Nila Mack – The Fairy Godmother of Depression-Era Radio

How a Childless Widow Who Didn’t Like Kids Became a Star of Children’s Radio

Nila Mack at a CBS Radio microphone and a picture of a little girl listening to the radio in 1940
A turn-of-the-century vaudeville performer, movie actress, and screenwriter, Nila Mack got involved in radio in the 1930s, was hired to oversee a children’s show, and turned that show — “Let’s Pretend” — into a national hit that ran for 20 years.

Once upon a time, a “large, plump, hard-boiled, shrewd” woman named Nila Mack was asked by Columbia Broadcasting System to reinvent a Saturday morning children’s radio show called “The Adventures of Helen and Mary.” Her first reaction? “Really? You want the childless widow to save your kids’ show? I don’t even like kids.”

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Elizabeth Peratrovich – America’s Least Known Civil Rights Activist

Led the Alaskan Battle for the First U.S. Anti-Discrimination Law

A mural of Elizabeth Peratrovich
In 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich of the Alaskan Tlingit Nation led the fight that established the country’s first Anti-Discrimination law and championed the civil rights of the Alaska territory’s indigenous tribespeople. [2021 mural by Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl]

Pauli Murray. Fannie Lou Hamer. Dorothy Height. Rosa Parks. Mary Church Terrell. Ida B. Wells-Barnett. When you think of female civil rights activists, these are just some of the names that come to mind. But Elizabeth Peratrovich? Chances are her name probably wouldn’t be on that list. But she was the Alaska Native civil rights champion who was instrumental in the 1945 passage of what was the United States’ very first anti-discrimination law.

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Josephine Garis Cochrane — Mother of the Modern Dishwasher

From Kitchen Tinkerer to Acclaimed Inventor at the 1893 World’s Fair

Josephine Garis Cochrane with one of her dishwasher patents
In the late 19th-century world that offered little encouragement to female inventors, Josephine Garis Cochrane, against all odds, invented a machine that was a major hit at the 1893 World’s Fair — the first commercially viable mechanical dishwasher. It was the only device out of 10,000 displayed at that World Exposition invented by a woman, and it launched her corporate success.

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” These were words Josephine Garis Cochrane lived by … except when it came to doing the dishes. Why had nobody invented a machine that could clean stacks of dirty dishes without chipping them? After all, it was the 19th century, when there were machines that sewed clothes and cut grass, so how hard could it be?

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The Women of the 1862 Allegheny Arsenal Explosion

71 Die in Worst Civilian Disaster of the Civil War

Civil War munitions being packed at a Union Army arsenal
In 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal was one of the largest producers of black powder munitions for the Union Army as the Civil War raged on. Female employees filled, hand rolled and packed the gun cartridges as shown in this period illustration by Winslow Homer. Below are actual paper-wrapped cartridges.

I’m sure Harriet Beecher Stowe meant well when, in 1861, she rallied American women to patriotism, writing, “We thank God for mothers that cheer on their sons, for young wives that have said ‘go’ to their husbands, for widows who have given their only sons.” But as the bloody Civil War dragged on, some women chose a more hands-on approach to support the war — they went to dangerous work in arsenals, helping build and fuel the machinery of war at places like the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Cooking Up an Epidemic With Typhoid Mary

But Was Mary Mallon a Villain or Victim?

Mary Mallon -- Typhoid Mary -- lying in her hospital bed in 1909.
In a hospital bed in 1909 is Mary Mallon, a.k.a. Typhoid Mary, who made medical history as the first identified asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever, and public health history as the cook who unwittingly fed the disease in ice cream desserts to at least 47 people, three of whom died.

It’s 1907. Imagine you’re an Irish immigrant cooking for a wealthy family when a man you’ve never seen before shows up, accusing you of spreading death and disease, and asking for samples of your blood, urine, and stool. Mary Mallon did what any woman confronted by a strange man making such an outrageous, indecent-sounding demand would do. She grabbed a nearby carving knife and lunged at him. Luckily, the man, George Soper, escaped unscathed. But for Mary Mallon, who became known as “Typhoid Mary,” it was the start of a nightmare that lasted the rest of her life.

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Mary Sears – Pioneering Oceanographer Who Helped Win World War II

Mary Sears and a World War II U.S. Naval landing craft
As head of the U.S. Navy’s Oceanographic Unit, Mary Sears played a major role in revolutionizing how massive World War II military amphibious assaults were planned.

Diminutive, quiet, and bespectacled, it was Mary Sears’ nature to let her research and prodigious body of work speak louder than any commendations or public recognition that came her way. Still, few would argue that she changed the course of oceanographic history, contributed to its growth as an internationally recognized science and, along the way, helped win World War II.

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