Archive for the Podcasts Category

Episode 116: Barbie

Posted 15 December 2018 by
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We are Barbie Girls (not really) in a Barbie world (sure, why not?); life in plastic, it’s fantastic! So say the paraphrased lyrics of Aqua’s 1997 hit, Barbie Girl, but how did Barbie’s world get created and who is the mastermind behind it?

Ruth Handler.

Ruth was a powerhouse business person and a marketing genius in a time when women were not often found in the CEO’s chair unless they were…um…playing around. Ruth worked hard to get there, the only playing around was with the toys that she and her husband, Elliot, created in the company they founded– Mattel.

Ruth was the last child of Polish immigrants, although her eldest sister, Sarah and her husband, Louie were her defacto parents from birth. She met her husband, Elliot when they were both teenagers, married and founded two plastic design companies, first Elzac and then Mattel. They let themselves be bought out of the first, but the second was soon a household name.

Mattel originally manufactured picture frames but it wasn’t long before Elliot was designing toys and Ruth was marketing them. The company shot into the toymaker stratosphere when Mattel took a gamble on a never-before-tried advertising plan with a never-before-seen TV show called The Mickey Mouse Club.

The Barbie story is legendary: Ruth saw her young daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls and had a flash of inspiration: The world needs an adult shaped, three-dimensional doll! The men at Mattel disagreed.

When I grow up, I want to be a three-dimensional, woman-shaped, plastic doll with clothes that stay on!

But when Ruth found her muse (“muse” or “blueprint,” it’s your call) in Germany, the Bild Lilli doll, there was no stopping her. With an engineering assist from a less than squeaky clean Mattel consultant, Jack Ryan, Barbie made her debut in 1959.

Original Barbie, the dark-haired version. wikicommons

The very first Barbie ad!


Over the years Barbie’s career, clothes, and features changed but her goal was to reflect trends and help show little girls that marriage and motherhood were only one option for their future. Of course, we cover everything from Barbie controversies, careers, society at large, to the rise, stumbles and successes of Ruth herself. We also give a quick overview of all the changes Barbie has had over the years–for instance, 80’s Barbie got involved in the music business…

..and, eventually, Mattel made Barbie in skin tones other than white.

Time Travel with the History Chicks


These are the two we thought you should start with:

Robin Gerber


For 10 and over, Tanya Lee Stone

Also very balanced:

Lee Slater, for kids


Semi-memoirish M. G. Lord

Very Pro Barbie:


Dark views:

Jerry Oppenheimer


Orly Lobel


Where are all the pictures, Chicks? Locked behind copyright laws that we don’t want to mess around with, but give a gander at our Pinterest board and you’ll get an eyeful!

Barbie’s official website, and a companion site with information about the Dream Gap Project.

You’ve heard that Barbie’s measurements don’t appear naturally, right? We’re not sure but Pin-Up Betty Brosmer is pretty darn close (we Googled so so you don’t have to—it’s mostly a Clear Search History situation.) Here’s an article about her, with photos, on Messy Nessy.

Barbie was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, there is a virtual tour, but if you’re in Rochester, New York go visit the Strong, National Museum of Play–we’re pretty sure that the kids would love this one.

Barbie’s on Instagram (of course she is.) Here’s an article about it from Racked, and her account so you can follow it.

We searched Ebay so you don’t have to! Here are some Elzac offerings.

Learn a bit about the evolution of language, how did we get from “colored” to “minorities” to “people of color? from NPR.”

The internet is full of very clever people, here are some who have improved upon the story of Barbie the Computer Engineer…she does NOT need the boys to help her program, no she does not. Feminist Hacker Barbie


Netflix has a series called The Toys That Made Us, Season 1, Episode 2 is about Barbie, and Hulu has a documentary, Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie, that follows the development of the most recent incarnation of Barbie to reflect how females really look.


If you aren’t keen on the whole Barbie universe but are looking for toys for girls, you might check out GoldiBlox and help build an army of maker girls!

And finally, because it’s been on a loop in our brains, it should be on yours, too:

Episode 115: Belle Starr and Calamity Jane

Posted 27 November 2018 by
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Everyone has a lesson to teach us, even the hard living, hard drinking, crime breaking ones who bucked convention and survived in a dangerous time and place. These two women of the American wild west fall on a side of the life-choices spectrum that we don’t usually talk about, but it’s time that we did. We thought it was time to tell the stories of two women with fabulous, well-known nicknames that mask who they really were.  (Lady Gaga and Madonna are amazing but come back in 120 years and we’ll talk.) (more…)

Episode 114: Anne Frank

Posted 9 November 2018 by
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Anne Frank’s life was only 15 years long, but her legacy? It’s going to outlast us all.


Annelies Marie Frank was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany, second child to Otto and Edith who were both from well-to-do, German Jewish families. Otto was a decorated officer in the German army, well traveled, spent a couple years in the United States and went back to Germany to work at his family’s bank and throat lozenge company. Edith graduated from a Protestant girl’s school, and worked for her family’s business. (more…)

Episode 113: Jane Addams Part 2

Posted 14 October 2018 by
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When we left Jane in part one, she and her friend Ellen Gates Starr had just opened Hull House. The Settlement movement in the US was about to take off, and in Chicago the community was embracing the work being done by Jane, Ellen and the many women like them that came to share their time and talents by settling in the impoverished, immigrant community and working together with neighbors to provide social services. (more…)

Episode 112: Jane Addams Part 1

Posted 23 September 2018 by
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Library of Congress

Jane Addams is called the “Mother of Social Work”; which is impressive enough, but really doesn’t cover her whole story. You know what else won’t cover her whole story? One episode. Jane’s life was so packed that we decided to  break it into two parts to cover it thoroughly. (If you’re looking for the media recommendations, they’ll be on the shownotes for Part Two.) (more…)

Episode 111: Clara Barton Revisited and Refreshed

Posted 1 September 2018 by
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To end the summer we thought we would revisit and remaster our 2011 episode about the life of Clara Barton. Her story touched both of us when we recorded it but she’s come to our minds a lot since then. The lessons from her life, including strength, perseverance, bravery and compassion are ones that we can all use in our lives at any time.


Episode 110: Georgia O’Keeffe

Posted 12 August 2018 by
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The line between Georgia O’Keeffe’s childhood in Wisconsin to her death nearly 100 years later is as jagged, complex, colorful, unique, ever- changing and interesting as the vistas outside her final New Mexico homes.


Episode 109: Grace O’Malley

Posted 21 July 2018 by
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Gráinne Ui Mháille, Grainne, Granuaile, Gráinne MhaolGrace, That Irish Pirate Queen From the 16th Century…whatever you call her, her life and legacy as a strong, independent, bold, fearless (and yes, criminal) woman doesn’t change.

Statue at Westport House, Co Mayo, Ireland


Episode 108: The Statue of Liberty

Posted 30 June 2018 by
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She’s neither alive nor dead; she exists but has never taken a breath; her innards are as hard as steel, but just the sight of her has brought men to grateful, hopeful tears. The Statue of Liberty is a she, which makes her fair game for one of our conversations.



Episode 107: Mary Pickford

Posted 11 June 2018 by
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Mary Pickford was an actress, writer, director, producer, studio head and entrepreneur…but she’s often remembered as “that pretty girl with the curls in silent movies.”

Excuse us? Oh no, that just won’t do.

Library of Congress