Esther Lape (1881 - 1981)
Esther Everett Lape and her life-partner Elizabeth Fisher Read devoted their lives to women's rights and social and international justice. In her autobiography, their close friend, Franklin Roosevelt's wife, credited “their standards of work and their interests [with playing] a great part in what might be called 'the intensive education of Eleanor Roosevelt.'”
E. R.'s financial advisor, Elizabeth Read, was an attorney and scholar of international law. For the American Foundation, an organization founded in the 1920s for creating ongoing world peace, she translated The World Court. Authored by a Cuban jurist of international justice at The Hague, the book's intent was to “present the story of the Court to Americans” and garner US support for a tribunal that, according to introductory statements, “has in it the possibility of substituting law for war.” For the same organization she produced—her contribution is stated as “prepared by”—the publication International Law and International Relations (1925). It sought to give American citizens “authoritative information presented in simple form” about “the intercourse of nations and the international cooperation thus far achieved.” In creating the booklet, as stated in it, “the hope [was] for much and always with a regard for a basis upon which to build peace for the world.”
Her companion, the journalist and activist organizer Esther Lape, edited a book called Ways to Peace (1924). It was a compilation of twenty world-peace plans submitted by a Yale University law professor, a former president of Harvard University, and others. In its introduction she wrote, “Over and over again, the question is raised as to the wisdom or the viciousness of maintaining an educational tradition which permits leaders to induce people to think that the interests and welfare of people on one side [of] an imaginary line [a national border] can be radically different from the interests and welfare of people on the other side of that line, or that the welfare of the one can be obtained by measures that bring disaster to the other.”
The women's efforts included participation in the fight to achieve a decent system of comprehensive healthcare in the United States. Back in the '30s, the American Medical Association declared “unyielding opposition” to including government health insurance in the Social Security Act of 1935. To counter the AMA and spark dialogue about the state of US healthcare, the study American Medicine: Expert Testimony Out of Court was published in 1937 by the American Foundation. (In the text Esther is listed as "Member in charge" [sic] and Elizabeth as "Director of Research" with that organization.) The publication consisted of an extensive two-volume survey organized by Lape and Read of 2,100 medical specialists.
In her “Editor's Note” of introduction to the publication Lape acknowledged her companion's contributions, saying, “I gratefully implicate my associate, Elizabeth Fisher Read, in every stage of the work.” About the study Lape commented, “Of outstanding interest” is that “medical scientists” replied, “not by theoretically discussing social and economic proposals but rather by practically analyzing concrete ways and means” when asked about “the present manner of organizing medical care and of planning for the health of the population.”
During that time period medical care reform nearly materialized. A rebel faction of physicians, some of whom had assisted in coordinating the American Foundation's survey of medical specialists, broke away from the AMA. The insurgents, formalizing in 1937 into the Committee of Physicians for the Improvement of Medical Care, helped the notion catch on that top-grade patient care for all was attainable. Furthermore, two years later a New York US Senator submitted a bill for a national health care program. But Roosevelt feared tangling with the powerful AMA while a national election year was close at hand and refrained from acting on the quality health care issue.
In the 1950s, Lape (Read had passed away) renewed her efforts to upgrade US healthcare. President Eisenhower, a supporter of comprehensive medical care, enlisted the help of Lape, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others. Their study called Medical Research: A Midcentury Survey, released in 1955, spelled out the need for improved healthcare. But, again, AMA lobbying stymied their goals. The President handed Lape the pen he used to sign a compromised Health Reinsurance Act. Waving it she remarked, “Now! This represents a puny little bone in the vertebrae of what I had in mind!”
1. Eleanor Roosevelt, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (N.p.: Da Capo, 1992), 113, http://books.google.com/books?id=EttXbOcgmKgC&pg=PA113&lpg=PA113&dq=their+standards+of+work+and+their+interests+[with+playing]+a+great+part+in+what+might+be+called+%27the+intensive+education+of+Eleanor+Roosevelt.%27&source=bl&ots=T0Wl31VLBY&sig=ucC0aiT2mmjGvKZtUChChKmqsj0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=4TAIUaOlD7OL0QHr-4CAAw&ved=0CEYQ6AEwBQ#v=onepa ge&q=their%20standards%20of%20work%20and%20their%20interests%20[with%20playing]%20a%20great%20part%20in%20what%20might%20be%20called%20%27the%20intensive%20education%20of%20Eleanor%20Roosevelt.%27&f=false.
2. Antonio Sanchez de Bustamante, The World Court, trans. Elizabeth F. Read (New York: MacMillan, 1925), n.p. (located in the “Preface”).
3. Sanchez de Bustamante, xiii.
4. International Law and International Relations, prepared by Elizabeth F. Read ([New York]: American Foundation, 1925), iii.
5. International, iii.
6. Esther Everett Lape, ed., Ways to Peace: Twenty Plans Selected from the Most Representative of Those Submitted to The American Peace Award . . . (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924), 45.
7. “The Evolution of Medicare: Chapter 2: The Second Round – 1927 to 1940,” Social Security History, U.S. Social Security Administration, http://www.ssa.gov/history/corningchap2.html.
8. American Foundation, American Medicine: Expert Testimony Out of Court, Volume 1 (New York: American Foundation, 1937), vii.
9. American, xlix.
10. American, xlix.
11. Peter J. Kuznick, Beyond the Laboratory: Scientists as Political Activists in 1930's America (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987), 87, http://books.google.com/books?id=pQxy2PRHWrwC&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=%22committee+of+physicians+for+the+improvement+of+medical+care%22+1937&source=bl&ots=LOADB0maMR&sig=gyFXgotESuwaJMv4QJQuz_IzwvM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lAmqUoDRO-K-sQTnm4HADA&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22committee%20of%20physicians%20for%20the%20improvement%20of%20medical%20care%22%201937&f=false.
12. Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery, 2012), 62.
13. Blanche Wiessen Cook, “Lape, Esther,” in Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century, ed. Susan Ware and assistant ed. Stacy Braukman (N.p.: prepared under the auspices of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, 2004), 368, http://books.google.com/books?id=WSaMu4F06AQC&pg=PA368&lpg=PA368&dq=notable+american+women+esther+lape&source=bl&ots=UH55ecDb_s&sig=YU5AawMr7Nn6ZGjKoAeWGL_JXpU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=eMnIUIXxDMeQ0QHpvYGYBw&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=notable%20american%20women%20esther%20lape&f=false.
14. Rachel Witter Pflaum, ed.-in-chief, Legenda 1905 (N.p.: Published by the Senior Class of Wellesley College, ), title page.
15. Lillian Faderman, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America—A History (Boston: Mariner, 2000), 193.
16. Faderman, 196.