Dr. Margaret Chung: Proud ‘Mom’ of WWII’s Fair-Haired Bastards

First Chinese American Female Physician and Wartime Celebrity

Planes of the 'Flying Tigers' unit in World War II.
In one of the more unlikely pairings of World War II, Margaret Chung, the country’s first Chinese-American female physician, helped recruit fighter pilots for the “Flying Tigers.” That unit of P40 aircraft, famed for its planes’ shark face nose art, was secretly equipped and trained by the U.S. military. Its pilots operated in China as mercenaries helping to repel Japanese air raids during the year before America officially entered the war.

From the time she was 10 years old, Margaret Chung wanted to become a doctor. But with no dolls or toys to practice on, she resorted to using banana peels to practice her suture technique. Born into a time when the stories of Chinese Americans were those of rejection and exclusion, Margaret Chung learned early on she would need to forge a distinctive path for herself if she were to achieve her dreams.

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Code Cracker Extraordinaire Elizebeth Smith Friedman

A Cryptographic Sleuth Who Took Down Mobsters, Spies, and Nazis

Top secret Cryptoanalyst Elizebeth Smith Friedman cracked the Nazi military's Enigma code systems.
A driving force in the creation of the modern craft and science of cryptography, or code cracking, Elizebeth Smith Friedman spent a top secret career bringing down mobsters, spies and Nazi enemies.

Most people can’t name anyone whose career took them from searching for hidden messages in Shakespeare’s works to Nazi code busting to foiling Prohibition rum runners and sending mobsters to the slam. But that’s exactly how Elizebeth Smith Friedman liked it. She was perfectly happy working in the shadows as a complete unknown.

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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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Josephine Baker: Exotic Showgirl and Clandestine French Operative

Josephine Baker, stage girl and French Spy
Largely remembered in the U.S. as an uninhibited showgirl and glitzy celebrity, Josephine Baker secretly served as an undercover operative for the Free French movement during WWII. She was ultimately awarded the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honors.

Josephine Baker took Paris by storm, dancing in nothing more than a G-string hung with fake bananas. She had a diamond-collared pet cheetah named Chiquita. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw.” But she was also a French war hero, World War II spy and a civil rights activist who raised 12 children she called her “Rainbow Tribe.”

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First Native American Female Marine: Minnie Spotted Wolf of the Blackfeet Tribe

Memorializing a local legend seventy six years after her enlistment, the name of a stretch of Montana’s U.S. Highway 89 was changed to Minnie Spotted Wolf Memorial Highway. [Highway photo by John McGill of the Glacier Reporter]
It was “hard … but not too hard,”  is how the 20-year-old woman who broke racial and gender barriers as the first Native American female Marine described boot camp at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune in 1943. After all, growing up on her father’s rural Montana ranch, Minnie Spotted Wolf was used to doing the types of back-breaking physical jobs usually done by men — cutting fence posts, driving two-ton trucks, building bridges and fences, and rounding up and breaking horses while raising cattle and sheep.

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Agnes “Aggie” Weston: Mother of Britain’s Royal Navy

Believed to be the oldest one of its kind, this 120-year-old tinned Christmas pudding is a prized exhibit in Britain’s National Museum of the Royal Navy and a beloved artifact of the troop-focused social work of  Agnes Weston (above).

This is the tale of a rusty, dinged-up, century-old tinned Christmas pudding and how it wound up in the dark recesses of a family pantry in a seaport town on England’s south coast. It’s also the story of the 19th-century woman known as the Mother of Britain’s Royal Navy.

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