Space Sweethearts

Welcome to another Women in History Crush Wednesday!! Also, happy Black History Month and Valentine’s Day!! As promised in yesterday’s Galentine’s Day post, we’re going to talk about the brilliant women depicted in the movie Hidden Figures (which is a fantastic movie that you should try to see right this second if you haven’t already done so). This week’s woman crushes are Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, some of NASA’s leading minds in the height of the space race.

First up, Katherine Johnson.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Katherine Johnson

Born Katherine Coleman in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia on August 26th, 1918, Johnson’s mathematical genius was obvious at an early age. She skipped several grades in her early schooling and started high school at the age of thirteen. By eighteen, she was studying mathematics at West Virginia State College. After graduating in 1937, she took a position as a public school math teacher. During desegregation efforts in the late 1930s, Johnson was invited to study in the West Virginia University graduate math program, but she left the program after the first semester to start a family with her husband James Goble. Johnson returned to teaching when her three daughters were older. In 1953, Johnson moved her family to Newport News, Virginia so she could start work as a computer in all-black computing division at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA, later renamed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA) Langley Research Center. Her first assignment was with the Flight Research Division, where she used flight test data to find solutions to wake turbulence. Her husband died of cancer right as she finished her research for this assignment in 1956. She remarried to James Johnson in 1959. Johnson’s next assignment was running calculations for the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division in 1958, and it was through this assignment that she analyzed flight trajectory for Alan Shepard’s 1961 Freedom 7 mission. In 1960 Johnson co-authored with Ted Skopinski the “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position,” a report about the calculations for orbital spacecraft return, and became the first woman at NASA to receive credit as an author of a research report.

“Like what you do and then you will do your best”

Despite already playing an integral role in the American space race for many years, Johnson’s most well-known accomplishment was her recalculation of the orbit flight patterns of John Glenn’s 1962 Friendship 7 mission. This event was portrayed in the movie – the IBM machine that had replaced the human calculators was prone to error, and Glenn refused to launch until Johnson confirmed the flight calculations. Over the next twenty-four years, Johnson contributed to the Apollo 11 and 13 missions, Project Apollo Lunar Lander, Space Shuttle program, and Earth Resources Satellite, in addition to writing over twenty-five more research reports. In 1986, Johnson retired from NASA’s Langley campus. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015 and had a research building at the Langley NASA campus named after her in 2017. She will turn one hundred years old this August, and still lives in Hampton, Virginia with her husband of almost sixty years.

Next, Dorothy Vaughan.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Dorothy Vaughan

Born Dorothy Johnson on September 20th, 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri, Vaughan, too, was a math prodigy. She attended grade school in Morgantown, West Virginia, and graduated high school in 1925 with a full scholarship to Wilberforce University. After graduating from college at the age of nineteen with degrees in mathematics and French, Vaughan took a high school math teaching position in Farmville, Virginia. She married Howard Vaughan in 1932 and had six children. In 1943, Vaughan moved her family to Newport News, Virginia to do temporary work on World War II defense calculations at the NACA Langley campus. After President FDR’s Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the defense industry, Langley took a permanent position at NACA in the West Area all-black computing division. In 1949, Vaughan was promoted to the head of the unit, becoming the first black supervisor at NACA. She served in this position for about ten years and became well known for her advocacy for her fellow computers wages and promotions as well as for her great recommendations of women for different projects, which in her recommendations and support of Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson.

“I changed what I could, and what I couldn’t, I endured.”

As NACA became NASA and desegregated their campuses, Vaughan began working on electronic computing and technology with the Analysis and Computation Division. She became a FORTRAN programming and language expert and co-wrote a method handbook for calculation machines with computers like Vera Huckel and Sara Bullock. As well as her groundbreaking technology work, Vaughan contributed to the Scout Project and many flight path calculations. After twenty-eight years at the Langley NASA campus, Vaughan retired in 1971. In addition to her work at NASA, Vaughan was an active member of her church’s music department and the Washington D.C. YWCA. She died of natural causes on November 10th, 2008 in Hampton, Virginia.

And last but certainly not least, Mary Jackson.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Mary Jackson

Born Mary Winston on April 9th, 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, Jackson showed an early commitment to and love of science and service. She graduated from high school with high honors and from the Hampton Institute in 1942 with degrees in mathematics and physical sciences. After graduating, Jackson held a series of jobs as a math teacher, a USO Club receptionist, a Hampton Institute Health Department bookkeeper, and a secretary at Fort Monroe. In 1951, she was hired as a computer in NACA’s West Area computing unit, which at that point was under the supervision of Dorothy Vaughan. After two years, Jackson was brought onto a string of wind and pressure tunnel experiments by engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki. Together, the pair published reports on nose angle effects on cones at supersonic speeds, boundary layer transition groups, and pressure distributions and waves in subsonic flows, all of which were crucial for missile designs and spacecraft flight calculations. Czarnecki suggested that Jackson apply for a promotion into the NACA engineering department, which required graduate courses. The only place Jackson could take these courses while continuing to work at the Langley campus was through the University of Virginia’s segregated night school held at a local high school. Jackson had to petition for permission to attend the classes and had completed them by 1958. With the promotion, Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer.

Jackson continued working with Czarnecki and running her own engineering tests and experiments, authoring over a dozen research reports and contributing to Project Mercury. In 1979, Jackson grew increasingly frustrated with her inability to be promoted within the engineering department due to gender restrictions, and so decided to take positions as NASA’s Federal Women’s Program Manager and Affirmative Action Program Manager, where she hired and mentored generations of women and people of color in science, math, and technology careers. She retired from the NASA Langley campus in 1985, and was awarded the Apollo Group Achievement Award. Alongside her work at NASA, Jackson volunteered with the Hampton King Street Community Center’s youth science program, annual United Way campaigns, local Girl Scout troops, and the National Technical Association. She had two children with her husband Levi Jackson, and the couple acted as mentors for youth interested in STEM careers in their community for decades. Jackson died of natural causes on February 11th, 2005 in Hampton, Virginia. In a recent show of honor, a school in Utah changed its name from Andrew Jackson Elementary to Mary W Jackson Elementary.

These women are so incredibly inspiring to me in how they prevailed past societal race and gender restrictions, were leaders in their fields, and fostered generations of women in science and mathematics for years to come. I get chills every time I think about their amazing work and talents and genius and courage. To learn more about the bright lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, check out these NASA, Biography, Makers, Popular Mechanics, Black Past, Interesting Engineering and Wikipedia articles.

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

Be heard!


A Galentine’s Day Crush

What’s Galentine’s Day? It’s only the best day of the year! It’s a day just for ladies celebrating ladies!

In the spirit of Galentine’s Day, we’re going to have a Woman Crush Tuesday. We’ll still have our Women in History Crush Wednesday – this week’s is going to be kind of exciting. Tomorrow we’re going to have three woman crushes a) to make up for the past couple weeks I’ve missed posting and b) because I just watched Hidden Figures again and want to write about the three amazing women the movie is based on. So lets kick off this week’s group of awesome women in history with a woman I just learned about while doing an assignment for my Polish class: this Galentine’s Day woman-in-history crush is Emilia Plater.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Emilia Plater

Emilia Plater was born to a noble family on November 13th, 1806 in Vilnius, which is in modern-day Lithuania but was at the time a part of the Third Partition of Poland under Russian control. Plater was raised by relatives after her parents divorced when she was nine years old. She grew up reading about German philosophers and Polish history, and was especially interested in local folk stories and legends. While she was already proud of her Lithuanian and Polish roots, Plater became more active the budding liberation and anti-Russian movements after her cousin was forced to serve in the Imperial Russian Army as punishment for celebrating the anniversary of the Constitution of May 3rd, 1791. She joined the November Uprising in April 1830, putting together a unit of an estimated three to seven hundred soldiers. Legend tells that Polish General Dezydery Chłapowski suggested that Plater step down and return home after a series of closely-won battles, but she said she would fight until her homeland was fully liberated. A few months and victorious battles later, she was promoted to be a captain in the army, becoming the first woman to ever hold such a high rank. After a few more months, Plater fell ill and died on December 23rd, 1831 in the town of Justinavas in modern-day Lithuania. In her death Plater became a martyr and a symbol for Polish-Lithuanian freedom. Famous Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz wrote the poem “Śmierć pułkownika” to honor her life, and Plater is still heralded as a hero today.

Plater is kind of like the Mulan of what are now Poland and Lithuania. In a time where women were traditionally confined to the domestic sphere, she left home, cropped her hair short, donned a homemade traditional infantry uniform, and led a unit to fight against the Russian army. She was fully committed to the freedom and independence of her homeland and made every sacrifice necessary to do what she deemed her duty. The November Uprising was squashed, but Plater inspired her fellow Lithuanians and Poles to continue fighting for liberation.

To learn more about the dedicated life of Emilia Plater, check out these Female Soldier, Vintage News, and Wikipedia pages.

Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow for a new Women in History Crush Wednesday!

Be heard!

Egyptian Enigma

Welcome to another Women in History Crush Wednesday! I hope everyone’s week is treating them well thus far. Our WCW for this week is Queen Nefertiti. There is not a lot of concrete information known about Nefertiti, but the following is as much as is substantiated and widely accepted by Egyptologists at this time.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Nefertiti

Nefertiti was born around 1370 BCE. Her origins are not certain, but the top theories are that she was either the daughter of royal vizier Ay, who later became a pharaoh, or a princess from a Syrian kingdom. In her late teens, Nefertiti married Amenhotep IV, who ruled under the name Pharaoh Akhenaten in the Egyptian New Kingdom for seventeen years. One of the most well-known parts of Akhenaten’s rule was when he denounced the kingdom’s previous polytheistic religious belief system and introduced a theocratic monotheistic system based around the sun god Aten. Because of how they are displayed in surviving paintings, it is believed that Nefertiti and Akhenaten were extremely close, and that Nefertiti shared royal responsibilities like officiating religious events and meeting with foreign ambassadors. Some think that it was actually Nefertiti that convinced Akhenaten to officially adopt the new religious system in a move to reconsolidate power away from the numerous priest cults and to the throne.

During her time as queen, Nefertiti added the name Neferneferuaten, meaning a beautiful woman has come, to her full name. Nefertiti had six daughters before virtually disappearing from history around 1338 BCE. There are a few theories explaining her disappearance – that she was replaced by another consort when she failed to birth sons, that she committed suicide following the death of one of her daughters, that she changed her name to Smenkhkare and ruled as pharaoh until Tutankhamun took the throne. Another theory about Nefertiti’s disappearance is that a later pharaoh, Horemheb, reversed Akhenaten’s religious changes, condemned Akhenaten’s rule, and worked to destroy all mention of both Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Perhaps Nefertiti didn’t disappear, maybe she was just erased.

The main surviving piece of Nefertiti’s history is an immaculately decorated and preserved sandstone bust (shown in the photo above). The bust, thought to be created in 1340 BCE by Thutmose, was found by a German archaeologist in 1913. The means of getting it out of Egypt have been widely disputed, but it’s likely that he smuggled the bust out of the country before gifting it to the funder of his trip, who kept it in his private collection for a decade. In 1923, the bust was put on display in Berlin. Right before World War II, German authorities debated returning the bust to its home country, but Hitler refused once in power, stating that he would “never relinquish the head of the Queen.” The bust was kept hidden in various places in East Germany during the Cold War, and now remains on display in the Berlin Neues Museum.

To learn more about the mysterious life of Nefertiti, check out these History Channel, Ancient History Encyclopedia, and Biography pages. There is also a Discovery channel mockumentary-ish movie from about ten years ago that’s kind of a fun but frustrating watch – a since-disgraced Egyptologist claimed that she found the tomb of Nefertiti, but her claim was and is unsubstantiated and Nefertiti is still lost from the modern world. I was just thinking about rewatching this movie the other day, which made me want to learn more about this mysterious queen. I was engulfed by the drama of the bust and every bit of unknown involved in Nefertiti’s life, which led to this post. Apparently in 2015 a British archaeologist claimed to have found a new passage in Tutankhamun’s tomb that he thinks may lead to Nefertiti’s long-lost tomb…We’ll see, I guess.

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

Be heard!

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!