Vol. 6, No. 6
June 2019

50 Years Ago You Had To Call Jane

  by Jess Kozik

"Pregnant? Don't want to be? Call Jane at 643-3844." 
This spring marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of Jane.  Jane, formally known as the Abortion Counseling Service  of Women's Liberation was an underground network of women that performed abortion services from 1969 until 1973 in Chicago. Almost 100 women were members, but typically no more than 20 to 30 at a time over the course of the organization's run. Members ranged from housewives to college students to teachers. It is estimated that they carried out about 11,000 abortions. The informal name came from the contact name they would use to protect their identities. Member Laura Kaplan stated that part of the reason they picked "Jane" was because "we wanted an Everywoman name because we were for every woman having exactly as many children as she wants, when she wants, if she wants."
It was activist on the rise and University of Chicago student, Heather Booth who struck the match that would lead to the creation of Jane when her friend's sister was  pregnant and desperately needed an abortion. At the timeabortion was illegal in Illinois except when necessary to save a mother's life. A majority of other states also had similar restrictions. So where do you go? Whodo you call? 
Booth used her contacts to find a doctor that would be willing to help. Word spread from there. Call after call from women in need of abortion services came pouring  in to Booth. She started organizing and getting more women and doctors involved. She eventually went on to get married and pregnant and passed on the torch to her fellow friends and organizers Jody  Howard and Ruth Surgal in 1969. And like that, Jane began.
The organization grew to be a well-oiled machine. They had a secure group of doctors, word-of-mouth networks, ads in alternative and student newspapers, and multiple apartments they used as "the Front", where women showed up the day of their abortions with friends or their kids, and "the Place" where the women would be driven to for the abortion to be performed. 
At first, they used doctors to perform abortions, but members eventually took it upon themselves to learn how to safely perform the procedures and thus lower the cost for women in need, although they also never refused  anyone because of an inability to pay
Eventually the organization would come to an end as it stopped being  necessary when on January 22, 1973 the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was mademaking abortion legal until the fetus reaches viability at around 24 to 28 weeks. Abortion was finally a woman's right, and Jane was now a thing of the past. 
I take this moment and use these words to honor the legacy of women that came before me and decided to do something about the injustices around them. I value and appreciate what they did. I am fortunate to have grown up in a time where abortion is legal, and I hope to grow old in a time where that is still the case for every state in this country. As of now, that hope is being threatened. 
This year alone, nine states have passed abortion restrictions. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio have passed bills that prohibit abortion after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, which is right around the time doctors can begin detecting a fetal heartbeat. Alabama has passed a near-total ban on abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The bills passed in the nine states will face lengthy court battles so luckily the bans are not in effect yet. But the reality of needing another organization like Jane, feels too close to becoming the truth. 
Hope is still alive and well though, as other states have made  moves to support abortion rights, especially Illinois. Earlier this month, Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Reproductive Health Act into law. The Reproductive Health Act repeals the Illinois Abortion Act of 1975 and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. 
Abortion is a woman's right. You shouldn't have to call Jane. 

The Pre-K Program Roll Out at CPS and Its Problems

by Jackie Kirley

Before withdrawing from the race for a third term, then Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced another extension of the Chicago Public School (CPS) experience for Chicago's children: free, full-day Pre-K for four-year-olds by 2021. The program is designed to roll out incrementally, beginning with pupils from lower-income families. 
Now that CPS teachers and parents have had some experience with the program, they are raising questions about the age-appropriateness of the curriculum and about the efficacy of a centralized enrollment system.  
The Curriculum
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is an 80-year-old professional membership organization that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research (from NAEYC's website). At the heart of NAECY's Developmentally Appropriate Practices for preschoolers is a positive, nurturing relationship with an adult and an awareness of individual differences among the children.  This approach suggests a curriculum that allows the teacher to personalize her approach to individual children and to innovate in group play when she sees a need. 
Early Childhood Educators speaking at a March 20, 2019 joint meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union's Women's Rights Committee and of Early Childhood Educators, described frustrations with CPS' curriculum.   The curriculum is so structured that they cannot innovate, and they are constantly under time pressure to complete each part.  They are expected to introduce technology during instruction, and they are forbidden to schedule nap time for the children.  They also spoke of having too many special education students in the classroom who could not work in that structured atmosphere. 
At a CTU listening meeting for teachers and parents on May 30, one Pre-K teacher said that Pre-K was the new kindergarten and kindergarten was the new first grade. The CPS website proclaims "Pre-K provides children with essential opportunities to learn and practice the social-emotional, problem-solving, and academic skills that they will use throughout their lives."  The teachers I listened to do not quarrel with the goals CPS has set, but they question if this highly structured curriculum is appropriate for 4-year-olds. 
The Enrollment Process 
The CPS website, under Early Childhood Education Information Programs, covers enrollment for both community-based organizations as well as CPS Pre-K.  Parents are obliged to enroll their children through this centralized application system online. At a May 30th Early Childhood Meet Up of parents and educators sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), parents bemoaned the fact that they could not just walk into their neighborhood school and enroll their child.  Teachers corroborated the parents' experience.  They helped parents who did not have access to a computer, who did not know how to use that enrollment software, or who just had trouble navigating the CPS website. Parents attending the meeting also complained that they did not have easy access to someone who could answer questions, such as about special education or bilingual programs.  The whole process was confusing to the parents.  Both parents and teachers expressed the idea that they wished parents could register for their neighborhood school and could do so with the local teachers. 
If former Mayor Emanuel's innovation with free Pre-K education for 4-year-olds is to succeed, it appears that both the curriculum and the registration process will need some revisions. With a new administration, perhaps they will be coming.

Review of Lifting As They Climbed 

Reviewed by Sue Straus, WWHP

Lifting As They Climbed: Mapping a History of Black Women on Chicago's South Side--A Self Guided Tour  by Mariame Kaba and Essence McDowell. 2nd edition, June 2018 is a beautifully put-together book. It includes the map of the route to take on the tour and includes profiles of the women who had lived and worked there.
I appreciated the book, beginning with Kaba's preface which traces her life in Chicago from when she arrived in Chicago to her return to New York City, a span of 21 years.  The book grew out of Kaba's interest in historic places of Black Women in Chicago and led to her tours of these sites. Later, Kaba partnered with Essence McDowell and was encouraged to continue the research which led to the completion of this book.
Some of the women included in this book, such as Loraine Hansberry and the Rev. Addie Wyatt are better known, but from the first woman profiled, Mary Jane Richardson Jones (1819 - 1910), to the last, all are inspirational.  Richardson Jones was born a free Black woman in Memphis Tennessee in 1819.  Mary and her husband, John, moved to Chicago in 1845 and took part in the Underground Railroad movement.  Mary also took part of the Women's Rights' movement.  Prominent people of the day visiting Chicago such as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chatman Catt and others were part of their network.  John Jones donated the land on the corner of Harrison and Plymouth Court to the city of Chicago with the stipulation that it be used for a public school, which later became the site of Jones College Prep.
The last woman profiled, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, (1889 - 1961),  was born and raised in Arkansas. She was a black nationalist who founded the Peace Movement of Ethiopia in 1932.
We learn the history of Chicago through the profiles of these women who were leaders and participants in the Civil Rights and Women's movements: artists, educators and many others, whose legacy inspires us to continue their work.
I highly recommend Lifting As They Climbed for anyone interested in Chicago's history and in walking in the path of these important Black Women on Chicago's South side.
You can visit their website  www.chicagoblackwomentour.com  for more information.

Vivian Nesbitt to Perform as Mother Jones

When long time organizer, songwriter and author Si Kahn first told actor Vivian Nesbitt about his musical Mother Jones in Heaven in 2014, he set an alchemic process in motion. Vivian still remembers how it felt listening to and watching Si as he passionately declaimed the musical's opening lines and sang snippets of the songs. As they talked animatedly together in the busy exhibit hall of the largest folk music conference in North America, puzzled participants rushing by, time stopped for Vivian.  "I felt as if Mother Jones herself had tapped me on the shoulder," she recalls, and said,  " Get To Work!"
Fast forward five years, the gold spun in that serendipitous conversation is ready to share and shine.  On November 1st Vivian Nesbitt  takes the stage as Mary Harris "Mother" Jones  at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, IL for a very special performance of Mother Jones In Heaven co-sponsored by the Mother Jones Heritage Project and the Working Women's History Project. Accompanying her on guitar and vocal harmony is her spouse John Dillon , of the syndicated public radio program Art of the Song. Together the couple skillfully set the pace for Si's compelling script and original songs.  
After seeing an early version of the show at the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival last year, legendary North Carolina storyteller Connie Regan-Blake wrote, "It is one of the best theatrical productions I have ever seen. A musical with drama, humor and pathos, this play is a brilliant, compelling, entertaining example of how art/creativity can potentially open our eyes and hearts and minds to get involved, and know that one person, one action can change our politics, our world!"  
rousing, somewhat raunchy musical about "the most dangerous woman in America" who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led the charge for better working conditions and fair pay for miners, mill workers and child laborers, the show opens as Mother Jones arrives in "Heaven" to discover that it's identical to her favorite Irish pub. Over the course of the 75-minute performance and a lot of Irish whiskey, she looks back over her life, sifting through her storied past, trying to balance the scales: her methods and practices, her reputation and results. Si Kahn's musical weaves powerful, emotional songs with often hilarious tales of a hellion in her prime.
For any musical theatre writer, at first their songs and scripts only exist on the page. They can achieve their full depth and richness only when inspiring actors and musicians bring them to life on stage. This is exactly what Vivian Nesbitt and John Dillon have done with my musical Mother Jones in Heaven.  I'm honored to celebrate my 75th birthday year  with  these two lifetime artists who have joined together with me to bring Mother Jones to audiences across the country, just when we need her the most.  
--Si Kahn, Charlotte, New Year's Day 2019.
Katherine Connelly and Amy Laiken at 
City Lit Bookstore, June 23,  2019

Amy Laiken, WWHP President, was the discussant of
 A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change, a series of papers written by E. Sylvia Pankhurst and edited by Katherine Connelly. Pankhurst wrote these papers about her 1911 and 1912 tours of the United States during which she visited many parts of the country, including Chicago. 

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