The Mother of American Midwifery: Mary Carson Breckinridge

Born into an upper-crust family of great wealth and power, Mary Breckinridge had her choice of rich and luxurious options in life. It speaks to her character that she chose to be a horseback frontier midwife in the rugged back country of Appalachia.

Fans of the popular PBS show “Call the Midwife” tune in every Sunday night to follow the lives of Trixie, Val, Nurse Crane and Lucille, bicycling through the cobbled streets of London’s East End, as they bring new life into that region’s poorest community. But closer to home, very few people know the name of the woman who brought nurse-midwifery to the United States and, in the process, changed America’s rural health care delivery system forever.

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Grace Gallatin Seton: Adventurer and Champion of Women’s Rights

Born the daughter of a west coast steel and iron magnate, Gace Gallatin Seton traveled the world as an adventurer, writer and advocate for women’s rights. Here, in World War I France, she and her comrades use their Ford Camionettes to ferry supplies to the front lines.

Madeleine Albright, America’s first Secretary of State, famously said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” If that’s true, writer and adventurer Grace Gallatin Seton certainly isn’t there. Continue reading “Grace Gallatin Seton: Adventurer and Champion of Women’s Rights”

Charlotte Parkhurst: Gender Bending “Whip” of the California Gold Rush

As a runaway girl dressed as a boy, Charlotte Parkhurst took a job mucking out Massachusetts livery stables in 1824 and went on from there to become a stagecoach driver.

Life for a woman born in the 1800s was full of gender-based taboos and restrictions. She couldn’t vote, run for or hold office. Couldn’t own property or, with few exceptions, get an elite education. Couldn’t serve in the military or on a jury. And she couldn’t easily escape a distasteful or abusive marriage. For a woman to enjoy all the freedoms denied her simply by being born female, there was only one option: live as a man.

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Josephine Baker: Exotic Showgirl and Clandestine French Operative

Josephine Baker, stage girl and French Spy
Largely remembered in the U.S. as an uninhibited showgirl and glitzy celebrity, Josephine Baker secretly served as an undercover operative for the Free French movement during WWII. She was ultimately awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honors.

Josephine Baker took Paris by storm, dancing in nothing more than a G-string hung with fake bananas. She had a diamond-collared pet cheetah named Chiquita. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw.” But she was also a French war hero, World War II spy and a civil rights activist who raised 12 children she called her “Rainbow Tribe.”

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Rose Mackenberg: Ghostbuster of Phantoms, Frauds and Flimflam Men

In the early 1900s, with the help of Brooklyn private detective Rose Mackenberg (above, right), escape artist and magician Harry Houdini (above, left) launched a national campaign to expose phony psychics and mediums who preyed on the emotionally distraught. Mackenberg’s colorful methods for ferreting out frauds made her a legend in her own right.

When it came to spiritualists and séances, Rose Mackenberg, a savvy, no-nonsense Brooklyn private eye, once said, “I smell a rat before I smell the incense.” In the early 20th century, she became a star investigator for escape artist and magician Harry Houdini, who spent the last portion of his own career debunking psychics and séances.

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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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