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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Engineer Mary Pennington, America’s “Ice Woman”

A Refrigeration Pioneer Who Surmounted Gender Barriers to Revolutionize The Way Food is Shipped, Stored and Sold

Engineer Mary Pennington on top of a rail car collecting food samples.
Mary Engle Pennington pioneered systems of refrigerated rail cars and practices that revolutionized the food shipping industry. She is shown here, atop a rail car, collecting food samples for testing.

For most women, being dubbed America’s “Ice Woman” would be cringe-worthy at best. But Mary Pennington, whose pioneering work in storing, shipping, refrigerating and flash-freezing perishable foods revolutionized America’s food supply, wore it as a well-deserved badge of honor.

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The Electrifying Story of Engineer Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke with one of her electrical system patents
Orphaned in 1895 in Baltimore, Edith Clarke excelled in mathematics and dreamed of being an electrical engineer at a time when there were no female engineers in that burgeoning new field of technology. Ultimately she went into the Hall of Fame as one of the most important electrical engineers of the 20th century and was also America’s first female university engineering professor.

For most of us, America’s vast electrical infrastructure is something we take for granted, rarely think about until it goes down, and don’t really understand. But for Edith Clarke it was the stuff of dreams. A pioneer in electrical engineering, and role model for every young woman pursuing a STEM education today, she used the power of math to improve our understanding of power transmission at a time when engineering was a man’s world and women just didn’t “do” science.

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Charlotta Spears Bass – Crusading Journalist and Civil Rights Activist

Charlotta Bass in front of her California Eagle newspaper office
At a time when African Americans had little presence in the mainstream news publishing industry, Charlotta Spears Bass became a a powerful journalist and newspaper owner who ran for both Congress and Vice President of the United States.

You might not know her name, but Charlotta Spears Bass was a major badass. She fought the Ku Klux Klan and won. Was the first black woman to run for vice president. And, at the ripe old age of 91, was under surveillance by the FBI.

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Grace Gallatin Seton: Adventurer and Champion of Women’s Rights

Born the daughter of a west coast steel and iron magnate, Gace Gallatin Seton traveled the world as an adventurer, writer and advocate for women’s rights. Here, in World War I France, she and her comrades use their Ford Camionettes to ferry supplies to the front lines.

Madeleine Albright, America’s first Secretary of State, famously said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” If that’s true, writer and adventurer Grace Gallatin Seton certainly isn’t there. Continue reading “Grace Gallatin Seton: Adventurer and Champion of Women’s Rights”

Charlotte Parkhurst: Gender Bending “Whip” of the California Gold Rush

As a runaway girl dressed as a boy, Charlotte Parkhurst took a job mucking out Massachusetts livery stables in 1824 and went on from there to become a stagecoach driver.

Life for a woman born in the 1800s was full of gender-based taboos and restrictions. She couldn’t vote, run for or hold office. Couldn’t own property or, with few exceptions, get an elite education. Couldn’t serve in the military or on a jury. And she couldn’t easily escape a distasteful or abusive marriage. For a woman to enjoy all the freedoms denied her simply by being born female, there was only one option: live as a man.

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