This is the tale of a rusty, dinged-up, century-old tinned Christmas pudding and how it wound up in the dark recesses of a family pantry in a seaport town on England’s south coast. It’s also the story of the 19th-century woman known as the Mother of Britain’s Royal Navy.
In 1903 in Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Lena Walker knocked the banking industry on its ear. She founded and became president of a bank, making her the first female bank president in the history of the United States. In an age when the financial services industry was captained by wealthy white men, her achievement was even more noteworthy given that Walker was the daughter of two former slaves.
She is the only champion of women’s rights in the last two centuries to have both a crater on the moon and an asteroid named in her honor. Maria Mitchell was a star of 19th century American science who used astronomy to expand the boundaries of what women could expect and achieve. Her life and work are a root of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) movement that today draws ever larger numbers of young women to scientific careers. But, ironically, Mitchell is not well know to most of them.
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley wasn’t born to greatness. She was born the daughter of an enslaved woman on a Virginia plantation. Sent to North Carolina, where she was repeatedly beaten and whipped in an effort to break her spirit. Given to a white merchant who used her as his concubine and raped her for four years. Pregnant at age 20. Not exactly the makings of a success story.
It was the Roaring Twenties, the anything-goes Jazz Age, when Florence Mills made her mark in American history. Known as the “Queen of Happiness,” she was a cabaret singer, dancer and comedienne known for her effervescent stage presence, unique birdlike voice, wide-eyed beauty and slicked bobbed hair imitated by women on both sides of the Atlantic.
Josephine Silone-Yates, the first African American certified to teach in Rhode Island public schools, also became America’s first black female college professor and the first black female to head a major college science department. Aside from her role in the field of what would later be called STEM education, she also became a national advocate for the rights of black women.