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AROUND TOWN

Celebrating America's Other Heroes

July 01, 1994|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It makes Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas fume: "Every tavern in the Northeast has a little plaque, 'George Washington Slept Here.' " Even if the general never rested his powdered head upon its pillows.

And, as Sherr and Kazickas observe, "nearly every pigeon in America can roost on the statue of a man. "

So where have all the heroines gone? Sherr, an ABC News correspondent, and Kazickas, Redbook's Washington bureau chief, hope to set the record straight with "Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women's Landmarks."

The book, a sequel to their 1976 feminist travel guide, "The American Woman's Gazeteer," identifies 500 additional landmarks.

Each taking 25 states, the authors hit the road in search of birthplaces, grave sites and monuments. The result: kind of a we-know-about-Betsy-Ross-but-what-of-all-the-others Baedeker.

Because history isn't just about wars and presidencies, they show us where pioneer women--doctors, writers, Native American leaders, madams, spies, queens, ministers and witches--made history.

They were stunned to find so many noteworthy women neglected. At the birthplace of a man of like deeds "they'd be selling T-shirts," Sherr says.

In Blountsville, Ala., they found a memorial to the Murphree sisters, Celia and Winne Mae, who served mint juleps to marauding Yankee soldiers, spiking the drinks with a potent toothache remedy. When the Yanks passed out cold, the sisters turned them over to the Confederates.

In Glastonbury, Conn., they found the Smith home, where Abby, 75, and Julia, 80, lived in the 1880s. Citing taxation

without representation, the sisters refused to pay a $100 property tax, whereupon the tax collector seized their cows. After winning a three-year legal battle, Abby and Julia named the surviving cows Taxey and Votey.

In Niagara Falls, N.Y., they found the barrel in which Annie Edson Taylor, a middle-aged Michigan schoolteacher, plunged over in 1901.

For Kazickas, who became a pilot at 16, a highlight of the search was visiting the Atchison, Kan., birthplace of Amelia Earhart: "I could just see her as a little girl, running through her yard, saying, 'I want to fly!' "

Among notable Californians in the new guide are actress Lotta Crabtree, dancer Isadora Duncan and Julia Morgan, the architect of San Simeon.

Southland entries include Pickfair, Mary Pickford's former home; Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple, and Hollywood Boulevard, which, it seems, was so named through the efforts of Hollywood's first schoolteacher, Mary Penman Moll, in 1887.

Downtown, near 3rd Street and Broadway, the authors found the wall honoring Biddy Mason, a onetime slave who amassed a small fortune as a nurse-midwife and gave much of it to charity. On East Adams Boulevard, they located a scruffy unmarked apartment house that once was the Sojourner Truth Industrial Club. Early in the century, it was a residence and vocational school for young black women.

In general, Sherr says, women's landmarks have not been preserved and those that were have "tended to be white women's landmarks."

Sherr and Kazickas haunted city records offices, visited historical societies, knocked on private doors. Lukewarm locals were apt to ask, "Wouldn't you rather know about this wonderful man?"

They delighted in discovering Georgia's Catherine Greene. Says Kazickas: "She came up with the critical thing that made the cotton gin work. She never got any money. Old Eli (Whitney) made out like a bandit."

They salute Anthony and other suffragists who traveled tirelessly for the cause at a time when, Sherr notes, "you couldn't get frequent-flier miles and an upgrade."

They applaud Madame C.J. Walker. She was a poor Indianapolis widow whose hair pomade made her the first black female millionaire. "And all because her hair was falling out" from straightening, Sherr says. "It's the most female thing."

Many landmarks have disappeared. Others are getting long-due recognition. The Seneca Falls, N.Y., site of the first women's rights convention, once a coin laundry, is now a national historic park.

The book gives wicked women and shady ladies their due--Lizzie Borden, Belle Starr, the prostitutes of the early West.

To narrow the guide to 2,000 women, Sherr and Kazickas decided, " You had to have done something to distinguish yourself." Doing good with inherited money didn't cut it.

And you had to be dead as of January, 1993, or, the authors explain, they wouldn't have made their deadline.

On the Fly

When we first encounter Pat Brown-- Col . Pat Brown--she's at a vintage sewing machine, stitching up a khaki canvas stretcher. She introduces herself as "the Betsy Ross of the Confederate Air Force."

The aircraft on the Tarmac at Camarillo Airport--home base for the CAF's Southern California wing--include a B-25J bomber (in parts), a cavernous C-46 transport and an F8F Bearcat fighter with folding wings. All are 50 years old.

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