A Fleeing Physicist & The Cinderella of Science

Hedwig Kohn

Born: April 5, 1887          Died: November 26, 1964

What they did: Physicist


  • Hedwig was born in Breslau, Germany (modern day Wroclaw, Poland) to Jewish parents Georg and Helene.
  • When she was 20, Hedwig entered Breslau University as an auditor, a year before women were actually allowed to attend, and earned her doctorate in physics in 1913, becoming the second woman to do so.
  • In 1914, she as appointed as an assistant by her advisor, Otto Lummer, a physicist known for precision radiation measurements that contributed to Planck’s law.
  • Her career would focus on radiation and spectroscopy.
  • Throughout World War I, Hedwig taught and advised doctoral students, despite only being in her 20s.
  • Her efforts were recognized and she received a medal after the war.
  • In 1930, Hedwig earned Habilitation. This means she was now qualified to conduct teaching on her own and is a key step towards full professorship. During this time, she guided the work of eight doctoral students.
  • In 1933, Hedwig was forced out of her position at the University for being Jewish.
    • Due to a new Nazi law, “The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” which prevented Jews from government service.
  • Hedwig continued working in a small back room in the Physics Institute, fulfilling contracts for applied research.
  • In 1935, Hedwig was able to work for 3 months in the Licht-Klimatisches Observatorium in Arosa, Switzerland where she measured ultra-violet light intensity from the sun. Unfortunately, this didn’t result in a permanent position.
  • By 1938, Hedwig was without work or financial resources.
  • With the growing violence and political hostility towards Jews, Hedwig realized that she needed to escape quickly. However, without a job or money, she was trapped.
  • There were a lot of barriers to finding a job and escaping Nazi Germany for Hedwig.
    • Lack of University jobs due to the Great Depression
    • She was a well-respected physicist in Germany and was not she internationally known or a professor
    • The fact she was foreign
    • The fact she was German
    • She was Jewish
    • She was a woman
  • Something else that made it impossible to obtain a U.S. visa was that the United States required applicants to have held a teaching job within the last two years and have held that position for two years.
  • Finally, in 1938, physicist Rudolf Walter Ladenburg began working to help Hedwig immigrate to the U.S. Rudolf had been a lecturer at Breslau University and helped direct Hedwig’s doctoral research.
  • Rudolf worked with the International Federation of University Women and the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning to secure Hedwig a job at Aberdeen University in Scotland in 1939.
  • Unfortunately, before she could flee, war broke out and England immediately canceled all visas for “enemy aliens.”
  • After this, there was an exchange of 70 letters between Hedwig, Rudolf, other prominent physicists, representatives of the American Association of University Women, and more as they tried to secure Hedwig another way out of Nazi Germany.
  • Together, they were finally able to secure Hedwig 3 consecutive one-year positions at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, Sweetbriar College in Virginia, and Wellesley College in Massachussetts.
  • This allowed her to secure a U.S. visa by way of a visa to Sweden in July of 1940.
  • Though out of Nazi Germany, Hedwig’s troubles were not over. She still had to get from Stockholm Sweden to Greensboro, North Carolina. The only thing separating her from the U.S. was a war torn Atlantic Ocean.
  • After a two month journey, Hedwig was finally able to make it to the United States in January of 1941.
  • She started teaching at the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and stayed there for a year and a half.
  • She was described as having a persistent optimism and good humor.
  • She moved to the next University, Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
  • There, she established a research laboratory for flame spectroscopy.
  • She was well regarded at Wellesley and even won a college research
  • She ended up staying at Wellesley until her retirement in 1952.
  • After her retirement, she was awarded a pension and the title of professor emerita by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany.
  • This is a title given to female professors who retire with honorable standing and they get to maintain the title of professor even after retirement.
  • After she retired, for the next 12 years, she pursued independent research as a Research Associate at Duke University.
  • While at Duke, Hedwig established a research laboratory, guided two graduate students to their doctorates, and recruited two post-doctoral fellows to assist with her study of flame spectroscopy.
  • This work led to a breakthrough in the framework of combustion science and plasma physics.
  • She continued this work until shortly before her death in 1964, when she was 77 years old.


  • Early in her career, Hedwig wrote 270 pages of a leading textbook called “Mueller-Pouillets Lehrbuch
    der Physik” (Mueller-Pouillets Physics Textbook) and received one patent.
  • Her doctoral thesis was still being cited through the 1970s.
  • She was most recently commemorated with the Google Doodle on April 5 th , 2019, which would have been her 132nd birthday.

Caroline Herschel

Born: March 16, 1750     Died: 1848

What they did: Cinderella of Science


  • Born Caroline Lucretia Herschel in Germany on March 16, 1750.
    • She was the eighth child and fourth daughter of Isaac Herschel, a self-taught oboist, and his wife, Anna Ilse Moritzen.
    • Her father who encouraged her education but a mother who wanted to keep her as a lifelong servant.
  • When she was three years old, smallpox left her face scarred. Then, at age 10, typhus stunted her growth at 130 centimeters (4’3″) tall.
  • Her family assumed that she would never marry and her mother felt it was best for her to train to be a house servant rather than becoming educated in accordance with her father’s wishes.
  • Her father sometimes took advantage of her mother’s absence by tutoring her individually, or including her in her brother’s lessons, such as violin.
  • Caroline was briefly allowed to learn dress-making.
    • To prevent her from becoming a governess and earning her independence that way, she was forbidden from learning French or more advanced needlework than what she could pick up from neighbors.
  • When she was 22, following her Father’s death her brothers William and Alexander rescued her, inviting her to live with them in Bath, England.
  • Caroline did not blend in with the local society and made few friends, but was finally able to indulge her desire to learn, and took regular singing, English, and arithmetic lessons from her brother, and dance lessons from a local teacher.
  • Eventually she became an integral part in William’s musical performances at small gatherings. She became the principal singer at his oratorio concerts, and acquired a reputation as a vocalist.
  • She was offered an engagement for the Birmingham festival after a performance of Handel’s Messiah in April 1778, where she was the first soloist.
    • She declined to sing for any conductor but William, and after that performance, her career as a singer began to decline.
    • Caroline was subsequently replaced as a performer by distinguished soloists from outside the area because William wished to spend less time in rehearsals to focus on astronomy.
  • When William became increasingly interested in astronomy, transforming himself from a musician to an astronomer, Caroline again supported his efforts.
  • She said somewhat bitterly, in her Memoir, “I did nothing for my brother but what a well-trained puppy dog would have done, that is to say, I did what he commanded me.”
  • In the 1770s, William started to build his own telescopes from lenses he had ground, unhappy with the quality of lenses he was able to purchase.
  • Caroline would feed him and read to him as he worked, despite her desire to burnish her career as a professional singer.
  • Caroline spent many hours polishing mirrors and mounting telescopes in order to maximize the amount of light captured.
  • She learned to copy astronomical catalogs and other publications that William had borrowed.
  • She also learned to record, reduce, and organize her brother’s astronomical observations. She recognized that this work demanded speed, precision and accuracy.
  • She became a significant astronomer in her own right as a result of her collaboration with him.
  • Caroline and William gave their last musical performance in 1782, when her brother accepted the private office of court astronomer to King George III.
  • Caroline was asked to move from the high culture of Bath to the relative backwater of Datchet in 1782, a small town near Windsor Castle where William would be on hand to entertain royal guests.
  • He presumed that Caroline would become his assistant, a role she did not initially accept.
  • While William worked on a catalogue of 3,000 stars, studied double stars, and attempted to discover the cause of Mira’s and Algol’s variability, Caroline was asked to “sweep” the sky, meticulously moving through the sky in strips to search for interesting objects.
  • On 28 August 1782 Caroline initiated her first record book. She inscribed the first three opening pages: “This is what I call the Bills & Rec.ds of my Comets”, “Comets and Letters”, and “Books of Observations”. This, along with two subsequent books, currently belong to the Herschel trove at the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
  • On 26 February 1783, Caroline made her first discovery: she had found a nebula that was not included in the Messier catalog.
  • That same night, she independently discovered Messier 110 (NGC 205), the second companion of the Andromeda Galaxy.
  • Caroline was relegated to a ladder on William’s 20-foot reflector, attempting impossible measurements of double stars.
  • William quickly realized his method of searching for nebulae was inefficient and he required an assistant to keep records.
  • Naturally, he turned to Caroline.
  • In the summer of 1783, William finished building a comet-searching telescope for Caroline, which she began to use immediately.
  • Beginning in October 1783, the Herschels used a 20-foot reflecting telescope to search for nebulae.
  • Initially, William attempted to both observe and record objects, but this too was inefficient and again turned to Caroline.
  • She sat by a window inside, William shouted his observations, and Caroline recorded.
  • This was not a simple clerical task, however, because she would have to use John Flamsteed’s catalogue to identify the star William used as a reference point for the nebulae. Because Flamsteed’s catalogue was organized by constellation, it was less useful to the Herschels, so Caroline created her own catalogue organized by north polar distance.
  • The following morning, Caroline would go over her notes and write up formal observations, which she called “minding the heavens.”
  • She discovered her first comet  on 1 August 1786.
  • Five of her comets were published in Philosophical Transactions. A packet of paper bearing the superscription, “This is what I call the Bills and Receipts of my Comets” contains some data connected with the discovery of each of these objects.
  • William was summoned to Windsor Castle to demonstrate Caroline’s comet to the royal family. William recorded this phenomenon, himself, terming it “My Sister’s Comet.”
  • Caroline Herschel is often credited as the first woman to discover a comet; however, Maria Kirch discovered a comet in the early 1700s, but is often overlooked because at the time, the discovery was attributed to her husband, Gottfried Kirch.
  • In 1787, she was granted an annual salary of £50 (equivalent to £6,200 in 2019) by George III for her work as William’s assistant.
    • Caroline’s appointment made her the first woman in England honored with an official government position, and the first woman to be paid for her work in astronomy—at a time when even men rarely received wages for scientific enterprises.
    • It was the first money that Caroline had ever earned in her own right.
  • She wrote a letter to the Astronomer Royal to announce the discovery of her second comet. The third comet was discovered on 7 January 1790, and the fourth one on 17 April 1790. All  of these were discovered with her 1783 telescope.
  • In 1791, Caroline began to use a 9-inch telescope for her comet-searching, and discovered three more comets with this instrument.
  • Her last comet was discovered on 6 August 1797, the only comet she discovered without optical aid.
  • In 1797 William’s observations had shown that there were a great many discrepancies in the star catalog published by John Flamsteed, which was difficult to use because it had been published as two volumes, the catalog proper and a volume of original observations, and contained many errors.
  • William realized that he needed a proper cross-index to properly explore these differences but was reluctant to devote time to it at the expense of his more interesting astronomical activities.
    • He therefore recommended to Caroline that she undertake the task, which ultimately took 20 months.
  • The resulting Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars was published by the Royal Society in 1798 and contained an index of every observation of every star made by Flamsteed, a list of errata, and a list of more than 560 stars that had not been included.
  • In 1802, the Royal Society published Caroline’s catalogue in its Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A under William’s name. This listed around 500 new nebulae and clusters to the already known 2000.
  • After her brother died in 1822, Caroline was grief-stricken and moved back to Hanover, Germany, continuing her astronomical studies to verify and confirm William’s findings.
    • However, her observations were hampered by the architecture in Hanover, and she spent most of her time working on a catalog.
  • She arranged two-and-a-half thousand nebulae and star clusters into zones of similar polar distances so that her nephew, John Herschel, could re-examine them systematically.
  • The list was eventually enlarged and renamed the New General Catalogue. Many non-stellar objects are still identified by their NGC number.
  • Caroline added her final entry to her observing book on 31 January 1824 about the Great Comet of 1832, which had already been discovered on 29 December 1823.
  • Throughout the twilight of her life, Caroline remained physically active and healthy, and regularly socialized with other scientific luminaries.
  • She spent her last years writing her memoirs and lamenting her body’s limitations, which kept her from making any more original discoveries.
  • In 1846, at the age of 96, she was awarded a Gold Medal for Science by the King of Prussia, conveyed to her by Alexander von Humboldt, “in recognition of the valuable services rendered to Astronomy by you, as the fellow-worker of your immortal brother, Sir William Herschel, by discoveries, observations, and laborious calculations”.
  • Caroline Herschel died peacefully in Hanover on 9 January 1848, she was 98 years old.
    • Her tombstone inscription reads, “The eyes of her who is glorified here below turned to the starry heavens.”


  • In 1828 the Royal Astronomical Society presented her with their Gold Medal for this work – no woman would be awarded it again until Vera Rubin in 1996.
  • The asteroid 281 Lucretia (discovered 1888) was named after Caroline’s second given name, and the crater C. Herschel on the Moon is named after her.
  • Adrienne Rich’s 1968 poem “Planetarium” celebrates Caroline Herschel’s life and scientific achievements.
  • The artwork The Dinner Party, which celebrates historical women who have made extraordinary contributions, features a place setting for Caroline Herschel.
  • Google honored her with a Google Doodle on her 266th birthday (16 March 2016).
  • The gold medal from the Astronomical Society was awarded to her in 1828 “for her recent reduction, to January, 1800, of the [2,500] Nebula discovered by her illustrious brother, which may be considered as the completion of a series of exertions probably unparalleled either in magnitude or importance in the annals of astronomical labor.”
  • The Royal Astronomical Society elected her an Honorary Member in 1835, along with Mary Somerville; they were the first women members.
  • She was also elected as an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin in 1838.

More Than the Entrails and the Breast & Warriors Worth a Thousand

Name: Paulina Luisi

Born: 1875    Died: 1950

What they did: Leader of the feminist movement in the country of Uruguay and first Uruguayan woman to earn a medical degree.


  • Paulina Luisi was born in Argentina in 1875. Her mother, Maria Teresa Josefina Janicki was of Polish descent and her father, Angel Luisi was believed to have come from an Italian ancestry.
  • The eldest of eight children seven of them girls.
  • Paulina received a bachelor’s degree in 1899 and later was the first female physician and surgeon that graduated from the Medicine School of the Universidad de la República (University of Uruguay, 1908).
  • “As the first female medical student, Paulina faced a lot of harassment from her classmates. One day, Luisi found a severed human penis in the pocket of her lab coat. Luisi reportedly waited until class was over, when she held up the offending member and asked her all-male classmates, Did one of you lose this?’
  • She was not only a physician but also a teacher and the primary editor of the magazine Acción Femenina
  • While Paulina was still a student, Argentine liberal feminist Petrona Eyle wrote to her, in her capacity as president of the Universitarias Argentinas recruiting her to join the organization. In a letter dated 1 May 1907, Eyle encouraged Paulina and her female colleagues in the university to form a Uruguayan branch of the Universitarias, this happened in 1907.
  • She participated in the Women’s Congress held in Buenos Aires in 1910.
  • Organized by the Universitarias, the conference brought together more than 200 women, representing Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile.
  • In 1916, Paulina founded and led the Uruguayan branch of the National Women’s Council. In late 1932 Uruguay became only the second Latin American country to grant women full voting rights. At that point, Paulina was in Europe serving as a diplomatic representative, but she resigned to return to Uruguay to fight totalitarianism at home and abroad.
  • In 1917, Paulina published a definition of feminism in the magazine Acción Femenina stating: “…demonstrating that woman is something more than material created to serve and obey man like a slave, that she is more than a machine to produce children and care for the home; that women have feelings and intellect; that it is their mission to perpetuate the species and this must be done with more than the entrails and the breasts; it must be done with a mind and a heart prepared to be a mother and an educator; that she must be the man’s partner and counselor not his slave.”
  • She worked as a teacher at the Teacher’s Training College for Women and as an advocate reaching out for social hygiene related to the teaching profession.
  • Her lectures and arguments were specifically designed to introduce prophylaxis as a subject within the teachers’ training syllabus.
  • A controversial aspect of Paulina’s moral reform platform was obligatory sex-health education programs in the public school system.
    • She suggested having these programs first introduced in the primary schools and then continuing on to the secondary level. She defined sex education as the pedagogic tool to teach the individual to subject sexual drives to the will of an instructed, conscientious, and responsible intellect.
    • Classes in sex education would emphasize the need for will power and self-discipline, regular moderate physical exercise to burn up sexual energy, and the desirability of avoiding sexually stimulating entertainments.
  • In 1944, her suggestions about sex-health education were finally incorporated into the Uruguayan public school system.
  • Paulina is also known for writing papers addressed to students, as well as, to the general public which were included in magazines, brochures, and even in Congresses’ acts.
  • Paulina became the founder and primary editor of the magazine “Acción Femenina” (Feminine Action), which was primarily focused on topics revolving around women.
  • She dealt with Women’s rights in two ways , first by developing new domains of activity for women, and later by organizing the first feminist associations in the country.
    • She founded the Consejo Nacional de Mujeres (National Women Council)
    • the Alianza de Mujeres para los Derechos Femeninos (Women alliance for women’s rights)
    • Uruguayan and Argentine branches of the International Abolitionist Federation.
    • The two first feminine trade unions that ever existed in Uruguay – “Unión de Telefonistas” (Telephone Operators Union) and the “Costureras de sastrerías” (Seamstresses from Tailor’s shops) were created by Paulina as well.
  • As the secretary of the Abolitionist Committee of the River Plate, she made a significant contribution to reform the dispositions regulating prostitution in Buenos Aires.
  • She organized and also chaired the University Women Association.
  • At 65 years of age Paulina died in Montevideo.

The Onna-Bugeisha

Emily did a wonderful job talking about three different women who were Onna-Bugeisha. Onna-Bugeisha, or woman warriors, were just as, if not more fierce than the
samurai they fought alongside (or against.)

  • Mentions of onna-bugeisha can be traced all the way back to 200 AD.
  • Women learned to use weapons such as naginata, kaiken (dagger), and fight using the art of tantojutsu (traditional Japanese knife fighting.)
  • This was important so women could help protect their communities, especially if there was a lack of male warriors.
  • Onna-bugeisha were part of a noble class of feudal Japanese warriors who, in some cases, even served as stewards of newly conquered lands.

Name: Empress Jingu

Born: 169    Died: 269


  • Legend says that following the death of her husband, Emperor Chuai, the pregnant Empress Jingu took the throne, dressed as a man, and led a successful invasion of modern day Korea where she ruled for 70 years, until she was 100 years
  • Though Jingu’s legendary invasion of Korea can’t be verified, she was honored as the first woman featured on a Japanese banknote.

Name: Tomoe Gozen

Born: 1157   Died: 1247


  • Tomoe Gozen was immortalized in The Tale of the Heike, an epic that
    commemorated the stories of samurai during the Genpei War.
  • In the epic, Tomoe is the wife of General Minamoto no Yoshinaka, who fought during the Battle of Awazu on FEBRUARY 21, 1184.
  • Tomoe is described a “a remarkably strong archer, and as aswordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on
    foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.”
  • During the battle, Tomoe took the head of at least one enemy and killed a famous samurai.
  • Unfortunately, their army was overpowered and Yoshinaka told Tomoe to flee because he would have been ashamed to die with a woman.
  • Here is a 3 minute YouTube clip from a show called Ancient Assassins that depicts her defeating a samurai during the battle.
    • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qurNlwYLXBg
  • Another interesting thing about Tomoe is that she was known as an onna-musha, as she engaged in offensive battle, rather than the traditional defensive fighting which was common for onna-bugeisha.
  • Though it’s not confirmed whether Tomoe was a real person or a legend, accounts of her ferocity inbattle significantly impacted the warrior class and she has been remembered through art, plays, and even into modern pop culture.
    • We give it the Wining About Herstory truth stamp.
    • Anyone who is a fan of the Persona 4 video game will recognize Tomoe as the inspiration for one of the character’s Persona’s.

Name: Nakano Takeko

Born: April 1847   Died: October 16, 1868


  • Nakano Takeko was born in Edo.
  • Nakano was trained in martial arts and literature from an early age.
  • Her father, Nakano Heinai, was an Aizu government official.
    • At this time, Aizu was a feudal domain and
      known for its military skill.
    • At any given time, Aizu had a standing army of over 5,000 which wereroutinely deployed for security operations.
  • Nakano trained as a martial artist with her father until 1868 when she finally entered Aizu for the first time.
  • The ruler of Aizu, Matsudaira Katamori swung his military might around a bit too far and pissed off the Imperial Court who categorized Katamori (the ruler) and Aizu as “enemies of the Court.”
  • Katamori joined to fight against the Imperial Court in 1868.
  • Though Aizu originally fought as part of a greater effort against the Imperial Court, they were eventually abandoned and continued the fight alone.
  • Battle of Aizu
    •  In October of 1868, the seat of Aizu’s power, Tsuruga Castle was attacked by 30,000 Imperial troops, beginning a month-long siege which would become known as the Battle of Aizu.
    • Aizu had about 3,000 warriors to defend themselves with.
    • Nakano fought, wielding a naginata.
    • She also led a rag-tag corps of 20-30 female combatants, later called the Joshigun or Women’s Army, who fought independently during the battle.
      • They did not fight as part of the larger army because the senior military leaders would not allow them to be an official part of the army.
    • During the battle, it is said that Nakano had killed 172 samurai.
    • While leading a charge against the enemy army, Nakano was fatally shot. Nakano asked her sister to cut it off her head and bury it in the Hokai Temple
      under a pine tree. (So it couldn’t be taken for a Trophy)

A Sunday Rider & A Computer in a Skirt

I am so sorry for the delay in this. It has been a tough week for the two of us here and we hope you can forgive us! It just means you get two blogs closer together. 🙂

Name: Katherine Johnson

Born: August 26, 1918    Died: Not Dead Yet!

What they did: Badass mathematician that helped us go to space and to the moon!


  • Born Katherine Coleman in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
  • Katherine showed strong mathematical abilities from an early age. Because Greenbrier County did not offer public schooling for African-American students past the eighth grade, the Colemans arranged for their children to attend high school in Institute, West Virginia.
    • Katherine was enrolled when she was only 10 years old.
  • Katherine graduated from high school at 14 and entered West Virginia State, a historically black college. As a student, she took every math course offered by the college.
    • She had many mentors here including:
      • Chemist and mathematician Angie Turner King
      • W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African-American to receive a PhD in math
  • She graduated summa cum laude in 1937, with degrees in mathematics and French, at age 18.
  • She took on a teaching job at a black public school in Marion, Virginia.
  • When West Virginia decided to quietly integrate its graduate schools in 1939, West Virginia State’s president Dr. John W. Davis selected Katherine and two male students as the first black students to be offered spots at the state’s flagship school, West Virginia University.
  • Katherine left her teaching job, and enrolled in the graduate math program. At the end of the first session, however, she decided to leave school to after becoming pregnant and choosing to focus on her family.
  • 1952 that a relative told her about open positions at the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory
  • Katherine began work at Langley in the summer of 1953.
    • Katherine has referred to the women in the pool as virtual “computers who wore skirts”.
  • From 1953 to 1958, Katherine worked as a “computer”, analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircraft.
  • Katherine was reassigned to the Guidance and Control Division of Langley’s Flight Research Division. It was staffed by white male engineers.
  • Katherine and the other African-American women in the computing pool were required to work, eat, and use restrooms that were separate from those of their white peers. Their office was labeled as “Colored Computers”.
  • NACA disbanded the colored computing pool in 1958 when it was superseded by NASA, which adopted digital computers.
  • In 1956, James Goble died due to an inoperable brain tumor.
  • In 1957, Katherine provided some of the math for the 1958 document Notes on Space Technology, a compendium of a series of 1958 lectures given by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD).
  • She did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight.
  • In 1960, she and engineer Ted Skopinski coauthored Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position, a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the landing position of the spacecraft is specified. It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division had received credit as an author of a research report.
  • In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Katherine was called upon to do the work that she would become most known for.
  • The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, from blast off to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts.
  • As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”—Katherine Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine.  “If she says they’re good,’” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.”
  • When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Katherine Johnson talks about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module.
  • On May 5, 2016, a new 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) building was named “Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility” and formally dedicated at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
  • West Virginia State University announced plans for an endowed STEM scholarship in honor of Katherine and a life-size statue of her on campus.
  • On May 12, 2018 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the College of William and Mary. This was one day before here 100th birthday.
  • She is still alive and kicking at 100 years old!

Name: Elizabeth Jennings Graham

Born: March, 1827  Died: June, 1901

What she did: African American Teacher and Civil Rights Figure


  • Elizabeth was born in March of 1827(ish. Dates differ according to her death certificate and census records) as a free African American.
  • She was one of 5 children. Her father, Thomas L. Jennings was a free man when Elizabeth was born and became a successful tailor and influential member of New York’s black community.
  • Her mother, also named Elizabeth, was born into slavery but later categorized as an indentured servant until 1827.
  • Thomas used the money he earned from his patented dry-cleaning process to buy his wife’s freedom.
  • By 1854, Elizabeth Jennings Graham became a schoolteacher and church organist, teaching at the African Free School, an institution founded in 1787 to provide education to children of slaves and free people of color.
  • In the 1850’s, horse-drawn street cars on rails were a common mode of transportation.
  • These street car lines were privately owned which allowed owners and drivers to refuse service to passengers and enforce segregated seating.
  • On July 16 , 1854, Elizabeth was running late to play the organ at the First Colored Congregational Church. She boarded a streetcar owned by the Third Avenue Railroad Company, which only catered to white passengers, at the corner of Pearl Street and Chatham Street.
  • Elizabeth was initially given permission to ride as long as none of the white passengers complained. Then, the conductor ordered her to get off. When Elizabeth politely told him no the conductor tried to remove her by force.
  • Only with the aid of a police officer was Elizabeth removed from the streetcar.
  • Elizabeth later wrote of the incident, “I was a respectable person, born and raised in New York, did not know where he was born and that he was a good for nothing impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church.”
  • This  didn’t set well with the black community  organized movement to end racial
    discrimination on streetcars was formed led by Elizabeth’s father, Reverend James W.C Pennington, and Reverend Henry Highland Garnet.
  • Elizabeth wrote a letter that detailed the incident and read it in church the next day.
  • The letter was eventually published by famed abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass in his newspaper.
  • The story gained national attention and Thomas filed a lawsuit on Elizabeth’s behalf against the driver, conductor, and the Third Avenue Railroad Company.
  • Elizabeth was represented by 24-year-old lawyer Chester A. Arthur.
  • In 1855, the court ruled in Elizabeth’s favor.
  • Brooklyn Circuit Court Judge William Rockwell said, “Colored persons, if sober, well behaved, and free from disease, had the same rights as others and could neither be excluded by any rules of the company, nor by force or violence.”
  • Elizabeth was awarded damages in the amount of $250, which is just over $7,000 in today’s money, along with $22.50 in costs, or $653.73 today.
  • Elizabeth’s case set the precedent for future cases.
  • African American activists formed the Legal Rights Association to continue fighting for equality.
  • It would be another decade in 1865, until New York’s public transit services were completely desegregated.
  • After the trial, Elizabeth continued working as an organist and teacher. She married Charles Graham the two had a son named Thomas in 1862.
  • Unfortunately, Thomas died of convulsions at 1 year old. He died during the New York Draft Riots and Elizabeth and her husband had to seek the help of a white undertaker and sneak through the streets to bury their son.
  • Her husband died in 1867.
  • In 1895, Elizabeth operated a kindergarten for African American children out of her home. The school was in operation until her death on June 5, 1901.
  • The first biography on her wasn’t published until 2018.
  • In 2019, Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York City, announced there would be a statue honoring Elizabeth erected near Grand Central Terminal.
  • In 2007, New York City co-named a block of Park Row “Elizabeth Jennings Place”.

The Fighting Girlfriend, an Unsexed Soldier, & a Police Matron

Name: Mariya Oktyabrskaya

Born: August 16, 1905    Died: March 15, 1944

What they did: Tank-Driving Nazi Killing Widow


  • Born into a poor Ukrainian family on the Crimean Peninsula. She was one of ten children.
  • In 1925, she married a Soviet army officer. While married to her husband, Ilya Oktyabrskaya , she began to acquire an interest in military matters.
    • Became involved in the ‘Military Wives Council’
    • Trained as a nurse in the army.
    • Also learned how to use weapons and drive vehicles.
    • “Marry a serviceman, and you serve in the army: an officer’s wife is not only a proud woman, but also responsible title.
  • When the eastern front of World War II opened (called the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union), Mariya was evacuated to Tomsk in Siberia.
  • While living in Tomsk, she learned that her husband was killed fighting the forces of Nazi Germany near Kiev in August 1941. The news took two years to reach her.
  • The news angered her greatly, and she became determined to fight the Germans in vengeance for her husband’s death.  Mariya sold literally all of their belongings in order to buy a tank.
  • Her letter to Staling Read:

    “My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose I’ve deposited all my personal savings – 50,000 rubles – to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the frontline as a driver of said tank.”

  • The tank Mariya drove was a T-34 medium tank.
  • She took part in a five-month tank training program immediately after the donation.
  • After completing her training, she was posted to the 26th Guards Tank Brigade, part of 2nd Guards Tank Corps, in September 1943 as a driver and mechanic. She named her tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and emblazoned these words on the turret of the T-34.
  • Many of her fellow tankers saw her as a publicity stunt and a joke.
  • On her first outing in the tank, she and her crew outmaneuvered the German soldiers, killing around thirty of them and taking out an anti-tank gun as well as machine gun nests. When they shelled her tank, immobilizing Fighting Girlfriend, she got out — in the middle of a firefight — and repaired the damn thing. She then got back in and proceeded to kill more Germans. During this feat she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
  • She took part in an assault on the German positions near Novoye Selo, a town which they had captured. However, a German artillery shell exploded against her tank’s tracks, halting her advance. Mariya and a fellow crewman jumped out to repair the track, while other crew members gave covering fire from the tank’s turret. 
  • Two months later, on 17 January 1944, an attack took place at the village of Shvedy near Vitebsk. During the battle, she drove her T-34 about the German defenses, and destroyed resistance in trenches and machine-gun nests. The tank crew also destroyed a German self-propelled gun. Subsequently, the tank was hit by a German anti-tank shell, again in the tracks, and was immobilized. Mariya immediately got out of the tank and began to repair the track, amid fierce small arms and artillery fire. She managed to repair the track, but she was hit in the head by shell fragments and lost consciousness.
  • After the battle she was transported to a Soviet military field hospital at Fastov, near Kiev, where she remained in a coma for two months, before finally dying on 15 March.
  • She was awarded the highest honor in the Soviet Military and is buried in one of the nation’s most sacred cemeteries. She was the first of the few female tank drivers to be awarded this honor

Name: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Born: December, 1841    Died: September 5, 1898

What they did: Female Soldier (dressed as man) and spy


  • Born in Canada in 1841, but in 1857, to escape the abuse and an arranged marriage, Sarah left home.
  • She lived and worked in the town of Moncton for about a year, but always fearful that she would be discovered by her father, she decided to immigrate to the United States.
  • In order to travel undetected and to secure a job, she decided to disguise herself as a man and took the name Franklin Thompson. She soon found work in Hartford, Connecticut as a traveling Bible salesman.
  • By the start of the Civil War in 1861, Sarah was boarding in Flint, Michigan. Compelled to join the military out of sense of duty, she enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry as a male field nurse. Under the name Franklin Flint Thompson.
  • Although Sarah and her comrades did not participate in the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, they were instrumental in covering the Union retreat from the field. She stayed behind to nurse wounded soldiers and barely eluded capture to return to her regiment in Washington. She continued to work as a hospital attendant for the next several months.
  • In March of 1862, Sarah was assigned the duties of mail carrier for the regiment.
  • From April 5 to May 4, the regiment took part in the Siege of Yorktown.
  • It was during this time that Sarah was supposedly first asked to conduct espionage missions.
    • One of her alleged aliases was as a Southern sympathizer named Charles Mayberry.
    • Another was as a black man named Cuff, for which she disguised herself using wigs and silver nitrate to dye her skin.
    • Yet another was as Bridget O’Shea, an Irish peddler selling soap and apples.
  • The information she gathered on the Confederate’s local troop size, available weapons and location of numerous “Quaker Guns” (logs painted to look like cannons from a distance) that the Confederates planned to use in Yorktown.
  • On May 5, 1862, the regiment came under heavy fire during the Battle of Williamsburg. Sarah was caught in the thick of it, at one point picking up a musket and firing with her comrades. She also acted as a stretcher bearer, ferrying the wounded from the field hour after hour in the pouring rain.
  • 1862 saw Sarah continuing her role as a mail carrier, which often involved journeys of over 100 miles through territory inhabited by dangerous “bushwhackers.”
  • Sarah’s regiment saw action in the battles of Fair Oaks and Malvern Hill, where she acted once again as hospital attendant, tending to the many wounded.
  • On August 29, 1862, the 2nd Michigan took part in the Battle of Second Manassas. Acting as courier during the battle, Edmunds was forced to ride a mule after her horse was killed. She was thrown into a ditch, breaking her leg and suffering internal injuries. These injuries would plague her for the rest of her life and were the main reason for her pension application after the war.
  • In spring of 1863 Sarah contracted malaria and requested a furlough, which was denied. Not wanting to seek medical attention from the army for fear of discovery, She left her comrades in mid-April, never to return. “Franklin Thompson” was subsequently charged with desertion.
  • After her recovery, Sarah, no longer in disguise, worked with the United States Christian Commission as a female nurse, from June 1863 until the end of the war.
  • In 1876, she attended a reunion of the 2nd Michigan and was warmly received by her comrades.
  • On July 5 of 1884, a Special Act of Congress finally granted Sarah a veteran’s pension of $12 a month but the bill to clear her name moved slowly and wasn’t passed until July of 1886.
  • In 1897, Sarah was admitted into the Grand Army of the Republic, the only woman member.
  • One year later, on September 5, 1898, Sarah died at her home in La Porte, Texas.
  • In 1901, she was re-buried with military honors at Washington Cemetery in Houston.

Name: Isabella Goodwin

Born: February 20, 1865   Died: October 26, 1943

What they did: New York City’s First Female Police Detective


  • Isabella Goodwin was born in in Greenwich Village, Manhattan on Feb. 20, 1865.  Growing up she had dreams of being an opera singer.
  • At 19, she married police officer, John W. Goodwin in 1885. Together they had six children, four of which survived.
  • John died in 1896, leaving 30-year-old Isabella a widow and single mother.
  • After the death of her husband, Isabella applied to become a Police Matron. After passing an exam, she was hired by Theodore Roosevelt who was the police commissioner at the time.
  • The Police Matron position wasn’t great; Isabella only made $1,000/year ($30,092) and she was only allowed 1 day off per month.
  • She served as a Police Matron for 15 years.
  • During this time, she began going undercover to investigate crimes while her mother watched her 4 children.
  • In 1912, Isabella got her big break.  In a bold midday bank robbery in downtown Manhattan, robbers, dubbed the “taxi bandits,” hijacked a cab full of bank workers, assaulted two clerks, and stole $25,000 ($651,484.54 in today’s money.)
    • The robbery gained national attention and, despite 60 detectives being assigned to the case, it went unsolved.
    • The NYPD was at a distinct disadvantage against criminals using cars for a quick getaway as they didn’t even have police cars yet.
    • As concerns about copycat crimes and frustration mounted, the sheriff’s office actually proposed arming civilians so they could fight crime on their own.
    • Eventually, the police got a lead about one of the suspected robbers, Gangster Eddie “THE BOOB” Kinsman. 
  • The boob had been frequenting a local boardinghouse to visit his girlfriend Swede Annie. That’s where Isabella came in. Isabella was asked to pose as a maid at the boardinghouse and collect evidence that implicated the boob in the heist.
    • Dressed in a rags and speaking with an Irish accent, Isabella began her mission.
    • Isabella would later recall eating scraps and sleeping in “a dark, wretched, little hole.” Between her maid duties, she would listen to conversations and get close to the thieves’ girlfriends to gather intel.
    • Some of the information she gathered included signs of the boob’s sudden wealth, such as a shopkeeper saying the boob was “shedding money” like a molting canary.
  • Eventually the boob’s girlfriend, Swede Annie confessed to Isabella that “Eddie the Boob turned the trick, alright,” the police were finally able to make arrests.
  • After her successful undercover operation, Isabella was promoted to the rank of detective.
  • A few years later, Isabella moved to Brooklyn where she met Oscar A. Seaholm, a handsome singer, 30 years her junior. In 1921 she put a ring on it.
  • Throughout the 1920s, Isabella oversaw the NYPD’s new Women’s Bureau which handled cases involving sex workers, runaways, truants, and victims of domestic violence.
  • In 1924, Isabella worked with prosecutors to investigate fraudulent medical practices and was instrumental in securing several high profile arrests. The same year she retired after a 30 year career with the NYPD.
  • At 78 years old, Isabella died of colon cancer on October 26, 1943. She was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn under the name Isabella Seaholm.
  • Her grave incorrectly indicates her year of birth as 1871.

Who Paints Michelangelo’s Ceiling & a Spy with a Cheetah Named Chiquita

Name: Artemisia Gentileschi

Born: July 8, 1593      Died: 1656

What they did: Amazing Painter who got defined by one bad experience.


  • Artemisia was the eldest child of Tuscan painter Orazio Gentileschi was first
    introduced to painting by her father, showing more talent than her brothers who painted with her in their father’s workshop.
  • Her earliest surviving work was of Susanna and the Elders, painted when she was 17 years old.
  • Artemisia suffered rape by a man supposed to tutor her. This continued as he promised to marry her. Once it was determined this was not going to happen her father sued the man. In trial it was found out that the guy was a massive liar. Sources are unconfirmed as to his punishment though.
  • In an effort to salvage Artemisia’s reputation, she was married off to artist
    Pierantonio Stiattesi, and together they moved to Florence.
  • She was accepted into the Academy of the Arts of Drawing and was friends with some of the most respected artists and figures of her time, including Cristofano Allori, Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine (Grand Duchess of Tuscany), and Galileo Galilei.
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger (nephew of a certain THE Michelangelo) also held her in high esteem and even asked Artemisia along with other artists to help him paint the ceiling of Casa Buonarroti which is now a museum.
  • In 1618, Artemisia gave birth to her daughter, Prudentia.
  • She maintained a passionate affair with Florentine nobleman Francesco Maria Maringhi, her husband was aware of the affair and even corresponded with Francesco on the back of Artemisia’s love letters to him. Unfortunately, growing roomers of the affair along with financial and legal problems led Artemisia to move back to Rome in 1621, without her husband.
  • She was heavily influenced by painter Caravaggio and formed a professional relationship with another “Caravaggisti” Simon Vouet and they supported each other in their art and highly influenced each other.
  • Artemisia’s skills didn’t go unnoticed. She was honored by the Academy of Desiosi  with a portrait that carried the inscription “To paint a wonder is more easily envied than imitated.”
  • Unfortunately, despite her skill, reputation, and relationships with other artists, Artemisia found little financial success in Rome. During this time, her works become more relaxed and less defiant.
    • She painted a second depiction of Susanna and the Elders in 1622 and it’s much more passive and relaxed than her original.
    • Her paintings became limited to portraits and biblical heroines as opposed
      to more lucrative altarpiece commissions.
  • At some time between 1627 and 1630, she moved to Venice, likely seeking opportunities for more expensive commissions.
  • In 1630, Artemisia moved to Naples which was known as being a haven for artists, art lovers, and more lucrative art opportunities.
  • She painted the Birth of Saint John the Baptist which is now housed
    at the Prado in Madrid, this really shows off her ability to adapt to painting outside of her comfort zone, as this is much different than her paintings of heroic women.
  • In 1638, Artemisia reunited with her father, Orazio, in Londons she had been invited by King Charles himself who was a great admirer of her work and even
    owned one of her best known self-portraits Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting. Together, Artemisia and Orazio worked to paint a ceiling allegory of Triumph of Peace and the Arts in the Queen’s House, built for Queen Henrietta Maria.
  • Sadly, Orazio suddenly died in 1639. Artemisia continued working in England until 1642 at the beginning of the English Civil War. There’s not a lot of documentation on her movements after this, but she did eventually return to Naples.
  • In her later years, Artemisia’s style became softer and more feminine. This can be attributed to changing artistic tastes, but it’s possible that Artemisia became more comfortable with her identity as a woman painter.
  • Some think she may have been a victim of the plague which swept through Naples in 1656.
  • She was buried in the church of St. John of Florentines in Naples. Unfortunately, the church and her grave were destroyed during WWII.
  • Great works:
    • Self Portrait as a Lute Player (1615-1617)
    • Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614-1620)
    • Susanna and the Elders
    • Birth of Saint John the Baptist
    • Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.
    • Triumph of Peace and the Arts
    • The Sleeping Venus
    • Esther and Ahasuerus

Name: Josephine Baker

Born: June 3, 1906     Died: April 12, 1975

What they did: First African American in film, amazing dancer, highest paid american in Europe of her time. Also fought for civil rights and delivered messages during war.


  • She was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri to washerwoman Carrie McDonald and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson.
  • Carrie McDonald and Eddie Carson had a song-and-dance act, playing wherever they could get work. When Josephine was about a year old they began to carry her onstage occasionally during their finale.
  • She had little formal education, and attended Lincoln Elementary School only through the fifth grade.
  • At eight years old, Josephine began working as a live-in domestic for white families in St. Louis cleaning houses and babysitting for wealthy white families who reminded her “be sure not to kiss the baby.” One woman abused her, burning Josephine’s hands when the young girl put too much soap in the laundry.
  • When she was 13 years old she lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis, sleeping in cardboard shelters, scavenging for food in garbage cans, making a living with street-corner dancing. She also found work at the old Old Chauffeur’s Club as a waitress.
  • It was here that Josephine met Willie Wells and married him the same year. However, the marriage lasted less than a year.
  • Following her divorce from Wells, she found work with a street performance group called the Jones Family Band.
  • Josephine toured the United States with The Jones Family Band and The Dixie Steppers in 1919, performing various comical skits.
  • She tried to advance as a chorus girl for The Dixie Steppers in Sissle and Blake’s production Shuffle Along. She was rejected because she was “too skinny and too dark.” Undeterred, she learned the chorus line’s routines while working as a dresser. Thus, Josephine was the obvious replacement when a dancer left.
  • Joesephoine married her second husband, Willie Baker, whom she had married in 1921 at age 15.
  • She headed to New York City that same year during the Harlem Renaissance, performing at the Plantation Club and in the chorus lines of the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revues Shuffle Along (1921) with Adelaide Hall and The Chocolate Dandies (1924). 
  • Onstage, she rolled her eyes and purposely acted clumsy, as if she were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point she would perform it not only correctly but with additional complexity. A term of the time describes this part of the cast as “The Pony.” Baker was billed at the time as “the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville”.
  • When she went to New York she left Willie though she kept his last name for the rest of her career, and the did not separate immediately but several years later.
  • Joesephine sailed to Paris for a new venture, and opened in La Revue Nègre on 2 October 1925, aged 19, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
  • In Paris, she became an instant success for her erotic dancing, and for appearing practically nude on stage.
  • In France she stared in ‘LaFolie du Jour’ at the Folies Bergère, setting the standard for her future acts. Baker danced topless, wearing a skirt made of bananas.
    • The show was successful and Baker became one of the most popular and highest-paid performers in Europe. Writers and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and E. E. Cummings were fans. Baker also was nicknamed “Black Venus” and “Black Pearl.”
  • In later shows in Paris, she was often accompanied on stage by her pet cheetah, “Chiquita”, who was adorned with a diamond collar. The cheetah frequently escaped into the orchestra pit, where it terrorized the musicians, adding another element of excitement to the show.
  • Josephine was the first African-American to star in a major motion picture, the 1927 silent film Siren of the Tropics, directed by Mario Nalpas and Henri Étiévant. She starred in two movies in the early 1930s as well, Zou-Zou and Princesse Tam-Tam.
  • She was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”
  • A 1936 return to the United States to star in the Ziegfeld Follies proved disastrous, despite the fact that she was a major celebrity in Europe. American audiences rejected the idea of a black woman with so much sophistication and power, newspaper reviews were equally cruel (The New York Times called her a “Negro wench”), and Josephine returned to Europe heartbroken.
  • In 1937 she married Jean Lion, and through him she became a French National and renounced her US citizenship.
  • In 1939 when Germany and France were at war she performed for the troops (in North Africa and later toured Spain, pinning notes and gathering military information) and was an honorable correspondent for the French Resistance (undercover work included smuggling secret messages written on her music sheets) and a sub-lieutenant in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
  • She was later awarded the Medal of the Resistance with Rosette and named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government for hard work and dedication.
  • In 1947 she married Jo Bouillon, a French composer.
  • At this time she began adopting children, forming a family she often referred to as “The Rainbow Tribe.” Josephine wanted her to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.”
  • Josephine visited the United States during the ‘50s and ‘60s with renewed vigor to fight racism. When New York’s popular Stork Club refused her service, she engaged a head-on media battle with pro-segregation columnist Walter Winchell. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named May 20 Josephine Baker Day in honor of her efforts.
  • Josephine continued to travel to the United States, and during her visits, she developed a close friendship with American artist Robert Brady.
  • Josephine agreed to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall that same year. Due to previous experience, she was nervous about how the audience and critics would receive her. This time, however, cultural and racial growth was evident. Josephine received a standing ovation before the concert even began. The enthusiastic welcome was so touching that she wept onstage.
  • On April 8, 1975, Josephine premiered at the Bobino Theater in Paris. Celebrities such as Princess Grace of Monaco and Sophia Loren were in attendance to see 68-year-old Josephine perform a medley of routines from her 50 year career. The reviews were among her best ever.
  • Days later, however, Josephine slipped into a coma. She died from a cerebral hemorrhage at 5 a.m. on April 12.
  • The French government honored her with a 21-gun salute, making Josephine Baker the first American woman buried in France with military honors. Her gravesite is in the Cimetiére de Monaco, Monaco.