March is Women’s History Month, a time to highlight the contributions and achievements of American women. Each week the members of the God’s Diversity Committee will share a biographical summary of an individual who has made significant contributions to our nation.
Beatrice “bea” Thomas
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the God’s Diversity Committee is proud to recognize a local hero, Beatrice (Bea) Thomas. Bea is one the most successful coaches in the history of South Jersey girls’ athletics, who, from the beginning of her career as an educator and coach, recognized the importance of athletics in the lives of both young men and women. An avid sports enthusiast, Bea decided to pursue a career as a physical education teacher. After graduating from high school, she attended Temple University where she earned the Temple University Women’s Athletic Association’s highest honor for a female athlete in her sophomore year.
Upon graduation from Temple, Bea went on to obtain a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Pennsylvania and in 1935 began her teaching career at nearby Palmyra High School. Following World War II, Bea married Albert F. Thomas, veteran, teacher, coach and athlete. The couple had two children, Christine and Peter. After a leave of absence to care for her young children, in 1948 Bea began her career in the Moorestown Township Public Schools. She enjoyed a stellar career as a teacher, assistant field hockey, lacrosse and girls’ varsity swimming coach. From 1949 to 1978, her swim teams won more than 300 meets and at one point Bea coached her team to 99 consecutive victories.
In girls’ and women’s field hockey, Bea also amassed an amazing record. She coached the goal keepers at Moorestown and was instrumental in winning 14 New Jersey State Championships. After retiring from teaching at age 70, Bea continued to coach goal keepers at MHS until the age of 92.A fierce advocate for women’s sports and female athletes, she laid the groundwork and lobbied for Title IX to assure equality for women in sports. Her selection as the developmental coach of the year for girls’ field hockey by United States Olympic Committee is but one example of Bea’s many prestigious awards.
Despite her busy life as a mother, teacher, and coach, Bea is also remembered for her individual athletic accomplishments in field hockey. Bea was twice selected to
the United States National Field Hockey Team, 17 times to the New Atlantic team, and 13 times to the West Jersey All Star Team before retiring in her seventies. Bea was also a founding member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Moorestown, New Jersey. Those who remember Bea recall her larger-than-life energy and presence and a woman who fought tirelessly for women’s rights, especially on the athletic field.
This week the members of God’s Diversity Committee would like to recognize Ruth Rachel Polsky as we celebrate Women’s History Month. Ruth Polsky was born on December 5, 1954, in Toms River, NJ to Louis and Bertha Polsky. Her father was an egg distributer, her mother a homemaker. From a young age, Ruthie, as she was called, was an excellent student. By the time she was a teenager, her love of books and writing was matched only by an obsession with music. She graduated as an English major from Clark University, where she worked on the student’s newspaper and even got the chance to interview a young Bruce Springsteen. After graduation, Ruth began writing for “The Aquarian,” a New Jersey based music publication. She later moved to London to write about the punk music scene, while gaining firsthand experience of the new generation of British talent.
By the time she returned to the United States and became a talent booker at Hurrah, a nightclub in New York City, her contact list and knowledge were unparalleled. Polsky cut a striking figure on the club scene with her signature short, dark hair and a wardrobe that was a mix of hippy and 1980’s chic. She was a ball of energy darting around town until dawn.
Polsky continued her career working at Danceteria in New York and promoting shows at the Ritz and booking bands out across the United States. In this role, she was crucial in booking many, particularly UK-based, post punk acts in the United States. Ruth had enough backings to pay for the UK artists to come to perform on her stages. The list of artists she helped introduce to America is a veritable who’s who of post punk and beyond. Unlike many of her peers at the time, she was just as avid in her promotion of local artists as she was of British ones. She used her muscle to arrange the first European shows for NYC. In 1986, Polsky started her own label, S.U.S.S. or Solid United States Support to help British musicians transition to the American market.
On September 7, 1986, she had booked a band to play a record-release show and AIDS benefit at the Limelight in the New York neighborhood of Chelsea, when tragedy struck. She died after being crushed by a runaway cab on the steps of the Limelight Club. Polsky was just 31 when she died. Her loss to the music world was huge.
WHO IS FLORENCE PRICE? * Most of us have no idea. Yet this brilliant African American woman composed over 300 works, including four symphonies, four concertos, choral works, plus songs and music for chamber and solo instruments. Since composers in her day were white, male and dead, she was mainly ignored.
Florence Price (1887-1953) attended the New England Conservatory, one of the few music schools to admit African Americans. Shortly after graduating with honors with degrees in piano and organ, she was named head of the music department at what is now Clark Atlantic University. Soon after marrying lawyer Thomas Price, she moved north in the Great Migration to escape the Jim Crow south and settled in Chicago where Price became part of the Chicago Black Renaissance. The Great Migration “brought African-American writers, artists, and community leaders who began promoting racial pride and a new black consciousness to Chicago’s South Side, similar to that of the Harlem Renaissance.”
In order to support her three children after she and her husband divorced, Price began working as an organist for silent film screenings. She also composed songs for radio ads, under a pen name. During this time, she also met author Langston Hughes, contralto Marian Anderson, and black pianist and composer Margaret Bonds who were instrumental in aiding her future. These relationships led her to receive national recognition in 1932 when she became the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major U.S. orchestra, the Chicago Symphony. Another accolade was the performance of one of her most popular pieces, “My Soul’s Been Anchored,” sung by Marian Anderson at the famous and controversial Easter concert of 1939 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Most of Price’s compositions reflected her study of European classical music, especially Dvorak, and also her familiarity with African American spirituals and folk tunes. A deeply religious person, she brought the music of the African American church into many of her pieces.
After Price’s death, her music was forgotten until 2009 when her manuscripts were discovered in a dilapidated house near Chicago. Now her work is experiencing a resurgence, notably in performances of the Philadelphia Orchestra, under music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who is conducting and recording her work. The conductor says, “Price’s music is full, rich, and passionate. It really is like listening to some Brahms, but injecting true American flavor with the treatment of the percussion, the treatment of the spiritual music.”
*Who is Florence Price? is the title of a book written by middle school students from New York City. It is available at Amazon.
Louise Blanchard Bethune
During the first week of Women’s History Month, the members of the God’s Diversity Committee wish to honor Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1913) who historians consider to have been the first American woman to become a certified architect. Born in Waterloo, New York, to a family of educators, Bethune grew up near Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement. From an early age, Bethune possessed the confidence and determination to fulfill her every ambition. During her years at Buffalo High School, she became captivated by architectural design and was often teased by classmates for drawing houses in margin notes and in moments of distraction. Nothing would deter her from pursuing architecture as a career, not even the lack of women in her chosen profession.
After serving an apprenticeship with the renowned architect, Richard Waite, during which time she worked on several notable projects, and after five additional years of work with other firms and self-directed study, Bethune opened her own practice in 1881 when she was just 25. She designed 18 schools in and around Buffalo that incorporated indoor plumbing, multiple staircases for fire safety, and smaller classrooms in which students could be separated by age, all of which were innovations in public school design at the time. Her firm also designed many factories, churches, and hotels in western New York and New England. As a result of an economic boom that followed the opening of the Erie Canal, Buffalo became the site of countless novel construction projects, 180 of which were part of Bethune’s and her partners’ portfolio. Some projects, like the iconic Denton, Cottier and Daniels music store were among the first buildings in the country to use steel frame construction and poured concrete slabs.
A former Richard Waite colleague, Robert Bethune, who later joined her firm would become her husband and together they had a son. The Hotel Lafayette, Bethune’s best-known design which received critical acclaim when it opened in 1904, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. She became the first female member of the Western Association of Architects and throughout her life, advocated for women’s rights and equal pay. Though lesser known than the many more famous architects who created the uniquely American designs of the buildings in Buffalo, Louise Blanchard Bethune’s work, late to be recognized, nevertheless endures, and remains greatly admired.