Please stay tuned… another strong woman will be debuting in mid-December!
Please stay tuned… another strong woman will be debuting in mid-December!
Which prestigious award has been issued to 3,514 men, but only 1 woman?
That would be the Medal of Honor, bestowed upon service personnel for gallantry in action during wartime.
Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, the medal was intended to honor sailors and soldiers who had gone beyond the call of duty, distinguishing themselves with heroic actions during combat.
Thirty-two years before, Mary Edwards Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York, to ‘free thinking’ abolitionist parents who encouraged her from an early age to pursue a higher education. After graduating from the Falley Seminary in Fulton, New York, Mary began to teach, but only as a means of earning money so she could enroll in medical school. By 1855, at the age of 23, Mary graduated from the Syracuse Medical College as one of the few women physicians in America. She had been the only female in her class.
Mary established herself in private practice, and married another doctor, Albert Miller. However, the marriage did not last and since Mary had insisted upon retaining her maiden name, she was still known simply as Mary Walker.
The Civil War broke out in 1861 and Mary traveled to Washington D.C. with the intention of joining the U.S. Army as a doctor. She was rejected on the basis of her sex. Undaunted, she volunteered to serve as a surgeon. Rejected again, she offered to act as a nurse, and was sent to the field hospitals for several battles in Virginia.
In 1863 she traveled to Tennessee, coinciding with the death of the one and only surgeon of the Army of the Cumberland. By default, Mary was appointed the rank of assistant surgeon, which officially made her the first female physician of the Civil War and the U.S. Army.
As the war dragged on, Mary appeared near the Union front lines at battlefield after battlefield and began to draw attention to herself. After the infamous Battle of Chickamauga in northwest Georgia, the Union casualties streamed into Chattanooga, Tennessee only to find that the ‘doctor’ who would be treating them was in fact a woman. Mary made herself easy to find in the makeshift hospitals by often wearing a straw hat with a tall ostrich feather sticking out of it.
Obviously, not a shrinking violet.
Captured by the Confederates in 1864, Mary was sent to Castle Thunder Prison near Richmond, Virginia, where disease was rampant and food continuously spoiled. After four months of incarceration, she was released in a prisoner exchange for a Confederate officer; but her health had been adversely affected during her captivity. Still, she went right back to the battlegrounds, tending the sick and dying.
In 1865, President Andrew Johnson awarded Mary the Medal of Honor “due to her devotion of patriotic zeal to tend sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the detriment of her own health, and for having endured hardships as a prisoner of war.”
After the war was over, Mary continued to practice medicine, wrote two books, and went on the lecture circuit advocating for dress reform and equal rights for women. To make her point, she often wore a man’s black top hat as her signature expression for the need of equality.
In an effort to make the Medal of Honor more prestigious, the Medal of Honor Board rewrote the criteria in 1917 so that only military personnel who had actually engaged in combat would be eligible. Mary received a letter explaining that she had to return her medal.
Until her death two years later at the age of 86, Mary wore her Medal of Honor every day. Had she lived but one year more, she would have witnessed the ratification of 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, awarding American women the right to vote.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter restored Mary Walker’s name to the list of recipients of the Medal of Honor.
To this day, in spite of the fact there are 2 million American female veterans, Mary Walker is still the only woman to have been given the Medal of Honor.
Thank you to Joan Whitener for telling me about this strong woman. If you have a woman you would like me to research, someone from the past who lived her life with conviction and passion, please respond in the comments box at the end of this page. I am always delighted to find more stories about little known women who helped make this world a better place.
Please make sure you vote on November 8th, and in the meantime, you can catch me on Twitter @lhsittig, my website at www.lindasittig.com, or on Amazon where my debut novel, Cut From Strong Cloth is still receiving 5 star reviews! That link is www.amzn.com/1940553024.
If you are not a regular follower of this blog, please sign up on the right-hand sidebar. If you are a regular follower, pass this blog onto a friend who also believes in strong women.
~ Linda ~
One evening in 1950, seventeen-year-old Richard Loving decided to walk several miles through the isolated back country of Caroline County, Virginia. His destination was a well-known farmhouse where the Jeter Brothers would be playing bluegrass.
When he arrived, he found the place packed with other music lovers; but, his eyes locked in on one particular girl. Asking around, he found out she was the Jeters’ younger sister. Tall, willowy, and seemingly shy, Mildred Jeter made an indelible impression on him.
The months went by and Richard continued to visit the farmhouse, to listen to the music and to get to know the younger sister.
Mildred Jeter was only eleven, six years younger than Richard. This, however did not stop him from beginning a courtship that lasted for the next eight years.
Two months shy of her nineteenth birthday, Mildred became pregnant. Without any hesitation, Richard asked her to marry him.
The story could have just ended there with the couple living happily ever after.
But, Mildred Jeter was black and Richard Loving was white. In 1958, it was illegal within the state of Virginia for people classified as white to marry anyone classified as colored.
Richard and Mildred drove instead to Washington D.C., where they wed. They carried their coveted marriage license back to Caroline County and settled into their new role as husband and wife.
Five weeks into their marriage they were awakened in the middle of the night by the county sheriff and two deputies who broke into their home, burst into their bedroom, and shined flashlights in their faces. “What are you doing with this women?” the sheriff supposedly barked.
“I’m his wife,” Mildred calmly replied. Richard pointed to the marriage certificate hanging on the wall. “That’s no good here,” was the sheriff’s terse reply.
The couple was hauled off to jail and arrested. Richard was released the next morning, but Mildred stayed behind bars for several additional days. Eventually, the couple pleaded guilty to having broken the Virginia anti-miscegenation law. In court, the judge sentenced them each to a full year in prison, then suspended the sentence if they agreed to leave Virginia, and not return for 25 years.
Richard and Mildred packed their belongings and moved out of state.
The Loving’s settled into a blue-collar life in Washington D.C. and started to raise their children there. However, Mildred missed her family and the peacefulness of a rural lifestyle. When their young son was hit by a car in 1963, Mildred decided it was time for them to go home.
Knowing they would be arrested as soon as they stepped foot back in Caroline County, Mildred wrote to Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, stating their cause and asking for help. Bobby Kennedy promptly referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union, who took up the case.
Their case dragged on for years. First, their lawyers attempted to have the original judge set aside his previous verdict. He refused. The next step was to take the case to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; that court upheld the lower court. With nothing to lose, Mildred and Richard’s lawyers proceeded to file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court was made up of six white male judges, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren. On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously decided in favor of Loving v. Virginia, declaring that all anti-miscegenation laws across the country violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It was a landmark legal decision. For Richard and Mildred, it meant they could finally live together in peace, and they returned to Caroline County. Unfortunately, Richard was killed by a drunk driver in 1975. Mildred continued to live in Virginia, a quiet, unassuming life.
What makes this story even more interesting is that Mildred Jeter was multi-racial. Her ancestry included Caucasian, Native American, and African heritage. But in the 1950s, any Negro ancestry meant that your ethnicity was considered to be black, and the Virginia law specifically forbid persons of ‘color’ to marry a white person. Persons of color, however, only referred to Negros. The Virginia anti-miscegenation statute had been on the books since 1662, but, did not include Native Americans. This was due to Virginia being settled by one John Rolfe, who in addition to introducing tobacco into the Jamestown settlement (making the community financially stable), also married an Indian princess, Pocahontas. Being descended from that illustrious union was considered prestigious and therefore the anti-miscegenation law did not apply to whites marrying Native Americans.
Mildred Jeter Loving stood up for her belief that marriage was a God given right, for everyone. When asked about how it felt to be a Civil Rights Activist, she replied, “I didn’t set out to be an activist, I only wanted to come home and be a married woman.”
If you enjoyed this month’s blog and would like to read more fascinating stories about strong women, just sign up on the right side-bar to become a follower. StrongWomenInHistory has followers in over 64 countries. If you have a strong woman to nominate, someone who lived her life to make this a better world, and deserves recognition, please send me her name in the comments section. I will research her.
~ Linda ~
A young woman enters the pool arena, takes off her towel, and shakes her hands in an effort to calm her nerves.
When the announcer calls, she mounts the diving board and serenely walks to the front edge. One deep breath and then she catapults herself into space, tucking her body into not just one, but three forward somersaults before straightening out and diving into the blue waters of the pool—her body making a perfect entrance with no hint of a splash.
This girl is a modern Olympian, participating in a competition that dates back to 776 B.C. when the first Olympic Game was held in Olympia, Greece, to honor Zeus, the father of all Greek gods and goddesses.
The rules were different in the ancient Olympics. All the participating athletes had to be Greek citizens and could hail from every corner of the Greek empire, stretching from Iberia (modern day Spain) to the Black Sea (modern day Turkey). Athletes had to appear one month in advance of the games, in order to train, and attest that they had been practicing for the previous 10 months.
The games were always held at the first full moon after the summer solstice (approximately middle of July) and during the games a sacred truce was declared. No individual Greek city-state could start a war and no arms could be carried in the vicinity of Olympia.
And of course, the competition was open only to men.
In the beginning, the Olympiad lasted for one day and contained only one event—the stadion foot race of 600 feet. As the years progressed, the games added more events and stretched over a three-day, then five-day period. The agenda eventually grew to 18 events.
All contestants competed in the nude, perhaps to prevent clothing from slowing them down.
The ancient games included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration (similar to martial arts), and equestrian events. For 12 centuries athletes walked through a special portal to enter the stadium for the main events, and the hippodrome for the equestrian races.
Events were not timed. You simply won if you beat out all the other competitors. Winners stood before a cheering crowd, estimated to be as many as 45,000 spectators sitting on the embankments around the stadium. The illustrious olive wreath was bestowed as a symbol of excellence. If an athlete broke a rule during the competition, he was then excluded from all future Olympiads.
And so the Olympics progressed for over a thousand years until in 393 C.E. when Emperor Theodosius decreed that all cult practices, including the Olympiads, be abolished.
Fast forward to 1894, Baron Pierre de Coubertin concocted the idea of re-inventing the Olympic Games. His intention was to have the modern games hosted in Paris, and he founded the International Olympic Committee. The countries that were invited, however, all voted to have the new games debut in Athens, Greece.
In 1896, after a hiatus of 1,179 years, the Olympics returned.
Women were still not allowed to participate on the grounds that they would overdevelop their muscles and prove to be uninteresting.
Four years later when the next round of Olympiads was scheduled to occur in Paris, France, at the 1900 World’s Fair, women athletes had won the privilege of competing.
The gold medals for women in the 1900 games went to the following:
Helen de Pourtales, Switzerland, part of the sailing team. She was 32 years old.
Elvira Geurra, Italy, competed in the equestrian events. She was 45.
Marie Ohner and Filleaul Brohy, France, competed together in croquet.
Charlotte Cooper, Great Britain, was the first woman to win in an individual event; tennis. She was 35.
Margaret Abbott, United States, won as part of the golf team. She was 23.
It would take another thirty-six years before African-American female athletes were allowed to represent the United States during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.Then, in 1948, Alice Marie Coachman, at the age of 25, became the first African-American female athlete to be awarded a gold medal during the Olympics. She won in London for the high jump.
These women made Olympic history, not just by participating and/or winning gold medals, but by being role models for all future female athletes.
Today, every participating country sends women athletes to the Olympics and more than 40 percent of all contestants are female.
Allyson Hopkins, thank you for asking how women became involved in the Olympics.
Thank you, readers, for supporting Strong Women in History. Please pass my blog onto friends and encourage them to become followers.
Do you have a woman to nominate for Strong Women in History? Please leave me your information in the comments section of this blog.
~ Linda ~
Almost two centuries before Hurricane Katrina wreaked devastation upon the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, a different type of villain stalked the city.
That villain was hunger. It rooted itself in the poor parishes of the city, and its tentacles clutched at the hundreds of orphans in the streets.
One woman waged war against it: Margaret Gaffney Haughery.
Born in County Leitrim, Ireland, in 1813, Margaret emigrated to America at the age of five with her parents and two siblings. Arriving at Baltimore, the family settled into a hardscrabble life until 1822, when a yellow fever epidemic killed both the parents within days of each other. The fever also took the youngest child.
Orphaned at the age of nine, Margaret was then separated from her older brother when he wandered off into the city and simply disappeared. A neighbor woman offered Margaret sanctuary in her home, but insisted that Margaret start working as a domestic washer-girl to earn her keep.
By the age of ten, Margaret had joined the American work force, but her wages went solely to her guardian.
Twelve years later Margaret left domestic servitude by marrying Charles Haughery. The young couple relocated to New Orleans, Louisiana.
Unfortunately, the climate did not agree with Charles, he soon contracted a sickness and died. A few months later their infant child, Frances, also perished.
Bereft and left alone once again, Margaret faced destitution, but she knew how to launder and press clothes. She sought employment at the St. Charles Hotel and soon had a place to live and a steady paycheck. On her days off, she volunteered at the nearby Poydras Orphan Asylum run by the Sisters of Charity.
The plight of the orphans must have struck a chord deep within Margaret’s soul. Perhaps she saw in them a former version of her younger self.
She began to save every penny from her job, eventually buying two cows which allowed her to start up a modest milk-selling business. Each morning she would pull a milk cart through the city and sell her milk door to door. At each house she asked for any left-over food she could take to the orphanage.
Whether she had the luck of the Irish, or good business sense, her two-cow dairy grew within two years to a herd of forty cows. In addition to milk, she began to offer cream and butter as well.
With the success of her milk business underway, Margaret decided to expand and thought about the type food she could provide the orphans on a daily basis.
Bread was the answer. With grit and determination Margaret opened one of the earliest steam bakeries in the South. The added bonus was that Margaret could now offer employment to others, and she increased her financial holdings.
With the success of the bakery, Margaret used her own money to finance the openings of four additional orphanages.
A further testament to Margaret’s tenacious personality occurred in 1861 when the Civil War reached New Orleans. Union General Benjamin Butler occupied the city and declared martial war with curfews and no-cross boundaries. Margaret ignored the warnings and drove a wagon herself to deliver a load of bread flour to an orphanage situated behind enemy lines.
When she died in 1882, pallbearers at her funeral included two Lieutenant Governors of Louisiana and the Mayor of New Orleans. During her funeral cortege, as her coffin was carried in the streets, thousands of people stopped what they were doing and stood by the side of the road to pay their respects.
Two years later, the city of New Orleans erected a statue in her honor. It was the first public American monument dedicated to a woman and the money had come in donations of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollar bills. At its unveiling, children from every orphanage in the city stood in attendance.
In spite of her generous charitable contributions through the years and her own sparse lifestyle, Margaret had still amassed a considerable estate. In her will, she left every penny to the different orphanages of the city; regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity.
Her will was signed with a simple cross. Too busy with feeding the poor, Margaret had never learned to read or write.
Thank you to Eileen Rice, follower of this blog, for alerting me to Margaret’s story.
I invite all readers to sign up on the right hand sidebar to become followers of this blog. I am trying to reach 1,000 readers this year. Currently the blog is being followed in 64 countries. You can also catch me on Twitter @LHSittig or my website, http://www.lindasittig.com. My debut novel, Cut From Strong Cloth is on Amazon.
~ Linda ~
Many people erroneously assume that America is divided North and South by The Mason-Dixon Line; the survey boundary that separates Pennsylvania from Maryland and West Virginia.
In truth, America is divided North and South by mayonnaise.
Yes, mayonnaise, created in Spain and popularized by the French since the mid-eighteenth century, this condiment has garnished generations of American salads and sandwiches. Its long-lasting influence in our country can be traced to two families: the Duke’s and the Hellmann’s, or more specifically, Eugenie Thomas Duke and Margaret Vossberg Hellman.
A tremendous rivalry between the brands still exists with loyal fans steeply entrenched in respective camps. In order not to show any partiality (yet), I will present the stories in alphabetical order.
Eugenie Thomas was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1881. At the age of 19, she married Thomas Duke, an electrician, and the couple eventually moved to Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1917 thousands of soldiers were living at Camp Sevier, only six miles north of Greenville. Eugenia decided that she could start a sandwich business, making pimento, egg salad, and chicken salad sandwiches, and sell them to the army camp.
With the help of her daughter, Eugenia made the sandwiches daily, carried them on the local train to the camp, and sold them to the army canteens for ten cents each. Her profit amounted to two cents per sandwich.
The popularity of her enterprise led Eugenia to increase her sales by also selling sandwiches to the shops on Main Street and to local textile mills; eventually expanding her business to the fashionable city hotel dining rooms as well.
Five years into her sandwich business, Eugenia had received many letters from soldiers asking for the recipe to her delicious sandwich spread. Rather than give out the recipe, she started bottling her mayonnaise and selling it as a separate product. Her husband joined her in the business.
The ingredients included oil, egg yolks, and cider vinegar. Because sugar had been rationed during the years of WWI, she left it out of the recipe.
Her mayonnaise became known as Duke’s Real Mayonnaise and by 1929 they sold the lucrative business to the C.F. Sauer Company.
Eugenia lived to be 90 years old and left her culinary mark on mayonnaise history. Originally sold only in the South, Duke’s Real Mayonnaise is available across the nation, but has its most loyal followers in the Carolinas and Georgia. Duke’s is recognizable by its bright yellow cap.
Margaret Vossberg emigrated from Germany to the United States with her family at the turn of the twentieth century and settled in New York City. There, her family opened a very successful delicatessen.
In 1904 Margaret married Richard Hellmann, whom she knew from her earlier years in Germany. Richard worked as a wholesale grocer but had the immigrant’s aspiration of one day owning his own company.
One year into their marriage, Richard found a vacant store on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side of New York City. He promptly decided that he and Margaret could now open their own delicatessen.
They worked together day and night with hardly a break until the delicatessen was a success. A major draw was their mayonnaise. Made fresh daily, they tinkered with the recipe until they found the perfect combination. While the recipe was a closely guarded secret, most culinary researchers believed the Hellmann’s used oil, raw egg yolks, white vinegar, salt, sugar, and a dash of lemon juice.
The fresh batches of mayonnaise sold out quickly each day.
By 1912 Margaret and Richard Hellman entered the profitable market of manufacturing mayonnaise wholesale and distributed it coast to coast, but it still remained a Northern favorite.
Margaret died in 1920 and Richard sold Hellman’s in 1927 to Best Foods. The jar, however, still continues to have its iconic blue cap.
Eugenie and Margaret’s lives shared a familiar parallel—women who became business entrepreneurs through diligence and hard work.
It is hard to pinpoint today the fervent dedication people have to a particular brand of mayonnaise. Perhaps it harks back to childhood with the taste of a perfect pimento cheese sandwich or a summertime tomato sandwich on white bread. For the generations of Americans who grew up during the Great Depression, sandwiches laced with mayonnaise were a daily staple.
Regardless of where your loyalty lies, you can thank these two women for helping to bring the ultimate gift to America foodies—the perfect mayonnaise.
I was raised on Hellmann’s. Need I say more?
~ Linda ~
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Thank you for reading about Strong Women!
One hundred forty-six people perished in a matter of minutes in one of New York City’s most horrific fires—The Triangle Waist Company Fire in March of 1911. Most of the victims were young immigrant girls, all of them perished needlessly.
A significant number of lives might have been saved if the owners of the garment factory, located in the Asch Building in lower Manhattan, had installed Anna Connelly’s invention.
Fires in New York City were nothing new, but by 1900 what had changed was the height of the buildings. As the city grew, the buildings grew upward into the age of the skyscraper.
Unfortunately, many, if not most of the fire wagons had ladders and hoses that were only capable of reaching the fourth floor. When fires broke out on the upper floors of a building, the conflagrations quickly spread and anyone trapped above the fourth floor had a dismal chance of survival.
The Triangle Fire broke out on the upper three floors of the ten-story building.
Safety codes were extremely limited and lenient at the turn of the twentieth century in cities across America. Like many other entrepreneurs, the owners of the Triangle Waist Company paid more attention to increasing their profits than they did to ensure the safety of their workers.
Located on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, the Asch Building had been designed with wide open upper floor patterns, making the space ideal for garment work. The rooms were gigantic with numerous long tables for cutters of the cotton fabric. The building had two small elevators and each floor had an exit door that was shielded by a partition. This purposeful design guaranteed that only one worker at a time could exit. The night watchman could then inspect each girl’s handbag, in the event she was trying to smuggle extra scraps of cloth out of the factory.
If you take the high flammability of cotton, small elevators, a puny fire escape, wide open rooms, and an exit that would allow only one person at a time to vacate the building…it was a space designed for a fire calamity.
According to the newspaper reports, the fire broke out on the eighth floor, quickly spread upward, and the workers trapped within the Triangle Company had literally no chance of survival. Some jumped to their deaths down an empty elevator shaft, others leaped from windows, but most of them died in the flames.
In 1887 Anna Connelly of Philadelphia had submitted a patent for her newest invention—a fire escape bridge. The precursor to modern-day fire escapes had already been invented, but Connelly’s patent was for a bridge type structure that would connect adjacent buildings at the roof line. If a fire broke out and people could get to the top of the building, they could escape across the ‘bridge’ to safety at the building next door. In the patent drawing, one can see that the bridge was open at both ends, and had steel or iron railings along the sides to prevent anyone from falling off—especially people running and pushing in panic mode.
Little is known of Anna Connelly’s life. According to city records, she was already filing patents by 1877 for less significant inventions, but her fire escape bridge is her most valuable contribution. Like many other women inventors, her name is only mentioned briefly in history. No modern fire escape safety system bears her name.
If only the owners of the Asch Building had paid attention to the potential lifesaving ability of her invention, the Triangle Fire might have had a different outcome.
I hope you enjoyed learning about another strong woman.If you have not yet signed up to be a follower of this blog, please do so on the right sidebar.
~ linda ~