Her’s Day Thursday

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Have you ever wondered what it could be like to be a “Bond Girl”? Well, two women knew what it was like to BE Bond—centuries before the British sex-pot spy was ever created!

 

During the American Revolution, a spy operation called the Culper Spy Ring functioned from 1778 to 1780 from NYC (which, at the time, was occupied completely by the British) all the way through Connecticut and west to none other than General George Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh, NY.

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The key spies operating the Culper Ring were Benjamin Tallmadge (Washington’s Intelligence Chief), Abraham Woodhull, Robert Townsend, John Jay, Caleb Brewster, and two women: Anna Strong and one known only as “Agent 355”.

 

Anna Strong would receive and distribute encoded messages to fellow members of the Culper Ring by hanging a black petticoat on her wash line when a message was ready. She would also include different colors of handkerchiefs to signal where and when the messages would be delivered. Go, Anna!

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There is much speculation, however, to the identity of Agent 355 but there is no denying her involvement or importance in the Culper Ring.

 

Agent 355, it is believed, was a member of higher society being born into a wealthy, British-supporting family. She lived in New York City and had easy access to members of British society as well as British officers.

 

Whenever she could, Agent 355 listened in on conversations between the officers—in that time, men held the belief that women were to have the same political views as their husbands (or, if unmarried, fathers) so they took no special precaution to censure their conversations. Because of this and her “beguiling charm”, Agent 355 was able to pass on sensitive information through the Culper Ring to General Washington. She is even credited with assisting in the outing of Benedict Arnold as a traitor!

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Agent 355–a woman on a mission!

 

Both of these ladies have been featured on the AMC series, Turn. Ever watched it? For more information on these awesome ladies, click here!

 

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Her’s Day Thursday

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The other night, I was watching PBS (big shocker; that’s my nightly ritual. Yes, I’m basically an 80-year-old in a 32 year old’s body) and there was a special about a woman named Lydia Mendoza.

Lydia or, “La Alondra de la Frontera,” (The Lark of the Border) was born in Houston, Texas in May 1916. Her parents were very musical–her mother and grandmother actually taught her how to play guitar when she was a toddler! When Lydia was just four years old, she built her own guitar out of wood, nails, and rubber bands. Lydia and her sister performed with her parents in a family band named La Cuarteto Carta Blanca on the streets of Houston. One day, Lydia’s father found an ad in a local Spanish newspaper, looking for musical acts. The family performed and won the chance to travel to San Antonio to record for the Okeh record label.

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Not long after, Lydia and her family moved to Michigan as migrant workers. They quickly built up a large fan base within their migrant community, with Lydia shining bright. The Mendoza family eventually moved back to San Antonio and resumed performing. In the early 1930’s, Manuel Cortez (a pioneer in Mexican-American broadcasting) saw Lydia perform and was immediately taken by her talent. He signed her and she recorded her first single, Mal Hombre. It was an instant success! Lydia toured the country with her family in tow.

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Lydia accomplished great success in her career which spanned over 60 years, 50 records, and more than 200 songs. Her soulful style, 12-stringed guitar, and ability to write deep, meaningful songs has made her a pioneer and a legend within the Spanish-speaking music community. Lydia continued to perform–even playing at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration–and tour until she suffered a stroke in 1998. She has received numerous awards and acknowledgements: the National Heritage Fellowship Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Folk Alliance International. And, in 2013, Lydia was honored with a commemorative stamp from the United Postal Service.

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Gracias, Lydia, for your beautiful voice and amazing legacy!

Her’s Day Thursday

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about an amazing lady in history, so I thought I’d fix that today! Our wonderful woman was a daredevil who pushed boundaries and didn’t let racism or sexism get in her way! Today’s BAMF is Bessie Coleman!

Pioneer Aviator Bessie Coleman

 

Bessie Coleman was born on January 26, 1892–the tenth of thirteen children–in Atlanta, TX. When Bessie was a young child, she would walk to school everyday (four miles!). Her school was a small, one-room, segregated schoolhouse. Bessie excelled in reading and math. When she was older, she saved up her money and enrolled at Langston University in Langston, OK. Sadly, she was only able to finish one year because she ran out of money.

When she was 23, Bessie moved to Chicago and lived with three of her brothers. She made ends meet by working as a manicurist. Knowing she was meant for more, Bessie took a second job to pay for flying lessons. Because American flight schools didn’t allow blacks or women, she was encouraged by a friend to study abroad. So, with her friend helping her financially, she left the U.S. for France.

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On June 15, 1921, Bessie became the first African American woman to earn her pilots license! When she came back to America, she was a media sensation. Bessie was an extrordinary pilot and knew how to keep an audience’s attention. She was an amazing daredevil, performing such tricks as figure eights, loops, and near-ground dips which kept air show crowds in awe.

Because of her popularity, Bessie was offered a role in the movie Shadow and Sunshine. She was excited to be a part of a major motion picture and hoped it would break barriers for women and people of color. However, she soon found out that her character was going to be portrayed in tattered clothes, carrying a pack over her shoulder. She walked off the movie set, refusing to perpetuate the derogatory image that Hollywood seemed so keen on to portray blacks in America.

Bessie knew where her destiny lie, in the clouds. She’s quoted as saying, “The air is the only place free from prejudices. I knew we had no aviators, neither men nor women, and I knew the Race needed to be represented along this most important line, so I thought it my duty to risk my life to learn aviation. . .”

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Sadly, Bessie’s avionic dreams came to a halt on April 30, 1926. On her way to an air show, Bessie was in her Curtiss JN-4 aircraft with her co-pilot. Her plane had been worked on by a mechanic earlier in the day who said that he had to make three forced landings because of faulty maintenance from the previous owner. Undeterred, Bessie wanted to take her plane to the show. She did not have her seatbelt on while in the plane, as she needed to look over the co-pilot’s shoulder for his readings. As she did this, the plane took a sudden nose dive, spinning. Bessie was thrown from her aircraft and fell 2,000 feet to her death. Later, a wrench had been found inside the engine, accidentally left by the mechanic. She was just 34.

Her life was short, but her legacy is huge. Bessie broke down barriers of race and gender. Bessie Coleman, you are an inspiration to us all!

 

 

 

Her’s Day Thursday

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Since yesterday was International Women’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the awesome ways women have influenced the world! Here are some amazing women who invented some extraordinary things!

Stephanie Kwolek

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Kwolek, a chemist, discovered and invented the materials used to make Kevlar bulletproof vests!

 

Florence Parpart

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We ALL owe Florence Parpart a HUGE thank you! She’s the inventor of the refrigerator (aka, The Real Happiest Place on Earth)!

 

Josephine Cochrane

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Josephine Cochrane is an A+ in book. Why? She is the inventor of the dishwasher! Saving us all (and by all I mean ALL–not just ladies) from the horror that is washing dishes by hand!

 

Marie Van Brittan Brown

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Marie was a nurse who worked odd hours and frequently found herself at home alone during the night. She collaborated with her husband and invented the home security system!

 

Tabitha Babbitt

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Tabitha Babbitt lived in a Shaker community in Massachusetts which relied heavily on the forestry business. She observed that the men exerted a lot of energy but using the two-men pull saws. Because of this, she invented the circular saw!

 

Have you ever heard of any of these inventors? Know of any others? Share in the comments below!

 

Her’s Day Thursday

 

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During the Oscars this past Sunday, GE debuted an awesome new commercial. Didn’t see it? No worries! I’ve got it right here:

 

I. LOVE. THIS.

(Also, the irony that this commercial was played during an awards show honoring celebrities was not lost on me)

I wish great women like Millie Dresselhaus were held to the same esteem as celebrities. And Millie deserves it! She was the first female professor at MIT (she taught physics and electrical engineering) and has won several awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science (among more than a dozen others)!

You can learn more about Millie here!

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Y’all, today’s BAMF is absolutely amazing! I’m just going to jump right in because I am so excited to share her story with you!

Lyudmila Pavlichenko (whom I will refer to here on out as “Mila”) was born on July 12, 1916 in Bila Tserkva, Russia. When she was 14 years old, she moved to Kyiv and joined a shooting club. She became an amateur sharpshooter while she worked at the Kyiv Arsenal Factory. Mila went through university and eventually graduated with a Master’s Degree in history in 1937.

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Mila continued her education at the Kyiv University and, in June 1941, was aghast when Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union and bombed her beloved school. She was one of the first volunteers to step inside a recruiting office, requesting to join the infantry. First, she was offered a position as a nurse, but she turned it down. Soon, however, she was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division.

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She was one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, though only 500 or so survived the war. Mila was sent all over, racking up a total of 309 kills, which included 36 enemy snipers! In 1942, Mila was wounded by mortar fire and taken off the front lines. She was gaining much notoriety and the leaders of the Red Army were afraid for her safety.

She spent much of her time after that visiting Allied countries and was invited to the White House (the first Soviet to ever be received by an American president) by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She met Eleanor Roosevelt and the two formed a great friendship.

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While in the U.S., Mila was shocked by the questions she received by journalists. She is quoted as saying, “One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform made me look fat.” During a speaking engagement in Chicago, Mila decided she had had enough. She said, ““Gentlemen, I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist invaders by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?” (Tell ‘em, girl!)

Mila eventually went back to the Soviet Union, where she earned the rank of Major. She never saw combat but trained snipers until the end of the war. Mila was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, got her picture on a postage stamp, and was even written about in song by Woody Guthrie!

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Mila proved that it didn’t matter that she was a woman; she was tough as nails and could fight fascism just as well (or even better!) than anyone else!

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Her’s Day Thursday

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Its a new year and I’ve got a new lady from history who went “beast mode” before there ever was such a term! Today’s BAMF is Violet Jessop (AKA, the woman with amazing luck!).

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Violet Jessop was born on October 1, 1887 to Irish immigrants. Violet was soon joined by eight other siblings (sadly, only 6 survived). When Violet was young, she was hit with tuberculosis. Her condition was so severe that doctors did not believe she would live. She proved them wrong by coming through the illness just as strong as ever.

After her father passed away from complications to a surgery, Violet, her mother, and the younger children moved to England. There, Violet attended a convent school and cared for the children while her mother worked as a stewardess at sea. Not long after, Violet’s mother became ill. She left school and became a stewardess for the Royal Mail Line aboard the ship Orinoco in 1908.

Two years later, Violet was given a job aboard the RMS Olympic (a luxury ship; the largest at the time). On September 20, 1911, the Olympic left its port at Southampton and collided with the HMS Hawke, a British war ship. Thankfully, there were no fatalities and the Olympic was able to get back to port without sinkingThis would not be Violet’s only harrowing adventure at sea.

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The next April, 1912, Violet began working as a stewardess aboard the RMS Titanic. Oh yes, Violet was there on the fateful night that the Titanic hit an iceberg. Violet was working below deck when she was ordered to come up, as to be an example to non-English speakers of how to behave calmly. Violet was put onto a lifeboat where one of the boat’s officers handed her a baby. She, and the others on her lifeboat, were rescued the next morning by the Carpathia. While aboard the Carpathia, Violet was still holding the baby she was given the night before. A woman came up to her (most likely the child’s mother) and took the baby from her arms.

You would think THAT experience would be enough to deter Violet from ever boarding a ship again. Nope. During WWI, Violet worked as a stewardess for The British Red Cross.

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She was aboard the Britannic on November 21, 1916 when the ship either hit a mine hidden by German troops or was blasted by a torpedo. The large ship had sunk in less than an hour, taking 30 lives with it. But it did not take Violet. She made it to a lifeboat in time, though she had to jump out of it and swim for her life as the ship’s propellers were sucking lifeboats under the waves.

Again, Violet was not turned off by the sea. She went to work for Red Star Line and made two tours around the world. She later retired in 1950. Want to tell your kids about Violet? Check out this video!

 

You can also grab a copy of Violet’s memoirs here!

 

I think Molly Brown should give her nickname to Violet Jessop–the woman who wouldn’t go down with the ship!