Triumph Against All Odds: Black Artist Elizabeth Catlett

A Highly Acclaimed 20th Century Sculptor and Printmaker

Artist Elizabeth Catlett and slavery print.
Inspired by the stories of her formerly-enslaved grandmothers, artist Elizabeth Catlett built an internationally acclaimed career around her artworks capturing the experiences of Black women.

Elizabeth Catlett never knew her father, a Tuskegee Institute math professor who died before she was born, but a small wooden bird sculpture he left behind gave wing to the artistic interests that would ultimately define her career. Born near Washington, D.C., in 1915, grandchild of formerly-enslaved people, her life’s work would give poignant voice to the dignity, pride, strength, and hard-won victories of Black women in a society dominated by white men.

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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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Theda Bara – First Creation of Hollywood’s Sultans of Spin

Bookish Daughter of a Tailor Turned Into One of Filmdom’s First Sex Vamps

Silent screen actress Theda Bara in the first Cleopatra movie
Starring as the first Cleopatra, Theda Bara is viewed by historians as one of the best actresses of the silent film era and one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols. The entire collection of her films was lost in a 1937 studio fire.

If you’ve ever wondered how a nice Jewish girl from Cincinnati who was named after Aaron Burr’s daughter became what one newspaper described as “the most fascinating though revolting female character ever created,” have I got a story for you about Theda Bara.

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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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Annette Kellerman – Taboo-Busting Mermaid, Women’s Health Advocate

As an Athlete, Actress, and Designer, She Swam Her Way to Fame

The first mermaid of Hollywood's early silver screen era.
During the early decades of the 20th century, Australia-born Annette Kellerman was renowned as an athlete, actress, writer, stuntwoman, women’s health and fitness advocate, and clothing designer who revolutionized female swimwear. She performed the first water ballet, invented the sport of synchronized swimming, and was the first mermaid of the silver screen.

Ever since Disney’s aquatic Princess Ariel debuted in 1989, mermaids have become a thing. Before Ariel, there was actress Glynis Johns as a mermaid named Miranda in 1948. And who can forget Daryl Hannah striding ashore in all that strategically-placed hair in the 1980s’ movie Splash? But long before any of those film mermaids, there was Australia’s Annette Kellerman.

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Clora Bryant: Jazz Trumpeter “As Good As Any Man”

Album Cover or Clora Bryant's
An extraordinary talent, Clora Bryant fought through gender discrimination her entire career to made her mark as a trumpeter and vocalist who was as good as any of the men who dominated the world of jazz.

Think of jazz trumpeters from the 1940s, and names like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie come to mind. But one name you may not know belongs to a woman who could hold her own with all three of them. A product of the West Coast jazz scene, her name was Clora Bryant, who called herself a “trumpetiste.”

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