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Lifelong activist hosts lecture

ESCONDIDO — Ethel Arrowsmith brings research, personal knowledge and 99 years of wisdom to her lecture on women inventors that will be given at the Escondido-San Marcos American Association of University Women luncheon Oct. 20. 

Arrowsmith is a longtime women’s rights activist who has marched with Betty Ford, Gloria Steinem and Bella Epstein for the Equal Rights Amendment.

“I have been involved in women’s rights forever,” Arrowsmith said.

Arrowsmith said she no longer has the physical stamina to take part in marches, but she does stay active with speaking engagements. She added that she especially likes to share women’s history with young women.

Her luncheon lecture will highlight women inventors from the 1700s through today.

“She talks basically about women who contributed to society, but who are not well-known and don’t get the credit for it,” Susan Duey, American Association of University Women Escondido-San Marcos Branch president, said. “They are fascinating women that members of our own group wouldn’t know.”

“I hear she’s a dynamic speaker,” Sandra Gerard, American Association of University Women member, said.

Arrowsmith will open her lecture with challenges women inventors faced in the 1700s. One challenge was that once a woman married her patent rights went to her husband.

“They could not get patents,” Arrowsmith said. “They were not given rights. They could not have children custody and couldn’t vote.”

In spite of these legal limitations, women invented successful products and some gained huge financial success.

In 1870 Margaret Knight invented the flat bottom paper bag and the machine part that automatically folded and glued bags to create square bottoms.

Arrowsmith said the man who constructed the machine part tried to steal Knight’s idea and claim it as his own. Knight sued him, won the lawsuit and went on to earn $1 million. It was to her advantage to be a single woman and be able to keep the patent and money she earned.

Another inventor success story Arrowsmith shares is the invention of the Maidenform bra and bra company by Russian immigrant Ida Rosenthal in 1928. The bra soon replaced the corset and was a huge financial success.

Arrowsmith stresses that these inventions are widely used, but few people know women invented them.

Arrowsmith will also share some of her experiences as a working woman during the lecture.

She was born in 1813 and went to work right after high school at the time of the Great Depression.

She said her career choices in the 1930s were limited to working as a secretary, stenographer, salesperson or nurse. She chose to work as a secretary.

She also became active in bringing awareness to women’s rights issues and won numerous recognitions for her efforts.

Later in life she enrolled and graduated college at the age of 62 and had the opportunity to work internationally.

“In 100 years I have seen everything from the outdoor toilet to going to the moon and Mars,” Arrowsmith said. “And there’s more to come.”

Recently her interest lies in maintaining a woman’s right to Planned Parenthood and the choice to have a medical abortion.

“I’m still active thinking and talking about women’s rights,” Arrowsmith said. “I guess I always will be.”

The American Association of University Women luncheon will be held at 10 a.m. at Redwood Town Court located at 500 E. Valley Parkway, Escondido. For ticket information, contact Sandra Gerard at scgreads@sbcglobal.net.


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