Two women of great potential – diametrically different outcomes to their life story.
Eldorado Jones (1860-1932)
“The only way to get along is to seek the difficult job, always do it well, and see that you get paid for it properly. Oh yes, and don’t forget to exploit men all you can. Because if you don’t, they will exploit you!” said Woman Inventor Eldorado Jones.(1) She opposed the opposite gender and never had much use for men employing only women over 40 in her company. She invented the light-weight iron consisting of a traveling ironing board (with a compartment for a flatiron), and a collapsible hat rack. She marketed her inventions to women. Her company, Eldorado Inventions Inc. was successful and many businessmen made buy-out offers but she refused to sell out to a man.
Jones famously invented the ‘airplane muffler’ and moved to New York to find a financial backer for it. The concept was similar to an automobile muffler, and when she tested it at New York’s Roosevelt Field, the New York Times reported that her device could have an influence on the future of American aeronautics. She received her patent in 1923.
‘Iron Woman’, as Jones was known, continued dealing with men brusquely. Her reputation as Man-hater preceded her and due to her attitude towards men, she never could obtain any financial backing which caused her to deplete all her funds. According to Feminine Ingenuity: How Women Inventors Changed America by Anne Macdonald, she began applying for welfare aid. One evening a neighbor called to invite Eldorado to dinner and received no answer. The neighbor crawled through a window and found Eldorado dead in her bed.
Before her money ran out she had lived at the American Woman’s Association on 57th Street in New York. That organization claimed her body, provided a funeral and had her body cremated and shipped to relatives in Missouri. She had apparently made few friends with her business dealings in Moline years earlier – her obituary in the Moline newspaper was captioned(2):
WOMAN INVENTOR KNOWN AS MAN HATER; PRODUCTS INCLUDED IRON, MUFFLER
Savitribai Phule (1831-1897)
First woman teacher of India, was born into a farmer family. 1840, at the age of nine, she was married to thirteen year old Jyotiba Phule. They belonged to the Mali caste (shudra varna of Hindu religion) perceived to be inferior. Jyotiba’s father, Govindrao, was a vegetable vendor. His mother died when he was nine months old. His intelligence was recognized by a Muslim and a Christian neighbor, who persuaded his father to allow Jyotirao to attend the local Scottish Mission’s High School, which he completed in 1847.(3)
They were regularly ill-treated and ridiculed by the upper class Hindus and after one such demeaning incident, Jyotiba made up his mind to defy the prevailing caste system and social restrictions. He then started his campaign of serving the people of lower strata of society who were deprived of all their rights as human beings. In 1848, Jyoiba and Savitribai started a school for girls in Pune – the first ever formal school for girls in India. The orthodox and upper class of the society were furious of Jyotiba’s activities and blamed him for violating the norms and regulations of the society. Many accused him of acting on behalf of other religions. He was then made to leave his house with his wife for the ‘crime’ he had committed.
Jyotiba needed a woman teacher for the girls’ school but there was no way of finding one as girls had no right to education till then. Jyotirao took a bold step and educated his wife Savitribai at home who would be the first female teacher of India. Savitribai had to suffer a lot of miseries during this course. She was ridiculed by the orthodox people, mostly the priest Brahman class, on her way to school. They did not hesitate to throw mud or cow-dung on her. The lady however, took all that humiliation in stride and would go to school with two sets of clothes—one to wear on the way to school and another to change into when there.(3)
Together the couple worked to abolish many evil customs. They challenged the concept of untouchability in Indian society. Child marriages was a norm. Many brides would become widows even before they became women. Life of a widow was one of utter misery – their heads were shaved to make them unattractive. They were not allowed any delicacies of life. Mahatma Phule conducted a strike of barbers against the custom of shaving heads of the widows. He argued for the cause of remarrying of widows. And most of all, he started a maternity home, where Savitribai used to give residence to the poor young widows who were made pregnant by their own people. Viewing the pathetic condition of widows and unfortunate children Jyotirao opened an orphanage in 1854. Many young widows, from the upper-caste spent their days in the orphanage.(3)
The couple even adopted one such child and made him their legal heir.
Savitribai Phule shared every activity in which her husband was engaged. She suffered with him but she had her own distinctive personality. After Jyotiba’s death, Savitribai took charge of their movement – Satya Shodhak Samaj.(4)
Savitribai Phule and her adopted son, Yashwant, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the worldwide Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Pune in 1897. Savitribai personally took patients to the clinic where her son treated them. While caring for the patients, she contracted the disease herself. She died from it on 10 March 1897.
The Phules had an equal relationship and revolutionary vision. Jyotiba understood the oppressive ways of society and knew that the only way change can be influenced is by men and women working together to bring reform and he found a strong ally in his wife – Savitribai Phule.
“The first Indian to place universal, child sensitive, intellectually critical, and socially reforming education at the very core of the agenda for all children in India”, is how Wolf and Andrade describe her in their paper.(5)
Every Indian woman who is educated today owes Savitribai a debt of gratitude and the man (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule) who had internalized the true meaning of equality.
Male support was as crucial then as it is today, more so in the campaign for Women’s Rights.
Men and Women are two sides of the same coin and progress is never achieved by Men vs Woman.
It does take two to tango!
6. Images – http://eprahaar.in/savitribai-phules-birth-anniversarys-innovative-campaign/, http://mulnivasiorganiser.bamcef.org/, http://teresasgarage.com/automobile-history/woman-inventor-eldorado-jones-airplane-muffler/
7. Feature image – http://amazinginfos.com/men-vs-women/