Creating a Creature: Millicent Patrick and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

On March 5, 1954, Universal International Pictures released the groundbreaking Science Fiction film Creature from the Black Lagoon across the United States. The film details a scientific exploration of the Amazon River when the discovery of the prehistoric fossils of the “Gill-Man” are found in the Black Lagoon. Returning from his ancient sleep, the Gill-Man resurfaces and falls in love with Kay Lawrence (played by Julie Adams). With its intricate costume and make-up design for the Gill-Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon impacted the future of Sci-Fi b-movies, and creature features. Often, George “Bud” Westmore receives credit for the entirety of the design efforts that went into creating the creature. In recent years, fans of the feature demanded that Millicent Patrick receive credit where credit is due, and where Westmore denied it.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Millicent Patrick (born Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi) became a talented make-up artist, actress, and costume designer in Hollywood, California. During the 1940s, she began working in the animation department at Walt Disney Studios. Patrick was the first woman hired to the animation staff at Disney, and her credentials continued to flourish as a designer and animator. There is heavy speculation as to specific times and dates that she worked at specific studios, as well as which films she worked on. For this reason, writing a fully developed history on Millicent Patrick is difficult, but also necessary. She was a pioneer for women working or wanting to work in animation, and set a precedent for the future of the Science-Fiction genre as a whole.

In the early 1950s, Universal International Pictures (better known as Universal Studios) sought out designers for their upcoming feature length film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. With her talent and credentials, Millicent Patrick was an undeniable choice for the design team that the famous Bud Westmore was head of. As a member of the design team, Patrick designed and created the head for the Gill-Man suit (Jack Kevan created the body). When the film was ramping up to hit theaters, the Studio requested that she go on a promotional tour called “The Beauty who Created the Beast.” During the tour, Westmore sent letters to Universal objecting to the idea of a woman receiving credit for the creation of the creature. As the head of design department, he had the power to make or break her career. Westmore threatened to fire Patrick during the tour, and true to his word, did so a year later.

Westmore’s tirade impacted the way that Patrick and her design work is or is not accredited on films produced through Universal. Rumors that she worked on more than twenty films in her career have spread rapidly online, and have created cause enough to call for the studio to give her the credit she deserves. Patrick is known for other popular Sci-Fi films such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), and The Mole People (1956). These are only three films (not including Creature) that she undoubtedly worked on the design team for, and it is indisputable that she deserves credit for them; as there is photo evidence of her creating the costumes. This raises the question, does the studio only give her credit for features that there is physical proof of? Or would they give it to her regardless?

While some may not know the name of Gill-Man or Millicent Patrick, more than likely they’ve seen a film or a television show that was influenced by her creation and/or the film itself. Guillermo del Toro’s award winning 2017 film The Shape of Water is notably inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon and is considered to be a reworking of the love story within the original. Other works such as Monster Squad (1987) features the Gill-Man rising from the Black Lagoon, Stephen King’s novel IT (1986) mentions Gill-Man, and The Munsters (1964-66) features Uncle Gilbert, a man who claims he has risen from the Black Lagoon. If one takes a trip to Universal Studios’ park in Florida, the Gill-Man is one of the first creatures you see at the Classic Monsters Café. The creature is one of the most popular Sci-Fi characters in cinematic history, and is making a big return.

Universal Studios has recently been given the green light on creating the Dark Universe, a planned cinematic universe that will feature Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, and of course, Gill-Man. As a longtime fan of Creature from the Black Lagoon, I can only hope (if there is a remake) that somewhere in the credits, Millicent Patrick’s name will be there, and that future audiences see her name attached to the films she made possible. As Patrick was the first woman hired to the animation department of Walt Disney Studios, and the creator of famous creatures in Sci-Fi features, leaving her name out of the credits erases the magnitude of her existence in the drawing room, and in the history of women in Hollywood. I urge you to consider where names of women may be missing or erased from popular culture, and to attempt to make their names just as popular as the creatures they created.

Appropriation of Women’s Work

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

In 2002, the popular Food Network television station introduced the series Paula’s Home Cooking staring Paula Deen. Running until 2012, the show featured Deen at home preparing meals for her friends and family. The rags-to-riches story of a divorced, single-mother moving to Savannah, Georgia to pursue her culinary passions pulled at the heart strings of viewers. In the show, Deen focuses on preparing southern style cuisine: grits, fried chicken, and collard greens (to name a few). Her southern identity and charm define who she is in the vast Foot Network lineup.

The meals Deen typically prepares are known as “soul” food: a specific type of cuisine derived from African American culture in the South. Soul food is traditionally believed to have come from middle to lower class African Americans in the south; Deen embodies and appears as the complete opposite. If one tunes in to Paula’s Home Cooking, they find a white woman surrounded by luxurious décor, pricey appliances, and an exuberant amount of wealth. Her Southern cooking style relies entirely on the African American community of the South that she is not a part of. The fame she attained was based on her appropriation and capitalization of black people and black cultural practices.

Paula Deen undoubtedly owes her fame to the black community, but she is notably discriminatory and racist against black people. She has infamously posted photos of her son in brownface and used derogatory language aimed at African Americans. For a white woman to appropriate and capitalize off of the culture of black people in the South, one would assume she’d pay them some form of respect, but she does not.

Most people attribute Deen’s popularity to her comforting and nurturing nature on the cooking television program. When one begins to unpack her presence, and capitalizing off of black cultural cuisine, the thinly layered veil in her appearance of innocence is peeled back. What we find is that Paula Deen utilizes stereotypes of the “mammy” figure that is commonly used to designate a nurturing, matronly, and non-sexual black woman that cares for a household and/or family. It appears that she has become so knowledgeable on black women and black culture in the South that she has created a white version of the mammy figure, and capitalized off of it.

Black women have combated the stereotype and troupe of the mammy in every aspect of their representation, whether in film, television, or real life. When Deen capitalizes off of the problematic signifier of a specific black womanhood, she utilizes the struggles of black women to gain monetary profits and fame. Ultimately, she erases the long-standing activism of black women to resist such stereotypes and creates a white-centric view of the South through commodifying soul food for a white audience.

After Paula Deen was publicly exposed for her racism, the Food Network canceled her programs. Deen has lost her capital, but her appropriation of African American culture in the South remains problematic as reruns of Paula’s Home Cooking continue to be broadcasted. This holiday season, I urge you to turn off Deen’s show, and instead take note of the talented black women in the culinary world as you prepare your holiday dinners such as Barbara Smith and Pat and Gina Neely.

A Conversation Regarding Women’s Unpaid Household Labor: A Critique of the New York Times

By Katie Swartwood
Katie is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an article on the stress gap between working men and women. Even if men and women share equal responsibility on the job, women continue to be more stressed due to the amount of unpaid labor they are forced to bare. The New York Times concluded that housework and emotional labor are the main contributors to women’s stress. In the end, they offer three tips for “How Women Can Push Back.” These include self-care, knowing your triggers, and seeking validation. While all of these suggestions can be important for women’s mental and physical health, they’re not exactly what I would describe as pushing back.

Although, they do note that women’s household work can be more laborious than outside work, and that women can do up to three times the amount of unpaid labor as men, they compress women’s resources for pushing back against this sexism in one small section. Under the subheading “Seeking Validation,” the article advises women working outside the house to have a discussion with their partners in order to develop equal household work. However, this one sentence telling women to have a conversation with her partner ignores the sexist double standard for women that has been deeply imbedded within the fiber of American History, one that still clearly exists today.

For millenniums, women’s unpaid labor has allowed not only the family to prosper, but society as a whole. Historically, women have cooked the daily meals, routinely scrubbed the house clean, and educated children on morality, religion, speaking, writing, maths, etc. In some cases, women have even ruled in place of their male children if they were too young to take the throne. Women’s underappreciated and undervalued labor has allowed for their husbands and sons to cultivate successful lives, businesses, governments, and more. Failure to acknowledge the historical significance of women’s unpaid labor diminishes how vital it has been and continues to be.

So by the New York Times reducing the importance of this shared household labor to “seeking validation,” they are ignoring just how much work women have managed over the years. Additionally, they are establishing the idea that creating a fair and equal household falls under a woman’s need to be reassured even as they handle massive amounts of unrewarded labor. In this way, the New York Times fails to see the role that society and men play in diminishing the value of women’s domestic labor. Even more worrisome is the fact that women often do not realize the weight of their extra labor that others rely on because they view it as their responsibility. As a wife, as a mother, they often see it as their duty to wake up before the entire household to pack their families lunches and to get the kids ready for school. They stay up late to clean up the dinner they made, to clean up the house, and prepare the kids for work. And when they do all this work, there isn’t always appreciation because it’s expected that women will take a more active role in these duties.

So what about men? We praise them when they step in to make dinner that night, or decide to take the family out to dinner. We congratulate women whose husbands offer to “babysit” the kids for a night. A man “helping out” with his kids doesn’t deserve accolade when women have been the unsung heroes for far too long. This is not to say that some husband’s don’t pull their weight around the house or that women are wrong for finding value in being primary domestic worker in her household. Feminism is about having the opportunity to choose. What I am saying is that women should understand that just because they are wives and mothers does not mean that they need to place too much responsibility upon themselves because society and religion have historically placed it there. Men are no longer the only outside workers in their household, thus women should not be the only partner laboring within it. And if a man does help, he should not receive any more praise than a woman gives herself or others give her.

Should women be having open and conscious conversations with their partners about sharing household duties? Yes! But it’s also important that men be more open to beginning these conversations as well. The New York Times places the responsibility of these conversations on women, once again adding to her stress. Instead of advising women to notice stress markers and contemplating ways to solve them, men should be able to recognize the unfair standard in the household and offer solution for their partners, so that they can share the burden. It is not always women’s job to solve problems, instead men should stand up against outdated gender expectations and their own ignorance so that they can begin to support the women in their lives in a fair and equal manner.


See the New York Times article here:

Calling for Self-defense in Punk Rock: “Go Home” and the Home Alive Collective

By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

I find it appropriate to provide the reader with a warning of the content that follows. The following post contains mentions of rape, violence towards women, self-defense, and the work of women in punk rock in creating organizations that seek to keep women safe from violence.

The night of July 7, 1993, Mia Zapata of the Gits was walking home from the Seattle, Washington bar the Comet Tavern, where she had frequently held performances and lived a short distance from, when she was brutally raped and murdered. Her death largely impacted the growing Riot Grrrl movement and feminist punk culture in Seattle and its surrounding areas. Feeling compelled by the death of Zapata, Valerie Agnew of Seven-Year Bitch, amongst other artists, formed the Home Alive collective. The organization is dedicated to keeping women safe by providing affordable workshops on self-defense, anger management, and weaponry training. Punk feminist icons Joan Jett and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) wrote “Go Home” as their own response, and similarly to Agnew, used their platform to advocate women to take the necessary actions for their protection against threats of violence.

Women of punk demanded that their worth as humans and as women should be recognized, working tirelessly to ensure that they would not lose someone else to the violence women potentially faced, and continue to face on a day-to-day basis. The considerable effort put forth by Agnew in assisting in the formation of the Home Alive collective in 1993 reflects the necessity to encourage the creation of safe spaces for women, and to destigmatize fighting back against an assailant. They formed the collective in the hopes of not only providing supportive and crucial self-defense training to their community, but also to women with lower incomes, and those that were homeless. In 2018, the collective continues to provide the resources previously mentioned for everyone and anyone that needs them. Their website features visual aids that show women the ways that they can defend themselves against a variety of violent acts such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and gender-based violence. With the assistance of mainstream punk women icons such as Hanna and Jett, Home Alive grew exponentially and opened up a larger conversation socially and culturally on the lack of protection women have against harm that continues to this day.

The music video Jett and Hanna created for their song “Go Home” is a call to arms for women who do not feel safe. A punk rock anthem for self-defense, the video features Jett defending herself against a potential assailant. As the protagonist grows increasingly aware that the man on the public transportation system has the intent to harm her, she fights back as he attempts to assault her; the video ends as the woman walks home, safe from harm. The video expresses to the viewer that any woman can be a victim of these heinous crimes, and addresses the importance of knowing how to defend oneself in order to get home safely.

These are only a few of the ways that women in the punk rock industry have worked towards creating a safer environment for themselves, their fans, and women as a whole. As I reflect on my time spent amongst people of the same mentality in the music scene, I noticed that their tireless work oftentimes is overlooked. By recognizing the efforts that women continue to put forth in bettering the spaces they navigate for themselves and their community, it leads to larger conversations on violence that women face, and the work that they must do, and that they have to do to keep themselves and other women safe.

This post is dedicated to Mia Zapata, as well as the countless individuals who have lost their lives to violence and the survivors of violence. Please find below a short list of numbers that may assist you or someone you know, as well as the link for the Home Alive Collective’s website.

The Rape Crisis Hotline: 210-349-7273

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 

The Home Alive Collective Website:


The Native American Women Missing from Your History Textbooks

Written by Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

When one has the opportunity to receive an education on Native American women in the history of the United States, the names Sacagawea and Pocahontas are commonly the names heard more often than others. These two women are inherently important, as they play large roles in American history. Pocahontas saved the lives of captive Native Americans during the settling of Jamestown, Virginia, and without Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark would not have had the ability to successfully explore the Louisiana Territory. Common white-centric histories on these women center around their explorations at the hands of colonizers, and these heroines of history undoubtably deserve a more expansive and appropriate representation of their strength and larger contributions.

With a mid-term election filled with firsts for Native American women in politics, I find it appropriate to revisit historical firsts for Native American women that are missing from history textbooks. The purpose of this piece draws influence from the American public-school system’s provision of a narrow historical framework on Native American women, often times erasing important figures. Furthermore, I insist the necessity in including Sharice Davids, the first openly gay Native American woman elected to Kansas’s third congressional district, and Deb Halaand, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, into future revisions of these histories.

Biawacheeitchish (Woman Chief in English) was born in the early 1800s to the Gros Ventres people and passed away in 1858. Taking on traditionally masculine roles, she assumed leadership positions and became renowned in her marksmanship, horse riding, and warrior status. She led wars, and quickly became recognized as one of the three highest ranked members of 160 lodges. Despite the history of Biawacheeitchish remaining somewhat of a mystery, her contributions and status mark her as an important figure of Native American women’s history.

Susan La Flesche Picotte (1865-1915) was the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Noticing the mistreatment of Native American communities by medical doctors, her pursuits were fueled by the necessity to provide her community with healthcare opportunities. Picotte traveled reservation to reservation treating people for various illnesses and spreading knowledge on hygiene and overall health. Quickly becoming a pillar in her community, she participated in political action towards the bettering of healthcare, and chaired the state health Committee in Nebraska.

Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008) was the first Native American woman that held the title of engineer. Commonly remembered for her contributions to aerospace design, she contributed largely to the ability for conceptualizing unmanned and manned space exploration. She worked on countless secretive projects such as the Skunk Works project; Ross was one of the forty engineers that had founded this specific project as well.

These are only a few of the countless Native American women that hold titles of being “the first” and have largely contributed to the bettering of their communities, as well as society as a whole (such as Ross, who without, space exploration may have taken a longer route to achieve). When I first discovered these women, I was shocked that I hadn’t heard of them sooner. One would assume that Biawacheeitisch would find a home in conversations with chiefs such as Geronimo or Tecumseh, or that a mention of Ross would appear in histories of space exploration, yet they do not. As these Native American women are absent from the common history of the United States, I contend that we must seek to revise it and give these women the credit they deserve and that their achievements warrant. 

Indigenous Punk Music: The Miracle Dolls

Written by Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.

When someone says the word “punk” in reference to the musical genre one may immediately think of the popular people that shaped its introduction to mainstream knowledge such as Sid Vicious (Simon John Ritchie) of The Sex Pistols, or Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. Punk music is notably fueled by a feeling of discontent towards social, political, and cultural norms, structures, or institutions that marginalize individuals that deviate from them. Known for its anarchic style, artists that have participated in creating works in the genre express disdain towards an unjust system and use their platform to make statements against injustices. An overtly apparent goal of punk rock is to provide community to others that feel marginalized and form a collective movement to incite larger social change. This is not without flaw, as most faces that dominate the culture of punk are primarily white, and/or men. As the end of another thanksgiving holiday closes, I would like to direct the reader to a few of the many Indigenous people of punk and their efforts in the genre that we should be thankful for year-round.  

The Miracle Dolls, consisting of twin sisters Dani and Dezy Doll from Southern California and members of the Hidatsa tribe, started the Native American Youth Music Program (NAYMP) to create larger change in their community. These sisters are no strangers to public forms of activism, as their song “Sweet Grass” was written in support of the Water is Life Movement and the preservation of the Earth. The sisters utilize their musical platform as a form of activism against injustices towards Indigenous people while promoting the health of their community through instructing music lessons through the NAYMP. Taking note of the hardships the youth in their community experience, the two center the classes as more than instructive, they are therapeutic through the capability of providing a freeform of expression and an outlet. Dani and Dezy Doll believe that music is the greatest outlet for their community and have set a long-standing goal to provide musical instruments to every reservation to further heal the historical trauma that Indigenous people face.

As American society and government continues in its attempts to diminish the culture of Indigenous people and their communities, we must continue to recognize the importance and the existence of active participants that aim to nurture growth such as Dani and Dezy Doll. While their music may not be a definitive representation of what one would assume punk should or should not sound like, their challenging of political, social, and cultural injustices Indigenous people face would adhere them to this genre. The two use their music to provide community, raise awareness, and advocate for the importance of a musical outlet. Ultimately, the Miracle Dolls’ efforts through and in their music should not go unnoticed or underrepresented.

In short, Dani and Dezy Doll are importance figures in the genre of punk, as their activism isn’t solely centered around speaking out, but rather, taking action to cause change and actually doing it. As mentioned, punk is statistically centered around white individuals in the mainstream and popular culture, which is an injustice in itself, and erases the efforts of people of color in punk. Rather than think of Sid Vicious or Kathleen Hanna next time you hear the words “punk” or “punk rock,” think of Dani and Dezy Doll, and their continuous activism and strength.

Additional bands fronted by Indigenous individuals:

  • A Tribe Called Red
  • No More Moments
  • Hamac Caziim
  • Black Fire
  • Samantha Crain
  • Digging Roots

Watch a The Miracle Dolls music videos here.

“Women’s Work” and Thanksgiving Memories

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a first year graduate student in the Women’s History Program.

A Thanksgiving Memory

Grandmother worked in the kitchen for hours leading up to the day of the big event. Mom would make food at home and bring it to grandmother’s house. Aunt May would always bring pie and rolls. I was the only girl of the grandkids, so I was always asked to set the table, even though someone always came behind me fixing my mistakes.

“Mary Jane, why don’t you put Hannah in a finishing school? She needs to know how to set the table!” Said Grandmother. A hidden eye roll and playful smile looked my way. Mom wouldn’t send me to a finishing school. She thought that was silly, especially in this day and age.

My brother and cousins played while I waited for instructions. Carry this, clean that, take this drink to that person… I knew it was weird – me being the only grandkid working, my aunts and mother being the only adults working, my grandmother being the only grandparent working. I didn’t understand why. I was just a kid. But I knew it was not fair that my granddaddy, my father, my uncles, my brother, and my male cousins would not help. And then after all of that hard work, my granddaddy was still the one who got to cut up the turkey. I was unsure how to address something I had no words for. How can you say that something is wrong when you don’t know how to name what is wrong i the first place?

Years later, the traditions have changed. But it is mostly because my grandmother can’t keep up with that much food in the way she used to. Now, my aunt takes on those responsibilities. Now, I find myself still helping. My brother helps more, but not for long before he is told, by my aunt, to go sit down and enjoy the company of everyone else.

“Women’s work” is what they call it in feminist writing today. “Women’s work” is the work that people assume women will do, like cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. During holidays and in everyday life, women end up taking on tasks that have been feminized to an extent that in many heterosexual relationships, the work in the home is almost completely on women. It is 2018 and still when I find myself at home, with my parents and other family members, the gender norms and gender rules still exist.

It spills over into the office, and women often end up being the people who organize office parties, put the notes together for  meeting, or decorate around the holidays. It puts differing values on differing types of work. Women teach and become nurses. Men do construction and become firefighters. “Feminine” jobs require a lot of training and furthering education, and yet more “masculine” jobs are paid more and are sometimes viewed better. All jobs are valid and needed, but it is very problematic that some are viewed with the face of a woman and thus less respect.

“Women’s work” is a part of today’s culture, and the culture of our past, that is so much a part of the way we value work and how it is gendered. It starts at a young age, and it seems like it becomes a part of the the social structures and identities of every young woman and man.

This Thanksgiving, consider practicing “stepping up and stepping back.” Consider asking male cousins or siblings to help in the kitchen, ask your father or uncle to cook something for the meal, and take a step back. Take a moment to talk with your mother or grandmother, and ask how your brother can help. Challenge everyone to be a part of whatever traditions you have. It’s a small structural step that can help change a culture so deeply ingrained in many Americans this holiday season.