Virginia Hall – The One-Legged WWII Super Spy the Nazis Couldn’t Catch

Spy Virginia Hall and one of the war-ravaged French towns she worked in.
Although she was one of the World War II Allied Forces’ most important spies, the exploits of Virginia Hall remained unknown to the world until recently. She worked in battle-torn France for British forces and ultimately became a member of the OSS, the forerunner of the CIA.

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.

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Contrary Mary: The Only Female Congressional Medal of Honor Winner

Civil War physician Mary Walker wearing her Congressional Medal of Honor.
The second female medical doctor to be licensed in America, Civil War Union Army veteran Mary Walker is also the only woman to ever win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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.

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Anna Coleman Ladd: Repairing WWI’s Broken Faces

Before the modern age facial reconstruction and plastic surgery, Anna Coleman Ladd was one of a handful of unique artisans in World War I who created highly detailed masks to hide severely mutilated soldiers’ facial wounds.

Philadelphia-born Anna Coleman Ladd is best known for her neoclassical portrait busts and bronze sculptures of sprites frolicking in public fountains. But her greatest work — and her most important legacy — was restoring the self-respect, honor and dignity to World War I veterans known by the French as “the men with the broken faces.”

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Margaret Bourke-White, Trailblazing American Photojournalist

Margaret Bourke-White in the 1930s
As she became one of the 20th century’s most famous photographers, Margaret Bourke-White broke down barriers that previously limited photojournalist opportunities for U.S. females. Above are images of her photo on the cover of the first edition of LIFE magazine in 1936, and a shot of her in her aviation gear at the start of World War II.

Margaret Bourke-White, who entered college in the 1920s with the idea of becoming a Herpetologist,  could have made a name for herself handling snakes. Instead, she picked up a camera and went on to become a groundbreaking female photojournalist, giving us some of the most iconic images of the 20th century.

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Julia Ward Howe: Her Song is Marching On

Inspired by the human horror, anguish, and sense of national purpose she experienced during visits to Union Army encampments and  hospitals, Julia Ward Howe wrote what became one of the most powerful and famous songs of all time.

Little did Julia Ward Howe know that in writing what became the anthem of the American Civil War in 1861, she emancipated herself from the narrow, 19th-century views that kept women in domestic confinement, and realized her long-held ambition to become a thinker, a writer and an individual on her own terms.

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Loretta Walsh, 1917, First Woman to Enlist in the U.S. Navy

First woman to enlist in the U.S. Navy, Loretta Walsh
When Loretta Perfectus Walsh became the first women to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1917, that service didn’t yet have uniforms for female sailors. She served as a yeoman at the U.S. Navy Yard in Philadelphia (background photo).

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.

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