Celebrating Women's History Month Archives - StoryCorps

“Strong Lines, Beautiful Lines”: Two Alaska Native Women Make Their Mark

When Grete Bergman was in her 20s, she began to think and dream about having facial markings. This was a tradition rooted in her Alaska Native family from the Gwich’in Nation. But growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, she learned a clear message from her father and grandmother that many of their family traditions would not be tolerated, in or outside of the house. 

Nearly ten years later, Grete met Sarah Whalen-Lunn through mutual friends. Sarah’s father is white, but her mother was Inupaq, so she is part of the Inuit Nation. 

Sarah Whalen-Lunn (L), about one year old, with her mother, Irene June Hayes. Grete Bergman (R) age 6 months, with her father, Grafton Bergman. Courtesy of Sarah Whalen-Lunn and Grete Bergman.

Sarah was also drawn to Traditional Face Markings, because she wanted to reconnect with the customs her family had been forced to abandon. In 2016, she enrolled in a program that taught her how to give them.  

Grete Bergman with her Traditional Markings. Courtesy of Sarah Whelan-Lunn.

This is where their paths crossed, and a friendship began. Their connection has helped revive a traditional practice that had been lost to previous generations of women.

Top Photo: Grete Bergman and Sarah Whalen-Lunn at their StoryCorps interview in Anchorage, Alaska on August 14, 2018. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.

Originally aired October 15, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“My Mother the Performer”: The Life and Legacy of Dorothy Toy

In the late 1930s, Dorothy Toy and her dance partner Paul Wing made their Broadway debut after years touring on the Vaudeville circuit. In one of their earliest Broadway appearances, the duo, billed as Toy & Wing, performed in a musical review. That night, as Toy & Wing took their bows, the applause was thunderous. Dorothy later told her daughter that the audience got on their feet and applauded so vigorously the bandleader was forced to bring them out repeatedly – stalling the next act. Dorothy would say, she lost track of how many bows they took that night, but that they became a fixture on Broadway from then on.

Dorothy, Paul and a young Dorlie Fong dancing the cha cha during an encore performance. Courtesy of Dorlie Fong.
Dorothy Toy and dance partner Paul Wing (Toy & Wing) posing at the Forbidden City Nightclub in 1950’s San Francisco. Courtesy of Dorlie Fong.

Decades later, after founding her own dance company and touring the world, Dorothy Toy planned to visit StoryCorps with her daughter, to look back on a lifetime of performance. But she passed before that was possible. Dorothy was 102 years old when she died. She had suffered multiple broken hips and lived with dementia, but she considered herself a dancer well into her final years.

In March of 2021, her daughter Dorlie Fong came to StoryCorps to honor her mother. In that session she committed to tape many of Dorothy’s stories from a bygone era of Vaudeville, Hollywood, and Broadway. But beyond that, Dorlie described what it was like growing up backstage and finding connection with her mother the star.

Top Photo: (L) Dorothy Toy and her young daughter Dorlie Fong backstage in the 1950’s. (R) Dorlie with her mother on her 101st birthday. Courtesy of Dorlie Fong.
Bottom Photo: Dorothy Toy performing in her home dance studio in front of a CBS news crew. Courtesy of Dorlie Fong.

Originally aired April 2, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“It’s Okay to Be a Hero”: Remembering Justice Ginsburg’s Words

Sharron Cohen had no idea that at the age of 25, she’d find herself at the center of a legal battle with the potential to change women’s rights forever. In the early 1970s, Sharron was a newlywed Air Force Lieutenant who was denied the same spousal benefits offered to her male colleagues. So with the help of a lawyer named Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, she sued the federal government for discrimination on the basis of sex.

Photo: A young Sharron Frontiero (now Cohen) dressed in Air Force uniform in 1972. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.

That lawsuit eventually came to the attention of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and then onto the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. Together, Levin and Ginsburg argued the case, which came to be known as Frontiero v. Richardson. It won in an 8-to-1 vote, and became one of the first successful sex discrimination cases in U.S. history. 

In December of 2020, Sharron came to StoryCorps in Massachusetts with her son Nathan to remember the late Justice Ginsburg.

Top Photo: (L) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with former plaintiff Sharron Cohen, her husband David Cohen, and son (R) Nathan on the steps of the Supreme Court building in 1999. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.
Bottom Photo: (L) Nathan Cohen and his mother Sharron on the day of his wedding in 2013. Courtesy of Sharron Cohen.

Originally aired December 18, 2020 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Doctors on Their Groundbreaking Multigenerational Passion for Medicine

Dr. Jenna Lester comes from a family of African American women who have dedicated their lives to medicine. Her grandmother, Ruby Brangman, became a nurse practitioner during the 1970s. At that time, Ruby was one of the first black women in her profession in New York state.

A generation later, Jenna’s mother, Sharon Brangman, became a doctor. Sharon says it was her own mother’s determination that set her on that path.

Brangman_Extra3

At StoryCorps in New York City, Jenna and Sharon sat down to reflect on their family’s legacy.

Top photo: Sharon Brangman and Jenna Lester at their StoryCorps interview in New York City.
Bottom photo: Sharon Brangman, Ruby Brangman, and Jenna Lester in 1988, when Jenna was three months old. Courtesy of the Brangman family.

Originally aired January 26, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.