Veteran Feminists of America




 Copyright © Stuart Bratesman

Where did I come from? My mother, Edith Entratter, child of Polish immigrants from  the Lower East Side, put her hair up when she was 12 and went to work in the factories. She became a designer of handbags for Dick Koret.

Her father was a tailor, one of her brothers was a gangster and her mother scrubbed floors to buy chicken for a diabetic sister, but she nabbed a Harvard man, Carl Henry. He was a wealthy dreamer, a Communist, and, after their marriage, a combatant in the European Theater, World War 2. He wrote letters home every day. The  *letters which relate his World War II experience are also a  remarkable love story.   

Carl Henry was a philosophy major at Harvard, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and a lover of freedom. In 1934, before graduation, he  protested the warship at Boston Harbor that Hitler had sent on a “friendship mission” to the United States. The Communists were watching and enlisted him, and he was a card-carrying member until he met Edith, who said,  “You don’t believe that stuff, do you?”  

After the War, Carl and Edith Henry started Lucky Stride Shoes, manufacturing their own national brand of ladies' flats,  in Maysville, Kentucky. Although my mother was the designer, whose image was the company logo, and who my father boasted was the highest paid woman executive in the US ($50,000/year I seem to remember him saying) , she never had a checking account and when she wanted money would hold out her hand to him. With these mixed messages I grew up, cared for until almost age 12 by other women so my mother could work .  I only bonded with the governess who taught me French, when I was 2 and ½. Because of my bond with her,  I speak French at native level required for teaching, which I did 1n 1996, as Associate Professor of French at the Defense Language Institute. 

Life was emotionally tough for this child of a career woman in the 1940’s. Also funny, as when “Mademoiselle” left, my parents enlisted others who never stayed long… then they  hired  a German governess to teach me another language. After  my first day with Fraülein  I ran to them,  shouting “Mommy, Daddy, see what Fraülein taught me today!” and showed them the goosestep...The next morning, Fraülein was gone.

My father was  an amateur filmmaker who made  films of his European trip when he was 13, films that were shown for months on end back home in Cincinnati...and he indulged my early enthusiasm for the first film I ever saw, North by Northwest, by taking me to see it over and over when I was eleven, in 1959, the year it came out. He’d taken  me  to see animation festivals at the Cincinnati Museums which also sparked a wonder and a sense of fun that have never left me in my creative contact with photography and now with the computer and website design. He analyzed advertisements with me, pointing out how the images and the words conveyed a message and manipulated the consumer...Heady stuff, and surely an influence on my fascination with - and belief in - the power of images to mold opinion.

Finally seeing her child slip away toward adolescence, and lonely to get her groove back with her buddies in NYC, (and after a three-week stint of living in Rome), my mother got  my father to sell the business and relocate us to NYC. It was too late for her to be the mother she hadn’t been, though.  NYC opened doors of freedom to me that no amount of retroactive attempts at mother-daughter bonding could close.

I attended the Lycée Français de NY  from the 6th to 12th grade, went  to Radcliffe  at age 17 after 6 years of Latin and 4 years of Greek, winning all the top prizes for scholarship (well, except for Math and Sciences), being President of my class several years running, playing in  little Ionesco productions, and getting a taste of foreign policy and history-in-the-making with the election of Kennedy, Castro coming to Harlem, Kruschev to the UN, and the assassination of JFK.

So after a first brilliant year at Radcliffe, the Harvard lack of rapport with its undergrads shut me down academically - well, I did win the (2nd) Ferguson History Prize for (2nd) best Sophomore essay in History – “The Concept of Time and the Concept of History” – but I was checking out. Luckily, I found the college newspaper, and, “comping” for the Crimson, won both a place on its Photography board and a superannuated grad who hung around to snap up the virgins and teach them photography in exchange...

Photo Copyright by Timothy G. Carlson, of “Diana the Huntress of Intriguing Imagery”at her trade school training ground, the Harvard Crimson....

Well, where’s the feminism in all this? It’s coming, it’s coming .  Anyway, so I am sitting in an “American Intellectual History” lecture with hundreds of students because it is taught by a renowned wit and wonder of the faculty, when he starts ripping into Ruth Benedict for being no more insightful about her anthropology than her menstrual problems would have caused her to be. What Letty Cottin Pogrebin later called a “click” sounded more like a death knell to me, and to my roommate who, thank G-d, was there to confirm to me that we were both as humiliated and unnerved as ever two budding young women could be.

Then  there’s the put-down by the grad student who turned me down for an independent study in color my last year, after two years of work for the newspaper - “If you don’t know color at this point there is nothing we can teach you...”  And for the first of many times  I  wondered: “Would he have said that to me if I had been a man?”

Well, then of course there’s the fact that in four years of college I never had ONE, not one, female faculty member!  My  experience was not the exception, but the rule. (There was however a great female dean who fought tooth and nail to keep me from failing out, even if it meant scheduling exams just for me that I had forgotten to take, or pleading with a prof of “French Culture” to change an E to a D, even though I had eschewed attending his class ...)

Okay, now the feminist insights come fast and furious. Because after graduation in 1969, working for NBC News, the prospects are dim for women who want to go beyond researcher in broadcast journalism after 40 years at the company: either sleep with a man or go to Vietnam, and you might do something interesting...The women who first made it as anchors were class of ’72, we were three years too early. Friend Barbara,  a Radcliffe grad and also working for NBC  used to meet  me in the ladies room and we’d cry during our breaks.  (Barbara later became head of a major independent school and then Mayor of an important western city, so society benefited from her talents eventually.)

After the  NBC assignment ended, I became a general assignment reporter at the Staten Island Advance, and was assigned to cover the Alice Austen House, which led me back to photography through the work of this genius, an independent woman with a passion for all that was new, exciting, and humane. As I   came to know her work, I realized that when I was learning about photography by looking at the work of the greats in the photo sanctum at the Crimson, we had never turned the pages of a book on the work of a woman photographer- and I guessed , there must be others than Margaret Bourke White, who was sometimes mentioned in an aside.

I  would like to do the book I thought of doing then - for young people on the work of the greats: Margarethe Mather, Alice Austen, Carlotta Corpron, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Tina Modotti, Laura Gilpin ....Eventually I did the photography for the historic structures report, lobbied for a Staten Island ferry to be named in Alice Austen’s honor, helped put a gravestone on her unmarked grave, and helped organize the campaign that got the city of NY to invest more than a million dollars in creating the  Museum in her name at the foot of the Verazzano Narrows as part of the NYC Park system.

I believe it is our noblest enterprise to pay homage and continue the work and name of the great human beings who went before us. The  Schlesinger Library on the History of 

Copyright © 1977 Diana Mara Henry
Entrance to the convention center for the opening of the First National Women’s Conference, November, 1977, by its official photographer, Diana Mara Henry. Left to right: Billie Jean King, Susan B. Anthony, Bella Abzug, Sylvia Ortiz, Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, Betty Friedan. Carrying the torch that was relayed from Seneca Falls, NY to Houston.

Women in America, that holds a collection of both Bettye Lane’s and my work rejected my pleas to nominate us for the National Women’s Hall of Fame despite the fact that if we  had not documented the women’s movement, there would be no visual record of it today. The library “explained”  that  "no nomination can come from the Schlesinger Library itself, or carry its imprimatur. As a matter of policy the library does not engage in this sort of activity, which would require weighing and discriminating among the many women represented in our collections who might be seeking various sorts of nominations or honors.”

I‘d  photographed one-room schools and school teachers, for which I received my first Museum exhibit - at the Brattleboro Museum - and my first grant - from the NY State Council on the Arts. I began to teach - at the International Center of Photography, for which I designed and directed the community Workshop Program in the late 1970’s, and at Federal Penitentiary, among many  varied locations.

Being the official photographer for the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year... that flowed from hearing Bella, on the radio, in 1972, the year I also photographed McGovern, the Democratic National convention in Miami Beach, the Mini-convention in Washington DC, and did the photography for Liz Holtzman’s successful first bid for Congress.

Bella became my mentor, and as she did for all the young people who flocked around her, made me realize that I could - and should - do great things. I did her campaign photography- eventually getting paid for the work during her bids for Senate and Mayor- and then she hired me to do the official photographs for the National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year, at the First National Women’s Conference in Houston and the NY State Women’s Meeting that preceded it, in Albany, in 1977.

Though I had more fun assignments- like being flown over in the Concorde to his castle in Normandy to photograph Malcolm Forbes' balloon meets – and (again with Bella leading the way) assignments that were as visually and morally interesting as the Women’s Pentagon Action, Vietnam Veteran actions and personalities for a decade or more, animal rights demonstrations, picketing the NY Times for the use of the term MS (12 years before the grey lady decided to use it!) , celebrities like Jane Fonda speaking to the Women Office Workers, Judy Chicago's opening at the Sarah Institute with Stewart Mott kissing Alice Neel, Patti Smith entertaining Jeannette Watson, no other assignment was as historic and as vastly challenging and rewarding as those three days in Houston.


Bella Abzug and Diana Mara Henry

For 35 years I have lived with the women of Houston, their faces and gestures seared into my mind, their issues, their energy, their nobility, their dreams as I acknowledged and preserved them have been my almost daily companions. “Politics is my Bag”; “pro-God, pro-family, pro-ERA”; “Keep ‘Em in the Closet”; “we didn’t burn ‘em”; “Pro-Plan”; “Majority”; Puerto-Rico”; “Alcoholism is a Women’s Issue”.....High Chief Pulu Peneueta , Mayor of Pago Pago, American Samoa; Agnes Dill, of the Isleta Laguna tribe; Freddie Groomes; Gracia Molina Pick; baby Era; Frances Gubbins; Peggy Kokernot, Michele Cearcy, Sylvia Ortiz; Leah Novick; Alice Bibeau and Colleen Wong...all as close to me, or closer, than Jean Stapleton, Betty Ford, Jill Ruckelshaus, Liz Carpenter. Where are they now? It is a great joy when I do know.

In  1985 I became an independent scholar of the resistance and the Nazi concentration camp of Natzweiler-Struthof and its 70 kommandos that, like most of the concentration camps, enslaved mostly non-Jews and some secret Jews. I now lecture and publish on the brave warriors who, for their actions suffered  the Nacht und Nebel decree, and André Joseph Scheinmann, the German Jewish spy who became my  my guide to facing the ugly realities of life in order to survive.  

I’ve had  the incredible honor of bringing into the world a daughter. I fought a not-very successful battle against abuse, and abuse by the judge, and the psychologists. In California in 1996, there was a fad to have the child spend one year with father, one year with mother. How terrible that would have been!

My opinions, informed by my government major as an undergrad at Harvard, as a person who has lived with those with a mental illness, and as a scholar of fascism, do not conform with those who say all cultures are the same and ignore the torture and "Honor killings" of millions of women, gays, and people and heritage sites of all other faiths in the Moslem world.

My work now resides in the archives of the Du Bois Library of U Mass Amherst as the “Diana Mara Henry; 20th Century Photographer” collection, yet I retain the copyright and rights to publish and license the work for 25 years. I speak to groups and associations and have just published a first book of my work. It includes my official photographs as first published in "The Spirit of Houston: The First National Women's Conference: An official report to the President, the Congress and the People of the United States"


Women on the Movie: An Exhibit of The Official Photographs

On November 19, 2012 from 5:30-8:30 a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the First National Women's Conference will take place at Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office at 1 Centre Street, 19th floor, where the official photographs will be on display through November. The public is invited and I certainly hope that Veteran Feminists will attend! Please keep checking the exhibit website, for updates.


"Your photos are beautiful and represent such a powerful and passionate time in American history. I believe these photos will last and many years from now they will be looked at and studied just as Mathew Brady's classic and haunting Civil war photos are today."  Please use this as a blurb  in your important new book! Best Wishes! Ron Kovic."  (Vietnam Veteran, author of "Born on the Fourth of July.")

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All photographs Copyright © Diana Mara Henry

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Comments: Jacqui Ceballos

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