The High Priestess of Song

Happy Wednesday! I hope you had a safe and happy kick off to the new year. Sorry I didn’t post last week like I said I would – it seems old habits die hard. Our Woman in History Crush this week is the amazing Ella Fitzgerald.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25th, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. Soon after her birth, her parents separated and Fitzgerald moved to New York with her mother. To help support the family, Fitzgerald acted as a look out for a local gambling ring. In 1932, Fitzgerald moved in with her aunt after her mother died, and for a short time attended a reform school before moving out to live on her own in 1934. During this time, Fitzgerald spent lots of time with friends watching the dance performances at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. One night, the theater was holding an amateur talent show; most of the acts were dancing and although she dreamed of being a dancer, Fitzgerald sang the songs “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won first prize in the contest and began her fifty-year career as a vocalist.

After that fateful night, Fitzgerald continued singing at the Apollo and other theaters around town. While performing at the Savoy ballroom, Fitzgerald befriended drummer Chick Webb and joined his band. She recorded her first hits in the late 1930s, including “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and “Love and Kisses.” When Webb died in 1939, Fitzgerald become the leader of his band and renamed the group Ella Fitzgerald and Her Famous Orchestra. On top of leading this band, Fitzgerald also worked with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the Ella Fitzgerald and Her Savoy Eight group, the Ink Spots, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Jordan throughout the 1940s. After touring with Gillespie’s band in the early 1940s, Fitzgerald married bass player Ray Brown, and the couple adopted a son from Fitzgerald’s half-sister. Her marriage to Brown ended in 1952. Fitzgerald had her film debut in the same year in the movie Ride ‘Em Cowboy, and had several other cameos on both television and film over the course of her life.

In 1946, Fitzgerald began working with Norman Granz, who later founded Verve Records and recorded many albums for her. Granz acted as a tour manager for Fitzgerald starting in the 1940s, and the two acted against racial barriers and tensions in the United States by refusing to perform in segregated venues and demanding that Fitzgerald receive fair pay. Fitzgerald produced some of her most popular work between the 1950s and 70s, and worked with such talents as Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, and Count Basie. What made Fitzgerald so unique as vocalist was her two and a half octave range, mastery of scat, and perfect pitch. Fitzgerald produced and was featured on over two hundred albums, and was awarded thirteen Grammys (she was also the first African American woman to win a Grammy), the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NAACP Image Award for Lifetime Achievement, Downbeat Jazz Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, and the National Medal of the Arts among numerous other prestigious accolades.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Ella Fitzgerald

In the 1980s, Fitzgerald started suffering from complications from diabetes. She had heart surgery in 1986, had both legs amputated in 1994, and soon became blind. On June 15th, 1996, Fitzgerald died in Beverly Hills, California. Her work as a civil rights activist, her endless talent, the way she built herself and her career from nothing, and the dedication she showed to every project she was involved in are nothing short of inspiring. Anyone with a need for encouragement to work towards their dreams should look first to Ella Fitzgerald.

To learn more about the exhilarating life of Ella Fitzgerald, check out these Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, Biography, Library of Congress, and PBS pages.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!


Mighty Mommas

Welcome to another Women in History Crush Wednesday! This post is going to be uncharacteristically short because I need to do school stuff but want to put out a post tonight. Instead of one woman, tonight our WCW is a group of women: the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

Argentina in the mid to late twentieth century was marked by political and economic instability as the government cycled between military and civilian rule. In an attempt to fix the country’s economic crisis and out of fear of communist influence spreading from the Cuban Revolution, a military coup seized control of the state in 1976. The new administration immediately made a show of authoritarian power by launching a campaign to eliminate dissidents, which included leftist and Peronist groups, students and intellectuals, and anyone deemed to be in protest of the state. Now referred to as the Argentinian Dirty War, the attacks and abductions lasted from 1976 to 1983, and saw between ten and thirty thousand people imprisoned, tortured, and/or killed. Beyond the horror of so many people being harmed and murdered, the campaign inflicted necroviolence (a term coined in Jason De León’s book The Land of Open Graves, which I will write about and explain further later) on the people related to those targeted, as the victims disappeared and were generally erased from government records. Families were left in the dark, without any information about what happened to their loved ones nor where they or their bodies were.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo

In 1977, a group of about fifteen mothers whose children had disappeared at the hands of the government united in front of the capital, demanding the return of their children. These women marched in the plaza for weeks, growing in numbers until thousands of mothers and family members of people who had disappeared had organized. Government figures and police tried to break up the protests; the women officially founded the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo to strengthen and continue their fight. The group quickly gained support from several countries, including Holland, Italy, Canada, France, and Spain. Their persistent protests incited anti-government sentiments across the nation, and in 1983, an election was held and a civilian-placed, democratic government took over. Human rights abuse cases against military leaders were brought to trial in the late 1980s – only a few high officials were convicted, with the others getting pardoned for “following orders” until recently.

There are other and more nuanced factors, but the sheer bravery of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo played a major role in leading to the fall of the authoritarian government and its abuses. To learn more, I recommend watching “Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo.”

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Elusive Evita

Hello all! Last week’s Women in History Crush Week didn’t go as planned…oops. Today, we’re going to talk about an extremely complex woman who I just finished studying for my Latin American history class. Without further ado, our WCW on this lovely early Thursday morning is Eva Perón.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Eva Perón

Born Eva Maria Duarte on May 7th, 1919 in Los Toldos, Argentina, Eva grew up an illegitimate child in a small town. She was shamed by the other townspeople for her family dynamic, as she, her mother, and her siblings grew up in poverty while her wealthy father refused to acknowledge them. Around age fifteen, Eva left the town for Buenos Aires, where she lived on the streets for a period before finding work as an actress on small stage and film projects. Eva soon moved on to voice acting on the radio. Her first major radio show was about significant women in history, in which Eva voiced and told the stories of famous women around the world. With each broadcast, Eva’s fame grew, and she climbed the social ladder.

Following an earthquake in 1944, Eva attended a fundraising gala held by Juan Perón, who was then the Secretary of Labor. The two met and immediately bonded, marking the beginning of their careers and lives together. Later in the year, Perón used his position in the government to push for the unionization of industries. Eva, as the president of the broadcast performers union, began a daily radio program to talk about Perón’s accomplishments and movements, hoping to gain the support of lower and middle class women and laborers (descamisados) for him. Perón headed the Grupo de Oficiales Unidos, a military union with growing power and resentment against the current administration, and in 1945 was arrested for his involvement. Eva used her show to rally the people in favor of Perón, who was released a little over a week later. Eva and Perón wed following his release.

Perón ran for president of Argentina in 1946, with Eva feverously campaigning for him on air and in front of crowds. It was during this period that she started going by the affectionate “Evita” to emphasize the idea that she was a friend to all. Once Perón won, Eva left for what became known as her “Rainbow Tour,” during which she travelled to several European countries and met with government and religious officials in an attempt to build positive social (Argentina never denounced the Nazis or other fascist movements in Europe during WWII, and was therefore not well-liked by Europeans after the war) and economic relations.

Eva was more involved in government affairs than any other Argentinian first lady. It is said that she played a large role in assembling Perón’s cabinet, made daily calls during her Rainbow Tour to keep affairs in line, and would orchestrate relations within the government to benefit Perón. Military and wealthy elite despised Eva for her involvement, and did everything in their power, which mostly included anti-Peronism propaganda and blocking her from participating in groups traditionally run by the elite. As a way to fight back, Eva created the Eva Perón Foundation in 1948, a charity which took donations and placed a kind of tax on citizens to be used for infrastructure projects, care for the children, sick, and elderly, and scholarships. Eva became more involved in community outreach, feminist movements, and workers’ rights. All her time was spent with the people of Argentina, who came to love her as a self-sacrificing saint. By 1951, Eva had gained so much support that many tried to get her to run for the vice presidency herself.

So as to not encroach upon her husband’s power, Eva turned down the people’s request. She also began facing health issues; she suffered from cervical cancer and the effects of severe exhaustion. Her health declined rapidly, and she died on July 26th, 1952. The nation mourned publicly for two months. Eva was embalmed and a memorial was to be constructed for burial site, but the fall of Perón soon after her death meant that the site was never finished. Instead, Eva’s body was passed around between different members of Perón’s administration under suspicious circumstances, supposedly for safe keeping. From the mid-1950s to 1971, Eva was kept in a crypt in Italy and was considered lost to the Argentinian public. In 1971, her body was finally returned to Argentina, where she now rests in a family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetary.

Eva’s legacy is still celebrated every October 17th in Argentina, on the anniversary of the day that Juan Perón was released from prison. Additionally, carnations are often left at her current resting place in La Recoleta. The musical loosely based on her life, Evita, was on Broadway for a total of five years before being adapted into film in 1996. In 2012, her image was added to some pieces of Argentinian currency, and there is some controversy now as to whether she will be replaced.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Eva Perón

One of the major issues with commending Eva, as I have done up to this point, is neglecting to bring up the darker side of Eva. Peronism has been criticized since Juan Perón’s election as being fascist. Perón himself was conservative and authoritarian, and while Eva was more socially liberal, she took part in some of the more gruesome parts of his administration. In a documentary we watched in my class, it was said that Eva often watched and even played a role in the torture of Perón’s political opponents. Additionally, there remains to this day suspicion as to whether or not Eva siphoned money from the Eva Perón Foundation into personal stores in Swiss banks, and whether or not her Rainbow Tour doubled as a way to find Nazis seeking escape from Europe. At this point, investigations have been going on for decades and nothing concrete has been unearthed, so these are alleged atrocities. But I think that it’s naïve to believe nothing shady happened, or that Eva, as involved as she was in governmental affairs, would have been unaware of any such events.

None of this is to say that she didn’t have a positive impact – just that she did horrible things, too. This is the first time that I’ve chosen a more controversial woman to write about, so I want to try to cover everything and hope I’m not butchering it. My final thoughts are that Eva did a lot of wonderful things for Argentinians and had an intense drive to serve her people, but that she had skeletons that should not be overlooked.

To learn more about the provocative life of Eva Perón, check out this bio. page and the book Eva Perón: The Myths of a Woman by Julie Taylor. Also, if you’re into show tunes, the soundtrack for Evita is pretty fun – I’m a fan of “A New Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” I’ll write an analysis for the film soon, too, so if you’re interested, keep an eye out for that.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Crushin’ on this Cosmic Crusader

Happy Wednesday, fellow space travelers! I’ve missed a couple weeks… It’s Women’s History Month and I really want to make sure that we’ve talked about at least a couple amazing ladies, so for this last week of March I’m going to do a post every day, basically a Woman in History Crush Week. Our WCW for today is cosmonaut Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova

Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova was born on March 6th, 1937 in Bolshoya Maslennikovo, Russia. Her father died fighting in World War II, so Tereshkova and her two sisters were raised by their mother, a textile mill worker. Tereshkova attended traditional school classes until she was eighteen, when she got a job at the same mill as her mother, and continued her education through correspondence courses. In her twenties, Tereshkova began parachuting as a hobby with the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club, and had successfully completed over a hundred jumps before applying to be a part of a Soviet space program specifically for women in 1962.

Beyond her intellect and physical ability, Tereshkova was chosen for the group for her parachuting skills; the Soviet space crafts used at the time required the astronaut to eject at 20,000 feet upon reentry to the atmosphere. Along with three other women selected for the program, Tereshkova soon began the eighteen-month training, which included extreme thermal, long-term isolation, and zero-gravity exercises. By June of 1963, the group was ready; Tereshkova was chosen as the best suited for space travel. On June 16th, 1963, Tereshkova launched in the Vostok 6 and completed forty-eight orbits around the earth in about seventy hours. At one point, she crossed orbits with fellow cosmonaut Valeri Bykovsky, and the two were able to communicate. Towards the end of her flight, a potential problem arose as the space craft veered too far away from Earth, but Soviet Ground Control made an adjustment to the landing algorithm and crisis was averted. Tereshkova safely landed at what is now the border of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China and ate dinner with local villagers before reporting for post-flight medical checks, for which she was promptly reprimanded. Despite the delay in testing, everything about her flight was deemed a success, and Tereshkova was presented with the Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, and Gold Star Medal awards after her flight. In addition, Tereshkova was given the honor of having a crater of the moon named after her.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova

Tereshkova never made another space flight, nor did any other woman until the 1980s, when Svetlana Savitskaya and Sally Ride kicked off a steady era of women in space (we’ll talk more about them later in the week). For a few years after her flight, Tereshkova went on a kind of victory tour around the USSR. She married fellow Soviet astronaut Andrian Nikolayer in 1963, likely to appease Nikita Krushchev, who thought the union would be a good propaganda opportunity. The couple had one daughter in 1964. Tereshkova remarried in 1982, this time to Yuliy Shaposhnikov, a surgeon, and the two were together until his death in 1999.

After “retiring” as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova became a test pilot and instructor and in 1969 earned her doctorate in technical sciences from the Zhukovsky Military Air Academy. For the next thirty years, Tereshkova served as the head of or was an active member in the Soviet Women’s Committee, the Supreme Soviet, the International Cultural and Friendship Union, and the Russian Association of International Cooperation. Throughout the early 2000s, Tereshkova focused on her work with the Russian parliament. She was awarded the UN Gold Medal of Peace for her work with the International Cultural and Friendship Union, and is regarded as a hero for her political work as well as her space travel.

Tereshkova is still alive – most recently, in 2015, she christened the Vostok 6 capsule that she made her historic flight in at the opening of a space exhibit at the Museum of London. One of the things I find so incredible about Tereshkova is how much she loves what she did and does, and how dedicated she has been to both her political and scientific causes. It’s been fifty years since her flight, and she still refers to the Vostok 6 capsule with adoration because flying to space was her dream, and she succeeded in living it.

To learn more about the astronomical life of Valentina Tereshkova, check out these History Channel,, and bio. pages.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the rest of Women in History Crush Week!

Be heard!

Courageous Claudette

Happy Women in History Wednesday! Our WCW for this week is Claudette Colvin!

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Claudette Colvin

Born on September 5th, 1939, Claudette Colvin grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. She was an intelligent student, and became active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council while in high school. Colvin noticed and experienced the harsh effects of racism in her neighborhood, and wanted to work for change.

Riding home from school on a public bus on March 2nd, 1955, Colvin sat in the middle of the bus and was told to move to the segregated back section as the bus got full. Colvin refused, repeatedly saying that it was her right to sit anywhere after buying a ticket to ride. The bus driver called the police, who forcibly dragged her off the bus and arrested her for disturbing the peace and violating segregation laws. Colvin spent several hours in jail, being verbally abused by the guards, before her mother and pastor arrived to bail her out. Colvin pleaded not guilty in court, but was still convicted and put on probation. In 1956, she and three other women who had experienced similar events challenged the Montgomery bus system’s segregation in the Browder v. Gayle case, and the segregation policies were ruled unconstitutional.

Now, you might be saying, “Allie, we’ve already heard a story like this, but it was Rosa Parks.” Parks was working as the secretary for the NAACP during this time, and was well known for her organizing and protest skills. The NAACP didn’t think that putting a teenager like Colvin at the head of the public transport desegregation movement would look respectable. Additionally, Colvin got pregnant during the summer of 1955, and having not just a teenager but an unwed and pregnant teenager wasn’t going to bring the attention that the NAACP wanted. So about nine months after Colvin’s refusal, arrest, and imprisonment, Parks was tasked with repeating the event and raising awareness of her own experience with the unjust segregation of public transport and facilities, effectively kicking off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Only within the past decade has Colvin’s story become known.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Claudette Colvin

While Colvin was originally praised by her community for her bravery, she was ostracized for her pregnancy. In 1958, she moved to New York and began working at as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home in Manhattan. She had one more son, but never married. Colvin retired in 2004, and still resides in the Bronx.

All my fellow youngin’s out there: I hope you take away a feeling of encouragement from Colvin’s story. She was a teenager when she challenged authorities and stood up for what’s right. We are not too young to make a difference – Colvin paved the way for a major part of the Civil Rights movement. If you want to make a difference, to drive change, go for it!

To learn more about Claudette Colvin’s recently uncovered life story, check out these NPR, bio., and Famous People articles.  Additionally, a book titled Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose was published in 2010. I have yet to read it, so if you beat me to it, let me know what you think! There is also a great Drunk History episode about Colvin, which I hate to say is how I first heard about her.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Truth About Truth

Hello and happy Wednesday! I missed a couple weeks, but we’re back and moving forward. I meant for this piece to be at the start of February…obviously it’s not, but I still want to start by giving a quick background on Black History Month, which is celebrated throughout the whole month of February in the United States. In 1915, Carter Woodson and Jesse Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, later renamed the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, to foster research and recognition of achievements by black Americans. The group held its first “National Negro History Week” on the second week of February in 1926, a week which falls concurrent to the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and famed orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and the founding of the NAACP. By the height of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, cities nationwide recognized the celebration and many schools extended the week into the entire month. In 1976, President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month, and we’ve been celebrating it ever since. Now into Women in History Wednesday – our WCW for this week is Sojourner Truth!


Born Isabella Baumfree around 1797 in Ulster County, New York, Truth and her family were slaves at a Dutch plantation. She was separated from her family at some point in her childhood, and sold to several different and increasingly abusive owners. In 1815, she fell in love with a slave from a neighboring farm, Robert, and the two had a daughter. Truth’s master at the time was furious, as any child that Truth bore with a man from another farm would not become one of his slaves, and forbade Truth from seeing Robert or their daughter. In 1817, the master forced Truth to remarry one of his slaves, Thomas. The couple had three or four children, but all except the youngest daughter were almost immediately taken from Truth and sold. A year before slavery was abolished in New York, Truth took her daughter and escaped the plantation in 1826, fleeing to a Quaker settlement New York City where they could find refuge.

Now a freewoman, Truth changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Isabella Van Wagener, after the Quaker family she was living with. She worked as a house keeper for several families in the city, most notably those of evangelist Elijah Pierson and cult leader Robert Matthews. In 1829, Truth learned that one of her children that was taken from her was sold illegally, and thus she could sue her former master for custody of her son. She won the case, becoming the first black woman to successfully challenge a white man in a US court. Truth won another case a couple years later for slander that was committed against her while she worked for the cult leader.

During the 1840s, Truth converted to Methodist Christianity, changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and decided to dedicate her life to becoming an itinerant preacher and social reformer. In addition to the scripture, Truth spoke passionately about abolition, freedmen’s rights, temperance, prison reform, ending corporal punishment, pacifism, and women’s rights, especially in regards to suffrage. She became friends with other renowned reformers of the time, including Frederick DouglasWilliam Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, but was often considered radical because she encouraged an intersectional approach to solving social issues. In one of her most famous and most misquoted speeches*, “Ain’t I a Woman?”, Truth says that women’s rights should not be racially exclusive, which was a point that some suffragettes and early feminists and even feminists today let fall through the cracks.

(*It was unlikely that Truth would have used the Southern colloquial “ain’t” as a New Englander whose first language was Dutch. Also, the original transcript of the speech never had that exact phrase – it wasn’t until a printing in a Southern newspaper a couple decades later that the changes were made, and because that version spread to a wider audience, the changes stuck.)

During the American Civil War, Truth turned her focus from speeches and preaching to the Union’s war efforts. She recruited black soldiers in the northeast, and met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss abolition and her own experiences as a slave several times. When the war ended, Truth took on the task of finding accommodations and job opportunities for freed peoples, working closely with the Freedman’s Bureau in Washington, D.C. During the Reconstruction, she avidly advocated for desegregation, especially in regards to public transportation, and for government grants for land ownership by freed peoples, as she wanted to avoid indentured servitude in the form of sharecropping and other Jim Crow systems of debt.

“It is hard for the old slaveholding spirit to die, but die it must.”

Truth continued giving speeches and working for changes in the legal system until she died of old age and leg ulcerations on November 26th, 1883. Her funeral, held in Battle Creek, Michigan, was attended by over one thousand people. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, and is remembered today memorial statues and plaques across the country. Truth released a novel in 1850 about her life titled The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave, which is commonly read in high schools today and keeps her legacy alive.

I could tell you one thing that I find inspiring about Sojourner Truth, but her accomplishments and efforts shouldn’t be reduced to a couple words. If you search for why Truth is a significant historical figure, the result is simply “her work against slavery,” but that does not do her story justice. Sojourner Truth was a leading abolitionist, and almost every social reform that happened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be traced back to work that she started. She fought for freedom, equal rights, desegregation, prison reform, justice, and so much more, with obstacles and opposition as a black woman in the era of slavery and segregation. Sojourner Truth did it all, and even though she could have been bitter about the atrocities she faced, she did everything with humor and hope.

To learn more about the incredible life of Sojourner Truth, check out these pages from the National Women’s History Museum, History Channel, and bio.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays! I’ll try to be more punctual next week, and will make up for the missed posts.

Be heard!

The Terror of South China

Hello and thanks for joining me for another Women in History Crush Wednesday! Our WCW for this week is legendary pirate Ching Shih.


Ching Shih, also known as Zhéng Yi Sao, Zhéng Shí, and Shil Xiang Gu, was born in the Guangzhou providence of China in 1775. Very little is known about her childhood, but by the time she was in her early childhood, Shih was working as a prostitute in a floating brothel. In 1801, Shih married a small but successful pirate, Zhéng Yi. There’s controversy about whether Zhéng Yi had his men abduct Shih or if he went himself to her after meeting once, but before Shih agreed to marry him she made a deal; Shih would marry Yi only if she got an equal share of the plunder of and power over his Red Flag Fleet. Following their marriage, Shih co-commanded the fleet’s sailors, but focused most on building alliances with other pirates. Within six years, Shih tripled the size of fleet and spread a reputation of the Red Flag Fleet as being unstoppable and aggressive. In 1807, Shih lost her husband to storms at sea. Shih didn’t want to lose her position in the fleet, so soon married Yi’s first mate, Chang Pao, to ensure her hold as commander.

With Pao now upholding the fleet’s reputation, Shih took over the business and military side of administration. Shih again tripled the size of the fleet, and, now with over 18,000 ships, split into the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets flying under the Red Flag banner. Shih assigned each group of ships its own mission – some pillaged coastal cities and forced them to pay tribute, others ran a kind of toll system for passage through the South China Sea, and a few even helped run a spy network within the Qing dynasty.

Shih’s method of managing a crew of over 80,000 sailors was brutal. Before I go into some of the details, I suggest that anyone not okay with reading about gruesome punishment please skip the rest of this paragraph. She came up with her own code of behavior that covered the delegation of plunder, treatment of female captives, and “protection” of tribute-paying cities and towns, and if any rules were broken or she thought they were being broken, the offender would be beheaded and thrown into the sea. Opposing pirates, if they didn’t not form an alliance with her fleet, would be nailed to the deck and flogged. Deserters would get their ears cut off before also being nailed to the deck and flogged.


Her domination of the South China Sea and alleged interference with the government lead to issues with the Chinese navy. The Chinese had to enlist the help of both the British and Portuguese navies after a few months, as Shih’s fleets won battle after battle. After two more years of battles, during which the navies kept losing and Shih’s fleets only grew stronger with conscriptions of defeated sailors, the Chinese government offered Shih amnesty if she would call off the fighting and retire. Displeased with the offer, Shih went directly to the governor general of Guangzhou and renegotiated. Shih demanded full amnesty, allowance to keep her loot, and legal protection as a member of the aristocracy for herself and amnesty and the loot ownership for all her sailors. The Chinese government conceded on everything for all but three hundred of Shih’s men, who were punished or executed for other crimes. So, in 1810, Shih retired from her life at sea and returned to Guangzhou, where she opened and operated a gambling house until her death in 1839. At some point, she had a son and later grandchildren, but there is little recorded about her retired life.

While I don’t aspire to become a ruthlessly powerful pirate, I think there’s something unconventionally inspiring about Shih’s career. She used her wit and business skills to build up and command a fleet of ships voluminous and powerful enough to rival three major navies, all within the span of nine years. She accomplished more in an nine-year career than most pirates were able to do over a lifetime, and then to top it all off, she retired as a wealthy aristocrat with government protections.

To learn more about Ching Shih’s fast and furious life, check out these Today I Found Out, Ancient Origins, and Atlas Obscura pages. Yo ho ho, and all that stuff.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays.

Be heard!

La Reina de la Salsa

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve recovered enough from the political whirlwind that was the beginning of this week, because it’s time for another Women in History Crush Wednesday! This week’s WCW is the Queen of Salsa herself, Celia Cruz.


Born Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21st, 1925, Cruz grew up in Havana, Cuba. She began singing almost as soon as she could talk, and would sing for her family, neighbors, and tourists at every chance. At her father’s advice, Cruz considered a life of teaching and enrolled in a teachers’ college, but dropped out to follow her passion. Throughout her early twenties, Cruz performed at night clubs and studied music theory at the Cuban Conservatory of Music. In 1950, she joined La Sonora Matancera orchestra as the lead singer and toured the Americas with them for fifteen years, experimenting with a few Afro-Caribbean genres and defining the genre of salsa. Cruz married Pedro Knight, the trumpet player for the group, and following Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1960, the two left Cuba to live and make music and America.

In 1965, Cruz left La Sonora Matancera to pursue what became a thirty-eight-year solo career. Cruz made changes to her musical style over the years, but gained the most acclaim and was a pioneer of salsa music, which explains her nickname as the “Queen of Salsa.” Besides her actual music, Cruz was known for her energetic stage presence at live shows; to excite her audiences, Cruz would call out “Azúcar!” and encourage dancing. Cruz released over seventy albums and had parts in around ten movies and television shows, all in Spanish. Some of her most notable collaborations were with Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, the Fania All Stars, Patti La Belle, Wyclef Jean, La India, and David Byrne.


In 2002, Cruz and her husband, Knight founded the Celia Cruz Foundation. Beyond preserving her legacy by providing extensive resources about Cruz’s life, the foundation raises money for cancer research and provides scholarships for young Latino music students. On July 16th, 2003, Cruz died in Fort Lee, New Jersey after battling brain cancer. Funerals were held for her in New York City, New York, and Miami, Florida, each attended by thousands of fans. Knight continued working with the foundation until his own death in 2007. The couple is buried together outside of New York City.

“I have fulfilled my father’s wish to be a teacher as, through my music, I teach generations of people about my culture and the happiness that is found in just living life. As a performer, I want people to feel their hearts sing and their spirits soar.”

Both in life and since her death, Cruz received countless awards and recognitions. She won three Grammys and four Latin Grammys, and was nominated for more. The University of Miami, Florida International University, and Yale University recognized her with honorary degrees and doctorates. Cruz was awarded the President’s National Medal of Arts, lifetime achievement awards from the Smithsonian Institution and several recording labels, and even the title for the Guinness World Record for the “longest working career as a salsa artist.” She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as others at walks in Florida, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Venezuela.

To learn more about Celia Cruz’s vibrant life, check out these Celia Cruz Foundation, AllMusic, bio., and Interesting Things for ESL Students pages. Additionally, her entire discography can be found online.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Fearless Fannie

Welcome back to my blog and happy new year! I’m going to skip the usual apologies and promises to post more even though I hope to be better at posting this year and just jump right in. It’s the first WCW of 2017, so we’re going to start off strong with the incredible Fannie Lou Hamer.


Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the youngest of twenty children in the Townsend family. Hamer began picking cotton at the age of six and dropped out of school before seventh grade to help her family full time with their plot on a sharecropping plantation. Hamer contracted polio when she was sixteen. Due to her physical challenges after catching the virus and her ability to read and write, Hamer was promoted to the position of book keeper. In her late twenties, Hamer married Perry “Pap” Hamer, one of the tractor drivers at the plantation.

The couple wanted but was unable to have kids; Hamer was told that a uterine tumor was affecting her fertility and that she needed to have it removed. During surgery and without her consent, the doctor performed a hysterectomy. Hamer was rightfully furious when she came out of the procedure, and after finding out how common the eugenic practice was, began to speak out against and raise awareness for what she coined “Mississippi appendectomies.” Now completely unable to have children, Pap and Fannie Lou adopted two daughters.

Hamer became active in the civil rights movement in 1962 when she attended a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting about voting rights. The meeting inspired her to take a trip to a nearby city to register to vote with about twenty other students. However, the group was immediately barred from registering – except for Hamer and one man, who were given but failed a literacy test. On the drive back, the group was unlawfully stopped and harassed by police. No one was hurt, but the extreme difficulties Hamer faced over the course of the whole event inspired her to dedicate her life to advocating for desegregation and voting rights. Once home, the plantation owner that Hamer worked for kicked her and her family off the property; they struggled with debt and finances for several years after, which drove Hamer to add economic security for all to her advocacy list. Gaining in renown and protest inspiration, she and the SNCC travelled around the southern US for several months on a speech circuit. Hamer and a group of protesters made a stop at a café in Winona, Mississippi in 1963, and made a political statement by sitting at a whites-only counter. They were immediately arrested and were subject to many brutal beatings while imprisoned; injuries to her eyes, kidneys, and leg stuck with Hamer for the rest of her life. Following her release, Hamer’s reputation grew, and she became a national speaker for civil rights.

In 1964, Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDR) to oppose the pro-segregation democrats. The party struggled to gain support until later that year when Hamer ran for Congress; she lost, but put the MFDR in the national eye. At the Democratic National Convention in the same year, Hamer made a speech challenging the Mississippi representatives and advocating for integration. Her speech was so incendiary that President Lyndon B Johnson launched an emergency press release in an attempt to interrupt her broadcast. His plan backfired, as the excitement around the speech and interruption raised American interest in Hamer’s work. After the drama of the convention, Hamer returned to Mississippi, where she worked for over a decade organizing protests, training volunteers, helping with relief work, registering voters, and instituting agricultural co-ops and Head Start programs for low income families and children. One of Hamer’s trademark protest techniques was the use of hymns and spirituals to encourage marchers and spread hope for change.


Throughout the late 70’s, Hamer was widely recognized for her efforts. She was awarded honorary doctorates from four universities, received the National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service Award, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Hamer passed away on March 14th, 1977 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi due to complications from cancer and hypertension. Inscribed on her tombstone is one of her most well-known quotes “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said when asked why she continued fighting for equal rights when all the odds were stacked against her.

To learn more about the inspiring life of Fannie Lou Hamer, check out these PBS, American Public Media, History Channel, and Howard University pages. Additionally, you can find several albums of her top songs online. My personal favorite is her rendition of Wade in the Water (which unfortunately isn’t on YouTube), but she’s best known for This Little Light of Mine – both and all the rest are wonderful and I really hope you can take a second to listen.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

The Art of Arte

It’s been another couple weeks of absence in favor of my grades, but I’m here again so let’s do this! Happy Women in History Crush Wednesday! About a month ago now, my friend Rummel Medina suggested that I look up this “really awesome feminist painter from the 1600’s,” and I wasn’t disappointed. Today’s leading lady is one of the earliest recorded popular female artists in European history, and while we don’t know many specifics about her, several of her public and legal papers still survive today, giving us some insight into her life. Introducing this week’s WCW, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Artemisia Gentileschi

Born on July 8th, 1593 in Rome, Italy, Gentileschi was the daughter of accomplished painter Orazio Gentileschi. Not much is left in regards to her childhood, but at the age of seventeen Gentileschi began painting under the instruction of her father. Around this same time, one of Orazio’s friends and colleagues, Agostino Tassi, who often spent time at the Gentileschi’s house to socialize with Orazio, raped Gentileschi. Because Tassi refused to marry Gentileschi following the assault, Orazio pressed charges, and an investigation that cost Gentileschi her local reputation and resulted in her being further violated for evidence began its long trial, the transcripts for which can still be read today. Tassi was convicted and imprisoned, but was released quickly; within a year of his release, Orazio again often hosted him at their house as a close friend. A month after the trial, the pregnant Gentileschi married Pietro Antonio di Vicenzio Stiattesi.

Gentileschi’s career as a painter took off following the trial, as she moved to Florence and turned to art as her main form of expression. In 1613, she completed her first portrait (below) of her most painted subject, Judith, and gained massive renown for it and the many paintings that followed. By 1616, Gentileschi became an official member of the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts, an honor few women of the time received. Cosimo de’ Medici, of the Italian banking family, was Gentileschi’s first patron and played an integral role in boosting her reach – by the late 1620’s she had worked on commissions for likes of King Philip IV of Spain and Queen Henrietta Maria of France. Following an illustrious run of paintings of scenes and other events, Gentileschi retired to Naples in order to focus on self-portraits.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Artemisia Gentileschi

Many art historians have speculated that while initially Gentileschi felt destroyed by her rape trail, she also felt some alleviation from social expectations, which inspired her paintings. Using chiaroscuro techniques, Gentileschi often painted female protagonists in biblical history; as few else chose such subjects, some consider her choices as her rebellion against the norm of topics with the hopes of finding her own strength in her heroines. Influences from her colleague Caravaggio can be found in many of her works, as they often worked together. Gentileschi became well known for her depictions of violence of dark, tumultuous color schemes, both of which were considered uncharacteristic of paintings by women.

The exact date is unknown, but Gentileschi died sometime between 1652 and 1653 in Naples. Little is known of her life following her retirement, but some of her self-portraits and a series of works about David and Bathsheba made during that time can still be seen today. So much can be taken away from our limited knowledge about the life of Gentileschi and what’s left of her collected works, chiefly, in my opinion, that it is possible, it is important, to be brave even at the darkest points in our lives. With every one of her paintings, Gentileschi portrayed that females are strong as hell (which coincidentally is one of my favorite catchphrases from the show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

To learn more about Artemisia Gentileschi’s arduous rise within the patriarchal world of Renaissance art, check out these bio., Art History Archive, Brooklyn Museum, and Britannica articles.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!