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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Marguerite Higgins: First Pulitzer-Prize Winning Female War Correspondent

New York Herald Tribune reporter and Korean War media star Marguerite Higgins chats with General Douglas MacArthur in the field.

Marguerite “Maggie” Higgins wasn’t America’s first female war correspondent. Legendary journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn (who was also Ernest Hemingway’s third wife) had covered conflicts all over the world in her 60-year career. But Higgins was the first to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1951 with her front-line coverage of the Korean War.

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Charlotta Spears Bass – Crusading Journalist and Civil Rights Activist

Charlotta Bass in front of her California Eagle newspaper office
At a time when African Americans had little presence in the mainstream news publishing industry, Charlotta Spears Bass became a a powerful journalist and newspaper owner who ran for both Congress and Vice President of the United States.

You might not know her name, but Charlotta Spears Bass was a major badass. She fought the Ku Klux Klan and won. Was the first black woman to run for vice president. And, at the ripe old age of 91, was under surveillance by the FBI.

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