be quiet, and it contains the whole thing.” – Louise Nevelson


American sculptor Louise Nevelson became known for her large, three-dimensional wooden structures, almost all painted in monochromatic white or black. In her most iconic works, she utilized found objects and scraps gathered from debris piles, and so referred to herself as “the original recycler”. Nevelson originally limited herself to black and white to “discipline” herself—but the colors eventually became part of her signature style.

During the mid-Fifties, she produced her first series of all-black wood landscape structures, describing herself as the Architect of Shadow. “Shadow and everything else on Earth actually is moving. Movement—that’s in color, that’s in form, that’s in almost everything. Shadow is fleeting… I arrest it and I give it a solid substance.” For much of her life, critics and admirers were almost fixated on her use of black, but Nevelson never shied from discussing its importance. “You see, [black] says more for me than anything else. In the academic world, they say black and white were no colors, but I’m twisting that to tell you that, for me, it is the total color. It means totality. It means: contains all.”


Images of Louise Nevelson from Jeanne Bucher Jaeger. Images of Nevelson’s work from the Guggenheim Museum.


Mother's Day Alabama Chanin Team with their Mothers


It has been said that holidays like Mother’s Day are manufactured celebrations, created to sell cards and gifts. It is not really true that Mother’s Day was created to boost commerce, but that’s not to say that the evolution didn’t cause a commotion, especially by its own creator.

Holidays like our American Mother’s Day have been celebrated globally for centuries. There were festivals in Egypt and Rome honoring the goddesses like Isis, Cybele, and Rhea. European celebrations of the Virgin Mary expanded in the 1600s to include all mothers with a celebration called Mothering Day. The Mother’s Day as we know it today in America was established by a woman named Anna Jarvis. Her mother, named Ann Jarvis, had attempted to establish Mothers Work Clubs in the late 1860s, meant to help clean cities and tend wounded Civil War soldiers. After the war, she established a Mother’s Friendship Day to unite families from both sides, North and South.

Ann’s death devastated Anna, who began what has become our modern Mother’s Day. She wanted it to be “Mother’s Day” (singular), rather than the plural “Mothers’ Day,” so that each family could focus on their own mothers and not all mothers everywhere. It was meant to be a day to spend time with your mother, to thank her for all that she had done for you. Jarvis campaigned heavily for Mother’s Day to become a national holiday, finally succeeding when Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it so in 1914. The carnation became the symbol for the holiday, simply because it was Ann Jarvis’ favorite flower.

In Anna Jarvis’ eyes, what was meant to be an intimate family celebration, the day soon became too commercialized. Almost immediately, stores and florists began to capitalize on Mother’s Day, which infuriated Jarvis. Nine years after it was declared a national holiday, she began crusading against the day she, herself, created. She held boycotts, threatened lawsuits, and was even arrested in her efforts to stop what she saw as profiteering. She was very vocal about the purchasing of greeting cards, saying it was a sign that someone was too lazy to write a proper letter. Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life and her entire fortune protesting the commercialization of an event that she meant to be pure and sincere.

The idea of “mother” and “mothering” has evolved to include siblings, grandparents, friends, and other loved ones who raise and nurture us to adulthood and beyond.  Mother’s Day is a moment to tell our own mothers and mother figures, “thank you,” for all they have given.

THANK YOU to all the people out there who have nurtured us over the years—it takes a village. 

P.S. Thank you to our team members, friends, and colleagues (past and present) who shared the beautiful photos above with us. 


Longtime collaborator Rinne Allen is a skillful storyteller in that she sets the stage, creates a visual narrative, and allows you to see through her same lens – without being heavy-handed. It is her light touch that allows Rinne to present her subjects in the best, most straight-forward, and appropriate manner but allows those subjects, themselves, to finish the telling of the story.

Rinne works in black & white, in color, and in other media (like her stunning light drawings), but no matter the approach, she seeks out what makes each image and each moment special; she finds those details that perhaps no one else sees, but that make the image real and truthful. I know that when art seems effortless, it usually means that an un-measurable amount of effort has almost certainly taken place to make the finished work or scenario seem natural. With Rinne’s work, you will never know… Her point of view is always present, always guiding and drawing your eye until: you’ve discovered the essential element of the piece. She uncovered it and carefully led you there until you found it – waiting there to be discovered.


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In the years since we met Rosanne Cash, we have grown from giddy fans, to dedicated admirers, to proud and honored friends. It is no secret how much we are inspired by Rosanne—as a supporter, an artist, and a beautiful person. We’ve done our best to express our admiration whenever the opportunity arises. We are still awestruck that we know someone so talented, so prolific, and so wise.

It has been a joy to see Rosanne and her singular creativity be acknowledged by so many, lately. Her album, The River and the Thread, which will always hold a special place in our hearts, won 3 Grammy Awards in February 2015, sweeping all categories for which it was nominated: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, and Best American Roots Performance, for “A Feather’s Not a Bird”.

She has recently held a three-night residency at the Library of Congress, received the 2014 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts, and curated a “Perspectives” series for Carnegie Hall that highlighted the best in Americana and roots music. (Among the artists included were Alabama Chanin favorites and Alabama natives, St. Paul and the Broken Bones.) Earlier this year, Rose was named the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Artist in Residence, which culminated in three concerts, including one instantly legendary evening of music by Rosanne, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris.


In October, Rosanne was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, an honor she was thrilled to receive. “This is the award I wanted. I started as a songwriter. I still consider myself, first and foremost, a songwriter, and dreamed that one day I would get this honor.” She and her father Johnny Cash are the only father/daughter members.

Rosanne seems to be always searching her own depths and looking for new sources of inspiration. She has recorded 15 albums and writes prolifically—everything from essays and fiction (in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and the Oxford American—among others) to her moving memoir, Composed. On top of all that, she also wrote three songs for season two of HBO’s True Detective and collaborated with Elvis Costello and Kris Kristofferson on a song released alongside Costello’s brand new memoir.

It is only natural that we would look to someone like Rosanne as part of our exploration of the creative process. We know that her method and her products are substantive, and we trusted that she would be completely, brutally honest with us. I recently read a quote of hers that I could relate to completely: “It’s only amateurs who only work when inspired. Music is a more trustworthy way to God than religion.” It is with this in mind that we consider Rosanne’s responses to our questions on creativity.

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Rosanne Cash: Before performances I have several things I do—stretching, breathing, feeling my feet on the ground, mentally clearing the space around me, a few words I always say to myself. In writing—no rituals, although I do have devices to break the constraints. Sometimes just a cup of tea will set things right.

AC: What makes you curious?

RC: Singularity makes me very curious. If someone is the foremost expert on wooden boats in the world, or knows everything about a certain brain tumor or a rare butterfly or deeply understands something that I only vaguely comprehend, like quantum physics or Mormonism, then I am riveted. I want to inhale everything they can tell me. And I’m curious about the personality that lives for one thing.

Dilettantes bore me.

My curiosity is also aroused by artists I love, but I don’t want to know about their artistic process. If I am moved by someone’s work, I want to know what they like to eat for breakfast, how much sleep they get, what their rituals are, if they watch television, their beverage of choice… I would KILL to know what Shakespeare did for amusement, who he slept with, and what his favorite food was.

AC: What do you daydream about?

RC: I daydream about color, water, silence, and nature.

Sometimes I daydream about how I would re-upholster my furniture.

AC: How important is education to your creative process?

RC: It’s important. I would use ‘discipline’ and ‘education’ together. It drives me crazy when people think what I do comes ‘naturally’ and that I don’t have to put effort into writing or performing or recording, or that songs happen because you get hit by a thunderbolt of inspiration and that’s all there is to it.

There are a lot of musicians and songwriters more talented than me. 85% of my success is because I’m tenacious and I show up for work.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

RC: Listening to music and looking at art inspires me. If I’m really stuck, I put on certain records to jiggle the door open, or go to a museum. If I hear a really good song, my competitive side might get triggered and I want to write something better.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

RC: That’s what amateurs do. If I only worked when I was in the mood, this would be a hobby, not my profession.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

RC: Creativity is part of human nature. Mastery of creative work must be learned by doing.

AC: Creativity for me is_____.

RC: the reason I’m on the planet.

AC: How do you define success?

RC: Doing what you love and making a living at it.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

RC: The travel for performance is the ‘heaviest’. I get really, really tired of it. I love travel, in theory, but touring is brutal.

The ‘lightest’ is when I finish writing a song that I know is good.

AC: Does spirituality play a role in your creativity?

RC: Creativity IS spirituality.

AC: What makes you nervous?

RC: Doing things outside my wheelhouse. I’m about to perform with Wynton Marsalis for the first time. That makes me a little nervous. Those kinds of things.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

RC: I’d want to make it bigger.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

RC: Anxiety over my kids stops the whole circus.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

RC: No. There were things I didn’t put in my memoir because I didn’t want to hurt someone, but that’s different.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

RC: Nope.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

RC: I’d love to paint.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

RC: Excessively.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

RC: It made me try harder. I’ve been depressed and felt insecure about certain failures and rejections, but it never made me give up.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

RC: Someone who marries two very disparate ideas to create something entirely new, like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”

RC: The musical ‘Hamilton’.

AC: If you were to become a professor, what classes would you teach?

RC: Songwriting.

AC: What are your favorite things to do? What do you distinctly NOT like to do?

RC: I don’t like to unload the dishwasher.
I don’t like taking makeup off.
I don’t like to spend the day doing email.
I love reading.
I love putting the kettle on and anticipating tea time.
I love to sew with my girlfriends.

AC: Is there one single act that can open your imaginary mind?

RC: I wish I knew.

AC: Are there parts of your life that you always make a priority? That you struggle to make a priority?

RC: I always make my kids a priority.

I struggle to make doing nothing a priority.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts)

Photos courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride, Abraham Rowe, and Robert Rausch.


Atlanta-based chef Anne Quatrano is perhaps the most visible figure in the area’s farm-to-table movement. She and her husband and fellow chef Clifford Harrison are longtime proponents of sustainability and make concerted efforts to use locally grown seasonal and organic products—much of which comes from their own family farm. They own and operate three established restaurants—Bacchanalia, Little Bacch, and Floataway Café, run Star Provisions deli and market, and have very recently opened W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, a casual seafood spot in the Ponce City Market’s food hall.

Star Provisions is a carefully curated, visually inspiring shop and pantry where patrons can have access to the same tools and ingredients as professional chefs. They accomplish what we attempt to do in our own Studio Style DIY shop—provide high quality materials to those who might otherwise not have access to those items. Anne and Clifford have effectively opened their restaurant’s pantry and walk-in cooler for patrons to shop. It has a bakery, a wine cellar, a butcher and seafood counter, a cheesemonger, and a section for cookbooks, specialty goods, tableware, penny candy—and even dog treats.


As part of our continued inquiry into the creative process, I was interested in how someone could manage so many undertakings and manage a family farm and come up with fresh ideas for new restaurants. Fellow Atlanta chef Steven Satterfield said of Anne, “Ann was a pioneer in Atlanta. Her focus has always been on sourcing the best ingredients first, and local, seasonal ingredients have always been important to her.” I want to know what inspires such a pioneer—and what continues to keep that sort of passion stoked. We forwarded Anne a list of 34 questions about her thoughts on how she creates, stays motivated, and encourages her own creativity—and asked her to answer 5-10 of her choice. Her responses follow and reveal what sparks her curiosity and what she might have done instead of becoming a chef (though we’re so glad she stuck with her original plan).

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Anne Quatrano: Not really – I love an iced tea and a stack of magazines on Sundays.

AC: What makes you curious?

AQ: Mostly nature and its elements…wild vegetation, bird’s nests, the paths of bees, my dogs’ habits, anatomy of a hog…

AC: What do you daydream about?

AQ: The beach


AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

AQ: Driving

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

AQ: No, but I am more creative when calm.

AC: Nature or nurture? Do you imagine creativity is part of human nature or must it be learned?

AQ: Human nature – the discipline to achieve is learned.

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

AQ: Heaviest is always economically motivated. Lightest is typically the relationship of flavors, textures and form.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

AQ: Sometimes with hired graphic designers or individuals helping with projects—but most of the time the collaboration is just as rewarding and often better.

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

AQ: I would draw homes and public spaces…architecture.

AC: Do you critique your own work?

AQ: Yes – more than anyone else.

AC: Has rejection ever affected your creative process?

AQ: No

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

AQ: Everything…


Photos courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee Photography


A year ago last week, I wrote about Anne Stiles Quatrano and her cookbook, Summerland on our Journal. I mentioned how we were waiting for the perfect time to host her for our Friends of the Café Dinner Series.

We are excited to (finally) announce that Anne will be joining us in October at The Factory, as the guest chef for our Friends of the Café Dinner. This dinner will celebrate a new collaboration between Southern Makers and the Oxford American Magazine. (Look for more about this special evening on our Journal coming soon.) The event will bring together makers, artisans, and creatives from all across the southeast region—like-minded individuals making the South an amazing place to work, eat, play, and create.

This week I will be making the four-hour drive from Florence to Atlanta to spend some time with Anne, as we work on a special collaboration for the upcoming dinner. I can’t wait.


So today, in honor of the exciting announcement, we revisit Anne and Summerland:

James Beard award-winning chef and restaurateur Anne Quatrano is enthusiastic about food and community—passions I admire and write about often here on our Journal. Around her home-base of Atlanta, Georgia, she is referred to “Queen Anne” and is the city’s “undisputed Grande dame” of the farm-to-table movement according to The Local Palate. It makes sense; Anne owns and operates six of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants, including: Bacchanalia, Quinones at Bacchanalia, Star Provisions, Provisions To Go, Floataway Café, and (newly-opened) Little Bacch.

Anne was raised in Connecticut and attended culinary school in California, where she met her husband and business partner, Clifford Harrison. After school, they relocated to the East Coast, but decided to journey to the South in the early 1990s. Anne had family from Georgia, and Atlanta seemed like the perfect Southern city to make their home-base, as it was becoming a cultural and culinary hub at the time. Although they work in Atlanta, they live on Summerland Farm near Cartersville, Georgia, a property that has been owned by Quatrano’s family for five generations. Anne makes the 80-mile roundtrip to commute to Atlanta every day, because she “can’t imagine living anywhere else.” Summerland is where she and Clifford grow and source food, host gatherings, and delve into true Southern hospitality.


Much to our delight, Anne has released a book of recipes celebrating the South, sustainable food, and life on the farm. Summerland: Recipes for Celebrating Southern Hospitality focuses on eating seasonally, and each chapter is associated with a specific month, kicking off with September—perfect timing. I’m looking forward to trying her October cocktail, the Mint Julep. Anne notes that “many people think of the mint julep as a spring or summer drink, associated in particular with the Kentucky Derby. But the brightness of the mint with the warmth of the bourbon is just as appropriate for the fall.”

Summerland is filled with beautiful photography of the farm and food, and features hundreds of mouth-watering recipes perfect for entertaining. When browsing through the book, I was jealous to see that Anne and Clifford have an Airstream trailer on the farm just beyond their peach orchard. (It has long been a dream of mine to own an Airstream—the possibilities are endless: home office, design space, or just a good spot to read a book and nap.) Anne serves cocktails to her guests from her Airstream and has even built a makeshift patio for the trailer from wooden pallets. She is resourceful in every way.

Anne’s recipes offer up ultimate comfort, and any home cook should be comfortable following her simple approaches for creating delicious menus. She even offers bread and base recipes in the back—a very useful resource.


You can purchase Summerland here. Reserve yours today, as our dinners have been selling out quickly. More to come in the following weeks about our upcoming dinner…


For many of us who call ourselves “mother”, there are two types of children in our lives: those that are born to us and those that come into our lives and become “ours” for life. For me, this was the case with Agatha Whitechapel, daughter of my dear friend (who I commonly refer to as, simply, “Whitechapel.”) I think of her as a version of her collages, fully realized – a lifelike composition of images pasted together to create a portrait. Adopted daughter to me; young girl grown up; mother of Elijah; photographer; and, finally, friend. Agatha cut her teeth in Europe of the 1990s, traversing between London and Vienna. Agatha’s school was the keen eye of her mother, music video film-sets, and the world of skateboards. When I met her, she was a 12-year-old girl, fascinated with hearing and telling elaborate stories. According to Agatha, she has taken her “childhood obsessions with fantasy and storytelling and turned them into visual explosions with as much colour, pop and pomp” as she can possibly fit into one picture.

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DETOX 2015

In 2011, and just before my 50th birthday, I publicly—on this Journal—declared a detox. I don’t really like to write much about my private life, as Alabama Chanin has grown into something so much bigger than me. And, truth-be-told, I am a rather shy and private person. However, I forged ahead and wrote in the second post:

“I felt reluctant to continue writing about my detox after the first post as I thought that it could be, frankly, a bit boring. Each of us has visited a site where the writer has a fondness to overshare about their eating habits and diet: each morsel eaten, photos of unmentionable detox attributes, things that we really don’t want to know—way too much information. I don’t want to be that person.”

But, the fact of the matter is that I completed the detox, lost 25 pounds, and felt better than I had in years. At the time, I vowed to stay “on the path.” I swore to be committed, stay focused, and to forge ahead. The best laid plans of mice and me…

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Do you remember your first day of school? I don’t remember the actual day, but I do have photos of myself, standing outside my first grade classroom, smiling, wearing a plaid dress and knee socks. I do remember my children’s first school days—the nervous excitement they showed and the bittersweet pride I felt at witnessing this important milestone. While I don’t take those moments for granted, there was never a doubt that those moments would come. It’s common now to see Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram light up with school photos that document every moment of our children’s educational lives. A few months ago, I received an email from an old friend that provided some much-needed perspective.

The email offered a link to a Ted Talk by a woman named Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of SOLA—Afghanistan’s first all-girl boarding school. The word “sola” means “peace” in the Pashto language, but it is also an acronym for School of Leadership, Afghanistan. Shabana was 6 years old when the Taliban took over Afghanistan and made it illegal for girls to go to school. So, for five years, her family dressed her as a boy and sent her to a secret school to learn. Even at this young age, she understood the risks that she—and her parents—were undertaking. She would walk for 30 minutes, even an hour, to schools. The locations would move, and she would walk different paths each day; sometimes class would take place in the morning and other times in the afternoon.


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I picked up the TIME magazine pictured above at an airport kiosk some time ago.  While traveling that day, I lingered over this inspiring—and disturbing—story about Kym Worthy. It is true that some leaders find their calling early and some crusaders know their mission almost from birth. Others come to leadership by accident or they pick up the mantle of responsibility simply because no one else will. Perhaps Kym Worthy falls more into the latter group, but she is no less driven because of it. In fact, she is an example of how one person can have a massive impact on the life of another person, a community, and a national conversation.

In 2009, Detroit Assistant Prosecutor Robert Spada discovered over 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in an abandoned Detroit police warehouse. As Michigan’s Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy couldn’t help but be shocked by this discovery. As she told Katie Couric, “These [rape kits] were women’s lives. They go through this examination thinking that this evidence was going to help find their perpetrator. And it’s sitting on a shelf, gathering dust. And this was their life—and nobody cared.”

Since that discovery, Worthy—herself a survivor of rape—has made national headlines for her work, bringing attention to the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits. She has worked at the local and national level to fight for funding to have the kits tested, eventually receiving a $1 million federal grant to begin testing Detroit’s massive backlog.  Worthy said that she and her team had to literally dust off the kits, physically open and inventory each one to collect victim information. The statute of limitations on many of the cases had long since passed. Still, Worthy’s team manually cross-referenced the kits with police reports and incomplete investigations. DNA evidence is only one component of any case—and each of these cases had to be re-established and reinvestigated (or, sadly, investigated for the first time).


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Over the last several years, The Factory has expanded in leaps and bounds and the Alabama Chanin team has grown to keep in-step. Working in a creative industry, it takes a while to find the perfect mix; some people must be true creatives, while other jobs require a tactical mind. It is special when you find someone with both a free-spirited artistic mind and a love of logic, puzzles, and problem solving. Luckily, we found just that someone in Maggie Crisler.

Maggie works as a graphic designer, but also has a hand in managing inventory and works in the dye house. (See: a Jill-of-all-trades.) She came to us, as do many of our team members, through word of mouth. Back in 2012, our Director of Design, Olivia Sherif, mentioned to friends that we were looking for someone with a flexible schedule and some fabric cutting and sewing experience to work part time in our production department. Maggie volunteered herself and began working for us just before Christmas of that year. Her talents for illustrations and graphic design became quickly evident, so she was promoted to a full-time member of our media team.


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I have known many storytellers in my life. Some have a natural and unrehearsed style that feels captivating and immediate; some present new or unfamiliar points of view; others are quite deliberate and thoughtful in approach; all of them are enthralling to me. As a storyteller born into a family of storytellers, I find master storyteller Gael Towey both compelling and inspiring. She has a distinct perspective and is skilled at many things: crafting a storyline, discovering and highlighting the unique qualities of her subjects, eliciting a response from the audience, and designing beautiful visual elements. Her work has informed contemporary visual language in a way we can barely imagine.

I was lucky to be among Gael’s subjects as part of her series of short films about artists called “Portraits in Creativity” www.portraitsincreativity.com (and I especially love her piece on friend and heroine Maira Kalman). Each of her portraits uncover the unique qualities of her subjects and reveal Towey’s fascination with the creative process. For over two years, we have been speaking with Gael about her past, her present, and the creative processes, media, and methods she uses to propel her ideas forward.

Gael was raised in New Jersey and was the oldest of six children. She revealed that, as a child, she was mildly dyslexic and almost flunked the second and third grade because she couldn’t spell; she reversed all her consonants and vowel combinations.  She was drawn to art and studied it enthusiastically through college. “I loved printmaking and accidentally signed up for a class in typography, and I fell in love with it from the first lecture,” Towey says. “I’d never looked at the design of a letter and had not noticed how beautiful they are.” She switched her major to graphic design and graduated from Boston University, College of Fine Arts. Gael said, “I was extraordinarily lucky. I have met so many young people who don’t know what they want to do, but I always knew.  I struggled academically and art was the only thing I was good at… And it’s funny that I wound up working in the publishing business since I had no confidence in my ability to write properly.”

DESIGN: GAEL TOWEYGael worked on the book, In the Russian Stylewith Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

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Last week, we introduced you to Ashley Christensen: chef, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and badass. She is August’s featured chef in our café (and collaborator for our upcoming Piggy Bank Dinner). Ashley recently spoke to us about good food, sustainability, community, and what she has planned next.

AC: Congratulations on your recent James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. How did you celebrate? (We hope you took time to celebrate…) 

We had a total of 22 folks sitting with us at the ceremony, so we kind of brought the party with us, which was really fun. After the awards, we decided to make the party about simply having a good time with our crew. We called in a pile of to-go Shake Shack burgers, ordered a bunch of champagne and crowded about 40 friends into our little room at the Ace Hotel. We followed this celebration by attending Jamie Bissonnette’s victory party at Toro, and then the Nomad’s epic party at the Highline Ballroom. It was more perfect than I could ever find the words to describe.

AC: You currently operate five restaurants in the Raleigh, North Carolina area – with more on the way. Do you have a different role at each establishment? How do you balance your roles at each? And how have those roles changed as you continue to grow?

In addition to being the proprietor, I’m the Executive Chef for the company, but I consider my most important role at this point to be “lead catalyst”. I have lots of ideas for new projects, and for refining existing projects. My job is to make sure that we ask of ourselves to improve each day, and to see the opportunity in studying the details that guide us to do so. We have an amazing crew of folks who make it happen every day, on every level. It is also my job to provide the tools and support that make them feel competent, empowered, and appreciated.

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Last year, I was introduced to Inez Holden over a glass of dry white wine at a fundraising event in our community. Mrs. Holden’s story, told with humor and passion, reminded me that the fashion industry runs deep here in our community. Before Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid, there was Bubbles Ltd.

As Alabama Chanin continues to explore the world of machine-made fashion with our new line and manufacturing division, A. Chanin and Building 14, respectively, Mrs. Holden reminded me that we humbly follow in a line of companies that completely designed and manufactured a fashion line in The Shoals and the surrounding area.

We’ve previously spoken about the rich history of textile production in our community and some of the local manufacturers who led the nation in textile and t-shirt production, but we were excited to discover Bubbles Ltd.

Around 1983, Mrs. Holden got her start as a designer quite by accident. She bought an oversized top and banded bottom pant that she loved the style and fit of, but the material was very rough and scratchy. So, she asked a friend of hers to help her make more sets in a similar style, but out of jersey fabric. She had about five sets of these pantsuits made in different colors, but kept giving them away because so many of her friends and family wanted them.


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As part of our ongoing Heirloom series that focuses on the precious things we treasure – even though they might not be considered valuable by the rest of the world – we continue to tell stories of items that have been passed down through families, from one generation to the next.

Today, we hear from Sara Martin, one of our Journal contributors. She shares a story of her great-grandmother’s butcher knife and how a potential family scandal became a source of family pride.

From Sara:

My great-grandmother, Roxie Mae Hurst, doted on my sister and I when we were born. She passed away when I was quite young, so I don’t have many memories of her. But, my family tells stories of her frequently – of her bold actions, her stoic nature, and her toughness.

She was (somewhat scandalously during that time) married twice. In 1907, at the age of 20, she married the Circuit Court Clerk of Lauderdale County, Alabama. His family was financially well off and his brothers were both respected county judges.

My great-grandmother was not particularly well liked or respected by her first husband’s family. They were well-educated and held substantial wealth and community respect; she was bright and literate, but not formally educated. This caused a cultural and social disconnect in the family that lasted beyond her husband’s lifetime. He died unexpectedly of a stroke in April of 1912.
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This May, Alabama Chanin is featuring two of my personal heroines (and, now, dear friends) as part of our ongoing Chef Series at the café. They might not be chefs, but Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva are The Kitchen Sisters—independent producers who create radio stories for NPR and other public broadcast outlets. Davia and Nikki are two of the most genuine and real women I know. Without their dedication to telling the real story, I would not be the person I am today. Route 66 changed my perception of storytelling in the autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks; in the third story of a rented house on a square in Savannah, Georgia. Just like that my life changed.

Davia and Nikki met and began collaborating in the late 1970s, hosting a weekly radio program in Santa Cruz, California. Their name was taken from two eccentric brothers—Kenneth and Raymond Kitchen—who were stonemasons in Santa Cruz in the 1940s. One night, they were discussing the Kitchen Brothers, who were featured in a book about Santa Cruz architects, as prep for an interview with the book’s author—while also cooking dinner for a group of people on the commune where Nikki lived—and got caught up in legends of local masonry (chimneys, yogi temples, Byzantine bungalows…), and food prep fell to the wayside. Dinner that evening was a disaster, and The Kitchen Sisters were (laughingly) born.

Oral histories heavily influenced their style of radio production. Over the years, they have produced a number of series, such as Lost & Found Sound, The Sonic Memorial Project, The Hidden World of Girls, and Hidden Kitchens. Regardless of topic, Davia and Nikki find a way to build community through storytelling.

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Last year, we began a series called “Real Women,” an exploration of the real women in our lives (and throughout history) that have made a difference—one way or another—in our world. Today, we are finishing a chapter of that series: real women as seen by men.

Here you find a tribute from son to mother, written by Nashville singer/songwriter (and former English professor) Jon Byrd. Jon grew up just outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and is a dear friend of our editor, Sara. Please welcome Jon and enjoy his beautifully candid account of his mother, Margaret Tidwell Byrd.

From Jon:

The most important woman in my life, past or present, is my mother. I’m adopted; that’s probably why I feel this way. I don’t remember our first meeting, at the Alabama state orphanage in 1955, but it was obviously a life-changing moment for me.

My mother was sweet, but tough. She was not a pushover and didn’t have to win an argument or always be (perceived as) right. She had an amazing way of speaking her mind, calling someone out, and standing up for herself that made the other person in the conversation question why they were resisting her. Her strongest quality was, without question, her determination. She encouraged with empathy, compassion, integrity, and consistency.
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If you have purchased an Alabama Chanin garment or DIY kit in the last year or so, there is a chance that the fabric in your hands was also touched by Carra-ellen Russell. Carra-ellen is our Production Manager and is present at the beginning of most of the things that we make; she starts each garment and kit on its journey by cutting them and passing them along to the next phase. Pieces come back to her once they have been painted, where she helps package them with the proper notions and supplies to be given to one of our stitchers or to be shipped as a DIY kit.

Carra-ellen came to us about a year-and-a-half ago, through the suggestion of our Director of Design and Special Services, Olivia. As we were growing and looking for well-organized team members, Olivia reached out to her friend, asking her to apply to be part of our production staff. Her transition into our staff happened quite naturally after that; she says that working at The Factory was meant to be.

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Shortly after my move from New York to Alabama, I was sitting alone at our local Italian restaurant, reading magazines. After a while, a couple who’d been sitting across the room approached and introduced themselves to me. That couple, Jennifer and Robert Rausch, quickly became fixtures in my life; they’ve remained integral members of my Alabama family since that day.

These days, you can find Jennifer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the new flagship store and café at The Factory. She agreed to work with us at just the right time. The company was growing and I needed someone I could trust to help me make decisions that were thoughtful and confident. Growing a company can make one feel vulnerable; having an old friend there for support (especially one with an incredible work ethic) put me a bit more at ease.

She moves effortlessly between tasks and has a real desire to connect with everyone who walks through our door. This genuine approach, coupled with her wicked, infectious laugh, drew me to her initially and continues to make me smile, calm me, and draw me out of my shell when I become too introspective. She is practical and doesn’t hesitate to offer her opinion, even to play devil’s advocate in tough situations.

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Many of you know that we at Alabama Chanin hold a strong admiration for lyricist, musician, vocal Twitter user, and writer (among other things) Rosanne Cash. I was a fan and supporter many years before we actually met and became friends. The more that I get to know this incredible woman, the more I respect her talent and her humanity. She has said that she wears Alabama Chanin pieces on stage for nearly every performance, an honor that we do not take lightly. Rosanne has become one of our favorite clients, a dear friend, and a near-constant source of inspiration.

Many of you may know of Rosanne Cash because of her renowned family lineage. She is the firstborn daughter of revered American icon Johnny Cash. As a songwriter and performer, she is doing honest work, from her own perspective. For over 30 years, she has written and released 15 albums and four books, charted 21 Top 40 singles, including 11 Number Ones and received 13 Grammy nominations and one Grammy win. Her 2010 album, The List, was named Album of the Year by the Americana Music Awards and her upcoming album, The River and the Thread, is already garnering critical praise.

Her book, Composed: A Memoir, not only tells the story of her upbringing and explores her relationships with her parents and her famous stepmother; it is also the story of a woman in the process of discovering who she is and who she wants to be. Last year, I first read Composed on a trip to Berlin and found myself sitting in an airport terminal, openly weeping; the language is so beautiful and her story is engaging and unfailingly honest.


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Yesterday, we heard from Heather Wylie about her Bohemian Bop venture, her love of printmaking, and how she got into screen printing t-shirts. Today, Heather shares with us a recipe for screen printing at home, based on her own self-taught experience and by following You Tube videos and a few books on the subject, including Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils and Silk Screens by Lena Corwin, which we wrote about here a few years ago.

As Heather mentioned yesterday, printmaking requires many steps and each step demands careful attention in order to get the desired outcome. Anyone can print at home, but it is a lengthy process.


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Last year at MAKESHIFT 2012, one of our gatherings revolved around “Worn Stories,” an idea based on the blog, Sentimental Value, by Emily Spivack, friend of Jessamyn Hatcher. Spivack’s blog – and book, titled Worn Stories – shares the stories of garments purchased from Ebay. Those anecdotes were written by each item’s respective seller and, “are a window into people’s lives,” Spivack told the New York Times in a recent article highlighting her “Sentimental Value” exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Needless to say, Spivack has become an authority on connecting stories and clothing, which she views as works of art. Anyone who has ever made or purchased an Alabama Chanin garment knows the value we place on the quality, timelessness, and story of each project. Spivack’s mission rings very true for us.


We have long written stories and profiles of real women; however, on January 15, 2013, we began an official series that we call, “Real Women.” Here you find the latest in this series, written by Bill Simpson, our friend and father to confidante and editor, Sara Martin.  Please welcome Bill and savor his story of real women across three generations.

From Bill:

My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by amazing women, beautiful inside and out. I was raised by strong women, married a strong woman, and have three lovely, strong-minded daughters, followed by three remarkable granddaughters. Now, I have great-grandchildren: boys and girls, so I’m not quite so outnumbered anymore. But, I have been fortunate to find myself in this situation. These women have made me the man I am today.

The most important women in my life, past and present, are my grandmother (Roxie Mae pictured above), my mother (Evelyn pictured below), and my wife (Grace pictured at the bottom of this post).

My grandmother, Roxie Mae, was smart, strong, and independent and she made her way successfully through a long life. Sometimes her success was with her “man” and sometimes she found success in spite of him. She had the courage to be independent and express her opinions in a day when many women did not. My mother, Evelyn, was much like her mother. She was independent and strong, opinionated and open-hearted. She lived and loved fiercely.


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Makers and doers Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu, two friends and former Harper’s Bazaar colleagues, have teamed up to produce the first indie food magazine to celebrate women in the food world. Beautifully designed and expertly curated, Issue #1 – The Tastemaker Issue – will be released in May. I’ve just contributed to their Kickstarter Campaign, which ends this Friday, May 3rd.

Kerry Diamond, working on the editorial side at Harper’s, went on to open two wonderful Brooklyn restaurants (Seersucker and Nightingale 9) and a coffee shop (Smith Canteen) with her chef boyfriend. Claudia worked on the creative team at Harper’s, later starting her own design firm, Orphan, and the cult indie publication, Me Magazine.

These Real Women are making tremendous inroads, and doing it (really) well. Read more about Kerry Diamond on Refinery29 and more about Cherry Bombe Magazine on their Kickstarter page. Make a donation and get good magazine.

Cherry Bomb


We often hear the mantra, “Live for today.” Most of us need to slow down, curb our expectations and anxieties, and embrace the present.  And for the most part, I try to approach life that way. But we can’t always live completely in the present. Sometimes we have to plan ahead, we have to think of our future generations and give them the tools they need to make this world a better place.

It’s not always easy to be a mom (single or otherwise) and live constantly in the present. Duties call. Spilled milk may not be something to cry over, but someone still has to clean it up. I was having one of those spilled milk days – dog chaos, bills to pay, groceries to put away – when Maggie came to me with this drawing and said, “I want you to make this dress for me.” It’s a miracle I even heard her.

As you can see, the dress was made, Maggie was ecstatic, and somehow, in the midst of chaos, I was able to inspire her to believe she can make anything. The best Mother’s Day gift of all is just to have that moment when you think, “I do make a difference.”

Happy Mother/Daughter Day (coming soon) to Maggie and me… and to you and yours.


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Tastes From The Country: Central Community Center Cookbook. Vegetable and Casserole Recipes


I think that we all have memories of family dinner with Mom bringing one single bubbling hot dish to the table. I have a favorite casserole from childhood, something that my mother called “goulash” that I’m sure bears little resemblance to the actual Hungarian dish. I’m not sure that I’d even like it if I ate it today, but the thought of the curly noodles and the hearty aroma is enough to make me still believe it was practically gourmet cuisine.

Favorite Recipes: Alabama Vocational Home Economics Cookbook

The casserole as a meal is an American standard and for many years was a go-to for countless busy mothers. The name of the dish comes from the name of the vessel in which it is cooked. The word casserole is derived from the French word for “sauce pan” and made its way into the English lexicon in the early 1700’s. According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, a casserole is a “dish or pot made from material such as glass, cast iron, aluminum, and earthenware in which food is baked and often served.” The basic concept of a one-pot dish is hundreds of years old: Spanish paella, British shepherd’s pie and pot pie, Italian lasagna and macaroni and cheese. But, the casserole as we know it today is a distinctly American invention.

A traditional casserole includes some form of protein, a pasta or rice filler, vegetables, and something to bind it together, like stock or soup. They are versatile and can be made from virtually anything, which is what allowed them to become a meal time standard. The casserole as a main dish began to appear on our tables in the late 1800’s. However, their popularity grew around the time of World War I, when families were encouraged to conserve resources. A Propaganda-style poster of the day encouraged families to eat “one less ounce of meat a day” and depicted a  mother embracing her thin, emaciated children. Casseroles allowed families to ration their meat by mixing it with the other ingredients, so supposedly no one would notice that less meat was being served.

This same technique became a necessity for many during the Great Depression, when ingredients were scarce and families struggled to keep food on their tables at all. One-dish meals allowed families to stretch resources because there were often leftovers. Cooking a casserole even meant less use of the stove and less dish washing. In fact, tuna noodle casserole became so popular during this time that it appeared in The Joy of Cooking as an easy recipe to make when funds were tight.

The height of popularity for the casserole came in the 1950’s. By then, both Pyrex dishware and Campbell’s Soup were popular and easily accessible to most women. Campbell’s heavily advertised their products as essential casserole ingredients. In fact, the soups were so ever-present in American kitchens that most cookbooks included recipes with Campbell’s soups (particularly Cream of Mushroom) as ingredients. The 1955 edition of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook featured a chapter on casseroles with dozens of recipes using every readily-available protein.

In the 1960’s casseroles became a bit less fashionable and were seen as more of a working class dish. This was at least partially due to the arrival of Julia Child on the American woman’s radar. Her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published in 1961 and became a runaway success. This book made women feel less intimidated to attempt cooking more elaborate meals by giving detailed drawings and easy-to-understand instructions. By the time that Child’s television show, The French Chef, premiered in 1963, her pragmatic approach had convinced many to experiment in the kitchen.

Favorite Recipes: Alabama Vocational Home Economics Cookbook featuring pie recipes.

But, the casserole has never disappeared completely from the American culinary radar. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to casseroles. I’m sure that most of us have memories of casseroles being placed on the dinner table by mothers or grandmothers. Perhaps your remembrances are good; possibly, the thought of those meals causes you to shudder or your stomach to drop. Even so, the ease of preparation and the availability of ingredients mean that the casserole isn’t going to vanish from the American dinner table any time soon. I know that some of you are ready to grab your can opener (and throw your calorie counters out the window) to recreate some warm dinnertime memories tonight.

The Family of Woman by Jerry Mason, featuring photos of various types of mothers with their children.


I think it is pretty safe to say that midwifery is one of the first DIY skills in human existence. Certainly, the human body knows instinctively what to do when the time comes to birth a child. Still, I can’t imagine that we would have gotten very far as a species without someone learning how to assist in childbirth, give guidance to a mother, provide assistance to a newborn, and generally know how to take care of business.

It appears that learning the art of midwifery is flourishing both in the US and abroad. A recent story on public radio discussed how clinically trained midwives in rural Mexico might be a real healthcare solution for mothers living in rural areas, far from hospital care. Officials are hoping that by training professional midwives in basic nursing, gynecology, and obstetrics, they can not only help mothers without access to healthcare, but ease the burden placed upon the country’s overwhelmed hospitals. Worldwide health organizations have the same hope for other countries where physicians are scarce or far from rural communities.

Ina May Gaskin's book "Spiritual Midwifery"

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 350,000 women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Most of these preventable deaths occur in poor, rural, low income regions. They maintain that trained midwives could reduce the risk of both mother and child death during birth. About 1000 women and almost 10,000 newborns die every day due to largely preventable complications that could have been attended to by a skilled midwife. However, more than one-third of all births in the world take place without a midwife or trained health staff member.

For many expectant mothers in the United States, choosing a midwife can mean an embrace of a more natural way of life and a separation from the clinical aspects of childbirth. Some choose midwives to assist in their delivery in order to allow a more personal birth experience. Most hospitals allow midwife assistance as long as a doctor is available if intervention is needed. However, here in the U.S., more and more women are seeking home birth experiences. Often, this experience, when attended only by a midwife, is illegal in the United States – though this varies from state-to-state. Doctors and midwives continue to debate the safety of births assisted only by midwives, especially home births.

Still, stereotypes about midwives are fading. A study done by the US Centers for Disease Control found that one in every eight births in the U.S. was assisted by a midwife. Today, there are more than 5,000 certified nurse midwives in the United States who attend approximately 150,000 births annually, primarily in hospitals. Just about an hour north of our office here in Florence is a midwifery center known as The Farm that was founded by one of the most renowned midwives in the world, Ina May Gaskin. (Gaskin wrote the imperative tome Spiritual Midwifery.) This center has been open for over 40 years and the trained midwives there provide pre-natal care, assistance with delivery, and post-natal care. The center also holds training workshops to educate the next generation of midwives.

Ina May Gaskin's book "Spiritual Midwifery" showing the skeletal anatomy of the female pelvis.

In a sense, having a child has – for a woman – always been a DIY experience. But, as trained midwives continue to find a place and fill a need for women, particularly in developing nations, we may be slowly taking more responsibility for our own health.  There will always be instances when intervention via physician or hospital is absolutely necessary. But, midwives are an important option for women across the globe. Some women have the luxury of choosing to deliver using a midwife. For others, having a midwife can be the difference between life and death. The women who are studying to be clinical midwives in Mexico and some developing nations are solutions to a critical health problem. Women choosing to care for other women all over the world – re-learning and reinforcing “living arts”, educating, and empowering themselves: real women, indeed.

The Family of Woman by Jerry Mason, featuring photos of three women nursing their babies.

Images are from Spiritual Midwifery, The Family of Woman and Edward Steichen’s The Family of Man.


This year, as we celebrate Real Women and what they mean in our lives, we thought it essential to include the perspectives of both men and women. So, beginning today, we will be offering stories, thoughts, and remembrances from men of the great women in their lives.


When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of my favorite things to do was go to dinner at the Sam-Pan Chinese restaurant with my mom and my aunt Carlynn “Snoonie” Calhoun. They would order wine and Egg Foo Young and Chop Suey, and I would tear into the wonton soup and the pepper steak, and on a good night I’d be able to get a Shirley Temple if I played my cards right. They would spend hours there, telling their same old stories, sometimes ragging on the idiots in their lives (who they still seemed to have a deep affection for), but mostly telling stories about the menagerie that made up their circle of friends from 1950s Central Florida: two girlfriends who came out as gay in the 1960s and carried switchblades to handle anybody who didn’t like it, their friend in the iron lung (whom Snoonie liked to take to the Steak & Ale with her, mostly just to see peoples’ reactions), and many other characters who could easily have been created by Elmore Leonard.

After listening to them for awhile, I would spend the rest of my time running up and down the sidewalk outside the restaurant – sometimes over to the pond in a park across the street to catch frogs, sometimes ogling the toys at the Toy King. But, eventually I’d find myself in Snoonie’s car listening to her country music tapes. I’d often fall asleep there and finally get woken up and sleepily ride home with my mom.

It’s those evenings I think of when I think what a friendship should be. Listening to them enjoy each other’s company, never getting tired of the same old stories and arguments, never just saying what the other wanted to hear. That’s my model for how friends should interact and what a real friend should be.

Snoonie’s gone now. She and my mom are just two of the strong women who seemed to have filled up my life growing up – self-sufficient women who didn’t take shit off of anybody, but in the most amusing ways. It’s hard for me to single one woman out. But it’s those nights outside the Sam-Pan that I learned my respect and awe of women. I wish I could drive by there right now and take a run up the sidewalk.

-Martin Lynds




Fit is by far one of the hardest subjects to address within the realm of manufacturing. There are just so many different body types that it would be near impossible for one manufacturer to address EVERY type in one product—and often times in one line. The most basic body shapes range from round to pear, petite to lean, and every shape in between. When you start to do the math and include XXS – XXL, you come up with a number of patterns that reaches to the Nth power. When you begin to add categories such as Juniors and Misses, it becomes staggering.

Entire classes in design schools and universities around the world spend semesters working on streamlining and finding solutions for fit issues. Body scanners can now take perfect measurements of your body and supposedly create a jean that is perfect for your shape. I find that hard to believe, but based on the shape I have carried with me my entire life, I don’t really care for pants that much anyway.


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Perhaps we too often think of women in the kitchen as just that: women (moms, wives) in the home kitchen, baking cookies and making dinner for their families. Whether this is because the “Chef” title has been dominated for so many years by men, or if it’s because we – those of us in the dining room, far away from the heat and toil of the galley – simply don’t think about how many, if any, women are actually preparing our meal, is up for debate (though it’s probably a little of both). Thank you to Charlotte Druckman for bridging an important industry conversation to us laymen and laywomen. There are not enough women in professional kitchens. Druckman’s cerebral, meticulously researched work, Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen highlights some of the problems and how (some) of this is changing today.

Women are the minority in most professional kitchens, often the only female on a crew of many. Professional cooking is a difficult, physical job with long hours, weekends and holidays dedicated to work in a very hot environment. It’s more than a job. It’s a lifestyle. As in many professions, women have to make choices between work and family. Societal demands and family responsibilities sometimes curtail how a woman can CHOOSE to do her job. Additionally, women are often subject to sexual harassment, intimidation, and unfair standards—and at times these situations go unobserved and unchecked in the late night environment that surrounds this industry.


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These days, you don’t think twice about hearing a woman’s voice on the radio. There are surely female deejays or journalists on your local station. NPR broadcasts the voices and stories of women like The Kitchen Sisters or Terry Gross among others. Alabama Chanin favorite, Elizabeth Cook has her own show, “Apron Strings,” on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country. But, once upon a time, it wasn’t so common to hear a female voice over the airwaves. For those in the Shoals area, Becky Burns Phillips was one of those first voices to be broadcast.

In 1942, Rebecca “Becky” Burns Phillips met her future husband, Sam Phillips, while they were both working at WLAY radio station in Sheffield, Alabama. They were both in high school. She, 17, had a radio segment with her sister where they played music and sang; he was a 19-year old radio announcer who was on his way to making rock and roll history. The Kitchen Sisters, in an article honoring Becky, quoted Sam as saying, “I fell in love with Becky’s voice even before I met her.”  Becky described her first encounter with Sam to journalist Peter Guralnick: “He had just come in out of the rain. His hair was windblown and full of raindrops. He wore sandals and a smile unlike any I had ever seen. He sat down on the piano bench and began to talk to me. I told my family that night that I had met the man I wanted to marry.”

The two were married in 1943. Sam worked feverishly to establish Memphis Recording Service and, later, Sun Records. It is said that, during that time, he suffered two nervous breakdowns – which Becky gracefully helped him through. Becky and Sam had two sons, Jerry and Knox, but motherhood never took away her desire to work in radio.

Sam proudly spoke about how Becky’s talent inspired him to co-found WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, referred to as “The First All-Girl Radio Show in the Nation.” He would say that he wanted women, wanted his wife to have a chance that no one had ever given them before – and he co-founded WHER with the money he made from selling Elvis Presley’s contract. He would say, “Becky was the best I ever heard.”

Her son Knox remembered that, at the time of WHER’s conception, women weren’t even allowed to attend the Columbia School of Broadcasting. “But, because of my mother,” he said, “when Sam started the station (WHER) he made it all female: all female air talent, all female executives and sales staff,” he told The Commercial Appeal.

At WHER, Becky was able to shine – writing scripts, organizing segments, managing the station, and presenting in her own beautiful way. She was in charge of approving each record that was played. Though her husband was a rock and roll legend, there were no rocking records at WHER. And there were NEVER to be any curse words allowed over the airwaves. Over the years, she hosted a number of radio shows and carefully curated every day’s segments. Becky told the Kitchen Sisters, “I played music to work by – all the beautiful music like Jackie Gleason and Doris Day, and I gave household hints.”

Phillips broadcast on the radio for over 40 years, until the mid-1980’s, always with her distinctive sign-off: “A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice.”

Mrs. Phillips died in September of 2012 at the age of 87.

Becky Burns Phillips carefully preserved WHER’s record library for well over 40 years. Many of those recordings can be heard on the Peabody Award winning segment by the Kitchen Sisters, “Lost and Found Sound: 1000 Beautiful Watts.”

Listen to Becky Phillips talk about her husband, Sam, and WHER Radio for the TV Segment, “The Lives They Lived” here:

There were few like her, a true pioneer in her field. Her fearlessness and her devotion to her family and her profession are inspirational. We are proud to be part of a community that fostered a woman like Becky Phillips, a pioneer in spirit and part of the heart and soul of Alabama Chanin.

P.S.: I never met Becky Phillips.  After moving back home in 2000, I was “busy.” Building a business and sorting through my own life, closed me off to some of the great treasures (and families) of my own community. My loss.  Resolution: take time to work less and belong more.  xoNatalie

*Photo above found on The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee


I’ve mentioned this a few times here on the Journal: I am a grandmother.  And in the photo above, you see our sweet Stella Ruth.  Her hands, clearly visible, are surrounded by my son Zach’s, my dad’s, my grandmother’s, and mine.  That’s right—five generations.  You may have seen pictures of five generations in newspapers and on blogs but when it happens to you, it does feel somewhat monumental.

Full confession:

This is my second five generation photo. The photo at the bottom is 20-year-old Natalie with four-month-old Zach, my father at 40, my grandmother at 60, and my great grandmother, who we called Granny Lou, at 80. (While I am definitely not promoting teenage pregnancy, it makes it easier to get to five generations into a photo when you each have a baby at 20!)

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On Monday, Sara wrote her thoughts on fashion and designing for real people with different body types. We’ve written before ‘On Beauty’ and the comeback of pin-up style. Even though media representations might make you feel differently, the fact is that women come in so many beautiful shapes and sizes. This is a deeply important and significant subject, and will be a recurrent theme for us this year. Our journal is a platform to share our views and opinions on any matter of the body (and mind), and we always encourage you to share your own stories and thoughts in the comments section.

It’s the New Year (10 days in already), a time when many of us reflect on our life in the past year, resolve to find peace in each day, and to look ahead to new goals and achievements. 99.9% of the time, weight loss is a top goal for resolutions in the New Year.

Diet. Eat salad. Lose weight. Be skinny.

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This post – part of our new “Real Women” series – is dedicated to two of the most “real” women I know: Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters.  Without their dedication to telling the “real” story, I would not be the designer, or the person, I am today. Lost and Found Sound changed my perception of storytelling in the Autumn of 1994. I remember the first moment I heard their tracks: in the third story of a rented house on a green square in Savannah, Georgia. Boom. Life changed.

Ira Glass said of their work, “The Kitchen Sisters have done some of the best radio stories ever broadcast. I know people who got into radio because they heard Nikki and Davia’s work, and had no idea anybody could do anything like that on the air.”

These women are my heroes. (Along with a slew of others you will meet this year.)  They continue their storytelling on real women with their series: The Hidden World of Girls, and a new series entitled: The Making of…

Through a Peabody Award winning Lost and Found Sound broadcast, The Kitchen Sisters spurred my interest in this relatively unknown, yet groundbreaking group of women.

“1000 Beautiful Watts.” This was the slogan for WHER Radio – 1430 on your AM dial in Memphis, Tennessee. In October 1955, Shoals native and founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips and his wife, Becky, took an original concept and made it reality: an all-female radio station. Though the station wasn’t technically the first female station to exist, it proudly referred to itself as the “First All-Girl Radio Station in the World.” As such, WHER broadcast for 17 years in the Memphis, Tennessee market.

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I’m going to admit something that might seem a little pedestrian to some of you, perhaps a little familiar to others: I watch a lot of television, all kinds. I’m simultaneously a television snob and a consumer of frivolous content. I’m not sure how I rationalize all of that, but to quote Whitman in a post about popular culture: I am large, I contain multitudes.

So, as a consumer of all of this entertainment content, I include among my weekly dvr selections a show called Project Runway. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you have heard of or watched this reality-based competition. If so, you may be aware that each season, the contestants are given the challenge of designing for “real women,” that is, women who are not models and have normal, everyday shapes and sizes. And, without fail, every season there is a designer who throws an absolute tantrum about how difficult this challenge is, about how this isn’t what they “do” as a designer.

I know that what happens on television might not be the most accurate representation of reality, how designers design in the privacy of their studios, or how garments travel from paper to product. But, the fact that this attitude continues to present itself causes me to ask: whom do designers think that they are designing for, if not real people?

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I recently read a NYTimes article about the comeback of curvy body shapes among the Y- generation.  It seems that an increasing number of women in their 20s and 30s are finding the “calendar girl” silhouette appealing. Along with a curvaceous silhouette, the look includes Betty Page style bangs, swing skirts, and bright red lips.

The classic 50s and 60s pin-ups were before my time. By the time the 70’s arrived, the style of the day had evolved. Pin-ups looked different – beach blondes, tiny waistlines and overly-styled looks were on trend. These were the images that surrounded me when I first began to think about my own definition of beauty and develop my own sense of style. I was an awkward teenager. Growing up with limited resources in our small community, my sense of beauty and style was dictated by Seventeen Magazine. And I don’t remember anyone in my little world that looked like me. I remember my mother—who was a teacher at my school—telling me that none of the little kids looked like me. I had black hair, black eyes, a “foreign” look.  In fact, years later a friend of the family looked at my cousin and said “Pam, you have just grown up to be the most beautiful young woman.” Then, as her eyes descended upon me, she exclaimed, “And, Natalie, you are so, so, so EXOTIC.”  For a shy and somewhat delicate girl, that felt like the kiss of ugly.

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Last month, I had the incredible honor of hosting a studio visit from three amazing women who have inspired me for years. On a beautiful summer day, Rosanne Cash, Gael Towey, and Maira Kalman arrived in Florence for a two day sewing workshop and adventure. The idea for the trip was hatched on a spring afternoon in New York City and I can hardly believe that it actually happened. With incredibly busy schedules, these three women cleared their calendars, bought their tickets, organized their lives, picked up their daughters, and headed south.  Gael Towey (an incredible woman who has shaped the look of modern life as we know it) wrote about their Alabama adventure for Martha Stewart’s “Up Close and Personal Blog”. I spent an amazing afternoon with Gael talking about all things design and inspiration… that post will be coming in the next weeks.

Magpie + RUTH, my son Zach’s catering company, made a fantastic lunch for us each day. The bread pudding recipe below was a favorite with the entire crew, our Alabama Chanin team, and the photo above a favorite with our Facebook followers.

Bon Appetit,

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Sustainable. Natural. Organic. These are all words that are integral to the Alabama Chanin identity. Our core values compel us to take a holistic approach to our design methods, looking at every aspect, quality, material or person that may play a part in our production process. This way of thinking led us toward using natural dyes on our fabrics. One of the companies that carefully colors our fabrics is Artisan Natural Dyeworks based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Alabama Chanin was originally introduced to the women behind the company by a mutual acquaintance. At the time, the dye company was being run by sisters Alesandra and Sarah. The sisters, both transplants to Nashville, decided to start a business together, but wanted to make sure that it reflected their values, drew from their strengths and interests, and celebrated their deep love for the earth. Though neither sister had any experience with natural dyes (or apparel, or production), they ambitiously decided that establishing a natural dye house would perfectly integrate all of their requirements.

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It is so easy to sing the praises of Anna Maria Horner. Our frequent readers know that she has appeared on our blog before and is a friend and inspiration to Alabama Chanin. I adore her personality, a perfect mixture of sweet, sincere charm and biting wit. Her joy for life is irresistible and her prolific work is astounding.

Anna Maria is a designer of beautiful, bright fabrics, along with a host of other accessories, sewing books, and patterns. Her designs feature numerous, delicate flowers, creative shapes, and intertwining lines. In her collections, color is not a foreign concept and patterns are for mix + match. Over the years, she has partnered with more than two dozen manufacturers to design home-wares, gift items, textiles + much more. She is even the new face of Janome, a leader in sewing technology.

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If you’ve called or stopped by the studio lately, perhaps you’ve met one of our newest team members, Erin Stephenson. Erin has her hand in many pots here these days, doing everything from writing, to graphic design, to closely monitoring our organic cotton crops. Her ability to seamlessly handle multiple projects makes her an excellent fit here at Alabama Chanin – since all of us have to pitch in to keep the place running, frocks sewn, and fabrics shipped.

I met Erin at a lecture at nearby Athens State University.  She’d recently returned to Athens, Alabama, from New York, where she was working after studying Architecture at Cooper Union. Erin says that, while she was living in New York, a friend attending school at the Fashion Institute of Technology showed her one of our books – and she was shocked and proud to find that the author was from her own community.

The lecture in Athens was on a rainy day, and while I believe many people stayed home because of the rain, at the last minute Erin decided to attend. Something about her story and personality urged me to invite her to an upcoming Weekend Workshop at The Factory. She took the workshop, was very quiet, watched, listened, learned, and we went our separate ways.

About the same time, without my knowing, Erin started a blog, just to keep a journal of things that she was interested in, things that she made and cooked, and general “life in the south.” She wanted to find a way to explore, rediscover, and document this place where she grew up. She took up sewing as a hobby, making many of our projects. She says it was very therapeutic and calming to stitch and make.

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Sometimes, the hectic nature of running Alabama Chanin makes me feel that we are all running at a frantic pace. I’ll be answering a ringing phone, hurriedly returning emails, picking up Maggie from school – then, I’ll glance up and notice that our Production Department is completely calm. They are moving fluidly along, peacefully and happily making, sewing, cutting, doing. This serene productivity comes to us through our Studio Directress, Diane Hall, and now, Olivia Sherif, who is following in Diane’s footsteps.

Olivia came to Alabama Chanin at just the right time and set about making herself indispensable almost immediately. You see, when Diane turned in her five-year notice, I experienced a not-so-slight panic (along with a few tears). Continue reading


When I began work at Alabama Chanin almost 10 years ago, I had no concept of what the company did or what it would eventually mean to me. I walked into my interview in my only suit, having answered an advertisement in the paper. As soon as I found out what the company did, I broke into a cold sweat.

Luckily for me, they hired me. As I worked each day at my computer, I would glance over at the beautiful garments being produced with a jealous eye. I wanted to know how to make things as amazing as these. But I didn’t know how.

Natalie has often talked about the importance of preserving the “living arts,” those things that are essential to our survival – things that we as a society have forgotten or simply chosen not to learn. I was a perfect example of the person who never learned these skills.

My mother cooked family dinners, but she worked hard all day and it sometimes seemed a joyless task for her. She could make delicious meals, but after a day’s work it was often a chore. I was always fascinated to watch my paternal grandmother – a former cafeteria cook – craft large, luscious meals. I would watch pots bubble on the stove all day, their contents creating amazing smells. She was happy as she stirred those sauces or rolled out her biscuits; there was real joy and pride there. I wanted to understand it.

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As Alabama Chanin has grown, part of the beauty of this growth has been my ability to watch our employees and families spread their wings, grow, and find their voices. A few months back, June started to use her voice to tell our stories through her own experiences. Today, Sara Martin makes that same leap and stretches her voice. As I wrote about Sara a few weeks back, she was like a child when she first showed up at my studio. What a treasure to see her make this leap from child to beautiful woman. A hearty Alabama Chanin welcome to Sara’s voice on this blog… xoNatalie

I’ve never been conventionally beautiful. I’ve always known this. I’m just a little bit shorter, a little rounder than the pretty girls; I’ve always laughed a little louder, been a bit more vulgar and less delicate than a southern woman is expected to be. Like most young girls, I struggled with trying to figure out what it meant – this difference. And I tried to negotiate my way through what was expected of me and what I expected of myself.

In the not-so-distant past, tattoos were considered unattractive; to many, they still are. Tattoos have long been the domain of sailors, bikers, outlaws and prisoners. So, how do we reconcile this type of art with femininity? Is it possible to love the skin that we live in and still change it?

Most women I know use some sort of enhancement to make them feel better about what they see as imperfections. Many dye their hair – or buy someone else’s hair to improve upon what they naturally have. We’ve been known to wear high heels to make us taller and Spanx to make us thinner. Some women look to plastic surgery, Botox, face creams and bronzers to enhance the figures and faces they were born with. For me, the process of learning to love myself meant getting underneath my own skin.

I got my first tattoo right out of high school. I found that I liked the way that it made me feel about myself. I got another, and then another. Most of them were easily hidden – something I kept for myself or revealed only to people that really knew me. As I slowly gathered these pieces I discovered that, even in moments of intense self-loathing, I had something about myself that I loved. I chose this about myself. I may not have loved what my thighs looked like, but this I was proud of. I did this.

Now, as an adult, I’ve finally come to terms with who I am on the inside. I like my loud laugh and my off-color jokes. I’m learning more and more to love who I am outside, too. But, I still struggle with some things, as most women do. These days, I view my insecurities as mountains or undiscovered continents – somewhere to conquer and plant a flag. My arms are my latest Mount Everest. I’m learning to love them, but on my own terms and one tract of skin at a time.

I’m still a work in progress. I’m painting my masterpiece, one bit of ink at a time.
– Sara

P.S.: Sara’s Reverse Applique Alabama tattoo (Note the Angie’s Fall Pattern)  by Adam “The Kid”, at Kustom Thrills in Nashville, Tennessee, + photo thanks to Gina R. Binkley.


If you have been able to read this blog without finding a comma splice and with only an occasional misspelled word, this is because of Sara Martin. Sara came to work with our company when she was a baby – not that she really was, it just felt that way back in 2003 when she started. She brought computer skills, writing skills, a sense of humor and a willingness to do anything; she also brought her own tools to cut plywood to grace my newly purchased shelves, inventoried and organized my reference library, made systems, and generally kept us straight.

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Those of you who follow us on Twitter, Facebook and/or Tumblr, know that I was in New Mexico over the holidays. What resulted from this adventure was a love for the west and an understanding of why so many artists and creative types have settled to work there.  I was deeply impacted by the beauty, spirit, and (perhaps mostly by) the clear, crisp air. The day my friend Jennifer and I landed we spotted four rainbows.  Our friend Jeff wrote that such an unlikely experience is “possibly an indicator of good fortune to come.”

My blog post at EcoSalon this Friday is about our trip and the inspiration I found in a woman – long dead – named Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Thanks to EcoSalon for the continuing bi-weekly collaboration – read all of my stories there and make sure you let them know what you like.


“I can’t believe that I am doing this.” Wait. Laugh. Repeat.  These were the words I kept echoing over and over again as I sat at Gate B27 in the Atlanta Airport. My girlfriend, Jennifer Venditti, is sitting across from me, looking like a vision of New York City chic. I stare at her in amazement. We are waiting to board a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with plans to catch up on the last six months of one another’s lives.

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I arrived in Alabama from New York on December 23rd, 2000, to start the project that has become Alabama Chanin.

When I was writing the proposal for the project, I called my aunt Elaine to ask if she might help me find a house to rent near her, in the community where my grandparents had been raised. She had just moved back herself, after years of living and working abroad and I thought – who better to help?

My aunt was living in my maternal grandparents’ home. As a newborn baby, I was brought home to this house. It has been the only constant in my life since my birth. Growing up, I spend a LOT of time with my grandparents and knew their land like the back of my hand.

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My friend Jennifer Venditti has been an inspiration to me since our first meeting a decade ago in New York.  She is one of those friends who I don’t talk to every week but when we do, the stories unfold. We have trips to documentary film festivals behind us and many a trip ahead of us I am sure. (Taos is next on the agenda.)

I met Jennifer at the time I had just started working on what would become Alabama Chanin.  She had a growing casting agency and also worked on a line of clothing with our friend Molly Stern-Schlussel, called M.R.S. (More about our upcoming collaboration with Molly and M.R.S coming soon.)

Jennifer is often credited with changing the face of beauty over the last ten years, mostly due to her unerring eye and a diligence for street casting. She has transformed “unusual beauty” into mainstream beauty in a decade of work, not to mention directing and producing an award winning documentary film called Billy the Kid that speaks to what it means to be an outsider.

At one point in the film, Billy says, “I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m not foreign… I’m just different in the mind…”

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When introducing guests to our office staff, I always have to stop and take a breath at Diane Hall.  Over the years, she has just become so much to me and to all of our staff.  Like Steven, she has held just about every imaginable job and done or touched just about every task we have in the entire studio – except for accounting. Her current title is Studio Directress, a term that I love since her heart and soul are at the very center of our studio; however, her usual introduction goes like this: “Please meet Diane, our Studio Directress, master seamstress, patternmaker, friend, mother, sister, and company ethicist.” Diane is the person that I always consult when I have a question on ethics. Her kind heart and fair spirit can always see straight through a situation and can usually find an equitable solution for everyone involved.  She is the sort of person that summons kindness in all of those around her.

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Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you smile and laugh and sigh all at the same time. My Mom, Style Icon, by Piper Weiss – published by Chronicle – is just that book.

(While I didn’t get this posted in time for Mother’s Day, every day is Mother’s Day around my house! “Mama, can you get me something to drink?  Mama, when are you going to wash this dress?  Mama, I love you…”)

The pictures of all the Mamas are lovely, funny and define their eras; but, what I love most are the stories they tell.

I hope that my 5-year-old daughter will one day look back at the bric-a-brac of my fashion life and sigh, ”My Mom, Style Icon.”

Yes that is me – circa 1979 – and yes, that is a Honda Civic AND a peace sign. The writing on the car window reads, “Chapel Hill or Bust.” I am thinking that my photo might fall under one of the  categories in Chapter 3, “Moms Gone Wild:  Rebels, Ragers, and Road Warriors.”


For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans.  Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.

Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts.  I want to express my deep gratitude.  Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).

Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…

*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus


Many of my regular readers know a bit about my history… but to sum it up for those of you that are new:

In the year 1999, I took (what I thought to be) a four month sabbatical from my life and loves in Vienna, Austria. Beginning on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela, my plan was to end my travels in New York City, spend one month, then go home to Vienna.  That never happened.

I went to New York City, one month became two, two months became three and – obviously – I never moved back to Vienna.  In the course of my extended sabbatical, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt and a company called Project Alabama was born.  The history of Project Alabama and my subsequent move to Alabama Chanin has been well documented – no need to elaborate.  However, the simplified version above skips over so many, many people who are intricate to making Alabama Chanin the company that it is today.

Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York is one of these people.  She came to a make-shift “showroom” in the Hotel Chelsea and that first collection of recycled t-shirts came to life.  She consequently went out into the fashion industry and told everyone she met about the work.  Julie and the amazing buyers at Barneys have bought, sold and paid for every subsequent collection since the year 2001 – including the difficult time during the transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin.

I luckily have had the opportunity to get to know Julie Gilhart over the last decade and the honor to call her “friend.”  And through this friendship, I heard the following story about a year ago:

It was the year 2000 and Julie had taken some time at the end of the year to hear a lecture from the Dalai Lama. After this amazing experience, she returned to her office at Barneys early in 2001 to be confronted with a pile of fashion week invitations and catalogs that covered the span of her desk and reached above eye-level.  The sheer amount of information was overwhelming.  She sat there looking at the pile, wondering where to start when a colleague from Barneys stopped by her office.  The visitor picked up a brochure from the Dalai Lama that Julie had lying on her desk, thumbed through and remarked, “This is everything we don’t do.”  Julie looked at the colleague, replied, “You are right.  We have to get out-of-here right now.”  She looked at the pile of invitations and catalogs on her desk, reached for a random item and pulled out a hand-made catalog from a new company:  Project Alabama.

Consequently, Julie called the number on the catalog, took a cab to the Hotel Chelsea, and Alabama Chanin came to life on that day.

Amazing to me that a decade of work can come from one simple moment of faith and belief…  stemming from a committed, brilliant, beautiful, rich, spiritual, whole, funny, light, surfing, friend of a woman.

Since those simple beginnings in 2000, I have had the opportunity to lecture and hold workshops around the globe on sustainability in design and to act as an expert in the fields of micro-economics and the use of local labor.  Alabama Chanin and me, Natalie Chanin, are what we are today because of the unfettered belief and support of Julie Gilhart. I am deeply indebted.

Julie’s recent departure from Barneys New York marks a new milestone in her own personal journey; a journey that I am sure will be filled with richness and beauty.

Life is, truly, in the details.

P.S.: Listen to 200 One-of-a-Kind T-shirts

**T-shirt #90  “Sister Shirt” – shown above – was part of that very first collection and photographed by me.


What to say about Anna Maria Horner?

I love her. Not just because of her lovely fabrics. Not because of her books.
Not because of her calming aesthetic. I just really love her.
We have bonded (in short, stolen moments) over everything from food, family, work, studio, children (she has six to my two) and sewing, to illness in our families, gardening, and everyday life.
Before I was able to spend time with Anna Maria, I thought that she might just be – you know – a little too sweet. I mean just look at her. NOT SO, her spunk, cheerful sprit and dry humor overwhelmed me with respect – and side-splitting laughter.
I have been sitting with Handmade Beginnings – her newest book – like a good cup of coffee. What I find most beautiful about the book is how family radiates from every page. She is mother, designer, wife, writer and friend.
Congrats to Anna for a lovely story to add to your library:
I will be making Nesting Cubes for all the babies in my life…
and looking forward to our next visit.
From Handmade Beginnings:”Every family has a story. Each time we’ve welcomed a new baby, the story of our own family has a new beginning. Our children have brought more than their own chapter to our story, but they have, in fact, rewritten the rest of us. The whole family, together and individually, is remade into something it wasn’t before- something we wouldn’t have ever guessed or expected. I have always felt compelled during my pregnancies to make items for the new one. Similar to the quintessential image of an expectant mother working away with her knitting needles on a pair of baby booties, I set out to stack fabrics and ideas in high piles that I can work through as my belly grows. Perhaps its just the typical nesting that all mothers go through, or maybe its nervous energy. Whatever the explanation, answering the desire to create as I await a new baby seems to be my own way of nurturing.”
Congrats to Nicole DeCamp for being our sweepstakes winner! And thank you to everyone who commented and shared their stories… prosperous sewing to all.


“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.” Helen Keller

Helen Keller was born and raised in Tuscumbia, Alabama, just across the Tennessee River from my home in Florence. Every year, my Grandfather Perkins would take us to see The Miracle Worker. My cousins and I always looked forward to going – not because of the content of the show – but because it was summertime and we were happy to be together. It is only since I am a grown woman that I understand the true accomplishments of this remarkable person.

This year, as part of our Alabama Studio Weekend, we will be hosting a dinner on the grounds of Ivy Green. Storytellers from around the south will grace a stage where, long ago, a small girl challenged the world, against all odds, with the steady guidance of her teacher, mentor and friend Annie Sullivan.

Learn more about Helen Keller here:

The Story of My Life

The Miracle Worker


I recently asked my friend Angie Mosier about brining chicken & her reply was that ”everything you need to know about brining chicken can be found in The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock.”

I learned from Anige that you cannot write about the southern table without paying homage to the great Edna Lewis.

Her cookbooks remain coveted kitchen tools today:

The Edna Lewis Cookbook – Out of Print

The Taste of Country Cooking

In Pursuit of Flavor