The Women of the 1862 Allegheny Arsenal Explosion

71 Die in Worst Civilian Disaster of the Civil War

Civil War munitions being packed at a Union Army arsenal
In 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal was one of the largest producers of black powder munitions for the Union Army as the Civil War raged on. Female employees filled, hand rolled and packed the gun cartridges as shown in this period illustration by Winslow Homer. Below are actual paper-wrapped cartridges.

I’m sure Harriet Beecher Stowe meant well when, in 1861, she rallied American women to patriotism, writing, “We thank God for mothers that cheer on their sons, for young wives that have said ‘go’ to their husbands, for widows who have given their only sons.” But as the bloody Civil War dragged on, some women chose a more hands-on approach to support the war — they went to dangerous work in arsenals, helping build and fuel the machinery of war at places like the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Mary Sears – Pioneering Oceanographer Who Helped Win World War II

Mary Sears and a World War II U.S. Naval landing craft
As head of the U.S. Navy’s Oceanographic Unit, Mary Sears played a major role in revolutionizing how massive World War II military amphibious assaults were planned.

Diminutive, quiet, and bespectacled, it was Mary Sears’ nature to let her research and prodigious body of work speak louder than any commendations or public recognition that came her way. Still, few would argue that she changed the course of oceanographic history, contributed to its growth as an internationally recognized science and, along the way, helped win World War II.

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Emilia Casanova de Villaverde: Firebrand of The Cuban Revolution

Caves Beneath Her Bronx Mansion Were Packed With Guns and Explosives

US forces landing in Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898 with headshot of Emilia Casanova de Villaverde
Internationally famed for devoting her fortune and entire adult life to a crusade to overthrow the colonial Spanish rulers of Cuba, Emilia Casanova de Villaverde died 17 months before U.S. forces invaded and conquered the island in 1898, severing its ties to Spain. Here, U.S. troops go ashore at Daiquiri, Cuba.

The future Emilia Casanova de Villaverde was a willful, headstrong teenager and never one to hold her tongue. She lacked the “coquettish manners believed to be natural in young women.” But what she had was a fire in her belly for Cuban independence in the late 19th century when Cuba was still governed by Spain. So much so that at a convivial banquet attended by Spanish authorities, she rose to lift her glass in a very public toast “to the freedom of the world and the independence of Cuba.” Talk about knowing how to clear a room.

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History’s Deadliest Female Sniper: Ukraine’s Lyudmila Pavlichenko

World War II Hero Credited with 309 Nazi Kills

World War II Ukranian sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko with rifle
Enrolled in Kyiv University as a history student when the Nazis invaded in 1941, 25-year-old Ukrainian rifle sportswoman Lyudmila Pavlichenko joined the military and went on to gain international fame as a World War II sniper. Today’s female Ukrainian warriors follow in her footsteps.

Of all the fierce Ukrainian warriors who have grabbed the world’s attention as they battle the current Russian invasion, one of the most unusual (and deliberately unsung) is a female Ukrainian Marine sniper known to the outside world only as “Charcoal.”

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Socialite, Arctic Explorer, Wartime Secret Agent: Louise Boyd

Turning Fabulous Wealth and Arduous Journeys into New Scientific Knowledge

1931 photo of the head of the Franz Josef Fiord, a Russian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean
Born into fabulous San Francisco wealth in 1887, Louise Arner Boyd spent it all during a long career of organizing her own scientific expeditions to some of the planet’s most remote and foreboding frozen regions. She left behind troves of documentation that remain relevant in today’s struggle against climate change.

Louise Boyd wasn’t born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth. Hers was made of gold. Her grandfather made a fortune in the California Gold Rush of 1848; her father was a mining magnate with a stake in a gold mine, and president of San Francisco’s Boyd Investment Company. Her mother was a New York socialite.

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Ida Holdgreve: Wright Brothers’ Plane Seamstress

Played a major role in earliest era of powered human flight

Seamstress Ida Holdgreve at work in the Wright Brothers’ Ohio factory in 1911. Her work was crucial in the earliest era of powered human flight when airplanes were made of wood, wire and fabric, including the DH-4, which was the only American-built plane to fly in combat in World War I.

Had computers and Spell Check! existed in 1910, we might never know the name Ida Holdgreve. Lucky for her, a simple typo in a local newspaper ad led to her finding a place in history as the first woman to work in the American aviation industry.

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