Mary Anning – Britain’s Forgotten Fossil Hunter

A Pioneering 19th-Century Paleontologist Who Changed Science

Mary Anning and the Jurrassic Coast fossil cliffs of Lyme Regis, England
Now known as the Jurassic Coast, the massive cliffs that break off into the English Channel at Lyme Regis in England expose rock formations that go back more than 185 million years. In the early 1800s, Mary Anning made major discoveries here.

In the opening decades of the 19th century, Mary Anning, a country bumpkin who lived in a town overlooking the English Channel, made some of the earliest landmark discoveries in the emerging new science of paleontology. Yet male scientists often ended up taking all the credit.

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Jessie Tarbox Beals: First Published Female Photojournalist

Blazed a trail for future female news photographers

At the turn of the 20th century, Jessie Tarbox Beals blazed a trail for female photographers when she became the first woman photojournalist to be published in the U.S. Her accomplishments are all the more notable because the photo process and equipment of her era required arduous amounts of physical labor and stamina. For instance, the camera she often balanced on top of 20-foot ladders weighed 50 pounds.

Jessie Tarbox Beals might have spent her life as a teacher, doing “genteel, sheltered, monotonous and moneyless work having neither heights nor depths.” Instead, thanks to a little box camera, a knack for self promotion and pure moxie, she became one of America’s first women to carve out a career in the tough, competitive, male-dominated field of photojournalism.

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Hidden WWII Hero: Filipina-American Florence Finch

Saboteur, Resistance Fighter, and POW in the Pacific Theater

Military medals of Florence Smith Finch
After the Japanese invaded the Philippines at the start of World War II, Florence Finch became a spy, resistance fighter, and finally, a prisoner of war. She also went on to become the first Asian- American woman to wear a U.S. Coast Guard uniform. Later still, in a quieter career as an office worker at Cornell University, she never mentioned her military exploits or medals to her co-workers.

If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that unsung heroes are all around us — people doing great things or committing acts of bravery or self-sacrifice quietly, without celebration or recognition, sacrificing their time and energy for the good of others. So it’s understandable that neither a small community in Ithaca, NY, nor people working at Cornell University knew they had been, for years, in the presence of a true, unsung, World War II hometown hero, Florence Finch.

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The 1905 Fastest Girl on Earth: Dorothy Levitt

First British Woman to Compete in an Auto Race

Pioneering female race car driver Dorothy Levitt wowed the British public with her winning skills.
At the turn of the 20th century, Dorothy Levitt was the first British woman to compete in automobile races, setting and holding several records. A media darling, she audaciously carved out a female role in the rapidly growing and previously male-only sport that was central to the emerging car sales industry.

If you saw the 1986 movie Top Gun, you’ll remember the tag line: “I feel the need … the need for speed.” But 81 years before Maverick and Goose uttered those words, Dorothy Levitt, self-styled “motoriste,” became the first English woman to compete in automobile racing, setting the Ladies World Land speed record and earning the nickname The Fastest Girl on Earth, driving an 80-horsepower Napier at the lightning speed of 79.75 miles an hour.

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Code Cracker Extraordinaire Elizebeth Smith Friedman

A Cryptographic Sleuth Who Took Down Mobsters, Spies, and Nazis

Top secret Cryptoanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman cracked the Nazi military's Enigma code systems.
A driving force in the creation of the modern craft and science of cryptography, or code cracking, Elizebeth Smith Friedman spent a top secret career bringing down mobsters, spies and Nazi enemies.

Most people can’t name anyone whose career took them from searching for hidden messages in Shakespeare’s works to Nazi code busting to foiling Prohibition rum runners and sending mobsters to the slam. But that’s exactly how Elizebeth Smith Friedman liked it. She was perfectly happy working in the shadows as a complete unknown.

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America’s First Lady of the Air: Harriet Quimby

Pioneering the Path of Females in U.S. Aviation History

Aviatrix Harriet Quimby in front of her 1911 airplane.
Ablaze in fame as the country’s first licensed female pilot, Harriet Quimby flew to celebrity, mesmerizing international audiences with the airborne derring-do that paved the way for later women fliers like Amelia Earhart.

In August of 1911, 36-year-old Harriet Quimby became America’s first licensed female pilot. Dubbed “America’s First Lady of the Air,” she couldn’t know she had less than a year to revel in her title before falling from the sky to her death.

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