María Ylagan Orosa – Filipina War Hero and Banana Ketchup Queen

Killed by U.S. Friendly Fire, She Left a Legacy Including Much of What Filipinos Eat Today

Maria Orosa and a bottle of her banana ketchup
With chemistry and pharmaceutical degrees from a U.S. university, María Ylagan Orosa was also a captain in a guerilla unit battling the Japanese invasion of her homeland during World War II. Her weapon was unique, nutrient-dense foods that kept local Filipino freedom fighters going. The most famous of her creations was banana ketchup that took on a commercial life of its own after the war.

This is a serious story about a unique woman — Filipina food technologist, pharmaceutical chemist, humanitarian, and war hero – that starts with ketchup.

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Cecelia Rose O’Neill: Before Barbie There was Kewpie

Self-Taught Artist and Savvy Business Woman Who Invented the First Novelty Toy Distributed Worldwide

The 1913 patent for the Kewpie Doll
In the turn-of-the-century world of artists and illustrators that did not welcome women, Cecelia Rose O’Neill broke through as a superstar producer who created the first novelty toy distributed worldwide. It made her fabulously wealthy.

Cecelia Rose O’Neill was many things … self-taught artist and sculptor, author and poet, suffragist and, for a time, one of the world’s richest women. But to most people, she was the woman who birthed “The Kewpies” — plump little cartoon characters and world-famous dolls with top knots, rosy cheeks, broad smiles, and sidelong eyes. Debuting in 1909, Kewpies were the world’s most widely known cartoon character until a guy named Disney introduced us to a cheeky mouse named Mickey in 1928.

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Vanilla Beane: The Beloved “Hat Lady” of Washington, D.C.

She was Still Making Internationally Acclaimed Hats When She was 100

Vanilla Beane in her shop with a display of her hats
Vanilla Beane, who ran Bené Millinery & Bridal Supplies, was a beloved figure in Washington, D.C., and her hat creations were internationally famous.

She was a fashion icon, successful entrepreneur, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother — and a centenarian businesswoman with a name so charming you can’t help but smile.

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Mildred Blount: Milliner to the Stars

A Black Hatter Whose Work Became the Buzz of Hollywood Studios

Mildred Blount with Vivien Leigh
Mildred Blount in her workroom creating the hats for the 1939 movie “Gone With The Wind,” and Vivien Leigh wearing one of them in her Scarlett O’Hara role in the film.

When Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry was published in 2000, it honored a tradition deeply rooted in African American culture. One that poet Maya Angelou simply called, in her foreword to that book, THE HAT. And for Mildred Blount, THE HAT was always about more than just headwear.

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Nila Mack – The Fairy Godmother of Depression-Era Radio

How a Childless Widow Who Didn’t Like Kids Became a Star of Children’s Radio

Nila Mack at a CBS Radio microphone and a picture of a little girl listening to the radio in 1940
A turn-of-the-century vaudeville performer, movie actress, and screenwriter, Nila Mack got involved in radio in the 1930s, was hired to oversee a children’s show, and turned that show — “Let’s Pretend” — into a national hit that ran for 20 years.

Once upon a time, a “large, plump, hard-boiled, shrewd” woman named Nila Mack was asked by Columbia Broadcasting System to reinvent a Saturday morning children’s radio show called “The Adventures of Helen and Mary.” Her first reaction? “Really? You want the childless widow to save your kids’ show? I don’t even like kids.”

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Gertrude Jeannette – Actress, Playwight, Motorcyclist, and Cultural Star

Rising to Stage and Film Fame Despite Racism and Red Baiting

Gertrude Jeannette's New York City Taxi Driver's license
Actress, playwright, motorcyclist, and first woman licensed to drive a taxi in New City, Gertrude Jeannette had a long and extraordinary career in the theater and film as well as the passing lane. She lived to be 103.

Gertrude Jeannette was a true trailblazer as the first woman to get a motorcycle license in Manhattan and The Big Apple’s first licensed female cabdriver. Perhaps her more important accomplishments were as an actor, director and playwright who mentored a generation of Black actors in New York. But none of that would have happened were it not for a persistent childhood stutter and a man named Joe Jeannette who loved to dance.

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