Project: Visualization

Timeline: The Day Philly Police Bombed Their Own City

Cleanup crews take away debris and human remains from Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. May 15, 1985. George Widman/AP.

On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on a building in a residential neighborhood, killing eleven people and leaving over 200 people homeless. If this incident is discussed at all in modern times, that’s usually the extent of it. That was the extent of my own personal knowledge prior to this semester. My dad had told me about it a while ago, but in a very basic, matter-of-fact way.

It took me a little while to figure out a topic for this project. Initially, this was going to be a part of a broader examination of racial conflict in Philadelphia. But as I did more research into this event specifically, I found that there was far more to the story. This couldn’t just be a part of a larger narrative; it deserved its own detailed analysis. I had to know: How did this happen? What happened to the people involved afterwards? Is anybody in the right in this story?

To very briefly give some background, MOVE was an organization operating in West Philadelphia beginning in the 1970s. While not initially founded as a black liberation group, that’s essentially what they became (although with very contradictory politics). Violent clashes with police led to the city government leaving MOVE alone for several years until the situation became untenable. After fighting with MOVE for a full day, and neither side able to gain an inch, the police decided to drop a bomb on MOVE’s fortified compound on Osage Avenue. The resulting fire spread to surrounding row homes and burned out several blocks.

What I intended to do with this timeline was expand the scope of this story. While most studies of the bombing start around 1978 (MOVE’s first violent clash with police), I argue that the story really begins in the 1960s. And while some studies continued through the investigations into city officials, they usually end it there. This timeline allows me to prove that the neighborhood is still feeling the effects of that bombing almost 35 years later. Using a timeline also allowed me to easily connect one event to the next, which allows me to argue that neither MOVE nor the city are the “good guys”. Everyone made bad decisions, people died, and the residents of Osage Avenue are still paying the price for those decisions.

Project: Visualization

Timeline – From Bradwell to the Notorious RBG: The Fight For Legal Equality

I first began my long and tirelessly effort on Myra Bradwell in the spring of 2018. I was searching for a research topic that I could write my honors thesis on, so I turned to my History of Women and Law professor, Dr. Phipps for help. When I told her that I wanted to research women’s history but I also really enjoyed learning about United States Supreme Court cases, she suggested that I find a landmark Supreme Court case on women’s rights. Thus, I discovered Bradwell v. Illinois (1873). In 1869, Myra Bradwell passed the Illinois Bar exam with high honors. When she applied for her law license with the State Supreme Court, they refused on the grounds of “her married condition.” During the Victorian era, a common law doctrine called coverture applied to women once they married. Becoming a femme covert upon marriage, a wife’s legal identity was absorbed under the identity of her husband. Thus, married women could not hold property, earnings, or enter contracts under their name. The Illinois State Supreme Court argued that since Bradwell could not even make a contract under her own name, she could not defend someone in the court of law. After this decision, Bradwell appealed her case to the United States Supreme Court under the claim that the state of Illinois violated her privileges and immunities as a citizen, as defined in the newly ratified Fourteenth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court ruled that employment was not protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, thus denying Myra Bradwell the right to practice law. 

Bradwell v. Illinois was the first United States Supreme Court case where a person challenged his or her perscribed gender roles and is often cited as the case that paved a path for the major victories that would later result in the Women’s Rights Movement. Wait – so this loss, an outright defeat to the legal rights of women- supposedly resulted in more women gaining their rights? This just did not make sense to me, especially in the ways in which I learned about her case. In the episode “Sex Appeal” from Radiolab’s podcast More Perfect, the episode casts Bradwell v. Illinois as the first “greatest hit…for the Court’s ridiculous distinction between the roles of men and women.” Therefore, I set out on my research with this simple question in mind: what did Bradwell V. Illinois do for the legal rights of women? I wanted to see the good and the bad. The victories that came or the setbacks that women experienced because of Bradwell’s challenege to the United States Supreme Court.