Esther Howland: Business Women Who Turned Valentine Card Art Into a Fortune

Esther Howland and her cards
A gifted artist fascinated with the romantic notion of Valentine messages, Esther Howland was also a hardboiled business women who built a national Valentine card company that generated the equivalent of $2.6 million in sales annually.

Happy Valentine’s Day! We’ve all been there. You stare at racks of valentines, reading and replacing card after card. This one’s too schmaltzy; that one’s not romantic enough. Just go with cute and funny? If you suffer valentine anxiety, blame today’s Wednesday’s Woman: Esther Howland, “Mother of the American Valentine.

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Elizabeth Jennings: The Rosa Parks of 1854

Elizabeth Jennings, 1854
In 1854, after being physically removed from a streetcar because she was black, Elizabeth Jennings filed a lawsuit. Represented by a future U.S. President, she won the case that ultimately desegregated New York City’s public transportation. Today, she is commemorated with a New York Street Sign.

A century before civil rights icon Rosa Parks kept her seat at the front of an Alabama bus, a 24-year-old African American woman was forced off a New York City streetcar and jeeringly told to seek redress if she could. She could, and she did, ultimately desegregating New York City’s public transportation system. She is this Wednesday’s Woman, Elizabeth Jennings.

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Pearl Hart – ‘Bandit Queen’ of the Old West

Pearl Hart, Arizona stage robber
Inspired by both Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West shows and Susan B. Anthony’s rallying call for women to control their own destiny, Pearl Hart headed west in the 1890s, became a failed stagecoach robber and turned a prison sentence into its own kind of wild west entertainment.

Pair the feminist ideals of Susan B. Anthony with a half-baked scheme hatched by a failed Arizona gold miner with the implausible name Joe Boot, and you have the story of this Wednesday’s Woman. She is Pearl Hart, 28-year-old “Bandit Queen” of the Old West.

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Dorothea Lynde Dix — Early Champion of Better Care for the Mentally Ill

Dorothea Dix mental health reformer
Dorothea Dix was a leading 19th-century advocate for more humane and effective treatments for the mentally ill.

Over her lifetime, Dorothea Lynde Dix became a famed advocate for more humane and effective treatment of mental illness in the United States and Europe. When she began her life’s work in the first half of the 19th century, victims of mental illness were viewed with fear and annoyance; the only solution was to “put them away” in hellish lunatic asylums. By the time she died in 1887, Dix had touched countless lives with campaigns that moved state and federal governments to begin recognizing mental illness as an illness rather than a moral weakness.

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Edmonia Lewis: ‘The Land of Liberty Had No Room For a Colored Sculptor’

African American Edmonia Lewis, fine art sculptor
Unable to follow her dream of being a fine art sculptor in the U.S., Edmonia Lewis moved to Italy and became the first mixed-race fine art sculptor to achieve international fame with her marble works. At left is her sculpture of Minnehaha, the husband of Hiawatha; at right her bust of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who led the Union Army’s celebrated 54th Regiment of African American soldiers.

The life story of Edmonia Lewis, a Civil War-era mixed-race orphan who succeeded as an artist only after she expatriated herself to Italy, is a tale of personal triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. And it’s one that makes for a poignant Wednesday’s Woman episode.

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Mary Anderson: The Woman Who Invented the Windshield Wiper

Female inventor Mary Anderson who created and patented the windshield wiper.
Real estate entrepreneur and cattle ranch operator Mary Anderson came up with and patented the idea of windshield wipers in 1903, years before Henry Ford’s Model T Ford hit the market.

If you’re reading this from anywhere along the east coast and dealing with the after-effects of our New Year’s “bomb cyclone,” you know how annoying that highway spray of grime, salt and slush kicked up on your car’s windshield can be. Meet today’s Wednesday’s Woman, Mary Anderson (1866-1953), the female inventor who created the common, everyday, indispensable windshield wiper.

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