You may have not heard these stories


In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” For millenia, most women’s stories slipped into anonymity or oblivion, such that half of the world’s population lost histories and exemplars shining a light on ways that women can develop and use their interests, talents and skills. Now, we have Women’s History Month, and for the month, we’re running a two-week series on women you may have not heard about, but you might find delightful or useful.

Member Maria Weir offers up Olinka Arrsamquq Michael, an Alaskan Yup’ik mother of 13, who served as a midwife and healer for abused women for decades. Born in 1916 to a family of reindeer herders, she lived in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge at a time when Alaskan communities were rapidly changing. Indigenous tribes were settling and forming villages. Four families formed Michael’s village Kwethluk in the late 1800s and two churches were build within a few decades, in 1896, a Moravian Church and in 1912, a Russian Orthodox Church. The rural community, which was not designated a city until 1975, four years before Michael, called “Olga,” died in 1979. Until 1947, the village lacked a post office. The first Native owned store opened in 1948. The few hundred people who resided in Kwethluk supported themselves by hunting, fishing, and foraging.

“Olga” Arrsamqug Michael married Nicholai Michael in an arranged marriage when she was sixteen. He was postmaster and operated the store for years before he was ordained a priest in the Orthodox Church. Because she was married to a community leader, she too led. Olga was known for her love of children and had great knowledge of Yup’ik traditional medicine, passed down through her family, making her a natural resource as a midwife. She midwifed for locals and the incoming teachers.But she offered up many other acts of service. An excellent seamstress, she sewed copycat store clothes and sewed the sealskin on mukluks, native winter boots, for those who’d not learned the native practice. To delight children, she used her carving skills to make wooden yo-yos and yaaruins, story knives made of wood for young girls to tell stories in the mud.

Though, or maybe because, only eight of her children survived childhood, Olga took in a few orphaned children, provided daycare, taught English to Yup’ik natives in their increasingly changing community. (Alaska was caught in the WWII frontline during her lifetime.) She took care of kids and mothers alike. She noticed when kids went hungry and had her own kids invite them over, so she could find an unobtrusive way to feed the kids. When women were abused, she made bed spaces for them, even in the middle of the night.

Because of her endless stream of kindnesses, the people of Alaska knew of her and adored her. Locally she remained a well-known example for acts of service. In 2023, she was made a saint in the Orthodox Church, a process that begins with local veneration of a person.

Climate Team leader and financial advisor John Smilie submitted two names both of whom have changed the present in ways that will impact the future. This week we promote the story of Leah Stokes and next week, Kati Kariko.

The Santa Barbara Independent describes native Leah Stokes, mother of twins and faculty at UCSB (University of California Santa Barbara), as “the fossil-fuel industry’s worst nightmare. For the past 20 years, she has studied how utility companies — just like the fossil-fuel industry — spend billions of dollars sowing seeds of doubt of whether climate change is real and what the causes were, and fighting to delay action.”

Stokes started at home, covering it with solar panels to produce its own power. She saves on fuel costs with an electric bike and an electric car, for the family, and installed a charger at her house to power those. She’s reduced indoor pollutants and saved energy costs by switching to an induction stove top, electric stove, and a heat pump for heating and cooling which reduced her monthly utilities by $1,800.

Stokes shaved down what she owes major utility companies, as well as making good use of the tax breaks that ease the transition into the future. But what makes her admirable is that goes beyond personal advocacy, inviting ohers to collaborate and take action. 

“Like a football coach scouting the opposition, Stokes scrutinizes [fossil fuel company] tactics and tendencies when confronted with legislative threats,” writes Nick Welsh. Stokes exposed SoCalGas’s false “grassroots” organization — paid for with ratepayer dollars — which tried to arouse public opposition to a proposed city ordinance that would ban natural gas from new developments.

Stokes has an eagle eye for looking through lobbyists’ efforts to “loophole” their way through tax bills and energy legislation. “For example, Donald Trump’s much-ballyhooed tax cut for the rich, she said, actually increased corporate tax rates,” Stokes notes. And local energy companies have tried to escape their responsibility to their customers, making energy greener, sustainable, affordable. “We still have time,” Stokes insists, “but we don’t have another 10 years.”

Co-president Helen Hudson nominated Lettie Cottin Pogrebin, mother, a founding editor of MS Magazine, a mother, writer, and advocate. Leading up to her work as a consulting editor for Free to Be You and Me, Cottin Pogrebin worked on a NYC commission to eradicate sexism in the city’s public schools. She helped conceptualize the songs, stories and poems that would make Free to Be You and Me iconic for parents and children alike. Daughter of Jewish immigrants, Cottin Pogrebin created a path as a mother and feminist in a way that resonated deeply with American women like Hudson. In addition to her regular columns, Pogrebin has written ten novels including Three Daughters, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate, and Deborah, Gold, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in American. Most recently she wrote a memoir about the power of secrets in her family, Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy. Though in her eighties, Pogrebin contributes regularly to Moment Magazine on topics close to her advocacy with Americans for Peace Now, Jewish-Palestinian dialogue and peace. 

Next week we have some more profiles of women in science and advocacy, nominated by John Smilie, Karen Gunther and others.

For information, visit the website or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.