PRENOTE: Last Thursday I had a unique opportunity, which I want to share.  An organization I’ve long been part of has a Third Thursday Film each month, and the offering was the film “Worth”, a 2020 Netflix release starring Michael Keaton as Ken Feinberg, about compensating the survivors of 9-11-01 victims.  The ‘drill’ for Third Thursday is to watch the film first, then join on-line discussion about the film.  The guest, Thursday, was Ken Feinberg himself, who was played by Michael Keaton in the film.  The conversation was an outstanding hour plus and the conversation can be watched on-line at the Global Solutions website, here.  DO WATCH THE FILM FIRST.


October 17 my friend, Kathy, asked me to send a copy of an obit she had read, and wanted to send on to someone.  She thought I knew the person who had died.   I’m still not certain, since the single contact would have been over 40 years ago at a meeting.

I followed through, and it occurs to me that this is an obit well worth reading, even though it is probably the longest newspaper obit I have ever seen.  You can read it here.  Take the time: Nina Rothchild (click to enlarge).  About the only observation I will make about Nina Is that she came to be noted at a crucial time in the women’s movement, long, and still, evolving but particularly evident in the 1970s.

I’ll take the risk of making a few observations, but mostly it would be nice to hear from women, perhaps using Nina’s story as a basis for conversation, perhaps not.

Just yesterday, after a memorial service for a deceased teacher union staff colleague, three of we former staff, all men, recalled the impact of Title IX in our work, particularly in the later 1970s and 1980s.  (My personal career in teacher union work was 1972-2000.)

Most of our members were women, then; but almost all of the public education managers – Principals and such – were men.  This extended to Union staff.  Anyone can fill in the abundant blanks.  You pick the occupation.

I’m a family historian, and a number of years ago I came across what I felt was a remarkable photograph from the 1940s. It included my grandmother.   It was remarkable not only in that the photo was entirely women, but on the back of the photograph every woman was named by someone with legible handwriting.

But what was most remarkable of all was that every single one of the 20 or so women were identified as “Mrs. so-and-so”, including one woman, I found later, who was not married, or at least my source said, no one had ever seen or even heard of a husband of the woman in the tiny town.  The women pictured were likely part of a church organization and thus, in a sense, all activists.  But their first name, in effect, was “Mrs”, and the person who wrote their names was probably also a woman.

It was intriguing.

Much more recently I came across a newsletter dated November, 1963, of a state peace and justice organization which still exists.  The newsletter was publicizing a group of speakers for an annual event recognizing the founding of the United Nations.  “Whoever speaks of and for the United Nations speaks for Man” read part of the article.  Then the 15 speakers were listed.  Four were women, three of them “Mrs.”, one “Rev. Mrs.”  (Two of the women had their given first name, the other two, their husbands name.)

Among the men, four were identified as “Dr.”, the rest simply listed by first and last name.  (It was duly noted in the same newsletter article that there were eight “women who worked on the committee and hanged appointments between the speakers and the schools….“. Seven of the eight were Mrs [husbands first name]; the eighth, Ola, was apparently a single woman.)

I could go on and on.

Earlier this month, at Church, I was intrigued by a phrase in the Gospel reading from Mk 10:2-12 – the one where Moses had the law that a man could divorce his wife; but “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”  It occurred to me, and I wrote my Pastor afterwards, about the current contradiction in terms: “We – none of us – know what God really thinks.  God is a construction of our own beliefs (plural) often fashioned to fit our own construct.  This has always been true in every society, every belief system for all of human history.”  I have no problem believing in God, but I draw the line at humans defining what God thinks about marriage, divorce, even “life”, or anything at all for that matter – all of which are meddle’d in by the self-proclaimed Moses of our times, who usually are men, regardless of denomination.

The business of male and female has a pretty long history, as we know.  About half of us are men, half of us are women.  Change is happening but very slowly.

Have at it.  I’m glad Kathy alerted me to Nina’s obit.

POSTNOTE:  Last night (Sunday Oct 24) I stayed up long past my usual bedtime to watch the MSNBC Special “Civil War (or who do we think we are)“.  It had far too many ads – the price one pays for television – but the program was outstanding food for thought, regardless of one’s point of view.  I hope it is available to others. Here’s the link to MSNBC.  I have no other details about whether or when it will be rebroadcast.  Do take the time.  This is our collective problem as a society.  Avoidance won’t solve it.

COMMENTS (more at end of post)

from Fred: Your comment about mid-20th century women being identified as Mrs. instead of their given name resonates. Over the years, I’ve spent many hours trying to the first names of even prominent women.

Example: Mrs. A.T. Anderson of Minneapolis was one of the founders of the Minnesota Suffrage Association and a state leader in the Temperance movement. There were more than a few Anderson in Mpls at the 20th Century’s turn. After many dead ends, I lucked out (don’t recall exactly how but it had to do with finding her husband first) and found her.

Now AMANDA Anderson is rightfully known through that article I wrote for MN History on the MWSA.

from Jeff: I watched some of that Civil War documentary as it is an area of interest to me, however I watched it a few weeks ago on a streaming format.  I just looked it is on Peacock….and since I do not pay for that service, it is on the free version and able to be viewed still ….

I am reading “Robert E Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause” by Ty Seidule…..the author is retired military and former history professor at West Point who was raised in Virginia and has written an excellent dissection of the Lost Cause  in a very personal way weaving in his own experience with the history.  I expected a dispassionate historian discussion , quite the opposite it is both informed and factual but also intensely personal …recommended.
As to the knowledge of God, it’s good to see some of the apostasy is rubbing off…..
There is an excellent piece on today’s Israel in todays NY Times… talk about men thinking they know what God has ordained…oy vay.
from Steve: As usual, thanks for the note and thoughts. I did have the chance to meet Nina Rothchild. Her husband, Ken, was president of the MN Historical Society’s Board while I worked there. He and the Society’s director, Nina Archibald, were instrumental in getting the legislature to appropriate money for the new History center. Ms. Rothchild was quite a woman. A real inspiration, and not just for women. Nina Archibald was another influential person in the arts and politics of the 1980s to 2000. When she retired from the Society, I think she served as an interim director of the MN Opera Company. She was quite a remarkably talented and brilliant person.


7 replies
  1. MaryEllen Weller
    MaryEllen Weller says:

    Dick, Way back, in the 1970s, I worked with the MN Coalition to Support the Equal Rights Amendment. Nina Rothchild was already an admired and established leader. I met her once, only once. The impression has remained strong.

    With regard to the Mrs. Husband’s Name phenomenon, the practice is embedded in Anglo culture as deeply as the Christian faith. There is a complicated explanation but basically it has to do with accepting the idea that women’s (divinely-ordained) highest possible status is as wife and mother. To get there, marriage was a necessary and coveted step. That ‘Mrs.’ declared rank and status in an accepted hierarchy.

    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      You and I share interest in our French-Canadian affiliation. Your comment reminds me of the January 22, 1730 marriage contract ofmy ancestors Pierre Bernard and Marie Genevieve Giroux at Beauport QC. The handwritten document is lengthy and hardly legible and in old French, and luckily I got access to it through an expert in Quebec 25 or more years ago. Without going deep into the weeds, here’s what I recall of the meaning of the contract: first, it was a civil contract, and it was required before what was probably also required, marriage before a Priest which was to be February 5, 1730. It was witnessed by assorted folks, including the parents. It basically (my opinion) presumed that one or the other of the parties would die young – not uncommon in those days – so it had to deal with things like dowries, etc., under the civil law of the time. I understand (I might be wrong) that the French were and remain quite enlightened in terms of identifying the family links of both husband and wife (Bernard/Giroux). But the thing I first noticed was that the civil contract came first, in this nation, which was heavily Catholic at the time, and the Church had a lot of power.


    I got into it late. I hope to see the whole program (or record it) next time it is on. Very disturbing, but needs to be addressed soon.

  3. Jane
    Jane says:

    I enjoyed Nina’s obituary. She was part of the the second wave of feminism, or just plain-old ‘women’s rights.’ I spent much of 2020 researching the Minnesota suffragists, who were the first wave. Several of them had ‘disappeared’ from history. One of my favorites, Bertha Moller, deserves a long obituary like this one! As Covid destroyed the suffrage centennial, it also removed new research for MNopedia about Bertha. Perhaps it will be returning and I can give Bertha her due at long last!

  4. cathy manning
    cathy manning says:

    Thank you, Dick. I don’t always take time to read your blogs. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about MN History (especially women’s history) and those trailblazers for women’s rights and human rights. I will definitely follow up on the movie and discussion.


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