Namahyoke Sockum Curtis In The Spanish-American War

Recruited to Solve a Critical Shortage, She Helped Elevate the Status and Role of U.S. Military Nurses

Nurses at a U.S. Army field hospital in Havana during the Spanish-American War
The only known photo of Namahyoke Sockum Curtis against an 1898 image of a U.S. Army Field hospital in Havana, Cuba, during the Spanish American War. Daughter of an African-American/Native American family, and a Black socialite who raised funds to build hospitals for non-whites in Chicago, she was selected by the U.S. Surgeon General to head the recruitment of desperately needed war-time nurses. It was the first time nurses served in dedicated, quasi-military Army units, leading to the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901.

As wars go, the Spanish-American War gets very little attention. But black women hired as nurses during what some called the “splendid little war” get even less. So you’re excused if you’ve never heard of a woman with the unusual name Namahyoke “Namah” Sockum Curtis, and her role in the Spanish-American War.

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Engineer Mary Pennington, America’s “Ice Woman”

A Refrigeration Pioneer Who Surmounted Gender Barriers to Revolutionize The Way Food is Shipped, Stored and Sold

Engineer Mary Pennington on top of a rail car collecting food samples.
Mary Engle Pennington pioneered systems of refrigerated rail cars and practices that revolutionized the food shipping industry. She is shown here, atop a rail car, collecting food samples for testing.

For most women, being dubbed America’s “Ice Woman” would be cringe-worthy at best. But Mary Pennington, whose pioneering work in storing, shipping, refrigerating and flash-freezing perishable foods revolutionized America’s food supply, wore it as a well-deserved badge of honor.

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Margaret Fogarty Rudkin, Feminist Founder of Pepperidge Farm

A Pepperidge Farms horse-drawn delivery wagon
After starting a baking business in her kitchen at the height of the Great Depression, Margaret Fogarty Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm became one of the country’s best known food brands.

Maybe it’s the decadence of a double-chocolate Milano. Or those buttery, melt-in-your-mouth Chessmen. Or the handful of Goldfish (“the snack that smiles back”) a harried mom throws into a Ziploc bag on the way out the door with her little ones. Pepperidge Farm has been America’s bakery for generations. But did you know it all started with a housewife, a sickly little boy and a stately tree on a Connecticut farm?

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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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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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America’s First Female Bank President: Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Walker, first female bank president in U.S. history
Despite her hardscrabble early life in Richmond, Va., Maggie Lena Walker used her business acumen to build a small financial empire focused on supporting Black enterprise, civil rights and women’s rights at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1903 in Richmond, Virginia, Maggie Lena Walker knocked the banking industry on its ear. She founded and became president of a bank, making her the first female bank president in the history of the United States. In an age when the financial services industry was captained by wealthy white men, her achievement was even more noteworthy given that Walker was the daughter of two former slaves.

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