Virginia Hall never spoke publicly about her remarkable life because she knew too many people who “were killed for talking too much.” So, until recently, her story was known only within the intelligence community, where documents were known to disappear and code names were so numerous it was hard to know who was who.
Google “top 25 greatest screenwriters of all time” and you’ll find every single one of them is a man. But from 1915 into the 1930s, a woman named Frances Marion was the most successful and highest-paid screenwriter in show biz.
Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) is described as contrary, outspoken, feisty, radical, defiant and determined. But as the first woman to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor, the second woman in America to become a licensed medical doctor, a lifelong women’s rights activist, prohibitionist, and a dress reformer who steadfastly refused to accept the stodgy Victorian confines of her gender, I suspect she earned — and needed — every single one of those attributes.
It was the Roaring Twenties, the anything-goes Jazz Age, when Florence Mills made her mark in American history. Known as the “Queen of Happiness,” she was a cabaret singer, dancer and comedienne known for her effervescent stage presence, unique birdlike voice, wide-eyed beauty and slicked bobbed hair imitated by women on both sides of the Atlantic.
Pauli Murray may be one of the 20th century’s most important historical figures you’ve never heard of. She was a civil rights activist; a gender rights activist and feminist; a lawyer and brilliant legal strategist; historian, author and poet; and, later in life, an ordained priest.
In 1917, twelve words opened the floodgates for women to serve in the military: “It does not say … anywhere that a Yeoman must be a man.” One year after the U.S. Naval Reserve Act of 1916 allowed qualified “persons” to enlist, history was made when 20-year-old Loretta Perfectus Walsh (1896-1925) did just that, earning herself a whole series of “firsts” in the process.