Zitkála-Sá: A 20th-Century Champion of Native American Activism

Her Opera “The Sun Dance” Made Stage History

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School became infamous as a place designed to
Born on a South Dakota Sioux Reservation, the young Gertrude Simmons was pulled between the Indian culture into which she was born and the Euro-American culture that educated her. At 19, she seized on her tribal roots and went on to become one of the most influential Native American activists of the 20th century.

Zitkála-Sá (pronounced Zitkála Shá), also known as Gertrude Evaline Simmons, was born in 1876, year of the Battle of Little Bighorn, on South Dakota’s Yankton Sioux Reservation. Her mother was a full-blooded Dakota Sioux named Ellen Tatiyahewin (“She Reaches for the Wind”) Simmons, her father a white man about whom little is known. We do know he abandoned the family, leaving her mother to raise their children in traditional Sioux ways.

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Dr. Margaret Chung: Proud ‘Mom’ of WWII’s Fair-Haired Bastards

First Chinese American Female Physician and Wartime Celebrity

Planes of the 'Flying Tigers' unit in World War II.
In one of the more unlikely pairings of World War II, Margaret Chung, the country’s first Chinese-American female physician, helped recruit fighter pilots for the “Flying Tigers.” That unit of P40 aircraft, famed for its planes’ shark face nose art, was secretly equipped and trained by the U.S. military. Its pilots operated in China as mercenaries helping to repel Japanese air raids during the year before America officially entered the war.

From the time she was 10 years old, Margaret Chung wanted to become a doctor. But with no dolls or toys to practice on, she resorted to using banana peels to practice her suture technique. Born into a time when the stories of Chinese Americans were those of rejection and exclusion, Margaret Chung learned early on she would need to forge a distinctive path for herself if she were to achieve her dreams.

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Jackie Ormes – First African American Female Cartoonist

Crusading Journalist Targeted by FBI during Joe McCarthy Era

Comic strip by Jackie Ormes
With the publication of her comic strip in the Pittsburgh Courier in 1937, Jackie Ormes became the first African American woman newspaper cartoonist. It was the beginning of a long career as a crusading journalist, artist and activist who used her pen as an instrument of protest and change.

Anyone remember riffling through the Sunday papers to get to the comics section? The Sunday funnies, a.k.a. the funny papers, were a family tradition for kids of all ages. They were so popular that, during a 1945 newspaper delivery strike, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took to the radio to read the comics so readers wouldn’t miss a week.

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Tye Leung Schulze, Women’s Rights Advocate, First U.S. Chinese Voter

Rescued Chinatown Sex Slaves in Turn of the Century San Francisco

A staunch human rights advocate and activist, Tye Leung Schulze worked throughout her career to free female Chinese sex slaves from American brothels. She was also the first Chinese-American voter.

Standing just over four feet tall, she was nicknamed “Tiny.” But when it came to character, compassion, and her dedication to civil rights and women’s rights, there was nothing small about Tye Leung Schulze.

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From One Room School to International Renown: Vernie Merze Tate

Vernie Merze Tate at Oxford
The first black female to receive a degree at Oxford,Vernie Merze Tate went on to counsel General General Dwight D. Eisenhower on disarmament issues.

As one of the first black families to settle in mostly-white Mecosta County, Michigan, thanks to the 1862 Homestead Act, Dr. Vernie Merze Tate’s great-grandparents were trailblazers. So it’s only natural she blazed her own trail, this time using education to break racial and gender barriers while amassing an impressive list of “firsts” along the way.

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Barbara Hillary: Blazing a Trail to the Top (and Bottom) of the World

A 75-year-old cancer survivor’s Incredible journey


A retired nurse who survived two bouts of cancer, Barbara Hillary was the first African-American women to reach the North Pole, among other trekking adventures.

In terms of sheer persistence, Barbara Hillary’s is quite a story. Determined to do what no other woman like her had done before, Hillary became the first African-American woman to reach the North Pole. Even more noteworthy, she did it at the age of 75.

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