Blanche Scott: America’s First Female Aviator… or Was She?

An early female pilot and promoter who claimed several aviation “firsts” that weren’t

Blanche Scott in an early Curtiss aircraft
Daughter of a 19th-century patent medicine huckster, Blanche Scott proved herself as good a pilot as she was a shameless promoter claiming a number of early aviation “firsts” that weren’t.

Blanche Stuart Scott couldn’t stand the thought of “being a nobody and a nothing in New York’s millions.” So this only child, spoiled by wealthy parents and described as stubborn, adventurous, competitive and fiercely determined, became somebody, racking up a slew of firsts along the way. Unfortunately, some of those firsts weren’t. Some were more like close, but no cigar.

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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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The Valkyrie of the Piano: Teresa Carreño

Teresa Carreño is different stages of her life.
Beginning before she was a teenager, Venezuela-born classical musical prodigy Teresa Carreño sold out major music halls in the U.S. In an age that was intolerant of female composers, she went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated.

Music gave us The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Duke and, of course, The Boss. But long before Elvis swiveled his pelvis, Ellington tickled the ivories and Springsteen picked up the guitar, the music world was captivated by The Valkyrie of the Piano.

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Zitkála-Sá: A 20th-Century Champion of Native American Activism

Her Opera “The Sun Dance” Made Stage History

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School became infamous as a place designed to
Born on a South Dakota Sioux Reservation, the young Gertrude Simmons was pulled between the Indian culture into which she was born and the Euro-American culture that educated her. At 19, she seized on her tribal roots and went on to become one of the most influential Native American activists of the 20th century.

Zitkála-Sá (pronounced Zitkála Shá), also known as Gertrude Evaline Simmons, was born in 1876, year of the Battle of Little Bighorn, on South Dakota’s Yankton Sioux Reservation. Her mother was a full-blooded Dakota Sioux named Ellen Tatiyahewin (“She Reaches for the Wind”) Simmons, her father a white man about whom little is known. We do know he abandoned the family, leaving her mother to raise their children in traditional Sioux ways.

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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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Jackie Ormes – First African American Female Cartoonist

Crusading Journalist Targeted by FBI during Joe McCarthy Era

Comic strip by Jackie Ormes
With the publication of her comic strip in the Pittsburgh Courier in 1937, Jackie Ormes became the first African American woman newspaper cartoonist. It was the beginning of a long career as a crusading journalist, artist and activist who used her pen as an instrument of protest and change.

Anyone remember riffling through the Sunday papers to get to the comics section? The Sunday funnies, a.k.a. the funny papers, were a family tradition for kids of all ages. They were so popular that, during a 1945 newspaper delivery strike, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia took to the radio to read the comics so readers wouldn’t miss a week.

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