Podcast #23: Bessie Blount & Flo Kennedy

Episode 23 is our first from New York City! It showcases two incredible black women who made major achievements in their fields. First off, journalist Amy Padnani tells us about the nurse, wartime inventor, and handwriting analyst Bessie Blount, followed by researcher Deborah Streahle on the radical feminist lawyer Florynce “Flo” Kennedy. Recorded live at KGB’s Red Room, and produced and presented by Susan Stone in May 2019.

Also available on Soundcloud, Spotify, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Acast.

Show notes & pics:

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A young Bessie Blount, having taught herself to write with her feet and her mouth.

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And here she is passing on that knowledge. Elmira Advertiser, April 24, 1958

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Bessie’s invention, as patented in 1951

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As a handwriting analyst in later life. The Daily Journal

You can read Amy Padnani’s obituary for Bessie Blount in the New York TimesOverlooked section, which Amy herself established. We thoroughly approve of this new initiative.

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And on to Florynce “Flo” Kennedy.

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Early lawyer years, from her book (see below)

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A couple of our favorite pics showing Flo’s confident style

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Flo Kennedy at the N.O.W. march in 1972. Photo by Bettye Lane, courtesy of Schlesinger Library

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For further reading, there’s Kennedy’s autobiography with the great title Color Me Flo. My Hard Life and Good Times. Deborah also highly recommends Sherrie M. Randolph’s Florynce “Flo” Kennedy. The Life of a Black Feminist Radical.

And it looks like there may be a documentary in the works, directed by Keirdra Bahruth.

Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon. Special thanks to Molly O’Laughlin Kemper for taking the Dead Ladies Show to New York City… and running with it!

Thanks for listening! We’ll be back with a new episode in June.

Dead Ladies Show NYC #7

Lucky number seven! Also, a tale of two Flor(e/y)nces (and a Muriel). Please join us at the KGB Bar (on Labor Day, how appropriate) for the DLS NYC on Wednesday, May 1, from 7-9pm PER USUAL!

I am excited to welcome to the stage Victoria-sponge enthusiast KRISTINA MCCLENDON, well-meaning library absconder SHEILA ENRIGHT, and historical-conversational igniter DEBORAH STREAHLE to present—respectively—a radical Victorian reporter, a literary Dame (and we do mean Dame), and a powerful black feminist lawyer in pink sunglasses. All to be gently nudged along by your host, MOLLY O’LAUGHLIN KEMPER.

Free admission; please buy a drink or two to ensure the future of DLS NYC at KGB.

Florence Dixie

Lady FLORENCE DIXIE (1855–1905) was a radical Victorian writer, adventurer, activist, and feminist. As the first female war correspondent to be appointed by a British newspaper, Dixie covered the ongoing conflict during the first Boer War. A prolific writer, she published books, articles, and essays describing her travels across South America and South Africa, adventure stories for children, and several works reflecting her commitment to women’s emancipation and other political causes.

Muriel Spark

Dame MURIEL SPARK was a poet, novelist, editor, and biographer. Born in Scotland in 1918, she moved to Africa at 19, only to flee the continent and her abusive marriage during WWII. Returning to England, she joined the intelligence service, and after the war became a secretary, trade writer, and literary editor, ultimately publishing her first book at the age of 39 after her conversion to Catholicism. Spark went on to write more than 20 novels, as well as poems, plays, biographies, essays, and a memoir – and is considered one of the most ingenious writers of the twentieth century.

Florynce Kennedy

Black feminist radical FLORYNCE KENNEDY (1916–2000) was known for her flamboyant activism, media savvy, and strategic lawyering on behalf of oppressed people. A leader in the Black Power movement and an influential second wave feminist, Kennedy’s witty and incisive critiques of the establishment cemented her reputation as “[t]he biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground,” according to People magazine in 1974. Kennedy founded cross-movement coalitions, organized intersectional protests, and fought for justice in court on behalf of the Black Panthers and women’s reproductive autonomy—all while wearing her distinctive cowboy hat, pink sunglasses, and false eyelashes.

About your presenters:

KRISTINA MCCLENDON holds an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College, University of London and currently works at NYU. She has a room of her own in New York’s only nobly-named borough (Queens) and can usually be found perfecting her Victoria sponge.

SHEILA ENRIGHT is a writer/editor at Carnegie Corporation of New York. When not neglecting to return her library books, she can usually be found thrifting in the nearest Goodwill.

DEBORAH STREAHLE is currently a PhD student at Yale University where she studies the history of health care and alternative medicine in the U.S. Her goal is to spark conversations about neglected histories. One of her favorite Flo quotes is, “We’ve got to stop sucking and begin to bite.”